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Ready, Set, Go! Baltimore Preps for Sept. Grand Prix

Tue August 30, 2011 - Northeast Edition
Brenda Ruggiero

Downtown Baltimore, has been transformed into a race circuit for the Baltimore Grand Prix, which is scheduled for Sept. 2 to 4.

The 2 mi. (3.2 km) track includes 13 turns and runs around Camden Yard and the Scenic Inner Harbor. The weekend will feature a combination of world-class racing and festivities, highlighted by the American Le Mans Series presented by Patron and the IZOD IndyCar Series.

The race circuit includes more than 2,200 12-ft. long, 39-in. (3.7 m long, 99 cm) cement race walls that line the perimeter inside and out. The wall segments each weigh around 9,300 lbs. (4,218 kg) and are interconnected. This creates a track wall with a combined weight of nearly 20 million lbs. (9,071,847 kg). In addition to the race walls and fencing, portions of the circuit are lined with tire barriers to soften any potential impact. This involves 650 tire pallets, which consist of 25 bundled, interlocked tires.

Martyn Thake, who has overseen construction on circuits such as the Grand Prix of Denver, Mexico City Grand Prix and Houston Grand Prix, among others, is the lead person for the design and build of the Baltimore Grand Prix temporary street circuit.

“This track has a little bit of everything for both the spectators and the competitors,” Thake said. “This may be the best race track I have ever been a part of, and with the Harbor and Camden Yards anchoring the site, it will be one of the best looking street tracks. Baltimore is joining a very select and exclusive club as one of only about 15 cities in the world that host a street race, and this circuit is really going to look fabulous on TV.”

According to Jana Watt, media contact of the Baltimore Grand Prix, the construction process for the build-out was approximately 40 days. In addition to the racing circuit, construction crews completed ancillary projects for the race weekend, including grandstands, hospitality tents and pedestrian bridges. Debris fencing was built to encompass the entire 2 mi. street course, with additional fencing behind the race walls to create what is called in racing “no man’s land,” a restricted area between the spectator areas and the racing circuit. Work was done between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. to avoid peak drive times.

“While it is not common, there are certainly other cities that host and build circuits of this nature,” Watt said. “It is an extremely specialized type of construction that requires attention to detail and the finest in construction practices, employees, and equipment.”

Thake noted that the job required some thought.

“This one requires a little bit more logistical coordination, being in the heart of a city,” he said. “Usually, these events tend to be on the outskirts, or a little ways away from downtown, but with this one we had to figure out where to stage equipment and structure and everything else. It’s just a little tighter and we have to think about it a little more, but once you get running, they’re all pretty much the same.”

That said. the project was no more challenging than any other for Thake.

“We’re building a city within the city,” he said. “We have to do the racetrack, and we have to put up grandstands and security fences, and we’re building sanitation and medical and security systems, and also power distribution systems. All that has to happen within the city — without shutting the city down. It’s not like when you build a racetrack in a field. You can do that stuff wherever and however you want to. Here, we have to make sure the city can still continue to operate around us, which is why we do most of our work at nighttime.”

Immediately after the conclusion of the race on Sept. 4, crews will begin removing the track and other areas. Disassembly is expected to take nearly 30 days.

“Wherever we can, we utilize local people,” Thake said. “Here, we’ve been pretty successful with that. We’ve got a grandstand company out of Marlboro, and the people actually building our racetrack — that set the race walls and the fence every night — there’s a local Baltimore company. And all of our equipment rental comes through Sunbelt, and they’re a local outfit.” CEG

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