IndyCar is throwing two new wrinkles — and a lot of bumps — at its drivers in the Motor City.
The Detroit Grand Prix will make its debut on a 10-turn, 1.7 mile downtown street circuit Sunday. Just to add more intrigue for fans and complexities for teams, the course includes a split pit lane that will force drivers to find a way to peacefully merge back onto the track.
"We're going to find out if we can get along this weekend," Indianapolis 500 champion and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden said.
The split pit will position 14 drivers on the left 13 on the right, experimenting with such a setup for the first time in series history.
"I think it's innovation," Arrow McLaren driver Pato O'Ward said. "If it works out, we're going to look like heroes. If it doesn't, well, we tried."
The Detroit Grand Prix is trying to make another run at hosting the event downtown — under IndyCar owner and Motor City advocate Roger Penske — after having races on a 2.5 mile course in the same area from 1989-91 before moving to Belle Isle.
Points-leader Alex Palou, who won the pole Saturday, is not keeping his criticism of the new circuit to himself. Palou wrote Detroit POV in a post on Twitter, showing a GIF of jeeps bouncing on an undulating road.
"It's too tight for INDYCARs," said Palou, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing. "It's too short for INDYCARs. There's too much traffic. It's too bumpy."
Scott McLaughlin, perhaps predictably because he drives for Team Penske, defended Detroit's new circuit.
"There's been a lot of noise I've seen in Twitter from other drivers and stuff," McLaughlin said. "At the end of the day this is a new track, new complex.
"Belle Isle was getting old. We had to do it."
The new, shorter track includes a straightaway on Jefferson Avenue, in the shadow of General Motors world headquarters, that is seven-tenths of a mile long to potentially make passing more possible than it was on the narrow track at Belle Isle.
"It seems like this is wide open," Andretti Autosports driver Kyle Kirkwood said. "Once you're doing 180, 190 down into there, it doesn't feel as wide."
Soon after finishing the straightaway, Turn 3 is a hairpin that might present problems.
"Everyone is going to be, I imagine, trying to get through there single file," Kirkwood said. "That's never really the case, right?"
After turning only left at the Indy 500, drivers will go right and left - sometimes at 90 degrees — on a surface that is a mix of asphalt and concrete.
Felix Rosenqvist expects traffic on the track to be the worst it has been this season and many drivers are expecting chaos.
"There's no space," the Arrow McLaren driver said. "It's 330 feet between each car is I think what we calculated. Under 2.2 seconds is the gap if all the cars were on track at once."
Palou won the pole for the first time on a street course, turning a lap at 1 minute, 1.8592 seconds in one of four Hondas that are were among the top six in qualifying.
"Hopefully we can try and keep the first position, then try and be up front," Palou said. "We know we have a lot of speed. If we have clean air, we'll be able to have a good race."
McLaughlin finished second in qualifying followed by Romain Grosjean of Andretti Autosport, six-time champion Scott Dixon from Chip Ganassi Racing, Newgarden and Ericsson.
Newgarden became the first IndyCar driver to win two races this season at the Indy 500. He passed defending race winner and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Marcus Ericsson during a controversial, one-lap shootout after there were three red flags in the final 16 laps. Palou, Ericsson, Kirkwood and McLaughlin each has won one race.
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