Bernard making IndyCar relevant again

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:08 PM ET

The not so new boss of the IZOD IndyCar Series isn't shy about shouting out all the things that are right about open wheel racing's top North American loop.

Indeed Randy Bernard would probably object to calling IndyCar the best in North America.

On Wednesday he out and out said his series is the most exciting, fastest, and has the best drivers of any racing in the world.

Yes, you heard that right: Best in the world; better than NASCAR; better than Formula One.

Bernard said NASCAR can't come close to the diversity of courses -- from ovals to temporary street circuits to permanent road courses -- that IndyCar offers fans.

"As for F1, they don't do ovals at all," he said. "And from what I have been told most of F1 drivers are too afraid to even try racing ovals."

In Canada to promote the Honda Indy Toronto and the Edmonton Indy, Bernard said Wednesday it his job to get the rest of the millions of racing fans to think like he does.

He knows it will be an uphill battle because of the wounds a 10-year uncivil war inflicted on a sport that prior to then was the undisputed king of motorsports, at least on this continent.

"Let's face it, we lost 20 to 30 million race fans when CART and the Indy Racing League split in the mid-1990s," Bernard said. "And those fans are still out there; they did not disappear."

Where those fans went -- at least the vast majority of them -- was to NASCAR.

The National Association of Stock Car Racing now enjoys a virtual monopoly on fans among all forms of motorsports, including F1.

Bernard wants to change that. His first move, among many since taking over at chief executive officer of IndyCar, was to jettison the name Indy Racing League to the scrap heap.

"There was just too many negative connotations to that brand," he said. "When race fans thought of the IRL they thought of the split and the ugliness of that battle."

So IndyCar was re-born, as that is what most fans called the sleek machine that was at the base the whole open wheel racing heritage to begin with.

And when he helped lure the international sportswear giant IZOD into the fold as title sponsor, the transformation was complete.

Bernard is now working on the product he puts on the race track.

One of the fears about his master plan to make IndyCar racing relevant again was that Bernard would not be able to convince principals in the sport -- primarily drivers and owners -- that his ideas were good ideas.

Right off the bat he stared down that dilemma.

Bernard was convinced IndyCar could borrow NASCAR's double file restarts and make them a popular part of open wheel racing.

Well before the green flag even dropped at the first IZOD IndyCar event of 2011 -- the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg -- drivers led by the likes of Will Power, Justin Wilson and Paul Tracy were issuing dire warnings that double file restarts for the much more fragile open wheel car would be a disaster.

Yes, there were crashes that could have been blamed on the new plan, but it was more than compensated for by the excitement it added to the races.

"I like to go into the grandstands," Bernard said. "And I can tell you that everyone at St. Petersburg was on their feet on every restart."

The pattern repeated itself in Brazil and in Birmingham and in Long Beach and at every race since.

Oh, the drivers, for the most part, still hate it, but none can dispute that it has become a huge fan favourite.

It will be the same in Toronto and Edmonton, said Bernard.

Next up will be new engines -- a 700 horsepower turbo 2.2 litre V6 supplied by Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus -- and a new chassis, likely by 2013.

NASCAR officials aren't exactly quaking in their boots yet, but you can bet they are paying attention.

--dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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