The past month has been a tough time for IndyCar’s boss Randy Bernard. In the wake of Dan Wheldon’s death, Bernard’s leadership of IndyCar was questioned in stories on the front pages of USA Today, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. There have been calls for his resignation from some commentators inside the sport and Bernard is having a hard time stitching together the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series calendar.
Gone are the one-mile Milwaukee and New Hampshire ovals, while the California Speedway and Belle Isle in Detroit will return for their third attempts at trying to make CART/IRL/IndyCar successful. The California Speedway will try running a night race next year. Bernard has also been working to put together a second street race in Brazil and a race in China. He’s talking to Road America, the superb, four-mile road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, about the possibility of running a twin bill with the American Le Mans Series in August.
Last weekend Chip Ganassi became the first IndyCar team owner to make any comments about potential fixes for the set of circumstances that took Wheldon’s life. “It’s not one thing,” Ganassi told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Six, eight or 10 things have to happen. There needs to be a change now. And there probably will be.” He suggested taking a look at developing an enclosed cockpit for the cars with a canopy like a fighter jet.
Four IndyCar teams made announcements last week about their 2012 plans. Roger Penske confirmed that he would continue to run three cars for Will Power, Hélio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe. Penske admitted a month ago that there was a chance he would cut back to two cars, but his IndyCar team remains intact. Team Penske is also fully embroiled in testing the new Dallara Indycar and 2.2-litre Chevrolet V6 turbo engine.
Good news came from Bobby Rahal, who announced plans to run two Indycars next year with Honda engines. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has run only the Indy 500 and other occasional races in recent years. Ed Carpenter also announced his move into team ownership in partnership with sponsor Fuzzy’s Vodka. Carpenter’s stepfather Tony George will be a part owner.
The engine manufacturers are getting their 2012 customers lined up. Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser’s team, KV Racing, announced that it would run Chevrolet engines next year, joining Penske and Andretti Autosport in that camp. Thus far Honda has confirmed deals with Chip Ganassi’s two teams, AJ Foyt and Rahal. The only team to commit to running the third option of a Lotus/Judd engine is Mike Shank’s new team. Shank has successfully run a pair of Grand-Am Daytona prototypes and plans to move into IndyCar next year.
In the meantime Bernard is waiting for details of Wheldon’s accident report to emerge. He also faces continuing criticism about Brian Barnhart and IndyCar’s officiating team. It is said that some leading team owners have put forward a few experienced and respected names to replace Barnhart and help strengthen the IndyCar organisation. The racing world waits with interest to see if Bernard acts on their advice or maintains the status quo.