The race is on — and, some say, so is the pressure.
As the third Grand Prix of Baltimore approaches, both supporters and opponents of the downtown street race are watching to see whether the three-day event will establish itself as a permanent summer fixture of the Inner Harbor. But J.P. Grant, who is financially supporting as well as helping orchestrate the event, said he is trying not to focus on the scrutiny.
Grant said his group, Race On LLC, is satisfied with ticket sales, the pace of track construction and what he believes is an increasingly favorable public attitude toward the event, which begins Friday morning and ends Sunday evening. Plus, he said, the stress of this year’s preparations pale in comparison to last year, when he took ownership of the Grand Prix just three months before the cars and crowds arrived downtown.
This year brought several changes. Organizers lowered ticket prices, and children under 12 will get in for free with a paying adult. They expanded the Esskay Family Fun Zone, booked more (and more well-known) musical acts and contracted with more local businesses than last year. Ticket sales are tracking with last year, Grant said, and the VIP viewing area, The Andretti Club, is sold out on Sunday, the most important race day.
Still, Race On is not in the clear. The organization probably won’t break even this year, although Grant pointed out that the company was formed 15 months ago and few firms are profitable within that time window. The biggest frustration, he said, is uncertainty about the race’s future, due to scheduling conflicts with the Orioles, Ravens and the Baltimore Convention Center that are making it difficult, if not impossible, to find a race date next August.
“I’m hopeful that in two or three weeks, we’ll have a date worked out and be moving on,” Grant said. “But I don’t want to make it sound simple; there’s still a lot of work to be done. Everybody has to sign on … but everybody is working hard to make it happen.”
In the meantime, Grant is monitoring weather forecasts with fingers crossed. Walk-up ticket sales are crucial, he said, and he’s nervous about rain. To make it easier for potential customers to buy in this year, ticket kiosks will be scattered throughout the Inner Harbor, he added.
Also, discounted tickets were again available via online deal site LivingSocial. The promotion ran out earlier this week, but not before 5,374 people bought one of the packages, ranging in price from $9 (for general Friday admission) to $70 (for three-day general admission plus a three-day Paddock Pass). Those tickets normally cost between $15 and $110.
Practices and qualifying races — there are several classes of cars, headlined by those in the IndyCar Series — begin Friday at 8 a.m. and last until 6 p.m., when the post-event concert, featuring The Waiting (a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tribute band), begins at the Main Stage. The performance will last until 7:30 p.m. There will be more practices and qualifying starting at 8 Saturday morning; the first official race begins at 1:40 p.m. After more than four hours of motor-head madness, alternative rock band LIVE, the headlining musical act of the weekend, will begin its performance on the Main Stage. On Sunday, racing again starts at 8 a.m., with the IndyCar event at 2:40 p.m. and activities scheduled to end by 5:30. Last year, crowds lingered for a bit around the Main Stage, where the winners are announced, before dispersing.