Detroit and cars are synonymous with each other. The city hosted its first open-wheel race in the 1920s at the Michigan State Fairground. In 1992, the racing moved from elsewhere in Detroit to Belle Isle. Despite a four-year hiatus, the race has been hosted since 2013 as a double-header Indycar headlined weekend. The island track also plays host to the IMSA and Trans Am series.
Despite its storied past, the Detroit Grand Prix is a controversial race. Since its been on the island, protesters spend the weeks of set up holding public meeting and waving signs on the side of the road to deter race-goers. Their problem?
They want the state park to remain a state park, all year long.
Meetings should be held during the 2018 Detroit GP weekend to discuss the future of the race. The current contract is up after this weekend, but Roger Penske is unlikely to let the race leave the island. The contract was signed prior to the land being leased to the state of Michigan.
Protester signs read “Take back Belle Isle” and “We don’t hate the race, just find another place.” They are not opposed to a Detroit-based race.
It’s the state park that changes everything.
It’s 982 acres of island in the middle of the Detroit River, planted right between the City of Detroit and the City of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. Previously a run-down Detroit-owned park, Belle Isle was acquired by the state in 2013 on a 30-year plan. An aquarium, conservatory, museum and nature centre are some of the various attractions on the island.
In 2017, Belle Isle hosted more than four million visitors. Since state takeover, more than $32 million has been sunk into the island in investments.
One of the major concerns for Michigan residents against the Detroit GP on the island is the amount of time it takes to set up and tear down the temporary track. In 2017, it took 10 weeks to set up – which was reduced to an eight week period this year. The race has committed to set up in six weeks next year, should it be renewed on the island.
The race adds $30-$45 million in economic development to the area, and attracts more than 90,000 visitors – usually people who wouldn’t otherwise visit Belle Isle.
Will the island race be renewed for 2019 and beyond? Or will protesters get what they wish for?
Green flag for the first Dual in Detroit is Saturday June 2 at 3:50 p.m. ET.