IndyCar drivers stop in Baltimore as preparation for Grand Prix continues
By By Chris Korman
Jan 23, 2013 | 3:30 PM
When former IndyCar circuit champion Tony Kanaan heard that his new teammate would be the promising young driver Simona De Silvestro, he immediately thought they would get along fine.
"Both of us have caught fire before," he said Wednesday. "So we have a lot to talk about."
A YouTube search turns up a video of Kanaan on fire while his car is in pit row and another in which members of his pit crew are burned by nearly invisible flames (because the fuel used at the time was methanol and burned clear).
But De Slivestro's incident occurs on the track and shows her stuck in her seat as the car burns around her.
Kanaan and De Silvestro visited Baltimore Wednesday representing the KV Racing team. Speaking at a press conference at the Royal Sonesta hotel, they expressed optimism for the year ahead. Their cars were displayed in the courtyard in front of the hotel entrance, and De Silvestro even drove down Light Street and made a quick pit stop for television cameras.
De Silvestro has made promotional stops prior to each Grand Prix of Baltimore and has called the Labor Day weekend race one of the best on the circuit. Entering its third year -- and second under the direction of Race On LLC -- the weekend-long festival is still trying to build business connections in the city and draw fans to the race.
Greg O'Neill, the often silent partner in Race On, said the company has had a warmer reception from businesses this year after proving its mettle by pulling together last year's race in about 100 days. Race On has contracted with local companies to handle much of the marketing of the race, and hired former Orioles employee Debbie Bell to drum up much-needed sponsorship money. O'Neill would not say whether the company plans on making additional hires.
O'Neill said that Race On has not yet signed any major partnerships, but that things are "in the works."
O'Neill has rarely spoken publicly about the Grand Prix, preferring to allow partner J.P. Grant to be the face of the event. He said Wednesday that he remains confident that the race has a long-term future in Baltimore and said drawing fans this year will be "easy."
"Baltimore has proven that, if you provide a well-run event, the people will come out," he said. "Last year, there was a lot of skepticism and apprehension about the event. I think we've erased a lot of that."
Race On was tasked with salvaging the race after the original organizers left millions in unpaid bills and a subsequent company failed to make progress running the event. Last year's race lost a significant amount of money -- Grant has not been specific -- and drew fewer people.
"We're just building on what we started," O'Neill said. " ... J.P. and I brought it this far, and I really think we're at the turning point. We just need to get the local business community a bit more involved."
Kanaan and De Silvestro spoke of rejuvenation Wednesday as well. Kanaan finished ninth in the point standings last year, his worst finish since joining the series full-time in 2003. He also once again saw a shot at winning IndyCar's premier race, the Indianapolis 500, slip away.
Kanaan spent last year teamed with Rubens Barrichello, a longtime friend he often refers to as "my brother." But the former Formula 1 driver decided to leave IndyCar after just one year.
Enter De Silvestro. The Swiss-born driver had two top-10 finishes as a rookie in 2010, and appeared poised to become a top driver in 2011. But a series of crashes -- including a dramatic wreck, caused by mechanical failure, that sent her car airborne in practice for the Indy 500 -- seemed to derail her season.
Racing with an inferior Lotus engine in 2012, she finished no better than 14th in any race.
KV Racing, a partnership between former driver Jimmy Vasser and a pair of international businessmen, uses Chevrolet engines.