Could IndyCar’s Detroit Race Return to Downtown?

The Detroit Grand Prix began as a Formula One race in 1982 and remained at the downtown circuit through 1988, after which time it was held as a CART event for three years. After 1991, the Grand Prix event has taken place, through this 2021 season at Belle Isle Park.

The initial downtown venue encompassed Cobo Hall and the Renaissance Center, which is the current headquarters of General Motors; it was moved due, primarily to the inaccessibility of the crossing between the city of Detroit and Windsor in Ontario, Canada, accessed on the south bank of the Detroit River.

In 1989-1991 the Detroit Grand Prix stayed downtown, lost its hated chicane and hosted CART. It was then relocated from downtown to Belle Isle, where it has been run – although not every year – at Belle Isle Park, where most visitors access the circuit by bus, as there isn’t available parking at the venue.

Belle Isle has seen many course configuration adjustments over the years, as did the downtown course. Both venues and configurations have been panned for their bumpiness, being too narrow, slow and lacking passing zones. Belle Isle is, however, a lot safer without manhole covers and, for most fans, offered more sight-lines to watch the cars.

The Belle Isle course was the site of Helio Castroneves’ first CART race win in 2000, his initial campaign with Team Penske. That victory also marked the Brazilian’s initial fence climb, which has become his signature after securing victory. The past few years it’s run as a doubleheader, as occurred in 2021. The Detroit GP was usually held a week after the Indianapolis 500; this year INDYCAR gave mechanics a break by holding it two weeks later, albeit again as a doubleheader.

That could change after the 2022 race, scheduled for June 5th as a stand-alone contest, again a week after the Indy 500, which is slated for May 29th. The organizers of the Detroit Grand Prix are exploring a return to downtown in 2023 and beyond, they said. “The Detroit Grand Prix has built a great tradition in the Motor City and we are excited to add to the event’s legacy next year and beyond.

“While we have the option of extending the current agreement with the State of Michigan to host the Grand Prix on Belle Isle through 2024, we are exploring the option of returning the event to a downtown street circuit beginning in 2023. The Grand Prix,” DGP president Bud Denker reminded, “began as a downtown event, hosted on the streets of Detroit from 1982-1991, before making the transition to Belle Isle.

“An annual summertime racing festival on the streets of Detroit would represent a connection to the rich heritage of the Grand Prix,” Denker explained, “the opportunity to engage with broad audiences and provide an even greater boost to the local economy, while adding to the energy and momentum that is building downtown and along our beautiful waterfront. As plans continue to develop, we look forward to providing an update on the exciting future of the Detroit Grand Prix.”

There has been a multitude of changes in Detroit’s downtown since the early 1990s, when CART first ran on the car-crushing city streets. The question of access between Canada and the United States comes into question and an initial draft of a potential race circuit is if nothing else, boring. That’s something Denker and his team should look into before getting more serious about this change.

About Anne Proffit 1280 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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