The IZOD IndyCar Series again makes a trip to a street circuit this week, the final street race of the season and for the current generation chassis, as the series heads to Baltimore for the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix. Though rumors persisted about the event’s stability, many local businesses are optimistic about the boom they could experience this weekend. “If you have a three-day ticket and are from out of town, you will also go shopping, go to restaurants and to other attractions, before the race and during the races," said Tom Noonan, president and chief executive of the city's convention and tourism bureau, to the Baltimore Sun. “I really feel like it will take one of our weaker tourism weekends and turn it into the best tourism weekend of the summer.”
Pat Liberto, owner of Camden Pub, said in the same article that his expectations are somewhat more modest but believes the outcome will be positive. "We know what they tell us, that it will bring in 100,000 people to the city," he said. "Hopefully, it will mean a lot of cash. I'm expecting it to be an equivalent of three Ravens games. We're two blocks from part of the track, so I'm expecting to get my small piece of it."
In terms of the racing, the 2.4 mile, 12-turn layout appears friendly for overtaking. At least two long straightaways lead to heavy braking zones, with 1-2 other straights, though slightly shorter, also leading to more moderate braking areas. Scott Dixon gave the track rave reviews when, during a function for the recently formed Smooth Operator Campaign, he got to drive around the course. “They've done a fantastic job paving,” he said enthusiastically. “The streets are wide and forgiving, and there are at least three or four corners that should be good for passing. I love that it's downtown. The atmosphere will be fantastic."
That said, there a number of unknowns heading into the weekend, as is normally the case with the lead up to an inaugural event at a new circuit. “I know that it's a street circuit and I know that it's in Baltimore. That's about it!” said rookie James Hinchcliffe. “The team has done some research and simulations obviously, so I have taken what I can from that. The layout looks pretty cool; a good mix of slow and fast corners. We drive over some train tracks, which should be interesting!”
Teammate Oriol Servia echoed those sentiments and added that there is only so much preparation you can do ahead of the weekend. “There is not much you can do to prepare specifically for a new track that no one has ever been to,” said the veteran. “You cannot watch videos from other years or look at data from other cars. All we can do is walk around it on Thursday and try to capture a couple more details of the surface than the rest of the competition.”
Some, though, relish the chance to race on a new track that no one has seen before. “I love the unknown factor of a new track. It will be fun to learn what looks like a cool layout,” said Marco Andretti. “Baltimore is basically considered a home race for me, so it would be special to run the Snapple car well in front of family and friends."
Andretti Autosport stable mate Ryan Hunter-Reay also feels optimistic ahead the Baltimore round. “As a team we're really looking forward to the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix for many reasons. On the competition side, this is a type of track we've been very fast on this season, so we see this as an opportunity with huge potential,” he said. “Team DHL/Circle K/Sun Drop will look to build on our momentum from the recent win as well. On the business side, this is an extremely important market for us as a team and IndyCar as a whole. To have an IndyCar race on the streets of Baltimore right on the harbor and around Camden Yards, you couldn't ask for much more."
View the weekend’s schedule here.
Watch a virtual lap of the Baltimore circuit.
After Mid-Ohio, which saw Dario Franchitti hold a 63-point lead over Will Power, it appeared the Scotsman was destined to claim his fourth IndyCar title. However, in the two races since, the lead has been trimmed to 26, a reasonable gap for Power to work with. He is confident that Baltimore will also be a strong weekend for the Penske team. “It looks like Baltimore is a fun circuit to drive. I always enjoy going to a new city and a new track,” he said. “It is both challenging and rewarding to learn a new racetrack. The Verizon car has been particularly good on the street courses this year and the team is really working well together. I am sure this is going to be another very competitive weekend – we are ready for it. After last weekend the whole team is ready to have another go at it.”
The Rookie of the Year Battle is also starting to heat up. Despite missing the opening round of the season, James Hinchcliffe is a mere three points behind J.R. Hildebrand in the rookie battle. Despite the close spread, “Hinch” is not focusing on the Rookie of the Year crown. “I have no real goals or expectations at this point. I just want to head to every weekend and focus on that weekend and getting the best out of what we have,” he said. “I am sure that some of the remaining races we will be more competitive than others, but as long as we maximize what we bring to the track then I can sleep well on Sunday nights.”
Tomas Scheckter will make his return this weekend with SH Racing/Dreyer and Reinbold Racing. It will be team’s first race since the Indianapolis 500, in which Scheckter finished eighth, after an attempt to compete at the Texas Twin 275’s fell through. Scheckter last competed at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, when he crashed with Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti and finished 23rd.
Several cars will car different liveries this week. Dario Franchitti will carry the Kellogg’s colors, which he also carried at Sao Paulo, Brazil. Shell V-Power Ultra will sponsor Helio Castroneves’ entry, the second time this year that Shell will cover the three-time Indy winner’s car. Mike Conway will carry Buffalo Wild Wings on his car this weekend, a one-race deal with the restaurant chain.