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Taking It To The Track

Detroit Grand Prix 2014

By Danielle Sharp • Photos by Bill Bowen (unless otherwise noted)

If you’ve got a thing for Detroit, you’re familiar with the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix — you’ve heard of it, been to it or know it so well you could announce what’s going down on the track.

For the drivers, the Grand Prix is more than just a spectacle of loud engines and fast-spinning wheels; it’s where they lay it all on the finish line. For Detroit, it’s a staple, a statement even. It’s our way of saying, “We are the Motor City, and listen to us roar.”

This year’s event, marking the 25th Grand Prix in Detroit, brings you the same amount of action, the same fluttering of adrenaline, but with even more horsepower. As Detroit makes its great American comeback, the Grand Prix serves up some equally impressive on- and off-track changes that’ll even wow the non-race fan, including BMX demonstrations, monster truck rides, high-flying truck races and activities galore. So bring the family, round up your friends and fasten your seatbelts for a few fast laps around The D.

The First Laps

Longtime race fans remember the Grand Prix and its downtown Detroit debut in 1982, when Formula 1 racers zipped down Atwater Street along the Detroit riverfront, passing the iconic GM Renaissance Center with each lap.

In 1991, the excitement moved to a course built specifically for the professional racing scene on Belle Isle, the largest island park within a U.S. city. The Grand Prix picked up speed in the following years, adding series such as the American Le Mans Series (2007, 2008), GRAND-AM Series (2012, 2013), IndyCar Series (2008, 2009, 2012, 2013) and Pirelli World Challenge Series (2012, 2013), as well as the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) (1989-2001).

Not only does this event go down in the books as one of the best in the Motor City, but it also generates a first-place-caliber attendance and economic impact for metro Detroit. “In 2013, more than 100,000 people were in town for the Grand Prix,” said Bud Denker, senior vice president at Penske Corp. and Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix chairman. “The total spending exceeded $46 million, benefiting businesses in the entire region, including bars, restaurants and casinos.”

You can expect similar crowds, energy and scenes at this year’s Prix weekend.

     Detroit Grand Prix Renaissance Center
Detroit Grand Prix 2013 kids-2

 

Detroit Grand Prix food  

Must-Sees, -Do’s and -Knows

The Grand Prix is one of those events for everyone. “When non-racing enthusiasts come out and see everything happening on and off the track, they’re amazed,” said Denker. The MotorCity Casino Hotel’s entertainment stage will keep you pumped all weekend long with local and national acts. It’s located in the Meijer Fan Zone, which hosts other activities such as sports-themed games, interactive displays, face painting and a go-kart track.

All the fun bundled with the Taste of Detroit food area and beer garden, featuring delicious delicacies from some of the best restaurants in metro Detroit, will keep the family occupied at race time and otherwise. Oh, and did we mention you can ride in a 15-foot-tall big-wheel truck?

What’s new? This year introduces the TUDOR United SportsCar Series, a fusion of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series. Another expected crowd pleaser is the SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Truck (SST) Series. These trucks will race the 2.3-mile Belle Isle course at speeds reaching 120 miles per hour, launching more than 15 feet in the air at distances of more than 75 feet.

Here’s the complete lowdown on what’ll get you really revved at this year’s event:

The Races. Seven total — the most ever for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.

The Chevrolet Indy Duel in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans, featuring the IndyCar Series (one Saturday, one Sunday)

The Chevrolet Sports Car Classic presented by the Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers with the cars of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (Saturday)

The Cadillac V-Series Challenge presented by the Metro Detroit Cadillac Dealers, featuring the Pirelli World Challenge Series (one Saturday, one Sunday)

SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Truck (SST) Series (one Friday, one Sunday)

Meijer Fan Zone. Enjoy activities including kids games, displays from Detroit’s sports teams
and live music on the MotorCity
Casino Hotel’s entertainment stage all weekend.

The Fifth Third Bank Paddock Area (“Garage Area”). Think “locker room of racing” with an up-close view of the teams getting ready to floor it.

Continental Tire Car Corrals. Lay eyes on some of the snazziest vehicles out there.

Autograph Sessions. The stars of all participating series will be ready to sign T-shirts and hats. Bring a Sharpie marker.

The Vendor Village. Pick up your official gear, located within the midway

Detroit Grand Prix 2013 kids 1  
Super Truck Series  

Belle Isle’s Tuneup

Back in 2007 and 2008, improvements were made to the Belle Isle racetrack to ensure proper conditions for the hottest action on wheels possible. The fixes included repairing and installing concrete on the track and in the paddock, adding new pedestrian bridges and parking, and fine-tuning operations such as lighting and drainage. Raised platforms were installed, so there’s not a bad seat on the island.

In 2013, an added 100,000 square feet of repaved track was installed, along with a half-mile straightaway for racers to pick up speed before whizzing around one of the 2.3-mile track’s 13 turns.

Last year, Belle Isle also became the state of Michigan’s 102nd state park. In total, the state plans to invest $10 million to $20 million 

to further improve the island oasis. “We’re excited to have the state involved,” said Denker of the park’s recent transfer of control from city to state. “Our goal of having the Grand Prix on the island is to help with its revitalization. The Detroit GP has spent more than $7 million on improvements since 2007, $2.5 million in the past two years, and plans to spend more in 2014. The result will be beautiful walking trails with benches, new picnic areas, a spruced-up casino [building] and more.”

With so many upgrades, it’s hard to believe the weekend of checkered flags could get any sweeter. 

 
  Detroit Grand Prix Belle Isle
   Detroit Grand Prix car closeup

 

Off The Track

When your eyes aren’t glued to the track, head to the surrounding grounds of Comerica Park for the WYCD Downtown Hoedown, a three-day outdoor country music festival taking place the same weekend as the Detroit Grand Prix. Or, if you’re in town one week earlier, Hart Plaza will be jamming for Movement, Detroit’s electronic music festival May 24-26. Go to visitdetroit.com for even more events in metro Detroit.

Autopalooza

The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix kicks off a summer series of cruises, races and shows that celebrate southeast Michigan’s automotive heritage, called Autopalooza. For the what, when and where, go to autopalooza.org.


 

Car Craver’s Pit Stop

We couldn’t possibly be coined the Motor City without gassing you up with car culture and history. 

Start at General Motors’ world headquarters, the iconic Renaissance Center, for a FREE one-hour tour that tells the history of GM in Detroit. Ride in a glass elevator to the 72nd floor of the Detroit Marriott Hotel (inside the Ren Cen) for beautiful views of the Detroit and Windsor skylines. 

Then head to the Detroit Historical Museum, a more than 60-year-old artifact palace with 15,000+ items in Detroit’s Midtown. America’s Motor City pinpoints how Detroit rose above the competing “motor cities” of the early 20th century.

Stop by the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex (aka the Piquette Plant), and tour the facility where Henry Ford designed the Model T, the first-ever affordable car, in 1908.

While we’re on the Model T, ride in one in Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford, just minutes from downtown Detroit. Inside Henry Ford Museum you can wander Driving America. Afterward, take the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, and witness a real assembly line building Ford F-150 trucks.

If you’ve got an abundance of time, see how the automotive pioneers lived at these auto-baron homes:

Edsel & Eleanor Ford House (Grosse Pointe Shores): home of Edsel, son of Henry and Eleanor Ford

Meadow Brook Hall (Rochester): home of Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of John Dodge, co-founder of Dodge Brothers Motor Car Co.

 

Greenfield Village Model T

 

Big Group? 

Consider a Grand Prix chalet package. You’ll have access to hospitality areas, the paddock, shuttle service, seating in a designated grandstand and more.


 

Coming From Canada?

If you’re crossing the international border, purchase a package with included shuttle fare at citywindsor.ca. The shuttle departs from the downtown Windsor International Transit Terminal, with service available from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Fans hopping over the border on Friday can use the Windsor Tunnel Bus and connect with a Grand Prix shuttle bus in front of the GM Ren Cen. 

Tip: Don’t forget appropriate identification for entering and exiting the U.S.


 

Park & Go

We’re not going to kid you. Parking and getting to major events like this can be as challenging as winning the Indy 500, so the Grand Prix is making it easier with round-trip shuttles with stops located in downtown Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

New for this year: Round-trip shuttle service is included with the purchase of every Grand Prix admission ticket. There will be two convenient shuttle pickup and drop-off locations in downtown Detroit. 

1) In front of Cobo Center (along Washington Boulevard) 
2) In the circular drive in front of the GM Renaissance Center (along Jefferson Avenue)

Round-trip shuttle service from downtown Windsor will operate from the Transit Windsor bus terminal.

Just so you know: Public parking is not available on Belle Isle, but ample parking for a fee can be found throughout downtown Detroit. A few suggested locations:

Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Cobo Hall roof (between Atwater and Larned, just east of M-10, John C. Lodge Expressway)
Joe Louis Arena parking deck (off West Jefferson and the John C. Lodge Expressway)
Parking decks east of the Ren Cen

Saturday and Sunday Only

Ren Cen surface lots (B, C, G and M — east of the Ren Cen between Atwater and Franklin, starting at St. Antoine and continuing east to Rivard)
Beaubien Parking Deck (corner of Beaubien and Atwater)
Port Atwater Parking Deck (along Beaubien, between Atwater and East Jefferson Avenue)
Franklin Street Parking Deck (along Franklin, between St. Antoine and Schweizer Place) 


Helio Castroneves Detroit Grand Prix

Up Close & Personal With Helio Castroneves

He’s a household name with a long list of accomplishments. Sao Paulo, Brazil, native Helio Castroneves has raced for Team Penske for 14 seasons. He’s a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and the only driver to win in his first two races at Indy.

You may also recognize him from ABC’s hit TV show Dancing with the Stars. His charming personality and athleticism have also landed him spots in People, Newsweek, TV Guide, Esquire and Maxim and on Entertainment Tonight.

We took a few moments with the motor sports and entertainment star to get his spin on racing in The D.

Visit Detroit: Can you describe the feeling of winning the CART series race for the first time in Detroit in 2000?
Helio: The only way to describe it is this: I came out and climbed the fence. Don’t ask me why I did that. I could not contain my emotions, and I will never forget it.

Visit Detroit: What do you enjoy most about racing in the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix?
Helio: I’ve been racing since 1996 on Belle Isle in Detroit, and for me, to be in the Motor City is amazing, because that’s where everything started. It’s a race town devoted to the automotive industry. Belle Isle is also amazing. It’s getting better every year. I’ve been seeing big changes from 1996 to now, and it remains one of the many jewels of Detroit.

Visit Detroit: What are you looking forward to with this year’s event?
Helio: The track is getting better and better. They keep making improvements. And I’m looking forward to Detroit becoming the comeback city. I’m biased, but when you have your first win in a place, you never forget it.

Keep a close eye on Helio if he wins in Detroit. He likes to celebrate his victories by climbing the trackside wall in front of the grandstands, which has earned him the nickname Spider-Man.

  Helio Castroneves dances

 

GETTING THERE

 


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