Keeping an IndyCar race in Baltimore is important to grooming new fans for the sport, IndyCar’s top driver said Thursday.
As the Grand Prix of Baltimore prepares for its third running starting Friday, the event has developed into a key stop on the Izod IndyCar circuit, said Helio Castroneves, a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.
Baltimore’s IndyCar race has developed a following with crowds of more than 100,000 each year showing that “people support it and enjoy it," he said.
Race organizers have yet to lock down a date for the 2014 race, which was bumped from Labor Day weekend because of a Navy-Ohio State football game at M&T Bank Stadium. But race organizers, city officials and IndyCar say they are all working on coming up with another weekend to hold the event in 2014. Organizers said last week they expect to have 2014 sanctioning deals with IndyCar and the American LeMans Series in place within 30 days.
“Hopefully, we come back here," said Castroneves, who leads in the Izod IndyCar points standings. “It’s a good market to come back to."
Castroneves, who races for Team Penske, is one of IndyCar’s biggest stars. The Brazilian is one of only six drivers in history to win the Indy 500 three times. He also gained fame among non-racing fans with his appearances on “Dancing with the Stars."
On Thursday, Castroneves praised the “logistics" of the Grand Prix’s downtown Baltimore setting as a rare course where he can walk between the track and his hotel. That’s something drivers can’t do at many races on the IndyCar circuit where the tracks are in rural areas far from a city, said Castroneves, who will compete in Sunday’s IndyCar race. It will be his third time competing in the event.
Successful races require a lot of support, not just from race organizers, but from IndyCar and the city that holds the race, Castroneves said.
“It takes a big commitment from a lot of people," he said.
The Baltimore race is one of only two East Coast races on the IndyCar circuit and one of only a handful of street races.
Street courses, like Baltimore, present a different challenge than oval courses, Castroneves said. Since they’re intended for passenger vehicles, not race cars, they tend to be bumpier than oval courses.
But Baltimore presents an even more unique challenge than other street courses, because of the Light Rail tracks that bisect the downtown course. Race organizers installed a series of sharp turns leading up to the tracks to slow drivers down as they cross the tracks.
“The only tough part is the railroad in the middle of the race track," Castroneves said. “But we find a way over it." Baltimore Business Journal