Ryan Hunter-Reay won the second Grand Prix of Baltimore, a sloppy race full of fits and starts run before a diminished crowd.
Organizers, though, came away convinced that this year's hastily planned event proved an IndyCar race can work downtown.
"This is a 90-day miracle," said J.P. Grant, the local financier who swept in three months ago to take over the race following the collapse of two previous organizers. "Our goal was to put on a race we could handle ourselves."
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard praised Grant's work and said he was pleased with the crowd and quality of the race, despite scattered showers that helped result in nine caution flags and a number of restarts on the track. He would not guarantee a return, though, as he is still finalizing next year's schedule; that includes negotiating how much Grant's company, Race On, will have to pay.
"Baltimore has the potential to be in the top three races of the year," he said.
Race On refused to discuss ticket sales, as did Andretti Sports Marketing, which handled promotion. Representatives for the Baltimore police and fire departments also said they would not comment on the size of the crowd.
Areas choked with fans last year were more open, though, and grandstands were slow to fill.
Marie-Pierre Pluvinage, a Loyola grad from Bethesda, made the trip after hearing good things about last year's event.
"It's a perfect showcase for Baltimore," she said. "It's the sort of thing the city needs."
Gesturing toward the sparse crowds on Pratt Street sidewalks inside the course, she said promoters failed to spread the word.
"I didn't hear much about it," she said. "They had that turmoil leading up to it. They should give it one more shot."
"There's more ebb and flow this year," he said.
Underwood said any extra revenue earned this weekend will replace money lost while the path to the restaurant was obscured by fences for much of August.
This year, fewer vendors lined the streets inside the track, and there were not as many concerts planned. But Bill Hoffman, a truck driver from Woodbridge, Va., said the differences were "subtle."
"There are still things to keep the casual fans involved," he said. "True fans from up-and-down the Eastern seaboard, they'll come no matter what."
Kevin Massey walked over from Canton again this year. Though he is not a racing fan, he feels the Grand Prix can be a boon for the city's economy and reputation.
"I understand it clogs things up a bit," he said. "But it's an amazing thing. This is a major event. "
Some fans said they preferred this year's race because it was less crowded, with shorter lines for concessions and no back-ups at pedestrian bridges over the track.
"I kind of enjoy the crowd the way it is," said Frances Cadden, a marine engineer from Towson. "It's a really light crowd compared to last year."