The men who can save IndyCar

Indycar

IndyCar boss Randy Bernard announced last weekend that he has hired Tony Cotman (below) to serve as project manager and develop the 2012 rules for the series’ new Dallara-Honda formula. I’ve known Cotman for almost 20 years and he’s a good man who’ll serve Bernard and IndyCar well.

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Cotman is a Kiwi who worked as a race mechanic for many years before becoming Team Green’s team manager and then Andretti-Green’s vice-president of operations. He joined Champ Car in 2005 as vice-president of operations and race director. He worked for the series for three years, overseeing the introduction of the Panoz DP-01 spec car for 2007, its final season. During his time at Champ Car, Cotman joined the FIA’s circuits and safety commission.

After Champ Car’s failure and absorption by the IRL, Cotman (below with Paul Tracy) became that series’ vice-president of competition before leaving in 2009 to form his own consulting company, focusing on race track design and safety. This year he was appointed by Bernard to be a member of the ‘Iconic’ committee that determined the 2012 IndyCar formula. He is also race director for the Indy Lights series.

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So again, I have no doubt Cotman will do a great job in writing the 2012 rules. But IndyCar still needs an experienced racing engineer who’s designed many different and successful cars, somebody like John Barnard, Gordon Murray or former Eagle designer John Ward. To attract ‘aero kit’ builders and other engine manufacturers to compete against Honda and help develop the new formula over time to produce the leading edge IndyCar deserves, the organisation needs a man like Barnard, Murray or Ward.

Bernard has a near-revolt on his hands from some team owners who financed and supported the spurned Delta Wing concept. They believe the Delta Wing was a lost opportunity that could have provided IndyCar with a unique identity.

None have made any public comment, but behind the scenes they are not happy campers. They respect Cotman and can work with him but would feel more encouraged with the additional hiring of an experienced engineer with big-picture thinking, capable of fully understanding and embracing energy recovery systems, alternative fuels and the wave of new technology that’s beginning to move through the global automobile industry.

But IndyCar’s biggest issue remains its dwindling TV ratings and race day crowds, and an extremely weak footprint in the USA’s national media as a whole. TV ratings have been in decline for many years and have reached the point of being barely measurable for most races. Nor do many of the races draw much of a crowd, and the oval races are merely one-day events with no crowds at all for practice and qualifying.

These are not new problems. They’ve been there for years and have resulted in it being darn near impossible to sell sponsorship. Most teams are struggling to stay afloat and even Roger Penske is feeling the pinch. Despite dominating this year’s IndyCar Series Penske has been having a tough time selling sponsorship and his team faces the prospect of cutting back from three to two cars next year.

So most people expect Tony Cotman to do a great job for IndyCar. But everyone acknowledges that American open-wheel racing faces much bigger challenges.

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