Friday, August 19, 2011

City's Geography Made Designer's Mission Simple

From Press Box Online: City's Geography Made Designer's Mission Simple

Not only did Baltimore seem to be a natural, aesthetic location to hold the Grand Prix, with its stadiums and waterfront setting, but officials within the community saw the race as the perfect opportunity to shatter outsiders' misconstrued perceptions.

"We're thick-skinned and we take pride in Baltimore," said Pete Collier, Baltimore Grand Prix chief operating officer. "You get snippets of Baltimore looking at our stadiums in panorama view during games, but this race has the opportunity to change the narrative of what people think instead of highlighting the negatives. People will see the beauty of Baltimore and our ability to host an international event in what's a world-class motorsport."

The original layout of the course was put together in 2008, but has since transformed into a two-mile temporary street circuit in and around the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards. The race will include sections of Russell Street, West Pratt Street from Paca Street to Light Street, along the Inner Harbor on Light Street and up Conway Street.

Baltimore Grand Prix officials brought in 30-year racecourse design veteran Martyn Thake of Motorsports Consulting Services, a company specializing in motorsports facility construction.

"When we begin to design a racecourse, we look first for an anchor point," Thake said. "In Houston we had the Astrodome and in Long Beach [California] we had the waterfront. We look for an anchor which looks good on TV and promotes the city."

Thake's first tool of choice is Google Earth. Thake was immediately drawn to Camden Yards and the waterfront. He was able to incorporate these two anchors with the Baltimore Convention Center in the middle.

"We were lucky to be able to find streets straight enough and wide enough to accommodate the racetrack, parking spaces and grandstands," he said. "It's hard to find a city where you can plop all that stuff down. This area just popped out and fell right in my lap."

Thake began constructing the course after downloading a photograph of the area, using Adobe Acrobat to come up with the logistics and present the idea to the city. In the spring of 2009, Thake began walking the streets of Baltimore with a simple tape measure.

Since Thake's Charm City stroll, the event evolved into pulling stakeholders together and getting involvement from the city's residents, hotels and restaurants.

Thake said Baltimore's Mid-Atlantic location and its proximity to Virginia, Washington, Philadelphia and New York has made it a prime candidate to host the event for some time.

"Motorsports, like any sport, is about looking for the right market,"Thake said. "You don't build a stadium and hope to get team in the middle of nowhere Colorado. Baltimore just clicked and jelled."

And the Baltimore community is just as supportive, excited and positive about the Grand Prix as Thake and other officials could have hoped.

Grand Prix officials are taking countless precautions to ensure the safety of fans attending the race, including building concrete barriers and catch fencing to protect spectators. Baltimore City Police and the Office of Emergency Management have also been involved in many aspects of promoting race safety.

Collier said despite the overwhelming encouragement the Grand Prix has received, there was no such thing as a typical day in the office.

"As much as we want to be proactive, there's a lot of reaction," Collier said. "This is new, so there's a lot of curiosity, wonder and phone calls. We are trying to build this as a community event, and it's only successful if it's embraced by Baltimore."

Collier said if the city had not been a partner in the process, organizing the event would have been practically impossible.

"This has been the absolute perfect scenario of a public-private partnership, where you have an international sport coming into a city," he said, "but you have to work with the city and its residents for all intents and purposes."

Grandstands for spectators were strategically placed to give fans views of the most action-packed areas of the track.

There are straightaway grandstands where spectators can view the cars at their top speeds of 180 mph, such as grandstands 3, 9, 16, 26 and 27. Grandstands 6, 7, 10, 22 and 23 are better for spectators who want to see drivers completing turns, braking or accelerating. Generally, the upper rows have better overall views of the race track.

"Attending something like this is such a unique experience," Thake said. "Baltimore is one of 15 cities in the entire world with a street map like this. The event is putting Baltimore on a new level."

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