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

2 Comments

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.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne