Baltimore marks return to the streets for IndyCar (VIDEO)

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In just a couple of seasons, the Grand Prix of Baltimore (Sun., 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) has made plenty of headlines for both good and bad reasons.

The races themselves have been entertaining thanks to a relatively wide circuit with multiple passing zones, but financial issues involving past race organizers have, at times, overshadowed the on-track action.

This recent article should give you a basic understanding of those latter problems, so we’ll move our focus to the Baltimore layout, which will play host this weekend to not only the IZOD IndyCar Series but also its main development league, Firestone Indy Lights, and the American Le Mans Series as well.

Winding along Baltimore’s famed Inner Harbor and past Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the circuit boasts two exceptional passing zones with the right-hander at Turn 1 off the main straight and another right-hander at the Turn 3 hairpin, which comes after a shorter stretch.

A potential trouble spot comes later on at the Turn 5-6-7 complex, which is situated near the entrance to pit road. This part of the course was tweaked (as was Turn 1) prior to last year’s race to increase passing, but it’s still a tough left/right/left section that can wind up causing problems.

Here’s the reason Bill Murray is on Oriol Servia’s Indy 500 helmet

Shawn Gritzmacher/IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – The funnyman who inspired Oriol Servia’s helmet for the Indianapolis 500 might be unaware of its existence, but he probably would appreciation the reaction it draws.

“Every person that sees my helmet, the first thing they do is laugh,” Servia said. “So Bill Murray has this effect.”

Yes, he does, which is precisely why the Spaniard has a tribute to Murray’s “I Want You” pose from “Stripes”, the classic 1981 screwball comedy that helped catapult the actor to stardom.

Inspiration struck Servia while he was on a flight last year and watching “The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man,” a documentary about the actor’s legendary impromptu appearances (playing kickball, attending wedding parties, making drinks) in the everyday lives of normal Americans.

“I thought like, “Look at this guy!” He’s interesting,” said Servia, a film buff who had seen many of Murray’s movies. “He knows every time he goes (out in public), everyone goes ‘Oh! Bill Murray!’ And instead of getting upset, he actually turns it around and shows up at places to make people happy. That’s really what he does.”

Servia called Troy Lee, a California-based artist who designs and paints many drivers’ helmets, with his idea. Lee naturally began “laughing his ass off” before agreeing to take a crack.

“I thought, ‘Why not make people laugh?’ I’m at the venue that venue holds 400,000 people or whatever,” Servia said. “So why not spread it around?”

Murray would approve … that is, if he knows about it. Servia made sure a photo of the helmet was relayed through a friend who knows the actor’s brother

“I hope he doesn’t take it as I’m using his image rights without permission,” Servia said with a laugh. “I’m not selling anything. I won’t even sell the helmet.”

Servia does have a long history with using his helmet as a creative platform, whether it’s a famous self-portrait by artist Salvador Dali or a flag to support Catalonian independence in his native country. (He discussed his connection to Dali during a recent NASCAR on NBC Podcast.)

He also paid proper homage to his new helmet design during a media appearance Tuesday in Chicago, visiting the Billy Goat Tavern that was immortalized during a “Saturday Night Live” sketch with Murray (who is a Chicago native like Servia’s wife, Jackie).

Of course, there would be a perfect way Sunday to honor the “Ghostbusters” star who scored one of the biggest upsets in history by defeating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

“I hope I’m in the winner’s circle,” the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver said. “And I hope he appears! That’d be amazing, right?”