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Some drivers will be up to speed in Baltimore this weekend

- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Labor Day weekend traffic forecast for downtown Baltimore calls for heavy congestion, multiple accidents and reckless driving. For the first time, IndyCar drivers will be gracing Maryland in the Baltimore Grand Prix, the 14th installment of the IZOD IndyCar Series' 16-race season.

Thanks to the unanimous support of a Baltimore City Council resolution and the Maryland Stadium Authority, racing fans will get to see the likes of Danica Patrick, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan battle it out on a 2.4-mile temporary street circuit that will run alongside the Inner Harbor and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The city's Department of Transportation is advising motorists to prepare for traffic modifications in anticipation of the three-day "Festival of Speed."

Kanaan, who has more starts than any other active driver in the series, eagerly anticipates competing on a new course in a part of the country he has never visited.

"I've been racing for [IndyCar] for so long that it's nice to go to a track where nobody's been," the 36-year-old Brazilian said. "I'll try to have an advantage with learning the track a little bit quicker than the others. Knowing the setup ahead of the race is always an extra challenge, and I really enjoy that."

Indeed, one of the most crucial parts of an IndyCar race happens before the race even begins, as drivers must spend time walking the course to study its idiosyncrasies. Intimate knowledge of its bumpy patches and tricky barrier setup could make all the difference on a 12-turn track featuring multiple passing opportunities and a 180-degree hairpin turn.

Kanaan's experience with taking on new courses could give him a leg up against the rest of the 43-driver field, but he will have his work cut out. Patrick, a former teammate of Kanaan, will be among four women in the mix. Yet while the field promises diversity, drivers hardly notice it on the track.

"When they have helmets, I can't tell what they are," Kanaan said. "They're all race car drivers, and they're very tough, so to me they're just other race car drivers."

One of the sport's most consistent drivers since winning the series championship in 2004, Kanaan has finished in the top 10 eight times this year, including two top-fives in eight races on road/street courses. Racing alongside KV Racing Technology-Lotus teammates Takuma Sato and E.J. Viso, Kanaan will be seeking his first win since claiming the Iowa Corn Indy 250 last June.

Whatever the outcome, Kanaan already is looking forward to coming back to Baltimore, which is under contract to host the event for the next five years.

"We've had a great response from the fans, and all the buzz around the race has been great," Kanaan said. "It is a beautiful place, so I can't wait. I'm really excited and hopefully we can keep coming back for the next five years."

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