IRL to move from MIS to Belle Isle UPDATE #8 Talks continue on the possibility of a Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle in 2007, perhaps on Labor Day weekend.
"We are getting closer and, yes, things with Penske, Belle Isle, continue to move forward in a very positive manner," Indy Racing League vice president of public relations John Griffin said this week.
Birmingham businessman Roger Penske, an IRL team owner, has had discussions with city officials about a return to racing in Detroit. Bud Denker, executive vice president of Penske's United Auto Group, was optimistic things were headed in the right direction regarding the first race in the downtown vicinity since 2001.
"Roger continues to have discussions with members of the Detroit City Council, the mayor and the Friends of Belle Isle," Denker said. "Discussions have been positive thus far, but we are not to the point of finalization. But we think bringing races back to the city will be terrific."09/20/06 Unless the IRL wants to live with Belle Isle the way that CART left it (mud and everything), and unless the IRL wants to pay the City of Detroit for any expenses incurred (real or imagined), don't count on that Detroit race.
Griffin said the IRL's 2007 schedule should be completed within the next 10 days. Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn is expected to host an IRL race July 22. Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Zoo (no, not the 'hood, the real one which isn't even located in Detroit) was spun off in the past year to avoid it being closed, or reduced to a petting zoo. The local school teachers went on strike after they were told to take a pay cut, and that the money that they loaned the DPS last year (a week's pay per teacher) wasn't going to be paid anytime soon. The Belle Isle aquarium was closed due to budget cuts. Legendary Kronk gym (training sight for lots of famous boxers, starting with Tommy "Hit Man" Hearns) is now closed since thieves stole all of the copper pipes, and the City can't afford to replace them. Detroit announced that it will restart "bulk" trash pickup (sofas, fridges, etc) in October in order to avoid problems with rats and fires on Devil's Night.
A basic summary of how Detroit works can be found here, where we learn that Detroit put $200,000 bucks into the Mayor's pool after it announced massive cuts to the City park system. Tim Wohlford
08/23/06 According to this Detroit News article, an IRL race at Belle Isle is a real possibility for Labor Day weekend, 2007.
08/11/06 AutoRacing1.com is hearing that the rumors of the IRL going to Belle Isle may be a smokescreen for a possible street race around Tiger Stadium. In fact we hear there are plans already drawn up for such an event. However, the city has no money so Roger Penske is going to have to get commercial sponsors to back the race if it were to happen.
08/01/06 According to this AP article, Roger Penske would like to keep the race at MIS and also add Belle Isle, i.e. two IRL races in Michigan.
07/31/06 Roger Penske plans to bring open-wheel racing back to Belle Isle, and he's hoping to get it on next year's Indy Racing League schedule.
Penske, sitting in a black leather chair in his motor coach before Sunday's IRL Firestone Indy 400, said he has had informal discussions with Detroit officials.
"The first thing we have to do is put a proposal together to the city," Penske said. "We have to talk to the mayor's office, then we have to talk to the City Council."
Although Penske hasn't received any commitments, he has received positive feedback from the IRL about racing on Belle Isle.
His next step is to find out if there's interest from the city.
And Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is open to the possibility and looks forward to discussing it with Penske, said mayoral spokesman James Canning.
"Hosting events that bring people throughout the region to our city is something we are hoping to continue, which is why I'm sure the mayor will entertain the proposal to see if it fits with our efforts to grow Detroit," Canning said Sunday. "Mr. Penske has a very good relationship with Mr. Kilpatrick."
Three months ago, Penske took Tony George, founder of the IRL, and Brian Barnhart, IRL president, on a tour of the venue.
"We came to Belle Isle, we drove around, and the course is there," Penske said. "Needs a few nuances, but, really, overall, we could build a tremendous event there that could be long-standing for the city of Detroit. This would be the Detroit Grand Prix, not something else.
"It's something that we can pull a group of people together that understand the race, understand the sanctioning body, understand the fans, certainly understand what Detroit needs. Putting all that together, I think there's a real opportunity. Again, it's in the discussion stage. I don't want anybody to get ahead of me on this, but certainly, it's something we want to talk about. I think it can be very positive for the city and also positive for the Indy Racing League." More at Detroit Free Press
[Editor's Note: With their original business model failing, this is the latest in an example of the IRL morphing into CART (now Champ Car) by moving from ovals to street and road courses. We recall sitting in the press room in Nazareth the day CART announced they were dropping Nazareth from their schedule the following year. Penske, who is a key player in the oval track cartel said that day, and we quote, "This was like a kick in the teeth and I will never forget it." He soon planned his exit from CART and his move to the IRL where he (and others, including Honda) still races. We wonder how the France family feels about the IRL dropping another of their ovals and the IRL becoming increasingly road-racing centric? Also, the move to Belle Isle may not be until 2008. The IRL series will return to Michigan International Speedway next summer, but the race date is expected to change. The race will be held the weekend of July 21-22, a week earlier than usual.]07/30/06 Hearing again that Roger Penske will be in charge of promoting an IRL race at Belle Isle starting next year. If true, the race at MIS is toast.
07/28/06 [Note: This rumor was broken by AutoRacing1.com on July 19th and it now appears to have some legs.] Most of the drivers competing in the Indy Racing League IndyCar series never had the chance to compete in the Detroit Grand Prix, held first on the downtown city streets and then on the temporary road course on Belle Isle.
Although the IRL race at Michigan International Speedway isn't going anywhere soon -- a race is anticipated to be scheduled the third weekend in July next year -- there has been talk the series might make a stop in Detroit in the near future.
"There's talk that we might race there next year, possibly," driver Buddy Rice said Thursday, referring to Belle Isle. "We'll have to wait and see."
It seems likely IndyCar team owner Roger Penske, credited for making the Super Bowl, which he chaired, a success in February, is spearheading the push for a Detroit race.
An open-wheel race in Detroit next year might be accelerating the process a bit.
The drivers say street courses are a way to increase fan interest.
"It's the quickest way to bring more fans to the track," driver Vitor Meira said. "If it's right there on the streets, they can relate to it. They can drive on the same street." Detroit News07/19/06 Some rumors making the rounds have the IRL race at Michigan International Speedway moving to the old CART track on Belle Isle in downtown Detroit. If true that would be yet another crack in the IRL/NASCAR family relationship.
CART left Belle Isle because attendance was a bit soft and the paddock was not paved and whenever it rained it became a mud pit.