MotoGP race will give Speedway whole new look

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Fans walking into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first MotoGP race there Sept. 14 likely won’t recognize the place.

Gasoline Alley will be turned into an outdoor shopping mall with more than 75 local motorcycle stores and other motorcycle-related businesses setting up shop in anticipation of more than 100,000 race fans.

Sponsor ads will hang on the inside walls of the track. There will be a host of companies in the hospitality area–including Yamaha, Kawasaki, Ducati and Repsol–that have never set foot inside the Speedway’s grounds.

A portion of the infield will be set up as a dirt track for kids who want to take supervised motorcycle rides. And even though it doesn’t make motorcycles for the MotoGP race circuit, Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson will have a major display at the race.

Here’s what will be missing: any trace of Target, 7-11, Sprint or Home Depot, the types of sponsors auto-racing fans are used to seeing at the track.

"It’s going to be different from anything Indianapolis has ever seen before," said Tim Frost, president of Frost Motorsports, a Chicago-based motorsports business consultancy. "I think this race is going to be an amazing melding of several cultures–international fanatics of MotoGP, motorcycle enthusiasts from all over the U.S., and curious local and regional auto-racing fans. This race and the crowd it attracts is going to take on a life of its own."

The motorcycle-specific nature of the Red Bull Indianapolis GP will permeate every facet of the event and affects all elements of the host city’s planning, Frost said.

"We’ve found that hosting a MotoGP event isn’t as simple as just hosting another auto race," said IMS President Joie Chitwood. "We have a different fan base, different vendors and different expectations about how the property is to be used. I think a lot of people thought hosting this event would be easy, just another event. But it’s not."

Economic impact

IMS officials will wait a year before hiring an economist to study the economic impact of the race, but Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association officials said early studies show the event will mean $100 million in direct spending in the immediate area. Favorable weather, Frost said, could push that figure up as much as 15 percent. That still pales in comparison to the $340 million economic impact of the Indianapolis 500 or $220 million impact of the Brickyard 400, but compares favorably to many other motorsports races around the country.

It places it in the upper echelon of events in Indianapolis, said ICVA spokesman Bob Schultz. By comparison, an Indiana University study concluded that the 2006 men’s Final Four had a $40 million impact on the city.

"This event will give our city an opportunity to introduce ourselves to a whole new audience," Schultz said. "We don’t want to become complacent about the events the Speedway brings to this city without the cost of having to bid on the event. This is a big opportunity for us."

Organizers are prepared for a different fan demographic.

There will be an eclectic crowd that skews younger and more male than the average Indy Racing League or NASCAR race. MotoGP demographic data show about 60 percent of those attending the race could be men under 40.

Motorcycle riders by the tens of thousands are expected to descend on the city. Speedway officials are setting up special parking for motorcycles, and there will even be places where those visiting on their two-wheelers can check their leathers and helmets for safekeeping.

Thousands more will arrive by air from destinations as far away as Finland and France to watch the first motorcycle race at the Speedway in 99 years. There is an especially large contingent coming from Japan, and in the week leading up to the event, the local organizing committee was still looking for enough interpreters to serve the group.

Speedway officials are conservatively predicting 100,000 fans will turn out. ICVA officials predict one-third of those spectators will come from central Indiana, another third will come from other parts of the state, and the remainder will come from beyond Indiana borders, with an international contingent of 10,000-plus.

"With its central location, and easy interstate access, you’re going to see a lot of people driving in, and if the weather is good, I can see motorcycle groups deciding to come in spur of the moment," Frost said. "The crowd could really swell."

Some followers of the event think it could draw up to 150,000 spectators.

Since the only other MotoGP race on U.S. soil is held at Laguna Seca Raceway in California, the Indianapolis race is expected to be a major draw for the eastern half of the country.

With ticket prices ranging from $75 to $150, motorsports business experts expect the event to be profitable for the IMS. And with the race carrying a seven-figure prize purse, IMS officials won’t be the only ones turning a profit.

On-track spectacle

The action on the track will be radically different from what auto-racing enthusiasts are used to.

MotoGP is the top international form of motorcycle racing and has been called "Formula One without the attitude," a reference to the European auto racing series known for its wealthy fans and egomaniacal leader, Bernie Ecclestone. The motorcycle circuit is best known for riders who, when going through turns, lean their bikes over to the point of almost scraping their knee on the ground.

Riders from Europe, Australia, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand will race the Indianapolis GP, which will be the 14th on the 18-race circuit this year. Four prominent American racers–headlined by 2006 MotoGP series champion Nicky Hayden from Owensboro, Ky.–are expected to draw a fervent domestic following.

"People won’t believe the spectacle on the track," said Corey Wilkinson, co-owner of Wilkinson Brothers Inc., a locally based graphic design and creative marketing firm specializing in motorsports. "A rider hurtling down that front straightaway at over 200 miles per hour exposed to all the elements and not strapped into any vehicle is going to be an incredible sight."

Off-track party

The Speedway won’t be the only place that has a different look during the MotoGP weekend. There will be myriad special events downtown and around the city, especially for race fans and the legions of motorcyclists who are expected to travel to Indianapolis for the race.

One of the main attractions involves limiting Meridian Street downtown to pedestrian and motorcycle traffic only on Friday and Saturday nights before the race. There are also stunt bike competitions, demonstrations and other activities planned to make the atmosphere festival-like.

"We think the atmosphere is really going to encourage people to come downtown and hang out," said Paula Bachert, chairwoman of the local organizing committee assembled last year by the IMS, ICVA and city officials.

The special events–which span from downtown to the State Fairgrounds to Broad Ripple–should foster visitor spending at area restaurants, bars and other retail outlets, Bachert said.

"We think the fans that come for this race will want a place to gather and mingle," Bachert said. "It’s definitely going to be a very different kind of crowd, and I think this first year will be a real learning experience for everyone."

The MotoGP gathering could create a culture clash downtown. That same weekend, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has its gala opening, Kenny Chesney performs at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Chinese American Festival is being held, and the Indiana Fever has a game.

"I have this mental picture of black-tie people from the symphony, the country fans of Kenny Chesney and the eclectic crowd from the MotoGP race all converging on Monument Circle," Bachert said. "I think that will show how diverse this city really is."

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