IndyCar

2024 Detroit Grand Prix kicks off with ‘thrilling’ free day for downtown races

2024 Detroit Grand Prix kicks off with 'thrilling' free day for downtown races

Detroit locals, car enthusiasts and racing fans from all over filled in the two free grandstands overlooking the finish line of the 2024 Detroit Grand Prix on the first day of the event Friday.

Known as Free Prix Day, crowds filled in to watch the first of the three-day event happening on the streets of downtown Detroit. Those in attendance were treated to practice and qualifying rounds for the upcoming IMSA and IndyCar races slated to take place on the 1.7-mile track weaving around the Renaissance Center on the banks of the Detroit River.

Fans arrived early to enjoy the sunny day without a cloud in the sky with temperatures sitting in the 70s to witness race cars fly past in a colorful blur down Franklin Street and Jefferson Avenue, but that was just the start. Crowds watched every generation of Corvettes circle the nine-turn track driven by their owners, listened to the roars of the race car’s souped-up engines, got autographs from racers inside the Renaissance Center, enjoyed the free amenities at Hart Plaza and witnessed the street track in its second year after returning from Belle Isle. Hundreds packed into the grandstands while a constant stream of people moved between the seats and Hart Plaza.

“We like to take in the cars, I’m a car guy, and it’s one of the only times we can see it,” Detroit resident James Hill said while his young son tried pulling him back toward the grandstands. “We always come here and it’s cool that it came back to downtown.”

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Josie Breen-Bonide, left, and her 7-year-old brother, Sebastian Breen-Bondie, take a photo with Firestone mascot Firehawk during the NTT IndyCar Series Driver’s Autograph Session at the 2024 Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear Free Prix Day inside the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit on Friday, May 31, 2024.

The free grandstands sat on Franklin Street facing the river and at the finish line of the racetrack around the Renaissance Center with a full view of the first stretch of the road, the final turn as well as the split pit lane, a unique feature to Detroit’s race. Sitting in the grandstands, the vrooms from the engines were loud enough to wash out conversation, prompting some earplugs and noise-canceling headphones. Fans also watched from the rooftops and parking decks of each parking garage overlooking the track, from boats on the river and on the side of the road on Jefferson.

“I’ve never seen an IndyCar,” 21-year-old Dominic Johnson told the Free Press. “This is kind of my first time ever seeing a racetrack in general. I didn’t know how loud the engines got. I heard them from 5 miles away.”

Dominic and his brother A.J. made the four-hour drive from their hometown of Columbus, Ohio, to Detroit to take in the races. A.J. said they are both big racing fans, but don’t have a “car scene” in Ohio like in Detroit, prompting them to drive up Interstate 75 to see the action themselves.

“I like that we can get close to the finish line today to see the qualifying toward the end of the day,” A.J., 27, said. “I think the track is pretty cool, it’s pretty tricky with how compact it is and all of the right-angle turns. It’ll be interesting to see the top cars.”

The Grand Prix returned to downtown Detroit in 2023 after being hosted at Belle Isle since 2012. The first Detroit Grand Prix hit downtown in 1982 as a Formula One race, then transitioned into a CART-sanctioned race in 1989 and moved to Belle Isle three years later, where it stayed until 2001. The race returned to Belle Isle in 2007, but poor economic conditions forced organizers to delay the following season and it didn’t return until 2012, this time with Chevrolet as the title sponsor.

Dozens of fans lined up during the NTT IndyCar Series Driver’s Autograph Session at the 2024 Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear Free Prix Day inside the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit on Friday, May 31, 2024.

The return to racing downtown brought out old memories for longtime residents who remember the first time the race came to Detroit. Sienna Harris, 39, was in attendance with two friends in the grandstands and remembered coming down to the street races with her dad before it moved to Belle Isle.

“It was this originally in downtown, but now it’s weird having it back downtown since it has been on Belle Isle for so long,” Harris said. “And coming back, it’s all the nostalgia.”

The free admission was the hook for Harris and her friends, who came out to enjoy the weather while taking advantage of the free entry.

“It’s free and I get to hang with my friends and get to see it downtown,” Melissa Luverti said.

The action wasn’t just contained to the two free grandstands Friday. There was a constant stream of people walking alongside Jefferson on the sidewalk between the Renaissance Center and Hart Plaza, which was set up with a plethora of games, food trucks and drink stations open to the public. Fans could enjoy a seat on the water while eating at Hart Plaza, participate in the free games or wait in line to get their picture taken inside of an IndyCar race car, which was set up in the shadow of the fountain.

“We took the golf cart down from the RenCen down here (to Hart Plaza) just checking it out and getting our picture in the IndyCar,” said Ron Berger, of Tecumseh, who was in attendance with his 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s more than I expected.”

Berger said it was hard to find information about the race weekend online, but still decided to bring the family down after his son watched the Indy 500 last weekend and got hooked.

Will Power looks up at a couple of fans during the NTT IndyCar Series Driver’s Autograph Session at the 2024 Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear Free Prix Day inside the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit on Friday, May 31, 2024.

“Since last weekend, he hasn’t stopped talking about IndyCars so he can’t wait to see them out on the track,” Berger said while his kids played with the Fowling (football-bowling combination) set in Hart Plaza with other kids.

Even for those who came out of curiosity rather than a passion for cars and motorsports, the ability to walk through the Grand Prix, see the cars getting worked on in real time and whip around the city streets was described as a “lifetime” experience.

“It’s not something we would normally ever come to so it’s a cool experience,” said Jocelyn Jarvis, of Holly, who attended with her husband, Joe, after they were invited through work. “It’s actually pretty cool, it feels thrilling.”

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Fans enjoy racing atmosphere at 2024 Detroit Grand Prix free day

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