Ever since racing returned to their hometown in 2011 with the then-Baltimore Grand Prix, longtime friends Marc Bunting and Kieffer Rittenhouse have tried to combine their love for the sport with their love for the city.
Despite a more competitive field and the rather costly investment that comes with racing in the American Le Mans Series, Bunting and Rittenhouse will return for the Labor Day weekend event.
An official announcement is expected Monday, but Bunting and Rittenhouse said Sunday that Team Baltimore will take part in the Grand Prix of Baltimore's ALMS GTC Class race on Aug. 31.
"It's pretty much a continuation of what we've done the first two years," said Bunting, who used to race fulltime on the Grand-Am Rolex GT circuit. "The biggest difference on my end is that it's been a lot more last minute and a lot more unknowns on my end in putting together a competitive ride with a competitive co-driver."
Bunting has picked the Porsche he will drive in this year's race, as well as a color scheme tied to his favorite baseball team, but he has yet to pick a co-driver.
"Last minute, it gets difficult trying to find someone who knows street courses and knows these Porsches well," Bunting said. "Not a lot of practice time in Baltimore. … A couple of the top guys are trying to rearrange their schedules."
Bunting, a 44-year-old Monkton resident who drove on the Grand-Am Rolex series from 1999 through 2007 and was its leading driver in 2006, said that the ALMS series "has become more competitive, especially the GTC Class."
Bunting said he has been trying to find the right car and co-driver since January.
"The cars have gotten really tight, as far as times per lap. If your car is not competitive, you really don't have a chance," Butning said. "In years past, there were a few more variables there. If you had a car that was slightly off the pace, but [you could] make it up with driver ability."
Several local business sponsor Team Baltimore, helping with the cost of driving in the ALMS race, which Rittenhouse estimates will be "between $50,000 and $100,000."
In a release, the team said it is also hoping to raise money for several local charities, including the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake, as well as the Cool Kids Campaign.
Team Baltimore hopes to be part of a program co-sponsored by the Orioles and the local chapter of the American Heart Association to promote fitness through a "Get Your Heart Racing" campaign, according to Rittenhouse. Bunting said that Rittenhouse came up with the idea of having the car's colors be orange and black in honor of the Orioles.
"He's trying to give the car something to give the hometown folks something to root for," said Bunting, whose car last year had the American flag's colors to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812.
Bunting, who was one of the top drivers on the Grand-Am circuit for a number of years before going into the food service business, said that it will be interesting to see how competitive he can be in Baltimore despite having only raced competitively a couple of times this year.
"In years past, I was pretty competitive with the opening drivers," Bunting said. "Just from watching from afar, this series has become much more competitive. Last year, there were just three or four drivers in the starting group that could run up front with each other. Most of the guys were off the pace. This year, everyone is much quicker, much tighter. I'm definitely going to have my work cut out for me."
Rittenhouse, an insurance broker who is Team Baltimore's director of operations, said he is confident that Bunting will do well with whoever he finds.
"Most drivers need to practice, practice, practice. Marc needs about 20 or 30 minutes in a car and he has the track figured out," Rittenhouse said. "The cool thing with Baltimore is that he has the familiarity with the streets. Back in the old days, we used to go up Pratt Street pretty fast. Now he can do it legally."
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