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IndyCar’s Belle Isle track getting facelift
DETROIT (AP) - It’s October in Detroit, so the unofficial state flower _ the construction barrel _ is still in full bloom.
It was definitely true on Belle Isle, where workers were pouring and smoothing asphalt on Tuesday _ a beautiful sight for a group of IndyCar drivers.
“This is great,” said new series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. “I’m really excited to see the way this place is getting fixed.”
In June, the IndyCar series returned to Belle Isle, only to have the Detroit Grand Prix shortened when the track began to fall apart. Even after a two-hour red flag to fill holes and replace long strips of synthetic rubber, the drivers were only able to complete 60 of the scheduled 90 laps.
For many races, that would have been the end of their affiliation with the series, but when it is Roger Penske’s baby, things are different. Not only will the tour come back to Belle Isle in June, it will do so for a doubleheader _ a 70-lap race on Saturday and 70 more laps on Sunday.
“This is a huge event for the city of Detroit,” said Grand Prix Chairman Bud Denker. “Not only are we going to have a better track, thanks to millions of dollars in repairs and upgrades, we’re going to have a bigger track with the expansion from 2.1 miles to 2.35 miles. And to celebrate that, we’re going to be the host of the first IndyCar doubleheader _ what we’re calling the `Dual in Detroit.’”
The track is going to return to a configuration used in 2000-01, adding a half-mile straightaway through the tree-lined center of the island.
“I don’t know for sure what effect it will have, but it will definitely give us another place to pass,” said series veteran Tony Kanaan. “That’s a good thing on this track, and it should make things more exciting for the fans.”
After a short press conference, the drivers jumped behind the wheels of Chevy Tahoes to drive parts of the track and check out the construction that is still going on along the riverfront.
“We’re way ahead of schedule,” Denker told them. “This will all be done in three weeks, because we need to be finished before the snow gets here.”
Even before getting out of their trucks, the drivers were impressed by what they saw.
“There’s a lot more space here, and we’re not driving over seams all the time like we were last time,” said Oriol Servia, who finished fifth in June. “It’s going to be a lot faster and a lot smoother.”
The drivers watched and chatted with construction workers as a complete rebuild continued on a road that is used 51 weeks a year as the public route around the scenic island.
“That’s the reason this was such an expensive project _ we’ve done engineering studies far beyond anything that has been done for this track or this island before,” Denker said. “We’ve even done core samples from around the track and videotaped the sewer lines to make sure we could improve the drainage. We always have to remember that we aren’t only building a racing surface, we’re building something that has to survive as a public road during a Michigan winter.”
Judging from Tuesday’s reactions, they are well on their way to accomplishing that goal.
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