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Baltimore Diary:
Day One
An Inauspicious Start

Baltimore, Maryland, September 2 When we arrived in downtown Baltimore after a pleasant just-under-six-hour trip, we noticed it was very quiet. However, we had more pressing issues to deal with, like finding the Marriott next to the track to register.

After receiving passes which would be, at least for our photographer, Angelo, completely useless, we looked at each other, and started to plan our immediate trip back home. We did receive a parking pass in a garage in an area ... how do I describe this without sounding completely politically incorrect ... a very, very, very, very bad neighborhood.

Indy Lights Car in Front of Building Image An Indy Lights car finally hits the streets in downtown Baltimore.

Walking to the track, Angelo said, "Do you hear any race cars?"

It was now Noon. "No."

"There should be cars on the track."

Thoughts were now dancing through my head concerning what someone told me before we left after looking at the track map, "It's like a combination of Miami and San Jose"

It couldn't be that bad, I thought.

When we got into the track, and then made our way to the media center, it was obvious no cars had been on track.

"What's going on?" I asked our dear friend, Meesh.

"They're still building the track."

She obviously saw my dumbfounded look and said, "I can't put it any simpler than that." She did elaborate saying they were still paving last night and currently putting fencing up.

Incomplete track. Useless passes. An hour to go before I needed to cancel my motel room.

The chicane (can you say Las Vegas?) in the early part of the front straight was built to slow the cars down just before the trolley tracks (can you say San Jose?). So, why weren't the trolley tracks temporarily paved over for the race?

Are you ready for this? At least according to the talk in the media center, it's because someone (whoever this someone is) told the construction workers the cars don't need it paved because they drive over the trolley tracks in Toronto.

One can just imagine the logic that went through this guy's head. Toronto has trolleys. There is a street race in Toronto. Ergo, the cars must be okay with driving over the tracks. Obviously, anyone with a racing knowledgeable brain, even the size of a pea, knows the track is not in downtown Toronto, and has none of the city's trolleys running anywhere near it (as my long walk from the trolley station when I used to attend that event bears out).

The USF2000 cars finally started lining up (that's right, send the young, dumb kids out to see if everything is ready to go). Angelo got his credentials fixed. In fact, we even got an "upgrade" to our parking pass. Or, so we thought as I decided to move the car at that moment.

We went from the parking garage north of the track to an open lot south of the track past the football stadium in a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very bad neighborhood. At least they had a shuttle bus and plenty of security guards. I sure hope they stay late. I'll save you the suspense now -- the shuttle bus was still running, depositing us in an empty, dark, unguarded lot in that very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very bad neighborhood.

The ironic part of this whole sad sack start is there was in all honestly a very healthy crowd. And none of them were even upset over the delay. The organizers did an admirable job setting up plenty of activities including live music, tons of vendor booths (food, drink, and souvenirs), and the Checkered Flag girls, providing entertainment aplenty to keep the fans busy. The fans voiced their anticipation, but not impatience, to see cars on track.

The Baltimore Grand Prix was hitting a home run with interest without ever putting a show on the track. Luckily, the show did begin, and all the series got time on the track, including qualifying for the American Le Mans Series.

GTC Car Goes Through Chicane Image The extremely high curbing for the front straight chicane is in evidence.

The track, though, still left much to be desired. The chicane was anything like Las Vegas, because the curbing is higher, and the track is narrower, so any trouble will never be recoverable. Plus, it is so tight, the possibility of someone skipping it is very high which will leave the officials with migraine headaches trying to sort things out during the race.

The braking into the chicane is extremely bumpy, sometimes causing the front end to get light, preventing the cars from turning in to make the chicane. The exit runs over the bumpy tracks, causing massive wheelspin and rev limiters to be hit.

Why the front straightaway wasn't paved is a mystery. The back section was paved, and is much, much better. In fact, the chicane at Turn 5 isn't as bad as it looks when viewed in person. It's quite interesting watching the cars go through there.

The 6-7 complex, pit in, and especially pit out leave much to be desired, but the straights between 3-4 and 4-5 allow the cars to produce incredible speed for a street course to entertain the fans. I haven't had the opportunity to view the other parts of the track from up close.

The drivers we talked to -- off the record, of course -- all said the track is very tight, very bumpy, but okay (for a street course, I assume). One did say the pit exit is outright dangerous, but then added it's the first year, let's get our issues down, and improve on it in the future.

Is there a future for this event? Well, without the rest of the weekend completed, yet, the community reaction to the event has certainly been a huge plus. The organizers ability to make this a "happening" like Long Beach and the heyday of Toronto and Cleveland is to be commended. The track needs obvious work. Parts definitely have potential. Others need to be changed drastically. Time (and politics) will ultimately decide if the track can be turned into a winner.

BMW M3 in Action Image The #55 BMW M3 with Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner grabbed the GT pole for the ALMS race.

Questions. It has become a regular feature on Deep Throttle this year -- alerting you to the key issues you need to keep track of during the ALMS race, not the usual boring press release garbage.

  • Will there be more full course yellow flag laps than green flag laps?
  • Will there be more punts around the tight circuit than there will be down the street next week in the Baltimore Ravens season opener?
  • Which lap will the BMW team take each other out?
  • Will the Robertson Racing team be missed?

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Copyright © 2011 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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