The IZOD IndyCar series will replace its sun and sand championship final race at Homestead Miami Speedway this season with the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In a move that has been rumoured for months, INDYCAR — the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar series — announced on Tuesday it has reached a deal with Bruton Smith’s Speedway International Corporation to crown its champion on Oct. 16th this season at LVMS.
The deal is the final piece in a 2011 IndyCar calendar that has seen the series end its long time relationship with the France family’s Speedway International Corporation tracks like Homestead, California, Watkins Glen and Chicagoland.
It also adds another oval to the IndyCar schedule that had been top heavy with street and road courses like Toronto, Edmonton, St. Petersburg and Long Beach.
All of the above comes from the desk of INDYCAR boss Brian Bernard, who has engineered major changes since taking over last season from Tony George.
And in a joint promotion with Smith’s LVMS, Bernard revealed that anyone buying a ticket to an IndyCar race this season — anywhere including Toronto and Edmonton — will be eligible to receive a complimentary ticket to the championship race.
“I said at the INDYCAR State of the Sport in mid-January that we must give our fans a great experience with three primary elements — great entertainment, competition and value,” Bernard said in Las Vegas where the announcement was made. “There is not a city in the world that can provide entertainment like Las Vegas.
“Las Vegas Motor Speedway will provide some of the fastest and most exciting racing fans will see anywhere, and the ticket promotion is true value. This is a time when INDYCAR can tell our fans that we thank them for their support.”
In yet another promotion, Bernard threw out a challenge to any driver from any other professional racing series — like NASCAR.
He said that if — for example — a NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers such as five-time champion Jimmie Johnson — signed up to race in the final at Las Vegas and won, INDYCAR would pay that driver a $5 million U.S. bonus.
“We showcase our drivers as being the very best, fastest and most versatile in the world,” he said. “And we are putting our money where our mouth is.
“If any race car driver in the world outside of the IZOD IndyCar Series can win the Vegas race, we will give you $5 million. We will accept five entries for this challenge, with entrants being determined by mid-summer.”
The IndyCar series competed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval from 1996 to 2000, and Champ Car competed at the facility in 2004 and ’05.
IndyCar’s two top teams — Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing — have already tested at the 1.5 mile banked oval, according to IndyCar competition czar Brian Barnhart.
“We had the opportunity to conduct a test with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske at Vegas last November and our cars performed very well at this facility,” Barnhart said. “Its banking and width is similar to Chicagoland Speedway, which has produced some of the most exciting, side-by-side racing and closest finishes in the history of the series.”
DAYTONA 500 A HIT
The Daytona 500 posted an 8.7 overnight Nielsen Media Research rating, a 13% increase over the 2010 event that was up against the Vancouver Winter Olympics. The live broadcast on Fox reached 30.1 million viewers — making 2011 Daytona 500 the most-watched NASCAR race since 2008.
HATE TO SAY I TOLD YOU SO, BERNIE, BUT...
Last week in my Trackside column I noted that Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone should keep any eye on the political situation in Bahrain, home to the season opener of the world championship on March 13.
He told anyone who would listen then that all was well.
Well, one week later and that little desert fiefdom is in the middle of a rebellion and Ecclestone and his crew have had to take the race off of the 2011 calendar.
Many in the motorsports world‚ including this writer — have been warning F-1 types for the past half-dozen years that Ecclestone’s forays into countries ruled by precarious democracies, dictators and/or military strongmen would end is disaster.
And Bahrain could only be the first domino to fall in that group that includes Abu Dhabi, Turkey and Malaysia.
Ecclestone may have been seeing petro dollars when he made those contracts, but what good is that money now that the streets are filled with citizens in no mood to sit back and watch their super-rich overlords enjoy a day at the race track.
KUBICA IN REHAB
The doctors treating Formula One star Robert Kubica have started him on a rehabilitation plan and are reporting the Polish driver is in “pretty good” condition.
Kubica suffered life threatening injuries to his hand, arm and leg in a rally crash earlier this month.
“He no longer needs intensive care so he has begun the rehabilitation process,” Dr. Igor Rossello,told Autosport magazine. “He is now in his own large room so that he is as comfortable as possible. He has already started some gentle hand exercises with the slight flexing of his fingers.
“He can move his fingers slightly and has a little bit of sensitivity already in his hand. What is very important is that there is no sign of infection, which is the main concern.”
The good news is that the IndyCar series now has its 17-race calendar complete. The bad news is that neither the Toronto or Edmonton Indy race have been marked for prime time television coverage with sports giant ESPN, or its parent ABC. The races on the big networks will be: St. Petersburg, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New Hampshire and Las Vegas. The balance of the schedule — including Toronto and Edmonton — will be aired on VERSUS, the IZOD IndyCar Series’ exclusive cable network home. ... Four NASCAR Sprint Cup teams will have new drivers in Phoenix this week from Daytona. Mike Skinner is in the No. 32 FAS Lane Racing car instead of Terry Labonte, Tony Raines is in the No. 37 Front Row Motorsports car instead of Robert Richardson Jr., Landon Cassill is in the No. 60 Germain Racing car instead of Todd Bodine and Mike Bliss is in the No. 64 Max Q Motorsports car instead of Derrike Cope.
CANADA'S NATIONAL RACING SERIES IN TROUBLE?
There are some disturbing signs that all is not well in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, Canada’s only truly national racing series.
Last season at this time team after team in the stock car series were making regular announcements about sponsorship deals. So far this season those kinds of new releases have been few and far between. Kerry Micks has detailed that he’ll be back with a full deal from his big two sponsors, Digital Imaging and Dickies and reigning champion D.J. Kennington’s No. 17 will run again with the Castrol colours but others have been slow to follow.
More alarming, however, is that series title sponsor — Canadian Tire — is rumoured to be less than enamoured with its 10-year deal with NASCAR that has still got six years to run.