BALTIMORE (AP) — The new team behind the Grand Prix of Baltimore hopes to avoid previous promoters’ mistakes and build on the event’s success with fans as they dash toward a Labor Day finish line.
“Time is a big challenge,” said J.P. Grant of Race On LLC said Wednesday, after the city approved a five-year contract with the group just three-and-a-half months before the first race cars pull on to the downtown street course. “We’re running quickly, but efficiently.”
The approval clears the way for the group to begin selling tickets May 28 and signing deals with sponsors, said Grant, who will manage Race On with fellow Baltimore-area businessman Greg O’Neill. American Le Mans and IZOD IndyCar, the two headlining series from last year, plan to return Labor Day weekend.
Race On is working on a compressed timeline, but they’re hoping to learn from mistakes made with the inaugural event and deliver on their own promises. To help make that happen, Race On has hired Andretti Sports Marketing, led by retired racer Michael Andretti, to handle operations, sales, marketing and logistics.
The group has helped bring back struggling race events in Toronto, Milwaukee and St. Petersburg, Fla. and Baltimore’s event has potential, Andretti said. The former racer and IndyCar team owner attended the race weekend last year and said the idea that it might not return this year was “unacceptable.”
“It was an incredible success from the outside looking in,” Andretti said. “We’ve done a lot of research and we feel that this race could be — the — street event in the world.”
Last year’s event drew about 160,000 spectators over three days to a 2-mile course on city streets and a study found that the event generated a $47 million economic impact for the region. To a fan in the stands or watching at home, the event last year looked like a success.
“The problem was the company behind it,” said City Councilman William Cole, a top booster of the event that takes place in his district. “They struggled mightily.”
Promoter Baltimore Racing Development failed to make good on millions of dollars in debt to the city, state and vendors and the city eventually dropped the group’s five-year contract. The city, which was owed $1.5 million, expects the state comptroller’s office to collect $600,000 in taxes and it could pursue another $700,000 in fees still owed, according a spokesman for the mayor.
The city dropped a second contract with Downforce Racing LLC when that group missed deadlines and announced a deal with Race On last week.
As the city’s Board of Estimates approved the Race On contract Wednesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake noted that the new agreement includes safeguards for the city, including upfront payments for city services and guaranteed payments of admissions and amusement taxes.
Race On has the financial backing to ensure that everyone gets paid, Cole said.
“This is a different model,” he said. “It’s more sustainable.”
The biggest challenge is the short time before race day, but they will also have to be realistic about sponsorships in the first year, Andretti said. They’ll take care to avoid BRD’s mistakes, but last year’s event did demonstrate that it could be done.
“They created something that people understand,” he said.