Now a relic from the Randy Bernard era, the doubleheader format used at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix makes the event one of the most uniquely compelling of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. Since the cancellation of Houston and date change for Toronto in 2015, Belle Isle now serves as the only host to a double points event that actually features twice as much racing on a single weekend.
It’s also the fourth weekend of five in a row of IndyCar drivers on track. The stretch kicked off with the IndyCar Grand Prix, moved into Indianapolis 500 qualifying, the race itself last weekend, and finishes next week at Texas Motor Speedway. It should be no surprise, then, that the busiest stretch of the season should tell us quite a bit about what kind of championship battle is shaping up for 2018—and watch out for these five drivers to shape it with their respective performances this weekend:
Last Week’s Winner: Will Power
The 500’s first Australian winner also became the first driver to win both IndyCar rounds at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the same season, having taken the IndyCar Grand Prix just two weeks prior. Having suffered two DNFs at Phoenix and Barber, the wins couldn’t have come at a better time for Power, who now leads the championship standings by two points over Alexander Rossi thanks to the double points on the line last weekend. Power also has two Detroit wins, 2014’s first race and 2016’s second leg.
Last Year’s Winner: Graham Rahal
Only once since the move toward making Detroit a doubleheader has a driver been able to sweep the event. That year was last year, and that driver was Rahal, who led 96 of the 140 laps across both days to take the most recent two of his six career IndyCar victories. Despite struggling in 500 qualifying, he still managed to bring it home 10th in the race, and hasn’t finished worse than 12th since Phoenix last year. Backing up last year’s victories would be a great way to climb higher than sixth in points, though.
Consistent Contender: Scott Dixon
He’s only won here once, taking the 2012 edition of the event that saw it return to the IndyCar schedule after a three-year absence, but Dixon boasts the best average finish of active competitors on Belle Isle at 7.2. Last year, Chip Ganassi Racing’s longest-tenured driver finished second and sixth in the doubleheader, as opposed to a crash in 2015’s second race and electrical problems in the 2016 opener. Coming off a pair of podiums in Indianapolis, he’ll be a threat to take his first win of the year this week.
On a Hot Streak: Alexander Rossi
What Rossi did at Indianapolis was insane. Climbing from 32nd to fourth over the course of a 200-lap race takes immense talent and incredible patience, and the intensity and fervor with which he sliced through the field on multiple restarts was nothing short of legendary. The fact that he’s not leading the championship right now is more a reflection of IndyCar’s decision to place extra importance on the 500 with double points than anything else; he’s only missed a top five once all year, and even then ran 11th.
On the Hot Seat?: James Hinchcliffe
Thanks to his remarkable consistency early in the season, the Mayor of Hinchtown’s DNQ for the 500 didn’t force him to plummet quite as far down the standings as we thought. Sure, he’s fallen to 10th place, 99 points out of the lead, but still remains within a win’s distance of the top five. And with two of those on offer this weekend, there’s actually a good chance that he can erode some of the gap with a little help. So maybe the extra week to prepare his Detroit car will actually prove advantageous?