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.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Time for Formula One, Texas style

(by Terry Blount 11-16-12)

Country music, beef brisket, cowboy boots, Tex-Mex, the Lone Star flag and Longhorns football.

Meet skinny jeans, caviar, French fries with mayo, funny accents (that don't speak Texan), fascinators and Ferrari flags.

Oh my. Austin never will be the same.

Formula One, the highfalutin auto racing sport of the world, comes to Texas this weekend, the state of big egos, big football (the kind with helmets and a funny-shaped ball), big hair and big, well, almost everything.

As a Texas boy myself, I can tell you this is a convergence zone of cultures and lifestyles that could rock old Sam Houston right out of his coffin. It's the Monaco elite taking a ride on Bevo; Willie Nelson hugging Sir Jackie Stewart.

Austin has gone ostentatious. Lord, help us.

An event three years in the making, one I didn't believe would actually happen, will take place Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas, a 3.4-mile road course and state-of-the-art racing facility about 15 miles southwest of downtown Austin.

A reported $300 million has been invested in building the place, most of it coming from Texas billionaire Red McCombs, the founder of Clear Channel Communications and a former owner of the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Vikings.

The state of Texas also is contributing $25 million a year to the F1 coffers, a sore point to some Texans, who feel it's a big waste of taxpayer money.

We'll see. I can almost guarantee more than $25 million will pour into the Austin area hotels, restaurants and 6th Street nightclubs. Some hotels in Austin are charging more than $600 a night.

Race officials are expecting a crowd of 115,000 on Sunday. By comparison, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial stadium, a virtual state shrine, has 100,119 seats.

More than 70 percent of the F1 ticket holders are coming from outside of Texas, including more than 20,000 from other countries.

Steve Sexton, president of the Circuit of the Americas, believes those numbers prove it's well worth the investment.

"This is like having a Super Bowl here," Sexton told the Austin American-Statesman. "It's like having a Super Bowl here every year for the next 10 years."

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Only once in its history has Formula One spent 10 years at one U.S. location, and that was more than 30 years ago. F1 raced at Watkins Glen, NY, from 1961 to 1980. None of the other eight U.S. locations where F1 has raced lasted 10 years, including Indianapolis, the most recent U.S. venue for the series.

F1 raced on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for eight years (2000-07), so this is the first event in the U.S. for F1 in five years.

The Indy event was a clear success early on, when more than 150,000 people attended the first two races. But the interest waned, and any chance of long-term viability was destroyed when only six cars raced in 2005. Tire problems caused the Michelin teams to withdraw. Fans were furious, and the Indy event never recovered.

Now F1 is trying again at the most unlikely of places. Maybe opposites will attract and Texans will fall in love with this style of open-wheel racing.

"My wife and I have been big fans of the USA, and also of Texas, for many years," said seven-time F1 champ Michael Schumacher, who once visited Texas Motor Speedway and drove on the track incognito. "I'm particularly looking forward to the race in Austin. I'm excited to see if the American fans will embrace our sport. I think we'll put on a good show.''

It helps that F1 has a close points battle for the 2012 championship with two races remaining. Germany's Sebastian Vettel is trying to win his third consecutive F1 title. He leads Spaniard Fernando Alonso by only 10 points.

This is F1's second time in Texas. It raced in Dallas in 1984, but that was a poorly conceived street course without the support and infrastructure needed to become successful.

Circuit of the Americas is the first purpose-built facility for F1 in the U.S. It appears to have the things it needs to succeed -- big-money backers, a luxurious facility, and the city in Texas best-known for its diversity and progressive ideals. Austinites tend to be open-minded folks.

However, there are plenty of doubters who think this is a passing fancy that has little chance of working over the long haul.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith is one of them. Two weeks ago, during the NASCAR weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Smith made his feelings clear.

"Formula One never has done anything in this country,'' Smith said. "It never has worked."

That's an overstatement, which isn't anything new for Smith. But it's true that Formula One has had nothing more than mercenary status in the U.S. for a long time. F1 -- and its longtime boss, Bernie Ecclestone -- gets its money up front, rides the wave and moves on when things die out.

"I have no doubt that the event will be very successful in its first year,'' said TMS president Eddie Gossage. "But the key point is whether it can sustain that success. That's a much more difficult thing to do."

First-time events of this magnitude often have logistical issues. The Circuit of the Americas venue has rural road access and limited parking space. More than 400 shuttle buses will be used across Austin to get fans to and from the race.

A running event on the track two weeks ago had major traffic problems, with some runners waiting in gridlock for more than 90 minutes to get to the track. That was only 5,000 people. How will that work Sunday with more than 100,000 showing up?

And first impressions are important. Everyone involved, from city and track officials to F1 sponsors and teams, has done everything possible to build interest and make the entire week one big Austin party.

Austin is known for its live music scene, and free concerts are planned on Congress Street every night this weekend.

Sir Peter Westmacott, the British ambassador to the U.S., and his wife, Lady Westmacott, are hosting a reception for dignitaries and the media.

Stewart, a three-time F1 champ, will attend. I wonder whether Sir Jackie, known as the Flying Scot, owns any cowboy boots?

Austin is in the international spotlight this weekend. The capital of the Lone Star State dances with Formula One. Now that's what I call a Texas two-step.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Question for INDYCAR: Now what?

(by John Oreovicz 10-29-12)

Indy car racing's 30-year reign as America's most dysfunctional sport continues unabated.

After decades of angering or alienating just about every one of its key constituency groups, what was left of INDYCAR's already dubious credibility took another big hit Sunday when CEO Randy Bernard was forced out by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. board.

Bernard had been on shaky ground since early June, when he drew attention to his plight following a spectacular Indianapolis 500 by taking to Twitter to announce that a group of Izod IndyCar Series team owners was out to get him fired.

Since then, rumors of Bernard's fate dominated Indy car news. And even though those team owners didn't orchestrate his departure, he was essentially a dead man walking for the past few weeks after news leaked that Tony George -- the man who founded INDYCAR in 1994 and stepped away from it in 2009 as the result of a power struggle within the Hulman-George family -- was trying to buy "his" series back.

When George was compelled to resign from the board of directors of Hulman & Co. on Oct. 19, it became apparent that his attempts to acquire INDYCAR and Bernard's tenuous employment status were, in fact, completely separate issues.

But when Hulman and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. management failed to provide Bernard with a public vote of confidence, it was obvious that his days were numbered.

IMSC CEO Jeff Belskus, who is taking over Bernard's responsibilities on an interim basis until a new leader for INDYCAR can be found, made that point in the statement that was issued Sunday after the board's second emergency meeting in the last 10 days:

"Once again, INDYCAR is not for sale, and the [IMSC] organization remains completely committed to owning and operating INDYCAR."

Crisis? What crisis?

Have no doubt, this is indeed a sport in crisis. It has been for the past 30 years.

And if it is now obvious that the Hulman board isn't about to put Tony George back in charge of INDYCAR, the sport's future leadership and direction is anything but clear.

Bernard joined INDYCAR in March 2010, nine months after George's ouster and two years after the so-called unification that was supposed to restore the sport's luster and popularity.

Formerly the CEO of the Professional Bull Riders tour, Bernard tried hard to recreate USAC racing's relevance to the IndyCar Series and to regrow the sport's oval-racing roots, but he recognized that street races brought in bigger crowds and international events had the potential for bigger profits.

He managed to finally introduce a new chassis to Indy car racing for the first time since 2003; he convinced Chevrolet and Lotus to join Honda as engine manufacturers; and he supervised a housecleaning of the race management and technical departments that was respected by competitors and fans alike.

His lack of racing knowledge hurt him when dealing with the sharks within the IndyCar paddock, but his accessibility endeared him to the people paying for tickets. Bernard connected with racing fans on all sides of the Indy car racing spectrum better than any of the sport's past leaders.

He took a lot of heat after Dan Wheldon was killed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the 2011 season finale because of an expanded 34-car field and a $5 million promotion that was his brainchild. But that criticism was unjustified.

The real damage to Bernard's credibility within the INDYCAR community came in the ensuing four months, when he essentially disappeared from sight. And the quality of racing that resulted during the 2012 season from the implementation of the DW12 chassis and turbo engine formula -- Bernard's real contribution to the legacy of IndyCar racing -- basically didn't matter.

Because despite making the most of the circumstances he inherited, Indy car racing remained resolutely stuck in neutral. And with Bernard now out of the picture, moving backward is probably a more accurate assessment.

The IndyCar Series is coming off its most competitive and compelling season of racing in many years, yet the focus down the stretch, as the championship was decided in thrilling fashion on the track, was instead thrust upon controversy over the management of the sport.

A form of motorsport that should be celebrating its first American champion (Ryan Hunter-Reay) in a unified series since 1994 is instead dwelling on the latest change in leadership.

And make no mistake, fans are upset. Cutting ties with the guy who has appealed to the fans and expended more energy and effort in running the show than anyone else in the past 30 years emphatically sends the wrong message.

Tony George resigns from board

( 10-22-12)

IndyCar founder Tony George resigned Friday from the Hulman & Co. board of directors, citing a conflict of interest in his recent attempt to reacquire the series.

"I realize that my recent efforts to explore the possibility of acquiring IndyCar represent the appearance of a conflict, and it is in everyone's best interest that I resign," George said in a statement. "It goes without saying that I want to do what is best for this organization."

IndyCar is owned by the Hulman-George family, which has owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1945. The series is governed by the Hulman & Co. board of directors, which is at 10 members after George's resignation.

Among those still on the board are his mother, Mari Hulman George, and his sisters, Nancy L. George, M. Josephine George and Katherine M. George-Conforti. Hulman & Co., through president and CEO Jeff Belskus, reiterated Friday that IndyCar is not for sale.

George had been rumored for months to be trying to take back control of the series he founded in 1996 and oust current CEO Randy Bernard, and he reportedly submitted a purchase proposal last week.

"Tony George has made the difficult decision to resign from the board because of his involvement with a group that has recently expressed an interest in purchasing the Hulman & Co.-owned IndyCar organization," Belskus said. "While the business is not for sale and no offers to sell it have been considered or are being considered, we applaud Tony's efforts to resolve the appearance of a conflict and appreciate the gravity of this decision."

George was ousted as CEO of IndyCar by his mother and sisters in 2009. He also resigned his spot on the board of directors, but rejoined in 2011. He was president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1990-2004, and was CEO of IMS from 1990-2009.

Belskus said there is no immediate plan to fill George's vacancy on the board. George is a co-owner with his stepson, driver Ed Carpenter, of IndyCar team Ed Carpenter Racing.

"Tony has been involved with our businesses for many years and has contributed significantly through his leadership role with IMS and IndyCar and as a member of this board," Belskus said. "We wish Tony much success in the future."

Tony George leads offer for IndyCar Series

(by Tripp Mickle 10-1-12)

The board of Hulman & Co., owners of the IndyCar Series, is weighing an acquisition proposal for the open-wheel-racing operation, according to people familiar with the matter.

Former IndyCar Series CEO Tony George has put together an investor group that includes some of the sport’s top team owners — Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske, Michael Andretti and Kevin Kalkhoven — as well as motorsports marketer Zak Brown that recently proposed the board sell them the IndyCar Series. The group has hired the Midwest-based law firm Faegre Baker Daniels and begun a financial due diligence evaluation of the series.

It’s unclear what the George-led group offered the board, but sources said that the group would take over management of IndyCar, which operated at a loss this year, and assume any debt on its books.

Hulman & Co. would retain its majority ownership of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and continue to run IndyCar’s Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 races. It also could opt to take a minority stake in the IndyCar Series during the negotiations.

George declined to confirm or deny that he had engaged Faegre Baker Daniels or put together a group of investors. He described the “premise” as “inaccurate.”

Ganassi, Penske, Andretti, Kalkhoven and Brown did not return calls seeking comment. Hulman & Co. CEO Jeff Belskus was out of the country last week and could not be reached for comment. An IMS spokesman said the board has a policy of not commenting on board meetings.

It is the second time in less than four years that George, who ran the IndyCar Series when it was called Indy Racing League and is a member of the Hulman & Co. board, has put together a group to take over the series. The first time reportedly was in 2010.

The board was told that Brown, who founded the Indianapolis-based motorsports agency Just Marketing International, would lead the series’ management team if George’s group is successful. It’s unclear how that would work. Brown is still the CEO of JMI, which has built an international operation around Formula One in recent years and continues to work domestically with sponsors of NASCAR and IndyCar. The agency’s investors include Spire Capital and WPP.

If Brown didn’t take the job, sources said the Hulman board discussed the possibility that the group could
hire John Lopes, Andretti Autosport’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. Another logical candidate would be Joie Chitwood III, Daytona International Speedway’s president who was the chief operating officer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for seven years at a time when George was the speedway’s CEO.
Sources familiar with the Hulman & Co. board said the final decision on selling the IndyCar Series will be made by Mari Hulman George, 77, the board’s chairwoman. She controls the majority of the voting interest in the company. The 11-member board also includes her four children — Nancy L. George, M. Josephine George, Katherine M. George-Conforti and Tony George — and six local businessmen, who serve in an advisory role.

The takeover proposal comes four years after the Indy Racing League and Champ Car merged, ending 12 years of a split among the two American open-wheel racing series. George brokered that deal in 2008 and paid $40 million to create a unified IndyCar Series. He resigned a year later after the series fell under financial pressure in the wake of the recession. Randy Bernard, the former head of Professional Bull Riders, replaced him in 2010.

IndyCar is coming off a difficult season. The series experienced double-digit decreases in TV viewership, had a race in China canceled and began searching for a presenting sponsor that potentially could replace its title sponsor, Izod, before the apparel brand’s deal ends after the 2015 season. That came on the heels of popular driver Dan Wheldon being killed in the 2011 season finale and Danica Patrick moving full time to NASCAR this year.

Bernard met with the Hulman & Co. board on the same day that the George-led group’s takeover proposal was presented. He was scheduled to announce the series’ 2013 schedule Sunday and is trying to expand its number of races from 15 to 19 next season.


CEO Randy Bernard steps down

INDYCAR is still not for sale, but it is moving into the future with a new leader.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation announced that a special board meeting convened Sunday resulted in the removal of Randy Bernard as INDYCAR CEO.

Bernard is believed to have resigned under pressure after the company that operates the IZOD IndyCar Series failed to post a profit for the third consecutive year of his tenure.

Bernard did help attract two new engine manufacturers to the IndyCar Series and fast tracked a new car design for 2012 that produced one of the best seasons of open-wheel racing in recent memory.

But despite a generally satisfactory performance since he took over in March 2010, Bernard's power base weakened over the past six months as a group of IndyCar Series team owners waged a behind the scenes campaign for his ouster.

A conflict over the cost of spare parts for the new car served as the focal point for the unhappiness between the competitors and INDYCAR management. Under Bernard's leadership, the IndyCar Series also struggled with decreasing television ratings and some promoters grew unhappy with sweetheart deals Bernard cut to convince some oval tracks to join the schedule.

The cancellation of the August race in China, which resulted in the non-receipt of a $4 million sanction fee, was another key factor in Bernard's rapid downfall.

More recently, when former INDYCAR CEO Tony George explored the possibility of re-acquiring the series he founded in the mid-1990s, the IMS board stressed that INDYCAR was not for sale. But the board also failed to provide Bernard with a vote of confidence, a clear signal that his tenure was near its end despite having two years remaining on his contract.

Jeff Belskus, CEO of IMS Corporation, will assume Bernard's duties on an interim basis. The Boston Consulting Group has been retained to help INDYCAR identify a new leader and develop a revised business plan.

"We are very grateful for the tireless effort that Randy has invested into learning, understanding and working to grow the IndyCar Series over the last three racing seasons," Belskus stated. "As both Randy and our organization have reflected on the past season and as we look toward the opportunities ahead and how to best take advantage of them, we agreed that the timing was right to pursue separate paths.

"The organization is full of talented professionals, and we will continue to prepare for what will be a very exciting 2013 racing season. Once again, INDYCAR is not for sale, and the (IMSC) organization remains completely committed to owning and operating INDYCAR."

Bernard joined INDYCAR in March 2010 after a successful career as the head of the Professional Bull Riders series. Although he had no auto racing experience, it was hoped that Bernard's marketing skills would be an asset to the struggling form of motorsports.

The IndyCar Series demonstrated growth during Bernard's first two seasons on the job. But he never seemed to escape the fallout from Dan Wheldon's fatal accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the 2011 season finale. In fact, much of Bernard's final year was marked by controversy and dissent.

Although his time with INDYCAR was comparatively brief, Bernard was IndyCar racing's most visible front man in decades and he was particularly adept at connecting with race fans. News of his departure was met with shock and disbelief on social media platforms.

"I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with the entire INDYCAR community, its teams, drivers, loyal partners and fans," Bernard said. "The last three years have produced some exciting, and some difficult, times. But we have created a foundation for INDYCAR that positions it to grow over the next several years, and I am proud of what everyone at INDYCAR has been able to accomplish since I came on board."

He added: "With the (Hulman-George) family's firm commitment to the betterment of the sport and the dedication of our teams, drivers, partners and fans, INDYCAR is better poised for success than it has been in many years."

(by John Oreovicz 10-29-12)

IndyCar loses Edmonton race for 2013

( 9-22-12)

IndyCar will not return to Edmonton in 2013 after the Canadian event's promoter pulled out of the final year of its deal.

City of Edmonton chief financial officer Lorna Rosen said Octane Motorsports felt the race could not be financially viable.

"It was a fabulous event to go to and it created a lot of buzz and excitement, but it is an eight-year run whose time is up," Rosen was quoted as saying by the Edmonton Journal.

"We tried everything we can think of to make it a success, and the races were good, but the profitability as a business venture just wasn't there [for the promoter]."

Edmonton held a Champ Car event from 2005 to '07, then became a fixture on the merged IndyCar Series calendar.

IndyCar chief Randy Bernard said: "When we finalised our schedule for the upcoming 2013 season, it unfortunately did not include Edmonton.

"We thank the city of Edmonton and all the fans for their support of the event over the last eight years."

Bernard insisted that the loss of Edmonton did not dent IndyCar's plan for calendar expansion in 2013. He intimated that Toronto would be the sole Canadian round next season but was sure that would be rectified for 2014.

"More importantly this has not affected our plans for a minimum of 19 races next season, and we remain optimistic that we will return to having two races in Canada as early as 2014," said Bernard.

"We anticipate announcing our full 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule [in] the first week of October."

F1 hoping to catch American attention with new track

( 11-14-12)

Formula One, the world's most popular motorsport, is trying once again to conquer its final frontier: the United States. This time, the Europeans aim to make it stick.

The glitzy sport with ultra-fast cars and a flair for the exotic has landed deep in the heart of Texas, of all places, with a gleaming new track, a down-to-the-wire championship race and hope that it can grab the attention of American race fans who rarely look up from the NASCAR standings.

The U.S. Grand Prix makes its grand return after a five-year absence on Sunday at the $400 million Circuit of the Americas, a course built expressly for F1 on rolling scrub land just a few miles southeast of downtown Austin.

"This is what was needed," said Mario Andretti, the Formula One champion in 1978. "Now we can compete with the rest of the world and some of those new venues that have gone up in the last few years in the Middle East and Asia. That's the ingredient that was missing here in the United States."

Austin is the 10th American city to host F1 since the first U.S. Grand Prix in Sebring, Fla., in 1959. Watkins Glen, N.Y., hosted a Grand Prix from 1961-80 and other F1 races have been held in Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and other cities on street courses.

As NASCAR grew into the dominant motorsport in the U.S., demand and interest for open-wheel racing took a hit and F1 didn't even race in the U.S. from 1992-1999 before making its return at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the cradle of American racing. Even there, it couldn't last and track officials and Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone parted ways.

Formula One stuck to its global circuit and had seemingly abandoned U.S. until Ecclestone made the surprise announcement in May 2010 that it would return with a 10-year deal to race at a track that hadn't even been built yet. With billionaire businessman Red McCombs one of the key investors in the project, organizers began a mad dash to build the track.

Austin seemed an odd choice. A trendy city of about 1.5 million, Austin bills itself as the "Live Music Capital of the World" and is the capital of Texas. But it hardly fits in with the other cosmopolitan F1 hosts like Melbourne, Shanghai or Singapore. Earlier this month, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell joked that Austin hosting F1 was "sort of like Mayberry having the Super Bowl."

The U.S. Grand Prix achieved its mandatory goal of getting the track built, but the challenge will be how to succeed and keep drawing fans beyond the initial excitement of the inaugural race.

"It looks like they have got a beautiful circuit down there. The challenge is going to be maintaining that in year two, three that kind of thing, because that's where Formula One in the States has struggled," said Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, which hosts NASCAR and IndyCar races about three hours north of Austin. "They had great crowds in Indianapolis, for instance, to start with and just couldn't sustain that."

Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. which owns and operates eight tracks, was dismissive of Formula One's future in the U.S. and the possibility of it picking off fans from NASCAR. There's already head-to-head competition. The NASCAR season finale in Homestead, Fla., is on the same day the U.S. Grand Prix makes its debut.

"Formula One has never been anything in this country. Go back and check it. Go back as far as you want to and Formula One has never worked in this country," Smith said. "We've checked and about 10 people that we know are going to it, so we're not really concerned."

Zak Brown, chief executive and founder of the Just Marketing International firm that caters to auto racing, sees a different scenario. The return of F1 to the U.S. at the Circuit of the Americas is the footprint the sport needs in the American landscape.

"It's massively important," Brown said. "North America has been the one market where they've really struggled."

Brown noted Formula One recently signed a new, four-year broadcast deal with NBC Sports Group. The exclusive rights deal, which begins next season, will provide more than 100 hours of programming across NBC and cable channel NBC Sports Network.

"You need a great home base, they have that. You need a good TV package, they've got an enhanced TV package," Brown said. "Ideally, all they need now is an American driver."

That hasn't happened yet. This season's championship chase is down to two drivers, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who are separated by 10 points with two races left.

Andretti said he hopes F1's return to the U.S. will nurture a homegrown driver of the future.

"I always say F1 is like the Olympics. There's a lot of national pride and to have an American representing his country would be fabulous," Andretti said.

Several F1 drivers said this week they are excited about the return the U.S.

Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, who won the 2007 Formula One championship and sits a distant third in the current standings, raced seven U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis and drove twice in NASCAR Trucks and Nationwide events in 2011.

"I like the American atmosphere. It's just a relaxed environment, they know how to have fun, and most of all, they love racing," Raikkonen said. "After seeing the excitement of the American NASCAR fans, I hope Formula One gets people as eager to enjoy our racing in Texas, too."