June 1, 2014 at 9:25 pm

A few hiccups can't detract from Grand Prix's splendor

Detroit — Pardon Bud Denker, Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix race chairman, for looking a tad weary after the conclusion of the race weekend.

After a water main break earlier in the week and heavy rains on the island forced Denker and his team to pump out water for 15 hours, after scooping $100,000 worth of wood chips and mulch into the flooded fan zone area, after a quick track repave to repair small holes that had developed before Sunday’s IndyCar race of the weekend, he could finally exhale.

“I would say it’s probably been our toughest Grand Prix yet to execute, toughest on our people and our team,” Denker said after Sunday’s racing concluded and race promoter Roger Penske saw his driver Helio Castroneves win.

When he saw the fan area soaked under six inches of water on Tuesday, his reaction was hardly unexpected.

“I just wanted to cry,” Denker said. “You just wanted to put your head down, but we didn’t.”

Denker and his team have endured their share of tough times hosting the Grand Prix weekend on Belle Isle. Two years ago, Denker and his crew famously pitched in during a lengthy red flag in the IndyCar race to patch extensive areas of broken asphalt.

“We were the lowest of the lows when we had to go out and repair a track in the public light and recover from that,” Denker said. “There is no obstacle that isn’t that big anymore.”

Denker did not have a final attendance estimate, but he said walk-up sales were brisk.

“We’ve got to be well over 100,000 (for the three-day weekend),” he said.

He took a photo of the Turn 5 general admission grandstand and said it was full. The Turn 3 area was half full, and 40 minutes into the IndyCar race, he noticed that the heat drove fans from the double-decker sponsor area to the sponsor chalets, where fans could watch the race.

There were multiple positives from the weekend, though, which benefited from glorious weather, two IndyCar races -- swept by Team Penske drivers Will Power and Castroneves -- and the debut of stadium truck racing featuring ramps and high-flying trucks, added to the race schedule to attract younger fans.

He announced an agreement, although not yet signed, to host the Chevrolet Indy Dual again, meaning and IndyCar race on Saturday and one on Sunday. The Grand Prix debuted that format in 2013. Denker also plans to have the Menard’s Formula Off-Road truck series back next year, as well as the IMSA Tudor United SportsCar Championship series.

Beginning in early July, there will be significant repaving of the circuit using concrete. The kink in the back straightaway also will be removed to provide what Denker called two “world-class straightaways” matching the front of the track.

And after such a difficult start to the week, Denker had only one question.

“Did this city shine or what?” he said.



Fans cheer as Helio Castroneves crosses the finish line to win Sunday's race. Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix officials estimate more than 100,000 people took in the three-day event. / Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News