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April 12, 2024

Grand Prix takes over Inner Harbor

By MARK RAPAPORT | September 7, 2011

The inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix took place this past weekend in downtown Baltimore. The temporary two-mile track built for the joint IZOD IndyCar and American Le Mans Series event encompassed many local streets of the Inner Harbor area.

Open-wheel racing at 180-mile-per-hour speeds on Baltimore's Pratt Street is typically reserved for illegal drag races or video games. This past Labor Day weekend offered a rare exception.

The three-day event was all about racing, but it wasn't limited to sitting and watching others. Fans got in on the action by checking out the Interactive Racing Zone, located South of Camden Yards, where they could play racing games, meet drivers, and buy merchandise. Fans even hit the track themselves in a go-kart or take a remote controlled race car for a spin around a replica of the Grand Prix circuit.

Big Wheel races were also hosted for younger children eager to floor the petal.

Other attractions included a Family Zone, designed for families with children under 12, and the Party Zone, where bands played throughout the event.

The Grand Prix is under the auspices of the Baltimore Racing Development, whose CEO Jay Davidson began the project to bring the race to Baltimore over two years ago.

According to The Baltimore Sun, approximately $7 million in funding went into the race, which saw a total turnout of an estimated 150,000 fans.

The total revenue of the event is still not public, but it is estimated at $50-70 million.

Over the summer, the complying neighborhoods surrounding the track received a $100,000 check as part of the Community Impact Mitigation Fund, created by the city as part of a beautification and neighborhood improvement initiative.

While professional racing is not a typical sport in the Mid-Atlantic, some Hopkins students did make their way to the Inner Harbor for the event.

"It was really amazing seeing the Inner Harbor so full of spirit and seeing everyone waving their checkered flags," junior Melanie Gersten, who was a spectator at the race, said. "It was a level of excitement unlike I've ever seen in downtown Baltimore."

Many freshmen attended or stopped by the race due to an orientation trip to the Inner Harbor over the weekend.

Freshmen Ben Szatanek, IndyCar enthusiast, was among them.     

"I ‘prix gamed' for the race by watching a couple hours of IndyCar YouTube footage," said Szatanek. "It was cool seeing some of the best racers come right here to Baltimore."

For those not familiar, IndyCar racing differs from the more popular NASCAR series.

Aside from competing in separate leagues, the cars differ significantly in physical build.

IndyCars are around three times lighter than NASCAR cars.

In addition, IndyCar's ‘open-wheel' and more aerodynamic design allows the cars to reach racing speeds 30-40 mph faster than those in NASCAR.

The star-studded lineup of racers included Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Danica Patrick, and Will Power.

Power won the Grand Prix Sunday afternoon, and in the process pulled within five points of the IRL championship leader, Franchitti.

Environmentalists will be happy to know that the Baltimore Grand Prix has pledged to be "carbon neutral with zero net waste by 2015"—a first in Motorsports, according the Grand Prix website.

The city of Baltimore has signed a tentative five-year contract with Baltimore Racing Development to ensure future races.


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