(photos courtesy Trackside Online)
First thing’s first. Bravo, Charm City.
The inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix started ungracefully with track repairs robbing precious track time on Friday. But as the weekend wore on and the crowds got larger and the teams got used to the tough-as-nails, two-mile street course, it became clear that despite first-year teething problems, the race was going to be a smashing success.
After Sunday’s running, which was far from the war of attrition that everybody seemed to expect would happen, drivers raved about the atmosphere and the fans (winner Will Power gushed that Baltimore “put on the best race we have had all year”) and the city’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, crowed that “the naysayers have been silenced.” Indeed, Sunday was a victory for her city and, of course, the IZOD IndyCar Series and its drive to push itself into new places.
But there’s also another thing to say. This race was very lucky as well.
The morning warm-up saw a cringe-inducing wreck involving third-place finisher Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves, in which Kanaan suffered a brake failure at speed in his No. 82 KV-Lotus machine and barreled into the right side of Castroneves’ No. 3 Team Penske car. Kanaan was sent flying and a gaggle of track workers along the left side of the Turn 1 runoff area had to scatter as the No. 82 tagged the wall, landed, and then smashed into the tire barriers.
Castroneves quickly hopped out of his wounded machine and ran toward Kanaan, who emerged from his car unscathed. The embrace between the two Brazilians and lifelong friends said it all.
It was a miracle that nobody was killed. Kanaan later said that Helio had saved his life and that the incident may have been a “wake-up call.”
“I’ve had bad crashes in my life, including the Indianapolis one [from 2009]…But this morning, I woke up and I was in a bad mood,” said Kanaan. “I was complaining about things that didn't really matter. I think somebody wanted to tell me I have a "good" one, so I have to really think about that.”
Then came the start of the race, which carried more than a fair share of buzz following the Kanaan-Castroneves incident. On top of that, there was the fact that the tough, right-hand Turn 1 would be taken double-file on the start. Perhaps all of it crept into the drivers’ minds, as it appeared that only the first few rows actually settled into two-by-two formation at the green flag.
As Power and Graham Rahal took the field out of Turn 1, we all focused in, silently praying that everybody would get through without causing a mess at the start. The drivers pulled it off and away we went.
The only time the race really reached anything close to chaos came after a restart at the halfway point, when Ryan Briscoe spun out Ryan Hunter-Reay and caused 12 cars to stop in their tracks at Turn 3, almost completely blocking the hairpin. Following a lengthy yellow to sort everything out, strategy took over and Power wound up getting through it all on top.
“The only thing I heard was "pit this lap" and that's it,” said Power, who had to drive hard after making his final stop of the day in order to maintain his lead.
“And I absolutely went for it, 100%, and when I pitted and went out and he said, ‘Go, go, give it everything you've got, push to pass on the outlap!’ All he said was, ‘Oriol [Servia] is coming’ and I didn't know that's who I was fighting for the lead with. So to me, I was like, ‘What position am I in, fifth, sixth? Where am I at?’ And he said, ‘You're the race leader!'
That was basically the end of that as Power drove off into the sunset, Servia claimed second and Kanaan took third after being as far as 27th in the race with a backup car.
In summary, Baltimore had a lot to be proud of. The city and its Inner Harbor, plus the trees and buildings along the course, made for a beautiful setting. The fans came out in full force, drowning out the critics that had lambasted the event for snarling downtown commutes. The race itself was entertaining, despite Power leading all but five laps of it en route to Victory Lane.
And now Baltimore Racing Development now has a good baseline to work with as far as improving the experience for next year’s running. If BRD can land a title sponsor (which should be easier to do after Sunday’s showing) and heed the drivers’ feedback on tweaking the course (Here’s my unsolicited advice: Ditch the chicane at the train tracks on Pratt Street), there’s no telling how big the Baltimore Grand Prix can be in 2012.
It has the potential to be a mainstay on the IndyCar calendar for years to come.
“They really showcased what makes Baltimore such a great city to an international audience,” said INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard of the city. “…Today’s race had something for everyone and featured all the elements that make up a marquee event."