We had the chance to catch up with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard on Saturday in Long Beach to get an update on several issues confronting the series, including the engine issues, TV ratings, and other interesting topics.
Q The Chevy drivers are a little perplexed that they suffer on the grid because of a manufacturer issue. But you know, your people said yesterday, that's not going to change. What is your take on it?
RANDY BERNARD: Yeah, I think that Chevy, Honda, understand that; that it's a joint partnership between the team, the driver and the engine manufacturer.
You know, when two years ago, or before we even announced the new car, I had made sure around the world, talked to the engine manufacturers and talked to them if they wanted to come back to IndyCar someday. There were several different perspectives and the majority went like this: I've been in IndyCar, and it had become an engine war and we couldn't bring that kind of value out of it. Or, I heard about the engine wars and top companies spending $70 million on engines.
The rules we put in place was to protect that. We are offering an engine, a 2.2 liter turbocharged engine that goes from 550 to 700 horsepower for $695,000 with testing. That's five engines for $10,000. But a lot of people don't understand the old car was a little over $990,000 engine lease that didn't include testing and you're paying $990,000; 75 dollars a mile.
So with last year's engine it was about $1.2 million with testing and this one is $695,000 with testing. So really what we try to do is say, we don't want engine wars. We want to create rules that are going to make everybody competitive and make it fair. And I think that's what we did.
And I think that little Phillips (ph) has done an outstanding job of working with the engine manufacturers on the rules and everybody understood the rules coming into it. I mean, if Peyton Manning is injured, they're not going to start the NFL season later because of it. It's a rule.
Q. Is it fair to penalize the driver
RANDY BERNARD: It's a partnership. And you know, that's racing. I mean, same thing, if your quarterback breaks his arm, the whole team pays the price. That's racing is very complex, because you have so many elements of it. And I think that from the series standpoint, I think it's going to be a very exciting race from the standpoint, can Chevy get to the front.
We don't find pleasure in penalizing somebody, but we also have rules.
Q. Do you think it was such an extreme circumstance that it was something that no one could reasonably predict whatever happened?
RANDY BERNARD: I don't think that. I think the rules put in place are a way to make sure that people aren't artificially blowing them and getting a new engine. I think they must have had a serious issue with the engine in order to pull it on all the their cars.
Q. It seemed like three or four cars had trouble today and certainly the drivers are bringing it up at the drivers meeting but is there anything you can tell us about any course changes?
RANDY BERNARD: No, to be honest with you, I have been in meetings all day so I haven't even heard about that.
Q. How do you think the blocking rules this year are working out in terms of the drivers being able to do what's instinctive when they are driving?
RANDY BERNARD: We've seen a lot of passing the first two races, and I think that we have, you know, both our fields have gotten high marks from the drivers and team owners so far, at least what I've heard from both.
I think I've got to let him do his job and stay out of his job. I think that a lot of things with this car, including the carbon fiber brakes, they are able to push into those corners better. I think there are a lot of things that are given opportunities and I think as long as there's great passing out there, and there's exciting racing Barfield doing a great job.
Q. Could you comment on how you feel about the TV ratings from the first two ratings? They are down a little bit; are you disappointed with that?
RANDY BERNARD: Definitely disappointed. I think you look at your attendance and you see we are up 15 percent in St. Petersburg you and see we are up ten percent in Barber and they are predicting 15 percent here, and up at Indy 500. Even though last year was a centennial year there, was some concerns we reached a pinnacle for the centennial, and does it drop after that. To see that we are up in these markets, I have to believe that ratings will follow.
You know, I'm not willing to make excuses. We have Tiger Woods, goes to the lead of a PGA event; for St. Petersburg, we are up against NASCAR last week. Those are excuses. The bottom line is NBC and us have to do a better job of promoting, and we have to make sure that we are getting the right story lines up there.
I think Rubin Barrichello is a fantastic story line. Dario Franchitti, great story line. We are not I think our partners can help us a little more on making sure those story lines are being promoted.
Q. I believe the ABC contract precludes NBC from putting any races on NBC; is that correct?
RANDY BERNARD: Correct.
Q. So how can NBC promote races on NBC to get people to come to the Sports Network?
RANDY BERNARD: Yes, they can promote all they want on NBC network if they want to.
Q. If they want to.
RANDY BERNARD: They said they have, but I haven't seen them when they ran. I'm not up at 3:00 A.M. (Laughter) I'm just kidding. I don't know when they are run.
Q. What do you think the biggest thing that IndyCar can do to attract more fans?
RANDY BERNARD: We broke the series into two sectors, endemic and non endemic. We think that on your endemic, we need to focus on we lost 15 to 20 million in the mid 90s, no question about it. We need to derive that credibility back to that endemic fan that we have the best drivers in the world and we are back. That's what the Rubin Barrichellos can do is help build credibility.
On the non endemic side, it's more about entertainment and value and making sure that we bring them in here and get them here and make them enjoy it once they get here, I hope that we can impress them enough that they comeback.
So I think those are several. Of course what we are trying to do here in L.A. with our L.A. office is really work on our mainstream - our Turbo movie we think is a great step, not only bringing a younger demo but also just reaching mainstream.
Q. How important do you think expanding internationally is to that and how important is that to you?
RANDY BERNARD: We are a North American, actually, American governing body of open wheel racing and I think we need to put our priority here in the U.S. most importantly. But, in saying that, we would like to have three or four events international, you know, two in Canada, two outside of the country, maybe one more, because that's where our partners want to do business, a lot of our sponsors. China and Brazil are hot markets in the world right now.
Q. Given that you are racing internationally, what's your feeling on Formula 1 and the about a rain situation?
RANDY BERNARD: Well, I'm glad it's him (Bernie Ecclestone) and not us. (Laughter).
We had the same issue last year. I kind of know right where Bernie Ecclestone is on it. I think that when, if we remember right, last year after the big earthquake in Japan, our teams didn't want to go.
And you're put in a position, you have to decide. It comes down to one person. It's myself; had to decide whether we were going to go or not. And enough research came back that it was safe. But, in the back of your mind, you're always wondering, is there going to be another earthquake, or what if, what if.
I think the same thing with him. He's got to be having those questions going through his mind right now and I wouldn't want to be in that position right now.
Q. The week has shown that there are growing pains within the car, because of the engine; do you think things will be further enough along that things go well at Indianapolis, I ask, because last couple of years, the crowd size, the buzz and everything, is sort of moving back up.
RANDY BERNARD: Yeah, great question. And there are several things. We are down to 218.6 mph at Indy; if you guys look at your numbers, you'll see, typically cars will increase by three miles an hour or so during the month. So if that's true, we are around 221 mph in May.
We believe we're at 224 right now, from our CFD in our wind tunnel from qualifying, we are going to be at 224 or 225 mph.
Tony Stewart called me on this when he heard about this. He said, you know, the year before I won the pole, I don't remember the exact number he told me, I think it was 234. But he said the year he won it, it was 219 and the next year it was a new car. He said: You know what, people didn't think about it. I wasn't embarrassed because I was at 219 and it was 234 the year before. I was excited. It's a different car. It's a new formula and it's going to take time.
I think that the bottom line is, I personally think that I would like to see speed again at Indy 500
Q. Comment on the reliability and durability we have seen this week.
RANDY BERNARD: I think that these manufacturers have done their homework and I think they are prepared for it and we'll find out. That's what makes it exciting is it's a whole new dimension to the sport is the reliability on this. They take it from a 3.5 down to a 2.3 liter and looking for before between 516 and 700 horsepower.
Q. What do you think the impact is of social media on the racing?
RANDY BERNARD: I think it's great. It's the way of our world. I think that whether it's Facebook or Twitter, it's instantaneous. And this world is all about instant access. It's not about reading it in the papers. There's importance to it but social media has given fans a way to really connect with that person because they are living that person's life. I think it humanizes them more, and I think that what we have to do is continue to try to grow that.
I think, you know, this is one of the areas I gave myself a bad grade. I think we have to be much stronger in our digital media.
Q. I noticed a report yesterday in a local newspaper that you had met Bobby Rahal and Ford; is that a true story?
RANDY BERNARD: Yeah, well, Ford, the Ford Tough Series with PBR, have a tremendous relationship with them and had a lot of respect for them and think the world of them. And so when I was making all those calls to the engine manufacturers, that's one of my first calls that, hey, can we get you in our series.
I think the exact quote from Jamie was, not only, no; hell, no. (Laughter).
But what was great about that, the other side of that was, okay, that was like in January when we announced the car in July. And December, I see Jamie out in Las Vegas and he goes, hey, you know what you should come up to Detroit sometime. We like what we are seeing over there and we would like a little bit more information about it and understand what your long term future plans are.
And so, you know, we just had a great meeting with them. And I think I was very appreciative that they took the time to sit down with us and meet with us. There's no promises on the table. I meet with every manufacturer I can, and try to deliver the message that IndyCar is on its way back.
Q. Lotus is involved in so many forms of racing and their balance sheet is not the best - does that concern you?
RANDY BERNARD: I stay focused on what we are trying to do with them. I have weekly conversations with them. And they have been committed.
You know, I stand behind that they are the underdog, they have told us that. They told us they were going to be ten to 12 weeks behind and they have done everything they could to make their commitment to us.
And that rule that you have to supply up to 40 percent of the engines, you know, anyone that signed up, they have delivered engines. That was really tough. But when Jay Penske signed up, it was a little late - they had only 30 days and they made sure they were able to take care of it. So they are working under the wire and they are working hard and under a lot of pressure.
But you've got to hand it to them. I had three fans on the way over here the last couple of days stop and say, hey, we are rooting for the underdog, we want to see them do well. That's what I love about any sport. There's the people that are going to love Chevy but there are going to be people that like the underdog and who knows what they can do, but I just have to continue to support them.
Q. Speaking of Lotus, do you understand the legal machinations with regard to their ownership?
RANDY BERNARD: You know, I try to get all my source information right from the horse's mouth. So I'm talking with all of the executives over there, or most of the executives and I think they have been very honest with us.
Like I said what my goal is, is to stay focused on IndyCar and making sure that they stay strong. And you know, why Lotus likes IndyCar so much, it's American based. And they have no secrets about it, they show the new cars they want to launch, and a significant amount of that market share is American. So they want to have that American presence.
Q. Because my understanding, which could be wrong is that Lotus engine development is still waiting for more money to be transferred from Lotus but because of the litigation, there's a problem of getting funding. Do we have that correct?
RANDY BERNARD: The only thing I can say about that is that when Lotus sold, or the parent company sold, at that point they told us there was going to be I don't know if it was a 45 or 60 day holding period on all money until they could go through everything. And they were very up front with us and told us exactly what it was going to be, and you know, seven days before, it was going to be released, they called and told us.
So everything they have said they were going to do, they have followed through with so far.
Q. One other thing. Can you explain again the yellow flag change for the race and why was that done? You don't know?
RANDY BERNARD: Actually, I do know, but I don't want to usurp Barfield - I think it's really important for me to stay behind Beaux Barfield and let him answer those questions and not try to put words in his mouth.
Last year, there was always discrepancies, and I feel it's only fair to let the people that we put in place if you look at what we did this last year, we have changed our car, we have changed to three new engines, we have changed our chief operating officer, we have changed our race director, we changed our technical director, our Web site, our app, all in the last four months.
So now, we have done all this, and now we have got to let them do their job. I need people that I believe in and that believe in me, and I believe 100% in, so I would rather just let them do their job.
Q. What is the status of the China race?
RANDY BERNARD: We are getting closer. We had a good call with them Friday, and an announcement is getting closer.