Unpredictable fun or embarrassing? IndyCar’s Detroit chaos

To see Oriol Servia – who last competed in 2019 – Driving Most of the laps in the Detroit IndyCar street race were unsurprising, especially given the unpredictable nature of the race.

Of course, Servia is an IndyCar pace car driver, and his Corvette needed to refuel, and such was the hive of activity, with caution laps making up 47 of the race's 100 laps.

It was a race featuring eight incidents – well, there were more, those were just the ones that caused the caution – rain, strategic gambles on fuel and tyres, and drivers like Will Power taking four penalties and still finishing sixth. It just beggars faith.

This has left fans with a mix of opinions, ranging from celebrating the unpredictability to demanding a return to the old Belle Island Circuit – an opinion shared by some drivers as well. But this isn't the first time we've had races like this in IndyCar recently.

Why was this race so chaotic? How does IndyCar management play a role in what we saw? Is this type of racing good for IndyCar? Let's take a look at the event as a whole to try to draw some conclusions.

What did the drivers make of it?

There was some immediate reaction from drivers who had not watched the race at that stage, so they saw things from their own narrow perspectives.

Marcus Ericsson moved up late to second (explaining why Andretti wanted to sign him, as he was a bit far behind his teammates in qualifying but beat them both in the race) and has won similar races before, including at Nashville in 2021 when he came from the last and literally went over the back of another car to take the victory.

“I think people are driving recklessly on the restart,” he said.

“clearly [there are] Opportunities when restarting.

“I think more than 50% [of the race was spent] On yellow [47/100 laps in reality].

“I'm sure it was dramatic and fun to watch. At some point, we also need to get a little better. We are one of the best racing series in the world. We shouldn't be driving over each other on every restart.

“Every time on the restart I would see in my mirrors four or five. I was just praying that I wouldn't take a big hit on every restart.

“I need to watch it before I comment further on that.”

As previously mentioned, a large number of drivers and fans were left longing for a return to Belle Isle, a venue that existed before the current city route was introduced last year.

This new design is essentially too short for IndyCar. In practice and qualifying, you have drivers backing off mid-lap to try to get a clean lap over the next lap, but the 1,645-mile track can't support that.

People are easily out of place in the playoffs.

Then with only nine turns in the race, it breeds desperation in the few passing areas available, with Turn Three being the only clear and 'safe' passing point. Turn 8 is relatively popular but it is very easy to make a mistake and put the passing car into the wall after the left-hand side downhill braking zone.

“The track, I don't know what word I'm going to use, but it's… challenging, let's put it that way,” Eriksson added. “It has some great characteristics with the bumps, and the walls are close. It's good.

“But it's too short and twisty for IndyCar. Absolutely. It's within the limits of what we can do.

“I wish we had more turns and a little longer gesture. It seems to create good drama, as we saw last year and this year.

Scott Dixon offered a slightly alternative opinion to his former Ganassi teammate Eriksson, who beat him to the win.

This victory was aided by stopping earlier than he was supposed to get to the finish on fuel, but he bet correctly that there would be more cautions that would allow him to bail out.

When asked where the line is between being exciting and embarrassing, Dixon replied: “I don't think it's embarrassing at all.

“I think when you do a survey, most people go to races to see accidents. I don't.

“I know when I watch some type of NASCAR race, it has a similar kind of impact. Obviously it's exciting. Obviously you don't want to see the caution laps and take over.

“I haven't watched a lot of it. Obviously once I watch the race and see what happened. But you're on tight streets here. It's tough, man. You make any mistake..

“The framing was very difficult here. It's very difficult to convert black [harder compound] The frames are on, making it easy to lock the fronts. Cooler weather than last year. This may have definitely played a factor as well.

Last year, there were still 32 laps taken under caution, making a total of 79 of the 200 laps at this track under caution.

Since part of the logic of holding a race the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 — at the expense of exhausted teams and drivers — is to capitalize on any rollover TV ratings, it begs the question: Is this the kind of race you want? Her as a follower?

Especially when the Indy 500 is more important than the championship for some – so if they have a bad Indy 500, they can come to Detroit angry and feel like they have nothing to lose by just giving it their all without thinking about the consequences.

The Indy 500 is a perfect showcase of the skill and courage of the drivers, the work of the crew preparing the cars and in the pit stops, the strategists, and the confidence in the competitors around you. You could be forgiven for thinking Detroit was an exotic sport by comparison.

As Ericsson points out, this is supposed to be a showcase for what people regularly refer to as one of the best single-seater racing championships in the world. You could certainly be forgiven for dismissing that remark if you watch Detroit.

Supervision claims were evaluated

I actually think the judges made most of the decisions in this race correct.

There's only one major incident I could argue against and that's the Rinus VeeKay-Will Power incident, where Power made contact with VeeKay – but it looked like a racing incident where VeeKay was on the outside and cut off the front of Power. VeeKay could argue he was just doing his job and was beaten, but from the outside, he had a responsibility there to leave enough space for Bauer, especially since they were three-pointers away with Romain Grosjean in a sandwich.

But honestly, that was a tough call.

The much bigger problem IndyCar faces with penalties in such races is that on standard roads and street circuits, a drive that drops you to the back of the pack or costs you a few places will be fatal to your chances of winning. Good result, here it does not matter at all!

Let's use Joseph Newgarden as an example. He made his last stop with Dixon, so he matched the winner's strategy, but he ran over a tire gun at his stop, necessitating a drive.

But because he had just stopped, he sent his car, and then there were a few more cautions, as the drivers in front of them stopped and Newgarden managed to stay out, so he jumped from the back to fifth, with the penalty completely cancelled.

As in Nashville, the short line here means that penalties for driving while driving are not expensive, so you have drivers hopping everywhere. As Alex Palou, who pitted twice at the start of the race and was 21st, stopped again for wet, then stopped again for dry tires just laps later, he was behind Newgarden in sixth when they collided.

You can't force the pit lane length to be longer for this reason, it's just a coincidence, but it contributed to the race being chaotic and difficult to understand.

The IMSA SportsCar Championship race later Sunday was a perfect example, as Nick Tandy was able to lead the way and emerge fourth, then pitted once the caution came out and emerged at the front of the field. That wouldn't be possible at a lot of other tracks, especially in IMSA with driver changes.

There is also a need for IndyCar drivers to take responsibility for avoiding some of this chaos.

Don't get me wrong, some restarts were a lottery, and many drivers avoided any trouble. But as we've seen in countless accidents recently, some drivers need to be more careful about overtaking and getting out of the way.

I imagine it's annoying to get bombed into Turn 3 in Detroit, but just get out of the way and live to fight another turn, especially with so many cautions.

There seems to be a habit of drivers either not reacting quickly enough to overtaking or refusing to move steadily and taking the contact instead. My mini view of this is that I would rather give up one position in overtaking than 20 in retirement.

Ericsson was right when he said drivers had to do better when racing wheel-to-wheel in the series. Just because a car is powerful, doesn't mean it's a weapon.

As much as we praise IndyCar drivers for their abilities and accomplishments, it's a good idea to question them in races like this as well.

As for the stewards, I think there were too many races where they did poorly, and too much allowing drivers to overtake in general to push the other car away in the process. But they set a precedent, and in this race, they imposed heavy penalties on drivers involved in accidents. It didn't matter because of the number of cautions and the short pit lane.

It's worth considering whether one race a year like this is a good thing or not. This isn't what most fans would call pure racing, but the unpredictability is certainly very attractive to neutral tuners hoping to not see the same driver win every week.

But IndyCar actually does a pretty good job of providing that anyway.


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