Detroit Grand Prix Makes Its Return Downtown

The Detroit Grand Prix changes tracks, delivering unprecedented public access to the sights and sounds of the NTT IndyCar Series.
This year’s course features a redesigned Detroit street circuit starting across from the GM Renaissance Center and continuing down Jefferson Avenue. // Photograph courtesy of LAT USA.

“Isle of beauty — Fare-Thee-Well,” an emigrant’s ballad chanted long ago, captures a sentiment that is part of the undercurrent as the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear moves from Belle Isle to a new course.

Race promoters were so impressed last year by the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, held on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee — while facing concerns about Belle Isle’s lack of carrying capacity — that they launched a hurry-up program to bring the Detroit event to downtown streets.

Everything is fresh for 2023: the sight lines, the vibe, and even the logo for the race that started in 1982 when Formula 1 cars screamed over some of the same streets (and a railroad crossing).

The Course

The new 1.7-mile course has nine turns. From the starting line across from the GM Renaissance Center, cars will sprint down a 0.7-mile straight on Jefferson Avenue. Passing Spirit Plaza, the Joe Louis “Fist,” and Hart Plaza, they will race along Atwater Street by the Detroit Riverwalk.

Pit stops will occur in the areas near St. Antoine and Franklin, where cars will refuel and receive new tires on New Street. It’s a short piece of road, with pit stalls on each side — a first for IndyCar — and drivers will keep to their respective lanes upon merging back onto Franklin and making their way back to Jefferson Avenue.

The finish line on Franklin at Schweizer Place, just north of the pits, marks a departure from the usual practice of using the same point for the start and finish of a race. A short distance away, the Autotrader Winner’s Circle occupies a spot at the Riverwalk next to the Renaissance Center.

“It looks like an interesting layout,” says Colton Herta, the 23-year-old Andretti Autosport star with seven IndyCar wins to his credit. “I think it’s fairly basic, with 90-degree corners, but it looks like it has some good setups for overtaking. [The] pit lane is going to be very interesting.”

Fan Zone

Points along the Jefferson Avenue straightaway will be open for railbirds free of charge. Several pedestrian bridges allow people to maneuver over and around the course. Crucially, businesses along the course will be able to remain open.

The concert stage at Hart Plaza will host performers throughout the weekend. Grand Prix organizers promise a street-festival feel, and various areas will feature food, games, and displays all weekend long without requiring the purchase of a ticket. Reserved-seating grandstands are positioned at key locations.

Sustainability & Diversity

Last year, Firestone introduced Firehawk “green wall” tires, which incorporate guayule (gwy-OO’-lee) rubber. Native to the southwestern U.S., guayule shrubs produce natural rubber and hold the promise of relieving the rubber supply’s vulnerability to climate change in Asia and to supply chain issues. Sustainability gets another bump from Shell’s 100 percent renewable biofuel.

The changing face of the sport was evident in the paddock during IndyCar’s spring training in February at The Thermal Club near Palm Springs, California. Hour Detroit observed women contributing on every team. Paretta Autosport, owned by Detroiter Beth Paretta, was absent from that practice session but has been building a racing team around Swiss driver Simona De Silvestro and an all-woman crew.

Meanwhile, up-and-comers in the Indy NXT series reflect the progress made as part of IndyCar’s 3-year-old Race for Equality & Change. Recruiting and developing a diverse workforce at all the sport’s levels is a priority of this initiative.

Accordingly, fresh talent is accumulating, as represented by the likes of Pakistani British driver Enaam Ahmed, the Singaporean Danial Frost, and African American racer Ernie Francis Jr. Then there’s Jamie Chadwick, the 25-year-old Brit whose mother was born in India; Chadwick gained experience as a Formula 1 development driver for Williams Racing before joining Andretti Autosport for the 2023 Indy NXT series.

The IndyCar sport has changed drastically from the days of greasy-faced fellows tearing around oval tracks at state fairgrounds. The new downtown course may deliver exciting action, but above all else, it will be a cosmopolitan exposition in keeping with a contemporary trend for communal festivities. Not to mention that it leaves Belle Isle for the birds.

This story is part of the June 2023 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more in our Digital Edition.