When qualifying for today's Baltimore Grand Prix ended — and Australian Will Power edged Graham Rahal to claim the pole on the final lap — it didn't take long for talk to turn back to the condition of the track and the treacherous first turn.
"I don't know how these starts are going to be tomorrow in Turn One,'' said Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was the final qualifier in the Firestone Fast Six that determines who will start the big race in the first three rows. "…I don't see how they go green two laps in a row with that Turn One the way it is. Hopefully, we'll get it sorted out."
Actually, I hope they don't.
The best drivers in open-wheel racing have come to downtown Baltimore and, apparently, they're going to get a real taste of downtown Baltimore, from the bumpy asphalt to the unpredictable traffic patterns. They should be happy they don't have to dodge jaywalking pedestrians along with the rest of us.
It didn't take long for Hunter-Reay to look like a prophet. Off the start of Saturday's American Le Mans Series race, a spinout brought a large portion of the field to a halt at the corner of Light and Pratt, something with which we can all identify. The race was not seriously interrupted and the difficulty of the turn became less pronounced as the drivers gained more separation, but all eyes will be right there when the 28 Indy Cars get the green flag this afternoon.
The impact of some of the rough patches along the course will be less obvious to spectators, but just as important to the outcome of the race.
"It's a funny thing,'' said Sebastien Bourdais, who qualified fifth. "It's super, super smooth for half of the lap, and then it's the roughest place ever on the other end. So it's definitely a very challenging mix where you either compromise and get low, have a really good car on the asphalt section, and en extremely tough car for the rest, or the other way around."
To their credit, the top qualifiers were not complaining about the track — just pointing out where they will face their biggest obstacles. Most gave race organizers high marks for the course design and seemed to welcome the challenge.
"The track is fun,'' Hunter Reay said. "Don't get us wrong. It's a matter of us as a series figuring out this race, getting 28 cars into that corner. It's tough. I mean, for anybody. Doesn't matter who it is."
"The bumps on Pratt are really bad,''Rahal said. "Everywhere else, it's a great facility. Like Ryan said, it's a great track. It asks everything and more from you for every lap. I'm really enjoying it."
Everybody seems to be enjoying the first Grand Prix through the streets of Charm City. Crowd figures are hard to verify, but police were estimating 40,000 Saturday. The grandstands along Pratt Street appeared to be filled on Saturday and there were large crowds milling around Ravens Walk and checking out racing team headquarters in the Convention Center paddock area.
The decision to spend more than $6 million in public funds to prepare the race course was controversial, but there's little doubt the event will meet one of its chief goals — to put forth the best possible face of Baltimore to an international audience.
The LeMans Series race on Saturday was broadcast worldwide and it featured stunning views of the Inner Harbor and the Camden Yards sports complex. The television cameras also confirmed the impressive turnout, showing thousands of people lining balconies and rooftops along the course.
Considering the popularity of open-wheel racing in Europe, it's just possible that a lot of fans overseas will get a different impression of Baltimore than they get from reruns of "The Wire" that have made their way across the pond.
Time will tell whether the debut of the race will generate enough ticket revenue and economic activity in the city to justify the investment and the months of preparation (and public inconvenience) that come with an event of this magnitude, but it certainly looked that way on Saturday.
Everybody knew there were going to be a few bumps in the road, but — so far this weekend — there have been no red flags.
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal com.