Double dose of good news for Speedway, IndyCar Series

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar Series got a double dose of good news over the Labor Day weekend.

On Sunday, it was announced that IMS officials reached a deal to keep the MotoGP motorcycle race at the Speedway through 2014.

Apparently, talk of the race’s imminent demise during last month’s event was greatly exaggerated. The loud complaints from a handful of racers about the track’s condition certainly didn’t help kill the notion that the race had a short life expectancy. MotoGP officials later said those racers—most notably race winner Australian Casey Stoner—didn’t speak for series officials.

There was an issue with the date of the race, but that got worked out and the race will be held next year on Aug. 19.

Notably, a new MotoGP race is starting in Austin, Texas, in 2013, and motorsports insiders said that event put the Indianapolis race at risk. The three-year commitment would appear to be a strong endorsement for the Indianapolis race by MotoGP officials. Until now, that race was held on a year-to-year contract.

But attendance for the local MotoGP race continues to be a concern. Three-day attendance for the event has declined each year since the race was first held at the IMS in 2008, and this year’s three-day total of 134,766 was an all-time low for the local event.

On the upside, attendance for Sunday’s headline race was 64,151, up from 62,794 in 2010.

Attendance was not a problem at the IndyCar Series’ first race in Baltimore last weekend. City and race officials were hoping for a three-day crowd of 100,000. The event culminated in the Baltimore Grand Prix on Sunday. City officials estimated the race drew about 75,000 and the three-day total was near 150,000.

Seating for the street race was limited to less than 40,000, but many of the corners were packed with standing spectators.

The two-mile, 13-turn course on city streets ran past the Inner Harbor and around Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The IndyCar and the American Le Mans series headlined the event. IndyCar officials compared the Baltimore weekend to the series’ race in Long Beach, long known to be one of the most successful U.S. road course events.

The success of the race is especially important because the Baltimore Grand Prix is the series’ only event in the mid-Atlantic region.

The race was so successful, it had some area political analysts wondering if it would help with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’ re-election bid. Elections there start in less than 10 days.

That’s not to say the weekend went off without a hitch.

The installation of some fencing delayed practices Friday, there were problems with club seating and sections being oversold, and with lines at bottleneck points such as security checkpoints and pedestrian bridges over the track.

While several downtown Baltimore restaurants reported their biggest Labor Day weekend ever, other downtown restaurant operators said that not only did they see little business from the race, but local news reports of logistical problems with the race scared off regular customers.

On the track, Tony Kanaan had a major scare in practice before the race when his brakes failed and he went airborne after hitting Helio Castroneves’ car. The series can’t take the blame for the car’s failure, but if Kanaan had steered to the right side of the tire barrier and smashed into the wall there and seriously hurt himself or worse, the series would have had some explaining to do.

Another near miss came when a safety truck hustling to turn one almost took out the front end of the field just as the race was being started. Luckily, it was just a near-miss and didn’t mar a successful event.

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