Carroll County Times

Grand Prix comes back to Baltimore this weekend

To Tim Mayer, there are three kinds of fans who come to the Grand Prix of Baltimore: the serious car racing fans, families looking to do something a little different and people who just want to live it up and have a good time.
Mayer, the event's general manager, said that this year the three-day experience has been ramped up for all three of these kinds of spectators.
The event, now in its third year in downtown Baltimore, will take place Friday through Sunday on the streets adjacent to the Inner Harbor. The race and the events surrounding it are presented by Chrysler Group's Street and Racing Technology brand.
Mayer said the main focus in planning this year's event was making sure attendees had more value in their tickets, which are now free for children younger than 12 years old.
For families with children around this age, Mayer said the Esskay Family Fun Zone in the Baltimore Convention Center has been added and is available to anyone with a ticket. Mayer said this area was smaller and outdoors last year.
"The kids were getting red-faced and sweaty, and there wasn't anywhere for them to sit down," he said.
The new family fun zone will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The zone will include music from Radio Disney, an obstacle course and indoor go-karting.
"Lets give Mom and Dad a reason to bring their families downtown and see the race," Mayer said.
For "people who like to come to big events and party," Mayer said there will be the Budweiser Party Zone and the Southern Spirits Wine Bar. In the party zone, Mayer said it is set up like a beer garden with multiple musical acts performing. He said Patron tequila stations will also be set up throughout the event. These drinks are available for purchase.
"Whether you're a beer or wine or liquor person, we have it for you," Mayer said.
While live music and radio stations like WHFS and 98 Rock will play throughout the three-day event, Mayer said the main musical acts will be the bands The Waiting at 6 p.m. Friday and LIVE at 6 p.m. Saturday. Both bands will perform on the venue's Main Stage and are open to all ticket holders at no additional cost.
And, of course, there is the racing, which Mayer said takes place all three days in some capacity.
The main race will be the 75-lap IZOD Indy Car Series starting at 2:40 p.m. Sunday. The other races will be the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama at 1:40 p.m. Saturday and 11:15 a.m. Sunday, The American Le Mans Series at 3:45 p.m. Saturday and the Firestone Indy Lights at 12:35 p.m. Sunday.
When there aren't official races, Mayer said the drivers will be practicing and participating in qualifying rounds.
"So basically we have racing on the race track from 8 in the morning through 6 at night," Mayer said.
For those hardcore racing fans, he said a new aspect to the weekend is the GT3 Cup Challenge in which semi-professional drivers will compete in Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars. Mayer said since the cars will be the same, it's the drivers' skill that makes a difference.
"They're kind of an iconic racing series for fans," he said.
Mayer said ticket prices range from free for children's general admission, to $15 for adult general admission Friday, to $90 for a three-day grandstand reserve, to $750 for a three-day Andretti Club membership. General admission for Saturday and Sunday each ranges from $10 to $45. Parking prices range from $8 to $30 a day depending on proximity to the race track.
One of the ticket packages is for the Kona Grill Turn One Club and includes a two-course lunch and two drink tickets per person at the nearby restaurant. Kona Grill general manager Tommy Przybylski said this deal costs $225 for children and $275 for adults and also includes a three-day top level reserved seat in the grandstand and a three-day Paddock Pass to see where the race cars are kept.
Przybylski said the Grand Prix has always been a welcome event for his establishment.
"My perception is it's a great event that drives businesses on a historically very quiet weekend," he said.
He said the first Baltimore Grand Prix in 2011 "was an absolute monster of a year" for Kona Grill, which had more than $100,000 in sales over the course of three days.
While Przybylski said last year was slower with sales just above $80,000, he felt the event was better organized with ticket holders being able to come and go from the track at their leisure. This year will have the same policy.
"It's much more user-friendly and ticket holder-friendly, to be honest," he said.
As a local business manager, Przybylski said the challenges prior to and during the week included adjusting delivery times due to construction and road closures. He said he also had to alert staff members who use public transportation of possible route changes and closures.
He said his restaurant had maintained a good working relationship with the team behind the Grand Prix.
"I'm glad as a restaurant that we decided to work with them," he said.