DETROIT – Takuma Sato is in for quite a shift.
And, it doesn’t have much to do with him becoming the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.
Last week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sato and his fellow IndyCar drivers raced 230-plus mph on straightaways and turned left at 220 mph into four corners on a smooth track.
They will now go as fast as about 165 mph and as slow as 30 on a 14-turn, bumpy track that is a mix of concrete and asphalt at the Detroit Grand Prix, where the open-wheel series has its only doubleheader with races Saturday and Sunday.
“It is 180-degree different from Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Sato said, standing in a transporter while a sea of fans patiently waited for his autograph and to pose for pictures with him. “I personally love this transition because you have such a fresh feeling. The oval racing is great. But after an entire month of it, you come here and it’s very challenging, very bumpy and you’re basically fighting in the car.”
Just a few miles away from the 2.34-mile circuit on Belle Isle, the “Monument to Joe Louis,” features a 24-foot bronze sculpture of the boxer’s right arm and fist.
Perhaps that is fitting.
“Racing here is like being in a boxing match. Twice,” said Helio Castroneves, who turned a lap at nearly 113 mph Friday for the fastest practice run of the day. “It’s intense. With the downforce, we’re pulling about two Gs in the corner. Your upper body, neck and shoulders are sore after the race. And then, you have to do it all over again the next day.”
Sato’s Honda-powered car held off Castroneves’ Chevy at Indy, but team owner Roger Penske believes his four drivers have the power and reliability needed to win his hometown race that he supports and promotes.
“Look at the facts,” he said matter of factly. “We won the three races before Indy. We had five pole positions. We’ll see what happens here in Detroit. The power that Honda has found this year, they’ve lost some reliability and obviously you could see it in Indianapolis. You’re trading power for reliability. You have to finish before you finish first. We’ll see how it works here. There are some tight corners and they seem to have low-end torque that Chevy doesn’t have. Look, I don’t make any excuses about my engine versus anyone’s engine. … but it was obvious the Honda-powered cars were able to pass pretty easily.”
Passing is at a premium at Belle Isle, where the tight, winding and bumping track can create a parade-like procession through the circuit surrounded by the Detroit River.
Race organizers smoothed out some of the track, but uneven surfaces remain and Simon Pagenaud is thankful for that.
“The bumpier it is, the more it shows the drivers’ skills,” Pagenaud said. “The more time you’re in the air, the trickier it is. This track is about unleashing the beast and wrestling the cars around the corners. Indy is not physical and then you come here and you get roughed around.
“It’s the most physical weekend of the year and we’re already drained.”
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