Bittersweet Baltimore

Simon Pagenaud, 2013 Grand Prix of Baltimore winner, getting air during qualifying on Saturday, August 31st (Photo taken by Shay Hazen)
Simon Pagenaud, 2013 Grand Prix of Baltimore winner, getting air during qualifying on Saturday, August 31st
(Photo taken by Shay Hazen)

This past weekend in Baltimore was my fourth & final IndyCar Race Weekend of the 2013 season. Maryland was the fourth state I traveled to for the series this year as well. To say I love IndyCar would indeed be accurate, but also a bit of an understatement. I’ve been around IndyCar for as long as I can remember. In fact, my earliest memory is standing on the track at Turn 1 of Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Indy 500 race morning, scared out of my mind that the cars were going to come flying down that front stretch at any second & take me out. I was 3.

We stopped traveling to IMS for a few years, during my awkward pre-teen & early teen years. I like to think it had more to do with finances than the fact that my fashion sense (or lack thereof) was slightly embarrassing for my family out in public. I mean, who knew that a sleeveless knit crop top and acid wash denim jean shorts paired w black L.A. Gear high tops & white crew socks WOULDN’T catch on?

Regardless, after a life-changing experience at the age of 16 made me reassess how I spent my days, I decided that I wanted to start going back to Indy. I missed the track… and watching it on TV was no longer sufficient. As cheesy as it may sound, I had a need for speed. I wanted to hear those cars again at the majesty that is IMS. I started going again with my aunt, uncle, grandparents & my cousins – those years (the precious time between childhood & true adulthood) are ones I will never forget and I will always be thankful for them because they helped me to reconnect with one of my truest passions – open wheel racing. I’m much more of a solo-traveler now, just due to my own nature & the fact that I need my downtime in the midst of constantly burning the candle at both ends. Traveling has become my sanity as much as IndyCar has become my favorite reason to travel. As you can tell, IndyCar has been an ever-evolving aspect in my life.

This year was no different. Remember those four race weekends I mentioned earlier? Well they marked a first for me since I have never been to that many races in one season. They were all amazing, but Baltimore was different than Indy, Belle Isle or Mid-Ohio.

The street circuit at Baltimore is unlike any other track, from the chicane & light rail tracks, to the controversy of the double-file starts, to the near impossibility of a clean line through turns 1 and 3. If IMS is a temperamental mistress, Baltimore is a wild tantrum-prone toddler. Interpret that as you wish.

I myself actually went back and forth about whether the design of the track should be re-considered before next season but I came to the conclusion which was my initial instinct. You have to drive the circuit; you can’t let the circuit drive YOU. That said, I think some things do need to be slightly tweaked prior to another race there in order to deliver a great experience to the fans & of course, to ensure driver safety.

If we are going to stick with double-file starts & re-starts in Baltimore, then the approach on the straightaway towards the Green should be done by pairing up out of Turn 12 with the field straddling the chicane rather than running through it single file & attempting to “line ’em up” before the start/finish line. The way it’s done now puts anyone starting from P7 or behind at a huge disadvantage as they are still all single file through the chicane, while everyone else is well on their way to T1. It makes zero sense to me, personally.

The other alternative is to keep the chicane as a part of the approach to green but to have a single-file start & re-starts. I believe this would also help at least a portion of the bottle-necking we saw happening rather often this past weekend.

The only other major improvement/change I would like to see is a smoothed over portion of the light rail tracks. I see no reason why that small section of road couldn’t be resurfaced. The investment would definitely be worth it & if it was done well enough, that may eliminate the need for a chicane in the first place. Which I know, would make a lot of fans (and possibly some drivers) pretty happy.

Now, I for one actually like the Pratt St. chicane. I think it gives the track an element that you don’t see often – particularly on a front stretch. And while I am far more about driver safety than I am entertainment value – I feel like it would be strange to watch the Grand Prix of Baltimore without it’s signature curves. I have faith in the drivers – they are more than capable of safely maneuvering this obstacle. While I did see many of them “get air” close up, being that the chicane was my main stakeout in Baltimore, I also saw plenty, if not all of them at some point, maintain all 4 tires on the ground as they passed through. It CAN be done.

You know what else can be done? I CAN wait an entire month for the next IndyCar race. I didn’t say I would like it… but really, what choice do I have? Hey, at least it will be a double-header! Is it October 5th yet?

Winner's Podium at 2013 Grand Prix of Baltimore - (left to right) Josef Newgarden P2, Simon Pagenaud P1, Sebastian Bourdais P3 (Photo taken by Shay Hazen)
Winner’s Podium at 2013 Grand Prix of Baltimore
(left to right) Josef Newgarden P2, Simon Pagenaud P1, Sebastian Bourdais P3
(Photo taken by Shay Hazen)