Story and photo by Vickie Miller
Last weekend I attended my sixth trip to the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix event. This visit was the fifth consecutive year with TUDOR and one prior visit when the Indycars raced with the American Le Mans Series many years ago.
The weekend held racing from Indycar, IMSA Tudor Championship, Pirelli World Challenge (PWC), and Stadium Super Trucks (SST). Due to several series racing over the weekend, only the Grand Touring (GT) and the GTA (driver classification part of GT class for professional drivers who do not make their primarily living from racing) classes of PWC attended. While TUDOR brought three classes P (Prototype), PC (Prototype Challenge), and GTD (GT Daytona).
For this recap, I thought I would start by reviewing last yearâ€™s article to determine what has changed from 2014. The track was repaved but of the drivers I spoke to, no one found it an improvement. Drivers mentioned the surface was the same or worse than the prior year but the surface is not the most difficult part. The track is still very bumpy. If you watched any of the racing over the weekend, you probably noticed the Indycars â€œhoppingâ€ and bouncing. At the track, it appeared only the Stadium Super Trucks didnâ€™t have a problem with the bumps.
The state of Michigan has taken over responsibility of Belle Isle as a state park, and I was very happy to notice a few improvements! The old stone permanent buildings now had working restrooms with running water. The free shuttle bus service was organized and right on time Saturday morning at 7am! The ferry was operating this year, but sadly the first run of the day was 9am which was too late for me. This race fan needs to be there when the gates open!
If considering putting Detroit on your list of tracks to attend, start your packing list now and be sure to include several umbrellas, rain ponchos, rain boots or shoes which will end up muddy. Leave at home ladies, your dresses and high heels. Yes I saw some on Saturday! I know a pedicure pavilion for you at Le Mans.
One big issue remains with this track. To walk from the end of the PWC paddock or podium area to the vendor or fan village there is one bridge with one narrow cement road. For all my years, I have wondered why the cement road is ONLY wide enough to handle two passing golf carts, which leaves volunteers telling pedestrians all day long, â€œwalk in the grass (or mud when it rains)â€. Seriously? If you fix nothing else, please take a few bucks and pour a three-foot-wide, 30 yards long, walking strip alongside this little path so the volunteers can focus on more important tasks.
This year was the first visit to the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix event for race fans Michael Goodwin (aka The Sign Guy) and his mother, Abby (aka TwitterlessAbby). Here are a few comments regarding their first visit.
Mike said, â€œAfter jokes and warning from friends about Detroit, I found it to be a great trip. The downtown area was full of amazing buildings, great restaurants, and street art.â€
Mike continues, â€œThe Grand Prix was well planned out down to the shuttle buses, to nice knowledgeable volunteers. The only thing I would change would be less rain but the rain made the race exciting.â€
Abby provided the following reflections on her weekend to the Detroit Grand Prix. â€œAs a first time visitor to Belle Isle, I thought it was a really interesting and beautiful setting for a road race. The complimentary shuttle bus was awesome and so very convenient to downtown. The hundreds of volunteers were all friendly and very hospitable.â€
Being a big race fan, Abby, â€œloved having the Pirelli WC races at the same race track as Tudor. I wish it could always be that way. I have no complaints other than the weather, but it really wasnâ€™t that bad!! I also missed seeing the GTLM cars race.â€
Thank you, Michael and Abby for your comments, who neither by the way work for the Detroit Tourism Bureau.
There were many volunteers who were slightly helpful and I was very encouraged. Since this was my fifth visit to Belle Isle for Tudor, I decided to hold a quiz. The Pirelli World Challenge (PWC) paddock is split into two sections. One close to the media center and by the entrance to the Tudor and Indycar paddock, the other across a walk bridge by the way to the back of the fan village.
I was in the main paddock area when I asked a â€œCan I help you?â€ blue shirt track volunteer, where the other PWC paddock was located. While this person did not know for sure, and admitted as such, he did point me in the right direction. Which is better than some directions I have been given at other tracks!
The autograph session was in the same terrible location but at least the weather held for TUDOR to hold the event. The PWC autograph session was moved from Saturday to Sunday only to be canceled, along with the Sunday race. While the fans missed out on racing and weekend activities due to the rain, my heart goes out to the teams who have to pack up a wet tent and paddock set up area, to face the additional work upon returning to the shop to dry all the equipment to be ready for the next race weekend.
With last year being the exception, the weather stole the show. Teams struggled to watch the upcoming weather and to start on slicks, but keep the rain tires handy. The track is literally an island, hence the name Belle Isle, and fans can stand at any part of the track to watch the storm clouds and weather move and shift as wind swirls around the isle just enough to play havoc on any team strategy.
And now the racing action! The TUDOR qualifying sessions were a roller coaster of emotion for me. I had interviewed RSR # 11 PC driver Chris Cummings between practice sessions, so going into qualifying I was rooting for Chris, who was leading right up to the last lap!
In the GTD class, with a hard hit to the wall by turn seven from hydroplaning from the rain, from driver Dion von Moltke in the Paul Miller Racing #48 Audi R8 LMS, the team somehow was able to put that car back together. Dion turned in an amazing performance to grab the pole and later with his racing partner, Christopher Haase, the Paul Miller team would take the race podium, too!
I was in the paddock area when the #48 returned to the Paul Miller tent on a flat-bed tow truck. No, I didnâ€™t take any photos. I was talking to a Paul Miller crew member who mentioned the team did have the parts to fix it, but I figured the team would need all the 2-1/2 hours before qualifying. I went back to the tent just minutes before Dion would hop in to qualify and the car looked amazing. Talk about having a never give up attitude!
With every race, my main focus is the #60 Michael Shank Racing entry and this year with the debut of the Honda HPD Ligier JS P2 car, I am always interested how the car will perform as it faces each circuit on the schedule for the first time. Last year, the #60 Ford EcoBoost fought a great battle and finished fourth. The Honda HPD would end first practice sixth in class and end second practice fifth in class but 15th overall with seven GTDâ€™s posting quicker times.
The MSR team went to work, dug deep, and John Pew qualified the car a respectable 6th. John and Oswaldo â€œOzzâ€ Negri Jr knew this track, but how would the Honda feel about a bumpy street course which hasnâ€™t been friendly to this team in past years. Since I have been honored to write for Motor Week LIVE!, this will be the first time I have included the URL to an IMSA website and encouraged fans to watch a race. I was there and I will be watching it again myself. And even if you saw it live on Saturday, watch it again and keep your eye on #60 especially at the end.
To say â€œOzz got around the #5 Corvette DPâ€ would be an understatement. The #60 returned to the paddock one step away from the podium top step, but proud to show all the battle scars! The Action Express Corvette DP took 3rd place with drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi.
Attending races for years, you grow to love many teams. While I would have been thrilled to see #60 get the win, I am ok with the final result. The #31 Whelen Motorsports (partnered with Action Express) team has always been very nice to me over the years and held a special place in my heart. I have watched drivers Eric Curran and Dane Cameron race for years separately and become a strong team together. I feel like I have watched Dane grow up as he progressed up through the race car line and improved with each new car or series he tackled. The win was especially sweet since Sonny Whelenâ€™s birthday is June 2. If you are unfamiliar with Sonny Whelen and Team Fox, I encourage you to read more herehttp://www.whelen.com/motorsports/cure
At the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix event, I had the pleasure of chatting with Chris Cumming, driver of the #11 RSR Racing ORECA FLM09 Chevrolet in the TUDOR Championship PC class. Chris shares the driving duties with Bruno Junqueira. I first was introduced to Chris in 2013 when he was part of the Michael Shank Racing team driving the #6 car in the Rolex 24 race. Also in the #6 Ford DP were drivers Jorge Goncalves, Michael Valiente, and Gus Yacaman.
Chris and his family live in Vancouver British Columbia, so like many west coast drivers, Chris spends a travel day each race weekend to get to and return from most of the TUDOR tracks where he competes. Chris considers Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca his home track. Meet Chris here https://youtu.be/DoDodxmksXA
Chris started, like many drivers, competing in go-karting for four years in Canada before heading to Star Mazda on the West Coast, where in 2008 and 2009 Chris was the Star Mazda Expert Series Champion. Chrisâ€™ racing resume also includes IMSA GT3 Cup 2010 and 2011 and American Le Mans Series (ALMS) GTC with JDX Racing in 2012 with Michael Valiante as his co-driver. Chris later raced in ALMS with BAR1 in the ORECA FLM09 P car where his co-driver was fellow Canadian, Kyle Marcelli.
Now for the hard hitting questions!
Q: Favorite Movie: Good Fellas
Q: Favorite Food: Pizza
Q: If you could attend any track to view a race as a fan, which track and which series would be racing: Chris answered quickly with F1 and Silverstone.
Q: Little unknown fun fact: Chris enjoys kiteboarding in Hawaii and is quite good.
Q: If you could spend the afternoon with one person (driver, famous, politician, etc.) who would it be and what would you do? Chris would hang out with Elon Musk and tour the SpaceX facility.
Q: What are you most looking forward to heading into your first 24 Hours of Le Mans race week? Chris canâ€™t wait to â€œexperience the magnitude of the whole eventâ€! Right after the Detroit race, Chris hopped on a plane and headed directly to Le Mans for the mandatory test for those drivers competing for the first time.
Q: Away from the track, what is a typical day for you? Chris doesnâ€™t have any typical days. He is a business man working for Evident Capital but he has no 8 to 5 day. He starts out working from home checking on the stock market and getting a feel for how the business day might progress. Chris always makes time for some form of exercise workout before heading to the downtown office. Chris can also be found hanging out with his family and taking his son and daughter to school activities. Just your typical family dad during the week, and fast race car driver on weekends!
I met with Chris between practice sessions on Friday of the race weekend. I am sorry the RSR # 11 car didnâ€™t have a better weekend for the team and for my article. Itâ€™s racing and things happen.
I invite you to find out more about Chris and his team at the RSR website: http://www.gorsr.com/drivers/chris-cummings
Chris would like to thank his sponsors: Evident Capital Corp, Auto Max
Please give Chris a follow on Twitter: @CCummingRacing
Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, TUDOR, etc. just a fan. There are many blogs and websites where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is â€œjust the way I see itâ€. Got a response? Follow and tweet me @viclovesracing