This Labor Day weekend marks the return of the IZOD IndyCar Series to the streets of Baltimore. In the time that I’ve been following this sport, I’m not sure that I remember a more successful debut of a street race than last year’s inaugural event in Baltimore. This was in spite of political unrest and turmoil with the city and the race promoter.
There was more unrest in the offseason. The city signed an agreement with a new promoter, but when that agreement fell through the place on this year’s schedule looked tenuous at best. Credit Michael Andretti and his promotional company for stepping up and taking over the promotional aspects of this event – much the same as he’s done with Milwaukee.
Unfortunately, when my mind flashes back to last year’s event – the first thing I think of is Tony Kanaan’s frightening practice crash, when he lost his brakes and flew over the back of the car driven by Helio Castroneves. Both drivers, Kanaan especially, were lucky to walk away uninjured – but both had to go to backup cars and start at the rear of the grid.
I also think of the out-of-place chicane that was placed on the main straightaway on last year’s layout. Many drivers were very vocal in their complaints about the chicane, saying that double-file re-starts would cause major problems. This year, the chicane has been removed. I also think of the major bottle-neck that occurred after a re-start in last year’s race. Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay got together and created a pile-up in the hair-pin turn that involved about three-fourths of the field.
Will Power dominated the race, as he does at most street courses. He led seventy of seventy five laps on his way to victory lane. If he does that again this weekend, he’ll all but clinch the championship before heading to the five-hundred mile finale at Fontana in two weeks.
This is a picturesque course that runs through Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area and around Oriole Park at Camden Yards – one of the baseball fields that is on my list to visit someday. It is just a little over two miles in length and with the chicane removed, promises to have some high-speed sections.
Despite the political and financial problems of last year’s event, the race was well-attended and deemed a success. There were a few teething problems that you would expect for a first-time event, but they should be ironed out this year. Hopefully, the crowds will be even better this weekend.
If proven successful, I’d like to see this event become a staple for Labor Day. I’ve long been a proponent of wrapping the IndyCar season up on Labor Day weekend in order to avoid going head-to-head against the NFL. At least Fontana will run on a Saturday night, thus avoiding the NFL conflict – but Labor Day seems like a logical time to end the season. Recent logic has said that the season needs to end on an oval, but I’m not so sure that’s necessary – and I’m an oval guy. Whatever the case, I hope that Baltimore can become a Labor Day tradition for the IZOD IndyCar Series for years to come.
Will Power has a firm grasp on this year’s championship, but it isn’t his yet. For the past two seasons, for a variety of reasons, he wasn’t able to close the deal. It’ll be interesting to see if he can put it away or if he allows the pressure to get to him and let Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves back into the discussion for Fontana. Although I’m still pulling for Helio, my money is on Power duplicating his dominating win from last year. Therefore, my pick this weekend is Power.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday weekend. I’ll be here on Monday with my usual random thoughts. Happy Labor Day!