Bumpy, narrow Detroit GP track has IndyCar drivers at odds

DETROIT -- 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. One unique aspect that could add intrigue for fans and complexity for teams is the 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 positions 14 drivers on the left and 13 on the right, the first such setup 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 to 1991 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 tweet, adding 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 on 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, on a surface that is a mix of asphalt and concrete, 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 Autosport 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?"

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," Rosenqvist 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.