Grand Prix group lands some sponsors

With seven weeks to go until the race, the new organizers of the Baltimore Grand Prix announced several sponsors at a promotional event Monday that launched their first marketing campaign.

Sunoco, Dr Pepper and Giant Food were announced as the first sponsors of the second running of the Baltimore Grand Prix, which is scheduled for Labor Day weekend in downtown Baltimore. Organizers declined to disclose dollar figures, but said the multi-year cash sponsorships were "significant."

"This market does command higher rates than other markets," said John Lopez, president of Andretti Sports Marketing.

J.P. Grant, the Columbia-based financier heading Race On LLC, which has a five-year contract to put on the city's IndyCar race, said Giant will place Grand Prix promotional displays at its area grocery stores.

Under the deal, "Dr Pepper Ten" will be named the official soft drink of the Grand Prix; Sunoco will be the official fuel partner and Giant will be the official grocery store.

Grant said he expected to announce additional sponsorships soon. But the race organizers have said they do not expect to land a "title sponsor," which could bring in more than $1 million for an event. They also have said they are prepared to lose money on this year's race but pledged that no vendor or taxpayer would go unpaid.

The three sponsors were announced as professional drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tommy Milner spoke about racing in Baltimore. Milner said he got "an overwhelming response" from friends who watched the race last year.

Timothy A. Mayer, general manager of the race, also announced ticket packages for the event. They range from $5 tickets for children to VIP seating packages for 10 for $8,950. Mayer has acknowledged that last year's organizers got an earlier start on sales, pitching tickets in December as holiday gifts. But he said the vast majority of tickets to an IndyCar race are sold within six weeks of the event.

The city terminated its contract with the group that put on last year's inaugural race, Baltimore Racing Development, after it failed to pay millions of dollars to vendors, the city and the state. Grant has pledged that there is "zero" chance of such a financial disaster happening again.

Race On is headed by two local businessmen: Grant, who is CEO of Grant Capital Management and a supporter of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; and construction contractor Greg O'Neill. Their company has hired racing champion Michael Andretti's sports marketing group to organize the event.

Race On is the third group to head Baltimore's Grand Prix. After city officials canceled the contract with Baltimore Racing Development, they handed control of the event to Downforce Racing in February. But that group dissolved without making progress.

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