Detroit, Grand Prix officials detail 2023 move to streets of downtown

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — When the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix returns downtown in June 2023, organizers say it'll be unlike the races of the past. 

The track won't extend north on Jefferson Avenue or shut down streets or businesses.

"This race used to go up Larned, Woodward, all that," Bud Denker, chairman of the Detroit Grand Prix, said Tuesday during a news conference at the GM Renaissance Center on the race's move back to the city streets. 

A rendering of the future Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix to be held in 2023 in the city's downtown.

"This time it's different," added Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones. "Our businesses and streets will be open."

Race officials and city leaders shared expectations and renderings for the upcoming event after Detroit City Council earlier this month unanimously approved its relocation to downtown from Belle Isle.

More:Detroit council approves Grand Prix's 2023 move from Belle Isle to downtown

Mayor Mike Duggan and Jones joined Grand Prix officials and two-time IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden to discuss the future three-day event. 

Newgarden said he's looking forward to driving the Jefferson stretch of the 1.7-mile track.

"From a driving standpoint, I think the track is going to race really well," Newgarden said. "But the highlight for me is Jefferson, where you have a .7 mile straightaway that leads into a hairpin," or a tight turn, he noted. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and City Council President Brenda Jones look at the racing helmets given to them at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix press conference at the GM Wintergarden in the Renaissance Center in Detroit on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. The race will return to the streets of downtown Detroit in 2023.

The 2023 through 2025 races are scheduled to run downtown. The 2023 race is slated for June 2-4, organizers said Tuesday. 

The 2022 race is the last one scheduled to run on Belle Isle. It will take place June 3-5.

For years, the Grand Prix's outside presence on Belle Isle was controversial, as it blocked off access to a big chunk of the park for two months in the springtime. A group named Belle Isle Concern protested outside the island in the run-up to race weekend.

More:Detroit Grand Prix's return stirs tension despite capacity limits

But in the end, it was Grand Prix officials who approached the city about moving the race from Belle Isle, which is run by the state under a lease, to downtown. 

The race was last held downtown in 1991. But its impact in the city's core in past years wasn't without controversy of its own.

In August 1990, restaurateur Joe Muer Jr. told The News that "as far as our business is concerned, the Grand Prix has been one disaster after another."

Muer said at the time that while he "could count on one hand" the Grand Prix fans who visited his restaurant at Gratiot and Vernor, and the lead time and tear-down time of the race had consistently been disruptive. 

When the move was first discussed, months back, Duggan described himself as a "strong supporter." On Tuesday, the mayor said it took “about two minutes” into Denker’s pitch to sell him on the plan. 

“I never understood why Grand Prix left downtown,” said Duggan, adding he was working at a law firm in the Penobscot when the race ran on city streets.

“There’s something about the sound echoing off the buildings that’s really powerful,” he said. “I would’ve been on board years ago.”

Organizers of the event said the 2023 race's track will run on Jefferson and Atwater, between Rivard and Bates, and past the monument to Joe Louis.

A rendering for the future course of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. The race will relocate in 2023 from Belle Isle to the city's downtown.

The 1.7-mile track also will be shorter than Belle Isle’s 2.3-mile circuit. The racetrack will include a dual pit lane and a U-turn at the Joe Louis Fist in the heart of downtown.

Denker said the move from Belle Isle was due.

“Belle Isle has limitations,” Denker said. “We probably reached our height there.”

Even so, the Grand Prixmiere fundraiser will continue to support the Belle Isle Conservancy and the operation of the Scott Fountain.

In 2023, the gala will begin supporting other charities as well, starting with the Detroit Public Safety Foundation.

Denker said that roughly half the track would be available free to the public, with views from the Riverwalk. Crowds can also partake in live music, food, games and displays, without the purchase of a Grand Prix ticket. 

"That's unprecedented for a race like this," he added. 

The Detroit Grand Prix dates back to 1982. After the 2001 race, there were none for six years, and then it returned in 2007. After the 2008 race, the “national recession” led organizers to cancel the race again until 2012. 

The covid pandemic stopped the 2020 race from happening.