Following Dario Franchitti’s superb Indy 500 win we were sobered by the dismal 3.8 million TV rating – a new low – and the fact that for all the talk of crowds returning there were large swaths of empty grandstands. These unhappy truths emphasised the point that Indycar’s new boss Randy Bernard faces a steep uphill climb, but he appears entirely capable of pulling off the miracle required. He’s been in the job for only three months, but has already transformed the attitude within his organisation and this week made the first in a series of announcements as he works to recast and relaunch Indycar racing over the next two to three years.
Bernard plans to drop non-performing venues and move to either new tracks – like the Baltimore street circuit confirmed for an August debut next year – or return to more traditional road courses such as Elkhart Lake and ovals like Milwaukee or New Hampshire. Next year’s Indycar calendar is expected to look considerably different, and that’s a good and necessary thing.
A good deal of Bernard’s time has been spent on the debate about the new Indycar formula for 2012. He appointed a seven-man committee to study the issues and make recommendations, and has engaged in a wide discussion with many people in the sport, fans generously included. “One thing we’ve learned is that everyone wants to see competing car builders and engine manufacturers,” said Bernard. “We’re going to do everything we can to achieve that goal. That’s what the fans and everyone in the industry wants – free and open competition.”
Three days after the 500, Bernard announced Indycar’s engine rules for 2012 and confirmed that he plans to announce the chassis formula by the end of this month. Indycar will return to turbo engines in 2012 with a 2.4-litre V6, which may or may not turn out to be a transition formula to the FIA’s 1.5-litre four-cylinder ‘Global Racing Engine’. Indycar has made it clear that it expects to see Global Racing-like in-line four-cylinder engines competing in the category in the coming years. However, no manufacturers are prepared to commit to building a four-cylinder engine for 2012.
Indycar’s long-time spec engine supplier Honda has been developing its twin turbo 2.4-litre V6 as both a Le Mans sports car and Indycar engine, and Bernard and his committee decided to go with a turbo V6 formula that will keep Honda enthusiastically in the fold. But Bernard has also made it clear that he hopes to attract other manufacturers to compete with either V6s or in-line fours. He also wants to encourage the adoption of energy recovery systems and hybrids.
“Now that we have a platform in place,” he said, “it is our job to put this package in front of the automotive industry to attract the type of participation that will elevate the sport. We truly want to challenge manufacturers to once again make our sport a proving ground and a platform to showcase technology that will benefit the future of their industry.”
Ilmor USA maintains and rebuilds Honda’s current 3-litre V8 Indy engines, and Ilmor co-founder Mario Illien said: “I regard the V6 concept as a good way forward. You can downsize it. You can control the power with the turbo and it will make a good installation. If the rules are restrictive in certain areas then I think you can control the costs of development.
“Most of the auto manufacturers are still struggling commercially and not very many of are ready to commit to a multi-year programme. Right now the commercial issues are bigger for anyone to decide that’s what we want to do.”
Randy Bernard has plenty of challenges and hard work ahead of him, but having met the man and seen him in action I believe he’s up to the task.