IndyCar CEO talks about future series expansion
Q: How important is the Andretti name for IndyCar?
RANDY BERNARD: I think Marco Andretti, he carries the Andretti name. Wherever you go in the world, Andretti is known in racing. Mario is one of the most well-known athletes in the world.
I think it helps us in so many significant ways, not just in the U.S. as he's an American, but I think his name has international presence.
Mario didn't start, what, until he was 24, 25. I think that's real important. This is Marco's stance. I've never seen him so confident. In the last couple years I heard him make comments they're luckier and things. I'm not hearing anything like that this year. I'm hearing this real positive Marco Andretti. It's like a new Marco to me. I think that's really neat.
I think seeing what James Hinchcliffe has done in that car, I think he's a young, up-and-coming superstar for us. The fact that he has Go Daddy getting behind him. Let's be honest, Danica did a great job here, but Go Daddy had such an important role in developing her stardom.
I just watched the very first Go Daddy commercial with James Hinchcliffe. It's funny. I think his personality, backed up by his driving skills, gives us great, great story lines.
Then Ryan Hunter-Reay, here is the All-American guy that is just a first-class poster child. This guy is good looking, great driver. He's got everything going for him. I think all of that combined is going to be really, really powerful for us.
I think having Newgarden, Josef Newgarden, seeing the ladder series is working. He won the Indy Lights, helped Sarah Fisher out, then did so well here, I think is another positive. To me that showcases our ladder series really working.
Another positive from the ladder series, the F-2000, 36 cars at our first race at St. Pete, with 80% of them being Americans. We're three years away from seeing the positive results of that.
But I think those are things that we have to take into consideration, the showcasing and building our sport. Nobody said this was going to be an overnight success. I've used this before. 'Don't give me a grapevine today and expect good wine tomorrow.' You've got to set yourself up. I think that's what we're trying to do.
Q. Regardless who the winner is, how much would a Bubba Watson-like moment help this series?
RANDY BERNARD: I come from the lifestyle of an entertainment background. I've always said there's three major factors to a great sport, and that is you have to have great competition, you have to have great entertainment for great value.
The entertainment part of that is when you're sitting at home on the couch or you're sitting here, you just watched an exhausting 500 miles of a great race, and that the drivers get absorbed in it and show their passion.
These 33 drivers, they have no guarantee they're going to be in the race next year. This could be their last opportunity to win. That's the drama. I think that is important to the sport.
Q. You have a new manufacturer in Chevy this year doing very well to start out. With them losing the appeal, do you think their anger over that is the relationship with you guys and the Chevy teams have been damaged at all? If so, what can you do to restore some of that?
RANDY BERNARD: I've been involved now in racing for 28 months. What I've seen is this unbelievable amount of passion to win, desire to win, not only from drivers but mainly from team owners.
When a call is not made in their direction, of course they're going to be upset. I don't care if it was Honda or Chevy that won it, I just wanted a fair process. Jack Snyder, great to hear the protest. I don't think anybody can deny having a Supreme Court justice, retired, hear the appeal. That was done for two reasons. I think the first and foremost was we wanted the very best. Secondly, say they did want to sue, I don't think any judge in this state is going to overturn a Supreme Court justice.
How can you say we made the wrong decision if a Supreme Court justice rules on the same way? And Jack Snyder, who is very competent, understands, has been very important for the rules for many, many years here at the Speedway.
So back to your question. No, I think Jim Campbell and Mark Kent and I have had many conversations. Jim came to me after the appeal and said, Listen, we're moving on, we made our best case, let's take the sport to the next level.
I mean, you know, we had some constructive criticism on how we can do things better. That's the most important thing. We're not saying we're perfect, but let's grow together.
Q. There wasn't exactly a cause-and-effect where Honda went out and won races with the additional boost. That would work into the favor of that decision.
RANDY BERNARD: We said since day one that the turbocharger would have parity. This was about the engine.
Q. So to answer the actual question, how are things with the team owners, and how mad is Roger?
RANDY BERNARD: You know, I'm not going to really take away from the Indy 500. I think that the Indy 500 is why we're here. I think, again, the team owners, their passion to win, there was a very upset team owner and still is. I think it's very clear that IndyCar is not going to play favorites. I think what you saw with penalties this week. It wasn't one-sided. If there was an infraction, it was given. We reported those. That's the new IndyCar.
We have a very competent IndyCar tech team. I think I'm going to stand behind their decisions.
Q. Explain the whole process because it said prequalifying inspections is what caught them. Why were they allowed to qualify with the brake situation like it was?
RANDY BERNARD: Good question. Will Phillips' opinion was it was fixed. Once they got in the car, hit it 12 times, there was no longer a problem.
Q. The aero kit manufacturers, how many are you going to get?
RANDY BERNARD: I'm glad you brought that up. We printed out the rules yesterday. It says May 25th as that date. If you continue to read, we have the right to allow any aero kit after that. Some have called us and said, Are you going to allow us to bring them in later? We want to truly understand these rules before you get them in. We said, You bet.
We, of course, wanted it out by May 1st. This process is so articulate. Not to say we didn't make mistakes. I think Will and his team have done a really good job of making sure that those rules were laid out and we know we need to give them some more time.
So, yes, that will happen.
Q. After the situation with Lotus, are you going to be prone not to let that go on to long?
RANDY BERNARD: Let's talk about Lotus for a minute. When we signed Lotus, they were fully committed. I still believe they are. They said from day one, We're eight weeks behind and it's going to take us some time to get up to speed. Then in January Lotus was sold. All their accounts were frozen I think for 45 days. Very typical when a company buys another company.
Lotus didn't get any breaks to help them really. Their racing team, they're not making those senior management calls. They're trying to do everything they can to win. I think we have an underdog. We need to make sure that we continue to honor our contract with them as long as they're honoring their contract, which they are.
Q. Any other manufacturers sniffing around to come in?
RANDY BERNARD: Yes, sniffing (laughter).
Q. Can you name any?
RANDY BERNARD: No. It would be unfair. I've learned in this sport, until you get it signed on the dotted line, it's as good as just sniffing.
I think it's important, we've had some serious meetings with some. There's some very, very strong interest out there. I think you'll see some other manufacturers here this weekend looking around.
Q. Mr. Penske said he was hoping for about a 60/40 split for road and street courses and ovals. Where do you see that split?
RANDY BERNARD: We set out two years ago, we defined, we wanted the sport of IndyCar to be differentiated from NASCAR and Formula One by saying we're the fastest and most versatile racecars in the world. We can say that because of our oval, road and street courses.
The next year, we were pretty fair on that in 2011. But we saw some events that weren't very good, quite honestly.
In our executive retreats this year, one thing we did was we sat back and said, What's most important to us? We said, Having a great crowd. When you come, when sponsors come, when our partners come, they see a big amount of people, a large attendance, we need that 'wow' factor. We understood that we need to slow down a little bit and not try to push 60/40 as much as pushing great events.
We want to continue to talk to some of the ovals. It's no secret we've talked to Richmond. It's no secret we've talked to Phoenix. I think it's important that we maintain as many ovals as we can but not at the expense of having 150,000 seats with 30,000 people in them. That is going to be one of the most important thing we do to grow our sport.
And, yes, it might be a little lopsided here for the next couple years. But our big picture has to remain of having the fastest and most versatile racecars and racecar drivers in the world.
Q. Is Lauderdale still on the discussion list?
RANDY BERNARD: Very much so. Fort Lauderdale is a place we would like to go. We want to continue to discuss those options.
Q. So that could be the race after Houston?
RANDY BERNARD: Don't know when. We're way too far from understanding when this would be.
Q. You had the best race of the series at Michigan. Now Michigan is no longer there. Any opportunities to come back to MIS?
RANDY BERNARD: I think to be fair to our promoter at Belle Isle, Penske, I think we need to give it a great opportunity to succeed at MIS right now. But I think the same thing at Road America. I get a lot of questions, When are you going back to Elkhart Lake? I think we owe it to Michael Andretti who is laying out a lot of money to make that event successful. He has asked us not to rush Road America right now, let me try to succeed here. He's all for it. He loves Road America.
But I think we have a responsibility to try to help Milwaukee every way we can, and we are. We put a lot of money into this, too. I think it's important for us to keep the Milwaukee Mile on our race series.
Q. Chicago, Kentucky at all in the picture?
RANDY BERNARD: I never want to rule them out. I think it's really important that we look at any oval that wants to have IndyCar.
Q. Certainly were good races.
RANDY BERNARD: Very good.
Q. IZOD made a big splash. Don't seem to have the presence they had. Are they the same partner you signed on with?
RANDY BERNARD: They are the same partner. I think there's been some different management changes. How they're spending their money is a little bit different. They're evaluating, we're evaluating, to see if they're getting the same bang for the buck.
In today's world you start with marketing, advertising, figuring out what works and what does. I think hopefully they're assessing it right now and determining what is in the best interest of them and IndyCar.
Q. How much longer do their rights to the series last?
RANDY BERNARD: Four years.
Q. It ends?
RANDY BERNARD: '15.
Q. How is China?
RANDY BERNARD: Oh, China. I flew straight from Brazil to China. Sat down with some of the state officials. I sat down with the new mayor that had taken office three weeks ago, who is a very nice man. Then I met with the vice mayor as well as all the sports council, city, state and national, the next day.
They were all very appreciative of us flying over there. They want a race. The new mayor wants to get his arms around it and understand it and make sure that he is fully involved in this so he doesn't want to have a black eye in his first year of office, which it's a six-year term.
But very supportive. We're continuing on with that event like we've planned. We have a signed contract. It's just a matter of working on the details. We want to be very respectful to that city and the country. And I think I made it very clear, we're not interested in dates, we're interested in marriages. We want this to work for many years.
Q. (Question regarding Dan Wheldon.)
RANDY BERNARD: I think that date in October changed a lot of our lives. I think when you look back on it, I look back at probably one of the worst moments of my life, how fast life can change.
I think it brings racing to reality. There's no guarantees in this life. I think that we have to take it very, very seriously, as we always have. But I think that life moves on.
I think when every racecar driver signs up to be a racecar driver, they understand the risks that go along with it. That's a consequence, unfortunately, and it always has been.
I think what we can do with the car, continue to learn, what we can do with the fencing... These questions haven't been forgotten since that race. They're everyday questions with our management, our R&D, FI institute. There's no easy solutions, but there is promise that we are fully committed in doing everything we can to continue to make the sport safer.
I think if you went to any driver today, they would give us high marks for everything we've done.
Q. Back to the Road America thing. Is it strictly from you guys? George's approach change at all?
RANDY BERNARD: George is awesome. If we could do something there and have the support of Andretti, we would. Let's look and see how well the Milwaukee Mile does this year. That's where our emphasis is right now, our concentration is. Let's make the Milwaukee Mile what the Milwaukee Mile was all about. Here is a track that was built in 1903. Oldest track in America. I for damn sure didn't want to see that track die on my clock. I wanted to make sure we did everything we can to keep that race going. I feel like if we let it go this time, it becomes a mothball. It dries up.
We have to do everything we can to make sure we're trying to keep that race on our series. It's too important to us.
Q. Could you see a day where you would go places every other year instead of every year?
RANDY BERNARD: I think you can look at other sports and see that other sports do that, certain ones, not all of them of course. I think if a promoter wanted to look at it that way, we would definitely be interested in trying to evaluate it. Until you try it, you never know.
We haven't thought that for this series. It's so expensive to produce an event. A road or street course will start at $6 million to $10 million in the first year, maybe more. To get your payoff, it would be hard to have an every-other-year event. Ovals would be easier.
Q. (Question regarding Baltimore.)
RANDY BERNARD: We're full steam ahead. Baltimore got off to a slow start. I think we didn't do a sanctioning agreement with everybody until we made sure it was right. I think that having Michael Andretti's team managing that event will give us a lot more credibility. They understand racing.
I think we've taken a commitment to help them with sponsorship, much more than we had last year. I think we're helping them more on their sanctioning agreement this year.
Again, these events are so expensive to produce those first couple years, our emphasis shouldn't be breaking even as a series on the first year or two, it's making sure we can keep the long-term of those events.
Look at Long Beach, great example. Once you get it going, make it successful, I think it's got a great chance to continue. But look how many road and street courses have started and gone away. Let's look at history and learn from it would be my biggest.
Q. (Question regarding Australia.)
RANDY BERNARD: We get a lot of question regarding Australia. I think China helps that. If we were to do it, I'm very interested in the West Coast of Australia where we could actually go right straight from China over there and then home.
But, yeah, I've talked to Paul Dainty, DEC Dainty Consolidated Entertainment, which is the best promoter in Australia, very good friend of mine. I've talked to IMG, who produced some of the ones before. Yeah, I think we're definitely interested in Australia. We had some great races down there.
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