Hunter-Reay leads Andretti charge in practice at Detroit’s Belle Isle

There’s a new car for Verizon IndyCar Series competition in 2018, but it’s still the same old challenging track at Belle Isle Park. And the drivers love it.

Ryan Hunter-Reay led practice for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on the 14-turn, 2.35-mile temporary street course noted for its concrete surface and constant bumps. Friday’s practices are the only scheduled for the doubleheader race weekend, with qualifying and races scheduled each of the next two days.

CHEVROLET DETROIT GRAND PRIX: Practice 1 resultsPractice 2 resultsCombined practice results

With all 23 entries driving cars equipped with the universal aero kit that debuted at the start of the season for the first time in Detroit, Hunter-Reay posted the top practice lap in the last of two 45-minute sessions, at 1 minute, 16.3598 seconds (110.791 mph).

“Oh, it’s certainly busy out there, I can tell you that,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion driving the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport. “I don’t think anybody would be 100 percent satisfied with the balance that they have, but that’s the choice. It’s a lot of fun around here. You really have to wheel the car to get it done.”

All four Andretti Autosport cars finished in the top 10 in the practice sessions. Following Hunter-Reay on the combined timesheet were teammates Marco Andretti in fifth, Alexander Rossi in eighth and Zach Veach in 10th.

“Hats off to the Andretti Autosport team,” said Hunter-Reay, whose best finish in 13 Belle Isle starts was second place in 2013 (Race 1). “We came here with a much better car this year. I was really happy with the balance, even to start out with. The car was basically doing the fundamentals that I needed it to do, the front was working well, and from there we just kept chipping away at it.”

Scott Dixon was second on the day with a lap of 1:16.3667 (110.781 mph) in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. The 2012 Belle Isle winner said he also enjoys racing on the rough track surface, even with the new car that generates significantly less downforce and makes it even more difficult to negotiate the bumps.

“I find this place always tricky, no matter what,” said Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion who is fourth in the current standings after six races. “Any generation of car that I’ve been in, and even if you go back to the previous Dallara, it’s always difficult around here. It’s very bumpy, it’s very physical, it’s very hard to get right, but I think that’s what makes it so much fun, too.”

James Hinchcliffe, who missed last week’s Indianapolis 500 when he was bumped from the field in qualifying, was third overall in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda. Brake issues limited the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports drivers to 11 laps in the first practice, but he was much happier in the afternoon.

“Even on the blacks (Firestone primary tires) before I went to the reds (Firestone alternate tires), the car got miles better, really just sorted it out and the track came alive,” Hinchcliffe said. “Then we put the reds on and managed to get a solid time out of it.”

Will Power, who won the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil five days earlier and is the points leader, was 12th on the speed chart (1:16.8647). Graham Rahal, who won both races of the Detroit weekend a year ago, was sixth (1:16.7098).

Qualifying for the first race of the weekend – with the field split into two groups that receive 12 minutes of track time each – starts at 10:55 a.m. ET Saturday (live stream The 70-lap race airs live at 3:30 p.m. on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Qualifying for Race 2 is set for 10:45 a.m. Sunday (live stream on, with race coverage starting at 3:30 p.m. that day on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Firestone introduces new rain tire for Verizon IndyCar Series competition

With rain that seemingly makes an annual appearance at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear – and there are chances of it affecting the race weekend again – Firestone Racing couldn’t have selected a better time to debut its latest wet-weather tire for Verizon IndyCar Series competition.

The first new rain tire design in three years for INDYCAR’s exclusive supplier since 2000 has an updated tread pattern to better evacuate water from underneath the tires. Less water between the tires and track surface equals greater traction and grip.

Cara Adams, chief engineer of Bridgestone Americas Motorsports that develops and produces the Firestone Racing brand, said the new rain tires feature an asymmetric and directional tread pattern “to achieve ultimate water evacuation, braking, acceleration and cornering performance” for the competitors in wet conditions.

“There isn’t a specific thing that caused (development) for this new tire,” Adams said Friday when the tire was introduced at the Raceway at Belle Isle. “We are ever evolving our technology at Bridgestone Motorsports and we need to be. With our ability to be at the track, we are always communicating with the drivers and engineers and getting their feedback. We take what they tell us and take it back so we can improve our tires.”

Newgarden beats high school friend, NFL player Tate in table tennis showdown

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden caught up with a high school chum for a game of table tennis. The friend happened to be NFL wide receiver Golden Tate of the Detroit Lions.

Newgarden and Tate attended Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville, Tennessee, before Newgarden went on to a successful racing career and Tate matriculated to play football at the University of Notre Dame and then the NFL.

The duo reunited at the Drive Table Tennis Social Club in Detroit on Wednesday to challenge each other in a friendly game with a charitable donation on the line. Newgarden won the best-of-three match, earning a $2,500 donation to the Serious Fun Children’s Network from Tate.

“It was great to catch up with Golden here in Detroit,” said Newgarden, the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion who encountered weather delays on his way to Detroit that made him late to the event.

“I don’t think we’ve seen each other since high school. When we were growing up, he was always the best athlete in school and it’s been incredible to watch his career and see him achieve so much success.

“He put up a great fight in the match. I think I froze him a bit with my travel being delayed. All in all, it was a ton of fun to go head-to-head, especially for a couple of great causes.”