DETROIT — IndyCar drivers are in for quite a shift.
The Detroit Grand Prix will feature racing at speeds up to 165 mph on bumpy streets on a circuit with 13 turns, breaking to as slow as 60 mph, on an island between the United States and Canada.
Less than a week ago, many of those same drivers were going up to 70 mph faster on a smooth surface around an oval at the Indianapolis 500.
“It’s like baseball and basketball,” Marco Andretti said Friday when asked to compare the two races. “The thing about the IndyCar Series, is the diversity. It’s so different. We run at totally different places in our whole schedule.”
Simon Pagenaud and Mike Conway hope the Detroit Grand Prix is a lot like it was in 2013 because they each won once last year on Belle Isle.
“I love this place,” Conway said. “It’s a lot of fun. Each lap gets your attention. There’s non-stop action around here.”
Pagenaud and Conway had the fastest cars during a pair of practice sessions Friday. Pagenaud turned a lap of 108.950 mph, just slightly faster than Conway, making the most of the opportunity to slip, slide and speed around the 2.36-mile track.
“It’s a bit like downhill skiing,” Pagenaud said. “It’s quite enjoyable. It’s like dancing with the car.”
Helio Castroneves, the only driver in the 22-car field that has won twice in Detroit, had the third-fastest lap followed by Will Power and Indy 500 champion and IndyCar points leader Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“It’s 180 degrees different here than in Indy,” Hunter-Reay said. “The car setup on an oval tilts to the left so that the car almost turns on its own and you’re very low to the ground. On a street circuit like this, it’s the opposite. You’ve got a softer suspension and you’re higher off the ground to deal with the bumps.
“At Indy, everything is fluid, technical and finesse and you’re thinking of your move two corners ahead. Here, your hair is on fire the whole race.”
Teams will have a quick turnaround to tune up their cars for Saturday morning’s qualifying before racing the same afternoon.
“I’d sleep until 11, but I don’t mind getting up early,” Andretti said.
IndyCar mechanics, crew chiefs and drivers will do it again on Sunday morning for another qualifying session before going through a second full-length race that same day.
After preparing for two weeks to compete once at the Indy 500, teams have only a day to prepare for the first Detroit Grand Prix race and then do it all over again the following afternoon.
“You finish Indy and you reset completely when you come here,” Ryan Briscoe said. “The Indy 500 is not a physical event, but it’s extremely mentally draining. In Detroit, you get beat up with all the bumps because this is one of more physical circuits we come and we race it twice in two days.”