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DATE News (chronologically)
Overheard in Toronto - Saturday (Vegas to close 2011 season) UPDATE #8 “Stay tuned,” Randy Bernard said. “We’re going to announce the date at the State of the Union address in Indianapolis on Tuesday (January 11th). Stand by. I don’t want to talk too much about this right now out of respect to the announcement.”

01/07/11 IndyCar Series will finally makes it official later this month that it will conclude its season in Las Vegas on Oct. 16, when the fastest oval race cars in the country wrap up a three-day weekend at the speedway. The weekend will include the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Oct. 15th and IndyCar's Firestone Indy Lights developmental series. Las Vegas Review Journal

12/18/10 On this week's IndyCar Inside Track podcast Randy Bernard said it was safe to book your flights for Las Vegas for the 2011 IndyCar season finale.  Look for an announcement in January he stated.

11/30/10 Backing up our rumor below comes an article on Sports Business Journal today that says, After conducting an interview at the 11th annual Izod IndyCar Series Motorsports Marketing Forum, Bernard privately discussed his ideas about the city he knows so well. The street race, incorporating the world-famous Las Vegas Strip, would be held on a Friday. Two days later, the Izod IndyCar Series season finale would take place at the 1.5-mile LVMS oval.

"I think it'll be a fantastic fit," said Bernard. "This is a great market for it. I mean, the sex appeal. ... I mean, I shouldn't say that ... the entertainment, the resort destination, the lifestyle here. It is sexy. IZOD IndyCar is about all of that. It's about pop culture. We want to make sure our last event is in a great market, where we can really build upon the brand. I think Las Vegas will be an awesome place for us."

According to Bernard, all that is left to complete are the dotting of i's and the crossing of t's on contracts. He envisions Las Vegas becoming a two-race Indy town by '12.

11/19/10 We spoke to Randy Bernard today at Princeton University where he was a panelist for a motorsports roundtable at the 5th annual Ivy Sports Symposium Presented by Phoenicia Sport & Entertainment - feature story to follow.  He said that IndyCar is pretty close to finalizing a deal to close the season in Las Vegas in 2011, but he wants to have all the sponsorship in place first before announcing it.  And regarding the part below of a doubleheader street and oval race in Las Vegas he said, "I would love to do it and we are working on it - a street race on Friday and an oval race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday.  Again I need to have the sponsorship in place, at least $4M."  We asked if he was confident of getting the "strip" closed down for a car race and his response was, "yes I am very confident."  Considering what he has accomplished in the very short time he has been with IndyCar, we have no reason to doubt him.  And remember, he has very close ties with Las Vegas from his Bull Riding days.  Mark C. reporting from Princeton, NJ

11/17/10 Tuesday, IndyCar and Firestone held a compatibility test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in preparation of a return to the 11/2-mile oval track next season. That race will be Oct. 16, 2011. IndyCar last staged a race at that facility in 2000. The Ganassi and Penske teams participated in the test. Indy Star

Rnd Date Race name Track
1 March 27 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Streets of St. Petersburg
2 April 10 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Barber Motorsports Park
3 April 17 37th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Streets of Long Beach
4 May 1 São Paulo Indy 300 Streets of São Paulo
5 May 29 95th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race Indianapolis Motor Speedway
6 June 11 Texas Motor Speedway Firestone Twin 275s: Race 1
7 June 11 Texas Motor Speedway Firestone Twin 275s: Race 2
8 June 19 Milwaukee 225 Milwaukee Mile
9 June 25 Iowa Corn Indy 250 Iowa Speedway
10 July 10 Honda Indy Toronto Streets of Toronto
11 August 7 Honda 200 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
12 August 14 Race Name TBA New Hampshire Motor Speedway
13 August 28 Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma Infineon Raceway
14 September 4 Baltimore Grand Prix Streets of Baltimore
15 September 18 Indy Japan 300 Twin Ring Motegi
16 October 2 Kentucky Indy 300 Kentucky Speedway
17 October 16 Las Vegas* Las Vegas Motor Speedway*
*To Be Announced

Champ Car raced on the streets of Las Vegas in 2007.  Here Paul Tracy launches over the chicane curbing.  Champ Car had a great layout for the street circuit, but the casinos did not like having access blocked to their doorways.
Indy Racing League CEO Randy Bernard is indeed trying to dream big for the IndyCar Series.  Since creating a doubleheader (two 275-kilometer races) for next year's event at Texas Motor Speedway, the former cowboy envisions an even larger rodeo in Las Vegas in the future. He's thinking about having a street course race on The Strip to go with an oval-track event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Both would be season-ending events for their respective disciplines (non-ovals and ovals).

Such a pairing is not imminent. "Not for next year," he said. "But it's an idea that's out there."  Bernard doesn't yet have a deal to run on the Las Vegas oval and said it won't be part of the announcement today in Milwaukee. IndyStar

08/20/10 With regard to the Las Vegas IndyCar season finale we first rumored below while in Toronto - Dario Franchitti and Danica Patrick could be headed to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to race IndyCars next year. LVMS president Chris Powell has been negotiating with Randy Bernard, chief executive of the Indy Racing League, to return the open-wheel series to the track after a 10-year hiatus. The IndyCar event would complement the speedway's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, scheduled for Oct. 15, 2011.

"We are in discussions about hosting an IndyCar race the day after next year's truck race," Powell said, adding that the race would be the IndyCar season finale. Bernard on Thursday characterized his talks with Powell as "preliminary."

Bernard said he eventually wants the season-ending race and banquet to be in Las Vegas, where he built several relationships in the tourism industry during a 15-year tenure as chief executive of Professional Bull Riders.

For the past several years, the truck race has been a one-day event on Saturday with a night race. That will be the format for the Smith's 350k truck race Sept. 25 but NASCAR moved the Truck race to October in an attempt to usurp IndyCar making it their finale. Powell said that adding an IndyCar race would allow the event to expand to three days, with practice and qualifying Friday, the truck race Saturday and the IndyCar race Sunday, with both nationally televised races taking place in the afternoon.  But that is assuming NASCAR says OK to IndyCar joining their weekend. In past years when they did this the Truck race drew a larger crowd than the IndyCars.

07/17/10 The new car and Milka Duno were the talk of the paddock on Saturday in Toronto.  The ex-CART team owners were happy that the new car is down to $389K plus the engine, but were not impressed because the Panoz Champ Car, which was also a spec car, was just $225K plus the gearbox, engine and wiring harnesses.  So all this talk about the new IndyCar being so inexpensive is nothing earth shattering and in fact more than what Champ Car was able to do it for.  Randy Bernard stood behind the decision to sole-source the rolling chassis to Dallara. 

"We went to all the manufacturers and asked them to give a price for the car to be built in the USA, then we asked for it to be built in Indianapolis.  Then we asked for an exclusive contract vs. a non-exclusive contract.  On exclusive it was $385K and non-exclusive it was $680K, a major difference.  We had competition between Dallara and G-Force years ago and all that money was spent and then we ended up with a single chassis anyway (i.e. the teams all migrated to the better car eventually). On this car you can change the clothes on it and make it different for a reasonable cost ($70K for a new body kit).

"And if I am a Roger Penske I can go out and do my own aero package but I have to be able to sell it to every other competitor for $70K.  If he wants to spend a half a billion dollars on it fine, but he has to sell it for $70K to everyone else.  And Penske is, like everyone else, only allowed two different aero packages in a year, including his own.

"The manufacturers told us to give them something that they can put their branding on it.  We don't want to just put stickers on it and call it ours," (referring to NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow).

Bernard went on to say, "You won't be able to just show up with a new package, there will be some confidentiality with this and a specified time to get it tested and approved.  You won't be able to just show up and run a new kit and have an advantage.  We know we are going to have to beef up our technical expertise to manage it all."

We asked Randy how a car manufacturer is going to feel about putting their name on a car yet have a Honda sticker on the engine cover.  "That's the beauty of this, you don't have to run a Honda, I am hoping that if they brand the car they also will bring their own engine.

"But if you are a GE or McDonald Douglas who may want to showcase their aerodynamic ability you may want to do the aero package and team with another car manufacturer for the engine.  I am more optimistic that other engine manufacturers will want to cloth the car and put their engine in it."

Have any auto manufactures expressed any interest? 

"Yes, said Bernard with a tone in his voice that he was confident that another will be coming in.  "And we have been very very careful who we talked to because we wanted to keep everything confidential," said Bernard. "We want to keep a buzz going on this series and it makes no sense for me to put everything out there too soon.

"The auto manufacturers that we talked to are very interested and since the press conference we have had about five auto manufacturers call and ask for a copy of the rules.  We don't have those rules written yet.  The next task of the ICONIC committee is to create the technical team that are going to write the rules.  We don't have a timeline for that yet, but it has to be soon."

Conquest Racing team owner Eric Bachelart was relatively upbeat about the new car.  He was happy that he can get the new car for $389K minus the $150K discount for an Indiana based team = $239K.  That is in the same ballpark as the last Champ Car, but of course that is only for the first car (for each driver).  The backup car and subsequent car will be at the full price of $389K.

Roger Penske, HVM boss Keith Wiggins and Kevin Kalkhoven were a bit more reserved on the new car and didn't want to say much until they see the rules and Chip Ganassi refused to say anything about the new car until he sees the rule book.  Ganassi of course was a big backer of the Delta Wing car so his disappointment was evident.

Wiggins said, "It was inevitable that we eventually had to have a new car.  I think the new car is a step forward, but there will be an initial increase in our budget to buy the new car, even with the discount.  The devil will be in the details and we need to see the rulebook before we know all the implications.  The important thing is that the value has to be there.  Unfortunately we still have 8 years on the Versus contract (i.e. 8 more years of low TV ratings).

Changing topics, according to my sources, next year's Brazil IndyCar race will not be in March, but instead will be May 1st, after the Carnival celebration.  With Brazil being in the southern hemisphere and their seasons reversed, it will be cooler in May than in March.  That means St. Petersburg, Florida will again be the season opener and we know Las Vegas will probably be the season closer.  Bernard is so committed to making a race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway work that he is flying to Las Vegas this week to meet with officials of the convention and visitors bureau.  Long Beach will have its traditional mid-April date and of course Indy will be on Memorial Day weekend.  We expect the two Canadian races will be in mid-July and of course the Baltimore August date has been announced.  As for the rest of the schedule, we expect it in early August.  Speaking of Baltimore, I hear the paddock will be in the air-conditioned convention center much like they did in Houston for the Champ Car race.  That will be good for the teams because August can be hot and humid in Baltimore, but what about the fans who will wilt from the heat and never return.  That was the downfall of Cleveland and Houston - too hot and humid for the paying customer.  If they are smart they will light the Baltimore track like Champ Car finally realized so the fans can be spared the blazing sun.  If not look for that race to die before long.  You simply must make your paying customer comfortable or don't waste your time.  Look for the Indy 500 to be the first oval race of the year.

Now that the new IndyCar direction has been announced, look for an announcement about the future direction of the new Indy Lights car.  We are told the goal is for the new Lights car to be closer to the IndyCar with the goal of it being a good training ground for the big cars.  The existing car has been around since 2002.  One source told us "if we keep it much longer we can race it as a vintage car."

Perhaps the most controversial topic in the paddock was Milka Duno.  A number of journalists hammered Randy Bernard on why she is still allowed in the series given she is 6 to 8 seconds off the pace on just about every road course. This morning she locked up going into turn 1 and instead of letting off the brake and going straight on she kept them locked up and hit the wall. We could not believe what we saw.  You would think that after all these years of driving she would at least understand what to do in that situation.  One journalist called her a disgrace and said she made the series look like a bunch of rank amateurs.

Bernard was as diplomatic as he could be on the topic.  "I'm going to get myself in trouble on this one, but I'm going to tell you," Bernard said Saturday at the Honda Indy Toronto. "It's very, very important for the credibility of the Izod IndyCar Series that fans know they're (the drivers) the best in the world. And if someone can't maintain and compete with that, I really think that's what we have a ladder system for.

"I'm behind our chief steward, Brian Barnhart. He has to make the assessment who is allowed on and who isn't. I'm sure at the end of this year, Brian and I will sit down and determine what's in the best interest of the sport."

I asked him if he had sat down with her team owner Dale Coyne and suggest that they convince her to become a co-team owner with Dale with CITGO sponsorship on the car and to put a better driver in the car that can run it up front and give CITGO a better result.  Coyne's driver-coach James Davison comes to mind.

"I don't want to run any sponsor out of the paddock (referring to Duno's CITGO sponsor), but at the end of the year we'll sit down with Competition Director Brian Barnhart and determine what is best for the series," said Bernard.

Duno was ordered off the track last month at Iowa Speedway when she dropped more than 2 seconds off the leader's pace, double the allowed limit on the short, high-speed oval. She also drew attention two weeks ago at Watkins Glen, hindering Ryan Hunter-Reay's qualifying effort by running more than 7 seconds off the pace.

"If she's going to drive in this series, she's going to have to drive with her mirrors," Hunter-Reay said at Watkins Glen. "There are 15 turns on this course and she's the 16th."

Saturday's attendance was not as good as Friday's because Friday was free.  However, it was still better than Saturday last year.  Sparsely populated bleachers and near-empty vendor lanes today were not a good thing.

Official attendance figures for Saturday's qualifying sessions were not available, but my tour of the Exhibition Place grounds suggested fan interest was far from where it was in the event's CART/Champ Car heyday.

“There's an increase from over last year,” Bernard said. “I think that last year, the sport probably reached its depth of lows, and it's coming back.”

The race would routinely draw more than 100,000 fans over the course of a three-day race weekend.  Promoters did not release the attendance figures last year, but unofficial estimates were much lower.

“I think there are a lot of fans in Canada,” Bernard said Saturday. “There used to be a lot more fans here. They didn't die. That's low-lying fruit to me. It's, ‘how do I attract them back? How do I hit their passion level to where it once was?“

“It's no secret we lost 15-to-20 million fans in the mid-1990s, with the divorce,” he said. “It's going to take time to get them back. And I think we have to make sure we create a credible sport, where the fans know that there's going to be best and fastest race car drivers in the world out there.”

More than 73,000 fans were on the grounds on race day eight years ago in Toronto when Molson was strongly behind the event and advertised it at most of the bars in town. Estimates placed last year's race-day total at a fraction of that number.

“The promoter's very happy with the event this year,” Bernard said. “And I think that, as long as we continue to show great increases in attendance, that's where we need to be. I don't know what they're expecting here — and I haven't heard.”  Mark C. reporting from Toronto

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