Shake-up at IndyCar has no impact on Grand Prix of Baltimore planning

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard's ouster will have no effect on plans for the third Grand Prix of Baltimore, organizers said.

"We had strong ties with Randy," said Tim Mayer, general manager of this year's race. "But we have strong ties with a hundred other people who work there. Like Randy, they see the Grand Prix of Baltimore as not only a great event but an event with a long-term future."

Bernard's stint with IndyCar came to an end in late October, when the board of directors of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — owner of the IndyCar series — met to address increasingly rampant speculation about his future. He submitted his resignation not long after, bringing to a close a strange year that saw improved racing but increased internal strife for a circuit struggling to regain its former prominence. J.P. Grant, who helped form Race On LLC and salvage this past year's race in Baltimore, said he has not spoken to IndyCar's interim CEO, Jeff Belskus. But after traveling to Indianapolis in September to hash out a deal with Bernard and his deputies, Grant has no concerns about support from the sanctioning body.

"We've got the contract in place, but, more than that, I think we've established that we can pull this off and be a big part of IndyCar," he said.

IndyCar officials did not respond to a request for an interview.

Bernard was in the third year of a five-year employment deal, and will continue to work as a consultant for IndyCar. After earning a reputation for creative marketing by building the pro bull-riding tour, Bernard was unable to form a rapport with IndyCar team owners even as he ushered in new technology credited with reviving the series on the track.

While Bernard oversaw expansion into several new markets, including Baltimore, a botched deal for a race in China smudged IndyCar's reputation and badly damaged its finances. The circuit, which lost millions of dollars this year, also is saddled with a split television contract (ABC and NBC share rights) and has had only lukewarm support from title sponsor IZOD recently.

"There's just not enough stability," said Jade Gurss, a longtime racing observer who most recently worked for Andretti Sports Marketing. "Sponsors on any level, you're asking them to write a big check. And there's one thing they hate most: not knowing that it's a solid investment."

Race On faces a similar problem.

Grant still is working to complete a deal with Andretti Sports Marketing to again handle the marketing and operations of the Baltimore race, and hopes to have it in place this week. But Grant said that he and members of the Andretti staff already are reaching out to potential business partners, making the case that the Grand Prix has found stable ground after financial gaffes and disorganization nearly waylaid the event before its second year.

Andretti Sports Marketing did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Mayer plans to return to Baltimore on a regular basis later this month to begin looking at ways to alleviate problems identified in post-race questionnaires given to contractors, vendors and patrons. He'll also try to address complaints from downtown businesses and residents about intrusive fences and barriers that clutter the area near the track for up to a month around Labor Day weekend.

Grant expects to release an economic impact study on this year's Grand Prix as early as this week. A similar study paid for by the city last year estimated the event generated $47 million for Baltimore. But an independent study from a local economics professor projected an influx of $25 million, about $10 million of which would have been spent regardless of the race.

Race On had not planned to do a study and originally said it would not reveal attendance figures for the 2012 race, which saw smaller crowds.

But Grant, whose group lost money after putting the race together in less than 100 days, opted to commission the study and make it public to establish a "baseline" to determine the financial health of the race in future years.

"You hope that they can figure it out," Gurss said. "As far as venue, Baltimore is second to none. All of the things to do near the course and the way the race looks on television, those cars zooming through the streets and past the harbor? There's nothing that beats it." Baltimore Sun

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