Bernard: 'Baltimore was a big success for us'
IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard held an impromptu question-and-answer session with the media Sunday before the Honda 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and was asked about his expectations for the Grand Prix of Baltimore.
|Can IndyCar fill the grandstands again in Baltimore? Randy Bernard hopes so.|
Bernard did not answer with specifics.
"It's an interesting question," he said. "I think we always push for the limits. We always want bigger and better, but we also have to have clear expectations based on reality. I know [promoter Michael] Andretti will shoot for the stars, too, and we'll see what happens."
Baltimore was a major jewel on IndyCar's schedule a year ago as unprecedented crowds showed up for a first-time event. An estimated 150,000 people filled the grandstands and streets around the two-mile course in the heart of the city to enjoy a three-day Labor Day festival and see driver Will Power win the inaugural race.
The aftermath of the event, however, was troubled with millions of dollars in bills left unpaid by Baltimore Racing Development, opening the door for a new promoter. Another group also failed to meet obligations, opening the door for Andretti's marketing group to be put in place last month.
IndyCar worked closely with the city in hopes of saving the race, for several reasons, Bernard said.
"Baltimore was a big success for us on several levels last year," Bernard said. "It's on the Eastern seaboard and gives easy access to our European fans, for one. Also, the great thing about us is that we want to market ourselves as different from any other racing series, different from NASCAR and Formula One. Our road courses does some of that, our speeds also set us apart. In Baltimore, being a street race in the heart of the city, we reached a younger, more urban audience. We saw that clearly in our demographic studies. Baltimore exposed our sport to new fans. It was a big part of the success there."
Will it draw the fans again? The promoters are not giving out specific numbers, saying only that ticket sales are going well, and Bernard doesn't seem to know. "We'll see," he said.
But the CEO definitely wants the current schedule stabilized and new events added. When he was growing the Professional Bull Riders schedule, he took it from eight events to 24. He doesn't want quite that many here.
"We have to have 19 races," Bernard said. "We don't need 24, but we do need additional events to give us more and better opportunities to help more of our drivers get their stories out, to help them be seen and become known by the public. We want to have their personalities displayed."
Bernard's first focus is growing the sport in the United States, but admits that an oval race in Germany "intrigues" him. He adds that he has learned a lesson from the cancellation of the proposed race in China that was announced for this year's schedule before being canceled. IndyCar worked on making that race happen for 3 1/2 years, only to see it fall through when a new mayor was elected in Qingdao, China.
"Losing the race in China was very depressing," Bernard said. "It was a political decision ... and we took the brunt of the issues there. I learned an important lesson through that. Next time, we will get Letters of Credit big enough to make sure no one wants to cancel." Baltimore Sun