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Baltimore Grand Prix has fans excited, despite slow start

The Baltimore Grand Prix drew crowds Friday morning, even if the tracks hadn’t drawn the cars on time.

Practices for the city’s inaugural Grand Prix were to have begun at 8 a.m., but they were delayed for more than four hours as crews worked on the track and fencing surrounding the course. The three-day racing festival, which is taking place around a 2.1-mile course of Baltimore streets, was still met with excited crowds and racing enthusiasts, as well as curious passersby.

“[The delay] kind of stinks, but there’s a lot of stuff to see,” said Greg Allar, who took the day off and drove from Olney to see the races. Allar arrived at the track around noon, when racing that had already been delayed was expected to start.

The USF2000 practice was to be held from 8 a.m. until 8:30 a.m., the Star Mazda Series practice was to be held at 8:40 a.m. and the American Le Mans Series practice was scheduled for 9:25 a.m.

The three practices were pushed back until noon, but at 12:30, crews were still assembling fencing around the area. Practices started after 1 p.m.

Race cars were not allowed on the track for safety reasons until the final sections of spectator fencing were complete on the streets that were open through yesterday, according to a statement from Baltimore Racing Development LLC. Fence installation took longer than expected overnight, the statement said.

The delay is not expected to affect the weekend’s races, according to Baltimore Grand Prix organizers.

Substitute teacher Josalie Simonds, 33, from Edgewater said taking the day off to watch practices was worth it, even with the delay.

“It’s like the first day of school, it has its bumpy moments,” Simonds said. “There’s still so much to see and do around here that it didn’t even matter.”

Frank Calder from Havre de Grace said out of all the races he’s attended, Baltimore’s was one of the smoothest. Many races Calder said he’s attended have had a slow start because of track issues or the weather.

As practice started, crowds in the grandstands grew. As race cars zoom down Pratt Street, pedestrians, street vendors and race employees all stop to watch the scene.

“You can’t help but look at how they go,” said Steve Brown of Baltimore, who was selling checkered flags for $5 each.

But the wait did leave some fans impatient.

Alison and Katie Peltz from Red Lion, Pa., said they weren’t happy to arrive in downtown Baltimore at 6:45 a.m. only to wait several hours before the races. The Peltz sisters said they had planned out their weekend itinerary weeks ago, and weren’t counting on any race delays to slow their schedule.

“It’s a bit disappointing since you get so anxious to see them race when you finally get down here,” said Alison Peltz, 19. “I was really looking forward to going to the aquarium after the practices.”

Katie Peltz, 23, said that without more entertainment before the races, sitting around was “pretty boring.” Cheering on golf carts driving on the track was the most excitement Peltz said she had all morning.

Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe said Friday that the track was rough in a few spots, especially by the light rail tracks near Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
“I’m curious about getting out there and giving it a go,” Briscoe said.

Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe said Friday that the track was rough in a few spots, especially by the light rail tracks near Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

“I’m curious about getting out there and giving it a go,” Briscoe said.

Fellow Penske driver Helio Castroneves said, though, that the crowds were making drivers excited.

“I walked in this morning and I could not believe how many people we have here,” he said. “Even coming yesterday, seeing the people at the airport. People were enjoying the atmosphere. For me, that says it all.”

The Indy Lights practice was scheduled for 10:45 a.m., and the IZOD IndyCar practice for 12:05 p.m.

More qualifying races and practices were scheduled to be held from 1:40 p.m. to 6:30 pm.

“Things happen, but I was kind of expecting that because of the Orioles game yesterday,” said Dana Kennedy, a photography technician who lives in Baltimore and took the day off to enjoy his first race.

Fans turned out early for races, some sitting in the grandstands as early as 7:30 a.m.

Tim and Becky Preston of Bel Air were among the eager fans in the stands. While the Prestons have traveled to see many NASCAR races, this was their first IndyCar race event.

“As soon as tickets went on sale, we got the tickets and booked the room,” Becky Preston said. The couple said they decided to make an event out of it, and invited several family members to stay downtown in hotels and watch the races with them.

Tim Preston said the family will be going out on the dragon boats in the Inner Harbor, while Becky Preston said she had made reservations at several restaurants in the downtown area.

“The reason we’re coming is because it’s in downtown Baltimore,” Tim Preston said. “And it’s the first race.”

York, Pa.-resident and avid IndyCar fan Jay Schrum agreed.

Schrum said he was particularly looking forward to the American Le Mans Series race.

“Having the races close, I mean, you’ve got to come, especially for the first year,” Schrum said.