Although ticket sales are starting later than last year — and Downforce has missed the chance for holiday-season sales — city officials say that 70 percent of last year's tickets were sold in the three months leading up to the race.

Regan, the University of South Carolina professor, said this year's ticket sales are an important indicator of the long-term viability of the race.

"You're going to want to see a significant majority of people who bought tickets last year buying them again," he said.

Downforce will be somewhat hampered in efforts to reach out to those who bought tickets last year — the old group owns the list of those who purchased tickets, and it's unclear whether it will sell the list.

The old group also purchased about $1.2 million in concrete barriers and fences now stored at a former Department of Transportation garage off Russell Street. Because those assets were used as collateral for a loan from M&T Bank, it is unclear who owns them. It also is unclear whether Downforce will try to purchase the old barriers and fences, or commission new ones.

City Councilman William H. Cole IV, who worked closely with past and current race organizers, said he thought the new group would be able to leverage the successes of last year's race.

"We won't have those growing pains like we did in Year One," he said.

Cole said he believes that the two miles of roads near the Inner Harbor used as the Baltimore Grand Prix track would be good for another decade. The city spent nearly $7 million last year repaving the roads in preparation for the race — months of traffic-snarling work that drew ire from residents and businesses.

Dillon, who owns a construction company and has laid tracks for two other races, said the track needed little work.

"It's truly just annual maintenance — filling in potholes and cracks," Dillon said.

Without the need for extensive roadwork, preparations for the second year will be much less taxing for those who live and work in the city, Cole said.

Moreover, there is no need to cut down trees — another of the preparations for the 2011 race that drew considerable public criticism — and plans for traffic, public safety and transit can more or less be recycled from last year, he said.

"As far as the city goes, the second year is much less complicated," Cole said.

Cole said he planned to discuss adding more gates to the race area and additional pedestrian bridges over the course to alleviate congestion during the event. He also said the route of the Charm City Circulator buses might need to be tweaked.

One of the most important challenges facing the group — and one aspect in which the three principals lack experience — is marketing.

"They need to start now, marketing at other races and just getting the word out," said Delpy Neirotti. While ticket sales were good last year, she thinks they could have been improved with a more aggressive marketing campaign.

Sarah Davis, IndyCar's senior director of business affairs, said that she would like to see a more regional marketing push.

"We'd like to see more marketing in other cities, and IndyCar will help with that," Davis said.

Cole said the success of last year's race could ease the search for a title sponsor.

"Last year, ... no one really knew what to expect," Cole said. "They had a hard time putting a dollar figure on an event that hadn't run yet."

Cole said he thought Dillon's reputation in the racing world would be helpful in the search.

"Dale is a known asset," he said. "There will be doors that open because of his involvement."

Executives from both IndyCar and the American Le Mans Series, which is also part of the city's racing festival, expressed their confidence in Dillon when they came to Baltimore on Wednesday for the city's vote on the Downforce contract.

Scott Atherton, the president and chief executive officer of the American Le Mans Series, pointed out that Dillon is highly respected in the world of racing.

"This industry at this level is a very small fraternity, and everyone at this level knows him," Atherton said.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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