INSIGHT: How Miami GP organizers aim to build a modern classic

May 8, 2022. The date for the first ever Miami Grand Prix is set in stone.

But the organizers have been setting stones for a long time before last week’s announcement,.

The track around the Hard Rock Stadium – officially called Miami International Autodrome – needed a lot of work. That’s not surprising, given the fact that it didn’t actually exist before the race was announced.

The original target was a downtown venue, but once that plan was blocked the organizers switched focus to the home of the Miami Dolphins, owned by Stephen Ross, who is funding construction and race costs. Ross’s CEO at the Dolphins, Tom Garfinkel, is also the managing partner of the Miami Grand Prix, and has been juggling the balance between track construction and the new NFL season.

“Preparations are going well,” Garfinkel told RACER. “I think we’re on schedule, so to speak. It’s certainly a tight schedule, and we’ve had some challenges with the pandemic and supply chain issues and challenges working around the football schedule and some things, but nothing that can’t be managed. It has all been manageable, and we’ve got a great team of people working hard and everything’s on track.

“A lot of the construction has been going on since May 1st, so we’ve gotten a lot of things out of the way prior to the football schedule starting so we can have our football games the way we need to. But the construction is ongoing every day right now, and there’s a lot that goes into it.

“People ask me a lot of times about building a racetrack: ‘Don’t you just kind of carve out the track and then pave over?’. And it’s certainly much more complex than that, with what goes under the track, and the drainage systems, and how particular the building of the track has to be. So there’s a lot that goes into it, it’s a huge project, but it’s been a lot of fun.

“There’s a pit and paddock building that is a giant-sized building that we have to build between now and the race, obviously. There’s a lot of infrastructure between electric, sanitary and plumbing, just drainage…

“We’re basically at sea level in Miami, at the water table, so you have to be very careful how you have to set up the drainage systems. You don’t want to have a situation where you have weeping on the track or anything like that. So it’s a very unique, specific construction project from that standpoint.”

Creating a race track from nothing is no small task. But when you factor in Miami being at sea level and the implications that has on things like drainage, the degree of difficulty ramps up. Image via Miami GP

The race did come with opposition, but as building work continues and the race date allows fans to make plans, those hurdles have been overcome. Garfinkel believes a lot of the dissent was based on a lack of education regarding what an F1 race will actually be like, showing how much work the sport still has to do to really break into the mainstream in the United States.

To that end, having a second race – and the first on the East Coast since 1980 – should play a part in growing interest and awareness, building on recent momentum.

“I certainly think it’s an element,” Garfinkel admits. “The success of the Netflix series Drive to Survive and the race in Austin, I think this is an addition to that in a way that it provides people with another opportunity to see how amazing Formula 1 racing is.

“And what we’re going to do with it is hopefully going to be a little bit different to what folks have been used to experiencing at a race, so we hope to become a destination race for people from around the world, and especially the United States, to come and enjoy Formula 1 racing.

“I think Formula 1 is doing a great job attracting interest in the United States right now with what they’ve done the last couple of years, and Formula 1 is the fastest-growing sport in the United States right now. I’ve seen a distinct difference anecdotally in the fans just from three years ago to what it is today.

“It has to do with a lot of factors. Again, the Netflix series, my sons watch it and they’ve become huge Formula 1 fans and their friends are fans, so you see that growth, you see that interest level rising. I think it’s great timing for us to have this race coming to the States in Miami, adding to what is already happening in Austin, and be able to have more fans come and experience Formula 1.”

Garfinkel was present at the Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort to see how a new race makes itself stand out on the F1 calendar, and it wasn’t his first visit to the paddock. But he already has experience of racing through a spell as vice president of Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR, IndyCar and sportscar teams, and knows what one of the most important factors will be.

“We’ve attended different races around the world to try and get some ideas, but we really want to create something unique,” he says. “The first priority was to have a great circuit with great racing, and I think doing it where we did it, we had a blank sheet of paper to start from to be able to really say ‘OK if this is the first priority, how do we do that?’. We’re going to have two distinct DRS zones and three other areas for real overtaking opportunities, so when you start looking at that kind of race track combined with the new cars, it should be very exciting racing.

“We had some constraints downtown with a racetrack that wasn’t going to have the passing opportunities I described earlier, so in a lot of ways this has turned out better. We’ll still activate Miami Beach and downtown and Brickell, and there’ll be parties and events and things happening all week – kind of like we do for Super Bowl week – so people will really get to experience the culture of Miami while at the same time coming out and seeing great racing at the racetrack.”

Just got to get that racetrack built. May 8 will be here before you know it.