IndyCar Series Vegas Bound

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 21 2011

INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard announced Tuesday that his series is headed for Las Vegas. And, he offered up a $5 million challenge to drivers from other series.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Open-wheel racing will return to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this season, when the IZOD IndyCar Series stages its 2011 finale on the 1.5-mile quad-oval.

The finale will be staged on Oct. 16, previously listed as TBA on the schedule. And to make things more interesting, a $5 million bonus will be offered to any non-IndyCar driver who can win the event.

The IndyCar Series last competed at LVMS, part of O. Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc. empire, in 2000 in a race won by Al Unser Jr.  Five series events were run at LVMS from 1996-2000.

“I said at the INDYCAR State of the Sport in mid-January that we must give our fans a great experience with three primary elements – great entertainment, competition and value,” Randy Bernard, CEO of INDYCAR, said Tuesday. “There is not a city in the world that can provide entertainment like Las Vegas. Las Vegas Motor Speedway will provide some of the fastest and most exciting racing fans will see anywhere, and the ticket promotion is true value. This is a time when INDYCAR can tell our fans that we thank them for their support.”

Heading to Vegas also works well for the the series’ title sponsor and that company’s customer base.

“In 2010, our first year as the title sponsor, the IZOD brand, together with the league worked aggressively to build awareness and excitement around the series, especially within the major markets, looking for ways to connect with new fans through a host of events and promotions that connected with pop culture,” said Mike Kelly, executive vice president of marketing for the Phillips-Van Heusen corporation, owners of the IZOD brand. “We can’t think of a better place than Las Vegas –  one of the greatest entertainment cities in the world – to take these initiatives to new levels and celebrate the 2011 World Championship.”

Bernard also announced the $5 million challenge to any professional race car driver not competing in the IZOD IndyCar Series for the season finale race, reinforcing the series’ positioning of its drivers as the best of the best.

“We showcase our drivers as being the very best, fastest and most versatile in the world,” he said, “and we are putting our money where our mouth is. If any race car driver in the world outside of the IZOD IndyCar Series can win the Vegas race, we will give you $5 million. We will accept five entries for this challenge, with entrants being determined by mid-summer.”

The IZOD IndyCar Series competed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval from 1996 to 2000, and Champ Car competed at the facility in 2004 and ’05. Drivers who have visited Victory Lane at the facility include Unser Jr., Sam Schmidt, Arie Luyendyk and Sebastien Bourdais. The racetrack was reconfigured in 2006.

“We had the opportunity to conduct a test with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske at Vegas last November and our cars performed very well at this facility,” said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and operations for INDYCAR. “Its banking and width is similar to Chicagoland Speedway, which has produced some of the most exciting, side-by-side racing and closest finishes in the history of the series.”

The schedule has been in flux this offseason, with the street race at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, initially dropped in November and then returned to its traditional July date. INDYCAR officials also recently announced that the series plans to make its last trip to the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi in Japan – site of Danica Patrick’s lone victory in April 2008 – in September.

According to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a three-day race weekend is planned this fall, beginning with qualifying on Friday, Oct. 14. The 15th annual Smith’s 350k for NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series will run on Oct. 15. The Firestone Indy Lights Series will join the IndyCar Series event on Sunday’s schedule.

Homestead-Miami Speedway, a 1.5-mile oval owned and operated by SMI rival International Speedway Corporation, played host to the season-finale in 2009 and 2010. Dario Franchitti secured both his second and record-tying third series championships at HMS, which first played host to INDYCAR under Indy Racing League sanction in April 2001

The addition of LVMS will complete an 18-race schedule set to begin on March 27 on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The schedule includes an even split between ovals and road/street course events. Included is the series’ inaugural double-header under the lights on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway quadoval in Fort Worth on June 11.

The 33-car starting field for the 100th anniversary edition of the Indianapolis 500 will take the green flag at noon (ET) on Sunday, May 29. The start time had been 1 p.m. since 2006.

“With less than 100 days until the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, we are excited to finalize our start time so our fans can begin to make plans to celebrate with us at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Jeff Belskus, IMS Corporation president/CEO. “Starting the race at noon gives us an additional hour of daylight to ensure we can complete all 500 miles of the race in case we were to encounter any kind of inclement weather. Noon also has the green flag waving in a time slot that is better for our West Coast viewers.

“Our fans also have told us they like an earlier starting time, and it’s very important for us to stay responsive to their vital feedback.”

The inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911 started at 10 a.m. after race organizers determined that start time would allow the event to be completed by dinner time. That stood as the official starting time through 1941. After a four-year hiatus due to World War II, the race resumed in 1946 with an 11 a.m. start, a time that remained unchanged for 59 consecutive races through 2004.

The start time moved to noon in 2005 and again to 1 p.m. in 2006, when Indiana began observing Daylight Savings Time.

Meanwhile, Race Day tickets are on sale starting at $30. Fans can buy tickets online at www.imstix.com, by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700, or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area, or by visiting the ticket office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.

Children 12-and-under will receive free general admission to any IMS event in 2011 when accompanied by an adult general admission ticket-holder.

Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are on sale. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 21 2011
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