Joe Jennings, IndyCar correspondent
IndyCar Series president Randy Bernard often pops into the press room on race weekend’s to discuss current events, and not surprisingly he did that Sunday morning at Barber Motorsports Park. As always, he didn’t dodge any questions and gave straight-forward comments to reporters’ queries.
The IZOD IndyCar Series contract with ZOOM Motorsports has one more year to run and Bernard let it be known that he wants to continue racing at this impressive facility. After the impromptu press conference, Bernard headed off for a meeting with ZOOM officials to discuss not only an extension of the multi-year contract but the possibility of them promoting a race elsewhere.
“I think this promoter (Gene Hallman) is outstanding,” Bernard stated. “You see how professional he is, and he’s the type of promoter we want to keep in the Series for a number of years. These guys (ZOOM) have done a first-class job here, and I would love to see them do another event somewhere.”
Assuming a long-term extension is done for Barber, Bernard said track changes may be requested, to allow for more passing zones. “Let’s see what happens today before we ask for changes,” he said. “We do know Barber is a first-class facility and has a first-class promoter. It is an honor for IndyCar to race here.”
Twenty-six teams are racing this weekend but the Indianapolis 500 traditionally starts 33 cars, and Bernard was queried whether that magic number could be reached for the 2012 classic. Although he couldn’t pinpoint where the additional entrants would come from, he thought that the engine suppliers would step up to the plate if called upon. At present, Chevrolet powers 11 teams, Honda 10 and Lotus five.
We are going to stay very focused on that (number) to make sure we have 33 cars in the race, to include Bump Day,” Bernard said, indicating he thought the Chevrolet and Honda could bump their commitment up to 14 each. But the two manufacturers have to assure themselves and the presently supported teams they can provide adequate support to all concerned parties.
Regarding Lotus, he said the manufacturer came into the Series as an underdog but he believes they can catch up. “They told us they were six to eight weeks behind, so I think it is important for us to continue supporting them and stay optimistic they are going to get this engine figured out.” By the time Indianapolis rolls around, he projected Lotus will add another team to its list. One possibility mentioned is French driver Jean Alesi, who is thought to be training for an IndyCar stint.
IndyCar just announced a 2013 street race in Houston, which will give the state of Texas two IndyCar races, which Bernard believes to be very workable. “Our fan base is strong in Texas and Houston has the fourth- largest city in the United States, and we have to look out for what is best for our sport,” he noted. “A street race and an oval track (Texas Motor Speedway) have two different kinds of demographics. And it represents a complement to the Series to reach a broader demographic, which should be more appealing to our sponsors.”
And it represents a complement to the Series to reach a broader demographic, which should be more appealing to our sponsors.
Regarding television ratings, the 2011 race at Barber didn’t fare well and the IndyCar president hopes these numbers will improve this weekend. Bernard said the ever-important ratings’ numbers tend to go down when IndyCar goes up against a PGA (golf) event. “PGA is a demographic that IndyCar seriously attracts, and I think we have to learn from it,” he commented.
A week ago for the St. Petersburg race, the TV ratings peaked at 2 p.m. and fell slightly after that. Bernard attributed the lower-than-anticipated ratings to the competition posed by a golf tournament that featured Tiger Woods and the always popular NCAA basketball tournament. “Ratings always concern me and we just have to continue getting the press out there and developing storylines,” Bernard said.
Bernard went on to discuss efforts underway to bring in younger fans thorough the upcoming “Turbo” movie and by paying close attention to the grassroots’ series and how IndyCar can bring up younger drivers and get more Americans into the Series. Said Bernard, “I think we have a solid plan in place, and we have opened an office in Los Angeles to start identifying more trendy things, ranging from product placement, music, theatrical and otherwise -- all of which will be very complementary on reaching a younger demographic without losing the traditional fan.”