Opening practice began under blue skies and bright sunshine yesterday morning, and Penske's Tracy immediately began to set fastest laps, sometimes as much as two seconds better than his competitors.
When Tracy's settings were applied to his team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi's Penske PC22, the Brazilian joined Tracy at the fore. By the time Nigel Mansell's performance approached their efforts, both Penskes were unofficially under Michael Andretti's 1992 track record of 1min 14.340sec.
With 10 minutes remaining in practice, the top contenders went out to simulate qualifying runs, but so did the rest of the field, so few improvements were made. Suddenly, the 1992 IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal, who had spent the session mired near 10th place, put up an astounding 1min 12.970sec lap to lead the field.
Although Rahal won this event last year, it is scarcely a week since his team took delivery of their 1993 Lola, having temporarily forsaken the RH01 chassis after their failure to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
IndyCar's street and road course qualification procedure splits cars into fast and slow groups based on times from the preceding event. On Friday, the quicker cars take to the track first for a 30-minute session, followed by the slower ones. The order is reversed on Saturday, and Friday's provisional times stand if un-bettered.
Mansell, fourth behind Rahal, Tracy and Fittipaldi, was in the fast group and glad of it. 'I've never seen a race with so many cars in my life,' he said. 'I thought Monte Carlo was bad.' In the afternoon, Tracy was initially quickest, then Mansell asserted himself, dominating until the final minute when Tracy retook the top spot.
Tracy, who had skipped part of morning practice to save his car, felt that engine performance had been critical. 'The (Chevrolet C-generation) motors are really starting to come to life,' he said.
Mansell, meanwhile, found his first day on Belle Isle a trying one. 'You don't realise until you come to a very busy circuit you've not been to before how much hard work it is learning a new circuit,' he said. 'I still need a couple of days to get used to it, but we'll learn as we go on.'
Fittipaldi's qualifying session, however, had not gone smoothly. 'I lost clutch,' he said, 'I was changing with no clutch.'
DETROIT INDYCAR GRAND PRIX Leading first qualifying times: 1 P Tracy (US) 1993 Penske PC22- Chevrolet 71.902sec (105.144mph); 2 N Mansell (GB) 1993 Lola-Ford 71.924; 3 E Fittipaldi (Bra) 1993 Penske PC22-Chevrolet 72.113; 4 S Johansson (Swe) 1993 Penske PC22-Chevrolet 72.633; 5 B Rahal (US) 1993 Lola-Chevrolet 73.134; 6 D Sullivan (US) 1993 Lola-Chevrolet 73.625.Reuse content