The Detroit Grand Prix Also Gets A Throwback In Its Downtown Return

30 years later, Detroiters and protestors of the Belle Isle Race can finally rejoice together

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Love that straightaway shot with the GM Ren Cen looking over its grand prix kingdom.
Love that straightaway shot with the GM Ren Cen looking over its grand prix kingdom.
Photo: Lalita Chemello

On my personal list of “races I wish I could have attended,” the late ‘80s Formula 1 races on the streets of Detroit top that list. Not only did the legendary Aryton Senna win three of those races, he happened to win the only one that ran while I was alive, which happened to also be the last Formula 1 race in Michigan (please don’t do that math, for your sake and mine…).

Realistically, my diaper-clad, pacifier-wielding self could have been there. I’m sure at some point in my life I’ve inquired why our little family of three didn’t go to the race, aside from my literal infancy. I know I wouldn’t have remembered a single detail, but the photos and bragging rights would have been super cool.

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How cool is that ‘80s intro? Also please appreciate the commentary on the roads already disintegrating in the heat. How pure Michigan of them.

So behold my excitement when it’s announced the Detroit Grand Prix is approved for a return to the city’s streets for the 2023 season. A first in over 30 years. Yes, 30.

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It’s not the other-Michigan-race-that-must-not-be-named our state’s IndyCar fans would like to see make a comeback (yes I see you IndyCar fans who want a return to Michigan International Speedway), but don’t you agree it’s a good start in compromising?

According to the release by the Detroit Grand Prix, the organization spent five weeks speaking with residents, leaders, community groups and individual district representatives of the city of Detroit on how to bring back the “race to its roots.”

The positive reaction and the excitement that we have seen from the community about the Grand Prix coming back Downtown reinforces our belief that this relocation will provide a significant benefit to the City, its residents and our local businesses for the future.

We will celebrate the 2022 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on Belle Isle, June 3-5, and we are so excited to begin a new era of the Grand Prix beginning in 2023, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to experience the energy of our street festival in Downtown Detroit. In the coming weeks, we look forward to sharing our vision for the future of the Grand Prix in the Motor City!”

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Looks like the grand prix will hold onto that iconic straight with the Ren Cen as a backdrop. Prepare for all the photos.
Looks like the grand prix will hold onto that iconic straight with the Ren Cen as a backdrop. Prepare for all the photos.
Photo: Detroit Grand Prix

And the “excitement” doesn’t stop there.

Another group most likely elated for the move of the race downtown is the conservationists that have spent the better part of the last several years protesting the race.

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In 2018, race officials began working with Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, to better address the impacts of the race on natural resources for the isle and the surrounding community. One major problem came down to the time it takes to set up the race on the island. The permit from the state required 84 days to set up the street circuit. For 2019 they were working on doing it in 68.

Residents also pushed for protecting the sightline of the city and the island’s daffodils, which delayed the installation of barriers and fencing that help to retain racing debris or cars themselves. You know, the things that make a race safe.

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I never understood protesters’ issues. I tried, believe me. Especially as someone who does care about the environment, but also breathes racing. But I feel with any event, anywhere, there will be some form of environmental impact, regardless of all the cautions you take to make it happen. And what was on the island was very temporary. Sure, three to four months of the year there were signs of the race on the island, but I never found those signs restrictive or problematic. You can still get to the beach and most of the island without issue or anything in your view of the shoreline just across the Detroit River.

This view is actually from the bridge to the isle, but you know, Detroit views are Detroit views.
This view is actually from the bridge to the isle, but you know, Detroit views are Detroit views.
Photo: Lalita Chemello
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As a fellow Detroiter, I believe regardless, Michigan, specifically Detroit, needs to always have a race. We’re the Motor City, and yet the grand prix is the only one held within our city’s limits. The fact that it is returning downtown is a good step. I’m sorry. MIS will have to wait (and be in addition to Detroit at some point, of course).

I do hope the streets of Detroit are an improvement over the bumps of Belle Isle. I once read in an interview that the track typically eats drivers’ hands, leaving them raw by the end of the doubleheader weekend. And knowing Michigan’s notorious road conditions, and Detroit’s as well, it might not be much of an improvement, if at all.