- Roger Penske and his team are once again leading a Detroit downtown makeover—this time in the form of a one-of-a-kind racing circuit.
- The Detroit Grand Prix features a concerted effort by the different Council Districts to make the city's first downtown race since 1991 something special for the region.
- On the track, one talking point will undoubtedly be the circuit's one-of-a-kind double pit lane.
Penske Corporation president and Detroit Grand Prix Chairman Bud Denker can be excused for having flashbacks to 2005 when talking about next year's NTT IndyCar Series Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for the streets of Detroit.
"You can feel the energy," Denker said at a recent meeting at the Renaissance Center in Detroit of nearly 170 business leaders and race supporters to update the community on the progress being made on the downtown circuit that will host major-league racing for the first time in three decades in June. "This reminds me of 2005 and the Super Bowl, it really does. In '05, we were here downtown getting ready for the Super Bowl in Detroit with Roger Penske.
"You can feel the same kind of energy downtown now."
In 2005, and the year prior, Super Bowl host Penske helped transform downtown Detroit into a showpiece for the NFL's season finale. Fast forward nearly two decades, and Penske and his team are once again leading a Detroit downtown makeover—this time in the form of a one-of-a-kind racing circuit.
The 1.7-mile, 10-turn circuit will include Jefferson Avenue, Bates Street, Atwater Street, St. Antoine, Franklin Street, and Rivard. It will wind around General Motors' headquarters at the Renaissance Center and along the Detroit riverfront. Jefferson Avenue will include a .7-mile straight that will lead into a hairpin turn. The circuit will also feature a two-lane pit road with pits situated in essence across the street from each other—a first for IndyCar.
The race in Detroit is a concerted effort by the different Council Districts to make the city's first downtown race since 1991 something special for the region. Each district will have an opportunity to showcase its businesses and feed off the energy and crowds expected downtown.
"You're going to see the different districts come down and bring some businesses and creative people downtown during that (June 2-4) weekend," Denker said. "Let alone that 50% of the the track will be accessible by fans for free."
The 2023 Detroit Grand Prix weekend will also include races featuring the Trans Am Series and the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.
Denker said that the race weekend will be more than just racing.
"We saw this at Iowa Speedway," Denker said. "We brought these amazing concert acts in—Florida Georgia Line, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani. We had 35,000 people a day, and 75% of them had never been to a race before. They came to see the entertainment. I hope we have the same dynamic here."
On the track, one talking point will undoubtedly be the circuit's one-of-a-kind double pit lane. Cars will enter the pits, separate into two lanes of pits and then funnel back to the tack at the top of pit line.
"There's no pattern, no other race, we're using for that," Denker said. "Engineers are looking at it and saying, 'How are we going to ensure that when you cross this line you're going to be the first car out? Think about it, too, the distance between pit-in and your first pit box had better be to the inch, because that driver that says it's not is going to complain about someone having an advantage—left side or right side.
"We're going to have a design engineered so that it's precisely the same distance, whether you're pit box 1 on the right or pit box 2 on the left. And God help the driver who forgets, 'Am I on the right? Am I on the left?'"
Team Penske IndyCar driver and two-time (2017, 2019) IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, who was the series' ambassador when IndyCar came to the streets of Nashville, is back in a similar role in Detroit. He's been a part of multiple promotional events for the Detroit event.
And, yes, Newgarden feels some of the same energy surrounding the Detroit race that he felt leading up to the first Music City Grand Prix in 2021.
"Very much so," Newgarden said. "I think this is really going to transcend this event. I loved Belle Isle—I loved it for the track. But I think from an event standpoint, this is going to create so much more opportunity for the the city of Detroit, for the fans, for the Detroit Grand Prix. It's really a win, win."
Newgarden is careful not to grade the track for raceability before race week in June.
"That's always the case with a new circuit," he said. "We'll have to see what it's like when we actually go and do it, but I think it looks much more challenging than people would think. It's not as simple as it looks. I think in racing conditions it's going to be very hard to navigate the hairpin at the Joe Louis fist. It's going to be like six lanes going into there to a dead stop. It's going to be a challenge."
As for the dual-lane pits, a first for IndyCar—or any major racing series, for that matter—Newgarden said he thinks he finally has a handle on it after initially being "a little confused."
"For us coming into the pits, you've just got to remember what side you're on, really," he said. "If you forget what side you're on, it could probably end badly."
Share your thoughts on the return of IndyCar to streets of downtown Detroit—and the novel use of dual pit lanes—in the comments below.