North America

Racing on the beautiful island … a visit to Belle Isle

Detroit, I love you. Did I just say that? When I moved to the Midwest a few years ago, I never thought I would say these words. Despite its massive financial, crime and PR problems, I believe Detroit is going to be America’s great comeback city. Good things are happening in Detroit like the INDYCAR Duel in Detroit.

I can think of no better place than Motor City — birthplace of the American auto industry — to host one of the best events on the INDYCAR calendar. And I can think of no better place in Detroit to host open wheel than lovely Belle Isle, a 1.5-square-mile island park in the Detroit River, between the U.S. and Canada.

Despite a rainy and unusually chilly last day of May, I decided to drive over to Detroit to watch the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit. I have been to American LeMans and rally car racing, but this was my first open-wheel race after watching INDYCAR for years. I have to say it was definitely more electric, louder and faster in person than on television.

The Dual in Detroit is unique for several reasons. First, it’s the only race on INDYCAR’s calendar that includes two different races on a weekend. After Carlos Muñoz won the dual on Saturday, I came to cheer on Sunday for my favorite driver, Tony Kanaan. The 70-lap circuit is considered the most challenging on the INDYCAR circuit. In order to win on Belle Isle, the largest city-owned island park in the United States, you have to be a very technically skilled driver. Average speeds for the race tend to hover around less than 80 mph due to an abundance of tricky turns and curves.


I arrived Sunday afternoon in the Motor City. I think the reason I like Detroit so much is for three reasons. For one, it is a gritty city, and I grew up in a gritty city. Second, it has beautiful architecture that seems to grace the city from a forgotten era. And lastly, it is a city that is remaking itself. The proud people of Detroit, despite the city’s tremendous challenges, are determined to reclaim their city and forge a brighter future.

Greektown is one of the prettiest parts of downtown Detroit. There are a number of great restaurants, shops and bars in this touristy part of the city. I parked at the Greektown Casino before taking the People Mover — Detroit’s monorail — to Renaissance Center (GM’s headquarters). From there our shuttle bus driver drove us north along the Detroit River and then across the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle.

Racing aside, Belle Isle is exactly as it French name implies — beautiful. The island is home to the Belle Isle Aquarium, the Belle Isle Conservatory, the Belle Isle Nature Zoo, the Detroit Yacht Club on an adjacent island, the James Scott Memorial Fountain and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. It also hosts a Coast Guard station, a municipal golf course and numerous monuments. You can bike around the magnificent island on a non-racing weekend.


This weekend I came to see my favorite drivers up close. The Indy Racing League, or INDYCAR, hosts several races during the weekend, but I came to see the premier IndyCar Series and the second of the two duals. Of course, the IndyCar Series is the top league for open-wheel racing in the United States. While the Indy 500 is the most important race that takes place on the infamous oval in Indianapolis, more than two-thirds of the season races over road and street circuits like Belle Isle.


Of course, the drivers drive single-seat, open-cockpit cars that feature a 2.2-liter, twin turbocharged, direct-injected V-6 engine. These cars are amazing works of engineering — built out of carbon fiber and titanium — and optimized to run at 12,000 RPM with an estimated 500-700 horsepower. All engines are supplied by Chevrolet and Honda and utilize E85 fuel.

At the end of the INDYCAR season, the top point scorer is crowned the series champion and receives a $1 million bonus. Going into the weekend, Juan Pablo Montoya — in his first season since returning from NASCAR — led Will Power in the standings. But the weather was unpredictable and it led to chaos during the race.


Just as Carlos Muñoz had done on Saturday, Sebastien Bourdais used both strategy and the rain to his advantage. The rain kept speeds down with the fastest lap being clocked by Bourdais at 108 mph on the last lap. The race featured a stunning 17 caution laps and numerous wrecks despite the all-weather tires the racers used to mitigate the wet course. In fact, the race actually approached its maximum time and finished as a timed race instead of the full 70 laps.

Montoya ran out of fuel on the final lap while Power and Helio Castroneves crashed in the closing stages of the event. Scott Dixon was also taken out by his teammate, Charlie Kimball. Bourdais of Team Mistic E-Cigs KVSH Racing took advantage of the chaos to claim his first win of the season. Takuma Sato finished second while Graham Rahal rounded out the podium.

Marco Andretti was the big winner of the weekend, posting finishes of second and fifth in both races to jump from ninth to seventh in the overall standings. And Graham Rahal’s third-place finish moved him up to fourth in the standings. Though Montoya and Power stayed at the top of the standings after the race, Power trimmed Montoya’s lead to 21 points.


Despite the rain, it was a highly enjoyable race. The park was paradise for racing fans with interesting exhibits, a plethora of food vendors and fascinate car showcases from General Motors. Because of the sparse crowds due to the rain, I had the seat of my choice with great photo opportunities at the finish.

If you ever get a chance to visit Belle Isle, definitely check it out during the annual INDYCAR weekend. You may not be a racing fan, but you will walk away with an appreciation for the sport. No doubt you will also leave the weekend agreeing that Detroit is making a comeback and has one very beautiful island.


Categories: North America

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