Detroit Grand Prix: With 100 days to go, downtown’s streets are alive

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 23, 2023

The 100-day countdown to the Detroit GP has begun.

The IndyCar race is returning to the streets of Detroit and the race’s presence is being felt all over downtown. Construction on the track’s pits/paddock area has consumed the waterfront north of the Renaissance Center. Scale-model IndyCar statues have begun sprouting up in the city’s seven districts, and public sightings of IndyCar superstars have become more common than Motown celebrities like Kid Rock and Eminem.

Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who finished second and fourth, respectively, in last year’s IndyCar championship, dropped into Detroit on Fat Tuesday to make paczkis for local diners in Eastern Market’s Pietrzyk Pierogi. They also visited with kids and firefighters at Engine No. 9 Fire Station on Lafayette to talk about the integral role that safety plays in auto racing, and even dropped into Shinola to examine some watches.

IndyCar stars and Penske teammates Scott McLaughlin, left, and Josef Newgarden make a paczki.

“It’s hard to believe it’s just 100 days until we’ll be back in Detroit for the Grand Prix,” said New Zealand native McLaughlin, 29, who’ll have to fast for 40 days after tasting his first, calorie-packed paczek. “Making paczkis was fun and they’re very good. I think I may have had one too many, though.”

Two-time IndyCar champ Newgarden, 32, hadn’t even celebrated his first birthday when the last Detroit GP was run in the street. His native Nashville has embraced its own IndyCar street race — which celebrated its second year in 2022 — and he has been an enthusiastic backer of returning the Detroit race downtown.

“From meeting the firefighters at Engine No. 9 to visiting the Grand Prix partners at Lear to seeing how Shinola watches are made, it was great to experience so much in Detroit,” said Newgarden, who also teamed with McLaughlin last month for their first visit to the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race . “You can feel the buzz and energy about the Grand Prix coming back to the downtown.”

The flurry of activity is a reminder that this year’s race will consume downtown Detroit June 2-4 as the event moves from Belle Isle to a 1.7-mile track encircling General Motors Co.’s headquarters. How big will the race be this year? The main straight will run right down Jefferson Avenue past The Fist statue with speeds of 180 mph before free-admission grandstands.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear will be the first time open-wheel wheel racing has been in downtown streets since 1991.

Like its years on Belle Isle, the event will bring substantial revenue — $77 million according to a University of Michigan study — to downtown as well as infrastructure upgrades like newly-paved streets and upgraded amenities.

To celebrate its new digs, IndyCar is strengthening its roots in the city with regular events and art activations. Ten colorful, scale-model IndyCars designed by Detroit public school students have begun popping up across the city’s seven districts.

Students from nine schools — East English Village Preparatory Academy at Finney, Osborn High School, Western International Academy, Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School, Cody High School, Renaissance High School, Mumford High School, Cass Tech High School and Henry Ford High School — were tasked with decorating each 1/16th scale-model IndyCar that is mounted nose-up on a base.

The artistic themes are meant to represent school, neighborhoods, and city and are being installed in community gathering spots like businesses, rec centers and art galleries. The student-designed car models will ultimately be available for auction in May, with proceeds benefiting the City of Detroit Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship.

IndyCar stars and Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin (rt) visit Detroit Fire Engine No. 9.

“The artworks are a great opportunity for our event to connect with our local communities and help build excitement for the Grand Prix,” said Detroit GP chairman Bud Denker.

The so-called IndyCar Art Installation includes a car designed by popular Detroit artist Phil Simpson — known for his “smile art” around town. Student contributions include a Mustang horse-themed design in District 2 by Mumford High School reflecting the school’s mascot, and a red, white and blue IndyCar statue by Osborn High School — its underbelly painted with a community map and Osborn’s signature 48205 zip code. In District 5, Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School students decorated their statue in black and gold school colors complete with motto: “Enter to Learn, Exit to Serve.”

Tickets are on sale for the Detroit GP and have been running 80% ahead of previous years’ pace. The race weekend will also feature an IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, INDY NXT and Trans Am races.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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