News from INDYCAR: Castroneves, Rahal set practice pace at Detroit’s Belle Isle

Castroneves, Rahal set practice pace at Detroit’s Belle Isle

DETROIT (Friday, June 2, 2017) – Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal swapped top honors in today’s practice sessions for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear – the only doubleheader race weekend on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

After Rahal led the morning’s 45-minute practice and Castroneves ran second, the veteran drivers exchanged spots in the afternoon. Castroneves’ lap of 1 minute, 15.1511 seconds (112.573 mph) in the second practice put the driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet atop the combined speed chart for the day.

Castroneves, in his 20th Indy car season, has more wins on the 14-turn, 2.35-mile Raceway at Belle Isle Park temporary street course – three – than anyone. The 42-year-old collected the first of his 29 career victories on the track in 2000.

“When you win your first race ever, you do have good memories,” Castroneves said. “In race-car driving, some drivers’ careers, some tracks are really, really suitable. (At Belle Isle,) probably because the combination with the asphalt, concrete, it suits me really well.

“It’s extremely important to come out of the truck with the car well set up. I’m very glad we did that again this year.”

CHEVROLET DETROIT GRAND PRIX: Practice 1 results; Practice 2 results; Combined practice results; Race 1 qualifying groups

Rahal paced the first practice in the No. 15 SoldierStrong / Honda with a lap of 1:15.3328 (112.302 mph), with Castroneves second. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver came within two-hundredths of a second of his morning flyer when he ran second in the afternoon to Castroneves, the series points leader after six of 17 races.

“I’m pleased with what we had today,” said Rahal, a two-time podium finisher at Belle Isle, with a second place in 2014 (Race 1) and third in 2015 (Race 2). “It seems like we were very competitive. Trust me, I wanted to be fastest both sessions today, kind of set the tone a little bit, but it was a good day.

“Helio is one of the best, one of the all-time greats. … We give him a lot of crap for being the old guy, but we’re all still working hard to keep up. Actually, it gives me a lot of hope that I can be here for a lot longer.”

Alexander Rossi, in the No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda, ran the third-fastest lap this afternoon and third best for the day (1:15.4323, 112.154 mph) before his car spun midway through the session and the rear made contact with the wall in Turn 8.

“It was just loose in entry,” said Rossi. “It’s a weird place to spin, especially on entry, so it just got away from me. I don’t think the car is too bad, but that’s a concrete wall there.”

Takuma Sato, fresh off his victory Sunday in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, was seventh fastest today in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, with a lap of 1:15.5923 (111.586 mph).

Esteban Gutierrez, who spent three seasons competing in Formula One, made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut, completing 41 combined laps with a best time of 1:18.2289 (108.144 mph). Gutierrez is driving the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda for Dale Coyne Racing as a substitute for Sebastien Bourdais as the four-time Indy car champion recovers from pelvis and hip fractures sustained in a crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifying.

“My approach this weekend is to learn,” said Gutierrez, 25. “So, I’ll take it step by step very progressively, no mistakes, just enjoying the experience and the speed will come naturally.”

Qualifying for this weekend’s race will vary from the typical three knockout rounds seen on road and street courses. Instead, 30-minute qualifying sessions will be held for each race. The field will be split into two groups, with each group receiving 12 minutes of track time. The fastest driver overall will be the Verizon P1 Award pole winner for that race, with the fastest driver in the other group also earning a championship point and earning the race starting position on the outside of Row 1.

Qualifying for the first race starts at 10:20 a.m. ET Saturday (live stream on The 70-lap race airs live on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 3:30 p.m. Qualifying for Race 2 begins at 10:45 a.m. Sunday(, with Race 2 coverage commencing at 3:30 p.m. on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.