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Dual in Detroit Rewind

June 6, 2013

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Winners Simon Pagenaud (Sunday) and Mike Conway, Saturday’s winner celebrate on the Dual in Detroit podium – Anne Proffit photo

I can’t believe I’m still thinking about Detroit when everyone in INDYCAR is headed for Texas. I guess travel – and that much time in the midwest – will do it to you…

The Duals in Detroit IZOD IndyCar Series weekend was accentuated by paradox. It had a part-time winner (who also earned pole for the other race and finished on podium), a first-time victor who drove “in the zone”, a Honda sweep of two races sponsored by Chevrolet (turnabout is fair play as Chevy took victory in two Honda races earlier in the year), one clean race and one demo derby.

Got to hand it to Mike Conway. There he was a week ago last Sunday, helping his father in the garden while catching the first 10 laps of the Indianapolis 500 and the final 60 go-rounds. Less than a week later, he was wheeling Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Dallara/Honda/Firestone Indy car to victory in the first of two scheduled races in the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.
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Conway went from third on the 25-car grid to win by nearly 13 seconds over Ryan Hunter-Reay, with teammate and countryman Justin Wilson third.

Coyne, who had been running Ana Beatriz through Indy in the No. 18, called Conway on Tuesday, set him up in the colorful car that Bia had been driving, stuck some Sonny’s decals here and there, got a nice, generic black-and-white suit for Conway to wear and – geez – look what happened!

On Saturday, Coyne scored his first ever double podium, his third win as an owner as Conway celebrated his second career IZOD IndyCar Series victory. They wanted it; they earned it.

Things were a wee bit different on Sunday on the 2.36-mile, 13-corner bumpy Belle Isle street circuit. There were no unfortunate circumstances with pavement breaking up – thanks to $2 million in renovation – but there was definitely an air (at least for the first 36 laps) of a demolition derby, as the second 70-lap contest was marred by six cautions until just past the halfway mark.
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From that point it was a dash under green to the checkers and the winner was, as he said, totally in the zone. Simon Pagenaud earned his first Indy car win in the No. 77 Schmidt-Hamilton-Peterson Dallara/Honda/Firestone Indy car, giving Sam Schmidt his first INDYCAR win as an owner.

Partnered with engineer Ben Bretzman, with whom he’d been working since his time as a sports car champion at Highcroft Racing, Pagenaud reeled off the laps like he was qualifying, gapping the field to his final pit stop and outrunning second-placed James Jakes by 5.624 seconds. Conway was third.

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The balance of the top 10 finishers – and even with all the contact, 20 of 25 entries were still on the track at the close – were Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball, Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal and birthday boy Sebastian Saavedra. That gave Honda the top five results and eight of the top 10!

That both races were runaways for Honda was invigorating for the manufacturer, which had a miserable month of May at Indianapolis. They couldn’t qualify and they certainly couldn’t pull off the win, not with Chevrolet’s obviously better preparation.

The biggest wreck was the final one on the 27th lap, involving 10 cars and instigated by four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais, who received a drive-through penalty and a throw of gloves (from Will Power) for his involvement. Of those 10 cars, only Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani were unable to continue, but Power, who’d led three laps at the start, only finished 53 laps after repairs were made to his Penske car.

By contrast, the first 70-lap Dual had only three cautions with two of them for contact.

AJ AllmendingerThe biggest loser in this weekend’s races had to be AJ Allmendinger, driving the Quicken Loans Penske Chevy car; the Dinger managed to complete three corners in the first race and one in the second. If he was trying out for a full-season ride, this wasn’t the way to do it. Allmendinger made contact with Scott Dixon in Turn 4 of the first Dual and crashed all by himself in the second turn of the second race.

The biggest winners were the two guys on the top step of the podiums: Conway and Pagenaud. It’s interesting noting that neither Team Penske nor Target Ganassi Racing have won a race yet this year on the Indy car trail; Will Power, runner-up the past three seasons has been nowhere near the front.

But that’s over now and it’s time to head for Texas, where Justin Wilson is the defending champ, thanks to his and engineer Bill Pappas’ adjustments to get the best balance from a car using far less downforce than it had the year before. Now that Dale Coyne Racing has shown itself to be an upstart in the Indy car series, can J-Wil go for two in a row?

The way this season has been shaping up, most anything is possible.

Words and Photos By Anne Proffit

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