DETROIT (AP) — Roger Penske is looking forward to showing the world what Detroit has to offer this weekend.
The famed motorsports owner has put his time, money and passion into making the Detroit Grand Prix a world-class event.
When auto racing's return to the Motor City in 2012 after a four-year absence didn't go well, Penske put together a plan to fix shoddy roads that shifted the spotlight off high-performance cars and stunning views of an area trying to reshape its image.
So far, so good.
"How many millions did you spend resurfacing this joint," Dario Franchitti asked the event's chairman, Bud Denker, on Friday after winning the pole.
Penske's Michigan-based company and Chevrolet spent nearly $2 million on the 2.36-mile street course that has been reconfigured.
"It's bloody impressive, and there's more improvements on the way," Franchitti said. "We should be racing here. It's the Motor City, isn't it?"
The investments were needed — desperately.
Scott Dixon won last year's Detroit Grand Prix marred by pot holes and grooves that stopped the race for a little more than 2 hours and shortened the 90-lap race to 70.
The improvements will be put to a test because IndyCar has scheduled two, full-length races for the first time this weekend on Belle Isle.
"We're very confident that we've done the right thing, but you never know," Penske acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press. "This is a business that when you think you've done everything you can, then you find something you didn't do.
"We spent money to make wider turns, we added to a straightaway another half-mile for more passing and did work in areas where we had trouble last year."
Dixon led from start to finish in a lackluster race — building a 10-second lead — on a tight road course that had just nine lead changes combined in 2007 and 2008.
No one wants to watch a parade-type race after seeing Tony Kanaan win Sunday's Indianapolis 500 following a record 68 lead changes.
"That's been the difficulty here and that should change," said Will Power, who finished fourth at last year's Detroit Grand Prix. "You'll be able to pass here. We'll have some two-wide racing."
Drivers will have opportunities to make moves between Turns 2 and 3 — where they'll be able to go 180 mph after going 80 through a stretch that had a few turns in the same area last year — to perhaps making qualifying less important than it has been previously.
"Big thanks to Mr. Penske and his group for extending the track back to the way it used to be when CART was here," defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay said. "It's definitely fun. It's violent in the car, but it certainly improved a lot with the new pavement. "
Franchitti won the poll, reaching 106.642 mph, but he will start 11th on Saturday because of a 10-grid-spot penalty for making an unapproved engine change at Indy.
E.J. Viso, who qualified second, will start up front followed by Mike Conway, James Jakes and defending IndyCar champion Hunter-Reay.
Before the 70-lap race Saturday afternoon, the 25-car field will qualify in the morning for Sunday's race.
"Very strange for sure," Hunter-Reay said. "But you kind of roll with it."
That's what Penske did soon after last year's race, putting his employees to work to do everything possible to give the Motor City some much-needed positive publicity.
The automobile capital of the world has fallen on hard times. A state-appointed emergency manager is currently trying to figure out how to cope with the city's long-term debt that is estimated at more than $14 billion.
Quicken Loans Inc. founder Dan Gilbert, meanwhile, is among many investors banking on the city making a comeback.
"Detroit is the tale of two cities," Penske said. "We have a fiscal issue in the city, but the private sector has been outstanding. People are looking for lofts and apartments. Prices are going up. Businesses are moving downtown.
"We're on a roll and the race is something people can count on in late May or early June, giving us a chance to tune up our jewel, Belle Isle, for people to enjoy for the rest of the summer. It's a thrill to be part of it."
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