A trio of Corvettes embarked from Belle Isle and crossed the MacArthur Bridge on Monday morning, briefly lapping the streets of the 2023 Detroit Grand Prix track.
Penske Corporation president and Grand Prix chairman Bud Denker and Team Penske racers Will Power and Josef Newgarden parked their sports cars on the finish line at the intersection of Franklin Street and Schweizer Place.
They also shared their favorite memories of racing on Belle Isle, and looked ahead to the Grand Prix’s exciting return to its downtown roots next year.
SUNDAY’S RACE:Will Power wins Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle
“Imagine, 365 days or so from now, the sounds of those cars going through the streets,” Denker said. “It’s going to be an amazing turnover from Belle Isle. It’s a bittersweet memory, as the drivers will talk about, because the race track there is just so mega-amazing as well in terms of what it provides for competitive racing. But here we are.
“And think about it: There are 12 cities in the world that have downtown racing. In the world. And we’re one of them now, to have racing on our streets. We are so delighted, we are so excited, we are so motivated to bring it to our city, and with that, I just can’t wait to get it going.”
Where will winners swim now?
Since 2018, the Detroit Grand Prix has used the James Scott Memorial Fountain for its podium backdrop. Denker and race sponsors invested $750,000 into the fountain for initial restoration in 2007 and replacing stolen parts in 2008, making for a tough breakup. Race officials have committed to continuing fountain maintenance despite vacating Belle Isle.
Also in 2018, IndyCar Dual II winner Ryan Hunter-Reay started the tradition of dipping in the lower bowl of the fountain to celebrate the victory. Now the question is where the podium will rest in 2023 and how drivers will soak in their future wins.
“I’m not sure any of us sitting here right now know what people are going to gravitate towards next year,” said Grand Prix president Michael Montri. “If I had to guess, I’d say that hairpin (by the Renaissance Center) is going to be pretty way up there. It’s going to be the most exciting part of the race course. “It is near (the Joe Louis “The Fist” monument) and it’s right at Hart Plaza, so that’s going to be a really popular part of the circuit.
“But sitting here today, I couldn’t tell you what is going to be that iconic thing that will have the identifying (features) of Detroit immediately when you see it, but we’ll see what develops.”
A Grand Prix spokesperson told the Free Press that while “The Fist” has been considered a potential podium location, it is likely too far away from the pit lane and other racer amenities.
The Woodward Fountain, located in Hart Plaza, is the next closest body of water besides the Detroit River, but also seems out of reach.
“We’re taking tips and suggestions right now,” Newgarden said.
Though it’s probably ill advised, Power and 2022 IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship winner Sebastien Bourdais said they’re open to jumping in the Detroit River.
Power wants more IndyCar exposure
After securing his third career win on Belle Isle on Sunday, Power declared there is no racing series like IndyCar, and said the sport should push to increase its visibility.
Power’s victory moved him three points ahead of Marcus Ericsson in the IndyCar Series standings one week after Ericsson won the Indianapolis 500. Power also surged to the front after struggling in qualifying and starting Sunday’s race in 16th place.
That unpredictability, Power said, is what makes IndyCar more interesting than other racing championships.
“If you were to compare this to Formula One … there’s really two guys that are going to battle it out in Formula One right now,” Power said.
“And in IndyCar, try to guess who will win the next race, or who will be on pole or who will win this championship? … It’s impossible. I mean, there’s so many good guys, and we need to get it out there. This product is so good.”
‘WE’LL MISS IT’:Drivers, fans soaking up final Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle
Power agreed the move downtown, where over 50% of the track will be free to the public, can only help exposure.
Now the work to prepare downtown for the 2023 race begins.
Denker revealed engineering studies and Lidar analysis of the track have already been accounted for. Race officials will also buy new walls that meet the height and shape specifications for protecting more roadside spectators.
“So we have a couple of million dollars of walls and a couple of million dollars of holes (to fix) included (to) buy now to move downtown,” Denker said. “So it’s a costly move, but it also tells you that we’re not going to be there for just one year. We plan to be there for multiple years.”
Denker also confirmed the Grand Prix will remain a nonprofit through the transition as it continues to serve the community.
“We’d love to make a profit, obviously, and make money on this thing, but we’ve never made money on this thing yet,” Denker said. “But it’s our backyard, it’s our front yard, it’s our passion, and our objective is to put on a great event for the city and for the state.”
Contact Mason Young: MEYoung@freepress.com Follow him on Twitter: @Mason_Young_0.