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Busy first full day of racing at Detroit's Belle Isle

Both Tequila Patrón-sponsored machines earned top-10 finishes in the  Chevrolet Sports Car Classic presented by the Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers.
Both Tequila Patrón-sponsored machines earned top-10 finishes in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic presented by the Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers.
ESM Patron, used with permission

It was a very busy day of racing on Saturday, May 31 at the racecourse on Belle Isle. Sandwiches between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, the island has hosted races for more than 20 years, and the racing heritage of the city of Detroit is always highlighted at the three day event. Racers from IMSA, IndyCar, and the Menards Formula Off-Road Presented by TRAXXAS series all took to the fourteen turn roadcourse in search of fame and glory.

Driver E.J. Viso has had a great two days at the track, winning both of the Menards Formula Off-Road Presented by TRAXXAS Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix events held at the track so far. On Saturday, he defeated 16-year-old Scotty Steele by 1.540 seconds in the high-flying Stadium Super Trucks.

Viso, 29, inherited the lead from Steele on lap three of five around the 2.35-mile race circuit, and cruised to victory lane. Despite his smooth drive, Viso’s Momo/Gridstar truck experienced his biggest challenge after taking the checkered flag halfway through his cool-down lap. Viso displayed the tough nature of the trucks, which are modeled after scaled-down TRAXXAS radio control trucks, buy rolling it in a failed attempt at a victory burnout. In true TRAXXAS fashion, track workers pushed the truck back on its wheels, with Viso still strapped inside. He then drove his perfect truck straight to victory lane.

“I don’t know what happened I think something is wrong with my truck, it can only go fast. When I go slow it just flips upside down,” the Venezuelan driver joked with series owner Robby Gordon. “It’s super exciting every time I jump in the truck. It was a short race and I had to start attacking from the beginning, but it was a lot of fun again and I look forward to going for a weekend sweep Sunday.”

Four steel ramps were positioned throughout the course, with the trucks jumping as much as 15 feet in the air and more than 100 feet down course bringing cheers and gasps from the huge Belle Isle crowd.

“This is my second podium after finishing third at Las Vegas last year,” said the young driver Steele from Peoria, Ariz. “This is a much faster track than what Caesars Palace was in Vegas and I feel like I did a really nice job today. I was aggressive from the start, and while I made a few mistakes, I held off Aaron (Bambach) for third for my best finish.”

Bambach, from nearby Rochester Hills, Mich. drove a smooth and fast race, making few mistakes in his first weekend of driving a Stadium Super Truck. The veteran road course racer who has competed several times at the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix in different series, drove the BZ’s Twisted Blend/ truck without putting a mark on it en route to third-place finish.

The Menards Formula Off-Road Presented by TRAXXAS will race once more on Belle Isle at 1:55 p.m. Sunday. The overall weekend winner will be determined by an average finish from all three races, with any ties broken by the highest finishers in Sunday’s race. Sunday’s race can be seen live on the internet. A replay of the Menards TRAXXAS races from Detroit will be shown on NBCSN June 20 at 10:30 p.m. PDT (1:30 a.m. June 21 EDT).

In the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event, the Extreme Speed Motorsports team had high – yet realistic – expectations heading into this weekend’s Chevrolet Sports Car Classic presented by the Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers, the fifth race of the season. Those expectations were confirmed Saturday afternoon when both Tequila Patrón-sponsored machines earned top-10 finishes.

Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel finished fifth in the No. 1 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development ARX-03b (HPD) while Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek finished seventh in the No. 2 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development ARX-03b (HPD).

Due to the tight nature of the track, ESM battled its competition and tires throughout the 100-minute sprint race. During the two practice sessions and qualifying on Friday, the team struggled in generating enough heat in the Continental Tires in comparison to the Daytona Prototypes (DP). Since the DPs are 200 pounds heavier than the ESM prototypes, the DPs are able to reach ideal tire temperature faster and are able to run quicker times.

Sharp started the race for the No. 1 team and dropped from the outside pole to fifth place. He kept his top-five run while battling the prototype and GT Daytona race traffic. Sharp turned the race car over to Dalziel after a 39-minute stint. Dalziel ran the balance of the race trying to chase down the competition and battled tire temperatures similar to Sharp. In the end, Dalziel crossed the finish line in fifth position.

Brown started the race for the No. 2 Tequila Patrón HPD team and attempted a different pit stop and fuel strategy. Brown went a lap down and remained on track during the first caution period of the race at the 32-minute mark. Brown then pitted with 47 minutes complete and van Overbeek started his stint.

Van Overbeek challenged the competition but struggled with the tires in a similar fashion to Sharp and Dalziel. At the end of the 100-minute race, van Overbeek finished in seventh position.

“It was an interesting race and we were doing everything we could to catch the competition. The DPs were too fast and we couldn’t stay on the lead lap," added van Overbeek.

It was a far different story for Scuderia Corsa in the GT category of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, as Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Westphal scored a dramatic victory in Saturday's Chevrolet Sports Car Classic on Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan. Starting from the sixth position, Westphal put in a strong stint to advance the no. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia up to third position before the race's first caution period.

During the stop, the Scuderia Corsa team executed a two-tire pit stop quickly enough for the car, now with Balzan behind the wheel, to take over the lead of the GT-D class. Another caution period set up a dramatic final 27-lap stretch to the finish saw Balzan hold off a large number of cars for the victory. The margin of victory was a scant 0.297-second, and his first victory since he drove the no. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia to victory in last season's Rolex Series race at Kansas Speedway.

"I am very happy for Scuderia Corsa and for Ferrari because it's their 60th anniversary in North America," said Balzan. "It's a great day. We were expecting a top-five and we knew we had a fast car for long runs, but we didn't expect to win. I am very proud because the level of competition is so high now in GT-Daytona. We didn't have the fastest car but we played a very good strategy and I'm very proud of my guys for the pitstop they gave us. We did a lot of practice and they did it perfectly. We are struggling a bit with top speed, but the Ferrari handles very well. But today, we think about the win!"

For Westphal, Detroit marked his first win in a major sports car race after finishing in second position twice in the 2013 when he was teamed with Balzan.

"This is huge for Ferrari for the 60th anniversary of North America and huge for Scuderia Corsa to put this together," said Westphal. "We went into the race knowing that we didn't have the fastest car in a straight line, and it was going to be a difficult race. I tried to make use of the opportunities that I was given at the start to pick people off. Slowly but surely we started making our way to the front and catching the leaders. I've come really close with Scuderia Corsa before. Last year we finished second here, but first tastes so much better."

Team owner Giacomo Mattioli, who made the decision to only take two tires during the pit stop, praised the work of his Scuderia Corsa team for the fast pit stop that helped win the race for his Ferrari.

"The team did a really amazing job, it was fantastic," said Mattioli. "Jeff did a great first stint, Alessandro drove an amazing race, and I'm super happy about the team. We didn't have the quickest car but we made some adjustments before the race, and the team did an outstanding job in the pits to come out ahead. Our drivers and crew worked very hard to perfect the stop. It was a real team effort."

The no. 64 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia shared by Chris Cumming and Kyle Marcelli finished in 16th position after Cumming went off course after being hit by a prototype.

Race One of the Indy Dual in Detroit was won by Team Penske driver Will Power, who out drove Rahal Letterman's Graham Rahal enroute to his second victory of the season.

The day didn't fair quite as well for stand out team Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, whose primary driver, Josef Newgarden made contact with the wall on Lap 37, and was credited with 20th place after completing 36 of 70 laps on the 13-turn, 2.35-mile street circuit at Belle Isle. Newgarden started 14th on Belle Isle's street circuit and drove his way to fifth place before the incident, which damaged his front wing and left front suspension.

"I feel bad for everyone on our team," Newgarden said. "They've done a great job this weekend, especially coming off of Indy with the long stretch that they've had. The crew has been working flat out."

Newgarden's No. 67 SFHR Dallara/Honda/Firestone car will have a shot at redemption in Race 2 of the dual weekend Sunday, June 1.

"I hope we have a good day tomorrow," Newgarden said. "We get another chance to qualify and to race so I know we will have a great car again, and I will do my best out there for the team."

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) drivers Mikhail Aleshin and Simon Pagenaud experienced a trying Race 1 at the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans, finishing 17th and 22nd, respectively.

Aleshin started last in the 22-car Verizon IndyCar Series field, but an early pit stop under caution on Lap 6 drastically improved his track position. The rookie led two laps and was on the same fuel strategy as eventual race winner Will Power before a blocking penalty thwarted his efforts.

"I'm so disappointed we weren't able to show our true potential today," Aleshin said. "We made a run from last all the way up to the lead. Depending on how fuel strategy played out, we may have been able to podium or finish in the top five. Takuma (Sato) was four laps down when I received a penalty for blocking him, which is incredibly frustrating."

Aleshin served his black flag penalty and rejoined the race still in the top 10. He was spun on Lap 56 after contact with James Hinchcliffe, resulting in him falling a lap down to the leaders.

"The only silver lining I can find is that we proved we have a fast car, and that we get another shot tomorrow," Aleshin said.

Pagenaud started the 70-lap race 17th after receiving a penalty for blocking earlier in the day during qualifications. After a spirited battle, the Frenchman tangled with Will Power on Lap 5, sending Pagenaud into the Turn 6 wall.

"I guess me and Will (Power) getting into trouble has become a common story," Pagenaud said. "Will was having a lot of issues early on with the way his tires were wearing. He started with scuffed Firestone red tires, and he was struggling to get out of the corners. We were dicing back and forth, and making contact at times, as well.

"There wasn't much room out there to pass him. He made the car really wide. I entered Turn 6 on the outside of him, and he knew I was there. I don't think he gave me room on the exit, but maybe I was a little too optimistic with the move. It's hard to say, but that's racing. It won't be the last fight the two of us have on the track."

Pagenaud was unable to rejoin the race due to substantial damage to the No. 77 Oculus Transport SPHM Dallara/Honda/Firestone car. He finished 22nd, completing only four laps.

IndyCar returns to action at 10 a.m. (ET) Sunday, June 1 at Belle Isle to qualify for Race 2 at the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans. Race 2 starts at 3:30 p.m. Sunday and will be televised live on ABC.

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