More money, changes coming to Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix

As crews disassembled stages, grandstands and entertainment chalets Monday, Belle Isle Grand Prix Chairman Bud Denker was making measurements for physical improvements to next year’s event.

“I reported to the boss (Roger Penske) today (Monday) and he is over the moon with how the weekend went," said Denker. “My crew was disappointed with the grandstand crowd Saturday, but selling tickets is a small part of this equation. We are in this long term."

The event has one more year in its agreement with the city of Detroit, plus several option years. Both sides indicate the deal is likely to get a long-term extension soon.

Mayor Dave Bing said Sunday he hopes to sit down with Penske about the continuation of an event that shows the city in its best light.

So how does Penske’s promotional arm make enough money to continue bringing free concerts, IndyCar and top-level professional sports car racing, and the attention of national network television to Detroit?
Corporate influx

All those corporate chalets that line the track as it winds around the James Scott Memorial Fountain are filled with the guests of companies that want to connect their images to the excitement of motorsports. That’s why the grandstands behind the starters main stretch flag stand will be replaced next year by a 340-foot-long row of double-decker corporate suites with highly desirable views of the start, finish and pit action.

The suites, which have entertainment facilities on the first floor and private grandstand seating in their covered second stories, made their first appearance at the track this year. Some were installed near the other suites surrounding the Scott Fountain.

“They are going to sell out," Denker said. “They were well received. I’ve already had four companies step up today for next year."

The towering Grand Stand No. One behind pit row will be right back in the same spot next year. Seats will added to turn one’s Grand Stand No. 3. Others seats may be added near turn No. 3 – Belle Isle’s new action zone thanks to the restoration of the fast straightaway and passing zone that runs up the island toward the Belle Isle police station.

“We had 500 seats down there and it was an undiscovered place until Sunday when people realized this is where a lot of the action is now," Denker said. “It’s in a beautiful tree shaded stretch and I think we will have 1,000 seats down there next year."

Three time Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti helped redesign the turn before the weekend’s races – slowing it down and creating more passing. A stack of tires that helped accomplish Franchitti’s plan – and also caused some difficulties when racers clipped and scattered them – will be replaced by a tall curb that got measured for installation Monday.

Engineers already are studying the repaving and restructuring of the 2.36 mile race course’s longest and fastest section – The Strand along the Detroit River’s deepwater channel.

Denker said work will begin in the fall to move a portion of the roadway closer to the river to straighten the track near where it turns hard back toward the island at the old Casino building. This should create another passing zone and make seats in the grandstand overlooking that turn even more popular.

Denker said plans to fight muddy pathways and improve parking and bus service worked, even if the exit lines for shuttle buses looked long.

“We have to respect the island and that means everywhere we put down mulch and gravel for pathways, we now have to pick it back up again," Denker said. “As for the walking traffic, everyone arrives all day and everyone leaves at the same time. Still, we had 110 buses running and got everyone off the island in an hour and a half."

All Grand Prix equipment will be removed from the island within three weeks, in time for the city’s annual Independence Day fireworks show.

Cash drop

The winners of the Indy Car races on Belle Isle didn't come close to Tony Kanaan’s $2.3 million payday for winning the Indianapolis 500.

Like major-league sports, IndyCar has a complicated season-long revenue sharing plan for regularly competing teams. The Indy 500 has its own separate prize structure.

A $35,000 bonus is paid for winning every other race in the series. So Belle Isle offered the opportunity to make twice as much as last year. Detroit News

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