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.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

New Indy car still needs work

(by John Oreovicz 12-22-11)

What do you get when you design a race car by committee and build it to a price?

The Dallara DW12 Indy car, which has an alarming number of people involved in the Izod IndyCar Series only half-joking that Dallara is Italian for disaster.

The car is named after the late Dan Wheldon, who handled the initial shakedown tests of Italian race car manufacturer Dallara Automobili's first new Indy car design since 2003. But Wheldon was maybe too diplomatic, a PR-minded party-line kind of guy, so he never played up the car's shortcomings. There are many of those, a fact that became obvious when testing moved on to the engine manufacturer phase and the car scared the likes of Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan while resolutely refusing to top 216 mph at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Following another round of testing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Scott Dixon gave the most honest assessment of the car to date, calling it "a bit of a pig" with an even more pronounced pendulum effect than the current Dallara IR03, which is already a tail-heavy car. The numbers don't lie; the DW12 has a weight distribution of 41 percent front, 59 percent rear, as compared to the IR03's 45/55.

The car's handling got better during the most recent round of testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but the improvement came from an extreme measure: Placing 26 pounds of lead ballast in the nose of the car to balance out the weight distribution.

Although he admitted he was discouraged by some aspects of early testing of the DW12, Franchitti generally isn't worried about sorting the car out prior to the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 25.

"Working with the car has been a little bit frustrating," Franchitti said. "Scott says they're starting to make some progress now. But for me, it's very important that the series allows us to fix the car and to work with the car and not paint us into too tight a box. It's important the series allows the latitude to adjust the car to different driving styles. I would say that's the one thing that's kind of concerning me.

"Hopefully they can come up with an elegant engineering solution to fixing the problems of the handling imbalance the car's had."

After initially blaming suppliers for suspension and gearbox components that didn't meet target weight goals, Dallara is finally reacting to the crisis. Revised suspension geometry will help shift the weight forward, and a completely new oval track aero package (floor, sidepods, wings) is under development.

"As requested by INDYCAR, Dallara will design an alternative set of suspensions to move back two inches the front wheels and one inch the rear wheels," stated Andrea Toso, head of research and development and U.S. racing business leader for Dallara Automobili. "Both front and both rear suspensions will be available for the teams from the catalog and can be utilized in any combination front to rear at all the events."

Toso hinted that the Honda engines that powered the initial development car that Wheldon drove were as much as 30 kilograms heavier than anticipated, a situation he said resulted from INDYCAR's insistence on tight price caps and extreme durability standards for the league's engine suppliers.

The updated suspension was not available when the initial batch of 15 cars was delivered to teams on Dec. 15, but the pressure is not as great as it could be because the first oval activity of the 2012 season won't happen until the month of May at Indianapolis. Still, the oval package will essentially be starting at ground zero when testing resumes in the spring.

Dallara is ramping up for a total build of around 60 cars.

"Teams will take delivery of their cars with the current set of suspensions and, should they decide to start the season with the alternative set, they can get free of charge replacement based on the return of the current set," Toso said.

This late redesign represents an opportunity for Dallara and INDYCAR to overcome the universally negative reaction to the DW12's appearance. A poll of more than 6,000 fans at resulted in 98 percent expressing dissatisfaction with the look of the car, especially the bulbous sidepods that shroud the rear wheels.

"Everyone has an opinion," shrugged Will Phillips, project director for INDYCAR's 2012 car.

How could Dallara have gotten it so wrong? There are a number of factors. For starters, it's been nine years since Dallara created a new Indy car chassis, and the IR03 was in many ways an update of the company's 2000 car, albeit with a major change in front suspension philosophy. The key is that since 2003, development of the IR03 was almost exclusively handled by the teams, with little or no factory involvement. As such, Dallara was already somewhat out of touch with its own most recent design.

Dallara had an extremely tight box to work in, courtesy of the requirements made by INDYCAR's ICONIC Committee. Most of those mandates were made in the interest of safety even before Wheldon's death at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (in a Dallara IR03) on Oct. 16, but it appears some of them -- chiefly, the wider floor and sidepods that extend all the way to the outer edge of the rear tires and the rear bumper pods mounted behind the rear wheels -- are contributing to the car's higher-than-anticipated drag and high-speed instability on ovals.

Phillips said the car's controversial sidepods were created in the interest of safety, but he believes they are not the cause of the car's higher-than-anticipated drag.

"Dallara spent an awful lot of time looking at what happens when the old car 'yaws,'" Phillips said, referring to how the car reacts when it snaps sideways from its center axis. "As the car goes into yaw and runs down the track sideways, it can have a tendency to fly. The features of the new car are designed to specifically reduce the yaw characteristics of the car. The new car is roughly 50 percent less likely to have an overturning moment around the center of gravity through a yaw-induced effect."

The worrying thing is that INDYCAR quietly concedes it doesn't know why the DW12 is not working the way the computer simulations say it is supposed to. It's almost as if Dallara was so concerned about how the DW12 would perform if it got sideways or up into the air that it forgot to pay attention to how the car would run in a straight line or through corners.

The 50 percent wind tunnel model of the DW12 was recently retested in an alternate wind tunnel with known characteristics, and the results backed up Dallara's initial numbers. The next step is to take a full-size IR03 (donated by Ganassi Racing) and a DW12 to a 100 percent tunnel and compare the results using real cars.

"We're trying to identify why the theoretical world doesn't match the real world at the racetrack," Phillips admitted. "At very high speeds, we have disparity in the data."

The good news is that the drivers have been generally positive about the DW12 in road racing trim and the car is reportedly already slightly faster than the outgoing car, which admittedly was originally designed exclusively for oval competition.

Championship-winning team owner Chip Ganassi is convinced that Dallara and INDYCAR will get the DW12 right, although it may take more time than expected.

"Everybody has questions about the new car, but I think you have to think back to the car we're retiring now," Ganassi said. "When that car was developed, it took two or three years to get that car right. When we were getting new cars every year in CART, they were just evolutions of a previous car. This new car is somewhat of a revolution. It might take a little extra time to get it what I would say is right for everybody, not necessarily right for just one or two teams.

"I think INDYCAR is keeping an open mind," Ganassi continued. "They've already come out and said, 'OK, we need to change the testing rules.' They seem open to changing things when we need to. So hopefully they'll keep that attitude going forward. It's just a process we have to go working through. The mere fact that the car didn't come out of the box at the current performance level of a car that's been being developed for 12 years, I don't think that's the end of the world. We just need to buckle down and get to work on it."

The Dallara DW12 is not the first bad race car, and it certainly won't be the last. It's a bit disheartening that INDYCAR had nine years to come up with a new car and managed to legislate itself into what looks like a dud so far. But the performance of the car can and will be fixed -- even if it means running 25 pounds of lead weight in the nose.

Here are a few other notable Indy car disasters from the last 40 years. Not all of them had unhappy endings …

1. The 1972 Parnelli "dihedral" car: Parnelli Jones tapped Lotus F1 designer Maurice Phillippe to design an Indy car and Philippe definitely started with a clean sheet of paper. His design featured torsion bar suspension and wings that sprouted at a 45-degree angle out of the sides of the car. Al Unser said it was the worst new car he'd ever driven and Mario Andretti said it wouldn't even go down the straight correctly. The car was slowly converted into a more standard design and while never ultra-fast, it delivered Joe Leonard to the 1972 USAC championship.

2. 1986-87 Penske PC15 and PC16: Roger Penske began building his own Indy cars in 1977 and they were often more competitive than customer cars from Lola or March. Penske hired F1 designer Alan Jenkins to pen a car around the new Ilmor-Chevrolet engine. The resulting PC15 and the updated PC16 were beautiful cars, but they were dog slow. Rick Mears abandoned his PC16 at Indianapolis in 1987 and immediately picked up 8 mph in a year-old March. The team finished out the '87 season in Marches; new designer Nigel Bennett's Penske PC17 design was the class of the CART field in 1988 and Bennett-designed Penskes were front-runners through 1995.

3. March 88C: March dominated the customer car market from 1982 onward. But Lola's 1987 challenger was very successful in the hands of Mario Andretti and Newman/Haas Racing, so other teams started switching to Lola in the winter of 1987-88. When Al Unser Jr. was the only driver to extract speed from the 1988 March design, several teams switched to Lola at midseason and by 1989 March was out of the Indy customer car business.

4. Lola T97/00: Reynard arrived on the Indy car scene in 1994 and quickly ate into Lola's customer car base. Lola's new 1997 design had immediate problems in testing, prompting several teams to make a panicked switch to Reynard just before the season. By 1998, Lola had just one car on the CART grid, but designer Ben Bowlby made continued improvements and Helio Castroneves was often very competitive on ovals in 1999. Bowlby did a major update in 2000, prompting Ganassi Racing and Newman/Haas Racing to switch to Lola. By 2002, Lola had recaptured 95 percent of the customer car market and Reynard had faded from the scene. The 2002 Lola became the de facto spec car of the Champ Car World Series, serving for five years, and it could directly trace its roots to the unloved T97/00.

Dario Franchitti says safety is focus

( 12-21-11)

Dario Franchitti hasn't had any time to celebrate his fourth IndyCar title.

He's been too busy working during a somber offseason.

Instead of kicking back and relaxing with his wife, Ashley Judd, Franchitti has been out testing the new 2012 car, discussing safety proposals with series officials and reflecting on the death of his close friend, Dan Wheldon.

"It's been obviously a lot different this year with losing Dan at the last race. It (winning a fourth series title) has not been something I thought about that much," Franchitti said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "It did sink in. It's bizarre. Last year it sunk in when I was in the middle of the Outback when I was on a motorbike. This year I think I was driving somewhere when it hit me. Last year I felt it was kind of really joy."

There has been nothing joyous about this title tour.

Six days after clinching his third straight points championship in Las Vegas, Franchitti was in Florida for Wheldon's funeral. The next day, he attended a public memorial service in Indianapolis. The day after that, he was back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, leading a meeting with drivers and series officials to discuss safety reforms.

Things were even tougher when the 38-year-old European native returned home.

He drove a go-kart to help raise money for Alzheimer's research, Wheldon's favorite charity. And as Franchitti made the rounds on the United Kingdom racing awards circuit, Wheldon's family brought back reminders, too.

"If he (Dan) was here, he would have been here with me, he would have been celebrating his Indy 500, and I would have been celebrating the championship," Franchitti said. "We would have had a good time. He would have been getting the plaudits he richly deserved. Whether it was his family or his dad, Clive, getting these awards on his behalf, it was pretty tough."

The two drivers had plenty in common.

Franchitti grew up in Scotland, Wheldon in England. Both won two Indianapolis 500s, were enormously popular within the racing community and drove for Michael Andretti at the height of the team's success.

But when tragedy struck in October, Franchitti's life changed. From the moment he broke down in tears in the cockpit of his No. 10 car, Franchitti became a more forceful advocate for driver's safety.

In the weeks since Vegas, Franchitti has been testing the new IndyCar and getting feedback from others who have done the same. He's stayed in touch with other drivers and series officials about what measures could be taken to prevent another racing death.

The league's investigation showed a "limitless" track at Vegas was a key factor leading to the crash. IndyCar president Brian Barnhart said the series will conduct more testing at ovals, and that he hopes to put 12 or more cars on those tracks to better simulate racing conditions -- a move Franchitti approves.

"I think Dan's accident was a catalyst for a renewal of that (safety) effort. We've all been working on that," Franchitti said. "Yeah, I think right now I'm happy with what I see and with the effort that everybody's putting in, the fact that the drivers have very much been included in that. I take my hat off to the IndyCar Series for doing that."

Safety isn't the only concern.

Bernard said last Thursday he was hoping to release the 2012 schedule in the next two days. It's still not out and the tentative schedule only has three oval races.

The new cars have not performed as well as expected, either, and will likely require additional work to get up to speed.

Franchitti and team owner Chip Ganassi believe those problems will get solved, in time.

"I think in terms of road racing, the car is fine. It just needs a little help on the ovals," Ganassi said. "There's only three ovals right now from what we're hearing. That may be a blessing right off the bat."

But for Franchitti, the most difficult part of the offseason has been the memory of winning a championship at a race where he lost a friend.

"What happened with Dan was absolutely tragic. We miss him. Really, I don't know what else to say apart from that," he said. "He was obviously a great friend and a terrific competitor. I think I speak for the whole racing community, especially the IndyCar family, that we'll all really, really miss him."

Formula 1 needs influx of American drivers to be successful in the U.S.

(by Tim Tuttle 12-21-11)

Formula 1 will return from its second multiyear U.S. hiatus with a Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, next November. The first track in the nation that was built specifically to F1 specifications and amenity standards has invested $300 million in the facility and must pay a huge sanctioning fee -- estimated at $25 million -- to put the world's highest priced and most technologically advanced race cars on the track.

History has shown making a profit with an F1 event in America will be difficult. Indianapolis made money from 2000 to 2004, was severely damaged by a tire fiasco in 2005 and lost money in its final two years. It had been the first track to hold an F1 race in the U.S. since 1991, when Phoenix's street event folded after three years. Phoenix never made money.

For F1 to become successful in America, it must be sustainable long term and that requires profits. Those will come from American drivers, who will build the television audience and the fan base. It needs another Dan Gurney or Mario Andretti and it needs them both in F1 at the same time. One won't do it.

With the Austin race in 2012 and the announced race in New Jersey, with the Manhattan skyline in the background, for 2013, the opportunity to lift F1's profile and bring American drivers into the fold is greatly enhanced. F1 won't ever equal the popularity of NASCAR and the two events will never grow larger than the Indianapolis 500, but it can prosper into a premier international sporting event in the States. Think Olympics. Think soccer's World Cup. F1 plays on that stage every year, delivering the world's largest television viewership.

There aren't any American drivers in F1. Scott Speed was the last, driving in 28 races in the 2006 and 2007 seasons before switching to Sprint Cup. He was the first since Michael Andretti, who was released with three races remaining in his sole season of 1993.

Are there Americans interested in driving in F1? Absolutely. Established talent like Kyle Busch, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal are among those who would jump at the chance. Talented youngsters Alexander Rossi, Conor Daly and Michael Lewis are pursuing it by racing in the European development series.

The challenge is getting hired by an F1 team and proving they have the ability to compete with the best road racing drivers in the world. There's been a stigma that has kept American IndyCar drivers from being considered since Andretti, who was a victim of adverse circumstances, and those who have gone the European route, which the F1 teams prefer, have run out of financial support before getting the opportunities they needed. Speed was the exception. He was funded by Red Bull's program to develop an American driver for F1, but it gave up on him quickly when he got there. Sebastian Vettel, who replaced Speed, has won the F1 world championship the past two years.

"I don't think Formula 1 can be successful in America without an American driver, but there are a lot of Ferrari fans who follow the sport everywhere and there are American Formula 1 fans," Eddie Cheever, who started 132 F1 races between 1978 and 1989 before switching to IndyCars, said. "There would be a lot more success with American drivers.

"We were doing well at Indianapolis until they dropped the ball with the tire fiasco in 2005. The fans are very fickle and they didn't come back."

Certainly, the 2005 race at Indianapolis was a blow to the event. Michelin, which supplied 14 of the 20 cars, brought a tire that failed in the Friday practice on Ralf Schumacher's car, putting him into the wall and out of the event. After taking the parade laps, the Michelin cars pulled into the pits and six cars running on Bridgestone tires raced. But even before that the event had seen steady declining attendance.

Cheever says there needs to be more Americans in the talent pool pursuing F1 and corporations to back them.

"Just having one driver won't do it," Cheever said. "Maybe having one in F1 would galvanize F1 in America so more young drivers wanted [to get involved]. It [multiple drivers] is a process that is going to take a long time, a five-year plan [backed] by a corporation or a car manufacturer to develop talent.

"Almost all of the young drivers in America want to be in NASCAR and we need more to want to get to F1."

Jonathan Summerton raced in Europe for several seasons trying to make it to F1. He won a race in the prestigious Euro Formula 3 championship in 2006, but his funding ran out. He won races in Formula Atlantic and has raced in Firestone Indy Lights since returning to America. The 23-year-old from Kissimmee, Fla., also had a major victory for A1 Team USA in the disbanded A1GP Series; the only driver to win for the team out of a group that included Speed, Marco Andretti and Bryan Herta.

"I'd still love to get to F1," Summerton said. "But IndyCar is a great option and I'm working on that for next year [2012]."

Rossi, a 20-year-old from Nevada City, Calif., is the American furthest along in the European development series. He won two races in World Series by Renault, a top-level development series in Europe, this year and tested with Team Lotus (renamed Caterham this week) in the F1 Young Driver's test at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in November. He won three races in GP3 in 2010 and was the Formula BMW world champion in 2008. Rossi will likely spend next season in the Renault or GP2 series, the final development steps on the climb into F1. It's possible, if he continues to win races, that he could reach F1 by 2013.

Indianapolis-based Just Marketing International founder Zak Brown, who has done sponsorship deals with McLaren, Red Bull, Williams, Mercedes and F1 series organizer Bernie Ecclestone, believes F1 can succeed without an American driver.

"I think F1 can be successful in the U.S. without an American driver," Brown said. "America is a pretty diverse place and many of its athletes aren't American. That being said, an American driver would definitely help as would two successful races and more network television."

Is it possible to build a successful F1 event in the U.S. without an American driver? Maybe, but not likely. Next year's event in Austin will undoubtedly be well attended and publicized. Indianapolis started out in 2000 with a crowd of 225,000, the largest ever to see an F1 event, but it was down in the 150,000-range the next year and continued to fall. Austin will suffer the same fate without American drivers.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

IndyCar's Barnhart says Las Vegas banking not to blame for Wheldon's accident

(by Mark Glendenning 12-12-11)

IndyCar president of operations Brian Barnhart has quashed claims that Dan Wheldon's fatal accident at Las Vegas in October could be attributed to IndyCars running on 1.5-mile, high-banked ovals.

The suitability of IndyCars to tracks such as Las Vegas and Texas has been subject to intense scrutiny since Wheldon's crash, with the series confirming last week that it was backing out of plans to race at Las Vegas next year.

Barnhart, who announced the initial findings from the investigation into Wheldon's crash earlier today, said that the incident at Las Vegas was not triggered by the banking, but by the fact that the drivers could run flat-out on the full width of the track.

"Each track should be taken into consideration on an individual basis, not simply by banking alone," he said. "IndyCar and Champ Car have successfully carried out many races over the years at tracks that meet the definition of high-banked ovals.

"Due in part to the total geometry of the track, each track has its own unique routes around the circuit that optimise speed and handling capabilities.. Most tracks have a limited number of racing grooves - it's not unusual for ovals to have one or two grooves.

"Racing grooves not only restrict drivers' naturally aggressive racing behaviour, but make the location of another competitor's car more predictable. The examination of video at Las Vegas shows pack racing that is normal at high-banked ovals.

"What we also witnessed was almost unlimited movement on the track surface under race conditions. This capability of nearly unlimited movement on the track without the natural restriction of racing grooves must be attributed to the overall track geometry beyond banking.

"This movement not only allowed for increased car-to-car contact, but made it more difficult for drivers to predict the movement of other drivers around them."

The series has formed a technical committee comprising IndyCar officials, team engineers and representatives from chassis manufacturer Dallara to focus on the aerodynamic and mechanical considerations relating to racing on 1.5 mile, high-banked ovals in the future.

IndyCar wants teams' help to improve safety in the sport

(by Mark Glendenning 12-15-11)

IndyCar officials have said that they expect more co-operation from teams and drivers in testing to ensure that they have a full understanding of how cars behave in pack conditions in order to avoid a repeat of Dan Wheldon's fatal crash at Las Vegas.

Speaking at today's announcement of the initial findings from the investigation into the accident that claimed the life of Wheldon in October, IndyCar president of operations Brian Barnhart said that understanding how the cars functioned in race conditions was critical in restricting the opportunity for similar accidents in the future.

"I think it is one of the byproducts to come out of this is that [teams will] have a better understanding of the request and requirements that we are expecting," Barnhart said.

"If you look at traffic [in Wheldon's accident], JR Hildebrand was only running 215mph. Dan was running 224mph. That's a 9mph spread, and they were all running in the same pack. Some of that is explained by the drafting aspect of being in race conditions, and you don't get that when you have just two cars doing the feasibility test.

"I think it is something we are going to have to do - get more cars on there, and expect more from the teams and the drivers in terms of finding what parameters are acceptable, and making sure that we have a clear understanding of what our expectation is when we go back out there to race."

Indycar confirms contact with fence pole caused Dan Wheldon's death at Las Vegas

(by Mark Glendenning 12-15-11)

IndyCar has confirmed that Dan Wheldon was killed by a head injury sustained through contact with a catch fencing pole in his crash at Las Vegas in October.

The series announced the initial results of its investigation into the Las Vegas crash today, and President of Operations Brian Barnhart confirmed that Wheldon had suffered two significant blows to the head during the accident, the second of which was unsurvivable.

"The chassis of the [Wheldon's] #77 impacted a post along the right-side of the tub and created a deep defect in the tub that extended from the pedal bulkhead, along the upper border of the tub, and through the cockpit," Barnhart said.

"As the race car passed by, the pole intruded into the cockpit and made contact with the drivers' helmet and head. Dan's injury was limited to his head injury.

"Dan appeared to suffer two distinct head forces. The first head force created a level of Head Injury Criterion, also known as a HIC number, that normally does not produce any injury.

"During the initial crash sequence, the accident data recorder measured 12 or 13 impacts. During that timeframe one of those impacts measured a measurable HIC number for Dan - that's the number that does not normally cause injury.

"The number was low enough. The second force was a physical impact, and it was the second force that caused a non-survivable blunt force injury trauma to Dan's head."

The series said that Wheldon had been travelling at 224mph just before the accident, but had managed to slow to 165mph immediately before the impact with the car of Charlie Kimball.

The impact was measured at G-forces of 24 longitudinal and negative 23 vertical.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Is next-generation IndyCar race car safer than the previous one?

(by Brant James 12-8-11)

One week from today a gleaming present is scheduled to arrive in race shops around Indianapolis. It will be fawned over for a few moments and then prepared for a much-anticipated, much-needed on-track testing in January. The delivery of the Dallara DW12, the next-generation Izod IndyCar Series race car, to individual teams will mark the next phase in the implementation of a vehicle designed, according to the series, to be innovative, competitive and cost-effective.

It will be more stylish, more adaptable, more affordable and, in ways, safer. But it could have been a lot safer, said Dr. Terry Trammell, an orthopedic surgeon and pioneer in motor sports medicine and injury prevention. The series, he said, missed a rare clean-sheet opportunity to make the advancements he and others in the medical community advised. Whereas NASCAR constructed a sort of rolling armored personnel carrier with the debut of its new car in 2007, IndyCar's seven-member ICONIC committee, Trammell said, recommended a Dallara-designed chassis with improvements, but not sweeping advancements in driver safety.

"The car was not built [with] all the safety innovations that we'd hoped for," Trammell told at a global safety symposium at the annual Performance Racing Industry trade show. "The [medical] people working in this literally asked to be able to position the driver the way we wanted him, with the seat around him the way we wanted him and then hand them [IndyCar] that and say, 'Ok, build the car around it.'

"Didn't happen. They did what they could within the envelope they were working with. They tried to accommodate the needs that we had, but it's still not optimal for every size driver. If you're little, it's better. But there were a lot of tradeoffs in order to come up with a chassis that is similar to what we have in size and shape."

There is a poignancy in the alleged shortcoming, because the new car bears the initials of Dan Wheldon, its original test driver, who was killed in the final race of the IndyCar season, utilizing the old car at Las Vegas on Oct. 16.

Trammell said a narrow timetable for selecting and announcing a new car for 2012 also impacted safety implementations.

"The rapidity of getting it into production and out onto the track was also part of the rush," he said. "So we didn't have all the time we would have liked."

The formation of the ICONIC committee, which included series chairman Randy Bernard, then-president of competition Brian Barnhart and 2012 car project coordinator Tony Cotman, was announced in April of 2010. It recommended the Dallara "safety cell" from among a host of hopefuls. The pacing, Trammell said, felt brisk.

"I'll put it this way: Would you want me to be in a big hurry when I'm operating on you?," he posed. "That's kind of the analogy. I would have liked to have had more time and been able to do more crash research. We're doing things that we think are going to be effective, but we haven't tested it."

Bernard did not immediately respond to an interview request.

The advisory committee's name was an acronym formed from the words "Innovative, Competitive, Open-Wheel, New, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective." Note that "safer" was not among. Gil de Ferran, a two-time CART champion and former Indianapolis 500 winner elected to the committee by the series' owners, said he had not seen data from testing of the new car, but he was sure "it must be an improvement" safety-wise.

"The committee didn't design the car. What we came up with was, in the end, a concept that I still think can address and in a way has addressed some of the issues facing the series, including reducing costs and trying to increase the framework to bring in new manufacturers," de Ferran said. "That was really the role of the committee, to create a new technical framework whereby that was a possibility. I think the engineers that were in charge of designing the cars, I don't know if they have or they haven't consulted with the various safety experts around the globe including Mr. Trammell -- who is a beacon of light, in that sense -- but I am sure they must have to, to some extent."

Trammell deemed the DW12 "better," mainly because of increased room and standard padding in the bottom of the car that better positions and protects most drivers in their seats. Taller drivers such as Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal, Trammell said, will benefit from the improvement, but remain more vulnerable.

"For Justin it's still not enough and we've tried to monkey around to try and get more [protection] for him. You just can't make him fit. Rahal the same way," Trammell said. "It's better, but still not ideal. The rest of it is very, very similar to the old car. If you overlay a tracing of the old car with the new one, there's not a whole lot of difference in the top contour heights and so forth. There's more room in the bottom."

Trammell said the new car would have likely prevented the broken leg Mike Conway sustained in a crash in the 2010 Indianapolis 500 when his car flew bottom-first into the catch fence.

"He had the leg injury from a penetration of the bottom of the tub by a metal fixture and the impact that broke his back was probably from the pull from the bottom of the car with the padding and the structure," Trammell said. "He would have at least mitigated that impact to a lesser load. He was right at 70 Gs so that could have been no break. The side panels are part of the car, they're not added on, so that gives you a layer of structural integrity the old car didn't have."

The DW12, Trammell said, would not have saved Wheldon because he, unlike Conway in 2010, impacted the catch fence with the top of the car and the exposed cockpit.

"It wouldn't have made any difference at all," said Trammell, who is part of the IndyCar investigation into Wheldon's death. "His injuries were such that, with an open-cockpit car, it's going to be the same problem. There was no failure of the car that caused his injury as best we can say now."

It is unclear whether the DW12, which features bumper-style covers around the rear tires, would have prevented Wheldon from going airborne.

Closing the cockpits on IndyCars is not viewed as a palatable or effective solution by most.

"A canopy would be similar to what they did in off-shore power boat racing," said Dr. Steve Olvey, the CART medical director for 22 years and an associate professor in the department of neurological surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Along with Trammel, he was also a founding fellow of the FIA Institute. "There were three power boat racers killed [four] weeks ago in Miami [due to] offshore racing. I don't think that [a canopy] is the answer. If a wheel and tire assembly goes up the front of the car and hits the canopy, it could easily launch into the crowd. If a car hits head on it, it may make it more likely to become airborne and all bets are off if that occurs.

"It's not the end-all answer. I think open-cockpit racing has been around for years and will continue to be. I don't think making them closed is much of an answer."

Finding a humane compromise for driver and spectator in catch fence design is a current priority within FIA, IndyCar and NASCAR, Olvey said. Dr. Dean Sicking, one of the innovators of the revolutionary Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barrier credited anecdotally with saving scores of driver lives and preventing even more injury, told this summer that pit wall and catch fences were the next main improvable areas of a racetrack.

"There has not been a tremendous amount of research in that area and there's been debate on what method would be best," Olvey said of catch fences. "And there's also question of whether there are newer materials that would serve the purpose of protecting both the participants as well as the spectators to the same level. You can't risk endangering the lives of the people that go to watch the race. The drivers know it's a risky business. Anytime you're racing wheel-to-wheel at 224 mph, there's a lot of risk involved, but it's been that way forever and it'll continue to be that way."

But there are answers to be had, de Ferran said.

"In general, my view on safety is quite simple," he said. "There are a lot of clever people out there. There's a lot of knowledge and a lot of research that has happened in the field of safety and continues to happen worldwide. Everyone that is involved in motor sports has almost a duty to continue to make the sport safer, to improve the cars, every time there is a technology that provides a breakthrough. That's a commitment.

"Racing is racing, so there is an element of risk there you will never be able to wipe completely clean. Never the less, it doesn't mean everyone who is involved, in every capacity, shouldn't have a very strong commitment to keep making it safer and safer."

Whether IndyCar went far enough with its next-generation race car remains to be seen.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Newman/Haas Moving Ahead With Streamlined Operation

Don’t count Newman/Haas Racing out quite yet.

“The team remains in business,” NHR General Manager Brian Lisles told Friday afternoon.

Despite Thursday’s shocking announcement, Lisles and NHR owners Carl and Bernie Haas will press ahead as they seek new opportunities and adjust to life after IndyCar.

With a few irons in the fire, NHR is keeping its doors open and maintaining a limited number of staff as it attempts to write a new chapter in the team’s illustrious history.

“Yes the race shop is open and Newman/Haas Racing remains in business,” Lisles continued. “As you can imagine there is a substantial amount of work to reorganize everything related to running in the IndyCar Series. That will keep us busy for a while and then will be followed by some new racing projects that I cannot discuss at the moment.”

Although Lisles wouldn’t be drawn on where he hopes NHR will reappear, rumors have linked the team to a possible American Le Mans Series program, and John Dagys,’s ace sports car reporter, has been tracking an as-yet unnamed team that is said to be fielding a Honda-powered Lola LMP2 prototype. Could NHR be that team?

“As we said in our press release yesterday, we are not entering the 2012 IndyCar Series," said Lisles. "I cannot discuss our other plans at this time, but we plan to stay in racing.”

Through Lola’s longtime US importer, Carl Haas Auto (which is unaffected by the changes at NHR), the team would be seem to be perfectly placed to run a customer ALMS team.

Lisles began fielding inquiries about the team’s newly available employees throughout Thursday, and this writer was also inundated with requests for contact information from open-wheel and sports car teams in need of talented personnel.

“We have spoken with a number of teams and we are circulating relevant contact details to everyone,” he said.

It’s believed that NHR will retain approximately 10 team members, and Lisles made it clear he would love nothing more than to put the entire NHR family back into place.

“We are in double figures not including the administrative staff, so we are still substantial,” he said. “We had a tremendous staff of people in 2011, as our results showed. So yes, we would love to have any of them back with us.”

As some of its former employees confirmed, the team broke with tradition by paying the departing staff through the end of the year, which is unique amongst cash-strapped open-wheel teams.

Compared to many who get cut and are offered nothing, Lisles says he wanted to make sure NHR did what its best to provide some financial support.

“When you have people who have worked for you for 19 years, you do not simply show them the door. Everyone received a severance related to their length of employment.”

The final item Lisles addressed was the fate of the new 2012 Dallara DW12s the team ordered in anticipation of contesting the full IndyCar Series championship.

“We have not decided [what we’ll do with them],” he said. “We are working through a variety of options.”

There’s no doubt that selling the cars and using the proceeds to boost NHR’s bottom line makes the most sense, but as their fans will likely attest, the thought of Lisles and the Haas family keeping at least one car tucked away for future use would be the best news of all.

End Of The Road For Newman/Haas

(by Marshall Pruett 12-1-11)

Newman/Haas Racing, one of the most successful teams in open-wheel racing, is closing the its doors.

The Lincolnshire, Il.-based CART, Champ Car and IZOD IndyCar Series team, formed by Carl Haas and the late Paul Newman, joined CART in 1983, went on to take eight championships and won more than 100 wins and poles with drivers like Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Sebastien Bourdais and many others.

NHR, which led Oriol Servia to a fourth-place finish in the 2011 championship and delivered Rookie of the Year honors for James Hinchcliffe, informed its 33 employees on Thursday they would be released effective immediately--with severance pay through December 31st, at which point the team will then close its doors for good.

“The economic climate no longer enables Newman/Haas Racing to participate in open wheel racing at this time,” said Haas, in a statement released by the team. Prior to the team's press release, multiple sources within the team

News shot through the Indy car community quickly on Thursday as many struggled to grasp the loss of one of open-wheel's most tenured teams.

"This is really sad news for me," said Sebastien Bourdais, who won four consecutive Champ Car titles with the team.

"I'm really sad for Carl and Bernie [Haas], and all of the team members. They are like family to me and I can [only] hope the engineers and mechanics find new work immediately. If you look at all the success we had together, and what they did last season with Oriol and James, you know they are some of the best anywhere."

"I don't know if I can say it was expected," Indy car legend Mario Andretti told, "but they tried to hang on as long as they could and it's a shame."

Andretti, who served as NHR's original driver back in 1983, says the loss of the storied team closes another chapter in open-wheel history.

"The only way you can characterize it is this is the end of a wonderful era that included so many wins and wonderful times with Newman/Haas. I will miss the team tremendously."

Hinchcliffe, who has been on the shopping lists of a number of teams and has extremely close ties with Honda, would be a natural fit for the known openings at Honda-powered teams like Rahal Letterman Lanigan and A.J. Foyt Racing.

Servia, who has been silent thus far in the off-season, has commanded interest from a variety of teams, including Andretti Autosport, RLL, Foyt and others.

As the two do not carry significant personal backing, securing an open seat elsewhere would likely require millions in sponsorship dollars.

Although the news of NHR's closure comes as a surprise, it wasn't entirely unexpected.

Cracks in the team's foundation--specifically with its financial footing in the wake of Paul Newman's death late in 2008--led to rumors regarding a possible closure before it eventually answered the bell for 2009.

With existing sponsorship from McDondald's carrying over from 2008 for Rahal's entry, the team signed Robert Doornbos as his teammate, but once the Dutchman's funding ran short, Servia and Alex Lloyd were brought in to fill the void in a car that at times raced without major sponsorship.

Lacking sponsorship for 2010, NHR was thrown a lifeline in the form of Honda driver Hideki Mutoh. Rahal, after finding his own funding to continue, returned to NHR for six races towards the end of the year.

Heading into 2011, it's understood that Bernie Haas made a sizable investment to keep the team on the grid, hoping the strength of a solid two-car effort with Hinchcliffe and Servia would help to attract the sponsors to move NHR's finances from red to black.

Facing the added costs of new cars and equipment for 2012, the team was recently confident a new sponsor it had on the line would secure its immediate future, but once those negotiations fell through, Haas chose to hold out a bit longer in the hopes that another sponsor could be found.

After spending the month of November hunting for money, and with no new leads or potential funding on the horizon, Haas made the hard choice to close the doors.


Barnhart Removed From Race Control; Angstadt Departs

(by Robin Miller 11-29-11)

After a season of non-stop controversy, including starting a race in the rain and a lack of consistency in applying on-track penalties, Brian Barnhart has finally been removed from Race Control in INDYCAR.

SPEED can report that Barnhart will be offered to stay on the payroll as president of operations but will no longer have anything to do with the officiating or managing of IZOD IndyCar Series races.

INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard was unavailable for comment but indicated a few weeks ago that some major changes were forthcoming.

In addition to removing Barnhart as chief steward and director of racing, Bernard is also replacing Terry Angstadt with Mark Koretzky, who served as director of business development for IndyCar in 2011.

Angstadt had been president of the commercial division of the IndyCar Series since 2007.

Barnhart and Angstadt were also the last major links to Tony George’s old Indy Racing League regime.

A former mechanic in CART for Roger Penske and Rick Galles who was named director of racing operations by George in 1997, Barnhart had been under fire from drivers, teams and fans the past couple seasons.

From his insistence on spread-out, single-file starts at the Indianapolis 500 and other ovals to judgment calls that drew the ire of veteran drivers like Justin Wilson and Oriol Servia to starting a street race in Baltimore with safety trucks still on the track, Barnhart had lost all respect inside the paddock.

And it all came crashing down last August at Loudon, N.H. when he ordered a restart while it was raining and a pileup ensued that caused major carnage and instant anger.

Will Power, taken out in the accident, raised both middle fingers to Barnhart up in Race Control and declared: “This has got to be it. They cannot have this guy running the show. He makes such bad calls all the time.”

Bernard fined Power and defended Barnhart at the time but knew a change had to be made for 2012 and beyond.

The possible candidates to replace Barnhart are former CART driver Scott Pruett, ALMS chief steward Beaux Barfield and longtime CART team owner Steve Horne, who has maintained all along he’s not interested in a full-time job.

Tony Cotman, the program manager of the new car who ran Race Control in Champ Car before being hired by George to oversee Indy Lights in 2008, would be a logical successor but wants to concentrate on his race track design business.

Angstadt took his position with the IRL after serving as vice president of marketing for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and was instrumental in landing IZOD as the title sponsor of IndyCar in 2010.

Before joining IndyCar, Koretsky worked with the NFL as director of operations for multiple Super Bowl committees in Atlanta, Houston and Detroit. He was in charge of the week-long championships last month in Las Vegas, which included a parade of cars down The Strip and various parties and fund raisers.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Will Power says he's committed to IndyCar Series

( 10-26-11)

Will Power said Wednesday he's committed to IndyCar and believes the series will become much safer from the investigation into Dan Wheldon's fatal accident.

Power was involved in the 15-car accident that killed the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. Power's car went airborne in the Oct. 16 accident and hit the wall that had an energy-absorbing SAFER barrier at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In the days after the accident, reports in Power's native Australia indicated he was reconsidering his future in IndyCar, which he said is not the case.

"I am committed, I am staying in IndyCar, simple as that," Power said.

Power suffered a broken vertebra in the accident, his second serious back injury. He also broke two vertebrae in a 2009 crash at Sonoma. The injury will temporarily keep him from testing the 2012 IndyCar, but Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said the driver is mentally ready to get back in the car.

"I think the best medicine for any race car driver is to get him back in the car, get him back to what it is he does," Cindric said. "Obviously, he was very lucky for how it turned out for him. But he's a race car driver, and he's ready to compete.

"Is he ready to test? Ready to go back out? If we had a race tomorrow, he'd be ready to go."

Power expressed confidence IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard will improve overall safety in the series through the investigation into Wheldon's accident.

"I see how committed Randy Bernard is to making it safer, and that gives me confidence," Power said.

The Las Vegas event was the final race for the current IndyCar, and the new model is being tested all winter in preparation for the 2012 season. Power has tested the car and believes the safety improvements on the new model, particularly bolstering the seat and adding foam to soften rear impacts, "probably would have prevented me from breaking my back."

But as one of the drivers who went airborne in the accident, he recognizes how quickly things are taken out of the drivers' control. He recalls with vivid detail every step of the accident, from when he first saw smoke to when he hit the left rear tire of Alex Lloyd's car and "my car took off, went flying, and I remember thinking 'Oh, I'm going to the catchfence; that's not good."'

It was Wheldon, though, who hit the catchfence, and Power could tell immediately it was a serious situation.

"I was happy the car had stopped, I felt fine, I knew I had done some damage to my back," Power said. "And I wasn't really thinking about anything. Then I was just concerned for who was in the car in front of me, I then knew it was Dan and thought 'This is bad.' I could see the concern from the medical guys.

"So, I eventually got out of the car. I went away. I walked off."

He said he has had conflicting emotions in the week after the accident.

"It was so hard, comprehending everything that happened, really, that someone had actually been killed," he said. "It's weird, it's hard and it's tough. It's such a tight-knit community, motorsport, and that's worldwide, and it was honestly a bit of disbelief for a couple days.

"You just can't believe it happened, you just can't believe Dan Wheldon was killed. And then after reality, it sets in, and then it becomes common to you."

IndyCar CEO Bernard revisits 'horrific' week

( 10-26-11)

Randy Bernard knows there are people who blame him for Dan Wheldon's death, who say the IndyCar CEO pushed the series over the edge.

In the 24 hours after the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner was killed in a fiery 15-car accident in the season finale, Bernard wondered if perhaps all the hate mail accusing him of sacrificing safety for the show was right.

"The last week was probably the most horrific week of my life," Bernard told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview.

It's been open season on Bernard since the accident, and his silence all last week only intensified the scrutiny on his leadership of the open-wheel series.

Now, nine days later, Bernard is able to publicly talk about Wheldon and the day all his work toward building a spectacular finale went terribly wrong minutes into the race. He still becomes emotional about it, taking a deep breath in his office at IndyCar headquarters as he recalls the controversial decision to cancel the race.

Bernard is focused on moving forward and helping IndyCar through this dark period. He says he never once considered resigning but admits IndyCar is now "in crisis, and we have to get answers."

"In tough times, that's when you have to be focused," Bernard said. "You have to lead, and I know this is a time I have to make sure I am going to be very decisive, very articulate and be a leader. In tough times is where you build your character; it's not in good times."

The second-year CEO was hired to revitalize the series despite no auto racing experience, and that's contributing to blaming Bernard for creating the circumstances that led to Wheldon's death.

He allowed a season-high 34 cars on a high-banked oval, where a field of mixed experience levels had enough room to race three-wide at over 220 mph around Las Vegas Motor Speedway. And he offered a jobless Wheldon the chance to earn a $5 million bonus if he could drive from the back of the field to Victory Lane.

All those elements created a buzz around the race, where Dario Franchitti and Will Power would end their championship battle and superstar Danica Patrick would run her final event as a full-time IndyCar driver. It was everything Bernard had been hired to do when IndyCar lured him away after running Professional Bull Riders for 15 years. He was so confident of improving on the poor TV ratings from the year before that he promised to resign if ABC's broadcast drew anything less than a 0.8 rating. That would have meant that fewer than 1 percent of the nation's homes with televisions watched the race.

Bernard insists he did not sensationalize the inherent danger in auto racing.

"I think anytime we are on any track it's always dangerous - we do as much as we can to make it safe - (and) our storylines were never, 'Come watch this dangerous event!"' he said.

"Our storylines going to Las Vegas were first and foremost 'Come watch Will and Dario fight it out for the world championship.' The No. 2 storyline was Dan Wheldon competing for $5 million starting at the back. Our third storyline was Danica Patrick. ... Our fourth storyline was 34 cars in the race.

"I think none of those, looking back on it, had any type of connotation of any danger. If the race was tomorrow, it would still be the same storylines."

Compelling competition, yes, but with a happy ending.

IndyCar now must look at making sweeping changes. And Bernard is prepared, even eager, to do that.

He called a three-hour driver meeting Monday, and Franchitti, a four-time champion, said there was no sense of anger toward Bernard as the drivers all had a chance to speak. Franchitti also said the CEO earned an immeasurable amount of respect by canceling the race after Wheldon's death when grief-stricken drivers were unable to decide if the show - per tradition - should go on.

Bernard, with such limited auto racing experience, wasn't tied to that etiquette. Instead, he went with his gut.

"I felt that I didn't really care about tradition on this," he said, becoming emotional for the only time in the hour-long interview. "I felt like no driver in their right mind could have a clear head knowing that one of their friends had just died, and I felt this is where I needed to make a stand and say 'No."'

Bernard called instead for a five-lap tribute. Drivers, including Tony Kanaan, Franchitti and Patrick, were seen sobbing as they climbed back into their cockpits.

Bernard took Wheldon's death extremely hard and essentially isolated himself in Las Vegas after the race. "I was numb. I didn't, I was, just numb," he said.

But he went to work immediately. The first step was the driver meeting, followed by a three-hour strategic session with a small focus group to discuss the 2012 car that's supposed to be a tremendous upgrade in safety and technology standards.

"It's been an unfair beating on Randy because nobody singlehandedly makes decisions. I just don't understand the criticism I'm seeing. It's from people unaware of this industry and aiming with the buck-stops-here mentality," said Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage. "But there's no doubt Randy's got his hands full, and it's an ugly situation."

Bernard is hesitant to discuss specifics about Wheldon's death, citing his desire to see what comes from the ongoing investigation. A team of series safety and competition officials is evaluating the data and will use independent experts and consultants for analysis before it's turned over to a third-party group for validation.

"I think everything is premature right now," Bernard said. "I want to see the investigation."

But the questions remain, especially about the $5 million bonus. Without it, Wheldon never would have been in the race.

Originally, the promotion was designed to lure someone from outside the series to the season finale. Bernard had hoped that would be someone such as NASCAR stars Tony Stewart or Juan Pablo Montoya, but in the end only XGames star Travis Pastrana seriously tried to put together a deal. Then Pastrana broke his foot and ankle two days before his scheduled debut in NASCAR's Nationwide Series in Indianapolis, where he was to sign an agreement to run for the $5 million IndyCar bonus.

That left Wheldon. Out of work all season except for his victorious one-off in the Indy 500, Wheldon met the spirit of the promotion because he wasn't a series regular.

He wasn't a slouch, either. Las Vegas was his 134th career start, and he had 16 career victories - 15 on ovals - and on the morning of the race, Wheldon had made a deal with Michael Andretti to replace Patrick full-time next season.

"On the bonus, if you are a professional race car driver, whether you are (ranked) 33rd, 23rd or first, your job is to win," Bernard said. "That's why they race. Every series has bonuses attached to winning, so I am not sure why people say that played a role."

But what if it had been Pastrana? With so many questions swirling about the level of experience in the field, how would Bernard have justified letting Pastrana race at Las Vegas?

"I am not confident Travis Pastrana would have passed the testing required to compete in that race," he said.

According to the contract Pastrana had been presented, a copy of which was obtained by AP, participation in the $5 million challenge required at least three two-day test sessions at Las Vegas and Kentucky Speedways supervised by IndyCar competition director Brian Barnhart and a designated active driver serving as a mentor. If he had passed testing, Pastrana still would have been subjected to a vote of approval from the current IndyCar drivers.

"The drivers themselves had to give him the thumbs up," Bernard said. "If Travis Pastrana didn't pass the test, that doesn't make IndyCar look bad or him look bad, it shows you how difficult it is to be in one of our race cars. Dan Wheldon was experienced in our race cars."

Bernard has a lot of serious issues to address in the six months before the 2012 season opener in St. Petersburg, and he won't speculate on what could be coming until the investigation is complete. There could be changes to the new car, and the 2012 schedule has yet to be fully announced, so he has no idea how many ovals IndyCar could visit next year.

Las Vegas already had been announced as the 2012 season finale, but a return is undecided.

"It's premature to answer anything related to that," Bernard said, "but it's part of IndyCar to race ovals and mile-and-a-halfs."

Franchitti said ovals need to remain on the IndyCar schedule, and the focus should be on making the car more compatible with the tracks. He appreciates Bernard taking a wait-and-see approach. "We need, going forward as a series, we need to improve the safety of the cars vs. the tracks," Franchitti said. "Randy has done a good job for us. I think there's definitely some parts he still doesn't understand, but he's got other people here who understand racing."

Bernard faced criticism this year when some of his ideas - double-file restarts and a random drawing to determine starting position for the second of two dual races at Texas - ran into resistance from the drivers. But he believes he can move the series forward.

"I look at this is a crisis, and I think we have to put this as our top priority," he said. "We have to focus on first the factual determination and second the remedy. That's how we have to look at this."

Pippa Mann defends Las Vegas field

( 10-27-11)

IndyCar rookie Pippa Mann rejects the idea that the drivers in the Las Vegas finale did not have enough experience on ovals.

Mann was one of 15 drivers involved in a fiery accident in which two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed.

"They don't just let people come in off the street and race an IndyCar," Mann said Wednesday.

Las Vegas was Mann's third start in the IndyCar Series, and critics have complained that too many inexperienced drivers in the crowded 34-car field contributed to the accident. Eight of the 34 were rookies.

Mann was behind the accident when it began, one of the many drivers who had nowhere to go when the cars began spinning all over the track.

"There are always going to be rookies. What are we going to do?" said Mann, who had surgery Tuesday in Indianapolis to repair the badly burned pinkie finger on her right hand.

"Everybody has to go through being a rookie. Everybody has to do a first oval."

Las Vegas wasn't Mann's first oval.

She made her IndyCar debut at the Indianapolis 500 in May and finished 20th. She also raced at Kentucky two weeks before the Oct. 16 finale at Las Vegas and spent two seasons in Firestone Indy Lights, the feeder system for IndyCar.

In Indy Lights in 2010, Mann won the pole at Indy, Kentucky and Homestead, all ovals. She had two podium finishes on ovals and won at Kentucky.

Mann also defended Wade Cunningham, who made his fourth career start at Las Vegas and was involved in the accident. The 26-year-old Cunningham had 64 starts in Indy Lights, eight career victories and was the 2005 Indy Lights champion.

"Wade is a champion. We both have experience in a series where the speeds and the car handling are similar enough to (IndyCar)," she said. "The only thing we don't have a great deal of experience in is pit stops and adapting to cold tires."

The IndyCar rule book requires drivers to display "sufficient competitive driving ability and experience as determined by the Senior Official." There is a rookie orientation test -- Mann said she did hers at high-banked Texas Motor Speedway -- and a clause that allows IndyCar to hold a "refresher" test on any driver who has not competed in the last 12 months.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway also holds a second testing program for any rookie driver attempting to run the 500.

Four-time series champion Dario Franchitti did not blame the fatal accident on the varying levels of experience of the field.

"I will say, with rookies, there is a certain level of inexperience, but people at my level can make mistakes, too," he said.

Mann, a 27-year-old from London, was one of three drivers injured in the accident. Will Power suffered a broken vertebra in his back, and JR Hildebrand was treated for a bruised sternum.

She said she saw the accident ahead of her, tried to slow and headed for what she thought was a gap. Instead, Paul Tracy's car ended up in the same space, and Mann ended up airborne, upside down and on fire.

"I started to see it unfolding, but there was just not enough time to knock speed off the car," she said. "Usually when a car spins on an oval track, you head toward the spinning car because it won't be there when you get there. But this time, all you can try to do is aim for the gap. PT was in the gap when I got there."

Photographs of the accident show Mann's car sailing through the air upside down and engulfed in flames. Her car landed upside down, and, unable to open her eyes because of all the dirt and debris in her helmet, she could only wait for safety workers to arrive.

She doesn't have many details about the accident as it unfolded.

"The honest answer is at the point I knew I was going to hit the car, and there was no gap, I just pulled my arms in and shut my eyes," she said. "Nothing I was going to see was going to help me in the future mentally. When the car came to a stop, I just sat there and waited."

Mann suffered severe burns down to her pinkie bone on her right hand, and surgery Tuesday moved nerves, blood vessels, tendon and skin grafts from her hand in an effort to rebuild her pinkie. She's now in an oversized cast, wearing her boyfriends' clothes because hers don't fit over the cast, and asking her mother for help brushing her hair.

Doctors said it will be January before she can get back in a race car. Mann already was looking for funding to run a full season in 2012, which opens in St. Petersburg, Fla., and isn't sure what's next.

"My intention is for (Las Vegas) to not be my last IndyCar race," she said. "I would love to be in St. Pete. I intend to be in St. Pete, and I will work to be ready for St. Pete."

Zanardi hits out at pack racing in IndyCar following Wheldon's death

(by Michele Lostia and Pablo Elizalde 10-27-11)

Double Champ Car champion Alex Zanardi has hit out at the pack racing seen in IndyCar after the death of Dan Wheldon in Las Vegas.

Wheldon, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, was killed in the IndyCar finale following a 15-car accident in which a few other drivers were injured due to the severity of the crash. The crash took place as the drivers travelled at over 200mph.

"As I often say, it's not speed the cause of such a crash. If anything, it could be an aggravating factor," Zanardi said in an interview with Autosprint magazine.

"My early years of oval racing, up to 1998, were always very dangerous. Back then, setting up the car meant finding a compromise on the car's speed. You would let it slide until the downforce wasn't yet too low in a way that penalises turn speed too much.

"It was drift driving, and tyre degradation was an important parameter. If a driver crashed against the wall, it was usually his own mistake after he had underestimated these factors.

"Nowadays, instead, driving has become too easy. At turn entry, mid turn, and turn exit, the car is attached to the road surface. In the name of safety - in principle it was even right - the intention was to slow down the cars by giving them an exaggerated amount of downforce, and therefore high drag.

"The result was that, in order to find speed, you now see set-ups with the front being 7cm higher than the rear to lessen the wing's influence! This is nonsense, but it's a necessity to beat the stop watch."

Although Zanardi did not race in the Indy Racing League-sanctioned IndyCar Series, he competed on the high-banked superspeedways in Champ Car - including during the Handford wing era when the Michigan and Fontana events featured non-stop slipstreaming between cars, the closest Champ Car came to the current style of IndyCar pack racing.

"At the beginning of 1998, the Handford wing was introduced in our series. It was a sort of an L-shaped Gurney flap attached backwards, and it was supposed to slow down the cars by generating drag. After the first race I, Michael Andretti and Greg Moore were literally assaulted by enthusiastic journalists who would say what a great race it was, what spectacle.

"We looked at each other and, without having agreed beforehand, we replied simultaneously: 'Have you seen the same race as us?'

"For us it had been crap: with the Handford you couldn't open up a gap to your rival anymore.

"Our job wasn't to race anymore, it was to wait to catch the final slipstream. No more talent, just strategy and that's it. In the long term, this has made the Indy audience fall out of love too.

"At Las Vegas it wasn't a race between drivers anymore. It was a pack of cars moving all together, bunched up with no chance of breaking off. Now, when you race for five minutes with your rival right next to your side, at the point that you notice if his sponsor stickers are not straight, when it's too easy do drive even on the outside line...

"At that point it's like driving with a tutor. An obscenely idiotic thing, because then you distract yourself for not concentrating enough. After a while, even if you are travelling at 340 km/h, you don't realise it anymore."

Zanardi, who lost both his legs in an accident during his Champ Car career, thinks driver standards are also lowered by pack racing.

"In my times, if you went racing on a road course, Paul Tracy would bang wheels regardless when you got by his side," he said. "Instead at Michigan, a super-quick track, he would have enormous respect for anyone.

"With these cars, instead, you drive by always keeping the inside white line as your reference, just because that's the shortest line; the car is glued to the track anyway. But I prefer to race with 1,000 bhp while having to manage the car, instead of nowadays' 650 bhp and these absurd levels of grip."

2012 IndyCar Dallara to be called DW12 to honour Dan Wheldon

(by Michele Lostia and Pablo Elizalde 10-26-11)

Dallara has confirmed its 2012 IndyCar single-seater will be called DW12 to honour the memory of the late Dan Wheldon.

The Briton, who was killed during the IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas, had helped develop the new car from the Italian manufacturer before his fatal accident.

"As a homage to the work he (Wheldon) did, we've decided to dedicate the 2012 IndyCar Dallara to him, and from today it will be called the DW12," Gian Paolo Dallara told Autosprint magazine.

Dallara also rubbished suggestions that Wheldon was taking unnecessary risks to win the race and the prize money at offer.

"That's shameless rubbish," he said. "Wheldon was a professional racing driver, not a daredevil. He had a sense of limit. He knew perfectly well that he couldn't win that race.

"In Kentucky, in a similar situation, he started last and finished 15th. And besides, he had just agreed with Team Andretti to race for them in 2012, so he had nothing to prove to anyone."

Franchitti: We should still race on ovals, but make them safer

(by Simon Strang 10-26-11)

Four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti believes ovals should remain on the category's schedule in the future as the investigation into the 15-car crash during the Las Vegas finale that led to Dan Wheldon's death continues.

Franchitti was critical of the decision to run the event on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motorspeedway venue at the time because the nature of the track led to close proximity racing with little or no margin for error. But he insists that oval racing is part of the fabric of the sport and should not be discarded altogether.

"I love the fact that the IndyCar series is the mix of all the disciplines and to win the championship, you've got to be strong at all of them," the Scot said in an interview with AP. "So we've got to be on ovals, and it's got to be safe. It's got to be a lot safer."

"You can always look back with hindsight, but we've raced on the 1.5-mile ovals before," Franchitti added. "With the information they had, I think they believed what they were doing was right. Going back now, I wouldn't do it, because we know the result."

Franchitti also supported IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard's decision to call off the race in the aftermath of the accident.

"He [Bernard] made absolutely the right choice," Franchitti said. "Especially when I got back in the car and I realised how emotional I was there, and I thought 'Absolutely right decision.' I think most of us couldn't drive because the tears, we couldn't see where we were going.

"The drivers were very concerned. Each person was very confused, and Randy, ultimately, he really as a leader did a good job and took the decision out of our hands.

"You cannot blame one person for this. Motor racing is not safe. We've known that since I started racing, and I don't think we're being cavalier in saying that. But we have to move on, look at what we do now.

"We are going to look at all those elements and try and take as many of them out of the equation, to do whatever we can to make this as safe as we possibly can."

Bernard himself he had no doubts in his mind about the right course of action in the events that immediately followed the accident: "I felt that I didn't really care about tradition on this," said Bernard. "I felt like no driver in their right mind could have a clear head knowing that one of their friends had just died, and I felt this is where I needed to make a stand and say 'No.'"

Franchitti will get his first taste of the new-for-2012 Dallara set to be named in honour of Wheldon - who led the development driving of the project - when he tests it at Sebring on Wednesday.

Asked whether he'd considered his own future in the sport following the death of his friend and former team-mate, Franchitti replied: "I've definitely wondered if it's worth it," he said. "But I believe I still want to race."

Power diagnosed with a compression fracture after Vegas accident

(by Pablo Elizalde 10-25-11)

Will Power has been diagnosed with a compression fracture following the accident he was involved in during the Las Vegas IndyCar event.

The Australian underwent further tests in Indianapolis on Monday as he was experiencing back pains following the crash, despite being released from hospital with no evidence of significant injuries following the accident.

On Monday, however, series orthopedic specialist Dr. Terry Trammell determined that Power suffered a compression fracture of his fourth thoracic vertebra.

Power is expected to recover from the injury with rest and rehabilitation.

Fellow IndyCar driver Pippa Mann, meanwhile, will undergo surgery today to rebuild the right side of her hand she injured in the same crash.

"Need replacement blood vessels, nerves, stealing a tendon from my wrist and a skin graft," she explained on her Twitter account.

Drivers hail 'productive' meeting with IndyCar bosses

( 10-25-11)

Four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti said he was positive following a meeting between drivers and series bosses on Monday.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard invited drivers for a meeting following the death of Dan Wheldon on October 16.

Both parties exchanged ideas on issues such as safety and promotion during the three-hour meeting, which Franchitti labelled as productive.

"We all got to talk a lot, listen a lot and just look at going forward how do we improve things really in all areas," said Franchitti.

"I think it was a very positive and productive meeting and that is the first step today.

"There's still a lot of heavy hearts but everybody is very positive and everybody had ideas. We're all on the same page; we're all trying to improve things.

"It obviously was a massive shock what happened to Dan last week and we saw with the MotoGP as well that racing is a dangerous business. We're trying to make it as safe as possible; that's always been the goal."

2004 IndyCar champion Tony Kanaan said the series was moving in the right direction in trying to improve safety even further.

"We're heading in the right direction," the Kanaan. "(The meeting is) not something that is being done because something happened now. We set the standards. IndyCar created the soft walls so we're always going to set the standards. We're just trying to make it better.

"What people have to understand is that we're not going to make motor racing 100 percent safe. That's the fact. We're the lab and hopefully we can make it better, make it safer, but we'll never make it 100 per cent safe."

Wheldon crash investigation by IndyCar continues

(by Jamie O'Leary 10-25-11)

IndyCar is continuing to investigate the cause of the 15-car crash that led to the death of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this month.

A two-stage investigation is already underway into the accident, that also caused injuries to a number of drivers; including Will Power, Pippa Mann and JR Hildebrand.

"We must continue to move forward with a thorough investigation," said IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard.

"Fortunately, that has already begun, and we have the protocols in place to get this done. This was a tragic accident, and IndyCar needs to understand everything possible about it."

The first phase of the investigation is already underway, with an internal team of safety and competition officials evaluating data from the accident data recorders and accelerometers of the 15 cars involved.

An analysis of all the cars involved, of the personal safety equipment used, of photos, videos and timing and scoring data from the accident and its aftermath and the post-incident reports from race control and track safety crews.

Stage two of the investigation will use the findings of stage one to influence future safety procedures in IndyCar racing in a bid to minimise risks.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tony Stewart says criticism of IndyCar safety is unfair

(by Diego Mejia 10-22-11)

Tony Stewart has defended the IndyCar Series and says the criticism its officials are receiving following the death of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas last weekend is unfair.

Stewart won the 1997 title in what was then known as the Indy Racing League, and believes many have voiced emotional opinions after 33-year-old Wheldon died from injuries sustained in a multi-car incident early in the series finale last Sunday.

He underlined that despite racing now being safer than ever, danger will always be a part of the sport and is something drivers have always lived with.

Stewart does not believe anyone should be held responsible for what happened last Sunday as such incidents are part of the sport.

"[IndyCar chief] Randy Bernard has been getting beat up over it and he shouldn't," said Stewart. "It's part of racing, it's part of what can happen.

"Everybody is a back chair quarterback going 'no we should do this or shouldn't do that'. It's racing; I mean it's always been racing. Auto racing as a whole is safer than it's ever been.

"It still boils down to the people that are steering the cars around. It's not that the cars are unsafe, there's still people that tell the cars where to go so we've got to take responsibility. There is no reason for anybody to point fault anywhere. There's no fault in it. It's racing.

"Racing has always been dangerous. That's why people come to watch races because there is an element of danger involved. You're never going to get it all out but like we said it's safer than it's ever been. It's a freak thing that happened and it can happen every race.

"I think everybody has got to take a deep breath and let the emotions settle down. Everybody is obviously thinking about Dan and his family, his wife and two children, there's a lot of great charity stuff coming up to help them out which we are really proud to be a part of but I think everybody has to take a step back from it and realise this is auto racing.

"It's always been dangerous but everybody still does it. If it was so bad none of us would want to do this but we still love doing this every week and it's just part of the sport unfortunately. It's never going to be 100 per cent safe."

The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion believes IndyCar racing has been gaining momentum recently and he remains a fan of the series competing on ovals - which formed the entire schedule in Stewart's IRL days.

Earlier this week his NASCAR colleague Jimmie Johnson said IndyCar should not race on ovals, although he later clarified he was referring to high-banked ovals like Las Vegas and Texas.

"They had 34 cars at Vegas, that's an incredible field," said Stewart about Sunday's race. "That's the biggest field I've seen in years.

"I think that's a sign that they're gaining a little bit and I hope they are. I'm a big fan of IndyCar racing. I always have been and I always will. I prefer to watch them on the ovals versus the road courses. I've always been a fan of it."

Stewart said the reasons for him not racing an IndyCar again since he last competed in the Indianapolis 500 in 2001 are not related with any safety concerns he may have but more with how the competitive nature of the series has evolved over the last decade, making it harder to have any successful one-off attempts for non-regulars.

"The hard thing is that series has got really competitive," said Stewart. "You aren't just going to go show up and drop in one and be up to speed right away. That's why it makes it so hard to go do something like that. It would be like trying to go run a top fuel dragster next week. I've never done it and it's going to take you a while to get used to something like that.

"The reason we don't do it isn't even remotely safety issue-wise, it's just time-wise and if you're going to do it you want to be competitive doing it. You want to make sure when you show up at a race you're competitive and ready to go."

Stewart and Johnson will donate their helmets from this weekend's race at Talladega for auction in benefit of the Wheldon Family Trust.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Driver’s Death Raises Questions About IndyCar’s Leader

(by Ken Belson and Jerry Garrett 10-22-11)

In the wake of Dan Wheldon’s death at a race in Las Vegas last Sunday, IndyCar officials have been all but silent. No formal statements, beyond an expression of regret and a pledge to investigate themselves. Certainly no news conferences to answer questions about the propriety of the race, which was held at a fast track not truly built to stage such an event.

The IndyCar officials, after canceling their suddenly pointless championship banquet, left Las Vegas, trailing bitterness and finger-pointing.

“This wasn’t even our event,” said Jeff Motley, a communications director for Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which leased its track to IndyCar for the fatal race. “But they’ve left us to be the only ones to answer for this. There is such a thing as Crisis Management 101. And they flunked it.”

IndyCar racing, in truth, had been in some degree of crisis for more than a decade — attendance at races had slid, television ratings had fallen and a stream of drivers and fans had abandoned the sport for the more prosperous Nascar circuit.

Randy Bernard, a former chief executive of the Professional Bull Riders, had been signed up as chief executive last year to end the larger crisis. And the Las Vegas event — complete with glitzy promotions and a race featuring a multimillion-dollar bonus for Wheldon if he could pull off the feat of winning the race after willingly starting in last position — was going to be Bernard’s masterstroke.

Bernard’s unfamiliarity with racing had been seen as an asset of sorts by those who hired him. He had been unburdened by the infighting and litany of strategic and marketing mistakes that had plagued the sport. Having turned bull riding into an international success, Bernard had spent his first year and a half atop IndyCar using his prodigious work ethic and showmanship to try to revive a sport whose heyday went out with the Nixon Era.

While he knew little about racing when he arrived, Bernard understood that fans love danger, speed and a spectacle, his formula for success at the Professional Bull Riders. Instead of seeing cowboys get tossed and gored by bucking bulls, fans would come out to watch drivers hit speeds of 220 miles per hour, one snap decision from peril.

Despite some grumbling by many IndyCar followers, many people at IndyCar embraced their new leader. In his short tenure, Bernard had signed big-ticket sponsors, added a popular street race and new car designs, and stanched the slide in attendance and television ratings. Eager to shake things up, Bernard worked his Rolodex relentlessly, regularly held predawn conference calls and fired off e-mails while others were asleep.

“Racing, for all the talk of how advanced it is, is pretty stale,” said Bobby Rahal, the three-time series champion who co-owns a racing team and is president of the Road Racing Drivers Club, which mentors young drivers. “Randy has brought a different look because he hasn’t been in the sport. He thinks outside the motor racing box.”

Las Vegas, then, was Bernard’s different look. IndyCar had not raced there in years, but Bernard had struck gold in Vegas with the bull riders, holding an annual extravaganza in the city. To better manage things, Bernard leased the track and promoted the race on his own. He somehow persuaded local officials and businessmen to allow him to have the Vegas strip shut down so the racers could drive their cars past the throngs of tourists at the hotels and casinos.

He also persuaded Wheldon, the Indy 500 champion who had driven just a few times this year, to race for a $5 million bonus that would be split with a randomly chosen fan. Several drivers complained that the prize was more than the pool for the rest of the field. Yet Bernard was so confident the event would be a success, he staked his job on it, saying he would resign if the event did not do better than last year’s finale.

When the dust settled, Wheldon, a beloved driver and a handsome, articulate face of the sport, was dead. IndyCar has pledged to investigate what one historian called the biggest crash in the sport’s 100-year existence. Reforms may follow, though they are unlikely to include a wholesale reinvention of the sport.

A spokeswoman for IndyCar would not say whether Bernard would make good on his promise and resign. Several executives of the sport have urged caution about rushing to conclusions about blame or reforms; others did not want to speculate while still grieving for Wheldon.

What is clear, though, is that emotions remain raw. Some racing executives who were skeptical of Bernard’s tactics are mulling his ouster, while others are considering keeping him on a shorter leash. Competitors like Tomas Scheckter claim that the drivers need to stand firm against what he regards as Bernard’s reckless efforts to create more exciting races.

There are, though, still significant forces in the sport that for the moment remain supportive of Bernard. After years of turmoil in the sport, they are wary of starting over. They include legends like Mario Andretti, who says he does not blame Bernard for Wheldon’s death and sees no use in adding to the turmoil by replacing him.

The promotion Wheldon participated in, he said, was not a factor in the crash. Besides, Bernard — who declined to speak for this article — was only doing the job he was asked to do, which was to find novel ways to breathe life into the sport.

“We all want more promotions, more publicity,” Andretti said.

Old Issues

The roots of the sport’s problems stretch back decades. As in other racing circuits, Indy car drivers, racing teams, speedway owners, promoters and others form factions and hold grudges that can sabotage even simple decisions. The bickering was so fierce it led to the splintering of the sport that effectively ended its prominence as the top racing circuit in the United States, creating an opening that Nascar ultimately filled.

In 1979, Indy car teams and drivers, eager for a greater say in the sport’s business, split from the United States Auto Club sanctioning body and formed their own series. Eventually, track promoters — except those of the Indianapolis 500, which remained loyal to the Club — gave the new series more say in scheduling and how purses and television money were divided. The breakaway drivers could still race at Indy, but the 500 was not part of their new series.

Initially called Championship Auto Racing Teams, the CART series grew steadily during the next 15 years. The series began replacing some of the sport’s traditional oval tracks with more lucrative stops at road courses and city street circuits.

In 1989, the heirs of the longtime Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman handed control of the famed Brickyard to Hulman’s grandson, the young, untested Tony George. CART soon ran afoul of the enigmatic George, who objected to what he saw as an excessively foreign flavor of the slate of competitors that CART promoted. George wanted more opportunities for homegrown American talent, and a return to the sport’s oval racing roots. He also felt rich car owners had too much say, and wanted to give track operators and small teams a greater voice.

George reportedly pumped untold millions of dollars of his family’s fortune into teams, events, race track construction and television packages. But the sport’s civil war made it hard for either series to prosper because it forced fans, broadcasters, sponsors and other players to choose sides.

While Nascar has raced into the mainstream, huge patches of empty seats at Indy car races are now the norm, schedules have been shortened and old standing-room sections reduced or eliminated. And while Nascar is a staple on network television, Indy car races are harder to find, often consigned to lesser-known channels. Some of the top Indy car drivers have left or are leaving for Nascar, including Sam Hornish Jr., Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick.

Sponsors routinely pay $30 million to sponsor a top Nascar driver, about three times more than what they will spend on an Indy car, according to Zak Brown, the chief executive of Just Marketing International, which brokers sponsorships in motor sports. Nascar drivers also typically have about twice as many sponsors for their cars, he said.

By 2008, the two struggling factions in Indy car racing finally agreed to reunite, with Tony George in charge. Within a year, however, George’s sister, Josie, reportedly engineered a boardroom coup that led to his ouster.

Bernard, who had been named one of the country’s top young sports executives, was hired.

From Bulls to Racecars

In sports and business circles, Bernard’s rise is the stuff of legend. He grew up on a working ranch in Monterey County, Calif., and from an early age helped out at his family’s farm and pitched in at the fairgrounds, which his grandfather ran.

Bernard studied agricultural business management for a few years in California, but left before graduating to work promoting the California Mid State Fair. It was there that he met Cody Lambert, who was riding in the rodeo. Impressed with his work ethic and creativity, Lambert and his friends and colleagues recruited Bernard, then 28, to run the Professional Bull Riders.

When Bernard came on board in 1995, he had no more than a table, a telephone and instructions from Lambert to “take us to the next level.” Lambert recalls telling Bernard to set a goal of bringing in at least $50,000 in new business so he would at least get paid. Things were so tight that one executive groused about the $300 Bernard had spent for a proper desk and chair.

“But pretty soon, we had three floors in that building and 100 employees,” said Lambert, who is now the livestock director for the P.B.R. “He’s very creative and he’s willing to outwork everyone.”

Bernard turned bull riding into a show, and made many riders rich in the process. Grand openings — including pyrotechnics and loud music — were added, television contracts were signed and a $1 million bonus was given to the circuit’s champion. More than 20 riders have earned more than $1 million and, through the wonders of television and showmanship, they were turned into modern-day gladiators. Even the bulls became superstars.

Bernard was seemingly everywhere, selling a sport that he unashamedly said relied on danger as one of its attractions. Something of an urban cowboy, he traveled the country in snappy suits and a Stetson hat meeting sponsors and television executives. He kept working despite needing neck surgery. A colleague had to take him to the hospital to take care of some blood clots.

The hard work paid off. In 2007, Spire Capital, an investment firm in New York, bought into P.B.R., making multi-millionaires out of the original founders. Wayne Gretzky and John Elway later invested in the group.

If Bernard had a fault, Lambert said, it was trying to do too much.

Starting Fast

True to form, Bernard wasted no time getting to work at IndyCar. He spent months talking with the key players, absorbing as much as he could about a sport he hardly knew. At one breakfast meeting, Rahal jokingly told Bernard that “you must feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose.”

Bernard not only had to get up to speed on a blizzard of technical issues, he also had to navigate IndyCar’s byzantine politics.

“In Indy car racing, it’s like the Middle East,” said Eddie Gossage, the president of Texas Motor Speedway. “There are so many factions and cultures, so you can’t possibly understand it.”

But as he did at P.B.R., Bernard eagerly tried new things to see what worked. He took Gossage’s advice and split the annual race in Texas into two 275-mile events, even though some drivers complained about how they were positioned to start the second race.

Bernard, too, lopped off races at tracks where attendance lagged, including at Watkins Glen, N.Y., and restored a race at Belle Isle in Detroit. He is exploring the possibility of racing in China.

Recently, IndyCar made a splash in Baltimore, which hosted the first of five annual street races this year. In these events, cars race through downtown streets.

Though the event drew larger-than-expected crowds, it did not turn a profit because of the initial investments in street paving, barriers and so on. Some local businesses objected to dozens of trees being removed to make way for the course. Others complained that the city should not be spending precious dollars on paving projects.

“But Randy realizes that the street events are important because instead of trying to attract people to the middle of nowhere, you’re putting your product in the middle of the city,” said Jay Davidson, president of the Baltimore Grand Prix. “You feel like you’re in good hands with him at the helm.”

Under Bernard’s watch, Lotus and Chevrolet have announced plans to join Honda as engine suppliers, and a safer new chassis for the cars has been developed. The new design features bumpers, partly enclosed wheels and a reinforced cockpit.

When needed, Bernard has done damage control, too. This year, Firestone, a major sponsor and tire supplier, let its deal with IndyCar lapse. Bernard raced to lure the company back, allowing Firestone to pay less for its sponsorship and receive more for its tires.

“It was a marketer’s dream,” said Al Speyer, executive director of the Bridgestone Americas Motor Sports.

Bernard has certainly had his missteps and generated concern and pushback, most notably from drivers who feel his introduction of a race feature — what is known as a double-file restart — is too dangerous. Bernard actually told some reporters that the restarts are exciting because they can lead to more crashes, a comment he has since regretted.

And the decision to return to Las Vegas will get picked over long after the memorial services for Wheldon are over on Sunday.

“I think this is going to be a wake-up call that could lead to some massive changes,” said Scott Goodyear, a commentator on the telecast of the race. “There was the same reaction when Dale Earnhardt was killed and changes were implemented.”