Photo: Norm DeWitt

Tracks We Want in IndyCar Part 2: Vegas Grand Prix

By Josh Farmer, IndyCar Reporter

Author’s note: This is part of a 10-part series discussing tracks around the world that I feel would be a good fit for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The opinions here are expressed solely of the author and not necessarily of the Motorsports Tribune.

Street racing with glitz and glamour are the things that go together well and the city of Las Vegas has it all.

While the Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Indy car races were marred by the 2011 tragedy that claimed the life of Dan Wheldon and low fan turnouts, the streets of downtown Las Vegas hosted a nice gem in the Champ Car World Series’ season opener in 2007.

The 2.44-mile 14-turn counterclockwise circuit proved to be one of the raciest street courts ever constructed. While it was not set up in the glitz and glamour part of Sin City, it made up for in drivability. The frontstretch featured the scenic backdrop of the Las Vegas World Trade Center. The track itself also was very wide which allowed room for passing.

The frontstretch also provided a perfect shot for photographers (see title picture) as the cars caught air as they went down through a tunnel. A chicane had to be installed in order to slow the cars down.

The race was also the debut of the Panoz DP-01 chassis, which put on some relatively competitive shows in its only year of use.

The new chassis proved to be problematic in its first race with many cars suffering from leaky fuel cells throughout the race. In the end, a young Will Power stood survived the attrition and claimed his first Indy car win. The win was also the first for team owner Derrick Walker since 1999.

Robert Doornbos finished second in his first Champ Car race while series stalwart and Las Vegas native Paul Tracy rounded out the podium.

Despite the track receiving rave reviews from the drivers , the race was abandoned after it’s only running.

Why a one and done?

While the race seemed to have a successful fan turnout, DDB Ventures, the organizers of the Grand Prix, only reported a race day crowd of around 40,000. Reports show that around 129,000 people moved through the downtown area but not all of them were race spectators.

There were also complaints regarding road disruptions, including the relocation of the city’s Greyhound bus stop.

DDB Ventures was also planning to host the 2007 season finale in Arizona on the Streets of Phoenix, but it was scrapped for a number of reasons, including low ticket sales and losses from the Las Vegas race being too much to bear.

The race was also held on Easter Sunday, which is not traditionally a date that is suitable for a motor race, or tourism to Las Vegas for that matter.

Why Vegas?

This one is a bit tricky given the nature of the city. A street course does cause road disruption which causes problems for the casinos in the city. Here is the thing, though, Formula One has noted the possibility of a United States Grand Prix on the Las Vegas strip for the last couple years. That being said, if IndyCar is looking to grow, they could come into Las Vegas on a proven circuit in an area that won’t cause as much disruptions – the downtown circuit.

More importantly, IndyCar can come at a much smaller sanctioning fee than Formula One as well.

Las Vegas is also slowly building its reputation as a sports town. The city has just been awarded an NHL team and could very likely be receiving the Oakland Raiders sometime soon. So with having two lucrative sports franchises in America’s playground, having the return of a grand prix could be the icing on the cake.

As how it can all work on the calendar, the race could fit in well with an early April date, either before or after Long Beach or Phoenix. Having Long Beach, Phoenix and potentially Vegas together in the same month could give IndyCar its own version of a West Coast swing, which is something to generate buzz about.

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Josh Farmer joined the media center in 2012 after first discovering his love of IndyCar racing in 2004 at Auto Club Speedway. He has been an accredited member of the IndyCar media center since 2014 and also contributes to along with The Motorsports Tribune.

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