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Grand Prix of Baltimore and Sonoma will return in 2013
IndyCar announced Sunday night that it will return to Baltimore for a third year.

While the city made a five-year commitment to host an IndyCar race, the 2013 race wasn't assured until Tuesday.

That's when J.P. Grant, the financier who formed Race On LLC and took over operations of the second Grand Prix of Baltimore about 100 days before the event, reached an agreement on a sanctioning fee with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard to again hold the race the Sunday before Labor Day weekend. IndyCar's schedule includes 19 races over 16 weekends; three road courses, not including Baltimore, are each hosting two full-length IndyCar races in one weekend. 

Baltimore's public struggles to pay bills and find steady leadership following the race's first year threatened the relationship with IndyCar.

Bernard monitored Race On closely, even after it hired Indy car legend Michael Andretti's company to promote and run the event. He knew the racing circuit could not afford a repeat of the financial fiasco that engulfed the aftermath of the inaugural race, when millions of dollars of bills went unpaid by Baltimore Racing Development.

Even as this year's race weekend unfolded, with a smaller crowd but no major problems, Bernard would not commit to returning until he knew the race was financially sound.

Though it lost money — a significant amount, Grant said, without elaborating — Race On has paid its bills.

Whether the Baltimore race becomes a fixture like the road race in Long Beach, Calif., will depend on how well Race On can cut costs and market the event in a still-skeptical downtown.

"We've got to get it trending the right way," Grant said. "If we don't lose less next year — and I don't know what that number would be — with having a full year, then we'd have to seriously re-think this."

Grant took time after this year's event to consider whether he would stay involved.

"They took a little bit of a hit on the chin, so they have to decide if they want to roll the dice and hope it can be better next year," Andretti said recently.

But Grant decided he still believes the race can become a signature event that draws large crowds to Baltimore and burnishes the city's reputation. That was how Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake pitched the race, which has cost the city millions in road work and services. Some of that money is recouped through taxes each year.

"The city is pleased to be part of IndyCar's 2013 schedule," city spokesman Ian Brennan said. "Event organizers did a remarkable job building a successful event in an incredibly short time frame, and we look forward to another great race next year."

Grant traveled to Indianapolis to meet with Bernard in September, saying the two talked informally about the future of the race and the sport. Bernard has been under pressure to increase the number of races on IndyCar's schedule — there were 16 this year after an August race in China fell through — and to collect higher sanctioning fees from individual race groups.

As part of this year's deal, Race On will advertise during IndyCar broadcasts throughout the season. Grant said his group planned to expand its marketing efforts, anyway. For Bernard, creating more buzz on television is important; car owners have been highly critical of NBC and ABC, which both show races, for not doing a better job of promoting the sport. Baltimore Sun

INDYCAR Returns to Sonoma in 2013

The IZOD IndyCar Series will visit the scenic Sonoma Valley for a ninth consecutive year in 2013, raceway officials announced today.

The GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma race weekend will take place Aug. 23-25 and will be the final permanent road course event of the 2013 INDYCAR season. The series will feature 19 races over 16 event weekends in 2013 with doubleheader weekends scheduled for the street-course events in Detroit, Toronto and Houston (new event). All events will be broadcast on either ABC or the NBC Sports Network. 

“The speed, the close competition and the dynamic personalities of the IZOD IndyCar Series are just a terrific package for our fans,” said Steve Page, president and general manager of the raceway in Sonoma. “We look forward to this special weekend in 2013.”

Drivers encountered a modified Sonoma circuit (12 turns, 2.303 miles) in 2012 designed to create more passing at Turns 7, 9 and 11. The enhancements were positive as drivers posted the most exciting race since the series’ debut in Sonoma in 2005. Tempers even flared after the race between series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alex Tagliani over an on-track incident at Turn 7. Ryan Briscoe (Team Penske) took the checkers in 2012, marking his first INDYCAR win in Sonoma.

“I think the track did a phenomenal job making adjustments (to the circuit),” said INDYCAR driver Graham Rahal.

The length and start time for the INDYCAR main event, as well as the support races for Sonoma, will be released at a later date. The Sonoma race will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network.

“We are proud of the on-track product we provided in 2012,” said Randy Bernard, CEO, INDYCAR. “From the drivers to the new car, we demonstrated that the IZOD IndyCar Series is showcasing the best racing in the world.”

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