Baltimore Grand Prix fans flood grandstands before first race
Powerful engines thrummed in the Baltimore Convention Center and tens of thousands of racing fans wandered through a maze of grandstand Friday morning as spectators and drivers awaited the first races of the Baltimore Grand Prix.
Organizers delayed the start of racing by four hours, due to last-minute issues with the metal fences surrounding the downtown streets that have been transformed into a race course for the three-day festival.
The green flag waved just before 1:30 p.m. and the USF 2000 cars roared around the track for practice laps. Organizers had initially said the delayed practice would begin at noon. The reason for the additional hold up was not immediately apparent.
Trucks carrying fencing and safety cars periodically passed along the course, prompting grumbles from spectators waiting for the action to start.
Baltimore Racing Development President Jay Davidson said that last weekend's hurricane and a late-running Orioles game last night caused the delay, which will not significantly impact the racing schedule.
And he said the threat of rain would not interfere with the weekend's contests.
"As long as we don't have a hurricane, we're OK," said Davidson. "Both these series" — IndyCar and American Le Mans — "run in the rain."
Councilman William H. Cole, a long-time champion of the race, stood in the Convention Center, which has been turned into a paddock for the next three days.
Clutching a walkie-talkie, he gave directions to a caterer who was attempting to navigate the labyrinth of fences surrounding the two-mile race course.
"Did you imagine this would look like this?" said Cole, gesturing to the massive trucks housing drivers and race cars in the Convention Center.
A group of fans jostled for photos around a sleek, wedge-shaped car rumbling just outside the door.
"There's a big sense if relief right now," Cole said. "It hasn't been an easy journey."
Race backers have been angling to bring the IndyCar series to Baltimore for about five years.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has strongly advocated for the race since she came into office last year — and has invested serious political capital in its success. The Grand Prix comes less than two weeks before the mayoral primary.
Rawlings-Blake toured the paddock area with aides Friday morning and warmly greeted racing legend Al Unser Jr., who is one of the race's organizers.
"I love the track," Unser said. The "long straightaway" and "lots of passing areas" will make for a challenging course, he said.
Unser advised fans to walk around the course to catch the action from various vantage points, especially a hairpin turn on Light Street.
Driver Will Power relaxed in a gleaming truck bearing the logo of his racing cohort, Team Penske.
The Toowoomba, Australia, native said he was looking forward to some "tough racing."
"With these street courses, there's always a lot of mayhem," he said.
The Baltimore track is "one of the nicer layouts I've seen," Power said.
"There are a couple of bumpy bits, but the only problem may be the train track," said Power, referring to a portion Light Rail track that has been covered with asphalt for the race. Baltimore Sun