The CEO of IndyCar is willing to do anything in his power to help this year's event.
That includes making a stop in Edmonton on his way back from a business trip in China, after having been in Brazil for the IndyCar race in Sao Paulo on the weekend.
“It’s been a long week for me already, I’ve had two Wednesdays this week," smiled Bernard at a media luncheon Thursday afternoon. “But I’m glad to be here in Edmonton. I gave (president of Octane Racing Group) Francois (Dumontier) my word that I was going to be here, and then this little trip to China came up.
“But I’ve always enjoyed Canada, I did my internship up here in Canada and I’ve always had a special place for it."
Bernard is in town to get a first-hand look at how organizers for this summer’s event are faring and to help drum up corporate support.
The race, taking place July 20-22 at the City Centre Airport, is still looking for a title sponsor and needs as much help from the business community as possible in order to survive. During his visit, Bernard also met with the chamber of commerce.
“We will go over a marketing plan and some of our objectives, but what’s more important is making sure that I can be here to talk to all the city leaders and press and talk up what we’re trying to do here," Bernard said. “We’re seeing a lot of interest from cities around the United States and the rest of the world this year for events next year.
“We’ve had four events and, knock on wood, we’ve had double-digit growth in every one of those four markets, which is very exciting to see. It’s very important for us, that I make sure I tell Octane that we have to have a successful event here this year."
Octane took over the event from Northlands last year and was able to put things together in a relatively short amount of time.
The event was resurrected after initially being spiked by the city.
“The best part of it is that we have a world-class promoter," said Bernard. “Octane produces the F1 race in Canada, they know racing, we love what they did to this track and how they made it very easy for fans to get there and the grandstands were great.
“They’ve done everything right, but at the same time, I have to tell Octane the truth and reality is that we have some other cities that are knocking on our door, even up here in Canada, that want races. I have only a certain amount of races and I have to make sure these races are successful in these markets to continue."
IndyCar has the option to pull out of Edmonton next year, making this year’s event pivotal in determining whether the top open-wheel racing circuit in North America will continue making a stop in the provincial capital.
According to Bernard, the success of an event is measured by attendance and activation of corporate sponsorship.
“We know we want two races in Canada," Bernard said. “It’s just a matter of where those races are going to be. From what we saw last year and the amount of time and effort Edmonton put behind this, we want to give them every opportunity to succeed."
So far this year, things have been very successful at the four opening stops on the circuit.
Last weekend’s event in Sao Paulo was bolstered by the addition of Brazilian racing legend Rubens Barrichello to the series.
The start of the season has been a stark contrast to the way things ended last year, when driver Dan Wheldon was killed in the series finale in Las Vegas.
“You never want to have a tragedy like the one we had, and after that was probably the worst four months of my life," Bernard said. “In that whole process we were developing a new car and we had three engine manufactures and we had a lot of new staff, including a race control director and technical director.
“So there’s been a lot of planning going on and it was a difficult time. The drivers were antsy to get in those cars and start the season, so I think everyone welcomed that first race of the year to try and put a lot of that behind us and focus on the future of our sport." Slam! Sports