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Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix 2016 the debrief

This year’s Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix was a blast!

I had such a tremendously great time I can’t express my gratitude enough to all the people that make the event possible.

There were some hiccups, as there always are, but things worked out perfectly. I was in good spirits from day 1, although it was hard to overcome my displeasure with the state of the roads in Michigan. Many of the highways and roadways in suburban Detroit suffer from incredible neglect and my Miata was the wrong vehicle to navigate these streets. Specifically Interstate 75, Chrysler Freeway and parts of Ford Freeway (Interstate 94) had such big pot holes I’m surprised I didn’t suffer a blowout. My GPS didn’t help me either, sending me along Mound Road or Metro Parkway (Metropolitan Pkwy) which had pot holes so big they had their own pot holes within them, it was so rough I cringed every time I found myself falling into one. And with the car being so low most of the time I couldn’t see it coming until I was in it…. So with that off my chest, to the positive.

Or at least sort of positive. My GP experience I found out, is what I make it… and on the first day of the event I found out I was flagging at Turn 11 which is along the Detroit River on the back straight just past a few sharp turns from Turn 7, 8, 9 and 10. Turn 11 was spectacular both with the views of Canada across the river, Windsor Ontario hustle and bustle can be seen and heard quite easily. But also because once the cars come out of the turn they come so close to the concrete barrier which we flag from, sometimes they brush up against it. Often times I had to yank my Blue flag back after displaying it because it was possible for the cars to rip it out of my hands and take it along for the ride… the rush was incredible!

detroit belle isle grand prix 2016 indycar imsa trans am 4 turn 11

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Yet… Turn 11 has the identical views I’ve seen before from Turn 7 which I worked the last time I went to Detroit Grand Prix in 2013. And that bummed me out…. I was hoping to experience something new, something unique… even if it wasn’t the best view I wanted for it to be different…. so after contemplating whether or not I’d be a pain-in-the-ass for asking, I reached out to my corner captain and asked if I could be switched. He told me “NO”, the assignments were set in stone… Hmm. I asked a few more people on the ride back to the dinner tent after the day’s events were finished, and they said if I feel it is a legitimate reason I should go ahead and make the request, but it would be better if I present the Flag Chief with a solution, otherwise find someone from a different station to switch with me.

While I knew some people at the event, I didn’t know enough to have this conversation about switching so I went straight to the Flag Chief. I presented him with my dilemma and suggested that he could even put me on a “Shitty” station but my goal is to have a different view. He kind of “whoah’ed!” at my “Shitty” comment, as if there’s no such thing at the track and all stations are “good” but then after some thought told me he’d take care of it. I told him no pressure with the decision, I’m quite impressed with the views of Turn 11 and I had a great time working with all the people on there, but honestly I’d prefer a different view, and left it at that.

During dinner the flag chief asked one of the corner captains if he wouldn’t mind trading people, he agreed… and I found out I’m going to work Turn 1 for the rest of the weekend… Holly Fucking Batman! Turn 1!!!!  WHOA… that was very surprising and not at all expected.

I couldn’t wait to come back Saturday and Sunday because I knew Turn 1 would be awesome… the switch totally made my day!

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The team on Turn 1 welcomed me even if they probably thought I was a jerk for even requesting this move. I can’t say I was terribly concerned what other people thought, I noticed that as long as I look out for my own interest, I have a great time. But we all had an amazing time working together. I tried to share with the team what I learned working a few IndyCar, IMSA and Trans Am events this year… possibly even too much info. But I thought it was helpful. We had a great rotation, I got to do what I wanted. I even said it would be a nice thing to have an incident at Turn 1 so we could all learn from it, and sure enough we had quite a tangle on the very first lap of the IndyCar race on Sunday. Nobody got hurt except some pride maybe, but we learned a lot… Especially from our Holmatro Safety Team crew that scolded us for blocking their exit with the truck. Sadly, their exit coincided with our escape route in case an incident such as this happened. So no matter how much they think they’re doing Godly work with their God-like attitude towards the volunteers who stand between a moving concrete barrier and the swing of their open door as they rush out to the scene. I wouldn’t have changed anything about the way we reacted to the multi-car crash that moved our station a few inches in making the truck exit hole even smaller.

Post race we had a great photo op with the cars that couldn’t continue:

detroit belle isle grand prix 2016 indycar imsa trans am 13 turn 1 incident
photo courtesy of Pat
detroit belle isle grand prix 2016 indycar imsa trans am 12 turn 1 incident
photo courtesy of Pat
detroit belle isle grand prix 2016 indycar imsa trans am 11 turn 1 incident
photo courtesy of Pat
detroit belle isle grand prix 2016 indycar imsa trans am 14 turn 1 incident
photo courtesy of Pat Not a lot of wiggle room where we stand to flag from. All the personnel on our post was essential, blue and yellow flaggers faced each other while the communicator relayed race control traffic and the captain served as a safety to respond to incidents (which technically we weren’t allowed to do because Holmatro Safety Team was there)

detroit belle isle grand prix 2016 indycar imsa trans am 10 holmatro safety team

The views from Turn 1 were pretty awesome, we could see almost everything that went on in that part of Pit Lane, including penalties and all vehicles exiting onto the track. Prior to the IndyCar incident we had a few scuffles and spins in Trans Am, while IMSA was pretty well behaved and civil through our corner.

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Every night Detroit SCCA Region treated us to a tasty dinner, which was so appreciated!

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detroit belle isle grand prix 2016 indycar imsa trans am 9 detroit region scca dinner

The food was excellent, from sign-on/registration throughout the event… I especially like the Thursday night welcome party at Sindbads, for all the bad things being said about Detroit, this was an excellent view of what Detroit is really like, and that there are multiple experiences to be had in the D, not just bad ones like people assume every time. Sindbads is great!

detroit belle isle grand prix 2016 indycar imsa trans am 2 sindbads

Believe it or not, this is Detroit!

detroit belle isle grand prix 2016 indycar imsa trans am 3 sindbads

The other thing I’m a big fan of is the Michigan State Police cars with their traditional light bubble and the stop sign on the hood… What in the world is that still all about?

detroit belle isle grand prix 2016 indycar imsa trans am 7 michigan state police

Anyway I had such a great time I can’t wait to return again and again! I will marshal another Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix if I have the money to do it. Next time I’ll rent a car though!

Mazda MX-5: 1,500+ Mile Road Trip from New Jersey to Detroit, Michigan

1,758 mile Road Trip to be exact in my 2007 MX-5 Miata GT PRHT.

In all I burned 53.445 gallons and spent $157.81 dollars doing it. Average fuel price turned out to be $2.93/gal for 93 Premium gas which I bought from several brand name stations including Exxon, Mobil, Shell, BP and Sunoco. I used the GasBuddy app to hunt for cheaper prices which typically worked, except in Detroit, and was also inaccurate for Sunoco stations because Premium there is 91 and I was looking for Ultra 93 which is about 10 cents/gal pricier. The situation in Detroit pissed me off because fuel prices went up by 60 cents/gal the day I arrived. The price hike was so sudden that I was the first person reporting the prices on GasBuddy and even the app was asking me if I was correct because it seemed high to them. I estimate that I spent between $10 and $13 more on fuel in Michigan than I had planned to based on my research. Prices went up from $2.69 – $2.89 which I thought was normal to $3.09 – $3.29 which is what I actually paid there. In all, the cheapest gas on the trip was in New Jersey at $2.459/gal for Sunoco Ulta 93 and the most expensive was in Michigan at $3.299/gal at Mobil for Supreme+ 93.

Sadly after I had put about $20 in the tank at Mobil because the low fuel light was already on, I noticed the Speedway across the street was still at $2.89/gal for premium. Unfortunately I had already used up all of my Speedway gas cards and only had Exxon-Mobil, Shell, BP and Sunoco at my disposal. Because I bought the gas cards at a 10% discount I wanted to use them up instead of paying for cash out of pocket… thinking back at this point I should have gone to Speedway.

I did not bother calculating individual gas mileages when I filled up because I tended not to top off the tank (especially at the Detroit prices) so instead I am calculating the total to be 33MPG or 1,758.6 miles traveled divided by 53.445 gallons burned = 32.90. I was really happy that several times I got way more than I typically get out of a full tank of gas because the trip meter went well past the 300 mile mark. For example arriving in Detroit I was at 350 miles on the trip when the low fuel light came on. Similarly I was at 330 miles heading back home in Pennsylvania when I got the low fuel light… Ironically when I arrived at the Du Bois, PA Exxon where gas was 25 cents/gal cheaper than everywhere else in the area, they had run out of their Premium fuel, the only thing available was Regular, so I left.

I noticed on this trip that the car felt peppier with Sunoco Ultra 93 than any other fuel, so I think I’ll be using that option when available from now on. I also noticed that where the roads were flatter like Ohio and Michigan, the mileage was stretched out beyond what I normally experience. On the trip back the mileage dropped significantly once I hit the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania.

That’s all I’m going to say about the gas mileage.

My next and biggest complaint of the whole trip is with the state of the roads, especially in Michigan. Holly Fucking Batman are the roads bad. As soon as you drive into Michigan from Ohio on Interstate 75 you better brace yourself for impact. The concrete road had multiple cracks, uneven levels and massive pot holes that as much as I tried I couldn’t avoid. Worst were the ones that I didn’t see until it was too late and hit so hard my teeth clinched. Driving around suburban Detroit was even worse. My GPS had sent me up Mound Road onto Metropolitan Parkway and both of those roads are absolute SHIT! Its such a shame that Chrysler, GM and Ford all have plants or offices and numerous suppliers in that general area and neither one of them give two fucks about the condition of the roads they drive on. Why bother with proving grounds when you can send cars around the neighborhood and destroy the shit out of them? I was so grossly disappointed and upset with this situation I can’t express it in words. Clearly some work is being done. The construction along Van Dyke / Michigan Rt 53 has improved that road tremendously, but it doesn’t matter when 90% of the roads are great, that last 10% that does damage to your car leaves a big impression. I have to say I’ll never drive my Miata to Michigan again, that state is best experienced in a rental car where you don’t really care what condition you leave the vehicle in when  you return it.

And yet on this trip I managed to spot a few MX-5 Miata’s around. Most notably a marshal friend of mine from Ontario with her NC3 PRHT:

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That car is a beaut. And knowing how roads are in Ontario from my visit to Mosport earlier in the month I’d say she’s very lucky living on the other side of the Detroit River.

While I was on the hunt for the Fiata I burned a full tank of gas driving around (very much pointlessly as my search didn’t amount to much in the end). But I was successful at spotting one so at least it wasn’t a total failure.

fiata fiat 124 spider at aburn hills michigan fca hq 3

On the same Fiata trip I did a foodie tour of the D… and while I’m not the biggest fan of hot dogs, I did like the idea of checking out what is considered popular in Detroit… they call them coney islands there.

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 10 american lafayette

I drove the entire length of the famous Woodward Avenue from Pontiac to Downtown and then back, eating coney’s along the way.

I even went to the FIAT dealership to see maybe I’d spy a Fiata there, but except for the one I saw leaving FCA, Auburn Hills I had no luck.

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A visit to the GM Renaissance Center was about the coolest thing I did while in Detroit. That and a visit to the Detroit Historical Museum on Woodward which was really neat!

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Of course the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix was a blast this year!

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Luckily, and thank GOD for that, I didn’t experience any troubles along the way there or back. No blowouts like I was afraid of, no bubbles in the tires, etc. My plan now that I’m back in NJ is to rotate the tires and have a better inspection of the wheels in general and various suspension components, brakes, etc. This trip was a hell of a workout for the car and I’m hoping not too damaging. I’ll also check the oil now that I’m at 5,000 miles to see how Pennzoil Platinum compares to Mobil 1. If it’s dark I’ll replace it and if not, I’ll use it for a few more thousand miles.

Looking forward to the next road trip!