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'It's not going to work': Detroit Grand Prix canceled because of COVID-19 pandemic

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Detroit Grand Prix race organizers knew last week that because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, their late May three-day event that generates $50 million in economic impact for the city would have to find a new date.

But because the race weekend is held on Belle Isle, pushing it deeper into the calendar would have disrupted many already scheduled events.

The Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for next month was canceled Monday.

The Grand Prix announced Monday it has been canceled this year and rescheduled for June 4-6, 2021.

“(Grand Prix general manager) Michael Montri and I looked at it and worked with the DNR (Department of Natural Resources), and it was the right decision to just say, ‘Hey, it’s not going to work, it’s not the right thing to do, let’s move on,’ and we’ve been rescheduled for 2021,” Detroit Grand Prix race chairman Bud Denker, president of Penske Corporation, told The Detroit News on Monday.

Denker said they considered moving the race weekend to the fall.

“We tried to find a lot of alternatives,” he said. “We looked at every single weekend in October and, in fact, into the first weekend in November. Of course then we have this thing called weather, so you’re getting too late in the season to make that even reasonably accessible for us and the race fan, as well.

“It was just all about disruption and all about ensuring the Belle Isle Park is given to the park users and not taken advantage of by us. By having it when we have it now, people can plan on it. Now in changing it, it’s not right to disrupt the amount of people we’d have to disrupt.”

A big factor for not holding the race weekend in October is the more than 40 events, including weddings, scheduled that month on Belle Isle.

“People have put off weddings for March, April, May and now we’re going to go in there and say, ‘Oh, we’re going to come in for a race?’” Denker said. “Yeah, right. We just wouldn’t do it.”

The Indy Car series has added three more races to this year’s schedule to augment the loss of the two races in Detroit. The Indianapolis 500 has moved to Aug. 23 from its traditional Memorial Day weekend and qualifying is the weekend before.

The Indy Car season opens June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway and an extra race has been added to Iowa Speedway July 17-18, and Laguna Seca during the Sept. 19 race weekend and now there’s an additional road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Oct. 3 — the series also races there July 4.

Denker said the hope is that the season opens in Texas with fans in the stands.

“We’re crossing our fingers and hope we get started,” he said. “Our hope is with crowds, but you just don’t know based upon where things are. Hopefully, the positive news today out of New York and positive news continues to be there across the country. Will people want to congregate in large groups by then, who knows. For now, you have to plan accordingly.”

Not having the Detroit Grand Prix obviously hurts the city in terms of economic impact and the influx of money to the Belle Isle Conservancy.

The race has raised more than $5 million for the Conservancy that preserves and enhances the park, making improvements and helps to keep the aquarium open.

Denker is hopeful a year without the Grand Prix will make the return next year even better.

“We’ll come back stronger than ever, that’s our plan,” Denker said. “In the meantime, we’ll put on an incredible IndyCar season the rest of the year beginning in June.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis