The highs and lows of a month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway can make the most hardened souls weep. The intensity can turn hair gray and add a wrinkle or two in the process.
That's May at Indy, where the pressure to perform on motorsport’s biggest stage can be unlike any other race.
After their drive in the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, there’s a lot of mental resetting that takes place among the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers. But before they get a chance to truly decompress, there’s Detroit.
Five days after the last swig of milk at Indy, drivers get back into their cars today for the first practice of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park, and then races both Saturday and Sunday on that street course.
CHEVROLET DETROIT GRAND PRIX: Weekend schedule; Spotter's guide
Quick turnarounds are common in INDYCAR – five days after the final race at Detroit, they begin practice for the June 10 Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. But there’s nothing quite like the week that follows Indy, especially coming down from the mental strain of the previous month.
“Forgetting two weeks at Indy and getting ready for Detroit is challenging,” said Charlie Kimball, driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 83 Tresiba Honda. “Memorial Day is hard because you’re still amped up. There’s the victory banquet Monday night and, if things go well in the 500, a whole bunch of media and a lot of other commitments.
“It’s hard to turn around and get up for a doubleheader, especially at a track where you get such little practice time and a track that’s so unforgiving like Belle Isle. You go from Indianapolis where you have 10 days to get it right and it’s two and a half miles and the Indy cars are stretching their legs, then to Belle Isle where it’s every bit of a street fight.”
Graham Rahal planned to play golf before he jumps back into his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing No. 15 Honda.
“Just to clear my mind,” Rahal said. “But it’s hard. We’ve already had meetings about chassis setup for Detroit. There is no time, but that’s tradition. It used to be Milwaukee (the week after the 500), then it was Texas and now it’s Detroit. And Detroit’s probably the most physical weekend of the year because it’s a doubleheader and it just beats you up.”
JR Hildebrand hoped to lay low in the three days after Monday’s Indianapolis 500 Victory Celebration, then shift his mind back into race mode.
“One way or the other, it’s a very stressful and pressure-packed month,” said Hildebrand, who drives the Ed Carpenter Racing No. 21 Chevrolet. “The stakes are so high at Indianapolis.”
Hildebrand welcomed a break between qualifying weekend and the race at Indy, despite days away from that track that were filled with media and sponsor commitments.
“Even though the travel can sometimes be crazy, it’s kind of nice because you get away from everything for a day and let your brain relax a little bit,” Hildebrand. “That’s definitely a part of the plan after the 500. You get some rest when you can get it and then get dialed back in.”
Like Hildebrand, Kimball kept Tuesday and Wednesday free of commitments – unless, of course, he had won the 500.
“If there are media things as a result of Sunday, then that’s a good thing,” Kimball said. “But I try and make sure I get plenty of rest, work out and get back into a rhythm and a routine that’s normal for in-season racing.
“I’ll go back to the gym in the morning, do errands, eat at home. It’s about training, it’s nutrition and it’s rest, but it’s also a mental and emotional recharge. I’ll do enough to keep my mind distracted so it can process the month of May, and yet not burn energy that I’m going to need for the (Belle Isle) weekend.”
Scott Dixon feels more for his Chip Ganassi Racing crew than himself because of the quick turnaround before Detroit.
“Win or lose, I prefer to have a race right after Indianapolis to put it behind you,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Camping World Honda. “There’s a lot of stress and a lot of built-up emotions, and it’s nice to somewhat get back to a racetrack and a little more of reality.
“But it’s the crew guys who have it really tough. They’ve got to flip two cars over (to street-course setup) and go straight into a doubleheader, which is even worse. And to some degree, they’ve got to rebuild the cars between races, too.”
Dixon cherishes the media commitments after he won the 2008 Indianapolis 500, even though he remembers how tiring that time was.
“But it was amazing,” he said. “When you win that race, it changes your life in many ways. I got to do things I never would have been able to experience because of that. For two or three days you’re slammed, and then you’re actually thankful to get back to the racetrack.”
That’s where Conor Daly’s mind was the moment he got out of his A.J. Foyt Enterprises No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet at Indianapolis.
“I always want to get back into the seat and get going again,” Daly said. “Even if the race goes well, you want to ride that momentum. Yes, the Indy 500 is awesome and I’m sure if I won it, I’d like to enjoy it more than just going straight to Detroit. But either way, I love Detroit in general. That’s always been a great race for me.”
So forgive Daly if he feels no need to take a few hours, or days, to recharge after Indianapolis.
“That’s what the offseason is for,” he said. “I just like racing.”
Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Fast Facts: