Insight: How the GP of Baltimore posed a case study in promotional challenges

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As the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is set to be released tomorrow, one race you won’t be seeing listed is the Grand Prix of Baltimore, one of the championship’s most recent cracks at a new street race.

While Andretti Sports Marketing is already full speed ahead with planning on promotion of its new events in Miami (FIA Formula E) and New Orleans (IndyCar), company president John Lopes outlined a case study of what can go wrong in the promotional process: Baltimore.

IndyCar’s most recent on-again, off-again domestic street race (Brazil is set to reappear in 2015 after a one-year hiatus in 2014) occurred in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor from 2011 through 2013.

But while the event had a big-time feel on the ground, it eventually met its demise after going through a sea of red ink, several different promoters and scheduling conflicts.

Lopes explained the challenges that Andretti Sports Marketing dealt with when trying to save the event, which it took over in 2012, and how it ultimately wasn’t sustainable.

“Baltimore was an example of, whenever we were selling, it felt like we were outsiders. It was a case of ‘You’re not from here,’” Lopes explained in an interview with MotorSportsTalk at Andretti Sports Marketing’s Indianapolis headquarters.

“It’s a special town, and it was a great market with great people and a great community, but it had trouble embracing the race due to problems with the promoter the first year.

“The second promoter wasn’t successful, there was meant to be a third and then we jumped in 90 days before (in 2012).”

Making sure the race even happened in 2012 was key because IndyCar was operating on a reduced 15-race schedule from the previous season.

Races at Loudon, Kentucky, Motegi and Las Vegas were all dropped from 2011; Baltimore was one of only two of the last six races scheduled in 2011 to continue into 2012 (Sonoma the other).

“With a 90-day notice, the folks in that room put 131,000 people into the event, which is perhaps one of the most amazing stories by a promoter, ever,” Lopes said. “But we still had the problem of apologizing for what had happened the year prior.”

Lopes said divvying up who got what cut of the money from the event made things more of a hassle than at other events.

“The big thing with Baltimore was that it was in three different taxation zones. Everyone took chunks out of the event,” Lopes explained. “There was state; county; the convention center had to take $250,000; the city had huge taxes, the fire department brought their stuff. So it was difficult for the event to gain any traction.”

Scheduling issues, and with IndyCar’s insistence on a Labor Day ending point plus college football games at M&T Bank Stadium and sporadic Baltimore Orioles games at Camden Yards ultimately doomed the Labor Day event.

Getting state support and investment, as IndyCar is getting in NOLA next year with an additional $4.5 million invested by the state, shows a full commitment to that new event.

“As you know the state put $4.5 million into this thing, which shows it matters,” Lopes said. “That never happened in Baltimore. Nothing injected revenue into the event.

“You can say a lot for city services, but the state of Louisiana has really jumped behind this new event. It is guaranteed to be successful. With a new promoter and a territory wholly controlled by IndyCar, I think it’s off to the races.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.