Bernard Has IndyCar Series On The Rise As '11 Season Gets Underway In St. Pete
The '11 Izod IndyCar Series season begins Sunday with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and "under the leadership of Randy Bernard, IndyCar is finally showing signs of re-emerging as a major player on the American sports landscape," according to John Oreovicz of ESPN.com. Bernard said, "We still have work to be done. But what excites me the most is that we have a solid financial foundation, and we're not trying to take shortcuts to accomplish our goals. I want to see us continue to grow and keep up this feeling of momentum and improvement." Oreovicz noted with the unification of open-wheel racing "now three full years in the past, IndyCar's focus is firmly on the future," and there is the "tantalizing prospect of three engine suppliers and a new chassis with multiple body kits in store for the 2012 season." But "in the meantime, the series hopes that minor tweaking of the competition rules -- mainly side-by-side restarts during all races -- will increase interest and excitement in 2011 in the final year of the Dallara-Honda spec formula." The involvement of U.S. drivers "is growing, with highly touted rookies J.R. Hildebrand and Charlie Kimball earning a promotion from the Indy Lights championship," and an effort is "being made to attracted United States Auto Club short-track stars to Indy Car racing instead of NASCAR." There also is a "fascinating subplot involving female drivers, with Danica Patrick fighting off challenges from Simona De Silvestro and Ana Beatriz." But Patrick is "tipped to switch her full-time focus to NASCAR in 2012," and "prolonged contract negotiations could adversely affect her focus this year" (ESPN.com, 3/23). In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin wrote, "By midseason, all eyes will be on Danica Patrick to see if she re-signs with Andretti Autosport or chooses NASCAR" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 3/23).
BREAKTHROUGH YEAR? USA TODAY's Nate Ryan notes the changes to IndyCar this season include all races featuring "double-file restarts" and a $5M bonus for any non-IndyCar driver if he or she can win the season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Ryan: "For a sport that has held tradition as sacred, the changes have been met with derision by some who fear creating a gimmicky vibe." But Bernard said that the "proof is that preseason ticket sales are up across the board." He said, "The three things I promised fans this year were entertainment, competition and value. It's very important to bring in the new fan. We have to bring new elements to showcase it" (USA TODAY, 3/23). When asked if this is the year that IndyCar "makes a big splash," Bernard said, "It's going to be a bigger splash than last year, I'm confident of that, and we're setting ourselves up because next year with ... Chevy, Honda and Lotus coming into our game it's going to make much more competition for 2012." Bernard added the series must " differentiate ourselves from NASCAR ... and every other genre of motorsports by being the fastest, most versatile race car and race car driver in the world" (Fox Business, 3/23).
MONDAY NIGHT SPECIAL? The INDY STAR's Cavin reports Bernard has "talked to Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage about staging a special" Izod IndyCar Series race at the track on a Monday night if the NFL "doesn't have a resolution" to the ongoing lockout. Neither Bernard nor Gossage is "ready to commit just yet, and Bernard said it might be mid-summer before a decision to move forward is made." Bernard: "It's all pie in the sky at this point, but I'm a firm believer that when one door closes on someone another one opens for someone else. We're ready to do anything and everything we can do to reach more mainstream, and I know the press will be hungry for more to cover if they're not covering football." Cavin notes there have been "exploratory conversations with television executives," and Versus "would have the right of first refusal" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 3/25).
SPREADING THE WORD: Bernard and several IndyCar drivers have been making the media rounds this week in advance of the season opener at St. Pete. Two-time defending IndyCar points champion Dario Franchitti appeared on CBS' "Late Show" Wednesday night and Helio Castroneves has been a guest on Fox Business and NBC's "Today" (THE DAILY). The AP's Michael Marot noted Bernard believes the fact that Versus is now run by NBC Sports "will create better promotional opportunities with NBC," such as Castroneves' "Today" appearance. Bernard: "It's an instant credibility in the sports world. They understand what they want to grow the network, and that's exciting to me" (AP, 3/23).