Baltimore Sun

Few delays, headaches expected as Grand Prix course construction begins

Organizers of the Grand Prix of Baltimore are working hard to avoid traffic delays as they begin the construction of the street course for the Labor Day weekend racing event in the city.

A year ago, a series of road closures snarled traffic, disrupted downtown business operations and ignited tempers of residents and workers in Baltimore. Monday, at the official placing of the first ceremonial concrete block at the intersection of Pratt and Light streets, general manager Tim Mayer said the organization is planning the construction in order to avoid a repeat this year.

"This time last year, the city was in some chaos," Mayer said. "This year we're paying attention to the details — to every detail. We're making sure the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] crosswalks stay open. We're paying attention to the placement of every block relative to street traffic and time of placement. We're making sure the bus stops remain open, that businesses can continue to operate. If people want to go to the [National] Aquarium, we want them to know it will be open and accessible."

The new building project will include several tweaks to the race track, too.

Turn 1 will be four or five feet more open, track designer Tony Cotman of NZR Consulting said, adding the idea is to "entice drivers to go two-by-two around there" in hopes of creating more passing, which in turn will make the race more interesting to spectators.

Turns 5 and 6, meanwhile, have also been slightly redesigned "to bring the action closer to the people." Cotman added that 15,000 tires will be used in crash run-off areas and that the total weight of the concrete being used in the walls is 22 million pounds. He also said the railroad tracks may be a little smoother, but will still feel like railroad tracks to the drivers, as will the 300 man-hole covers along the course.

The track also will be without the chicane, the series of man-made turns designed last year to slow the cars going down the Pratt Street straightaway before they entered turn 1. With the series of turns eliminated, officials said cars should reach 175 mph before starting to brake into the first turn.

While the Grand Prix of Baltimore will try to hold disruptions to a minimum, they admit there will be some. But the construction will all be done at night until Friday this week, starting at 9 p.m. on Conway Street, and signs of the construction are to be gone before rush hour begins each morning. The most disruptive areas, like the intersection at Light and Pratt streets, won't be done until the final week before the race.

"We are building in sections around the city instead of the traditional method of building in sequence," said Cotman. "Last year, there wasn't a lot of detail prior to the build. Last year, people didn't know what to expect. We definitely know what the city expects from us this year. And, we have a very good construction plan."

Cotman's building crew will build the two-mile, 12-turn course in 30 days, laying 2,200 concrete blocks and topping them with 2,200 fence panels. Along the way, the construction crews will incorporate the new plans for turns 1, 5 and 6.

"I think removing the chicane will make the track a little faster than 175 mph," said IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden, who was also present for the track-build kickoff. "I think we'll reach 180."

Newgarden, who won the Indy Lights Series title a year ago, finished second in the inaugural Indy Lights race in Baltimore. At age 21, he is now a rookie in the IndyCar Series driving for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

"I loved this track last year," Newgarden said

"I think the new changes will make it a better show, with more passing for the fans, and still keep it challenging for the drivers. Last year it was a physical challenge and I've been training all year just for this race. Well, not just for this race, but this race is the bench mark for how fit you need to be."

Road closures for track construction

Westbound Conway Street between Light Street and Howard Street will be closed each night this week until Friday from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Eastbound Conway Street will be open to traffic, but there could be some construction-related delays.

Northbound Russell Street will be closed after the Ravens' open practice Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium through Sunday evening, but it will be reopened before rush-hour traffic Monday.

No other plans to close streets until a couple days before the race, but individual lanes could be affected when work occurs at night. The exact details of race week closures will be announced at a later time.

[Source: Grand Prix of Baltimore]