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Published: 5/31/2013

Detroit GP hoping its new-look track works

Passing lanes widened to make race exciting

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Scott Dixon turns during practice for the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle. The race will feature IndyCar's first attempt at a pair of full-length races in one weekend. Scott Dixon turns during practice for the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle. The race will feature IndyCar's first attempt at a pair of full-length races in one weekend.
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DETROIT — Roger Penske is looking forward to showing the world what Detroit has to offer this weekend.

The famed motorsports owner has put his time, money, and passion into making the Detroit Grand Prix a world-class event.

When auto racing's return to the Motor City in 2012 after a four-year absence didn't go well, Penske put together a plan to fix shoddy roads that shifted the spotlight off high-performance cars and stunning views of an area trying to reshape its image.

So far, so good.

"How many millions did you spend resurfacing this joint," Dario Franchitti asked the event's chairman Friday after winning the pole.

A lot.

Penske's Michigan-based company and Chevrolet spent nearly $2 million into the track that has been reconfigured 2.36-mile street course.

"It's bloody impressive, and there's more improvements on the way," Franchitti said. "We should be racing here. It's the Motor City, isn't it?"

The investments were needed — desperately.

Scott Dixon won last year's Detroit Grand Prix marred by pot holes and grooves that stopped the race for a little more than 2 hours and shortened the 90-lap race to 70.

The improvements will be put to a test because IndyCar has scheduled two, full-length races for the first time this weekend on Belle Isle.

"We're very confident that we've done the right thing, but you never know," Penske said. "This is a business that when you think you've done everything you can, then you find something you didn't do.

"We spent money to make wider turns, we added to a straightaway another half-mile for more passing and did work in areas where we had trouble last year."

Dixon led from start to finish in a lackluster race — building a 10-second lead — on a tight road course that had just nine lead changes combined in 2007 and 2008.

No one wants to watch a parade-type race after seeing Tony Kanaan win Sunday's Indianapolis 500 following a record 68 lead changes.

"That's been the difficulty here and that should change," said Will Power, who finished fourth at last year's Detroit Grand Prix. "You'll be able to pass here. We'll have some two-wide racing."

Drivers will have opportunities to make moves between Turns 2 and 3 — where they'll be able to go 180 mph after going 80 through a stretch that had a few turns in the same area last year — to perhaps making qualifying less important than it has been previously.

"Big thanks to Mr. Penske and his group for extending the track back to the way it used to be when CART was here," said defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay said. "It's definitely fun. It's violent in the car, but it certainly improved a lot with the new pavement. "

Franchitti won the poll, reaching 106.642 mph, but he will start 11th on Saturday because of a 10-grid-spot penalty for making an unapproved engine change at Indy.

E.J. Viso, who qualified second, will start up front followed by Mike Conway, James Jakes, and Hunter-Reay.



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