Photo: Chris Owens
The Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit will mark the first of three doubleheaders on the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Drivers will contest a pair of 70-lap races Saturday and Sunday on the 2.36-mile temporary street circuit, testing both their endurance and that of their teams.
Simon Pagenaud claimed his first Indy car win on the streets of Belle Isle in 2013. Now he hopes a strong performance in Detroit can springboard him to the Verizon IndyCar Series title. Pagenaud recalls the final two laps of the 2013 race as being the most emotional five miles to date of his motorsports career.
"I kept saying, 'Keep pushing.' When I crossed the finish line, it was a sweet moment," said Pagenaud, who hadn't finished higher than second in 38 previous Verizon IndyCar Series and Champ Car races. The 5.6274-sec victory in Race 2 of the doubleheader weekend on the 13-turn circuit was a turning point for the 30-year-old driver from France and his Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports (Honda) team, which also earned its maiden Verizon IndyCar Series victory.
"Detroit was huge for us last year; it was definitely a lift and what started it all. It was like a swirl," Pagenaud said. "For us, as a team, that's when everybody started to believe we could win every race. That's when everybody raised their game. It was more focus on us, and I believe everybody at this time thought they were winners. The team changed then; I changed. Now we're going to every race thinking we can win. There's no reason why we can't do it again. We have a fast car, the best pit crew, hopefully the best driver, so why not."
Pagenaud, the 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, went on to record eight top-10 finishes in the final dozen races, including another win on the streets of Baltimore, that led to third place in the driver championship standings. He's a contender again this season - winning the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10 and joining Team Penske's Will Power (Chevrolet) as the only drivers to post top-five finishes in the previous three races. Pagenaud started fifth and finished 12th in the 98th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 25, and is fourth in the standings heading to Detroit.
"(Belle Isle) is a track I really enjoy," said Pagenaud, who has third- and 12th-place finishes in his other two starts. "Going to the same place is reassuring, but I've changed because it was possible to win all of a sudden. All of a sudden you realize, 'OK, I can do this. I've done it once so why not two and three and four.' Now it's about winning the championship, and we know it's going to take three or four race wins. So it's not a matter of if it's going to happen, it's a matter of when it's going to happen. That takes a lot of work, but the team is working so hard and so well it's possible. There are a lot of points available at Detroit and it's an important part of the season."
Pagenaud turned in the fastest time of Friday’s two practice sessions at 1:17.6502.
Before becoming a full-time IndyCar driver, Pagenaud won the 2010 American Le Mans Series championship driving an HPD ARX-01c for Highcroft Racing and teamed with Sebastien Bourdais and Pedro Lamy to finish second overall in the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Peugeot 908 for the factory team.
Mike Conway, also a winner this season (Long Beach) and the Race 1 winner in 2013, returns to Belle Isle with Ed Carpenter Racing (Chevy). Conway led a field-high 47 laps (of 70) in Race 1 and earned the Verizon P1 Award for Race 2 in 2013. Conway and Carpenter are in the running for this season’s entrant championship, with Conway running the road and street courses and Carpenter the ovals.
"The Detroit races really brought me back into the IndyCar Series last year," said Conway, who placed third in Race 2. "It was exciting to return in grand style and win at a big event like Belle Isle. I'm looking forward to return to Detroit and defending my title."
Ryan Hunter-Reay scored the biggest win of his career when he won the 98thIndianapolis 500 on May 25. Hunter-Reay, who finished second in the first of two races on Belle Isle in 2013, took the lead in the championship standings at Indy and by topping the chart in the opening 45-min practice session for the Detroit races (1:18.8595) looks to maintain his momentum.
Helio Castroneves returns to Belle Isle hoping to climb the fence at the circuit where he won his first Indy car race in 2000. Castroneves has two victories and two poles at Belle Isle for Team Penske.