Downforce Racing

Downforce Racing: (from left) Dan Reck, Dale Dillon and Felix Dawson. (Amy Davis / The Baltimore Sun / February 23, 2012)

Just four months before high-speed cars are scheduled to race through downtown streets, the IndyCar Series is seeking a new team to take over the Baltimore Grand Prix.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said Monday that leaders of the racing series "are currently visiting with some potential partners or promoters" who could put on the Labor Day weekend racing event. If necesssary, IndyCar would take over the management of the race directly, he said.

"The city and IndyCar continue to work together to ensure this event takes place," Bernard said in an email. "We are currently evaluating a couple different options and we understand that time is of the essence."

Downforce Racing LLC — the team city officials had picked to manage the race after the collapse of last year's organizers — has not begun marketing the event or selling tickets.

Downforce made no apparent progress toward meeting two rounds of benchmarks set by city officials. It failed to meet three of the five benchmarks set for March 15, including signing agreements with IndyCar and the Maryland Stadium Authority.

There is no indication that the group is on track to meet a May 1 deadline for other requirements, which include agreements governing other aspects of the race.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration has been tight-lipped about the most recent discussions; officials say only that they continue to work with Indycar.

"Discussions with IndyCar are ongoing and we are working closely with them reviewing all options," mayoral spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said Monday in an email. "No further comment at this time."

Councilman William H. Cole IV, a Grand Prix supporter, says time is running out to salvage the event.

"I think you're probably looking at a matter of weeks before it gets too difficult [for tickets] to even go on sale," he said Friday. "Time is not on anybody's side."

Sources close to Downforce say that the three members of the racing group — Indianapolis-based contractor Dale Dillon and Baltimore businessmen Dan Reck and Felix Dawson — are locked in a struggle.

Dawson and Reck, who are business partners in Wilkes Lane Capital, a Baltimore investment firm, want Dillon out of the group, according to the sources. Dillon, who owns a 50 percent stake of the company, has declined to leave.

Neither the Wilkes Lane partners nor Dillon responded to repeated requests for comment.

While Baltimore officials signed a contract with Downforce, Bernard pointed out that IndyCar never signed a contract with the company. Thus, it is free to craft a deal with a new group, he said.

"We have no sanctioning deal with Downforce, which allows us to sanction with the best partner," Bernard said.

Racing and sports-marketing experts say that plans for the race must be well under way by the end of May if the event is to succeed.

"I wouldn't call it fatal yet. It's still living," George Washington University sports-marketing professor Lisa Delpy Neirotti said of the race.

Since the race is listed on IndyCar's schedule, racing fans are aware of it even though they haven't been able to buy tickets, Delpy Neirotti said. Most tickets are bought in the 10 weeks before such an event, she said.

The biggest challenge for organizers would be landing a sponsor, since most corporate sponsors would want more than four months of exposure, she said.