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Washington to Host Auto Grand Prix - 2002-04-20


The streets of Washington, DC have played host to many events over the years, ranging from massive civil rights marches and protest demonstrations to annual cherry blossom parades, fireworks displays and concerts. But, now for something completely different.

In July, international sports car racing comes to Washington. The American Le Mans Series will compete on a temporary road course set up on the parking lots of RFK Stadium.

Chris Lencheski, a race co-founder, says major automakers will be involved. "From an auto racing perspective, you will have many manufacturers, Cadillac, Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, Audi, with the most exotic prototype racing cars, the same cars that race at the 24-Hours of Le Mans, arriving in Washington in July for a three-day festival," he says.

The Cadillac division of General Motors, which has a team competing in the series, has signed on as main sponsor of the July event. Steve Rosenblum, who is brand manager for Cadillac, says his company has gone racing to change its conservative image. "As a change agent, we think motorsports is tremendous. In particular, sports car racing or LMP racing (Le Mans Prototype) is what we are involved in," he says. "It is endurance racing and I think you can relate endurance racing to quality, because you are going to have to run long and hard and that is what we are based on."

Putting on professional auto races in the streets of a major city is a huge task. We asked Chris Lencheski what it took to make the Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington, DC happen persistence, patience, money, all of the above? "It is a little bit of all three and I think it is definitely having a city, both the community as well as the political side and the business side recognizing the obvious economic impacts of a large-scale international racing event," he says.

Bobby Goldwater, the head of the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission, the city agency handling the arrangements for the event, spells out that impact, in money and visibility. "The Cadillac Grand Prix, first and foremost, is going to provide tremendous economic impact on the city, north of [more than] $30 million a year. So, for all these fans that are coming in, the hotel rooms and the restaurants and the other entertainment dollars that will be generated is potentially extraordinary. Secondly, it provides Washington with great visibility," he says. "It will be a showcase event for Washington. There are going to be two television networks. On Saturday, it will be CBS, on Sunday it will be NBC televising this event. It will have national and the accompanying international television coverage for this, so that is important."

Eurosport will telecast the race to 57-countries. The Cadillac Grand Prix weekend will feature not only the American Le Mans Series, but also Trans-Am, World Challenge, and Star Mazda races as supporting events.

It will be the first major auto racing event in the DC metropolitan area in more than 80 years. The city and race organizers have signed a contract that promises annual races for the next decade.

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