INDYCAR Again Digs Self Into A Dark Hole
The engines of the cars in this year’s darn-good Indianapolis 500 had barely cooled – well, except for the Lotus engines, which were thoroughly cooled after being black flagged for being, basically, lousy – when talk of an INDYCAR revolt began to surface.
A revolt against the series’ leader, president and CEO Randy Bernard.
It was a revolt which was made public by Bernard himself, as he Tweeted that a team owner was out to get him.
The pace of the story picked in the days after the Tweet as several high-profile owners talked about the situation when they arrived in Detroit, site of last Sunday’s street race at Belle Isle.
As they talked about the situation, most of the owners were low-key. That is, they down-played any talk, any acknowledgement of a real revolt and instead stressed they were happy to be back at Belle Isle after a four-year absence and that it was important for all involved in IndyCar to work together in fixing its problems.
But reports persisted that some team owners and drivers were very unhappy with the way things are going in the series. And this week, a couple of insiders told RacinToday.com the same thing.
The question is: Did Bernard and his administration bring the wrath of owners down upon themselves or
is this just the kind of internecine car-owner griping which led to the demise of CART and the birth of the Indy Racing League?
The Bernard era got off to an interesting start. During the teleconference announcing he had been hired three years ago, the former Professional Bull Riding leader proclaimed he knew nothing about racing. He seemed to say: Hey, bull riding, car racing, what’s the difference.
But Bernard did get down to work. Hard work, by virtually all accounts.
And, his tenure at the top has been marked by dramatic changes. Lot of them.
Changed has been everything from rules to equipment to the schedule and to the business model.
It has been the on-track change which appears to be at the heart of the current revolt. Specifically, the change to the new Dallara DW 12 chassis and the re-introduction of competition among engine makers.
The new chassis is the result of a Bernard-appointed committee – the ICONIC committee – which selected Dallara as the company best-suited to build much-needed new cars. After the decision was made to go to the new chassis, several small-team owners freaked.
One of those owners – a long-timer who had spent a bundle building inventory for the old cars – angrily told me over a beer at a downtown Indianapolis steak joint one night that it appeared that that decision was going to drive owners like him out of the sport.
Economics continue to vex owners.
The new cars are much more expensive – on the front end and also, to fix – than was promised. Hundreds of thousands of dollars per car more expensive.
Deep-pocketed owner Chip Ganassi told reporters in Detroit that the new IndyCar cars are more expensive than his Sprint Cup cars. Ganassi, who said he is not pushing the revolt, told the Detroit News, “We’re strapped with a lousy contract, somebody has to get in there and make a better deal because a lot of these guys (owners) are going to die on the vine before the end of the year if they don’t fix that.”
Another insider told me during a telephone conversation that even the big teams cannot comfortably absorb the cost over-runs. He explained how teams budget expenses prior to the start of seasons and that they plan their entire seasons around those budgets.
Take a multi-car team – like Ganassi’s, Andretti Autosport or Team Penske. Counting T-cars, those teams can have six to eight or even more cars. If each of those cars came in at $200,000 over budgeted cost, that translates to a hit of somewhere around – or in excess of – $1 million.
Nobody in INDYCAR has pockets that are that deep.
The engine situation has also caused concern among owners. Especially those who opted to go with the new Chevrolet engines this year. They were upset because they think tinkering with rules governing turbochargers favored – rescued – Honda during the month of May at Indy.
As with the “war” which ignited between CART and the Indy Racing League back in the mid-1990s, camps appear to be forming around the new revolt. Camps of teams, of fans, and also of media as reporters and outlets spring to the defense of one side or the other in the spat.
Even blame-Tony George syndrome has been dusted off for re-use as the man who spent millions and millions of his own dollars to keep open-wheel racing alive in America has been cited as a participant in the revolt.
The pro-Bernard side has touted the successes of the Bernard regime while glossing over the missteps. The anti-Bernard side has accented the failures of the regime and paid little mention to the successes.
The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the no-mans land between the trenches.
The view from here is that:
– The new chassis was rushed into use. The claims that it has performed well this year – and especially at Indy – ignore the gearbox, clutch and re-fueling problems which have plagued the racing this year.
– Fans do not really care about costs to owners. They want good racing. This may be a short-sighted way to think but it does exist. Pleading financial injustice to fans who know all about real, everyday, ability-to-pay-bills financial injustice just does not cut it in the grandstands.
– Lotus’s commitment and ability to compete against two of the biggest automakers in the world should have been more thoroughly vetted. By the series and by teams.
– INDYCAR did not act decisively or fairly on the turbocharger issues. Chevy started the season with a better product. It’s two-turbo system worked better on the road courses and then, also, at Indy.
– The fines and penalties handed out during the month were not adequately explained to fans or the media. Announcing that a penalty had been issued because rule 1.4-35.x29 was broken is almost insulting and certainly smells like lack of transparency.
– Taking the revolt public by Bernard signals deeper problems or lack of judgement and, perhaps, insecurity. This is the same person who fined owner John Barnes of Panther Racing $20,000 for Tweeting anti-INDYCAR remarks earlier in the year.
INDYCAR heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for a race at one of the final high-speed ovals on the schedule.
It heads there with several drivers admitting to being nervous about racing on the type of track which came under fire at the end of last year when driver Dan Wheldon lost his life at Las Vegas. It comes in the wake of news that the race in China will likely not happen and now, it comes amid the back room whispers of disgruntlement and revolt.
Indycar racing is a wonderful sport. The cars are fast, the teams are historic, the drivers among the most colorful and interesting in all of sports. Some of my very favorite people in sports walked/still walk the IndyCar paddocks.
The Indy 500 is STILL the greatest sporting event in the world.
Some day – because most things on earth are cyclical – open-wheel racing will again attract mass recognition for all of those things.
If, that is, it can just get its act together.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments