Baltimore Preview

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Whenever open-wheel racing has ventured into a new market, it’s always surrounded by an air of anticipation. What will the course look like? Will it be racy? How well will the locals turn out for it? Will it translate well to television? Those are some of the questions that going to a new venue will generate. It’s no different for this weekend’s Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix.

When the IZOD IndyCar Series announced this event last season, most were very positive about it – and for good reason. The I-95 corridor represents a new market for open-wheel racing. The course runs just to the edge of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor – one of the most picturesque and happening areas along the Eastern Seaboard. The circuit will also circle around one of the places I intend on going to before I die (I refuse to use the term “bucket list”. It’s too trendy.); Camden yards – home of the Baltimore Orioles.

Not all new venues have turned out so well – especially for street courses. When CART ran the streets of downtown Denver in 1990 & 1991, it was run on a rough layout with manhole covers for chicanes. The crowd was good in 1990, but decreased the following year. Public support waned and it didn’t return until Champ Car ran on a course around the Pepsi Center from 2002 to 2006. Mercifully, it didn’t return. The street course at Houston in the late nineties provided as much excitement as last weekend’s race at Sonoma. About the only thrill was when Paul Tracy punched his car-owner, Barry Green, in the pits.

To me, the best example of a new event not living up to the hype was the Meadowlands Grand Prix. The inaugural event had great expectations when Mario Andretti led every lap at the Meadowlands Sports Complex built in the swamps of New Jersey. But interest and attendance dropped after the first couple of years. The location – a parking lot near Giants Stadium, didn’t hold much fascination with New Yorkers. The track layout was ridiculous – essentially snaking its way through a freeway interchange, before winding back around to the parking lot. The last race at The Meadowlands was in 1991. For the next year, the plan was to run the streets of Manhattan around the World Trade Center. Local politics and costs prevented that race from ever running and the Big Apple hasn’t had any form of motorsports since.

I don’t see these scenarios happening at Baltimore. Randy Bernard and his staff seem to have a much better approach to planning events than the John Frasco’s and Bill Stokkan’s that guided CART in its infancy. I have full faith that Randy Bernard & Company have done their research and due diligence to determine whether this will work or not. Street races are not my thing, but I understand their place on the schedule as a necessary evil. They are situated in dense population centers and attract non-race fans to the weekend festival. If just some of those partygoers actually become real race fans, that’s the way to build your base.

The I-95 corridor is just the place to do this. From the Beltway to New York City and Boston, this is one of the most populated areas of the country. Except for the Monster Mile at Dover, DE; this is an area that is starved for motorsports. Combining a highly populated area with a scenic venue, this has the possibility to be a very successful event.

The track itself is a 2.4 mile, twelve turn layout. There is a straightaway that is a half-mile in length along with a hairpin turn. Just this week, the decision was made to add a chicane to the straightaway in an effort to slow the cars down. If nothing else, it should provide some panoramic views of cars streaking alongside the water in the harbor.

My record of picking winners this season is still at 100%. I’ve been wrong every time. I have picked Tony Kanaan to win the last two races. Consequently, he crashed out of one and finished dead last in the other. My brain tells me that the smart money should be on Will Power to work his magic on a street course that no one has ever driven before. But my heart won’t let me pick him because it will surely lead to some disaster as he pursues Dario Franchitti in the championship. Following that logic, my pick to win the Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix? Dario Franchitti.

George Phillips

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9 Responses to “Baltimore Preview”

  1. So the Baltimorians are pissed off about traffic–like they need another reason to hate anything “Indy.”

    Great locale though and I like the track, looks sorta racy (and sorta “wreck-y.”) If I was independently wealthy, I’d be on a plane to Baltimore for the weekend–something I never thought I’d say. Looking forward to this one, just got a feeling it’s going to be an interesting weekend. As opposed to last weekend which still makes me z-z-z-z-z

  2. I hope that it is successful and that the good folks in Baltimore enjoy it immensly as do the viewers at home. As for my pick, I am still picking Ganassi to win and I have Dario in first and Scott Dixon finishing in the top 5.

  3. I’m gonna cross my fingers and hope for the best. A great race and 100,000 people packing the streets.

  4. things are looking interesting. chris estrada says the track isn’t done and they’re already 4 hrs. behind. traffic jams, flying manhole covers, railroad tracks, different kinds of rubber, a buys and now compressed schedule, beer gardens and Labor Day weekend drinkers–this could be a whole new brand of “oh, the humanity.” I’m excited.

    • ‘Twil be a festival of carbon fiber, and legions of fans will cry ‘why this’ and ‘why that.’
      ‘Why didn’t they foresee this,’ and ‘why didn’t they fix that,’ and ‘the drivers had complained about this,’ and …
      it’ll be a crashfest and an embarrassment to a sport which’d like to attract new fans and earn money.

  5. Per my unofficial sources, VIP is completely sold out and Grandstand is better than 95% sold out. The location is awesome with mostly minor details affecting fan attendence.

    1. Road closings are a pain, but they have a lot of shuttles and public transit options.

    2. Insufficient entrences to the infield: only 5 bridges with many of them located a long walk from infield attractions. St Pete has much better access and makes a good example for Baltimore to emulate.

    3. Inadequate signage directing people to attractions.

    4. There appear to be no grandstands by the pits, at least on my track map. I will walk over later to see, but that would appear to be an oversight. On the other hand, people would not be able to see much else from there, so maybe that’s why.

    On the good side, they have lots of people in vests to help orient people and give out info; and this is on Friday! From my short walk there has to be at least 20k people walking around. Also, the security, not only at the track but also for blocks around it, is excellent.

    Is it true John Waters is the starter? ;-)

  6. Mike silver Says:

    Thanks for not picking TK this week, but I wish you would have picked Power.

  7. Savage Henry Says:

    I was there for the day on Friday. I was encouraged by the crowd. There were a lot of people there for a Friday – I expect them to have a great crowd for the weekend.

    The practice schedule was delayed and compressed. USF2000 was supposed to start at 8 AM but nobody got onto the track until around 1:30. Once the cars got onto the track there was a crash in every session (and 3 in the Indycar session). The track is fairly wide in the good passing zones – Turns 1, 3, and 4 but other parts seem to be really narrow.

    The one thing that concerns me is that they put a chicane at the beginning of the main straight. It is the strangest thing and I think that it could kill any chances for passing into Turn 1 because any advantage that a trailing car could get through Turn 12 will be lost in the chicane. I guess they decided they needed something to slow the cars down on the main straight.

    There are very few grandstands and nothing I could see with visibility to the pits. We tried to make our way back there but I finally gave up (the wife and kids were getting sick of me walking them into dead ends). I lot of people love to see the pit action so I think its a mistake not to have a grandstand there. However, I think that there are a lot of trees back there any perhaps nowhere to put a grandstand.

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