IndyCar Duel in Detroit Race 1 heroes and zeroes

Graham Rahal took his first win of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar season with a dominant performance in race 1 of the Chevrolet Duel in Detroit. Leading from the green flag Rahal took a comfortable victory from Scott Dixon. Dixon finished a remarkable 2nd despite nursing injuries from his terrifying Indy 500 crash last weekend. James Hinchcliffe rounded out the podium positions – recovering from a first lap spin that dropped him to the back of the field.

On one of the bumpiest and most physically demanding tracks of the IndyCar season, there were plenty of contenders for tonight’s heroes and zeroes.

IndyCar Duel in Detroit Race 1 – heroes

Hero – Graham Rahal

Rahal was in the zone from the get go in Detroit. Hooked up on car set up the American dominated race 1 from the green flag to the final lap, leading 55 laps. Mid-race Rahal and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team had to play chicken with the inevitable full course yellow. Running longer on the preferred primary tyre Rahal pulled out what proved to be an unassailable lead and avoided falling foul of an ill-timed full course caution.

Graham Rahal IndyCar Honda Duel in Detroit
(c) Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Considering Rahal’s 2017 form, this was a much needed win. Despite carrying the hopes of Honda singlehandedly in 2015 and 2016, Rahal and RLL have singularly failed to capitalise on the upswing in Honda’s performance. Based on his race 1 performance, Detroit is where Rahal start to reap the rewards of Honda’s off-season efforts.

Hero – Scott Dixon

Within the IndyCar media centre there is an extremely well-used thesaurus because we are running out of superlatives for Scott Dixon. Less than a week after escaping one of the most harrowing IndyCar crashes in recent memory, the Kiwi rolled up and finished second in Detroit race 1. All done with a seriously bruised and battered body.

Another yellow in the final 15 laps would undoubtedly have allowed Dixon to challenge for the win. Which is not something to be sniffed at when you consider that race winner Graham Rahal was completely in the zone Friday and Saturday. Rahal was having one of those weekends when  everything just clicks.

Dixon’s 2nd place bumps him up to top spot in the IndyCar point standings. Even with his spectacular Indianapolis DNF, Dixon’s form is looking ominous for the rest of the field.

Heroes – every IndyCar driver

Anyone who watches IndyCar regularly knows that the Belle Isle circuit is bumpy. Bumpy is something of an understatement of course. Even with extensive repaving work the cars were still spinning up their wheels over the bumps under hard acceleration. At times the ferocity of the bumps made it seem like the drivers were holding pneumatic drills instead of steering wheels.

For them  to complete 70 laps with minimal yellow flag laps was impressive. Less than a week after the Indy 500 and with it all to do again tomorrow, IndyCar drivers are a breed apart.

Hero – James Hinchcliffe

The Mayor of Hinchtown was headed straight to the zeroes list after his lap 1 faux pas. A silly mistake coming out of turn 1 on the opening lap looked set to haunt the Schmidt Peterson driver all day. Instead the Canadian got his head down and battled back to finish 3rd and illustrate the inherent pace of the SPM Honda.

James Hinchcliffe IndyCar Detroit Honda

In retrospect Hinch might be slightly disappointed with third. Even thought he had his hands full keeping late-charging Josef Newgarden at bay in the closing laps, his pace today suggests he missed a shot at the win. With no mistakes in race 2, the Canadian should figure for the win on Sunday afternoon.

Hero – Ed Jones

After his epic 3rd place finish in his rookie Indy 500, Ed Jones backed up his case as a future star of IndyCar with 9th place. Though he was never particularly in the mix for a top 5 finish, the Dale Coyne driver made best use of the car he had underneath him.

Jones described himself and his team as ‘lost’ on setup after struggling to 21st on the grid for race 1. The Dale Coyne crew clearly found something for Jones between qualifying and the race, allowing him to run in the top 10.

He may have missed out on the Indy 500 rookie of the year award but Jones has the season equivalent in his back pocket already.

Related article – defining an Indy 500 rookie of the year

IndyCar Duel in Detroit Race 1 – zeroes

Zero – Penske drivers called Will & Simon

Belle Isle – on paper – should be a happy hunting ground for street course aces Power and Pagenaud. Instead the Penske drivers were put firmly in the shade by teammates Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves.

Simon Pagenaud Penske IndyCar
(c) Team Penske

The lack of speed for the 2016 and 2014 champions was a head scratcher given how strongly Newgarden performed. Penske’s newest recruit claimed to be “one yellow from the win” and was probably right. The speed at which he hunted Alexander Rossi down, passed him and then chased down James Hinchcliffe was remarkable. By contrast Pagenaud and Power were  conspicuous by their absence throughout the race. Coming home a distant 16th and 18th respectively.  Power even suffered the ignominy of being lapped.

There will be some long and fraught engineering discussions tonight in Detroit as Team Penske try to work out how their top street course drivers were so off the pace.

Zeroes – AJ Foyt Racing

2017 continues to be unkind to AJ Foyt’s eponymous team. Conor Daly – racing at a track he has excelled at before – was looking promising. In something of a perfect metaphor for the team’s season, Daly’s car mysteriously ground to a halt.

Daly’s slowing car then compromised the race for Chip Ganassi’s Charlie Kimball. The Californian spun trying to avoid Daly’s ailing Chevrolet, causing front and rear wing damage that put him to the back of the field and an eventual 22nd place finish.

It really is hard to see how Foyt, Daly or teammate Munoz are going to find a breakthrough.

Zeroes – Andretti Autosport drivers called Ryan and Marco

After the disappointment of engine failure at Indy last weekend, Ryan Hunter-Reay was hoping for a strong finish in Detroit. Hustling to 13th place was not what the former IndyCar Series champion had in mind. Things were not much better for teammate Marco Andretti.

Andretti continued his underwhelming 2017 season by struggling in the midfield all afternoon. Running the United Fiber and Data car Andretti did at least get the better of Hunter-Reay but for both drivers, the problem was what their other teammates were doing.

Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato were both legitimate contenders for a top 5 finish. 5th and 8th place finishes were disappointing results for the two Indy 500 winners. But their consistent front running pace was in stark contrast to the below-par performances of Hunter-Reay and Andretti. Both will be pouring over set up data for most of Saturday night in the hope of turning around their Detroit weekend.

Race rating – 6 out of 10

Not one for the ages but as engaging as fuel-strategy races can be. The split strategies brought out by Hinchcliffe’s lap 1 spin added some welcome intrigue to what could have been a procession. It also paved the way for some close racing at the conclusion of the race as Hinchcliffe and Newgarden diced for 3rd place.

Hopefully the rain forecast for Sunday should spice up race 2 at the Duel in Detroit.

2017 IndyCar Duel in Detroit – Race 1 results

RANK DRIVER STARTS LAPS LAPS LED
1 Graham Rahal 1 70 55
2 Scott Dixon 6 70 2
3 James Hinchcliffe 5 70 1
4 Josef Newgarden 9 70
5 Alexander Rossi 4 70
6 Mikhail Aleshin 20 70 1
7 Helio Castroneves 2 70 11
8 Takuma Sato 3 70
9 Ed Jones 21 70
10 Spencer Pigot 17 70
11 Max Chilton 8 70
12 Marco Andretti 13 70
13 Ryan Hunter-Reay 12 70
14 Carlos Munoz 14 70
15 Tony Kanaan 15 70
16 Simon Pagenaud 7 70
17 JR Hildebrand 18 70
18 Will Power 11 69
19 Esteban Gutierrez 19 69
20 Oriol Servia 22 69
21 Charlie Kimball 10 69
22 Conor Daly 16 25
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