Jay Frye, IndyCar’s president of competition and operations, says he is in talks with “six or seven” potential replacements for Brian Barnhart as series race director, who he praises for handling his departure in “exactly the right way.”
Barnhart, the one-time director of race operations at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and in the Indy Racing League, used to face regular criticism from drivers, fans and media. But during Derrick Walker’s 2013-’15 tenure as head of racing and operations, and more particularly Frye’s restructuring of Race Control since the end of 2015, Barnhart became a highly respected race director.
However, on Nov. 29, Barnhart announced his departure from this position to become president of the fledgling Harding Racing team, which impressed in its first three IndyCar outings in 2017, and is expected to soon be announced as a fulltime entrant for next season.
Frye told Motorsport.com: “Brian was presented a phenomenal opportunity and he handled it in exactly the right way.
“We’d known about this for a little while and we went through the process with him and talked a lot. I’m sure the dilemma caused him a lot of sleepless nights. But this was an opportunity that was really good for Brian and we 100 percent supported his decision. He’s had a 24-year run within IndyCar, and that’s a long time in professional sports, so we sure appreciate all he’s done.
“Where he’s going, it’s a new team and that’s a good thing – we have multiple new teams coming into the series next year and Brian being at one of them, Harding, will make that team stronger, I have no doubts about that.”
Regarding his replacement, Frye said: “We have a handful of people who we’re talking to – some of them will be familiar to you, some will be not so well known.
“Timescale-wise, that role has to be filled before we go to St. Petersburg, that’s obvious, but actually it needs to be done a long time before that because the quality of people we’re talking with are already lining up their deals for the new year. We understand that.
“But we’re encouraged, and certainly we feel we’ll find the right person from the people we’re looking at.”
Return for Barfield?
IMSA’s current race director Beaux Barfield, who left IndyCar in the fall of 2014, is considered favorite for the role. And for 2018, the two series’ schedules would allow him to officiate all IMSA and IndyCar races. The only clash comes on July 8, and would require him to fly from Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to Iowa Speedway – as will Team Penske’s Tim Cindric and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Mike Hull.
Asked directly if Barfield was lead candidate for the role, Frye remained non-committal.
“Well, I think Beaux did a good job before but… we’re still taking names,” he said. “But sure, Beaux is among a limited pool of those who may want to do it, and an even smaller pool who have already proven they can do this type of job. So it's fair to say he'd be considered."
Frye also observed that the race director role has changed since he revamped the stewarding system for the start of the 2016 season, and those alterations would ease the transition of someone less experienced than Barfield who might be drafted into the role.
“Remember, Race Control is different now from how it was a few years ago,” he said, “with the steward program and a penalty guideline system that the teams understand. Hopefully we’ve created a better process, and whoever comes in and takes the race director role will plug into a system that already exists. We won’t be expecting a newcomer to come in and implement a new way of working.
“The foundation is set, we have a very good group, the race control people are outstanding and the stewards have done a great job. So this new person can, as I say, plug in, and the existing group will support him, and we’ll just keep rolling.”