IndyCar in Chicago? Why not?

UPDATE A proposal for an IndyCar race through the streets of Chicago has hit the marbles at City Hall, crashing before it could get started. Whether it has any hope of getting back on track is unclear.

The ambitious plan to stage a Chicago Grand Prix around Grant Park next summer was put forth by Deerfield-based Specialized Marketing Group (TSMGI), an event management firm that has been awarded race ownership and promotional rights for a Chicago race by IndyCar.

The 20-page prospectus obtained by the Tribune broadly outlined TSMGI's plans for a "Festival of Speed" culminating with an IndyCar race on July 7, 2013, a Sunday. A highlight of the 2.4-mile course — which would run along parts of Columbus Drive and Michigan Avenue, among other streets — is a long straight-away along southbound Lake Shore Drive past Buckingham Fountain.

It's a course that shares some similarities to one then-Mayor Jane Byrne proposed in 1981 for a Formula One race through Chicago. Byrne's proposal also never took off.

The 2013 plan called for three days of practices, qualifying and secondary races in addition to the main event, as well as unspecified fan events, concerts and other entertainment. TSMGI projected a $50 million economic impact from 150,000 weekend visitors, but those numbers have not been bolstered by estimates from the city nor independently confirmed.

Sources with knowledge of the plan told the Tribune the city appeared poised to give its approval late last week. By Friday, City Hall was decidedly cool to the idea, both in its timing and venue.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office and Chicago Park District officials declined comment, as did IndyCar. But sources at City Hall told the Tribune a race isn't happening in the city in 2013 — and if it ever were to happen, it's unlikely to be staged around Grant Park.

The proposed course would run through the second and 42nd wards. Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) could not be reached. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said he was unaware of TSMGI's pitch. And he's not sure the city's roads could stand up to the abuse of IndyCar racing.

"Our streets weren't made to be racing grounds, they're a lot different," Fioretti told the Tribune last week.

That wasn't his only concern.

"NATO had an adverse impact on businesses — especially the small business — they're still griping about it," Fioretti said. "(And) it's not like closing down a street for a weekend. This directly affects the health, safety and welfare of citizens of the city of Chicago."

TSMGI President Jordan Bressler also declined comment Friday.

IndyCar's inaugural race through the streets of Baltimore in 2011 drew more around 160,000 fans and had a reported economic impact of $46.95 million, according to TSMGI.

But the 2012 edition of the Baltimore race, set for Labor Day weekend, offered a cautionary tale. It was plagued by management problems after organizers of the original race left millions in unpaid debts to contractors, the city and the state of Maryland, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Former racing champion Michael Andretti stepped in last month to salvage the race. Andretti also revived the IndyCar race in Milwaukee run in June.

IndyCar's schedule includes six street races this year:St. Petersburg, Fla.; Birmingham, Ala.; Long Beach, Calif.; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Detroit. The next is set for July 8 in Toronto. The Detroit race was marred by hazardous road conditions after patches to the pavement gave way under the toll of cars reaching more than a 100 mph on city streets. The race was finished, but just barely.

Chicago has a long racing history, with America's first competitive auto race staged on Thanksgiving Day in 1895. Five vehicles participated in a 54-mile course from Evanston to downtown Chicago and back.

Since then, cars have raced at Soldier Field, long-shuttered tracks elsewhere inside the city limits and even at the old International Amphitheatre.

An IndyCar event would be the first of its kind in the city. The open-wheel series ran for 10 years on Chicagoland Speedway's 1.5-mile oval track in Joliet but has not appeared there since 2010. Chicago Tribune


Chicago in 1981 that CART was considering – a simple but fast circuit

IndyCar has a gap in its schedule.

Could Chicago be the solution?

After canceling its Aug. 19 race in China, the open-wheel circuit needs a new venue and date to maintain its 16-race schedule. Would the series consider a return to Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet? Or perhaps something closer?

Imagine Dario Franchitti roaring past Buckingham Fountain with the city's skyline as the backdrop. Or Will Power negotiating the S-curve at Oak Street Beach.

Zvez Qubat of the Chicago Park District said she has witnessed similar lakefront races in Cleveland. What about Chicago?

"I don't think anyone has ever asked," she said Thursday.

It's hard to imagine the city being unable to handle an event the size of an IndyCar race.

Chicago just pulled off a successful NATO Summit. Thousands of Chicago Marathon runners successfully navigate streets each fall. Cyclists take over Lake Shore Drive once a year and numerous street closures accommodate Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza and other music festivals, parades and street fairs.

A more sensible layout

So why not a late summer Streets of Chicago Grand Prix-like course that takes some of the world's fastest drivers down Lake Shore Drive on a sunny Sunday?

IndyCar did not respond to a request for comment and attempts to reach the mayor's office were unsuccessful.

But a blueprint for a Chicago race does exist. Deep in dusty City Hall files there's a plan for a proposed 1981 lakefront Formula One Grand Prix.

Then-mayor Jane Byrne announced a July 4th weekend race covering a 2.7-mile downtown course. One backer said it would make Chicago the Monaco of North America. After a chorus of opposition the plan died six weeks later.

Executing Byrne's plan as she drew it is impossible. Some roads have changed. But the skeleton of her plan is still here.

IndyCar already has several established street races in Long Beach, Calif.; Edmonton, Alberta; and St. Petersburg, Fla., among others. It barely survived a pot-hole strewn race in Detroit this month and appears to have resolved management woes plaguing an upcoming Baltimore race.

Andretti Sports Marketing, an agency formed by former racer Michael Andretti, recently took over the second running of the Grand Prix of Baltimore set for Labor Day weekend. The city street course — with safety barriers protecting fans and drivers — circles Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Convention Center and adjacent blocks.

How cool would Soldier Field look at 100 mph? It couldn't look weirder. Chicago Tribune

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