Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Baltimore Grand Prix 2012 - The Sequel

A flood of cautions, terrific action, crab cakes, and an announcement that will transform sports car racing in America? Yep, it must be Labor Day Weekend in Baltimore.

Baltimore, MD –

Last weekend’s 2012 Baltimore Sports Car Challenge presented by SRT was defined as much by off-the-circuit news as anything that happened on the 2.04-mile street circuit. We’ll get through the good, the bad, and the just plain weird of it.

For starters, following a blast of a successful debut in 2011, the original promoters – who delivered the goods in crowd turnout but blew it by having way over-promised on revenues – were sacked earlier this year by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Then, with the entire event hanging in the balance for months, eventually Andretti Sports Marketing was brought in to pick up the pieces and make the event happen – all in the span of about 90 days.

The first thing anybody noticed this year was the crowd; or, really, the lack of one. Where the 2011 debut had the streets flooded with people (many of whom seem to have gotten in free) the turnout was huge despite the lack of advertising in local media. This time round, even with ads running all over TV and radio in Baltimore and DC markets, it was considerably easier to get where you needed to go, and spend a lot less time waiting in line.  Andretti Sports Marketing’s Jade Gurss summed it up, saying “we may have fewer total numbers, but we more likely have a higher number of paying customers.”  
Sunday brought the biggest crowds, as Indycar seemed to have more of a “main event” feel about it. That’s what having a live TV contract gets you, even if it’s on NBC.

For an event so quickly cobbled-together, the Andretti group deserves a tip of the hat – as does the City of Baltimore itself. Last year’s abhorrent traffic tie-ups were made substantially better by routing traffic more efficiently, and the behind-the-scenes workings seemed to flow with better organization (for the most part) than last year. Also, while the track designer may have screwed-up by re-designing the circuit without last year’s dreaded chicanes (leading to several cars literally catching air while crossing the railroad tracks on Pratt St), the response to this foul-up was quick and decisive – the chicanes were put back in place, so that rather than cars flying through the air, we had cars getting loose and tagging the wall. If you’re going to have damage, better to contain it on the tarmac than launch it through the air.

Along with the road hazard carried over from last year, every race over the span of three days involved some kind of pile-up in the now-notorious turn 1. One local fan observed “I don’t think we need a race announcer for this one, so much as we need a traffic reporter.” Coupled with some light rain on Sunday, the track seemed to take on both the best and worst characteristics of Sebring and Long Beach. This time, however, the manhole covers stayed put.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about the Baltimore race without bringing up the situation that threatened to overshadow the entire event: As this is being written, we are just a few hours away from the announcement that the Grand Am series and the American Le Mans Series have reached an agreement to “merge.” Anyone who watched the DaimlerChrysler “merger of equals” play out at the end of the last century, knows what “merger” means these days – and Peter’s insight on this deal really is the last word as far as its analysis is concerned. It’s far too early to know whether to throw roses or dead fish at the parties involved – or some combination of both – but one thing is certain: Sports car racing in North America just took a very sharp U-turn, and it will never be the same.

That’s it for now; I’ll see you at the next pit stop.

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