Castroneves, Rahal trade top spot in Belle Isle practices


DETROIT – It has been three years since Helio Castroneves visited victory lane in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but the Brazilian veteran looks to be a contender for victory after a strong practice day at the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit presented by Lear.

Castroneves (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet), whose last win came in June 1, 2014, in the second race of the weekend at Belle Isle, paced the afternoon’s 45-minute practice session with a lap of 1 minute, 15.1511 seconds (112.573 mph). Castroneves was also second quick in the morning session with a fast lap of 1:15.4890 (112.069 mph).

“In race-car driving, some careers, some drivers' careers, some tracks are really, really suitable,” said Castroneves, who has three wins and 10 top-10 finishes in 15 Belle Isle starts. “Normally, (teammates look) to each other for data. I'm always looking in to learn. This is one of the tracks that I don't look to their data. Actually, they're looking to mine.”

CHEVROLET DETROIT GRAND PRIX: Practice 1 results; Practice 2 results; Combined practice results; Race 1 qualifying groups

Oriol ServiaRahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Graham Rahal (No. 15 SoldierStrong / Honda) saw the reverse results today, leading the morning session at 1:15.3328 (112.302 mph) and running second in the afternoon at 1:15.3519 (112.273 mph).

“Today started off on the right foot,” said Rahal, who has a pair of podium finishes in 10 previous starts at Belle Isle. “The United Rentals car seems to be very strong, very competitive right off the trailer this morning. The first session, we didn't even change anything. I mean, there was no reason to.

“Definitely as the track heated up in the afternoon, it got slippery. … In fact, on my fastest lap, I was pretty much turning right -- supposed to be turning right into (Turn) 11, but I was looking at the left-hand side wall. I know we had a couple more (tenths) in it.”

Andretti Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda) brought out the only red flag of the day when he made contact with the Turn 8 wall early in the afternoon practice. Rossi was uninjured in the incident and, despite turning just three laps in the session, ended up third at 1:15.4323 (112.154 mph).

Teams’ preparations have included adjusting to a slightly altered racing surface. The entire back straight and the frontstretch from Turn 13 to Turn 1 underwent a grinding process to soften bumps on the circuit.

“Certainly they made some improvements on the track on the straightaways, which is nice,” said Rahal. “We appreciate that, ... they've done an amazing job. I can't even tell you how much better the back straight is. It's actually nice. It's nice to go back there, sort of get a breather, which wasn't the case last year.”

Today was noteworthy in the career of Esteban Gutierrez, the Mexican driver who took his first laps in an Indy car when he took to the 2.35-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit in the No. 18 UNIFIN Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Gutierrez is substituting for Sebastien Bourdais, who is recovering from fractures to his hip and pelvis sustained while attempting to qualify for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“It's a big pleasure to be here in INDYCAR with this family,” said Gutierrez, who has 59 Formula One starts to his credit and has spent much of this year competing in Formula E. “I've been following you guys from a very long time. I'm from Mexico, so it represents something very special. It's a big honor to represent Mexico now in INDYCAR.”

Should he start Saturday's race, Gutierrez will be the first Mexican driver to race an Indy car since Michel Jourdain Jr. at the 2012 Indianapolis 500. Gutierrez turned 41 laps on the day, his fastest at 1:18.2289 (108.144 mph)

“It's probably one of the trickiest tracks in the calendar,” said Gutierrez, “so it's been quite enjoyable to get there in the Indy car for the first time, getting to know the car. Obviously, my first goal right now is to feel comfortable, to learn. I have a great team behind me supporting me, giving me all the available information for me to get up to speed as quick as possible.”

The Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit presented by Lear is the lone doubleheader weekend on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series calendar. The 22-car field will contest two 70-lap races, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Qualifying for Race 1 begins at 10:05 a.m. ET Saturday (streaming live on The field will be split in half and each group given 12 minutes of track time each to determine the starting order for the afternoon’s race. The same qualifying format will be used to determine Sunday's starting lineup as well.

Coverage of both races begins at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. This marks the fifth straight year that Belle Isle is hosting a Verizon IndyCar Series doubleheader. Bourdais and Team Penske's Will Power won the races in 2016.

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