By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun
9:40 PM EDT, September 1, 2013
The conclusion of the 2013 Grand Prix of Baltimore on Sunday night meant that life would soon return to normal on the two miles of downtown streets used for the three days of racing.
The question looming over the finish line on Pratt Street is whether the event itself will return in 2014.
It appears that those involved — from drivers and team owners to fans and local organizers to city and state officals — hope the IZOD IndyCar Series will be back for a fourth year next summer.
Though another date on the calendar has to be found, most involved believe that open-wheel racecars will roar again.
"I think it's the highest standard of our street races," Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, whose company owns IndyCar, said Sunday. "It's right in the heart of the city, the crowds are fantastic, the track is exciting and they're taking advantage of the time of the year where our championship really heats up. We're delighted to be here, and we hope we can be here for a long, long time."
Shortly after winning Sunday's race, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud said: "It's really a good event. It's really busy. People are very close to you. You go to walk within the area of the track, people can walk there and cross your path, I think that's awesome. It's very different to the other racetracks. I think this we have very good contact with the fans. I hope to come back."
Tim Mayer, the Grand Prix of Baltimore's general manager, said Sunday morning that what had started out as a rocky marriage between the city and IndyCar has smoothed considerably. Though attendance figures have not been released, the general "vibe" has been positive, Mayer said.
"This is a city that has needed to see this operate smoothly and want to associate their name with it," Mayer said. "Last year was a rescue situation, and who wants to be part of a rescue? This year they are seeing it not as a rescue but as a proper event…I think it's really on firm footing for the future."
Terry Hasseltine, director of the Maryland Stadium Authority's Office of Sports Marketing, said Saturday that "the vibe from all the organizers to Indy to the state is that this is a very positive event for the region."
"It's really unique compared to other events that are true stadium events. You're taking a city and you're dominating it. Great media exposure, not just nationally but internationally. What events give you that latitude?"
The original contract runs out in 2015, and organizers have known from the start that Labor Day weekend was not available next year because of a conflict with a Navy-Ohio State football game at M&T Bank Stadium.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Friday that the value of the Grand Prix remains as a Labor Day event, "but we're hopeful that there might be another date possible."
Rawlings-Blake said the presence of IndyCar in the city has been "great opportunity to showcase the city. It's an exciting sport; it's family-friendly. I'm hopeful that the schedule will work out."
After attending a press conference for actor-driver Patrick Dempsey on Friday, Rawlings-Blake was asked whether she feared that the race would leave Baltimore.
"You're cautious — nothing is guaranteed," she said. "But when when you walk around and see all the families enjoying this great event, enjoying Baltimore in a different way, you're hopeful it will continue."
Local racing enthusiast Steve Sollon has come to the Grand Prix of Baltimore the past two years. Decked out in his Ryan Hunter-Reay jersey, Sollon strolled with his two young children and father on Pratt Street before the start of Sunday's IndyCar Series race.
"We like the different series that come, the different kind of cars, meeting all the drivers — it's cool," Sollon said.
Sollon had heard friends and neighbors gripe "about the inconvenience of it" but sees it different than other sports events in the city.
"As much as I love the Ravens and Orioles, people don't come from far and wide to watch their game," Sollon said. "We've been talking to fellow fans from everywhere, and they look at our city in a positive light. It isn't the way it is always portrayed, unfortunately."
Mayer said the fan base is made up of hard-core racing fans and sports fans, but "the critical core component" is made up of families looking for more of a festival-type atmosphere. To that end, an area was added near the paddock at the Convention Center that featured go-kart rides and a merry-go-round.
"Come down for the other stuff and convert them into racing fans … that's what's going to move us forward," Mayer said.
Mayer called trying to work through securing dates that don't conflict with the Orioles, Ravens or large convention a "Rubik's cube" and said Baltimore's uncertainty is shared by other cities when it comes to the 2014 IndyCar Series schedule.
"This is business as usual," he said. "If you talk to Houston, they don't know their date yet either. It's not like this is strange stuff. This is completely normal. Everyone is determined to make this go forward. With every one having good will, everybody sees from an economic impact standpoint, from a perception of Baltimore standpoint that this is good for the city."
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