IndyCar drivers sad to leave Belle Isle ahead of series’ return to downtown Detroit


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IndyCar drivers Patricio O’Ward and Helio Castronves say they will miss Detroit’s Belle Isle circuit when the series returns to its former downtown location next year.

The Grand Prix of Detroit has been held on the Belle Isle street circuit since it joined the CART schedule in 1990, holding races every year in the series until 2001. IndyCar raced at the circuit in 2007 and 2008, before it became a regular venue from 2012, often holding double-header weekends.

From next year, IndyCar will move its Detroit race from Belle Isle to a new temporary street circuit (above) within Detroit city. It will incorporate Jefferson Avenue and Atwater Street, the same streets which made up part of the Formula 1 circuit during the city’s world championship rounds held between 1982 and 1988, as well as a 1989 CART race.

Asked by RaceFans for his thoughts on the relocation of the Detroit round for 2023, O’Ward said that he had always enjoyed racing at the Belle Isle circuit.

“I’m going to miss Belle Isle, regardless,” said O’Ward. “I love this place.

Belle Isle hosts its final IndyCar race today
“I feel like it’s a place that has a lot of character. I always say, I feel like if you were to describe the IndyCar Series, I think this track describes it the best. It’s very old school, very raw. Lots of commitment has to be from the driver’s side to extract the lap from this place. It’s a really cool place.

“I’m sad to see it leave, but I know a lot of people are very excited for downtown Detroit. New tracks are always really cool. So looking forward to that.”

Helio Castroneves – who won his first race in CART at Belle Isle back in 2001 – said that it was a “shame” that the series was losing the popular venue from the calendar.

“It’s great to be back here in Belle Isle,” said Castroneves. “Man, this place is awesome.

“It’s great to see a place that I got my first win ever in IndyCar. So super cool. It’s a shame that’s going to go away, but it is what it is.”


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Will Wood
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22 comments on “IndyCar drivers sad to leave Belle Isle ahead of series’ return to downtown Detroit”

  1. New tracks are always really cool. So looking forward to that.

    Diplomatic from O’Ward. That new Detroit track looks terrible – a series of 90 degree turns.

    I think the winners from the change of track will solely be the commercial side of the event, not the racing.

  2. Nearly every corner is a 90 degree turn. If someone who is a bit ‘business minded’ hosts an Ostrich Festival nearby it is going to be a disaster.

    1. @bernasaurus as an aside though, whilst the line is often brought out about the F1 races in Phoenix being out-competed by the ostrich festivals held there, what often isn’t mentioned is the context in which the race came about in Phoenix or the sort of attendance figures that are being discussed.

      Originally, Phoenix wasn’t meant to be having a race in 1989, because Detroit originally had a contract running through to 1991. However, when Detroit backed out of its side of the contract in late 1988, that meant that the initial negotiations with Phoenix, which wanted to pick up from Detroit from 1992 onwards, were rushed to secure a deal in January 1989, with the circuit taking on the original date for Detroit of the 4th June as well.

      From the start, therefore, you had the issue that construction of the circuit had to be rushed through and a circuit where, due to the position, was unable to install that many grandstands from the start, with the circuit only having a capacity for 40,000. It raises the question of whether things might have been rather different if the races took place from 1992 onwards, meaning that they had a couple of years to plan for the event, rather than only having four months in which to do everything.

      Similarly, what’s also often not mentioned is that those ostrich festivals actually turn out to have some pretty absurd attendance figures. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there are reports that those ostrich festivals had a single day attendance of around 110,000 – so, we’re talking about a festival that has single day attendance figures that could embarrass most major sports events.

      In fact, the festival is still going and, prior to the recent pandemic, had claimed that the attendance figures over three days was in the order of 250,000 to 350,000. If, and it is a big if, those attendance figures for that ostrich festival are correct, then compared to relatively recent pre-pandemic attendance figures for some major motorsport series, the lower bound estimate of 250,000 over three days would be more successful than, say, the best MotoGP event (the 2019 Thailand MotoGP race had 226,655 spectators over three days), would have comfortably exceeded any IndyCar race outside of the Indy 500 and, in the case of F1, would have beaten the race attendance figures for 14 of the 21 races held in 2019.

      1. That is a brilliant answer, I didn’t realise Phoenix was so rushed. I knew there weren’t many grandstands, but assumed that was demand. Thank you. A very factual answer.

        I don’t know what happens at an Ostrich festival, I’ve been chased by an Emu a couple of times (though who was chasing who could be described as difficult in the chaos) but you’re right, those single day attendance figures are huge for pretty much anything.

        I’d still choose Senna, Prost, Mansell & Piquet over an Ostrich festival….. I guess they must have been really good Ostriches.

      2. Thank you for the great context anon. I have seen that ostrich example brought in so many forums, articles (especially relating to F1 in US) that it always stops the reader from being impartial towards the news in question. This background is great.

        On the lighter note, I can see why the ostrich races could be more popular than F1. No DRS, no requirement to use both types of ostrich shoes and best of all, there won’t be a huge gulf between the independent ostriches and rich ostriches

      3. some racing fan
        6th June 2022, 6:05

        On top of that, the race was barely advertised. I know a few people that went to the races in ’90 and ’91 and every other part they went to around Phoenix there was no advertising for the race of any kind.

      4. That’s some great detail that I’ve not seen before. Thanks for posting that.

        As an aside, I thought I’d see if there was any information about it. This years’ was held over 2 weekends in March, for the 32nd time and the first since 2019. According to the site FAQ, they no longer hold Ostrich races for the 2019 event – though “weiner dog” and pig races did apparently happen (the dog races were apparently called the “Fido 500”). No suggestion of any races this year but they do have Ostriches to go and see, along with music, rides, food etc. Basically like the F1 fanfests, but on a massive scale.

        I guess that’s why F1 had as much extra entertainment around the race in Miami, in the same way that the Nashville Indycar race last year and the St Louis Nascar race last weekend did. For the general public, the race alone isn’t enough – you need the fanfest type level of extra entertainment to get people to commit to buying.

  3. Belle Isle is a real challenge because it’s narrow in places, Fairly fast in others, Really bumpy, Features a lot of surface changes & There are parts where it’s easy to go a bit wide & tag the wall.

    It may not always produce tons of overtaking but it does more often than not produce good racing & at times surprising results & a bit of chaos because of how easy it is to make a mistake.

    The circuit that’s replacing it looks like a relatively dull bog standard modern street circuit like a lot of the others that have come & gone from the Indycar calender over the last 20 years.

  4. Just by looking at the layouts of the two circuits compared, this looks like a step in the wrong direction. The new circuits is all 90 degree corners.

    Interesting that poor decisions on race choices, based on commercial grounds are not limited to F1.

  5. That looks like a circuit from Sega’s Super Monaco GP… horrible layout!

    Belle Isle is so much fun. I have it on iRacing, an spectacular street track.

  6. The big reason they are moving downtown from Belle Isle has to do with the complaints from the people.

    I have been to many races on the island and will be today. It is ok for spectating and it is a unique venue for IndyCar. It is a shame that it is leaving, but Belle Isle is a public park with many attractions that people visit all year. When the race comes, the island is in disarray for 6+ weeks as they build up and tear down the track, basically disrupting the busy season on the island (May and June).

    Credit does have to go to Roger Penske for putting a ton of his own money into the park leading up to the 07-08 race years. That was a kick starter in a way to improve the park as Detroit didn’t have the money to do it. Now that the state “owns” the park and in order to keep the improvements going, the race needs to go. The park takes 1 step forwards each year but then gets tore up and takes 2 steps back when the race comes in.

    I am happy to see it move on from Belle Isle, there are many, many other features and the race is no longer the main attraction at Belle Isle as it had been in years past.

    1. Thanks bkvmps, I can now better sympathise with and understand this decision, as on paper, it seems criminal, as Belle Isle has grown to be my favourite street circuit in the world, and its replacement looks like being the very worst. Belle Isle has so many quick corners requiring exquisite throttle and steering control, as the throttle is perpetually feathered to compensate for the gradients, cambers and bumps. The commentator gave a great analogy, that it was much motorcross.

  7. The new track looks awful, long straight 90 degree turn, long straight 90 degree turn….

  8. The one decent thing about the layout is that there’s a bit of elevation change — the main straight lies up the banks of the river and it falls down towards it in turns 3 and 4, then rises up to a crest at 5 and 6, using some unconventional elevated access roads around the convention center parking garages. The straight after turn 9 is an uphill blast that will have the cars cresting at turn 10.

    The rest of the track is very much the sort of short, banal, forgettable 90-degree street circuit that was commonplace in the US in the 90s and 2000s. People here tend to say recent F1 street circuits are uninspiring, but I think Miami, Baku, Jeddah, and Vegas are a diverse group of street circuits that are all a massive upgrade over circuits like these.

    1. I really don’t understand the hate street circuits, especiallu those you mention, get. Baku is a genuinely great circuit, Jeddah is a great layout with suboptimal safety situation, and Miami wasn’t bad either. If Baku or Jeddah’s layout were copied as a permanent circuit somewhere everyone would call it the best circuit in years.

    2. some racing fan
      8th June 2022, 9:51

      Miami is not a street circuit. It’s a rare kind of temporary circuit that has permanent asphalt on private property that has a safety set up similar to a street circuit, except in most places they can control the run-off there.

      1. some racing fan
        8th June 2022, 9:54

        And it doesn’t use any public roads or streets.

  9. I think a good street circuit can be as entertaining as a standard circuit but like all of them, they vary enormously. Baku stands out as a good example in F1 but some have been awful e.g. Sochi. Miami was not bad in my opinion, probably better than expected, but I cannot comment on Jeddah as I did not see anything of the race.

    I think there is a general concern though, that for mainly commercial reasons, more street circuits are being forced onto the calendar at the expense of traditional road circuits. Certainly this is true in F1. But there some of the road circuits, threatened with losing out as a venue, that are not that great anyway.

    1. @phil-f1-21 Fair assessment, I think. Though, I wonder:

      I think there is a general concern though, that for mainly commercial reasons, more street circuits are being forced onto the calendar at the expense of traditional road circuits. Certainly this is true in F1

      Is it true? In the past couple of years, the tracks that have fallen off the calendar (not counting Covid cancellations and one-offs) are Sochi and Hockenheim — a street circuit and a traditional road circuit. The ones reportedly under threat are Paul Ricard, Spa, and Monaco — two traditional road circuits and a street circuit. (Correct me if I’ve forgotten any.)

      The ones that have been added are Zandvoort, Imola, Jeddah, and Miami, Vegas, with Kyalami under heavy consideration — three street circuits and three classic road circuits. Qatar is a TBD — it could be back at Losail or at a Doha street circuit, though the round at Jeddah could move to a new permanent circuit.

      Spa is the one that, for me, would absolutely be a shame to lose. But I think the calendar growth is more balanced between road courses and street circuits than some perceive.

      1. Fair points @markzastrow.

        Maybe this is partly perception. I think this has been driven to some extent by the fact that the big money seems to have been spent on new street circuits e.g. Jeddah, Miami and now Las Vegas coming up. These venues have attracted more of the headlines so it seems like they are more the way things are going now.

        Is Spain under threat as well? I know it was but I cannot recall now if they agreed a new contract. I agree Spa would be real loss to the calendar.

        1. @phil-f1-21 Yeah, agree on the money and the headlines. Imola and Zandvoort have sort of slotted back into the calendar so naturally it’s as if they never left, and perhaps they don’t get as much attention (especially in English-language media).

          Barcelona did indeed agree a new contract, apparently through 2026.

  10. Keith M. Crossley
    6th June 2022, 20:31

    I can’t tell if / where there is overlap with the old F1 circuit.

    BUT, an enduring memory of F1 there is Eddie Cheever (in-car camera) going, iirc, through a tunnel getting wheelspin in all gears! Phenomenal.

    Can’t find it, so here’s a bit of practice from those ages

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