Word across the motorsport wires is that Baltimore Racing Development , a group pushing the idea of a street course Grand Prix through Baltimore's Inner Harbor and with a pit lane next to the Baltimore Orioles' own Camden Yards, has received city approval for a 5-year deal to host their race. Though not officially signed on yet with the series, everything appears as if the race will be a new add to the rebounding IndyCar series.
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As a former DC native who has spent plenty of time in Baltimore and an avid sportscar racing fan who's attended the 24 Hours Le Mans four times and with a moderate affinity for Audi, I'm both enthused and extremely jealous.
The enthusiasm comes from my experience with racing and what it can do culturally for a town willing gear itself to such an event. Whether it be a race as iconic as Le Mans or less known like the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, a town willing to embrace the race can be paid off in dividends of both cash and culture. No doubt that was part of the pitch as the official press release about the signing estimates the city stands to gain $11M in tax revenue over the first five years.
As for jealousy, it just seems a shame we're talking IndyCar and not the ALMS. Yes, IndyCar is experiencing a resurgence thanks in part to IZOD sponsorship money helping to fund a reorganization and plenty of marketing in the wake of Tony George's departure but the opportunity for a series like the ALMS seems more obvious.
Most of the premium brands such as Audi who race in the ALMS enjoy the bulk of their sales in the American North East. However the number of tracks in this region are small thanks to such thorough development. The ALMS has Lime Rock but that very small track is a bit off the beaten path and likely only draws the most ardent racing fans. The beauty of a race in a venue such as Baltimore is more mass market exposure and by that I mean the much more casual racing fan who isn't going to seek out the well-hidden-if-storied tracks such as Lime Rock or Watkins Glen. Being able to watch portions of the track from an anchored yacht much like the iconic Monaco Grand Prix doesn't hurt either.
The ALMS actually tried a street race in the region back in 2005 when it rand the National Grand Prix held in Washington, DC. The track was effectively a purpose-built course built overtop the parking lot at RFK stadium and even though the series tried valiantly to appease locals the NIMBY (not in my back yard) atmosphere of DC caused the event to disappear after only one year. DC wasn't hungry enough and it seems neither is NYC where Forumula 1 continues to hint at their wish to hold their own street course event.
With Baltimore, Maryland the Baltimore Racing Development group may be on to something by using the North Eastern United States' high level of development as a strength rather than a weakness. By not focusing on New York or DC, two cities who could care less about racing and frankly don't need the income, they've instead gone into a market that would deal with the crowds and loud engines for a race week in return for added tourism exposure and tax revenue. Baltimore is one such city and there are more. Who's to say Philadelphia or Pittsburgh couldn't court series like the ALMS or Rolex series and have prototype racers blasting down straights in the shadow of the Art Museum Rocky Balboa made famous or along the riverfront in the City of Steel?
Organizing these sorts of races is no easy feat and we applaud the BRD for seemingly pulling it off. We'd love to suggest that they turn their eye toward sportscars instead though. That a major competitor (Audi) is located just down I-95 in Herndon, VA doesn't hurt either and we bet they'd support the event in force. We'd also guess there are some folks in Long Beach who could tell you how to integrate IndyCar and the ALMS into the same weekend. In the meantime, we'll keep our fingers crossed.