Detroit Grand Prix 2014

The race was on in Detroit again. The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix returned to the Motor City and ran laps around the island from May 30-June 1, 2014. This year saw races for the Verizon IndyCar Series, the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, the Pirelli World Challenge Series and the trucks of the SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Truck Series.

A bit of history:

Belle Isle was home to the Detroit Grand Prix from 1992-2001, utilizing a temporary street circuit that was constructed specifically for the CART races. In 2007 and 2008, it once again hosted world-class racing with both the open-wheel cars of the IZOD IndyCar Series and the sports cars of the American Le Mans Series competing at the event. After a four-year absence, the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix returned to the island in 2012 with the IZOD IndyCar Series, the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, the Pirelli World Challenge Championship Series and the Firestone Indy Lights Series. The same racing series competed at the event in 2013 on the newly-reconfigured 2.35-mile Belle Isle street circuit while featuring the first doubleheader race wekeend in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Thanks to Quicken Loans sponsorship of the Indy Dual, I won a pair of tickets to check out Sunday’s events. Unlike last year, where we had to park in a grassy lot on the riverfront and hop a bus to the island, this year saw a new shuttle system that picked up (among other locations) in front of the RenCen. This let me park in my employee parking garage where I knew it was dry and secure (though they definitely had security last year), and I didn’t have to worry about driving over something.

After the pleasant bus ride – we headed through the gates.

There was a TGIFriday’s truck handing out free samples.

This was cool to see. Volunteers were also handing out free foam plugs – though a distressing number of kids were there without any hearing protection.

Fathead was back – showing off their life size cutouts and having folks take photos with the “drivers”.

We stopped for some carnival snacks – corn dog and elephant ear. I was a little disappointed not to see the same variety of food options as last year.

Then I grabbed a paddock pass and walked through for some final images before the Indy race.

I brought an umbrella and we learned from last year, and bought heavy duty hearing protection. Even the announcer was too loud for me without these on.

Unfortunately, it was still far warmer than I can deal with – so I made a visit to the Medic (several times) for an ice pack and water. I had been getting water throughout the day but ran out of money ($3 a bottle is insane). I can walk all day but once I start to overheat my system shuts down fast.

After my temp was back to a normal range, we headed to the stands. We had Grandstand 1 overlooking the Pit.

After the Anthem, there was a very cool flyover.

Some prep in the pit before the race. Notice all the umbrella’s over the cockpit to keep the driver from burning when they get in.

Grandstands were pretty full this day.

Off they go!

Emergency response crew:

Fireman waits in the pit to (hopefully not) be called.

The pace car comes around leading the warm-up lap:

This being the central location for everything – there was a lot of wiring, rigging, and general stuff all strewn about the center grass area, which cut across a lot of my photos. I worked with it as best I could and managed to find a sweet spot eventually.

Not yet:

Right on the first full lap there was an incident, and several drivers chose to pit and swap tires. A crew member holds the flag for the Snapple driver so he knows where to pull up.

Most start with their alternate tires, which feature a softer tread compound that yields faster lap times, but because of this wear down faster. Because of the collision they are allowed to swap tires before the required 2 lap minimum. Some decided to pit early and take advantage before the race really heated up (figuratively and literally).

You can see the red sidewall tires being removed.

Yeah we do!

A good idea of the view from my seat.

Curse you random equipment in my field of view! Panning and focusing on these cars isn’t easy from the stands, let alone trying to get the shot without any distractions.

I hope this cameraman has sunscreen on… he must have been toasted by the end.

Almost…

There! Just barely squeezed in between stuff!

Some more pit action:

If I were better at tolerating the heat – I’d be jealous of this guy having the media access.

Grandstand 1 sounds awesome, but really, most of our view of the cars was blocked by something:

Even so, I had fun practicing getting the perfect clean shot. This was the best of the day:

By this point I was overheating again. Sitting on metal stands in full sun at 2 in the afternoon with no shade (you’re not allowed to have the umbrella open in the stands for obvious reasons) meant I was nearly crashing again. We decided I wasn’t going to get any unique shots from our angle and it was time to head out.

On the way I stopped to check out the Fathead printed banners:

A corner worker concentrates on the cars coming around:

To leave, you had to wind through this queue maze back and forth to try and keep everyone in an orderly line for the buses. This would be fine except I was nearing heat stroke levels and the zig-zagging almost had me faint. The workers were exceptional and let me step out of line and sit while Chris played the rat. Once he got to the front of the line they escorted me to him so I wouldn’t get any flack for “cutting”.

While I’m on the topic of staff, can I say everyone was FANTASTIC this year. I didn’t interact with anyone who wasn’t absolutely pleasant and cheerful.

When we decided to get a paddock pass, I stopped and asked a worker where I could upgrade. She gave great directions and on my way back past her (with my new ticket) she recognized me coming through and waved and yelled “Woohoo!”. :D It was those little touches all day that kept me going. Bonus, I ran into her again at work in the cafeteria! She recognized me then too and stopped to chat.

Finally we get to the line of buses. Everything was very organized and getting back to the RenCen was a breeze. From there it was a quick ride to my garage.

Overall I had a much better time this year than last, though I had some disappointments. The Grandstand wasn’t optimal for photos. I felt there were less food vendors this year that I saw. The walking paths were AWFUL because there weren’t any beyond the main areas… it’s all woodchips which is like walking on soggy ground and it wears you out fast. I kept waiting to twist an ankle.

I would love to see some kind of water area for hydration / cooling. More places to sit – we struggled to find anything outside of the normal pavilions that are few and far between.

All of that said – I would still suggest if you like cars/racing that it’s awesome to go see such a national event in my backyard. I see improvements every year and they are constantly trying new things (there was a BMX ramp area set up that looked cool) to keep folks entertained outside of the race times. I’m not sure if I’ll go next year (because I go to get new photos and I can only do so much in that respect) but I wouldn’t completely rule it out either.

Just remember: ear plugs, sun screen, good shoes, and don’t be pressed for time. Belle Isle is a BIG place to walk when a race track snakes through most of it. :)

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