Joe Jennings, IndyCar Correspondent
Randy Bernard, the IZOD IndyCar Series chief executive officer, regularly drops into the media centers on race weekends, and he did so today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As usual, he seemed willing to discuss matters of importance, ranging from the Indianapolis 500, race scheduling, penalties, news of interest, engine manufacturers and on and on.
The IndyCar executive identified Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden as the new or rising faces of the series. “Josef saw the ladder series was working and took the $1 million to a smaller team, helping Sarah Fisher out. That showcased the ladder series,” said Bernard. Regarding Hunter-Reay, he added, “He is an All-American guy that is a first-class poster child. He has everything going for him.”
You don’t give me a grapevine today and expect good wine tomorrow.
Bernard said another positive trend is with the USF 2000 Series that had 36 entries at the St. Petersburg season opener with 80 per cent of the drivers being American. He said IndyCar is three years away from seeing the positive result of that progression, admitting over-night successes are impossible to attain. “You don’t give me a grapevine today and expect good wine tomorrow,” he said.
Coming from the entertainment sector, Bernhard said three keys to success are great competition, great entertainment for a great price. He used the example of the passion of the drivers in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. The drivers will be giving it their all with no guarantee they will get to race in another 500. “That’s the drama that is important to the sport,” he stated.
Regarding manufacturers and rules, he said he has never witnessed such passion for winning. Even though the manufacturers and teams are not always pleased with the decisions made by the series, he believes the participants are willing to work with officials to resolve situations that arise. In particular, he referenced the recent series’ decision and the follow-up appeal that was denied. He credits the involvement of a Supreme Court justice for taming the waters. Also, he didn’t want these discussions to take away from the importance of the Indianapolis 500.
Bernard believes Lotus will eventually succeed, even though there has been a change of ownership. “They are trying to do everything they can to win,” he said. “We have an underdog, and we will honor our contract as long as they are.”
Other manufacturers have expressed an interest in the series but no names were mentioned. Bernard said he expects to see more participants step forward.
Discussing the scheduling of road courses and ovals, Bernard said he wants the series to be different from NASCAR by racing on street and road courses along with ovals. Even though oval tracks were staging races, the attendance didn’t meet expectations and the sight of empty seats chagrined everyone.
The executive said that sponsors and partners come to races they need to see large crowds of spectators. While Roger Penske reportedly said a 60:40 split should be the goal, Bernard indicated that is easier said than done. Talks are thought to be ongoing with Richmond and Phoenix and the success of the upcoming race at the Milwaukee Mile may well set the stage for the future. “If we let it go this time, it will become a mothball. This race is very important to us,” he commented.
Bernard said a start-up of a road or street course costs some $6 to $10 million in the first year, and it takes a while to recover the investment. Breaking-even in the initial years isn’t realistic with the success of the production the priority.
Ft. Lauderdale is still high on the discussion list for the 2013 season but no decisions have been made. Road America is another venue that many would like to see on the schedule but Bernard said the Milwaukee race needs to have its run, particularly with the involvement of the Andretti organization. The latter group is also involved with the promotion of the Baltimore street race on the Labor Day weekend.
The death of popular driver Dan Wheldon came up and Bernard let it be known that the driver’s passing had affected him deeply. “That date in October changed a lot of our lives,” he said. “When I look back on it, I see it as one of the worst moments in my life and how fast life can change. It brings racing to reality and there are no guaranties in this life. When a driver signs up to be a race-car driver, they understand the risks that go along with it. That’s a consequence unfortunately and always has been.”
He went on to say changes in the cars and tracks are constantly being managed in an effort to provide a safe playing field. “There’s no easy solution but there’s a promise that we are fully committed to making the sport safe,” he noted.