09/02/12 We hear that team owners are encouraged that IndyCar is working on a 5-year strategic plan. Ganassi Team Managing Director Mike Hull was glad to hear it. "I think the team owners have to sit down with IndyCar and discuss where are go from here. We went since Long Beach, almost the entire season, with the cost model issue and nothing was done. I support the idea of a 5-year plan. It is important that we can represent to our promoters, sponsors, fans, other sanctioning bodies that we share race weekends with, engine manufacturers, everyone, as to where the series is going and where it plans to be 5-years from now. But we cannot have another year like this one where the cost model doesn't work. I look forward to seeing the plan."
We asked Mike if his team still uses the abandoned PA Turnpike tunnel to test their cars and he said no, "the new rules pretty outlawed it. We are not allowed to test at a facility/track that is not endorsed by IndyCar." We spoke to Tim Mayer, General Manager of the Baltimore GP after the race and he said there were very satisfied with the outcome of the event. Today was 90-days from me arriving here working out of a hotel with a laptop. Our goal this first year was to right the ship more so then selling it out. Ticket sales were above the business plan we had for this first year so we are happy about that."
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard met with some of us media here in Baltimore Sunday morning and we took the time to ask him some important questions ranging from cost reduction to the 2013 schedule, starting the season earlier, standing starts, new races for next year, China, doubleheaders, IZOD title sponsorship, new engine manufacturers coming into the series, picking up some ALMS teams after the merger with Grand-Am and other issues surrounding the series. Herewith is that interview:
Randy, Interesting sports developments –two sides, ALMS and Grand-Am coming together
“Yeah, has that been formalized or is that just a speed rumor?"
If it’s from Speed it’s a rumor.
So that announcement is going to go down Wednesday a lot more people coming together than they can possible fit on one track. Does that interest you in talking to some of those teams and saying “hey, we have it all here for you?"
“We want to see quality racing and see it continue to grow and we think that we had great racing this year, and we have great teams and we have great drivers in the cars, and if more teams want to come and think they can beat these guys then we would love to have them. But the number one thing we want to continue to stress is quality competition. That’s what we’ve been able to grow – we’ve seen better drivers this year over 2010 for sure, 2011…so I think, that’s good stuff. I grew up 26% ….changes…on our road and streets, over 50% on our ovals. I think that is all that we wanted to see with this new car and great product. Hopefully we can continue that."
So do you open the door and hope they walk in or do you go outside and herd them in?
“If you know me, I’m pretty receptive, I’m out there – we’ll shake as many hands as we can. That’s just as important. Let them know what we are doing here. And for some of them it might not be of interest. But this is a lot of competition. But for others, there might be a lot of interest.
Have you made a decision on the body kits and the cost reduction that is going to be announced?
“Yeah, the cost reduction – we’re there. I mean, it’s just a matter of formality. But it’s going to be a 20% reduction across the board. I want to thank everybody for working together on it. I’m still a big believer it wasn’t as costly as we all want to believe. 40% was a delta of $76,000 dollars minimal of a $6 million dollar car. You know? So, I mean my job is not to get tied down to those details. If it’s a concern to them, my job is to fight and push and figure out how we can make it better for everyone."
Will all the team owners have their own parts made or will those be through Dallara?
“Absolutely, it’s going to all be through Dallara. I think that if you look at other sports you have to have a competitive balance. I mean if you look at any major sport, let’s take a look at NFL, you know, 18 years ago when they said they were going to come out and do salary caps it was a nasty thing. People said it would be the demise of NFL. Look what it did for them. Their goal was to make sure every team had the opportunity to win the championship. And that’s what we’ve done with developing our system the way it is with this spec parts. Not one that you or me knows what spring is different or what upright. And if we are going to do it, let’s put it in the aero kits where everyone can see what the different…. The other parts that fans cannot see that might make Dario [Franchitti] a half a second ahead of everyone else doesn't make new fans."
You’ve been book marking 9/2 as the drop date for the 2013 schedule which is tomorrow.
“Are you kidding me? OMG – it’s not going to happen. I lied. I think that it’s more important right now to make sure we get it right. The next board meeting is scheduled for 9/20. So that’s when it would go for final approval. So at that point we have to basically 18 days to get things completely wrapped up. I’m optimistic about our schedule. I think we need a minimal of 19 races – that’s still my goal."
Does it worry you that the schedule will be released after the season is finished?
“It did at first but honestly it’s more important we get it right. I could rush it – but then when I start rushing it that’s when people start taking advantage. I need to make sure it’s right. We want one announcement. We don’t want half the schedule announced on 9/22 and another half on 10/2. I think it has to be our goal to announce everything together."
“I think you will see 19 races. I think we have to talk a little ahead though. It’s very important for us. We’ve been doing a tremendous amount of homework on it. The promoters, team owners, partners television partners, Sponsors, OEMs. We think there is some very strong upside. It needs to be at races we think could lend itself very well."
We saw that reduced downforce and more speed made for good racing in Texas. Any consideration of doing that everywhere – some drivers want 900 HP?
“Will Phillips, I don’t know if he’s been up here yet. He has stressed that is one of their goals at Fontana. He thinks that it will be better than Texas. I think we saw the success it had in Texas. We believe Fontana lends itself very well for that."
You think it could be used on Pocono?
“Brandon (Pocono President) is here this weekend. Had dinner with him Friday night. He’s just a great guy. That is a track that was built for Indy car. Look at history and look at races that you want to bring back that are important to the sport – I think that’s a great race."
Any consideration for a triple crown – three 500-mile races like years ago?
“Definitely being kicked it around out there. If fans tell us they love it then I think we have a better chance."
What’s your general sense of how this weekend is going? Do you like what you see this weekend?
“I had a very good conversation with JT Grant of Race On. He’s been a huge supporter of this race. He wants to see it work for the city."
“Really well. I’m very tickled with it. The organization has been very good. I think Andretti Sports marketing has done an outstanding job with that. JP Grant financially stepped up and made sure all the vendors have been taken care of which is very important and makes everyone look good. I was very happy to see the crowd we had yesterday at the ALMS race and I think today it’s going to be exceptionally well again."
What are the chances of a Chinese Grand Prix?
“Currently I put China on the back burner. If there is one lesson I learned it is we need two things. Substantial deposits when you are going across the world. Two, we are a North American sports organization – open wheel sports racing. I want to put emphasis on this. I want to try to have more races in the US."
Will we see any new events next year besides Houston in the 19 races?
“Two more. We are in contract negotiations. The great thing is Mark, this year, we have some pretty solid partners that want to be in on the series, and we can’t have that many. We had some fall out last year. So, I’m learning that when I hear there are going to be 32, 33 cars this season and we get down to 27. Same thing with promoters. So this is when we really start to see where we cross those Ts and dot those Is. So we’ll see which ones really mean it and which ones don’t."
Will there be standing starts next year?
“Yes, you will see standing starts next year."
Do you see a race scheduled before St. Petersburg to kind of shorten the off-season?
“ I would like to see us begin our season earlier than that last week in March. Whether it is St. Pete moving up or whether we put in an additional event. I think that is something that would be very good for us. I want a start the first week in March – is what I would like.
Are there feelers being put out for a new title sponsor for the series?
“No. IZOD Indy car series is what it will be next year. I think Mike Kelly is here this weekend – he was supposed to be here last night. He had some problems with his transportation so he is going to be here. We are continuing to move straight forward with that.
If Fiat wants to bust out some money and help out another series…would you welcome Mopar if they want to be a manufacturer?
“Definitely, would love to see Dodge or SRT get involved in the sport. I’ve met with Marcioni, and other Dodge executives – the more manufacturers we can bring to the series the more competition we can bring."
Indy Lights – have there been a lot of good proposals that have come in? When will that contract be awarded?
“I think Tony George Jr. and his Tim and Vince and Will and Brian have done a remarkable job developing their business plan going forward. I had a 1-1/2 hour meeting with them yesterday on it. It’s very, very good. There was a lot of interest from engines. We are down to making decisions within the next month. I’m tickled with what they are doing."
Is there anything being done to boost the car count for Indy Lights?
“ Some Atlantic and Lights teams have been holding off on buying a car waiting for this new car. You get some of those teams back from the start. We have to bring operating costs of these cars down. Mark C. reporting from Baltimore