BALTIMORE – Will Power loves riding the streets of Baltimore, and it's not just because the IndyCar points leader has enjoyed magnificent success at the fledgling venue.
A year ago, Power captured the pole and cruised to victory at the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix. Although the name of the event has changed — it's now the Grand Prix of Baltimore — Power's dominance has not.
Power had the fastest practice lap (90.646 mph) on Friday on the track that runs past Camden Yards and through the heart of Charm City. Rookie Simon Pagenaud came in second despite going airborne upon hitting a bump near the light rail tracks that run parallel to the B&O Warehouse.
Race officials tried to grind down the bump, but that didn't quite work. So chicane will be installed overnight to compensate for the high ground.
"The two together certainly looks like what we needed to get this race going," said Beaux Barfield, IndyCar president of competition.
Power said, "It was the right thing to do. They will make a few more adjustments overnight and we'll be good to go."
Sunday's race will be held on a 2.04-mile, 12-turn street circuit. This year, there will two curves instead of three.
More than 100,000 people showed up last year for the three-day event, and sunny conditions are expected this weekend.
"It's a great venue," Power said. "You can already see it's going to be a big crowd. There's so much to do in the infield. I just can't believe it. I don't see that at many other races. That makes it pretty cool."
A year ago, Power led 70 of 75 laps after winning the pole Saturday. He would love to duplicate that formula this weekend, especially because a dominating performance could clinch him the series points championship.
"It's another point, and it puts you in good position," he said of capturing the pole. "You have less chance of getting involved in something, so it's very important."
Only a few months ago, it appeared quite possible this race would not happen. Last year's promoters left millions of dollars of unpaid bills to the city and local businessmen, and a second firm failed to come up with enough money to take over the race. Andretti Sports Marketing finally took charge of the event, and in a short three months has done a fine job in pulling it all together.
The new promoters might not make money this year, but Power might be happy to know they're in it for the long haul.
"This was an investment year. This was a year to stabilize the ship," said Tim Mayer, general manager of the Grand Prix of Baltimore. "Last year they gave away bucket loads of free tickets. We didn't do that this year. We'd like lots of people to come, and we've sold a fair number of tickets. (But) in terms of building for 2013, attendance is not the metric."
According to Mayer, all the bills have been paid and those still on the ledger will be handled on time. The goal this year was to gain the faith of the city and convince local businesses that having race cars zip through the city for three days at the end of summer is a very good thing.
Mayer said: "Can we be good neighbors? Can we be good business people? Can we stabilize this thing? Can we make sure traffic flows? Those are the kind of things we're building on because in 2013, '14, '15, as we go on with this, we've got to be able to look at people and say, 'We're good neighbors, we're good for the city.' This Labor Day bookend event of the summer is really something the city needs to buy into, long term."
He's got Power on his side.
"When you get a crowd like we had last year, it would such a disappointment not to keep coming here," Power said. "I think it's great for the city. It showcases the city around the world on national television. Last year, there was so much to do in the infield. It was a great atmosphere, big crowd for a big circuit. It would be great to keep coming here."