Race organizer and promoter Jay Davidson said there were two reasons for the delay to the start of Friday's activities for the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix -- last week's weather, and giving Baltimore residents as much access to the roads as possible for as long as possible.
"The timing could have been better," Davidson said by phone. "But we had a lot of intersections with main traveling arteries open that have to be closed and last week a lot of the fencing had to come down because of the wind warnings [associated with Hurricane Irene]. We've pushed everything back four hours, but all the practice and qualifying will get in today. And it won't have any impact on the rest of the weekend."
Davidson said officials were opening the paddock area, where the race teams park their transporters and hangout, for free Friday, and by 10 a.m. fans were streaming in.
The on-track program finally got underway at 1:30 p.m. with the USF 2000 cars taking a 15-minute practice run. Fans filled the grandstands to approximately 90 percent capacity down the long straight of Pratt St.
The American LeMans Series got a 45-minute practice in preparation for qualifying later in the day, but the IZOD IndyCars Series drivers had their schedule changed again. Instead of hitting the course at 3:50, the latest change has them practicing from 4:30 to 5:45.
ALMS qualifying was to follow at 6:05.
"People seem pretty happy," Davidson said of the fans. "Being a first time event, like any first time event, we're going to have bumps. We'll weather them as they come and roll with it."
Organizers said in a prepared statement that for "safety reasons, cars cannot be allowed on the track until the final sections of spectator fencing are complete" in areas where roads remained open until yesterday. They added fence installation took longer than expected overnight, but there are no other course-related issues.
While the final preparations were being completed, drivers in all five series here passed the time telling stories, dancing and signing autographs among other activities.
"We heard last week in Sonoma that the hurricane was coming through and that there would be a number of challenges," said Vitor Meira, who drives for A.J. Foyt, when asked about the delay being attributed to the re-installation of fencing taken down in preparation of Hurricane Irene. "We understand the delay and it is better it is done right.
"The delay for fencing is not really odd," he said. "The city also was trying to leave the streets open as long as they could, so the last things to go in are the walls and the fencing."
Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon, who was one of the first drivers to see the track several weeks ago, when he took a ride around the course in a street car, said it is always " hard for the first one. There are a lot of people working who don't know where things go and there are only one or two chiefs," he said. "Couple that with the weather here last week and you have to expect a little delay."
Younger drivers, like Star Mazda's Gustavo Menezes, who drives for Juncos Racing, and Peter Dempsey, of Andretti Autosport, were taking the delay in stride.
"You have to just give the people who are putting this together a little respect," said Dempsey, a native of Ireland. "It's their first time and a learning experience. As long as we get a practice before qualifying -- which we will -- everything is good."
Menezes said he was a little "bummed" by the delay, given it came after his wake-up call. But since he was at the track he was making the best of it.
He passed the four-hour delay with other team members dancing in the team's transporter and making videos. "We did the shuffle and we were pretty good at it," said Menezes, 16. "Then we did six laps on the track in a golf cart. That took up another 20 minutes, but everyone is eager to get on the track with the car. The track is complicated and scary but that's part of being a good racetrack."
The only series that seems to have any major change is the USF 2000 Series, which evidently will not have qualifying.
"It's not exactly what we wanted," said USF 200 driver Zach Veach. "They've taken qualifying off our series, so we'll start based on the points standings. I'm third, so I'll start third."
Veach, an Andretti Autosport driver, said he believes he still has a chance to win the series championship. There will be two USF 2000 races here this weekend. If he wins both and the two competitors ahead of him have a bad day, he could claim the title.
"I hope to do my part and win," he said.
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