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Published: Thursday, 9/22/2011

Detroit, Penske eye IndyCar for Belle Isle

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT -- The buzz of the IndyCar Series racing on Belle Isle could return next June, fast-tracking its way back with the endorsement of Detroit city council and the potent support of racing icon Roger Penske.

City officials gave their OK to the move on Tuesday, and a spokesman for Penske said he was "very confident" the Belle Isle race would occupy a position on the 2012 IndyCar Series schedule.

Bud Denker, a close associate of Penske, the Michigan businessman and former owner of Michigan International Speedway, said on WJR AM-760 yesterday that Penske is pursuing major sponsorship deals that would put the race on a secure footing for the future.

After having a historic presence in the city, open-wheel racing had been missing from Detroit for six years until it returned in 2007 with the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle. That event was held for two years, but in 2009 it became a casualty of a weakened economy and waning sponsorship dollars.

A Penske-led group of race organizers recently approached Detroit mayor Dave Bing and city council for approval to bring IndyCar racing back to Belle Isle for the weekend of June 1-3 next year. With the consent of those parties in hand, a Penske spokesman said confirmation from major sponsors was the only remaining hurdle, but that he expected it would come in the next couple weeks. An announcement of the race date and title sponsorship would follow.

Belle Isle, at 983 acres, is the largest city-owned island park in the country and sits in the Detroit River, connected to the city by MacArthur Bridge. Besides a nautical museum and a conservatory, it has a 2.07 mile race course with 14 turns.

The 2007 Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, which coupled an American Le Mans Series event with the IndyCar Series race, drew crowds in excess of 100,000 over the three-day Labor Day weekend, and produced an overall economic impact of more than $52 million, according to figures provided by the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.



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