The loves and hates of the Baltimore GP

The seventh round of the American Le Mans Series brought us to the Maryland city of Baltimore.  Living about an hour from Baltimore in Northern Virginia, this is as close to a “home” race venue as I get.  However, as much as I like something close to home, this event has some things that leave me indifferent at best about it and I won’t be sorry if it doesn’t return on the USCR schedule next year.

First off, lets talk about the positives. Just about 30 miles north of Washington DC, the race always brings in good crowds and the fans really enjoy it.  Additionally, the racing is actually pretty good here, with both the ALMS and Indy Car races this past weekend being decided in the final minutes of the race.  There is a lot to do for the fans, with family fun areas, vendors and various other things for the fans to see and do, they should never be bored.  There are plenty of nice hotels and restaurants within walking distance and the Inner Harbor is just a few minutes a way.  What more could you ask for in a street race, right?

Well, that isn’t the entire story.  While the racing is quite good when they’re racing, the problem is keeping them racing and keeping the cars in one piece.  The ALMS suffered a delay of more than an hour this past weekend and the Indy Car race had its fair share of full course yellows, which at one point led to nearly a half hour of driving around behind the safety car and a string of yellows that never seemed like it would end.  This is not a good thing and becomes a drag for the workers, the teams, the drivers and the fans.  No one wants to sit around in the hot and humid Baltimore sun, watching a bunch of cars driving around the street behind a safety car, or worse yet, sitting on the front straight doing nothing like what happened during the ALMS race.

Additionally, the chicane on the main straight, designed to slow the cars down over the train tracks, has been a bone of contention in each of the three years the event has taken place.  The designers just haven't been able to seem to get it right.  It can make for some exciting photos (and on this street course, those are sorely needed), however, the carnage it has caused to the cars and the yellows its created have been significant.  The cars are just not designed to be catching feet of air on a regular basis and the way it upsets the stability of the cars has led to more than a couple cars tagging the wall, causing damage to the cars and stoppages in track time.  Something really needs to be done about this area of the track as the event continues into the future and the need to get it right.

Along with the chicane, the first turn and the hairpin turn are both big culprits in causing the dreaded full course yellow.  Small incidents and spins in both of these corners lead to large blockages of the track, leaving cars with no where to go and requiring emergency crews to come out and get everything straightened out.  On a true road course, cars would just take to the grass and go around the incident and at some other street courses there is enough room for cars to get around, but at this track you're left with the entire track blocked solid.  Its a real pain in the butt at times not to mention the potential to really ruin a drivers race should they be an unlucky bystander caught up in two other guys scuffle.  I'm not sure what the answer is here because there is only so much that can be done on a street course, but it does leave me wanting for some kind of change.

So much of the track and event seems like something is missing.  Like its almost there, like it has a ton of potential, and yet its just not all coming together to make a signature event like a Long Beach, St. Pete, or Detroit.  While the fans have continued to come up to this point, they really need to address some of the track issues to insure that the fans get the racing they want to see.  Once they do that, then there is no reason that the event cannot come together to be something that is looked forward to on the schedule.  As I said, from a sports car perspective, its unlikely we'll be back.  However, Indy Car is doing their best to make this event work and since it is just up the road, I'd like to see it succeed.  Time will tell.

V8s from Down Under

For the first time, the Aussie V8 Supercar series brought its entertaining racing series to US soil.  Visiting the Circuit of the Americas in Austin Texas along with the SCCA Pro Racing World Challenge series, I was really looking forward to seeing these guys in real life. 

As promised, the show was great.  These are what NASCAR, or even the new Trans Am should be.  All cars share the same chassis underneath, but have skins of their various manufacturers that look very true to life and hide the spec chassis below.  The V8 engines sound great, the suspensions provide curb hopping madness, the relatively narrow tires make for a little sliding around and the equalization of the cars made for some great and exciting racing.   Its everything the manufacturers and fans could want.

On top of that, the series and its people were a joy to deal with.  The teams made themselves accessible to the fans really embraced the Texas experience.  During a fan walk one of the evenings, they had demos of pit stops, they had the cars out to be seen, team members made themselves available for questions and they made themselves at home.  I spoke with more than a few of the team guys that night and every one of them were just thrilled with the weekend and having a great time.   

It was truly a great experience.  Here was a series that was new to us in the states and they were experiencing and enjoying bringing their series to a new set of fans.  The V8 Supercars are scheduled to return next year and I encourage anyone that can make to do so.  You will not be disappointed.