For the fifth straight year, the SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks returned to Belle Isle for the Detroit Grand Prix. In a doubleheader, Gavin Harlien and Arie Luyendyk Jr. scored the victories.
In a rare absence that has become the norm for the Detroit Grand Prix, Robby Gordon did not compete in the weekend’s action as he is racing in the Baja 500. Although he ran the full weekend in 2014 and 2015, he missed both Detroit races in 2016 and the first round in 2017.
With Gordon unavailable, Russell Boyle drove the #7 truck, with all points scored by Boyle going to Gordon in the championship. Boyle last ran an SST race in 2015, competing in the Honda Indy Toronto weekend; the then-15-year-old Canadian finished ninth and seventh in the two rounds.
Matt Brabham led Friday’s practice session with a lap time of 2:05.485, ahead of Arie Luyendyk Jr. (2:05.489), Jeff Hoffman (2:06.136), Gavin Harlien (2:06.668), Paul Morris (2:07.270), Cole Potts (2:08.597), Bill Hynes (2:09.356), Aaron Bambach (2:11.276), and Boyle (2:11.898).
The race format consisted of ten laps with two competition cautions.
With a field inversion, Boyle started at the front for Saturday morning’s race, ahead of Bambach, Hynes, Potts, and Morris. Brabham started ninth and Hildebrand tenth.
On the opening lap, Bambach took the lead from Boyle in turn three. A lap later, Morris took third and improved to second when Boyle slowed in the barrel chicane to avoid hitting them. Boyle’s day worsened when he was clipped by Potts on lap three, spinning him and dropping him to the back. Moments later, Luyendyk also spun after making contact with Hoffman. During lap four, Hynes went around.
Bambach’s large advantage over the field began to decrease as Morris closed in, and it officially evaporated during lap four when the first competition yellow came out. Behind Bambach and Morris were Harlien, Hoffman, and Potts. During the caution, track officials cleaned up debris in turn five as the booth discussed the possibility of penalties for drivers colliding with the chicane barrels.
“Boyle may also [get a penalty], even though he didn’t take out one of those chicane barrels, he did cut through it,” color commentator Sean Sermini commented in the race broadcast. “I think what he did was smart, instead of bottle-necking everyone up there, and get through it, but he may have a penalty as well.”
On the restart on lap five, Morris and Harlien quickly attacked Bambach for the lead, both eventually clearing him for the top two spots. During the lap, Potts spun in turn seven; his truck’s rear barely missed the tire barrier and hit the concrete wall, causing the truck to flip on its driver’s side.
At the start of lap six, Morris’ truck began experiencing mechanical problems, causing him to pull off the track and surrender the lead to Harlien. Hoffman also suffered from truck issues of his own, but continued on.
Following Morris’s sudden retirement, Harlien, Bambach, and Luyendyk comprised the top three. Bambach and Luyendyk were unable to catch Harlien as he scored his second win of the season and first since Long Beach. Brabham finished fourth, followed by Hildebrand, Hynes, Boyle, Hoffman. As a result of their troubles, Morris and Potts finished three and four laps down, respectively.
After the race, Luyendyk tweeted: “P3… Up and down race but the good news we are leading the points for the overall victory headed into tomorrow’s race!”
Following their problems in Race #1, Potts and Morris started at the front for Sunday’s race. It did not take long for Morris to take the lead, doing so in turn three as Potts fell out of podium range upon being passed by Boyle and Hoffman. Hoffman eventually took second from Boyle.
As the field maneuvered through the barrel chicane, Boyle collided with a barrel, resulting in a stop-and-go penalty for the Canadian. At the front, Hoffman chased down Morris as lap two began, but both of them went wide in turn three – Hoffman hitting the tire wall – to give Luyendyk first. Morris was able to recover and fight back into third.
The first competition caution came out on lap four as Luyendyk led Brabham and Morris. Upon the resumption of green flag racing, Hoffman also hit a barrel in the chicane. On lap six, Morris, who was running third, placed his truck on its left-side wheels as he tried to move through turn seven, but the truck instead rolled on its side. The #1 hit the tire barrier and went airborne before landing on its roof.
Morris was visibly affected after the wreck, sitting along the wall to recover. Sermini said: “You don’t normally see a shaken-up look on Paul’s face like you do right there. […] We’ve seen him have some gnarly wrecks over the years, but for him to have that look on his face, that’s not normally how you see Paul Morris, so you know that was a wild ride right there.”
The red flag came out to clean up the track. After a lengthy delay, the race could not resume in time as the tire barrier required further repair. Therefore, Luyendyk was declared the winner for his second career SST win. Brabham finished second, followed by Harlien, Hoffman, Hildebrand, Bambach, Potts, Hynes, Boyle, and Morris.
Luyendyk’s father, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Sr., congratulated the podium finishers: “Winners Circle, the best place to be on raceday🏁🏁🏆🏆 Congratulations son @ariejr ❗️🥂 P1 @SSuperTrucks #DetriotGP @MattyBrabs P2, @gavin_harlien P3”.
The next race on the schedule is Texas Motor Speedway on June 8–9. P.J. Jones and Sheldon Creed are the defending winners.
Featured and podium images by Mike Ferdinande
Race #2 podium image from @SSuperTrucks