CIRCUITS: DETROIT

Name: Detroit

In the course of the 20th century Detroit became synonymous with the automobile industry, acting as the headquarters of the Ford Motor Company, General Motors and Chrysler. This was thanks largely to Henry Ford who set up his car-making business in the city in the early 1900s and it was there that he built the first mass production factories for the Model-T Ford.

There was racing in the Detroit area right back into the 1920s on the dirt oval at Michigan State Fairgrounds, the first Championship race there being won in 1928 by Ray Keech in a Miller. The track continued to be used until 1957.

It was not until the early 1980s that motor racing went back to Detroit, the city by then keen to improve its poor international image. The race around the streets was the idea of Bob McCabe and the city agreed to the idea of laying out a track on the streets around the glittering Renaissance Center. Negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone were successful and, in 1982, the city hosted the first event on a 2.5-mile track, which ran alongside the Detroit River, between the Renaissance Center and the Cobo Arena. The inaugural race was won by John Watson in a McLaren but most drivers were unimpressed, complaining that the track was dull, bumpy and very slippery. Formula 1 would remain in Detroit until 1988 but when it came to renegotiating the contract, the city refused to pay what was being demanded and Formula 1 moved off to a new deal with the city of Phoenix in Arizona.

Detroit was keen to keep the event going and so a deal was struck with the CART Championship. Over the years, however, it became increasingly clear that if the race was to be a financial success it needed to avoid the costs incurred each year to transform the downtown area into a racing facility. In 1992 it was decided that the event should be moved from downtown onto nearby Belle Isle where a 2.1-mile road course was laid out. This was faster than the street track and rather more successful although further changes were later made to improve the surface and increase overtaking possibilities but in 2000 the CART team announced that they would not be returning in 2001.

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