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Castroneves mans the phones as Detroit Grand Prix tickets go on sale
Helio Castroneves
Race fan Dana Mitchell got a surprise when he visited the Renaissance Center today to purchase tickets for the 2012 Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.

He got to meet Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power, who were manning the phones at the Grand Prix office above the GM Wintergarden area as tickets went on sale for next year’s June 1-3 event.

In fact, Mitchell, 51, of Detroit, who hasn’t missed a Grand Prix in Detroit since the inaugural event -- the 1982 U.S. Formula One race on the downtown streets -- ordered his ticket directly from Castroneves, a two-time Belle Isle winner.

Mitchell bought a three-day super-reserved grandstand ticket package.

The 2009 Belle Isle Grand Prix was canceled because of the struggling economy, but the race was revived recently when the City Council agreed to issue a permit to race organizers for 2012. Roger Penske worked tirelessly behind the scenes to secure sponsors.

“This is exciting,” said Mitchell, who’ll watch next year’s IZOD IndyCar Series race from Stand 1, Section F, Row 1. “To see Helio in person is fantastic. I’m so glad the sport is unified again and that the race is back in Detroit. I saw John Watson win the F1 race here in 1982, and I hope to see Helio win at Belle Isle in 2012 and climb the fence again.”

Earlier, Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 champion, proved not just a great racer but an energetic salesman, too. Castroneves, who, along with Power, had been at Belle Isle to drive the race track in a passenger car this morning, fielded a call from a race fan named Robert.

“You want two tickets?” said the charismatic Brazilian behind a desk in the Grand Prix office foyer. “I can help you out with that.”

After taking Robert’s order, Castroneves asked devilishly:

“Know who this is?” he said.

Castroneves winked. Robert was right on the mark.

“My man, Robert,” beamed Castroneves, who thrilled the Belle Isle crowd with his fence-climbing antics following his victories in 2000 and 2001, earning his nickname “Spiderman.”

“You got the best seats, my friend.”

Both Castroneves and Power, who finished runner-up to Dario Franchitti in the IndyCar championship this year, said getting back to Detroit to race was appropriate.

“This is the Motor City,” said Power, who is from Australia. “I love the Belle Isle race track and its technical challenges. We’ll have Chevrolet power in our car, and we’ll race in the shadows of General Motors. I’m looking forward to Belle Isle and winning there for Roger.”

Castroneves, who has yet to win an IndyCar Series title, is looking forward to Belle Isle, he said, and making it win No. 3 at the track.

“This is where it all started for me,” said Castroneves, who will strap in for his 13th season as a Team Penske driver in 2012. “I want to climb the fence again at Belle Isle in the worst possible way.”

Bud Denker, Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix event chairman, said he was pleased with the brisk ticket sales this morning.

“The phone has been ringing off the hook since 8:30 this morning, and we have people lining up at the Grand Prix office to see the drivers,” Denker said. “Our Web site is jammed. We are really excited about the demand and having this race come back next year.”

Tickets to the 2012 Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix and support races can be purchased at www.detroitgp.com or by calling 866-464-PRIX (7749). Detroit Free Press

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