Automotive, Events

The vroooom is back on Belle Isle

Grand Prix racing is back on Belle Isle for 2011. We say it’s about time the vroom returned to Detroit. Many of us have terrific memories of watching race cars zip around the course – either on Belle Isle or long ago when the race was held on the streets of Downtown Detroit.

Cars and racing are in the blood of two of those most responsible for bringing back the Grand Prix.

“When my dad brought me to turn one at Indy when I was a young boy, the hairs on the back of my head stood up,” said one long-time race goer, who turned out to be a major force in bringing Grand Prix racing back to Detroit next year. Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, wanted racing back in Detroit as bad as Roger Penske, who was a major force in bringing the race to Belle Isle in 2007. It’s in Mark’s blood. His dad is Lloyd Reuss, the former president of General Motors and a long time supporter of racing and Penske. In fact, Lloyd helped Penske get his first dealership.

With 2011 marking the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet Mark thought it was high time to get the race back in Detroit. Chevy has a proud history of racing. From 1986-1993 and from 2002-2005 it celebrated 14 victories, six driver champions and seven Indy 500 wins. He contacted Roger Penske and together they reached out to others to bring Grand Prix racing back in Detroit.

“This is a milestone day for Chevrolet, the city of Detroit and Indy Car,” Reuss said. “I am proud to be back with Roger Penske and looking ahead to winning again. Chevy is back in Indy Car, and racing is back at Belle Isle.”

Chevrolet will be the title sponsor of the event and will provide the engines to several vehicles. Crain Communications is supporting sponsor of the race, which will be held June 1-3. Friday, June 1 is a practice and qualifying day and is free to the public. Saturday and Sunday are race days.

Penske Racing, Andretti Autosports and Panther Racing already have signed on to run Chevrolet’s new IndyCar series – a twin turbo V6-powered Dallara/Chevy – next season.

Chevy’s three-year agreement with the Penske Corporation and INDYCAR will bring back more than just Grand Prix. Four races, including the anticipated open-wheel vehicles, will take place during the three-day event:

  • The Chevrolet Indy Grand Prix presented by, where Chevrolet’s new twin-turbo V-6 race engines will compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
  • The Chevrolet Detroit Sports Car Challenge where Chevrolet Daytona Prototypes and Camaros will compete in the first GRAND-AM Rolex Series race held on Belle Isle.
  • The Cadillac V-Series Challenge at Belle Isle, where Cadillac CTS-Vs will compete in the second Pirelli World Challenge series race held on Belle Isle.
  • The Firestone Indy Light Series race, featuring the rising stars of open-wheel racing.

The return of Grand Prix racing will bring great things to Detroit and add to the positive national spotlight the city has basked in lately. “This is a great day for Detroit. The last two weeks we’ve been on a whirlwind winning streak (with the Tigers and Lions). To bring back the race to Detroit as the city digs out of a hole… this is the best two weeks since I’ve been in office,” said Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.

“We’re proud to bring racing and its excitement back to Detroit,” said Penske. “Our city and our region are returning to national leadership and events like this are important to that.”

The Penske Corporation will invest $6 million to ready Belle Isle for race including improving roads and generally polishing up the park. Penske emphasizes that the race will in no way change the ambience of Belle Isle for those who enjoy the park on non-race days.

In addition, the new Chevy twin-turbo V6 engine that will power Penske, Andretti and Panther cars will be built in Plymouth by Ilmor Engineering.

The return of the race is getting applause and cooperation from businesses and organizations. For example, the Detroit Regional Chamber adjusted the dates of the 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference to Tuesday, May 29 through Friday, June 1 rather than take the conference into the weekend.

“In recognition of the return of the Grand Prix to Detroit and in support of this great event, the Detroit Regional Chamber has adjusted the dates of the 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference. It will begin a day earlier, on Tuesday, May 29, with Conference programming to conclude in time for an early departure on Friday, June 1,” said Sandy K. Baruah, president and chief executive officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “Adjusting the dates of the Chamber’s annual Mackinac Policy Conference will allow for our business members and government leadership to participate in both events.”

June 1-3 will be a great weekend. As Helio Castroneves, the driver who won the first Grand Prix race on Belle Isle, put it “I can’t wait to run the course on Belle Isle.”

Photo credit: Karpov the Wrecked Train

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