Grand Prix Opens With A Few Bumps, Plenty of Excitement
By Michael Page
The Grand Prix of Baltimore got off to a blazing start as the engines roared and racecars sped along the Cham City streets, with fans converging on the raceway to catch a glimpse of the excitement. That said, the event, in its second year, did hit a glitch a few hours in as a railroad track too high for the drivers' liking caused a temporary suspension of the day's events.
"It's on the front straight there and last year there was a chicane, and this year it seems like they're having an issue with the railroad tracks being a jump there for the car," driver Jonathan Summerton said. "Last year they put in the chicane to get rid of it, so it's not that hard of a thing to fix, but I'm not sure what they have planned."
Regardless, Summerton, who raced here last year and is a stand-in driver for the BMW Team this year, seemed happy to be back in Baltimore.
"I always love the Harbor," he said. "It's a lot of fun. Being around here, the town and everybody around seems really friendly and it's a great experience."
Once the drivers were back behind the wheel, the fans seemed to be having a great time.
"I just wanted to check out racing in our city again," said Joe McNees of Pasadena, "see people spending money in our city instead of somewhere else."
McNees attended last year's inaugural event and said he liked the attention it drew to Baltimore.
"I like to see our city get some exposure, and seeing the local businesses get the benefits," he said. "I wish there were more local businesses actually participating inside of the event itself as well."
But despite McNees' enthusiasm, the event seemed to draw fewer fans for the opening day than it did last year. Inner Harbor bartender Lys Manis, who works an outdoor bar perched atop Light Street overlooking the track, was here last year and said she had seen a difference.
"It was a lot slower [this year]," Manis said. "I think less people were prepared for it."
Manis was referring to the fact that people were unsure whether the race would actually take place this year. Uncertainty loomed until Andretti Sports Marketing stepped in to take over the event. The change was made after last year's promoter, Baltimore Racing Development, left the city in limbo for months with millions of unpaid bills.
"I think [Andretti Sports Marketing] is more professional with it, and has done way better than the people who had it last year," Manis said, "setting up the course, information, fliers, stuff like that. It's been all over the TV; last year, it wasn't."
Forest Hill resident Sarah Nelson echoed Manis' sentiments.
"I'm surprised there's not as many people here … since all of the cars are out," said Nelson, who was attending for the first time, with her family.
But McNees said he had expected a smaller crowd.
"There were fewer lines, less lines," McNees said. "I purposely picked this day due to there being less people with traffic."
Peter Frey, the communications director for the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, said he was excited about how things went for his team.
"Pretty good for us, the event is fantastic," he said. "The city's beautiful. The location is spectacular. The drivers love the track, except for that jump. Except for the little hiccup, this is a class a venue. We love coming here."
Though many of the grandstands were not full, and things seemed to be off to a slower start than they were last year, fans remained optimistic that things would pick up as the weekend went on.
"The telltale sign is tomorrow [Saturday] and Sunday," Summerton said. "I mean that's when a lot of people tend to be here. Of course with a workday today … Saturday and Sunday tend to be the busier days. They've done a pretty good job in my opinion. Everybody has been real helpful and everybody seems to know what is going on, so it's been a good weekend so far."
Posted Aug. 31, 2012