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Detroit hoping to host another IndyCar doubleheader

The Canadian Press

6/3/2013 4:54:11 PM

DETROIT -- The Detroit Grand Prix attracted more fans to Belle Isle and drew a larger television audience than it had last year, successfully hosting two full-length races in a weekend for the first time in IndyCar history.

At least one person wants to make open-wheel racing doubleheaders an annual tradition in the Motor City. Detroit Grand Prix chairman Bud Denker hopes IndyCar gives him the green light to market another two-race event in 2014.

"The series needs it, we want it," Denker said. "And even if there's only one next year, I'll take it and I want it every year."

IndyCar plans to also have doubleheaders this year in Toronto and Houston, but hasn't announced next year's schedule.

"We also need to change some of rules of this sport to get this sport back to where it needs to be," Denker said. "This is one great game-changer."

Denker said nearly 100,000 people made it to Belle Isle -- slightly more than in 2012 -- during the three-day event. Denker was thrilled when he heard on Monday that overnight TV ratings for the two races more than doubled the audience from last year's race: The overnight rating from big cities was 0.8 on Sunday and 0.7 on Saturday. A ratings point represents 1,147,000 households, or 1 per cent of the nation's homes with TVs.

Simon Pagenaud and Mike Conway won the races on an improved track that held up much better than it did the year before, when pot holes and grooves spoiled the show. Denker said he spent more than an hour apologizing to fans as they left the track area last year, and went to the same place Sunday to thank them for coming.

"We've come a long way in one year," Denker said.

To make next year's event better on and off the track, plans are being made to re-pave the bumpy backstretch and straighten out the circuit between Turns 6 and 7 to create another area for passing. Some chalets and grandstands may also be added to take advantage of the best views.

Roger Penske's Michigan-based company and Chevrolet pumped nearly $2 million into the 2.36 mile street course, which was reconfigured with a half-mile straightaway that led to some three-wide racing.

"We've had some parades in the past, but we won't anymore," Denker said.

Denker and his staff, though, hope they will have an IndyCar doubleheader to promote for the next year's event that is expected to follow the Indianapolis 500 as it did this year.

Detroit Grand Prix general manager Charles Burns said the two-race setup allows sponsors entertain clients in part of a 15,000-square foot, double-decker chalet previously used at the London Olympics.

"It's expensive, but it adds a special touch when you can build relationships with 75 people on Saturday and perhaps 75 different people on Sunday during IndyCar races," Burns said, looking down on the track from the second floor of one of the chalets.

While executives from Deloitte, Quicken Loans and Cadillac entertained from the best vantage point on Belle Isle, the Scott Fountain shot water into the air with the Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors Co., off in the distance down the Detroit River.

Detroit is often cast in a poor light, in part because it is an estimated $14 billion in debt and has a state-appointed emergency manager, but TV viewers across the world saw spectacular aerial views during the races that Denker deems priceless.

"I got texts from people in London and Germany, 'Is that really Detroit?"' Denker recalled. "How do you put on a value on that?"