Gordon Kirby

Bullish for the future

After Tony George’s mother and sisters voted him out of power last June at both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and in the IRL IndyCar Series, the Hulman George family, led by Tony’s sister Josie and new IMS president and CEO Jeff Belskus, started looking for someone capable of fixing the mess that’s been made of Indycar racing over the past 15 years. They settled on Randy Bernard, who was very successful in running America’s Pro Bull Riding tour. Bernard had run PBR for the past 15 years and built the niche sport of bull riding into a mainstream television event, vastly increasing its market share and profits.

Bernard, 43, started his new job as the IRL’s CEO at the beginning of March and I had the pleasure of meeting him at the Long Beach race in April. I was impressed by Bernard’s open and inquisitive mind. But on top of that he appears to be a highly motivated man who is brimming with ideas, many of them ‘outside the box’.

One of the first things he did upon arrival was to put into place a seven-man committee to determine the IRL’s new car and engine formula for 2012. The IRL has largely wasted the past two years dithering and spinning its wheels over this much-debated decision, and Bernard showed he’s a man of action by immediately establishing a means of determining the new rules. He selected retired United States Air Force general William R Looney III to mediate the committee and insists the new formula will be determined by the middle of June. “I would love to see a completed decision by June 15,” said Bernard in mid-April. “So there’s a tremendous amount of work we have to do in a very short time.”

On the table are logical progressions of the existing Dallara Indycar proposed by Dallara, Lola and Swift, plus the radical Delta Wing concept described in these pages in the April issue. The choice of engines lies between Honda’s proposed 2-litre turbo V6, or the 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder ‘Global Racing Engine’ favoured by many from the Volkswagen-Porsche Group to Ford and General Motors. American Honda’s racing boss Erik Berkman said Honda is ready to start building its proposed engine.

“The league has given us assurances for two years that this is the right path,” said Berkman. “We haven’t built any prototypes or ordered any tooling, but we’ve started the design process and we’re ready to pull the trigger on building the V6. We’ve told the league that June 1 is a hard date for us as an engineering company to get to our objectives for 2012. It should have been April 1. But we respect and appreciate that Randy needs these two months to be able to do his process. It’s a complicated and important thing to decide but now is the time. Everybody can’t be happy because everyone can’t win. But hopefully he can strike the right balance.”

Former Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven continues to run his team, KV Racing, in the Indycar series. Kalkhoven also co-owns Cosworth with Jerry Forsythe and has become a cynic about Indycar racing. “This committee is a sham,” he claimed. “It’s already been decided. It’ll be a Dallara-Honda.”

Some people, most notably Roger Penske, would like to see the new formula moved back to 2013, and there’s been talk of grandfathering the existing Dallara-Honda for a few years to enable the IRL’s many cash-strapped teams to survive. “The committee will make that decision,” said Bernard. “If they come back to me and say we need to wait until 2013 we’ll push it back. Their decision will be what we’ll go with.”

By the time most of you read this the decision on the IRL’s new formula will have been made. It’s the first step in Randy Bernard’s mission to rebuild Indycar racing, and everyone in the sport hopes he will succeed.