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Racing In Detroit City Streets

The Impacts and Implications of the 2024 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix


Leading up to the 2024 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, professional car racing has seen many iterations in Detroit since the early eighties.

Beginning in 1982, Formula One cars raced on a 2.5 mil circuit in downtown Detroit near the Renaissance Center. In 1989 plans to move the Formula One race to a new circuit at Belle Isle fell through and the Grand Prix race moved to Phoenix, Arizona.

The Detroit race was then replaced by a Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) race that took place on a modified street circuit downtown until it was moved to Belle Isle in 1992. In 2001, CART dropped the race because of Belle Isle’s narrow raceway and insufficient areas for teams’ support activities.

In 2007, Roger Penske and the Downtown Detroit Partnership revived the race as the Detroit Indy Grand Prix presented by Firestone. It was a success downtown for two years until it was canceled due to the automotive economic crisis. In 2012 it came back to Belle Isle, where it was held through 2022. In 2023 the event moved back to the streets of downtown.

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With all of these shifts and changes, and the recent shift to host the race back downtown, we thought it would be interesting to hear more about the whys and the how’s, and the impact it has from a practical and sustainability perspective.

We sat down with Letty Azar, Penske’s Vice President of Community and Government Affairs on their Grand Prix team, to hear more.

Q: Why was the race moved from Belle Isle back to the streets of Detroit last year?

A: Belle Isle had some geographic limitations that created programmatic limitations. It’s hard to build an inclusive race when it’s difficult to access the island and with limited space.

It had run its course and we wanted to return to its roots downtown and truly make it Detroit’s race.

Q: What are the upsides of hosting the race downtown

A: There is an energy that comes from shutting down city streets and converting the Motor City to host this event. It’s unrivaled.

How do the drivers feel about racing on city streets?

Q: Well, I’ve found that the only driver that doesn’t complain about a race is the winner.

But seriously, this is a very different course than Belle Isle. It’s shorter and more technical and I think the drivers like that. There is a hairpin turn in front of the Lodge that’s very unique. It’s wide and the opportunity to gain position there is huge.

Detroit also has the only double-sided pit lane in motorsports in the world as well and it’s exhilarating. We created this because there isn’t enough space to build a traditional pit lane in downtown Detroit. The 27-car field is split in half with 14 on one side and 13 on the other. Drivers enter the pits and then pull in to either the right or left side for their pit stops before merging back into one lane to rejoin the race

Q: What is the impact of the race on the city from a sustainability angle?

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A: From a series side, the environmental, social, and economic implications are very important to us. Of the NTT series (The official Technology Partner of INDYCAR, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR Brickyard weekend), the Detroit race is the most sustainable. Cars operate on renewable fuel and all tractor-trailers run on renewable diesel. We recycle every tire and the automotive fluid.

When we moved back downtown we sought input from the Council for Responsible Sport and the Detroit event is the first to receive Gold-Level certification from them and we are really proud of our efforts here.

Q: How is sustainability around the entire event addressed?

A: As with any major event it’s about fan behavior. It’s about how convenient we make it to have fans join in sustainability efforts, and how well we educate.

Having the right vendors and partners is extremely important. We have partnered with Priority Waste for this event and they are great.

We try to reuse all our signage and divert as much as possible from landfills.

And a really interesting point … what we can’t divert goes to a renewable natural gas landfill that helps to power one of General Motors’s plants, so it’s a full circle type of situation.

The NTT Series also featured Firestone Firehawk race tires made with rubber derived from the guayule desert shrub as the alternate tire that’s more easily recycled.

Q: What are the challenges of hosting the race inside the city itself– noise, space, restrictions to building access, crowd control, etc?

A: Making sure we minimize the impact on the residential and commercial communities as we build out. We build out at night from 7 pm to 5 am so as not to shut down traffic. We work with the surrounding businesses to set clear expectations and to make sure we don’t get in the way of their operations.

We get a lot of coordination and grace from local businesses and the community.TIRES MADE FROM GUAYULE SHRUB

Q: What about air pollution?

A: This is where the renewable fuel piece comes in. Also, motorsports are so different than stick and ball sports. We literally take an entire operation from city to city. So we look at ways to reduce emissions. We try to use local contractors and local labor to reduce the need to move more people around the country.

Q: How do business owners and building owners feel about the race downtown?

A: I think it depends on the business. It does involve inconveniences for some offices. I think the event offers a lot of good things for the city and people recognize that and forgive the inconveniences. In 2023 the economic impact was $104 million.

I had one local business owner call me thirty minutes after the checkered flag and I was startled by it – thought maybe something was wrong. When I answered it this business owner said this was his black Friday. It beat draft traffic for this business.

Motor Sports is a stage for innovation and innovation is what continues to make the Motor City great, so it’s fitting.


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