No easy feat: Constructing the Grand Prix of Baltimore

Building a major league sports facility is an immense undertaking, but what if that facility covered a massive urban area, and construction was limited to 32 days? And what if the construction could only happen at night? That's the daunting task facing Andretti Sports Marketing and Tony Cotman of NZR Consulting, the company in charge of constructing the race circuit for the Grand Prix of Baltimore, August 31 – September 2, 2012.

Cotman, a native of New Zealand, founded NZR in 2008 to design and implement race circuits, as well as provide safety and event management consulting. Cotman has designed and built tracks across North and South America.

"We expect to do it in about 32 days," said Cotman, about construction of the 12-turn circuit that snakes around the heart of Baltimore and the Inner Harbor. "The majority of it will be done in the final 22 days, leading up to the last week when you're doing the final (street) closings around the circuit. The difficult thing here is that we're working only at night."

The Grand Prix of Baltimore is being operated by locally owned Race On LLC and promoted by Andretti Sports Marketing.

Tickets for the Grand Prix of Baltimore, a three-day Labor Day weekend event, are on sale now via Ticketmaster and the official event website: Single-day reserved tickets go on sale July 15.

"It's an extremely difficult build because of the sheer size of the area," said Cotman. "It affects so many businesses and so many hotels… The logistics must account for the magnitude of what has to be built while at the same time minimizing the amount of people that it impacts on a daily basis for four to six weeks."

Building the circuit takes more than simply installing cement barriers and safety fencing around the circuit. Grandstands and other infrastructure must be built to handle the race teams, media and thousands of spectators, while limiting the closure of city streets and sidewalks.

"Street circuits have a lot of challenges, but it's just a matter of a good construction schedule," Cotman said. "Everybody knows and has agreed to the schedule up-front, working hand-in-hand with the city of Baltimore and the city services. We can't do it alone, and the city can't do it alone. We need each other, so it's critical to work together. I think both sides learned a lot from last year, and I think now the city has more of an understanding of the requirements and how it affects them."

The construction schedule must also account for a stretch of 24 home games for the Baltimore Orioles in the weeks prior to Labor Day weekend, including a seven-game home stand leading up to the day before the start of the Grand Prix. The southern part of the 2-mile circuit loops around Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"When the Orioles are in town, we can't start construction until after the game, so those nights you'll have three or four less hours," said Cotman. "We're doing that to lessen the impact on those attending the games, and especially on the daily commuters."

Improved Racing, Improved Viewing

For this year's Grand Prix of Baltimore, a number of changes to the circuit should result in improved racing, which means better viewing for the fans at the track and the millions more watching on television around the globe on ABC-TV/ESPN International and the NBC Sports Network. The inaugural Grand Prix drew more than 100,000 spectators to the downtown circuit.

"The biggest change is the removal of the chicane on the main straightaway," explained Cotman. "What that will do is speed the cars up going into turn one, probably seven to 10 miles per hour quicker at that point. We will also widen turn one, and try to create a better passing zone down there, so obviously it will be a good place to view."

The turn one area – located at the intersection of Pratt and Calvert streets – is home to two of the grandstand complexes that will provide prime viewing, in addition to a number of hospitality suites for corporate guests.

"We're making some tweaks (to the track) to try to improve the show and improve it for the fans," said Cotman. "Down in the turns five and six area (an area adjacent to the Baltimore Convention Center), we're going to move the track closer to the suiteholders, and also change the shape of the corner to enhance passing and improve the show for everyone."

Within the confines of the event, special attention has also been paid to improving the flow of pedestrian traffic, allowing more fans to get from one area of the complex to another.

"We're working to open the crossover gates more often, before and after the races," said Tim Mayer, General Manager of the Grand Prix of Baltimore for Andretti Sports Marketing. "We think it will greatly improve the ability for fans to get to and from areas such as the paddock, the IZOD IndyCar Fan Zone and Family Zone. We've also created new, dedicated areas for viewing the race action for fans with general admission tickets."

The American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron at the Grand Prix of Baltimore will race Saturday, September 1, with a national network telecast on ABC-TV. The IZOD IndyCar race will be seen live on the NBC Sports Network Sunday afternoon, September 2, and will be televised around the world by ESPN International.

Grand Prix of Baltimore: A Tentative Schedule

Each day's on-track activity is scheduled for approximately 8 am – 6 pm. The minute-by-minute schedule is still being finalized.

Friday, August 31
On-track activity includes practice and qualifying for:
IZOD IndyCar Series
American Le Mans Series
Firestone Indy Lights
Star Mazda Series
USF2000 Series

Saturday, September 1
On-track activity includes:
American Le Mans Series Race (3 hours, 15 minutes)
IZOD IndyCar practice and qualifying sessions
Firestone Indy Lights practice and qualifying
Star Mazda Series qualifying

Sunday, September 2
On-track activity includes:
IZOD IndyCar Series race (75 laps)
Firestone Indy Lights race
Star Mazda race Baltimore Sun

Leave a Reply