INDYCAR Boss Touts Series, Slams Critics
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Addressing what he termed the “many critics” of the IZOD IndyCar Series, CEO Randy Bernard promised the 2012 season will provide “one helluva ride” when it hits the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., next month.
“It’s time for everyone to put its faith back in INDYCAR,” Bernard said during a State of the Sport address delivered at the close of two days of conferences in Indianapolis. “This year promises to showcase fierce competition on the track, maybe the most balanced ever. We at INDYCAR believe the series is headed towards a strong passion that will provide excellent entertainment and value for everyone involved.”
The Streets of St. Pete will play host to the 2012 opener on March 25. The 2011 season ended with the tragic death of two-time/reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16. Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing clinched his third consecutive driver’s championship and fourth overall on a day when the only laps run were in tribute to Wheldon, the popular 33-year-old Englishman who was caught-up in a grinding, 15-car accident.
“We ended 2011 with the heartbreaking loss of our friend Dan Wheldon. His absence hangs over us still,” Bernard said. “It’s imperative we commemorate Dan’s life by continuing to make great strides in our sport, from safety to the competition to the overall health and growth of the series. We must communicate better. We must work together. We must grow the sport together.”
The Las Vegas race also marked the end of marketing superstar Danica Patrick’s seven-year/one victory open-wheel career, and her subsequent fulltime move from Andretti Autosport to NASCAR’s Nationwide and Sprint Cup series. Those events since have vied for attention with development of the next generation Dallara DW12 chassis – named in honor of test driver Wheldon – and a fresh round of twin-turbocharged V-6 “engine wars” involving longtime series partner Honda, returning manufacturer Chevrolet and new supplier Lotus.
“I’d like to take a moment to address the many critics our series has faced,” said Bernard, who is beginning his third season as CEO in 2012. “I read and hear the same things that all of you do, that INDYCAR is headed for Doomsday; the series will be out of business in two years is what I heard two years ago. I counter that belief with the fact that the IZOD IndyCar Series just had one of its best financial years in its history. That could not have happened without our sponsors and partners.
“We heard particularly during the month of May the Hulman-George family (was) selling Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR. I can promise you that one of the very first things Mrs. George ever told me was her unwavering commitment of her and her family to the Speedway and the series.
“We heard some snickering when the Iconic Advisory Committee introduced the new car and said we would never attract a new engine manufacturer. Wrong again. We’re very proud to say that we have Honda, Chevy and Lotus with us. We faced doubt over the size of our field and speculation we’d be lucky to have 18 cars on the grid this season because of the introduction of the new Dallara DW12 and the economy. Wrong again. We are very excited to have a minimum of 26 cars compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012.”
Bernard also squashed speculation about his job security. “Many wrongfully predicted I’d be gone within a year, or I was just using this as a ‘launching pad,’ ” said Bernard, former CEO of the Professional Bull Riders, Inc. “I’m here to say, once and for all, I will be with INDYCAR as long as the Hulman-George family and the board wants me. I plan on keeping the promise I made to the Hulman-George family and the board when they gave me this tremendous opportunity two years ago.
“No one could deny or claim we haven’t made mistakes along the way. We have. But our only goal every single day with INDYCAR is to better it and make it stronger. We have fantastic drivers, we have outstanding teams and partners willing to invest millions into the series in an effort to help this series thrive and ensure INDYCAR will be here for another century.”
Bernard said the series made significant gains last year in the areas of television numbers, live attendance and public relations awareness.
“In 2011, I stood up here and told you one of our goals was to increase our television audience by 15 percent,” Bernard said of a schedule that was carried primarily on VERSUS, with the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 broadcast on ABC. “Our (overall) viewership increased by 28 percent…(in) a year many wrongfully predicted that we would be boring because of an eight-year-old car. They forgot we have great drivers and great story lines with them. Next year we anticipate another 15 percent growth in our television audience.”
The series’ 16-race 2012 schedule will feature six races on ABC and 10 events on the rebranded NBC Sports Network, formerly VERSUS.
“Last year we also stood up here on the stage and told you we never wanted to use that acronym ‘IRL’ (Indy Racing League) again. You’ve supported INDYCAR very strongly this year,” Bernard said. “This year we’re going to ask you never to use the word ‘VERSUS’ again. It’s now NBC Sports Network.”
Bernard projected a live attendance growth of 10 percent for 2011, and basically hit the mark at 9.8 percent. “Next year we anticipate even a more aggressive goal than that, 15 percent for 2012,” Bernard said. “On our PR front, we had a 36.8 percent increase on our print articles. On our web impressions, nearly 37 billion, (was) a 29 percent increase. Our blog posts, over 103 percent increase.
“It’s time for everyone to put its faith back in INDYCAR. I know when you tune into ABC and NBC Sports Network you’ll see what an incredible product we have. I’m confident that the strong staff at INDYCAR, along with the drivers, the teams, the sponsors, the promoters and all the fans can bring INDYCAR to a new height. So let’s sit back, buckle-up and hold on tight because 2012 promises to be one helluva ride.”
Four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti and Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden were among drivers and team members recognized for their achievements in 2011 during the State of INDYCAR presentation.
2011 IZOD IndyCar Series award winners
Championship driver: Dario Franchitti
Herff Jones Championship Driver Award (ring valued at $5,000): Dario Franchitti
Ritmo Mundo Championship Driver Award (diamond watch valued at $100,000): Dario Franchitti
Championship team/sponsor: Target Chip Ganassi Racing
Championship team managers: Scott Harner and Barry Wanser
Chief Mechanic of the Year Award: Kevin O’Donnell
Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award ($50,000): James Hinchcliffe, Newman/Haas Racing
Second-place championship driver: Will Power/Verizon Team Penske
Third-place championship driver: Scott Dixon/Target Chip Ganassi Racing
Tony Renna Rising Star Award: James Hinchcliffe/Newman/Haas Racing
BOSCH Platinum Award ($10,000 for highest-finishing driver using Bosch spark plugs): Dario Franchitti
Raybestos Road & Street Course Challenge ($25,000 cash or product): Will Power
2011 Firestone Indy Lights award winners
Championship driver (mini Firehawk Cup): Josef Newgarden
Herff Jones Championship Driver Award (ring valued at $4,000): Josef Newgarden
Ritmo Mundo Championship Driver Award (watch valued at $25,000): Josef Newgarden
Championship team (mini Firehawk Cup): Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Chief Mechanic of the Year: Sean Birmingham
Second-place championship driver: Esteban Guerrieri/Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Third-place championship driver: Stefan Wilson/Andretti Autosport
Firestone Painting Award: Josef Newgarden
Greg Moore Legacy Award: Josef Newgarden
Gregory & Appel “Securing Tomorrow” Award ($5,000): Josef Newgarden
Raybestos Road & Street Course Challenge (10,000): Josef Newgarden
TV coverage of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule will feature six races on ABC and 10 events on the rebranded NBC Sports Network.
The 2012 season will mark the 48th consecutive year that ABC will air the Indianapolis 500, extending one of the longest relationships between a sporting event and a television network. ABC’s coverage of the Indy 500 and the five other races will be expanded to include live streaming of ABC’s onboard cameras on ESPN3, ESPN’s signature broadband sports network.
NBC Sports Network, the IZOD IndyCar Series’ exclusive cable network, will carry the inaugural visit to China for the Streets of Qingdao event on Aug. 19. Formerly known as VERSUS, the NBC Sports Network serves as a 24/7 cable platform for NBC Sports.
Date Track Venue layout Broadcast
March 25 Streets of St. Petersburg 1.8-mile street course ABC
April 1 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course NBCSN
April 15 Streets of Long Beach 1.968-mile street course NBCSN
April 29 Streets of Sao Paulo 2.536-mile street course NBCSN
May 27 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval ABC
June 3 Raceway at Belle Isle Park 2.1-mile street course ABC
June 9 Texas Motor Speedway 1.5-mile quadoval NBCSN
June 16 The Milwaukee Mile 1-mile oval ABC
June 23 Iowa Speedway 0.875-mile oval NBCSN
July 8 Streets of Toronto 1.755-mile street course ABC
July 22 Edmonton City Centre Airport 1.973-mile airport course NBCSN
Aug. 5 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course ABC
Aug. 19 Streets of Qingdao, China 3.87-mile street course NBCSN
Aug. 26 Infineon Raceway 2.303-mile road course NBCSN
Sept. 2 Streets of Baltimore 2-mile street course NBCSN
Sept. 15 Auto Club Speedway 2-mile oval NBCSNOne Comment