Conway & Pagenaud Fastest At Belle Isle

Simon Pagenaud sped to his second win of the season on Sunday in Houston. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Simon Pagenaud had the fastest time in Verizon IndyCar Series practice on the Belle Isle circuit Friday. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Simon Pagenaud had the fastest time in Verizon IndyCar Series practice on the Belle Isle circuit Friday. (Al Steinberg Photo)

DETROIT – It was just one year ago that IndyCar came up with the grand concept of a doubleheader – two races in one weekend – and it kicked off at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit with Mike Conway and Simon Pagenaud winning the two events.

Fast forward to one year later and look who was back at the top of the timing sheets – none other than Pagenaud and Conway.

Pagenaud, the winner of last year’s second race of the double-header, was the fastest overall driver in Friday’s combined practice session with a time of 1:17.650 (108.950 mph) around the 13-turn, 2.36-mile temporary street course at Belle Isle Park. Pagenaud’s Honda was just a tick faster than Conway’s Chevrolet after that driver’s fast lap was 1:17.714 (108.859 mph).

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 2000 and 2001 Detroit Grand Prix winner Helio Castroneves was third at 1:17.717 (108.856 mph) in a Chevrolet followed by Team Penske teammate Will Power’s 1:17.896 (108.606 mph) in another Chevrolet.

Last week’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, rounded out the top five of 22 drivers at 1:18.167 (108.229 mph) in a Honda.

There must be something about this race course that perfectly suits Conway, who shares the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet with team owner Ed Carpenter. Conway handles the car on the street and road courses and Carpenter drives it on the ovals.

“I obviously couldn’t do that without a good car from Ed Carpenter Racing,” Conway said Friday. “I think we picked up where we left off at Long Beach. Seemed to be a good base to start with here.

“We haven’t touched it much. All credit to the team.

“I do love this place. It’s a lot of fun. Each lap gets your attention, that’s for sure. It’s non-stop action around here. Yeah, I’m pretty happy so far.”

Conway, Pagenaud and the rest of the gang will have to get up early for Saturday’s knockout qualifications that include the Firestone Fast Six. That session begins at 8:35 a.m. E.T. Sunday’s starting lineup will be determined in two 12-minute qualifications with five minutes of guaranteed time on Sunday morning. Group two will be the first on the track followed by group one.

But it’s obvious based on Friday’s practice that Pagenaud and Conway have a feel for this layout.

“I just tried to bring as much back from last year as I could this year,” Conway said. “The car rolled out. As soon as I went out on pit lane I felt like the car had a lot of grip. Small input in terms of setup from where we started back in Sebring.

“We’ve been trying to push the car as much as possible, developing things, dampers. We come to this point where we can roll out and be in the top six, which is where you always want to be. It’s always where you want to be, especially with the doubleheaders.

“All credit to the team though. They’ve been working hard, flat out. Late night last night, non-stop, big effort from the boys. They’ve been flat out for the last eight, nine weeks. They’re still pushing all the time. They’re so competitive. It’s good.”