IndyCar takeover rumours denied

by Gordon Kirby on 3rd October 2012

Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and CEO Jeff Belskus has denied reports that former IMS and IndyCar boss Tony George is leading an investor group bidding to take over management of the IndyCar series.

A story published on Monday in the Sports Business Journal claimed that George has made a preliminary proposal to the Hulman & Company board of directors to take over running the IndyCar series and assume any debt on its books.

The Sports Business Journal story said George’s investor group includes team owners Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske, Michael Andretti and Kevin Kalkhoven as well as motor sport marketing man Zak Brown. The SBJ said George has hired Midwestern law firm Faegre Baker Daniels to make a financial due diligence evaluation of the IndyCar series, adding that George declined to confirm or deny hiring the law firm. George told the SBJ that its “premise was inaccurate”.

The SBJ story suggested that if George’s proposed takeover took place Zak Brown would lead the series’ new management team. Brown is founder and boss of the Indianapolis-based Just Marketing Interational, one of the word’s most successful motor sport marketing companies. Just Marketing has sold major sponsorship in Formula One, NASCAR and IndyCar.

“The IZOD IndyCar Series is not for sale,” Belskus said in a statement, “and representatives from Hulman & Company and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation have not received or considered any offers to purchase the series. Further, executive management from both Hulman & Company and IMSC maintain continuous and open dialogue with IndyCar team owners about numerous issues related to the IZOD IndyCar Series, and no IndyCar team owner formally or informally approached either organization about purchasing the IZOD IndyCar Series.

“Both Hulman & Company and IMSC remain committed to working with the IZOD IndyCar Series and its partners as they prepare for the 2013 season and beyond. The racing in 2012 showcased great competition on track and added to the foundation for growing the series. The just-announced 2013 schedule includes several new twists that could make the racing even more exciting. The combination of the return of nearly all the 2012 venues, including all the ovals, the addition of new tracks and the revival of the Triple Crown award make this one of the most exciting schedules in recent memory.”

Tony George founded the Indy Racing League in 1996 as a rival to CART and brokered a deal in 2008 to buy the remnants of ChampCar for US$40 million. But the unified IndyCar series has struggled to draw crowds and TV ratings and two years ago the Hulman & Company board replaced George with former Professional Bull Riding boss Randy Bernard.

But crowds and TV ratings continue to be disappointingly weak with a further decline this year in already tiny TV ratings while the cancellation of a planned IndyCar race in China had a deleterious effect on this year’s balance sheet. Bernard is also searching for a new series sponsor to replace IZOD in 2016 and is said to have signed a letter of agreement with Continental Tires to replace Bridgestone/Firestone in 2015. There’s also been a lot of grumbling this year from the team owners about the costs and effectiveness of IndyCar’s latest Dallara DW12 spec car programme.

Bernard hopes to get some bounce from IndyCar’s 2013 calendar which was released this week. Next year’s schedule is up from 15 to 19 races thanks to the addition of three ‘double bill’ events with races on Saturday and Sunday at street circuits in Detroit, Toronto and Houston. Bernard has also revived Pennsylvania’s 2.5-mile Pocono superspeedway as an IndyCar venue for the first time since 1989. Pocono will run a 400-mile IndyCar race in July next year.

The 11-member Hulman & Company board of directors is led by Tony George’s 77-year old mother Mari Hulman George and includes her four children Nancy George, Josephine George, Katherine George-Conforti and Tony George. Six additional local businessmen serve the family board in an advisory capacity.

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