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.