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Larkin gains speed in IndyCar ride

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Riley Sheahan gets ready to drive off in the Chevrolet pace car on Belle Isle. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- Dylan Larkin claimed the fastest skater title at the NHL All-Star Game but he found an even faster gear Thursday on Belle Isle.

Larkin is this year's Grand Marshal of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix and with that honor comes an invitation to ride in an IndyCar for a "hot lap."

Before taking off with retired driver Gil de Ferran in the two-seat IndyCar, Larkin met former Grand Prix champions Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Then it was time for Larkin to put on the suit and helmet and join de Ferran for the 2.3-mile lap around Belle Isle.

"It was unbelievable," Larkin said immediately after the ride. "I didn't think it could go that fast around the tight turns. It's pretty incredible. So it was an experience of a lifetime."

Larkin said the closest he had ever come was driving go-karts, which wasn't remotely like this.

"It was like being on a roller coaster plus some when you get that feeling in your stomach," Larkin said. "It was pretty cool."

Larkin wasn't sure how fast de Ferran took him but the IndyCars can go as fast as 200 miles per hour.

"He got going pretty fast in the back stretch," Larkin said. "I'm not sure (how fast) but we were moving. I felt like my helmet was starting to come off so I tried to tuck my head but then I couldn't really see the track."

Larkin only recently returned from Russia after competing for Team USA in the International Ice Hockey Federation world championships.

Larkin had two goals, seven assists and was plus-three in 10 games.

"Living in Russia for three weeks is a bit of a different experience," Larkin said. "It was a great experience. I got to play a little bit more of a role than I did in Detroit. I got to kill penalties, play on the power play, be a go-to guy. I had a ton of fun. I really enjoyed being around all the guys."

In the bronze medal game, Larkin and Team USA competed against his Red Wings teammate, Pavel Datsyuk, who had one goal, 10 assists and was plus-6 in 10 games for Team Russia.

"I'm glad I didn't have to do that this year," Larkin said. "It's just as fun to watch him on the small ice but he can do some magical things when you give him time and space like that. It was pretty cool to see him and play against him."

After the IndyCar ride, Larkin and his Red Wings teammates and housemates, Luke Glendening and Riley Sheahan, got to ride in the Chevrolet pace cars.

Castroneves drove the pace car containing Larkin and WXYZ's Brad Galli.

After the ride, Castroneves kidded around with the young hockey player.

"How old are you? You're probably a lousy driver," Castroneves joked. "I had a great time. I wish you the best in the upcoming season."

Despite the joking, Larkin said he'd be rooting for Castroneves during the race.

"Yeah, I will," Larkin said. "Obviously he's been a champion. It's cool how humble and how nice he was to take time to meet me."

Although the pace cars didn't go as fast as the IndyCars did, Sheahan admitted it was challenging.

"Honestly, it made my stomach a little woozy," Sheahan said. "It felt like I was on a roller coaster. It was just pretty impressive that they can have that much control over the car."

Glendening, who went pretty fast in flying with the Blue Angels last summer, said he won't be attending race school anytime soon.

"Absolutely not," Glendening said. "I am not a good driver in the first place and to be driving at those speeds around those tight corners is not my thing."

Larkin will return to Belle Isle on Saturday to participate in pre-race ceremonies, including giving the command, "Drivers, start your engines," before the Chevy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans.

"It's going to be awesome," Larkin said. "It's going to be really cool to see a bunch of guys competing out there. I'm a small part of it and I'm excited to see what kind of show they put on."

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