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Grand Prix moves ahead

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The Indy Racing League has confirmed what many Baltimore race fans and state and local officials had been hoping - that it is seriously considering approving a local group's proposal for an annual, 2.4-mile street race in the Inner Harbor area.

Organizers and supporters of the proposed Baltimore Grand Prix said this week that they learned in a letter that the league - which would have to sanction the race - is enthusiastic about the possibility of adding Baltimore to its schedule."I am taking this opportunity to convey to you, collectively, how interested the Indy Racing League is in the possibility that our organization would sanction an IndyCar Series event in Baltimore starting in 2011," said the letter received by city officials July 20 from Terry Angstadt, president of IRL's commercial division.

"I respectfully ask the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland to partner with [Baltimore Racing Development] to make the Baltimore Grand Prix a reality," said the letter to Mayor Sheila Dixon and City Council members.

The city is still deciding whether to endorse the race, proposed by Baltimore Racing Development, a limited liability company headed by entrepreneur Steven Wehner. The course would cover parts of Pratt Street, Russell Street and other roads, with a pit area adjacent to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Organizers say the race, modeled after events in Long Beach, Calif., and other cities, would generate as much as $100 million during four days of activities. Terry Hasseltine, director of the state's office of sports marketing, did not dispute that economic estimate.

By comparison, the Preakness is estimated to have a $60 million impact.

On Monday, City Council is scheduled to consider a measure authorizing Baltimore Racing Development to negotiate with IRL to get Baltimore on the 2011 race schedule. Angstadt's letter is supportive of Wehner and the company, citing its "thoroughness" and "professionalism."

William Cole, a City Council member representing the race area, said the letter brought welcome news.

"I think it is clear they [IRL officials] are very interested in a race here in Baltimore," Cole said. "We need to figure out what the obstacles and challenges are locally and whether we can meet those challenges. Thus far, I haven't seen anything that indicates that it isn't a great opportunity for Baltimore."

Cole is the sponsor of Monday's resolution, which would be, in effect, a vote of confidence for Baltimore Racing Development, or BRD.

"The resolution on Monday should be the next major milestone," said Jay Davidson, a Baltimore attorney who is chief operating officer of BRD. "It doesn't commit the city to host the event, but it basically gives us the confidence that the city is very interested and considering it very carefully."

BRD is in the process of securing funding for noise and traffic management studies, Davidson said. He said he hoped both studies can be completed in the next few months.

On Wednesday, Davidson said, an Indy Racing League official walked the course with a track consultant looking at the condition of the streets. The course was designed in part by two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., who said he looked for roads that could accommodate nearby grandstands and runoff areas if cars needed to leave the track.

Private funding would pay for the barriers, fencing, grandstands and other equipment. The money would come from investors and the sale of sponsorships once there was an agreement with the Indy Racing League.

Hasseltine said this week that the letter confirmed what he suspected about IRL's interest.

"From everything I understand to date, they really like what we have to offer," Hasseltine said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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