Michael Andretti, wearing his promoter's hat, stopped for a chat in the Baltimore Convention Center on Thursday afternoon. The IndyCar owner, who has taken on the job of organizing the Grand Prix of Baltimore this weekend through his company Andretti Sports Marketing, looked relaxed.
"We're as ready as we've ever been for any event that we've ever done," he said when asked about preparations for the weekend festivities that kick off Friday morning when the gates open at 7:30 a.m. "The track is on schedule. It's all good."
Or, it's almost all good. There is one mystery yet to be solved.
Are the people coming back to the second edition of the racing weekend, now known as the Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT?
"I don't know," Andretti said. "We don't have numbers to compare and we're holding our breath."
While last year's promoters, who left millions of dollars of unpaid bills to the city and local businessmen, talked non-stop about the numbers of ticket and suites they were selling, Andretti Sports Marketing, which was hired to put on this year's race by Race On LLC, a local company put together by businessmen J.P. Grant and Greg O'Neill, have said nothing.
"We're selling tickets," Andretti said. "Last year they said they had 100,000 people here. Were there really? Did the crowd look bigger than it was because of the close confines? I don't know. We'll find out on Sunday."
For Andretti and IndyCar, it is really a little bit scary.
A year ago, what was then called the Baltimore Grand Prix was a bona fide home run. Fans were everywhere. IndyCar, its car owners, sponsors and drivers were blown away by the interest, enthusiasm and numbers. And coming into this weekend's race, they were still talking about it. The first thing everyone recalls is the crowd that was reported to have totaled about 150,000 over the three-day holiday weekend.
The Series would like that kind of event again. And it brings to town an appealing, tight championship race surrounded by its three support series races -- USF2000, Star Mazda and Firestone Indy Lights -- and the popular American Le Mans Series race for sports cars. There are championships at stake in every one.
But the promoter got a late start selling tickets and mending community fences because Race On LLC was the third group hired to operate the race. Tickets didn't go on sale until Memorial Day. What will that late start mean?
As Andretti said, it's wait and see. But one thing apparently going his way is the weather. The forecast is for sunny, warm days, with only a chance of showers Saturday.
"Thank, God," Andretti said. "We were told the event last year had a huge walk up. If we get the walk up, we'll be good. But until the event is here, you don't know."
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