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IRL Notes: IndyCar To Hit Streets Of Baltimore

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 2 2010

Randy Bernard, new head of the Indy Racing League, made some key announcements on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Randy Bernard’s blueprint for growing the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2011 and beyond began taking shape Wednesday, with the announcement that the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix will be contested next summer on a 2.4-mile temporary street circuit incorporating the scenic Inner Harbor area of downtown.

Baltimore Racing Development (BRD) has been granted an Aug. 5-7 date on next year’s schedule, a position currently held by Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. BRD also announced it has “at least” a five-year contract with both the Indy Racing League and City of Baltimore.

The addition of Baltimore to the schedule is the first such change announced during Bernard’s reign as the IRL’s new chief executive officer.

The announcement follows unanimous approval of both a Baltimore City Council resolution and a vote of the Maryland Stadium Authority to formally support BRD’s efforts to pursue bringing an IndyCar Series race to Baltimore.

“This is an historic day for Baltimore and the State of Maryland, as well as the entire East Coast Region, as we have finalized plans for the IZOD IndyCar Series racing in Baltimore in 2011,” Jay Davidson, CEO of the Baltimore Grand Prix and BRD, said in a statement.  ”When we began our pursuit of this race over two years ago, we had a number of major steps to accomplish and are so thankful to the state, city and the community for embracing our efforts.

“This ‘three-day festival of speed’ will not just include car racing, but will feature family-friendly activities, offer great entertainment and much, much more.”

Among those joining Davidson for the announcement at the Baltimore Convention Center were Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, IRL commercial division president Terry Angstadt, IndyCar driver Graham Rahal and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for Baltimore to shine in the national spotlight, and benefit from the millions in tourism dollars it will bring to our state,” O’Malley said.  “The Baltimore Grand Prix will add to the impressive list of exciting and significant sporting and entertainment events Maryland is home to every year.”

The Baltimore Grand Prix is expected to attract more than 100,000 people to the area and have an estimated economic impact of $70 million, based upon visitor spending on hotel nights, meals, tickets and other purchases.

The 2010 IRL schedule features 17 events, including nine on street and natural-terrain road-courses and eight on ovals. The addition of Baltimore as a street circuit was made three days after Dario Franchitti won the 94th edition of the Indianapolis 500 – the series’ premier event – and three days before the Firestone 550k is scheduled for Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

The racetrack in Baltimore will be constructed around the streets of downtown, including sections of Russell Street by Oriole Park at Camden Yards, West Pratt Street and along the Inner Harbor on Light Street.  Tickets will go on sale this fall at a variety of price levels.  A wide range of sponsorship and hospitality opportunities will also be available for the Baltimore Grand Prix, ranging from title sponsorship to corporate hospitality suites.

“In August 2011, our city will be the home for one of the most exciting sporting events in the world,” Rawlings-Blake said. “In addition to filling city hotel rooms and restaurants, this street race will change the way the world sees Baltimore as a result of global media exposure to millions of Indy Racing League fans who attend similar events in San Paulo, Brazil, Long Beach and St. Petersburg.”

Angstadt said a number of factors made Baltimore an attractive option to IRL management. “Baltimore is a vibrant market that is strategically located in the heart of the Mid-Atlantic Region,” Angstadt said. “The Inner Harbor will make for a spectacular setting for the race, and Baltimore’s downtown area has all of the elements necessary for a successful event weekend. The track design will no doubt produce exciting racing for both drivers and fans alike.”

The Baltimore Grand Prix will be a combination of racing and festivities that will begin Friday morning and culminate on Sunday with the race. The event will be billed as a “three-day festival of speed,” with organizers planning a variety of non-racing activities such as a family fun zone, go-karting, beer gardens, extreme sports demonstrations and professional beach volleyball. Live music will be available all weekend, from local artists performing throughout the day to nationally-known acts in the evenings.

In addition to the IndyCar Series, the Baltimore Grand Prix will feature a number of support series races to be determined.

Baltimore Racing Development, LLC was formed in 2008 with the intention of bringing a grand prix street race to Baltimore in 2011. BRD retained Unser, Chuck Kosich of MJ Promotions (which owned and operated both the Championship Auto Racing Teams’ Houston Grand Prix and the Cleveland Grand Prix) and Martyn Thake, a track designer who has developed grand prix racetracks on three continents.

Turbo engine formula approved: Indy Racing League officials have approved an unprecedented move from normally aspirated V-8 engines to a more flexible turbocharged-powered formula for the IZOD IndyCar Series beginning in 2012, in an attempt to lure increased manufacturer participation beyond current single-supplier Honda.

Based upon a recommendation from the ICONIC (Innovative, Open-Wheel, New, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective) Advisory Committee, the new turbocharged platform will allow manufacturers to produce engines with a maximum of six cylinders as well as maximum displacement of 2.4 cubic liters. The ethanol-fueled engines will produce between 550 and 700 horsepower to suit the diverse set of tracks on which the IndyCar Series competes.

Honda currently is in its eighth season as an engine partner with IndyCar, North America’s premier open-wheel series. This is the fifth consecutive season the manufacturer is supplying its Honda Indy V-8 engines to every IndyCar team. Honda joined the series in 2003, competing then against General Motors’ Chevrolet brand and longtime Japanese industry rival Toyota.

“The ICONIC Advisory Committee has researched future engine platforms with manufacturers, teams, drivers and fans, and they felt this strategy best highlights key attributes of the sport _ speed, competition and diversity,” said Randy Bernard, the IRL’s chief executive officer. ”We feel this open and all-inclusive platform will make our sport an attractive option to engine manufacturers, while allowing development of a relevant and innovative platform to the current and future automotive industry by highlighting efficiency, performance, durability, quality, environmental responsibility and safety.”

Bernard added that IndyCar will explore new and relevant technologies to incorporate into the engine package, including energy recovery, hybrids, fuel conservation and other developing green initiatives.

“Everyone wants to see competition and high-performance on the track,” Bernard said. “We are the fastest and most versatile racing in the world and this new engine strategy will continue to enhance that.

“Now that we have a platform in place, it is our job to put this package in front of the automotive industry to attract the type of participation that will elevate the sport.  We truly want to challenge manufacturers to once again make our sport a proving ground and a platform to showcase technology that will benefit the future of their industry.”

Technically, the new engine strategy will require IndyCar to adopt rules that can accommodate various engine architectures.

“We will continue to evaluate rules that will keep a level playing field across the board with the various engines that could enter our sport,” said Brian Barnhart, the IRL’s president of competition and racing operations. “For example, we could see a V-6 competing against an In-line 4 (cylinder engine) at all IndyCar Series events in the future. We will require reference engines as a benchmark in performance while looking at sonic air restrictors, fuel flow restrictions and more as key criteria for competition.”

IndyCar formed the ICONIC Advisory Committee to review, research and make a recommendation to the league on the next generation of engines and chassis.  The league plans to have a decision on its chassis by June 30.

“Speaking on behalf of the ICONIC Advisory Committee members, it has been an honor to contribute to the development of the new generation of IndyCar,” said Gil de Ferran, a former Indy 500 champion and team-owner representative to the committee.  “We feel this new engine strategy is open, inclusive, powerful and high-performance, in keeping with the historical values associated with Indy car racing. Additionally, it poses relevant challenges to which the automotive industry faces today.”

Committee members include de Ferran, Barnhart, Tony Cotman, Eddie Gossage, Rick Long, Tony Purnell and Neil Ressler. It is mediated by retired Air Force Gen. William R. Looney III.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 2 2010
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