Story and photo by Vickie Miller

Battle at Belle Isle!

First my rant about Belle Isle then the racing…. This was my fourth visit to Belle Isle for racing. The park itself was about the same. The park looks pretty on TV but just like Detroit, the park was hit with a hard winter and economic down turn. The fan walking paths are usually all mud, but this year I saw one new sidewalk path (I didn’t use, not sure where it went) and some mulch with big tree sticks tried to hide the mud. Tip: never bring good shoes to this track! However, the restrooms were padlocked shut. Only port-a-potties! Maybe I’m weird, but I like to wash my hands. As with most tracks, I get stopped or questioned about my crew hard card to get into pit road. When one security guy gives me a hassle, I usually go to another gate. The standard is, “You are part of the crew? What do you do?” I usually answer “front tire changer”. Surprising some find it believable. At Detroit, the security guy says, “You must have ‘HOT PASS’ on your credential to be on pit road not ‘crew’”. To which I replied, “I will leave when you get all these guys holding an air hose, wrench, gas can, etc. standing in the pit boxes leave because they are all wearing crew credentials too!” He was annoyed but let me stay. I never went through that gate again.

While the fan/vendor area is spanned over a large area of the park, I would be curious to know the logic as to why the TUDOR driver autograph session was in its bad location. Since this was Peter von Moltke’s (Dion’s dad) first time to Belle Isle, I walked with him to where the autograph session tent had been in past years…only to find it’s not there. On the IMSA website, the event schedule listed, “Driver Autograph Session for TUDOR Championship at IMSA Fan Village in the Meijer Fan Zone” while Detroit Grand Prix website listed, “TUDOR Championship Drivers Autograph Session – Meijer Fan Zone”. Technically the Meijer Fan Zone was the whole isle! Walk past the section of big blow up tents and bouncy houses for kids, walk past the area where tents were set up last year for autograph session, walk past the padlock restroom building (this deserves a 2nd mention), and there in the distance, Peter and I finally spotted a group of tables which appeared to be our destination. Most of the people going through the autograph line seemed to have wondered upon the building looking for something else. The autograph session was scheduled for 9:45 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. At 10:15am with no fans in sight, one team was bold enough to do what other teams were discussing…leave! Once a team started, the trend continued and slowly teams gathered up their stack of signed hero cards and went back to paddock. Okay, I’m not going to complain unless I can offer ideas. The Indy car series uses the designed fan walking paths to put up signs to inform fans of the times and path to walk to find with Indy car fan village and autograph session. As long as I have come to Detroit, the TUDOR (ex-Grand Am) autograph session has been done in the park area and not at the team haulers. I am going to assume this is because the intent is to have the autograph session open to all the public and the TUDOR haulers are in the same fenced area as Indy car and Indy charges extra for paddock access. So this results in putting the autograph session in the open park area which is accessed by all ticketed fans. If you were walking around the paddock area, you would have no idea the autograph session was happening. I wonder the cost of printing up and handing out to fans in the paddock a one page flyer with a map of the park showing the building and directions to the autograph session building. Heck I would volunteer to hand it out! The autograph session is the single biggest race weekend event for fans to have access to all the drivers and the best opportunity to GRAB the fans into the series. Yes, I know… IMSA is a “work in progress” but meantime you are losing diehard fans.

It was very sad to see the water ferry not running this year. I really enjoyed getting from downtown hotels using the port authority pier over to the track. While the shuttle was free this year, I would have paid the $20 round trip fee for the ferry. While the shuttle service was better, the shuttle, like the park, needs improving.

Okay, now for the reason we are here! First “P” coverage…WHAT A QUALIFYING SESSION! I loved to see two different types of race cars battling for the top spot, and what role (if any) would BOP make in the results. Congratulations to Spirit of Daytona! Ryan Dalziel sure made Richard Westbrook work for the pole! I talked to many drivers Friday and Saturday who mentioned the track was a lot “bumpier” than last year. I have been fortunate enough to do HOT LAP on this track for the past two years and my overall impression is bumpy and narrow! The track did a quick mini patch job on Wednesday which drivers noticed who took the track walk on Thursday. At least the pavement didn’t peel-up like last year on James Hinchcliffe. But the pavement, like the park, showed signs of a bad winter. Between the various race series on the track (Indy, Super Truck, WC) the track blowers took a few laps themselves.

With the race at Detroit, there are always a lot of car manufacturer VIP’s around and some teams appear to feel the “pressure” more than others. The two Ford EcoBoost team haulers (Shank and Ganassi) were parked next to each other and Ford Racing VIP’s walked back and forth between the two teams. Which means drivers and owners need to leave their “normal” routine and be move visible for chats, interviews, Q&A, etc. Usually after a morning practice, the driver debriefs and reviews data with the chief engineer and team. With being fastest in first practice, Ozz Negri had to meet with Ford and media which is a good thing for team exposure but it does change driver routine. With the race only being 100 minutes in duration, the “gentlemen” driver only had to drive for only 10 minutes (instead of the usual 30 minutes) to meet the minimum time in the car. With 12 minutes into the race, the Ganassi 01 car was in for what was first a braking issue and completed driver change. The team “bled the brakes” but Pruett was unable to maintain minimum speed. The car retired from a clutch issue. The EcoBeast (my new name for the Shank machine) needed a few tweaks and took a lap without the “bonnet” which was planned. Ozz commanded the EcoBeast through each turn and took some bumps and finished 4th from a qualifying start of 6th turning in an excellent racing result! The EcoBeast heads to Austin for testing at COTA before going to Watkins Glen.

The final laps of the race were the Ricky and Joao show! My dad used to say, “Why watch the whole basketball game when only the last 5 minutes matter?” Ha…well, my dad might have something. While I do watch every minute of the racing and it all matters, the last 5 laps of the Detroit TUDOR race was Action Packed (yes, pun intended Action Express!) Ricky had his hands full and this race fan was very happy for the result. I’m an old softie at heart…this was Wayne Taylor Racing’s third win at Detroit, Taylor clan on the heels of leaving for LeMans testing, and on a personal note, I have a very special place in my heart for the Taylor family. Since it is the “Chevrolet Sports Car Classic presented by the Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers” (longest name ever for a race!) and it would have been great to see a Ford win, I am good with Spirit of Daytona taking the pole and WTR winning.

Now let’s recap GTD. It should be no surprise I root for Dion von Moltke and the Flying Lizard team. The #35 car had more than its share of bad luck in both qualifying and the race, whether being stuck behind slower cars or an incorrect line-up after a yellow during the race. Wishing Dion and family a fun vacation and put this race behind you. Dion can be very proud that he always pushed every minute behind the wheel! I am very happy for #45 car’s pole and looked like they had a great handle for winning, which would be have a big lift after running out of fuel at Laguna Seca. The #45 car, driven by Spencer Pumpelly, ended up being turned by Townsend Bell and landed in the grass watching the field pass by. Since the bump happened out on the track and I did not see it myself, I am going by reliable source comments and the in-car video from #45 to make the call Townsend Bell finished the car.

I just realized Saturday morning the TUDOR race was an hour delayed on FOX Sports TV. Does anyone know why? What was on TV more important than LIVE coverage of the Detroit race? While at the track, I do try and follow TUDOR fans on Twitter and I read the timing and scoring had issues too. So let me see if I understand this right……basically no reliable LIVE current coverage for the race? Very sad from the cool streaming online days of ALMS. During the race, I bring my own scanner and switch between listening to the team chatter and the MRN race coverage. From what I heard, there was a lot less “discussion” about Gus Yacaman. Congrats on his podium finish.

This was my first time experience with the Super Trucks. They were at Long Beach but only ran part of the track and not near the Tudor paddock. I’m not sure if there was TV or online coverage of this series but you got to love racing where you “jump (stuff)”! (Stole that from Ryan E). I want to go see these guys in dirt!

One last note, proving all good things must come to an end. Jordan Taylor is #TamingTheMullet Keeping with cool big-hearted Jordan’s nature, he is cutting off the mullet for charity. Please take a minute to donate at I bought my 15 tickets and I challenge each race fan to buy at least one ticket even if you are unable to attend WGI race. Thank you.

With two days of perfect weather, multiple racing series, and lots to see and do, overall it was a pretty good weekend in Detroit! Oh yea, there was INDY car racing too! Thank you 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 “just the way I see it”.

Got a response? Follow and tweet me @viclovesracing