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Changes planned for next year's Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix
The races are over and plans already have begun to take shape for the Belle Isle Grad Prix's return next year and beyond.

"I have to have a good sit-down with Roger Penske to talk about the future of this event and how much it does for our city," Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said.

"This event shows us to the world in such a different light than all the negative news we have faced," Bing said. "Look at this beautiful park. Look at all of these volunteers making this happen. It's the Detroit we want the world to see."

While ABC television cameras captured dramatic views of the cityscape backing the action on the track, they also showed the grandstands that were nowhere near filled for the second rain-threatened day in a row.

But the corporate entertainment chalets surrounding the course winding past James Scott Memorial Fountain were filled with spectators whose tickets had been bought and provided by companies linking their images with the excitement of motor sports.

Plans are already in place to increase that business. Double-decker chalets will replace the big grandstands between the pits and garage area, creating elevated suites that will overlook the start, finish and pit stop action.

General Motors brands Chevrolet and Cadillac had a huge presence at the event and will be back next year along with Honda, IndyCar's other engine supplier.

Ford Motor Company board of directors member Edsel Ford II attended Saturday's race, although the company supported only a few cars in the sports car races that ran ahead of the weekend's IndyCar events. GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson called for drivers to "start your engines," and waved the green flag to start the IndyCar race.

Adjusting the track
The massive front pit-side grandstands will be moved to another location on the track, perhaps into the shady picnic area that flanks the new straightaway that runs north from the starting line toward the island police station.

The long straightaway returned the circuit to its original configuration from years ago, and it created one of the most exciting areas on the track where racers pulled alongside for passing attempts. There were several crashes in Turn 3 at the end of the straightaway, but few spectators made the stroll to the remote, exciting part of the track.

A high-speed tour of the track in the back seat of a two-passenger IndyCar, driven by 1990 and 1997 Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, showed several areas that will require repaving before next year. Crews worked Sunday to patch several asphalt sections that began to show damage from the big sticky racing tires.

There were no repeats of last year's temporary race stoppage because of large patches in the pavement being pulled out of seams in the track.

Repaving of the backstretch that follows The Strand along the deepwater channel of the Detroit River will begin this summer, according to Belle Isle Grand Prix Chairman Bud Denker.

A portion of the roadway will be moved closer to the river.

The move will straighten the fastest part of the track to create another passing zone where the cars slow to turn back into the island beside the old Casino building.

Mark Reuss, president of General Motors North America and the driver of the pace car for Sunday's IndyCar event, said the threat of bad weather kept the crowd down on both days. Sunday he looked at the late-filling grandstand and suggested local weather forecasters need to be convinced to follow the traditions of Indianapolis weather broadcasters.

In Indy, TV weather people always seem to speak hopefully on race day about the existence of a "dry cell" that is on the way no matter how hard it is raining.

"In Indianapolis it's never going to rain," Reuss said with a laugh. "There's always a chance that the race will run." Detroit News

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