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Friday, September 2, 2011
Updated: September 3, 12:25 PM ET
Will Baltimore have what it takes?

By John Oreovicz
ESPN.com

BALTIMORE -- The inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix is going to be a hit or miss proposition.

Street racing events that work are great. They deliver the community publicity and tourist dollars without having a significant adverse impact on the everyday lives of the residents.

But the ones that actually do work are few and far between. And for every longstanding stalwart such as Long Beach or Toronto, there are three failed, short-lived iterations of street races in Miami alone, and two apiece in Houston and Denver. It's a fact that most street racing events struggle for long-term survival.

Recent examples of street courses that weren't ready for prime time include Miami No. 3 (2002, a ridiculously tight track with a 76 mph average pole speed), San Jose (2005, the cars took flight twice a lap over railroad tracks and barreled down a 180 mph straight into a 25 mph hairpin with no runoff area) and Houston No. 2 (2006, bumpy enough to shake the fillings out of a driver's teeth and also sporting a dangerous lack of runoff).

Including airport circuits and temporary tracks in parking lots, Indy cars have raced on 22 street courses over the last 30 years. History shows that if an event can make it to its fourth year, it has a reasonable chance for survival. Excluding the five events currently on the IndyCar Series schedule, 11 of the 17 street races that have fallen by the wayside lasted five years or less.

As seems to be the case with most new street racing events, the Baltimore GP has generated plenty of controversy on a local level. Traffic tie-ups stemming from repaving some streets to make them fit for racing and, more recently, the construction of the circuit itself, have created plenty of ill will.

Yet the Baltimore race seems to have everything necessary to be a long-term success. That the Izod IndyCar Series and the American Le Mans Series form a strong twin bill doesn't hurt. The addition of the ALMS to the IndyCar weekend at Long Beach has only benefited that event, and the teaming of Indy cars and ALMS sports cars attracts large crowds to natural terrain venues such as Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The Baltimore track's location, near the city's Inner Harbor area, promises to deliver scenery and atmosphere as well as convenience for visiting fans and participants. It's a 2.4-mile layout that features some 14 corners, and the long, wide straights should create some opportunities for passing.

"The straight isn't as long as Brazil, but it's much wider than the normal two lanes on a street course," observed Target Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon. "The first few turns are pretty wide, too, though it looks like the chicanes will make it tough to pass on the rest of the course."

Dixon lies third in the IndyCar Series championship, still within striking distance of his teammate and leader Dario Franchitti and Team Penske rival Will Power.

Franchitti leads Power by 26 points and Dixon by 75 points with just four races remaining on the 2011 schedule. Franchitti is in search of his third consecutive IndyCar Series title and fourth overall.

Both of the two remaining road courses that round out the season (Twin Ring Motegi in Japan is the other) are new to the IndyCar Series this year, and Dixon said he believes that could affect IndyCar's usual Ganassi and Penske dominance.

He cited this year's Honda Indy Edmonton, where KV Racing Technology - Lotus driver Takuma Sato sped to a surprise pole position.

Newman/Haas Racing's Oriol Servia, who lies fourth in the championship standings, explained the challenge that drivers and teams will face this weekend.

"There is not much you can do to prepare specifically for a new track that no one has ever been to," Servia said. "You cannot watch videos from other years or look at data from other cars. All we can do is walk around it on Thursday and try to capture a couple more details of the surface than the rest of the competition.

"Our engineers have shown me the course on a map, and the IndyCar Series has done a good job putting together a nice virtual lap around the track. It's a new track for everybody and the team and driver that adapts to it faster will be the winner."

The Baltimore Grand Prix is only one of 17 races that count toward the IndyCar Series championship, so it's just a small portion of that storyline.

The big question is whether the event can get off to a successful enough start to generate the community support necessary to make it a long-term winner for the city and American motorsports in general.

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.