Like most American kids that grew up in the 80's I watched the Indy 500 every year and became interested in motorsports thanks to that race, but I didn't really get hooked until I started watching Formula 1 racing in the late 90's. My favorite era were those years with the great Mika Hakkinen/Michael Schumacher battles. (I was a Mika Hakkinen fan) So my fondness for Formula 1 waned once Mika retired and Schumacher started winning everything, even at the expense of his teammate Rubens Barrichello. My interest in F1 has only been lukewarm since.

Then I turned to Champ Car racing here in the US for my motorsports fix. However that was quickly extinguished once Champ Car and Indy Car merged and we were stuck with Tony George and his many foibles. (It was entertaining to watch the Hulman/George drama I'll admit.) My interest has been less than lukewarm with Indy Car lately, even without Tony George at the helm.

Over time however, the excitement I once had for motorsports has slowly gone. Maybe it has to do with my age, I don't know. But I think I will pour my efforts into my Trooper and my interests in the outdoors to add excitement to my life.

Thanks for checking out my blog, I hope you enjoy it. I will still post racing news when I find something interesting or noteworthy.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lotus gives IndyCar teams third option

(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 11-20-10)

Izod IndyCar Series teams will have a choice between three engine manufacturers in 2012 when the Lotus brand expands its involvement in American open-wheel competition.

Lotus, which is owned by the Proton Group of Malaysia, made the announcement Thursday at the Los Angeles International Auto Show. It is expected to partner with Cosworth Racing to create a turbocharged V-6 engine built to the IndyCar Series' new 2012 technical regulations.

Lotus joins Honda and Chevrolet as IndyCar's official engine suppliers for 2012 and beyond.

"Last March we learned really quick that the fans wanted the spec series to go away -- that was the number-one thing," IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard remarked. "Lotus is a renowned name in racing, with long associations with some of the greatest names in motorsports.

"I think the most exciting part for me is that Lotus has never run their own engine at [the] Indy 500."

Team Lotus was an official entrant in the Indianapolis 500 from 1963 to 1968, when its Formula 1-inspired cars pushed technical boundaries in the famous race. Jim Clark's victory in a Ford-powered Lotus in the 1965 Indy 500 was the first for a car using a rear-mounted engine. Clark also finished second at Indianapolis in 1964 and '66.

The last Lotus-built car to race at Indianapolis featured an aircraft-style turbine engine. Lotus unsuccessfully attempted to break into the CART-sanctioned Indy car series in the mid-1980s, and last year the iconic green and yellow Lotus colors appeared on Takuma Sato's IndyCar Series entry fielded by KV Racing Technology.

"This year we teamed up with KV Racing for IndyCar ,and we will significantly expand our participation in 2011," Lotus Group CEO Dany Bahar said. "In 2012, IndyCar competitors will have the opportunity to choose an Indy car with a Lotus engine and a Lotus body kit, immediately becoming part of the legacy that is Lotus."

Group Lotus has revealed ambitious plans to expand its production car lineup from three to five models, prototypes of which were on display at the Los Angeles show. Lotus hopes to expand its annual production from 2,400 cars to 8,000 by 2015.

Bahar, 38, is a former senior vice president of Ferrari, and he is the man Proton has installed to lead its $1.25 billion makeover of Lotus. While its future lineup won't go head-to-head with cars built by the legendary Italian firm, the image Behar is trying to build for Lotus -- including motorsports participation -- is clearly modeled on Ferrari.

"It's been quite a busy time, and hopefully we have more busy times ahead of us," Bahar said. "Our heritage is all about motor racing. Our road cars have significant connections with our motorsports programs.

"We take racing seriously, and we don't want to just put a sticker on a car. We want to fight with the big guys. We made the decision that this is where we want to be. We believe in the IndyCar Series and think it ties in with our strategy in the USA."

KVRT will serve as Lotus' lead team in the 2012 IndyCar Series. KVRT and Cosworth are co-owned by Kevin Kalkhoven.

Lotus revealed its intention to participate as a future IndyCar engine manufacturer right at the Nov. 16 deadline.

"We are excited about the future of Indy car racing with the addition of Chevrolet and Lotus, as well as the continued involvement of our longtime engine supplier Honda," Bernard said. "The Izod IndyCar Series has the fastest, most versatile cars and drivers in the world, and now we have engine competition to provide even more excitement to our fans."

In addition to having a choice of three competing engines for 2012, IndyCar teams could have as many as five alternative aerodynamic kits to select from. The deadline for announcing intention to build bodywork (which must be made available to all teams for $70,000) has not been established, but Chevrolet and Lotus already have committed.

IndyCar's Tony Cotman has been tasked with writing the 2012 rulebook.

"Obviously, regulating two engine manufacturers is more difficult than one and three is more difficult than two, but it doesn't keep multiplying," Cotman said. "Three is a healthy number to deal with in the first year. We have a good structure and plan in place, and we can handle it.

"Three manufacturers is probably more than anyone expected. I thought we would have two, and we added a third very late in the game."

Although Lotus will not deliver IndyCar the kind of marketing clout associated with mainstream brands like Honda and Chervrolet, the legendary sports car manufacturer brings its own cache.

"This is exciting news," said Erik Berkman, president of Honda Performance Development. "Lotus Cars has a long and distinguished record in motorsports and will add to the worldwide appeal of Indy car racing. Randy Bernard and the entire IndyCar Series staff returned multiple-manufacturer competition to Indy car racing following a lengthy absence, and we appreciate the efforts and dedication that helped make this possible.

"Along with last week's announcement that Chevrolet will join the series in 2012, the addition of Lotus is yet another indication of IndyCar's growing popularity."

Lost for the moment in the giddy euphoria of having manufacturer competition for the first time in many years is that IndyCar still has to get through one final season of competition with the same basic Dallara-Honda that has been in use since 2003.

"This is a good jump-start and a good, positive message that IndyCar is getting back on track," Cotman observed. "But in [Bernard]'s vision, multiple manufacturers are just part of a much bigger equation. He's still looking for more sponsors and a better impact on TV. It would be nice if it all came together at the same time."

Chevy back with IndyCar a big deal

(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 11-14-10)

The sun was shining over Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, both literally and figuratively.

On an unusually warm and pleasant mid-November morning, Roger Penske and a group of General Motors executives posed for pictures on the main straight with a handful of Indy car drivers from past and present. Their host was Izod IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard, sporting an ear-to-ear grin.

Bernard had plenty to smile about. With more than a little bit of help from Penske, Bernard had presided over one of the most important business developments in recent American open-wheel racing history: the return of GM and its Chevrolet brand as engine suppliers to the IndyCar Series.

"I hope this weather is a sign of how good this contract is going to be," Bernard quipped.

There are many open-wheel fans who are hoping the same thing. But after almost 15 years of stormy weather, the skies over IndyCar really do seem to be clearing. In Bernard's first year on the job, the Indianapolis 500 was blessed with perfect weather for qualifying and the race, and a series of historic photo shoots promoting the 100th anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500 (set for May 29, 2011) throughout the autumn went off without a cloud in the sky.

The importance of the Chevrolet-to-IndyCar deal cannot be overstated.

When the IndyCar Series introduces its new chassis and turbo engine formula in 2012, it will feature technical competition for the first time since 2005, ending a widely lampooned period of spec-car racing that went wholly against the grain of the Indy 500's tradition of open innovation.

More importantly, the new competition for IndyCar stalwart Honda is a U.S. company, and an iconic one at that. The turbocharged "Heartbeat of America" could propel as much as half of the 2012 Indianapolis 500 field.

"This reinforces our legacy as an authentic American brand and reinforces our heritage of performance," said Chevrolet marketing vice president Chris Perry. "Auto racing produces some of the highest return on investment in any activity we conduct.

"Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been a proving ground for manufacturers since Louis Chevrolet, our co-founder, raced here in 1909," Perry added. "This is a natural fit for Chevrolet … this is where it all began."

Two of the targets of the ICONIC committee that laid the groundwork for IndyCar's 2012 formula were greater efficiency and increased relevance to road car technology. Those points were keys in attracting Chevrolet's participation.

Chevy's turbo V-6 will feature direct injection and be fueled by the same E-85 ethanol/gasoline mixture widely available across the country. IndyCar's Honda engines have run on 100 percent ethanol for the past three years.

Chevrolet's role in its first official era of Indy car participation from 1986 to 1993 was badging an engine designed and produced by Ilmor Engineering, a company co-owned by Penske. This time around, while Ilmor is again GM's partner, Chevy officials pledge to make a greater contribution.

"GM has become a recognized leader in implementing direct-injection technology in both four-cylinder and V-6 engines by leveraging knowledge already gained from racing," commented Tom Stephens, GM's vice chairman of Global Product Operations. "Building on this foundation, our new partnership with Ilmor will give us even more opportunities to accelerate our engine technology and expand and improve the DI technology for street cars."

The news of Chevrolet's return was welcomed by Honda -- which ironically, has contracted with Ilmor for the past five years to assist in rebuilding its engines that supply the full IndyCar field.

"We look forward to renewing our relationship with Chevrolet as competitors on the race track and giving the fans of open-wheel racing a spirited and challenging rivalry," stated Honda Performance Development president Erik Berkman.

The Chevy tie-up was sweet vindication for Bernard, the former leader of Pro Bull Riders who was greeted by skepticism when he was announced as IndyCar's CEO earlier this year.

"This is what we dreamed about back in March, when we started this process," Bernard said. "It's been so gratifying watching this all unfold through the ICONIC committee, and Mr. Penske has been such an important part of making this happen.

"I'm a new-timer to this sport, but if you look at history and what everyone involved in Indy car racing has said, they all wanted competition. This is the first step, and the fact that it's American, with a history here since 1909, we couldn't ask for anything better.

"If this hadn't happened, it would have been a very nerve-racking year next year. The fact that GM is stepping up to the plate is huge for this sport."

Though he maintained his usual stoic demeanor at the news conference, crafting Chevrolet's return to Indianapolis had to be deeply satisfying for Penske, who despite all his success in the industry, made his name as an Indy 500 winning car owner.

Penske has won the Indianapolis 500 a record 15 times.

"I live in Detroit -- I was just trying to do my job," Penske quipped.

"It's wonderful to see the sport on the up-rise, as we saw in 2010 with the Izod sponsorship and the increased car count," he added. "Our ability to bring in one of the Big Three manufacturers to compete at Indianapolis with Honda is terrific. Honda has been a terrific partner but has wanted competition, so to me, this is a win-win situation.

"This is a day that shows the 'New GM' is back in business."

And it was a day that showed that the new IndyCar is back in business. Indy Racing League founder Tony George, the man Bernard replaced after a revolt within the Hulman-George family over the past two years, was present at the Chevrolet announcement, but he stood stone-faced at the side, quietly watching the proceedings.

IndyCar still has much work to do to get back to the level of popularity it enjoyed in the 1990s, before George's formation of the IRL as an alternative to the existing CART-sanctioned Indy car series split the sport and caused so much long-term damage. Sponsorship is still lacking, there appears to be no American driver ready to become a regular race winner and championship contender, and television ratings remain dismal.

But under Randy Bernard's leadership, the future finally looks bright for Indy car racing. Sunny days like Friday at the Brickyard are clear evidence that IndyCar is on the comeback trail, and the 2012 season can't get here soon enough.

Penske key to Chevrolet return

(by Matt Beer autosport.com 11-12-10)

Roger Penske has revealed that he made the first approach to entice Chevrolet back to the IndyCar Series.

Penske was announced as the first team to commit to Chevrolet power in today's press conference to confirm that General Motors would be back in top-level American single-seater racing from 2012, after a six-year absence.

The engines will be constructed in collaboration with Ilmor Engineering, a company which Penske is a shareholder in. The legendary IndyCar team boss said his initial consideration had been to find a new opportunity for Ilmor after its most recent IndyCar partner Honda chose not to use the company for its 2012 engine.

"Ilmor was the team to partner with Honda to build the current racing engine," Penske explained. "Honda made the decision going into 2012 that if there was going to be a new engine they wanted to do that on their own and not utilise Ilmor, so at that point, being a shareholder of Ilmor, I said let's go out and look for a world-class manufacturer that might be interested in partnering with Ilmor from a technical standpoint and a support standpoint.

"We went around to various manufacturers, and Chevrolet showed some interest. They were interested in understanding the rules, and the committee got together with them.

"My role was to introduce Ilmor to General Motors once again, and we've had success with them, and, obviously, committing to running the engine again in our cars over the next several years."

Penske emphasised that despite his role in putting the Chevrolet deal together, his team would not be considered a 'works' outfit.

"That doesn't mean that other teams won't have the same opportunity," he said.

"Ilmor and Chevrolet will design the engine. I'll get an engine just like everyone else does. It's the same as it's been with Honda. [Ilmor] rebuilt this year at least 20 engines that were in the field every weekend. It will be the same transparency that it has been.

"We just decided that we could help the series, and we had a couple [of] hundred people that needed the jobs. So there was real incentive for us to see Ilmor survive and be in the business, and what a great partner we've found."

City has been spinning its wheels on Indy too long

(by Paula Simons edmontonjournal.com 11-4-10)

Goodbye, Edmonton Indy. Goodbye, Indy Racing League. Forgive me if I don't shed too many tears as you race off into the sunset.

Forgive me if I don't condemn the city for blowing a deal with Octane Management to run the Indy here next year.

The city wanted to move the race from the west side of the City Centre Airport lands to the east side, because it has closed the eastern runway and it needs the western runway to keep the airport operational during the race. Lorna Rosen, Edmonton's chief financial officer, says the city thought the move would be better and cheaper for Octane.

Octane says it was blindsided by the decision to move the track. It wanted the city to pay for the $3.2 million extra it says it would cost to create a premium track on the new site. That's on top of the $7 million in "sponsorship" and services the city had already promised to provide Octane over the next three years.

Rosen says that without city council authorization to spend the extra $3.2 million, she had no choice but to walk away from negotiations.

Now, it's certainly arguable that city council set up the deal to fail by giving Rosen such limited bargaining power. Certainly, if councillors had been hell-bent on saving the race at all costs, they would have handled things differently. And there undoubtedly are some people who'll argue that the loss of the Indy proves that shutting the airport is a bad idea.

But let's be clear. This isn't about the airport. It's about the cash.

The "privilege" of hosting this race has cost taxpayers dearly.

In its first two years, the Indy lost a total of $9.2 million. Every penny of that was backstopped by the city purse. Northlands and the city haven't finished calculating this year's losses, but Rosen says the city will likely be on the hook for at least $3 million more.

On top of that, the city provided the race with approximately $1.5 million in "services in kind" over the last three years, to pay for things like police and fire and transit.

Total bill? About $13.7 million. It doesn't end there.

Over the last three years, the Alberta government provided $1.2 million in Indy support -- $800,000 in 2010 alone. Ottawa also got into the act. The Harper government provided Indy with a grant of $810,000.

That's some $16 million in public funds to date -- to subsidize an international pro sports event -- with Octane holding out its hand for $10.2 million more from the city.

And what exactly did we, the public, get for our money?

The Indy Racing League won't allow the release of attendance figures, so it's impossible to know how many people actually bought tickets to this year's event. But Coun. Kim Krushell says attendance was down, and few were tourists.

"Ticket sales have been declining and they were down again, obviously, this year.

"Our citizens weren't buying tickets, and tourists weren't buying tickets either," says Krushell.

"From what I could see, the tickets were from the region and from Edmonton, not international."

Certainly, the Indy didn't seem to jazz the city the way an event like the Canadian Finals Rodeo does. When the CFR kicks off, the downtown, Whyte Avenue and West Edmonton Mall will bustle with tourists filling hotel rooms and restaurants and bars and stores. Grey Cup, later this month, will work the same magic. Indy never seemed to bring Edmonton the same kind of business, or party spirit.

Did the race raise our international profile? Did it convince more people to travel, invest or move here? That's also hard to say.

In its first year, the race was carried on both ESPN, a premium sports cable channel, and ESPN International. The second year, it was dropped by ESPN proper, and run instead on an obscure cable channel, VERSUS, as well as on ESPN International. This year, it was carried only by VERSUS.

How many people watched the race? And how many of those people noticed or cared that it took place in Edmonton? And how many, if any, changed their holiday or business plans as a result? The city says the international publicity was worth $80 million. Let's say I'm skeptical.

Now maybe Octane, with its racing industry experience, would have done a better job of marketing and promoting the event than Northlands has. Maybe Octane would have brought in the crowds, brought back TV coverage, made a profit.

But given the continued malaise of the U.S. economy, the impact of the strong Canadian dollar on American travellers, the continued fracturing of the TV audience, I'm not sure Octane could have made the race into a money-maker either. Certainly, the fact that negotiations broke down over a difference of roughly $3 million suggests that Octane knew it was working with a very slim margin, that it had to squeeze every penny to make its event viable.

And if the 2011 race had failed to make a profit? Krushell, for one, believes the requests for cash would have been never-ending.

"When does the buck stop for taxpayers? I didn't see the gravy train stopping any time soon," she says. "I think we would have been on the hook forever.

"This thing is a dog. If it smells like a dog, it's a dog. And this smells like a wet dog."

The way the city handled its dealings with Octane may not have been pretty. Breakups rarely are. But it's time to cut our losses. Time to put the dog out

Saturday, November 6, 2010

IndyCar Series loses Edmonton race

(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 11-3-10)

A prime block of real estate on the Izod IndyCar Series schedule has opened with the demise of the Grand Prix of Edmonton.

A dispute over who would pay for modifications to the unique track, laid out on the runways of Edmonton's City Centre Airport, is being blamed for the cancellation of the popular event, which was scheduled for the weekend of July 23-24.

It is unknown whether the IndyCar Series will try to stage a race somewhere other than Edmonton that weekend. If a replacement venue can't be found, there will be a four-week gap from July 10 to Aug. 7 during the heart of the IndyCar season.

"We are disappointed that the city and the promoter were unable to reach an agreement on the venue changes," IndyCar said in a prepared statement. "It's unfortunate that in a time when IndyCar is experiencing momentum and growth, the city would want to miss out on the opportunity to be part of it.

"We currently are examining options for our schedule to see if there are opportunities to replace the event."

The Edmonton race lost money in its first four years, triggering an outcry about government spending on the event. But the race's future seemed assured last year when a new promoter, Montreal-based Octane Motorsports Events, Inc., stepped in.

One of the airport's two main runways was closed as scheduled in August, clearing the way for the track to be reconfigured. But the city balked at contributing to the cost of paving the new configuration -- one that would allow the remaining runway to stay open during the Grand Prix weekend.

Octane's three-year contract called for the City of Edmonton to pitch in $5.5 million Canadian ($5.45 million in U.S. dollars) as a major sponsor of the event.

"I was told our promoters, who I have tremendous respect for, had the new track laid out and estimated the improvements required," IndyCar commercial division president Terry Angstadt said, according to the Edmonton Times. "I think it was maybe in the $2 million to $3 million range, and for the size and scope of an event like this one, nobody expected any pushback. But our promoter got a call and was told it was voted out."

Angstadt said the most frustrating part of the situation is that the IndyCar Series was never invited to participate in any of the discussions about the future of the event.

The Edmonton race started as a Champ Car World Series event in 2005 and was one of four Champ Car races merged into the IndyCar schedule.

"It is tremendously disappointing, particularly after the fanfare of welcoming Octane to the fold and having the press conference with the mayor," Angstadt said, according to the report. "Just in terms of the way it has happened, it doesn't make you feel terribly welcome. To have this come down and not receive a call is a little shocking."

Octane president Francois Dumontier also expressed disdain about how his company was treated in the negotiation process. He said Octane had set an Oct. 29 deadline for an answer from the city about the status of the track project.

"Until the last minute, we hoped that the city would agree with our legitimate request to provide us a site equivalent to the one the previous promoters have worked with, without having our group investing in groundworks," he said.

An anonymous source from Octane said the city was not interested in spending on new pavement at the airport, according to the Edmonton Sun.

"We worked out a track design and setup that we thought would work. It was obvious there would have to be some pavement put down on some areas of the track and more pavement on the lawn to set up a new paddock," the source said, according to the report. "They eventually told us they were only interested in using existing pavement and not spending any money to make the switch.

"We think we got caught in the stupid fight about the airport," the source said, according to the report.

One possible replacement for Edmonton is Watkins Glen International, which was left off the IndyCar calendar when the series was unable to come to financial terms for an extension. But the proximity of The Glen's annual NASCAR Sprint Cup race on the weekend of August 13-14 could be an issue complicating a return to the upstate New York track.

Another popular option would be Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc., an historic CART/Champ Car venue. However, the track's biggest event of the year -- the Kohler International Challenge vintage race -- is set for July 14-17. IndyCar could conceivably piggyback on Road America's American Le Mans Series event scheduled for August 18-20, but that would create a stretch of four races on consecutive weekends, including a cross-country jaunt to Infineon Raceway

Grand Prix organizers miss deadline for stadium payment

(by Julie Scharper baltimoresun.com 10-27-10)

The organizers of the Baltimore Grand Prix race failed to make an $800,000 bond payment this month for a $1.9 million project to convert Camden Yards parking lots into a pit lane for race cars because, in part, of the group's limited cash flow.

The Maryland Stadium Authority has agreed to a new payment plan under which the racing group will pay $150,000 next week, with an additional $750,000 coming in two installments before the end of the year.

Mike Frenz, the authority's executive director, said the racing group asked for more time because it has "a variety of cash-flow needs."

"If they had attended only to ours, that's a lot of cash to tie up in an inefficient way," he said. The authority was amenable to the new payment plan because construction was delayed due to a change in the design for the pit area, he said.

Austin Crossley, a spokesman for the Baltimore Racing Development group, said the staggered payments free up cash for other costs.

"We are a startup business, and it is beneficial to put off these expenses as long as we reasonably can," he said.

The performance bond funds were to be deposited in an escrow account to guarantee payment for the extensive project — which includes uprooting trees and removing fences, curbs and light fixtures to clear an area for refueling, tire changes and repairs during the three-day racing festival scheduled for next Labor Day weekend.

The racing group has not secured a title sponsor for the inaugural festival and has not begun to sell tickets.

Event promoter Jay Davidson has said that tickets are to go on sale next month and that the group is close to completing negotiations with a corporate sponsor that would pay "in the low seven figures."

On Wednesday, Davidson announced that the group had completed sponsorship deals with five hotels near the race route.

Crossley said that the lack of a title sponsor and ticket revenue did not cause the group to miss the Oct. 1 deadline for the bond payment.

"The fact that we haven't announced a sponsor yet is not why we didn't make that payment," Crossley said. The racing group had not expected to receive a cash infusion from a title sponsor until November, he said.

Kaliope Parthemos, deputy mayor for economic development and a member of the stadium authority's board of directors, said that she was "confident it's going to be a successful race."

"It's the first time for them and the first time for the city to have an event like this," said Parthemos. "We anticipated a learning curve."

The city has pledged $7.75 million for roadwork in preparation for the race, including moving curbs and medians, and laying new concrete and asphalt. P. Flanigan & Sons was awarded a $4.2 million contract to work on the two-mile course.

The city's public works department has embarked on $750,000 project to replace and strengthen pipes under the course in an effort to prevent a water main break.

Work on the stadium, which is slated to begin early next month, will involve converting two parking lots along Conway Street into a pit area. The project involves installing stretches of concrete that the cars need for servicing; if tire changes were made on asphalt, jacks and other equipment could sink into the surface.

Many permanent structures — including a metal fence encircling the lot and a traffic circle — will be removed and replaced with objects that can be wheeled away when the race is under way, according Eric Johnson, project manager for the stadium authority.

Initial plans called for the pit area to be located on the west side of the stadium, near Russell Street, but a revised race route moved the pit to the east side, in front of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Sports Legends Museums.

Race organizers have agreed to pay back the construction costs, and 12 percent interest, over five years, said Frenz, the stadium authority's executive director.

If the racing group is unable to pay the $900,000 by the end of the year, the stadium authority would "have to reconsider, up to and including stopping construction," he said. But he said authority officials had thoroughly reviewed the group's financial statements and were assured that the payments would be made.

"We're the ones putting up this money for the state, and it's our intention to get that money back," Frenz said.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

IndyCar Series drops IRL brand

(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 9-10-10)

WEST ALLIS, Wis. -- IndyCar's 2011 schedule announcement was as much about the past as it was about the future.

At an event staged at the Milwaukee Mile on the eve of the 107th anniversary of the first-ever race at the historic venue, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard unveiled a 17-event schedule that welcomes Milwaukee back to the open-wheel ranks after a year's absence.

He also used the occasion to officially confirm that the name "Indy Racing League" is being put to rest.

"'IRL' has a negative connotation since the [CART-IRL] divorce, whereas 'IndyCar' is known around the world," Bernard said. "I just got back from a trip to Europe talking to manufacturers, and everyone I had meetings with knew what IndyCar was, whereas some didn't know about IRL. Same thing with Brazil.

"We want to create perception and we want to welcome back those 15-20 million fans that we lost in the mid-'90s. Let's go back to our roots. Let's go back to what made IndyCar. And the first thing we need to do is make sure that our brand image is positive."

Also being cast aside -- for now, at least -- is IndyCar's relationship with International Speedway Corp., the France family-owned track operator that provided the Izod IndyCar Series with many of its race venues over the past 15 years.

There's a common perception that ISC did a less-than-stellar job in promoting its IndyCar races, thereby ensuring that the France family's other key business -- a little endeavor called NASCAR -- remained America's undisputed No. 1 form of motorsport.

And there's plenty of circumstantial evidence to support that theory. From Homestead to Fontana and everywhere in between, empty seats have been the norm at ISC's IndyCar races.

That fact wasn't lost on Bernard, who quickly determined that running IndyCar races in front of sparse crowds at ISC tracks was hurting IndyCar's image more than it was helping it.

"We don't want to shut doors with ISC, but we have to go with places that we believe are best for the series," Bernard remarked. "We want to work with promoters that are aggressive at marketing and activating IndyCar. Fortunately this brings opportunities with new venues and promoters that are fully aligned with our strategy moving forward.

"We want to be in a position next year where we have 25 or 26 hungry promoters coming to us trying to secure one of our 17 or 18 races."

The four remaining ISC tracks on the 2010 IndyCar Series schedule -- Kansas Speedway, Watkins Glen International, Chicagoland Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway -- have been summarily dropped from the future calendar. They followed other ISC-owned venues into open-wheel oblivion including Michigan Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, Richmond International Raceway and California Speedway.

Most of those tracks enjoyed robust crowds in Indy car racing's glory days, only to go into decline as open-wheel racing lost traction to NASCAR during the bitter battle for control of open-wheel that was waged between CART and the IRL between 1996 and 2007.

Michigan, California and Homestead were among tracks owned by Penske Speedways Inc. before Roger Penske sold his group of tracks to ISC in 1999. Penske's business connections often helped fill the grandstands at those tracks by distributing tens of thousands of tickets to employees of Penske Corp. and his longtime sponsors, including Philip Morris Inc.

So it's out with the old and in with the new -- or not so new, in the case of Milwaukee, perhaps the most popular oval track among Indy car drivers and a venue that drew upward of 40,000 in days when open-wheel racing's popularity was at its peak in the 1980s and '90s under CART sanction.

Like many other tracks, Milwaukee's attendance slumped in the wake of the open-wheel war. But Bernard believes that the return of a unified series marketed as "IndyCar" as opposed to "IRL" can reverse the trend.

"This track has so much history, and I've heard from the purists and the traditionalists and the die-hard fans out there, and they wanted the Milwaukee Mile back on," he said. "We're happy that we were able to deliver."

The IndyCar drivers might be the constituency group that is happiest about the return to Milwaukee.

Scott Dixon, who won the last IndyCar race staged at Milwaukee in 2009, was on hand for the announcement of the series' return to The Mile.

"The history is the easiest thing to look at, but for drivers, they just want to have a shot at winning at this place because it's so tough," he said. "I've had some miserable days here -- I think I set a record by destroying two cars in four laps here in 2005. It's a real challenge and it feels like a definite accomplishment when you win here."

Other new venues on the 2011 schedule include another short oval -- New Hampshire Motor Speedway -- and a street race in downtown Baltimore's Inner Harbor district.

The other short oval on the calendar, Iowa Speedway, moves to a Saturday night format.

The venue for the season finale set for Oct. 16 has not been determined, but it is expected to be Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Bernard revealed that ISC-owned California Speedway made a strong pitch to host the finale, including direct contact from California Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger.

The Vegas connection is indicative of IndyCar's strengthening relationship with ISC's chief competitor, Speedway Motorsports Inc. If Vegas is confirmed, five SMI tracks will be present on the 2011 slate, including Texas Motor Speedway (which will host twin 275-kilometer races on June 11), New Hampshire, Infineon Raceway and Kentucky Speedway.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cup to Kentucky in 2011

(by Obi wan crapwagon.com 8-3-10)

Hola, fellow Crappies,

Quoting Kenny Rogers: “I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.”

Good read, Rus’L.

I agree that a reckoning is fast approaching the Hulman-George family with respect to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and their misbegotten league.

Also, I think you’re right about Mari Hulman’s desire to keep IMS solvent and in the family but I think she is joined in this by at least Josie George, who was rumored to be behind Tony’s ouster. Josie (and Mari) have been grooming her boys – Jarrod and Kyle Krisiloff – to be heirs to Tony’s now vacated throne. Jarrod Krisiloff currently works in IMS Productions as Director of New Media & Consumer Strategies and has spent the past four years learning the ropes of other departments while brother Kyle pursued a driving career in Atlantics and NASCAR before retiring to go to work for the Speedway last year.

For decades the Hulman-Georges have treated IMS as their own WPA, with scads of family members on the payroll and partaking of Speedway perks. Son-in-law Elmer George was probably the prototype sponge being a Speedway vice-president in charge of its radio station one month a year and managing the family’s Wyoming dude ranch the rest of the time. Josie’s husband, Steve Krisiloff was a Speedway vice-president whose primary responsibility was retail sales in the concessions and gift shop; before they divorced and he headed off to become a team manager (eventually). Last I knew Nancy George’s ex, Terry Gunter was a tour guide at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum; I assume he is/was an IMS vice-president.

I believe the only sister relatively uninvolved with the Speedway is Kathy George, who owns Conforti George Advertising in tiny Pacific Palisades, CA with her husband Steve Conforti.

Members of the next generation of Hulman-Georges working in the “family business”, besides the Krisiloff boys, are Nancy’s daughter Jesika Gunter – who works at IMS -- and Tony’s son, Tony Jr., who works with Roger Bailey in the Indy Lights program.

The first inkling I got that Tony was in serious trouble was when the Hulman-George women gave Laura George the boot a week or so before her husband bit the dust. She’d been serving as a salaried “Staff Advisor” to IMSC for the past 13 years; before that she had a job in IMS accounting. I don’t think that bodes well for “Special Ed” where the rest of the heirs are concerned. His sister Laura is a Hulman-George, so she’ll probably join her cousins Olivia Conforti and Jesika Gunter on the IMSC board eventually. It probably would have been too weird for Tony anyway; having Carpenter on the IMSC BoD while he dusts cob webs off the ranch in Wyoming.

In any event my point is that I think that Mari and at least two of her daughters are quite attached to IMS, viewing it as the future for their children. What they are NOT attached to is Tony’s bogus league.

Their problem is that the IZOD IndyCar Series nee Indy Racing League has always been the single biggest threat they faced to their continued ownership of IMS. A conservative estimate is that the family is already out of pocket a half billion (with a “b”) dollars in support of Tony’s folly and, despite what bean-counter Belskus says, there is no end to the losses in sight.

Very soon Mari and the girls are going to have to decide to either jettison the IICS (in order to save IMS) or sell the Brickyard. There are no other options, IMO.

Mari has painted herself into a corner because she is still relying on 20-year-old preconceived notions and false assumptions. For example, she no doubt believes that her half billion dollars has bought her the right to determine the technical outline for the Indy 500 and by extension the sport. Well, she’s right. What she isn’t considering, however, is that she is still left with the responsibility to pay for her choices.

With the Delta Wing LLC proposal – which ironically was Tony’s last investment in the sport – the collective team owners were essentially saying to Mari: “You let us specify the sport’s outline and we’ll pay for it. Otherwise, all bets are off.”

The family evidently couldn’t handle the idea of giving up the power to specify the sport’s blueprint. It’s not hard to see why. Tony and Mari’s war against the evil team owners of CART has cost them nearly everything and now threatens to suck out their last remaining resources. American open-wheel racing lies in ruins; its popularity not likely to return in our lifetimes. The Indy 500 is a faint shadow of its former glory and will probably take decades to recover some semblance of health; assuming, of course, that it survives in Hulman-George hands past 2013. The family’s two speedway investments – Walt Disney World Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway – are gone. The $69 million the family got for Chicagoland (from the Frances) in 2006, evidently never bought the big projects Freddy Nation said were planned for IMS’s Centennial Era; likely the money was lost in the ICS’s sea of red ink. Speaking of which, the three-year Centennial Era looks like it is a bust, too. Now, the family’s cash cow – the NASCAR Cup race Tony bought with a pocket full of mumbles – is dying of anemia. One could go on … but why bother? All the Hulman-Georges have LEFT, is control. Like a caretaker who owns the graveyard.

But, as said, control doesn’t mean Mari doesn’t have to pay for it. If she orders dinner, she’s going to get the bill.

In my view, Mari’s only hope now that she has shunned the team owners' offer of help is to abandon the moronic ICONIC fantasy and put in place specifications for the Indy 500 that are achievable with current equipment with a clear path to a revival of the evolution of the sport. Ask Roger Penske. Yes, everybody hates him (including me), nobody trusts him, but he did basically write the rule book for the sport from 1979-2001. Plus, he’s got the resources to back his own play and a burning desire not to be the last of the Mohicans. Do that and shut the garage door on the ICS, forever. Then, post the Indy 500’s usual prize purse and pray that 33 cars show up for the Most Diminished Spectacle in Racing.

Will Mari do it? Not a chance in hell. She’s going to rely on bean-counter Belskus who’s cooking the books and telling her that IMS broke even this year or next (without telling her that he cut loose the expenses of the IICS). Ropin’ Randy Bernard has been set up as the fall guy when he fails to do the impossible and deliver a profitable IICS by 2012. For his part Bernard got his hands on an old CART playbook, and since he doesn’t know any better he’s going to relive the last three years of the CCWS with the expectation of a different outcome.

The bottom line is that if the Hulman-Georges put in place a new specification of their own device for 2012 and they aren’t willing to pay for it, the team owners won’t be able to pick up the slack; the current state of the sport simply doesn’t justify the expense. If they get squeezed that far into the corner, the H-G’s only out will be to declare a moratorium, allow the Indy 500 entrants to run what they brung … and sell the Brickyard.

IMHO.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mark Webber celebrates victory in Hungary

Jeez Mark, could you show a little emotion?

Monday, August 2, 2010

World Cup Fever: A1GP to make a comeback?

(by Noah Joseph autosport.com 7-7-10)

Until its demise, A1GP had an intriguing, original formula. (At least once it took its place as a feeder series and not a competitor to Formula One). The idea, for those unfamiliar, was to pit teams representing their home countries against each other in identical F1-style single-seaters on famous race tracks around the world. Unfortunately, like so many things, the execution failed to live up to the idea.

With the series financially supporting each team, the whole proverbial house of cards came tumbling down last year, its creditors (including Ferrari, which had designed and built their new spec racer) seizing the series' assets.

Now it seems that the self-styled "World Cup of Motorsport" may have another chance to see the light of day. A group of investors is reportedly working out a plan to get the cars and other assets out of hock and field them once more. But instead of the original doomed formula, the re-inaugurated series would demand each team secure its own financial backing, while the series organizers would coordinate the races and provide spare parts trackside. An off-season calendar could see the series run 10 races in 2011-12, if the plan comes to fruition.

Brickyard decline not good for IRL

(by Anthony Schoettle ibj.com 7-31-10)

Motorsports insiders think the Brickyard 400’s declining fortunes will hasten the Hulman-George family’s decision on the future of the Indy Racing League, which the NASCAR race has helped subsidize.

IMS CEO Jeff Belskus, who replaced Tony George in June 2009, said the Brickyard 400 remains “very profitable.”

“It’s a strong event for us,” he said.

Few dispute that, but racing analysts now think the IRL’s losses exceed the Brickyard 400’s profit, and that could be a major rub for the board that controls the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IRL.

Since the IRL’s inception in 1996, the board, which is four-fifths Hulman-George family members, has used Brickyard 400 profits to support the open-wheel series. But now the Brickyard’s raging revenue stream has slowed considerably.

A feud among board members over money following the 2009 Indianapolis 500 led to the departure of former IMS and IRL boss Tony George. Now there’s speculation the diminished financial firepower of the Brickyard 400 could lead to other changes.

“The balance sheet is what led to Tony George’s ouster, so you know the balance sheet has [the board's] attention,” said Zak Brown, president of Just Marketing International, a local firm that represents some of the biggest sponsors in motorsports.

“All the money goes in the same bank account, and they’re writing a lot of checks for IndyCar. You have to believe they’ve set a firm amount on what they’re willing to spend on the open-wheel series.”

Most with knowledge of Speedway finances think that amount is directly related to what the Brickyard 400 generates in profit.

Belskus said the Brickyard 400 and IRL are “evaluated separately,” but, he added, “a healthy Indianapolis Motor Speedway is good for the Indy Racing League.”

The Indianapolis 500’s hefty profit is a big component of the track’s health, but the Speedway’s flagship race doesn’t throw off enough money to underwrite the IRL.

It’s not clear how the Brickyard’s diminished profit could affect the league and, by extension, the Indy 500.

“The problem is, now that Champ Car is gone, what’s the prospect for the Indianapolis 500 without the Indy Racing League?” said Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs at the University of Indianapolis, who has conducted several studies for motorsports business enterprises. “It’s difficult to imagine they could just abandon the [IRL]. But who knows?”

IRL CEO Randy Bernard, who took his post on March 1, is hopeful the open-wheel series can break even in 2011 and reach profitability in 2012.

“I’d like to believe that, but it sounds optimistic,” said Tim Frost, president of Frost Motorsports, a Chicago-based motorsports business consultancy. “I like what Randy is doing, but he has a steep hill to climb.”

George, before his ouster, said the series must be profitable by 2013 or there would be no 2013.

Though the tight-lipped Hulman-George clan has never divulged financial information, motorsports business experts have estimated the IRL has lost more than $400 million since its inception in 1996.

Sources close to the IRL said the series lost $22 million in 2009 and is headed for another eight-figure loss this year. IRL officials have cut $2 million in overhead in the last year, have raised $3 million in cash annually with a new title sponsorship deal with Izod, and tallied $2 million in profits from the series’ popular Brazil race, said motorsports business experts. That still leaves a $15 million hole to close.

Bernard is busy trying to find new markets and raise sanctioning fees to keep the series above water.

The Speedway board, meanwhile, is dedicated to continuing with all current enterprises, including the Brickyard 400 and IRL, Belskus said.

And Belskus is bent on reversing the Brickyard 400 decline that has seen attendance spiral from 270,000 in 2007 to 140,000 this year. While the Speedway won’t spend more on marketing, he said, most ticket prices will be dropped $10 to $20 and features will be added to next year’s race weekend in an attempt to draw more fans.

“We’re going to invest money into enhancing the experience at the track for people,” Belskus said, “and making this more of a destination.”

The local NASCAR race certainly isn’t the only one losing traction, but it’s leading the field in its rate of decline. Fourteen of NASCAR’s first 19 races have seen attendance declines, with an average drop near 20 percent.

Though Brickyard 400 attendance has been halved since its inception in 1994, it’s still one of the biggest races on the NASCAR circuit, with its 140,000 attendance far outpacing NASCAR’s 2010 average of 99,853.

The Speedway reaps $7 million to $10 million in TV revenue from the race—second in NASCAR only to Daytona. That allows most revenue from ticket sales, sponsorships, corporate hospitality and concession sales to fall to the bottom line.

Motorsports business experts estimate the profitability of the race for the IMS is still around $10 million to $13 million. But less than five years ago, it was more than double that.

Ticket revenue has declined more than $10 million and the loss of All-State as title sponsor cost the IMS another $2 million annually, motorsports business experts said. Factor in revenue declines in concessions, parking and other ancillary revenue and the drop is approaching $20 million.

Recent comments made by NASCAR CEO Brian France, who said Kentucky Speedway’s desire for a race could affect Indianapolis’ future, certainly haven’t soothed IMS officials’ nerves. For now, NASCAR is dedicated to having a race here in 2011, but since the contract is year-to-year, the long-term prospects are uncertain.

NASCAR officials could be using Kentucky as a threat to leverage a better deal in Indianapolis, but Brown said IMS officials should be concerned, nonetheless.

“Even if [NASCAR] decides to schedule Kentucky on another weekend, that would have a big impact on the Brickyard 400’s profits,” Brown said. “I’m sure the race here gets a big draw from Kentucky, and NASCAR is risking oversaturating the market."

Schumacher still out of control





(worldcarfans.com 8-2-10)

In the eyes of the foreign language media, Michael Schumacher was the bad-boy of Sunday's Hungarian grand prix.

In English, British tabloids called for the 41-year-old to return to retirement after pushing his former Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello towards the pitwall at the Hungaroring.

And even the Daily Telegraph said the Mercedes driver's "arrogance can no longer be tolerated in formula one".

In Italy, La Gazzetta dello Sport said the German finally "went too far" with the violent defence of tenth position.

"The arrogant Schumacher showed no remorse but is the same as ever; never his fault. It was a miracle that this manoeuvre did not end badly."

The Italian sports daily referred to the fact that the seven time world champion is an ambassador for the FIA's road safety campaign.

"A little advice for those starting their holidays; if someone tries to overtake you, please to the exact opposite of what the celebrated ex-champion did in Hungary."

La Repubblica and Corriere dello Sport called the move "madness", Il Secolo XIX said it marked his "demise", and Tuttosport said it was "dangerous".

"Barrichello just avoided crashing into the wall and landing in hospital, if not worse," added the report.

Corriere della Sera added: "Schumacher the villain, as he has always been."

Spain's sports newspaper Marca said: "Schumacher's return to formula one is one of the darkest chapters in the history of the sport."

At the same time, Schumacher posted an apology on his website, after viewing replays of the incident.

"I have to say the stewards were right in their decision. My move against him was too hard," he said.

"I clearly showed him that I didn't want to let him pass but, looking at it rationally, I wasn't seeking to endanger him (Barrichello) with my manoeuvre.

"If he feels I was then all I can say is sorry, this wasn't my intention," he added.

--------------------

Barrichello slams 'crazy' Schumacher

(by Pablo Elizalde autosport.com 8-1-10)

Rubens Barrichello slammed Michael Schumacher's driving during the Hungarian Grand Prix as 'horrendous' after the pair nearly crashed.

Williams driver Barrichello came within inches of touching the pit wall at around 300 km/h after Schumacher swerved to the right as the Brazilian tried to overtake along the main straight.

The duo came very close to making contact and Barrichello had to put part of his wheels on the grass to avoid a crash.

The Brazilian nonetheless passed Schumacher for tenth and went to score a point, but he was unimpressed with his former team-mate's driving.

"I have a lot of experience and usually with a crazy guy like that I would lift off, but not today, absolutely not," Barrichello told Spanish network La Sexta right after the race.

"I think it has been one of the most beautiful manoeuvres I've done and one of the most horrendous from him. At the end of the day we don't need that.

"To stop for three years and then come back and do something like that, we don't need it."

He added: "What I'm saying is that it wasn't necessary. The safety car came out at a time when it didn't help me, but it was a great race. I'm happy."

Schumacher shrugged off the incident, however.

"This is F1," Schumacher told Italian television RAI when questioned about his move.

"I think I left him too much room because he passed."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

New car about revitalizing Indianapolis

(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 7-14-10)

INDIANAPOLIS -- The IZOD IndyCar Series didn't unveil its car of the future Wednesday, but rather its concept for how cars will be distributed and developed.

In fact, the theme of the elaborate program staged Wednesday at the Indianapolis Museum of Art wasn't so much about Indy cars as it was about Indy car racing's future role in the economic development of the city of Indianapolis.

Stated more concisely, the new car was as much about business as it was sport.

Sure, it's important that Dallara Automobili was selected as the sole provider of the "Safety Cell" platform that will form the basis of the 2012 IndyCar. But what really matters is that the Italian company will build a new production facility on Main Street in Speedway, Ind., just a short chute away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that is expected to create 80 jobs.

Under the leadership of retired Air Force Gen. William Looney, IndyCar's seven-man ICONIC (Innovative, Competitive, Open-Wheel, New, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective) committee was responsible for the focal point of Wednesday's announcement. But the most important people in the IMA's Tobias Theater were the politicians who confirmed that the state of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis are making long-overdue investments in Indy car racing.

"Today is the biggest day by far in our motorsports restoration program in Indiana," Gov. Mitch Daniels said. "This sport is coming back to the state where it was born."

"We have tremendously skilled workers here, and we want to show our commitment to the speedway and the league," Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said.

Dallara landed the IndyCar contract because it agreed to produce the car in Indiana, persuaded by the promise of tax credits and grants. Dallara and city and state officials said they believe a cottage industry of component suppliers will be revived in central Indiana.

In addition, part of the state inducement package will allow Dallara to offer a $150,000 discount on the first 28 cars sold to teams based in Indiana. Ten of the 14 teams that comprise the full-season IndyCar grid are based in greater Indianapolis; the exceptions are Team Penske (North Carolina), Newman/Haas Racing and Dale Coyne Racing (both Illinois-based) and AJ Foyt Racing (Texas).

Dallara will produce the basic Safety Cell, which includes the monocoque, gearbox and suspension, in addition to expensive items like the fuel cell, wiring loom, electronics, headers and driveshafts that were extra-cost add-ons in the past.

"When we talk about the Safety Cell, we're talking about a complete car, less engine and seat," said Indy Racing League competition president Brian Barnhart, who was one of the seven members of the ICONIC committee.

The kicker is that Dallara will supply that rolling chassis for $349,000, or $385,000 with Dallara designed and supplied bodywork. That's a 45 percent reduction from the $700,000 it would cost to acquire similar current equipment from Dallara for 2010.

The ICONIC committee addressed the cry for variation between cars by allowing any team or manufacturer to develop its own approved bodywork -- front wings, sidepods, engine cover and rear wing. The caveat is that those body kits must be made available to all competitors for $70,000.

Teams will be allowed to select and utilize two brands of bodywork for any season, and the cars will be branded after the bodywork supplier.

So in theory, spurned suppliers Lola, Swift, BAT and even Delta Wing could design and market their own bodywork for the basic Dallara, turning it into their "own" car.

"Today is the result of listening to all of you," IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said. "The decision we made was not easy. We had to be cognizant about balancing the cost to team owners and the fans' desire to see change.

"This is one of the most important decisions of the decade for the IndyCar Series, and it's a huge honor to know that in 18 months this car will be a reality."

Dallara and series officials said a prototype chassis will begin testing in October 2011, with the first deliveries scheduled for that December.

Current engine supplier Honda is expected to continue in the IndyCar Series, with or without competition. On Wednesday, IndyCar officials revealed that the 2012 engine will feature up to 100 extra horsepower in the "push-to-pass" function, and that prices for a year-long engine lease will be capped at $690,000 if there is competition between manufacturers and $575,000 if there is a sole supplier.

A current Honda engine lease is $935,000 annually.

Although it won't appease purists who were hoping for a fully competitive chassis market, the key to the overall future cost reduction is the sole supplier concept for the basic car. It is hoped that allowing external development of aero packages will create significant diversity between cars, which was identified as a key demand from fans.

"Aerodynamic bodywork is the key differentiating factor in racing car design, both visually and technically," said ICONIC committee member Tony Purnell, the former head of Pi Electronics and the Jaguar F1 team. "Clothing the safety cell can be done with a fraction of the development cost compared to developing an entire vehicle.

"It's a revolutionary strategy opening the door for many to rise to the challenge," he added. "We believe an industry-relevant approach will attract more manufacturers to the series. We want to challenge the auto and aerospace industry. This is an opportunity to test your technical prowess without breaking the piggy bank."

Gil de Ferran, who represented driver and team owner interests on the ICONIC committee, said the three-month process of deciding the future direction of the series was a fascinating and surprising experience.

"It's important that we didn't decide on a new car, but instead a concept that satisfied conflicting requirements," de Ferran said. "At the end of the day, this was democracy at its best. Our meetings became highly productive brainstorming sessions."

"I was a fly on the wall and it was amazing to watch these seven guys in their process," Bernard said. "Their ideas were 180 degrees different at the beginning."

Another key member of the ICONIC board was Tony Cotman, who was instrumental in the cost-effective development of the Panoz DP-01 chassis used in the last year of the Champ Car World Series.

"Initially it seemed like we were just choosing a car," Cotman said. "Instead we came up with a concept that seems to have addressed all of our stated goals while achieving the impossible -- cost reduction.

"With this plan, costs will remain under control, but teams will still have access to the latest and greatest. We started out with a simple choice and ended up with a concept that will revolutionize and re-energize the sport."

It didn't take long for the naysayers to flood social media, complaining that IndyCar looks likely to continue down the road as a Dallara-Honda spec series. But in the current economic climate, it was unrealistic to expect all-out warfare between chassis manufacturers to be allowed.

As Cotman and de Ferran said, the IndyCar Series seems to have come up with the best possible compromise under the circumstances -- a basic platform that can be dressed up and branded by anyone willing to take the financial risk involved with creating an aero package.

Getting more engine and tire manufacturers involved would be icing on the cake, and when Dallara's exclusive chassis supply contract expires after the 2015 season, perhaps IndyCar will be in position to open up competition again.

"We have to be realistic and not set our expectations too high," Bernard said. "Our goal was to look at the long term. It's going to be pretty hard to find engine manufacturers by 2012, and there's a deadline not too far down the road. But I expect we will see additional aero kits in 2013 for sure."

One constituency group that will happy to get into any new Indy car is the drivers. Current IndyCar Series championship leader Will Power of Team Penske came away impressed with what he saw on Wednesday.

"I'm very excited," Power said. "The car is going to be lighter; it's going to be faster. It entices other manufacturers to come in. I think the ICONIC committee did a fantastic job and this is the best direction that they could have gone.

"I don't think you could ask for anything better, and it's going to be fun."

IRL nuts? Too ambitious? Maybe both

(by Ed Hinton espn.go.com 7-14-10)

Are they nuts?

That's the thought that kept flashing -- in neon -- in my mind as Wednesday's stiffly choreographed, yet largely chaotic Indy Racing League "announcement" of its car plans for 2012 stumbled and stammered on and on.

Before the discombobulated display began, I'd thought the best possible scenario would be for the IRL to accept all five car designs that had been submitted. That would bring back diversity and innovation.

Worst possible scenario would be acceptance of only one of the designs. That would further mire the league in the kit-car, spec-racing formula that has left Indy car racing dwindling interest and attendance in recent years.

What was announced was worse than one car: no car.

Essentially, after all that buildup to the unveiling of a bold new design or designs, they continued treading water, put off the real decisions indefinitely.

Oh, they rolled out a rolling chassis. But that's a far cry from a full car.

Whose rolling chassis? Wouldn't you know it? After all that hoopla about wide-open technology, IndyCar is back in bed with its old spec-car partner, Dallara Automobili. Deeper than ever this time, with Dallara agreeing to open a plant in Indiana to hire Hoosiers -- in exchange, of course, for various tax breaks and grants from the state and local coffers. All this to create maybe 100 jobs.

Onto this rolling chassis, the IRL will allow the attachment of various "aero kits" to be approved and announced … well … sometime in the future.

At first the open-ended aero kits seemed something of a way to please all the engineering firms that submitted car designs. BAT, DeltaWing, Lola and Swift are all welcome -- but not their original, highly publicized designs.

They're all welcome to -- er, ah -- resubmit designs compatible with the Dallara rolling chassis.

Also invited are any and all automotive, and even aircraft, manufacturers around the world. Come and bring your own aero packages and make Indianapolis Motor Speedway the cutting-edge proving ground it once was.

"So come on, Ford. Come on, GM. Come on, Lotus, Ferrari, Boeing, Lockheed," cheered British engineer Tony Purnell, a member of the IRL's ICONIC committee that came to Wednesday's recommendation.

Pardon me if it sounded like LeBron James' over-the-top counting last week of "not four championships, not five championships, not six championships, not seven championships …"

The idea that a Ferrari or a Boeing would spend big to develop an aerodynamics package for a 21st century racecar, only to sell it to competitors for a maximum of $70,000 per car, seems tenuous at best.

Every time the IRL lifts off toward new heights of innovation, it applies its same old ruinous brakes, severe cost controls.

Finally, after the Internet-streamed presentation circus abated and we got down to a teleconference, I asked IRL competition president Brian Barnhart if the league had undercurrent commitments from manufacturers, or if this simply amounted to one of the great leaps of faith ever in motor racing?

As for the aerospace industry, "It's kind of a natural to challenge that industry to get involved," Barnhart said. "With regard to the automotive manufacturers, we have had some preliminary dialogue, and it has been exceptionally well received."

The idea is that a Ford-developed aero kit could be called a Ford car, and pack a Ford-developed engine so that in the future, rather than driving a "Dallara-Honda," a driver might simply be driving a "Ford," or "Chevrolet," or "Honda," or whatever.

Which might leapfrog the IRL ahead of NASCAR in brand identification -- except that the "Ford" would really be a Ford on top of a Dallara chassis.

Randy Bernard, the IRL's new CEO, said manufacturers brought into the loop "have said it's very exciting that they could create brand identity with their cars."

Trouble is, "we haven't been able to talk with everyone because we wanted to keep everything as confidential as possible, so we were very selective in our first round," Bernard said.

See? There you go. It's a huge leap of faith, without strong commitments from several manufacturers. Bernard plans a trip to Europe next month to talk with engine manufacturers there, to discuss engine and aero packages that could be called simply "Mercedes" or "BMW."

But that's essentially a sales trip, to make inquiries and proposals.

As the marathon announcement wore on, and they began to make some sense, I decided they're not nuts, but they are very broadly wishful in their thinking.

Here's hoping that it works, that we might again see Indy unveil innovations upon innovations, as it hasn't since the 1920s when the genius Harry Miller and the Brothers Duesenberg were high-tech archrivals. Maybe at least, on the more realistic side, we could see at least the diversity of cars I encountered when I started covering Indy 35 years ago -- the Coyotes, Wildcats, McLarens and various "specials."

But during Wednesday's rambling -- hard to call it an "unveiling" because so much is still so veiled -- through such a lofty, nebulous, unfinished plan, well …

First I got this image of the IRL sprinting headlong toward a cliff and taking a flying leap off … then of it hanging in midair, flapping its arms with all due intensity.

I'm not saying it won't fly. But I am warning: Look out below!

What did we learn? Well ... not a lot



(by Terry Blount espn.go.com 7-15-10)

Months of buildup and anticipation. Tons of speculation. Glimpses of futuristic new designs for what the new Indy car could be like in 2012.

Finally, Wednesday was the day. A decision was made. Everyone was waiting with bated breath for the big announcement at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

And the new car is? Umm. We'll get back to you on that one.

And the winning chassis manufacturer is? Umm. The same guys who make the chassis now -- Dallara.

If you were expecting a curtain to go up and reveal the shiny new car of the future, you're still waiting.

There was no wow factor. If this was the game-changing moment for the IndyCar Series, it came in a whisper and not a bleat from a vuvuzela.

What will the new Indy car look like? Well, that depends.

Dallara will continue to provide the chassis, known as the Safety Cell, but the actual shell of the car is up for grabs for any manufacturer. Different body styles are welcome, within reason.

It's safe to say the new Indy car will look similar to how the car looks today. You won't see a Delta Wing body on the Dallara chassis.

"We want it to be evolutionary, not revolutionary," said Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, one of the seven men on the so-called ICONIC committee that was formed to make the decision.

A Speed Racer car or the Batmobile or the actual Delta Wing (sort of a modern version of Craig Breedlove's land-speed record car) isn't coming. The designs for the aero kit must meet IRL approval.

"We want to leave the parameters and the box open as wide as possible," said Brian Barnhart, the president of competition for the IRL and a committee member. "The front and rear wings, the sidepods and the engine covers all will have as much freedom as possible so fans can distinguish the cars from each other."

What they will be exactly remains a guess. It's all still a gigantic gray area.

What league officials want is more participation from various manufacturers that will bring slightly different design concepts.

"We are dressing the chassis in different and sexy ways," said Tony Purnell, another member of the committee. "Come on, Ford; come on, GM; come on, Lotus; come on, Ferrari; come on, Lockheed; come on, Boeing. We want you to rise to the challenge without a major raid on your piggy bank. Bring it on."

Nice challenge, but I doubt Ferrari and Boeing are jumping at the chance to design cars for the IRL.

Randy Bernard, the IRL's new boss and the man everyone is hoping can lead Indy car racing back to the promised land, said he believes the several auto manufacturers who left the series will come back.

"We've talked to some [auto manufacturers] that are very excited about what we're doing and the possibility of more brand identity with the cars," Bernard said. "How much more [body] space will be available for sponsorship, no one can say because it depends on the design."

That's the point: We still don't know. But the IRL has about 18 months to figure it out.

The entire public presentation Wednesday was robotic, totally scripted without any dramatic moment at the end. It included a video of the committee members voting Wednesday morning (using handheld devices) on their choice among the five candidates for the new chassis.

Do they really expect us to believe that decision was made this morning? It was like a bad reality TV show.

There was a brief look onstage, in holographic form, of what the car bodies might look like, but nothing that made anyone giddy with anticipation.

This was more about the steps league officials are taking to try to reach that big moment that can bring Indy car back to the good old days.

Some of the announced changes are huge steps in the right direction. The cost of buying these new cars, whatever they are, is about $385,000, 45 percent less than the current model.

Teams can choose two aero kits (body styles) a year. The kits cost a maximum $70,000, which may limit design options.

Dallara announced it will move its entire IRL operation to a stone's throw from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which will add jobs to the community.

In theory, the plan presented by the committee has a lot of good points, but Wednesday's announcement left most still wondering what's ahead.

"Today is a result of talking to all of you," Bernard said in the presentation. "You've all had input, and we've listened. This is a huge moment to know in 18 months this car will be a reality."

But the reality is, we still don't know a lot of things about what that car will be.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

IRL can right ship with new chassis

(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 7-13-10)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Eight years is an eternity in race car design. Having the same generally unpopular car for eight years is an albatross for a racing series.

That's the situation the Izod IndyCar Series is in. The good news is that help is on the way, in the form of a new chassis formula set to be unveiled Wednesday at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The bad news is that the "Indy car of Tomorrow" won't hit the track for almost two years.

That's not to say that the Dallara IC3 that was introduced in 2003 (and served as IndyCar's unofficial spec chassis since 2006) is a bad car. It has produced close, competitive oval racing, adapted well to road racing, and has a better safety record than prior chassis used in the Indy Racing League.

But it was never intended to be a car that would be used for nine years. More importantly, it was a car that no one ever really got excited about -- least of all the large portion of Indy car racing's fan base that remained loyal to CART and Champ Car until the bitter end.

About 10 years ago, Champ Car stalwart Paul Tracy famously dubbed IRL-specification Indy cars "Crapwagons," and the term stuck. At the time, the first two generations of IRL cars made by Dallara and Panoz/G-Force were indeed rude and crude compared to the cars raced in the CART series built by Reynard, Lola, Penske, Swift and Eagle. Cutting costs was one of the original rallying cries of the IRL; its Indy cars were built to a price, and it showed.

Champ Car devolved into a spec formula for its final few years, but its last car (the 2007 Panoz DP01) was much more sophisticated -- and less expensive -- than the Dallara IC3. But when the open-wheel split finally ended in early 2008, the IRL formula -- and therefore the already five-year-old Dallara -- won out over the recently implemented DP01.

The basic car is any racing series' identity, especially in a spec series. For 2012, IndyCar has the opportunity to have its car work in its favor instead of against it, which has pretty much been the case for the last decade or more. By moving production to America and dramatically cutting prices, Dallara is likely to remain involved, but the Italian manufacturer is likely to have competition for the first time since 2005.

Competition between engine and chassis manufacturers (and even tires from 1995-2000) was one of the things that made Indy car racing great during its most successful era in the 1980s and '90s. Having multiple engine manufacturers is more important from a marketing standpoint, but it would be a bonus if IndyCar opened up the field to at least two chassis makers as well. Visual differences between the cars give novice fans a way to tell brands of cars apart and gearheads a point for technical discussion.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard seems to understand that competition between engine and chassis manufacturers lifts the entire industry. The question he has to answer is whether in the current economic climate Indy car racing can sustain a market for multiple manufacturers. Bernard's toughest task might be convincing the Hulman-George family to finance the initial run of 2012 chassis so that a full and competitive field can be ensured.

We know from the previously announced 2012 engine regulations that the drivers will be granted their wish for more horsepower. The future engine specs call for turbocharged engines with up to six cylinders and 2.4 liters of displacement, tuned to produce between 550 and 750 horsepower depending on the type of track. The current normally aspirated Honda V-8 kicks out about 650 bhp.

Not surprisingly, championship leader Will Power is leading the call for more power.

"They've got to have 750 horsepower plus," Power said. "That'll make the racing better because it'll be harder to drive and the cars will look more spectacular. More horsepower will also mean the tires will go off, which makes them more spectacular.

"I remember when I was a kid going to the Surfers Paradise [CART] race when they had 900 horsepower and the ground would rumble," he added. "It was unbelievable, and it just looked and sounded fast. They revved to 17,000 rpm. It sounded awesome."

Other top Indy car drivers are hoping for a more agile car with more options for adjustability.

"For me, I think the car needs to be a ton lighter," remarked two-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon. "The current car is a bit of a heavy thing. Being a lot lighter will make it a ton safer, too, because you won't hit the wall as hard."

"I'd also like to see a lot of the downforce created by the underwing, like Champ Car did," Dixon added. "That would be nice so you're not relying so much on the wings that are so massive. I think that would be an easy way to make the racing better. It would help us get close and make runs on the other guy. Adjustability is the key. All this specifying of the wing angle I think is just wrong. There needs to be room in the rules for adjustability so different drivers and teams are able to run different strategies."

Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves was one of several drivers who said that the current package is just about perfect for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But he'd like to see the rulebook opened up elsewhere.

"I'd like to see the rules not be so tight, with room for a little more flexibility on the part of the teams," Helio said. "I think you should be able to play a little more with the wings like we did in the past. Certainly horsepower is always fun to have, and I'd like to see the push-to-pass have a little more increase in power instead of just 5-10 horsepower."

Bernard occasionally has said that he would like to banish the corporate names "Indy Racing League" and "IRL" due to the negative connotations they carry from the days of the open wheel war. The long-awaited move out of "Crapwagons" and into sexy, technologically advanced new cars should be another step in the right direction for the IndyCar Series.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The future of Indy Car hangs in the balance



I've said many times that if Indy Car is going to survive and grow it needs a car that rivals those of F1. Wednesday Indy Car is going to have a press conference to announce its chassis "strategy." What in the hell is a "strategy" announcement? This was supposed to be the announcement of the new car that had been chosen, the new car that was supposed to replace the worthless piece of crap they are racing that the rest of the world laughs at.

I swear if Indy Car screws this up I will give up what little hope I have left for them.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Is IndyCar picking a NASCAR fight?



(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 6-28-10)

LOUDON, N.H. -- Dario Franchitti never led a Sprint Cup race during his brief NASCAR career. But he did Sunday -- sort of.

Immediately before the start of NASCAR's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Franchitti turned a few demonstration laps in his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Indy car to promote the fact the IZOD IndyCar Series will return to the New England market with a race on July 31, 2011. The laps weren't especially fast (in the 26-second bracket, about three seconds quicker than a stock car but more than four seconds slower than Andre Ribeiro's track record of 21.466 seconds set in 1995 in a CART-spec Indy car) but they sent a powerful message to the American racing community.

Here's why: Whether they acknowledge it or not, IndyCar and NASCAR are competitors. Again, similarly unacknowledged, NHMS owner Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) is a direct competitor to International Speedway Corp. (ISC). ISC and NASCAR are essentially one entity, owned as they are by the France family.

Connecting the dots, Sunday's announcement and demonstration run could be perceived as SMI and IndyCar teaming up to take on the France family and their ISC/NASCAR juggernaut. And even though everyone involved said all the right things, there is no doubt that NASCAR fought the day's activities tooth and nail. When the IndyCar contingent was en route to New Hampshire early Sunday morning, league officials were still in doubt whether NASCAR would allow Franchitti's demonstration run.

On the flight, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard told a story to illustrate his concern.

"Davey Hamilton [veteran IRL driver and radio commentator] did an Indy car demonstration like this at Las Vegas Motor Speedway many years ago," Bernard said. "They told him to do a couple laps and stay below 175 mph. He didn't want to do that -- he really wanted to show the fans what the car could do, and he did.

"He knew they were going to be mad, but Davey lived in Las Vegas. So he parked his car in a place where he knew he could get out of there in a hurry if there was trouble."

Franchitti didn't have that luxury, because he was tabbed to make the "Start your engines" call for the NASCAR race after his Indy car laps.

All in all, the demonstration went off without a hitch -- and apparently with the blessing of NASCAR president Mike Helton.

"[Helton] said, 'Tell Dario not to crash or blow an engine and mess up our racetrack,'" said NHMS president Jerry Gappens, an Indiana native who was instrumental in luring Indy car racing back to New Hampshire for the first time since 1998.

Of course the ultimate decision rested with SMI CEO Bruton Smith, who was on hand for Sunday's announcement. SMI acquired NHMS for $340 million in 2007, and therefore was not party to Indy car racing's prior history at the "Magic Mile." Four CART-sanctioned races were run at NHMS from 1992 to '95, but attendance dropped from an average of about 50,000 to less than 10,000 when the track's then-owner, Bob Bahre, switched to an Indy Racing League-sanctioned event for 1996-98.

The New Hampshire Indy car race was one of many casualties in the American open-wheel racing war, along with events at several other SMI tracks, including Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Las Vegas.

But the open-wheel landscape has changed dramatically in the last two years, mainly thanks to the so-called unification of the sport. And one of the first things that Bernard -- who has been on the job as IRL CEO for only four months -- said he noticed was a consistent lack of success for IndyCar Series races at ISC tracks. Attendance and promotion at SMI tracks, especially Texas, has always much stronger.

Hence the rapidly growing partnership between the IRL and SMI.

"Mr. Smith is one of my heroes," Bernard said. "The way he promotes is so aggressive, and that's what the IZOD IndyCar Series wants and needs. We have to think in the best interests of the IndyCar Series, and that's why we want to be involved with Mr. Smith."

You can see why Bernard has taken a shine to "Mr. Smith" and vice versa. They're both born promoters who aren't afraid to take chances.

Bernard frequently used the word "aggressive" when talking about Smith and SMI, but there is no doubt that Bernard has been aggressive in his first 100 days on the IRL job. He's already pushed the stagnant future engine formula selection process forward, and he hopes to make an announcement about chassis by July 14.

Bernard has also indicated that major changes could be coming to the IndyCar schedule, which he promised to reveal by "late summer." In addition to the New Hampshire event, IndyCar has already announced a new street race in Baltimore set for the week after NHMS in 2011.

With the schedule to be capped at 17 or 18 races, several existing events are apparently going to be dropped. And the obvious ones are the poorly attended races at ISC tracks -- Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway and Watkins Glen International.

On Sunday, Bernard said that IndyCar has a positive relationship with ISC, "But they need to tell us what they can bring to the table that they're not bringing right now."

He didn't rule out one-year contracts to keep some ISC tracks in the fold. "I like one-year contracts, because it keeps everyone hungry," Bernard said. New Hampshire is a one-year deal.

From a business standpoint, a stronger IndyCar Series can only benefit SMI, and ISC for that matter. That's where those France family ties get complicated and conflicted for ISC, because the Frances most certainly do not want to see Indy car racing grow at the expense of NASCAR, but they do want successful events at their tracks.

SMI officials are convinced that despite its checkered past in New England, the New Hampshire Indy car race will be a winner this time around.

"I like Indy car racing," Smith said. "I'm looking forward to bringing Indy cars back to New Hampshire, and I hope y'all are, too. We're going to promote the dickens out of it and make it a national event."

"The difference [from 1998] is that Bruton wasn't the promoter, and it has changed a lot since then," Gappens added. "IndyCar has better drivers, better cars and good momentum. A lot of it is due to Randy."

If anything, Bernard is a man not afraid to make a decision and put it into action. That's what makes his growing relationship with Smith so intriguing. Both of them are willing to take chances and do whatever it takes to make IndyCar events successful.

The Indy car war of 1996-2008 may be over, yet open-wheel racing still has its share of problems and conflicts. But with Bernard acting aggressively as the new sheriff in town, the streets are being cleaned up.

The question to be determined in the next few weeks is whether those streets will continue to include International Speedway Corp. properties.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cornhole 250 News: Park-o to appear at Kum & Go

(crapwagon.com 6-17-10)

clutch x
Again, only in the .1rl. Ya can't make this stuff up....

"Of note: E85 for 85 cents a gallon and meet Marco Andretti? What a deal. The Andretti Autosport driver will greet patrons at the Kum & Go (2110 Guthrie St. in Des Moines) from 5:30-7:30 p.m. June 17. Premium unleaded will be offered for 10 cents off per gallon. … Jake McVey and Jessie James will perform on stage after the checkered flag of the Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by Pioneer."

Where?/Who?/Perform what?!




Road America
Jessie James is hot, everything else in that article is meaningless.


last2brake
Is that where they teach you the difference between a white flag and a yellow flag ?


Indy
Danica = Kum & Go Slowly


TRPG
Danica = Rahal Kum & Get an irl seat


TheAngryDwarf
Is the Kum and Go for real?

Seriously?

To me, it truly sounds like a vicious nick name for the high school whore.

But, then again, this is the Earl.

Wonder how Randy is liking this now?


DirtDevil1
funny how a few short seasons ago, Marko & young Rahole
were both promising young American F1 hopefuls.
Fast Forward 2010, Rahal Jr's nothing more than FIRL ride beggar, &
Marcos peddling beer and smokes at the local Cum & Go
Neither one will ever turn F1 wheel, maybe a top 10 in prestigious
FIRL Iowa Corn Cob 150

Long live the Vision...


scorpion
Kum and Go? Gawd only in places like Iowa or Indianer. Makes sense though that Marco is out peddling his wares. My understanding is (and yes I actually checked) there are still tons of good seats in the cornfest bowl for the race. Plus daddy needs Marco to suck up some cash for RHR's last race.


last2brake
I'll be there on Sunday !

Did you get good seats ?


Ronbo
"cough" baloney.."cough"...


TheAngryDwarf
Oh, come on, Ronbo.

Everybody know that L2B is a closet gomersexual.

(And with that, I run away, and run fast away, for fast I shall run away,and far shall I run away fast.)

gomersexual.

Damn, I crack myself up sometimes.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

IRL think tank has its hands full

(by Terry Blount espn.go.com 6-7-10)



Somewhere in Indianapolis on Monday, the long-term fate of IndyCar racing is being determined by a handful of men behind closed doors.

That might sound a little melodramatic, but the three-day secret session going on now for the Indy Racing League's advisory committee -- open-wheel racing's version of a Washington think tank -- will determine the key decision these men make about the future of the IndyCar Series.

Seven men with various expertise in racing, along with new league CEO Randy Bernard, are listening intently (at least let's hope they are listening intently) to proposals from chassis designers making their pitch for the car of the future.

This is so important that the committee has a highly decorated retired general to oversee the proceedings. Gen. William Looney III, who learned a thing or two about speed and technology in his distinguished career with the Air Force, is moderating the meetings.

Now doesn't that sound exciting? Sure it does, if you enjoy watching C-SPAN or reading engineering textbooks.

But these meetings, which conclude on Tuesday, aren't just about choosing a new car to race in 2012. Based on what they see and hear, these men will try to set a course to a brighter future for American open-wheel racing.

The five chassis designs on the table run the gamut of imagination -- from the traditional look of today's Indy car science to something that comes closer in appearance to science fiction.

The right decision could propel Indy car racing back to its former glory. The wrong decision could bury it for good. And everyone on the panel knows it.

So, no pressure, guys. Just go with your gut instinct.

The men in the power seats include Eddie Gossage, Tony Cotman, Gil de Ferran, Brian Barnhart, Tony Purnell, Neil Ressler and Rick Long. I won't bore you with all their credentials, but they bring an ocean of racing knowledge to the table.

In the end, the IRL can accept or reject their recommendation, but the reality is these men are the Supreme Court.

And every man on this panel realizes the IRL needs to make a big splash. It needs this decision to take some attention away from NASCAR and bring casual fans back to IndyCar. It needs to create some hoopla, but it needs to do it with substance.

No one knows for sure how the committee is leaning. Every man on the panel has been sworn to secrecy. But there are some clues that came last week from the committee's selection of a new engine formula -- a six-cylinder, turbo-charged motor.

"Bringing innovation and diversity back into Indy cars is something we felt was very important," said de Ferran, a team owner and former IRL driver who spoke to reporters at Texas Motor Speedway this past weekend. "It's also very important to be cost-effective."

The committee announced an engine plan that it hopes will help it achieve its goal of bringing in as many manufacturers as possible. Honda is the only engine supplier now.

Could that be the same goal for the future car? It isn't as easy as running competing engine manufacturers, which know they must follow basic rules in engine size and power.

The futuristic Delta Wing car, which looks a little like the car Craig Breedlove drove in 1960 while setting land-speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, has nothing in common with the Lola design, which more closely resembles the current IndyCar chassis from Dallara.

How do you make those radically different designs relatively equal for competition?

Picking more than one design could be the easy way out for the committee. If it chooses one chassis design, some fans will like it and some won't. Some fans want a futuristic look; some want a traditional look.

Finding a way to satisfy both and keep the competition balanced is the tough part.

After hearing all the proposals this week, the committee has only three weeks to make a decision. The stated goal is to announce a new chassis by June 30. Clearly that means picking a new car without extensive track testing.

"We have 18 months to get the car ready," said Barnhart, the IndyCar Series' president of competition.

It's a lot to work out in a short time. Does the car meet all the necessary safety requirements? Does it produce competitive racing on ovals and road courses?

If not, can it be altered to meet those requirements? The league doesn't want to pick a car that flops in testing and gives the impression that the series is heading in the wrong direction before the new car officially debuts.

NASCAR made that mistake with the Car of Tomorrow, which many fans hated before it ever raced.

So take detailed notes in these meetings, gentlemen. Listen well and give it all you've got. Deliberate with passion during the next few weeks.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall. It's bound to get a little heated at times. That's OK. It's pretty darn important stuff.

The fate of IndyCar racing rests in your hands. Make it count.