- Associated Press - Saturday, June 2, 2012

DETROIT (AP) - Fittingly and finally, auto racing is back in the Motor City.

“You feel like you’re in the birthplace of the automobile here,” IndyCar team owner Chip Ganassi said.

The Detroit Grand Prix has made its return this weekend for the first time since 2008, when the sagging automobile industry couldn’t support the expensive event.

“It wouldn’t be back if not for the support of Chevrolet,” Detroit Grand Prix chairman Bud Denker said Saturday. “I think this race tells the world that the lights are back on in Detroit, we’ve seen a big resurgence in business and we’re out celebrating.”

Roger Penske’s Michigan-based company invested $7 million in Belle Isle, where the race is held, for the races in 2007 and 2008 to spruce up a place that needed a lot of care. The Belle Isle Conservancy, a nonprofit organization, raised about $280,000 at a charity event Friday night in the hopes of sustaining an overlooked gem on the Detroit River.

“You could see and sense the excitement at the event,” Denker said. “I think everyone sees Detroit is on the right path again.”

After some spectators had to walk on muddy paths Friday, eight trucks full of mulch were delivered and spread by some of the 1,150 volunteers and three more truckloads of wood chips were expected to be dropped off on Saturday at a total cost of more than $30,000.


OVERCOMING OBSTACLES: Racing with diabetes hasn’t slowed down Charlie Kimball.

The second-year IndyCar driver for Chip Ganassi Racing has three top-10 finishes this year in five races after being among the top 10 just twice in 17 starts last year. He was eighth at the Indianapolis 500, matching a career-best finish in a second straight event.

Kimball, who is from Camarillo, Calif., was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2007.

“With the right tools and discipline, mentality and perspective, there’s very little that you can’t do in life,” he said. “That transcends to diabetes. That transcends medical problems. That’s larger than just racing or sports, or anything.”

Kimball said that’s the message he carries each time he meets fellow diabetics.

“The diabetes community has been a fantastic support system for me,” he said. “They have been so good at getting my message out there. It’s so encouraging that that whole community believes in what I’m doing.


NOT SLIPPERY WHEN WET: Firestone’s new rain tires made their debut Friday morning during practice in wet conditions.

“I’m personally a little excited to see the rain,” Firestone project engineer Cara Adams said with a grin.

The rain tires, which replace the ones that have been used since 1996, weren’t needed on a dry and cool day Saturday, but might be back on the track for Sunday’s race because a possibility of rain is in the forecast.

Adams said the tires’ tread grooves are about a millimeter less and the diameter is a tenth of an inch larger than the previous version. Also, teams can now quickly and easily see how much tread is left on tires with their own eyes instead of having to take time to measure it.

Team owner and former driver Mario Andretti had a positive initial impression.

“It’s probably the best rain tire we’ve seen in terms of grip and stability,” Andretti said.


SPARK PLUGS: The first six drivers _ Scott Dixon, Will Power, Alex Tagliani, Simon Pagenaud, EJ Viso and Ryan Hunter-Reay _ in Sunday’s race represent six teams, six countries and are evenly split between Honda- and Chevrolet-powered cars. … James Hinchcliffe qualified 14th in the 25-car field. He was the only driver in IndyCar to make it to the Fast Six round of qualifying in the first five races this year. Hinchcliffe is the only IndyCar driver to complete every lap this season, finishing sixth or better in each race. … Gustavo Yacaman took the lead on lap 26 and held on to win the Indy Lights race Saturday on Belle Isle for his first win this year and the second of his career.

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