The high-pitched hum of Indy cars winding their way around a street course will return to Detroit late this summer, thanks to the efforts of Roger Penske, the unofficial one-man chamber of commerce for the Motor City.
Penske took advantage of the captive audience at the Indianapolis 500 last weekend to bang the drum for his latest promotion, the Detroit Indy Grand Prix, which will run on Belle Isle on Sept. 2nd.
Belle Isle, a 982-acre island on the Detroit River, is connected to the city by the MacArthur Bridge and is home to yacht clubs, a museum, Coast Guard post, and Detroit's only swimming beach. A racing course was constructed on the island, and from 1992-2001 Belle Isle hosted races in the Championship Auto Racing Teams circuit.
CART racing left Belle Isle after 2001 for a combination of reasons, both economic and political, but Penske said improvements to the course will make this year's 90-lap event better than anything the island has seen in the past. The course will have 13 turns along a track about two miles in length and seating for more than 35,000.
"I think it's important that the Indy cars return to Detroit to race," said Penske, whose United Auto Group is headquartered in nearby Bloomfield Hills. "Belle Isle is an outstanding location, and I think we can have a tremendous event there. Going back there is a positive step for our series and for the city of Detroit."
Penske, who helped the city successfully host the Super Bowl two years ago, took a driving tour of Belle Isle about a year ago with Indy Racing League founder and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George and IRL president Brian Barnhart and was convinced that the potential was there to host a first-rate event.
Penske has tabbed Bud Denker, an executive who works for Penske's business operation, to oversee the promotion of the race, which will be the second-last event on the 17-race IndyCar Series schedule this year.
"I think the improvements and changes that have been made to the course and the surrounding infrastructure will provide the fans with an outstanding racing experience," Denker said.
"The course changes will create more exciting racing, and the sight lines will be better. I think with everything that is being done, we'll have a great race course on Belle Isle."
Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves, a two-time winner of the Indy 500, won the 2001 Detroit Grand Prix, the last race held on Belle Isle. He expects new twists when the IndyCar Series rolls out on the course.
"I think the ways they have changed the course will make it tougher for passing in some places and more challenging for the drivers," Castroneves said. "But I think they had exciting racing in mind, and it should definitely be that."
The American LeMans Racing Series, this country's premier professional sports car racing circuit, will run at Belle Isle on Sept. 1.
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