IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard met with the media before today's MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which marked the return of Indy car racing to New England for the first time since 1998.
But did it necessarily mean that the Izod IndyCar Series would be back at NHMS in 2012?
While attendance figures were likely to be less that what was anticipated, given the inclement weather that prompted the scheduled 4 p.m. start of the ABC-televised race to be moved up a half hour, Bernard said he planned to discuss the series' future at the track with Jerry Gappens, NHMS executive vice president and general manager, and Bruton Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., the parent company of NHMS.
"We're in this for the long haul, too,'' Bernard said. "If Bruton and Jerry want to try it again, and we continue to see growth, I think that's the most important thing we can do.''
The addition of NHMS to the 2011 IndyCar Series added a mile oval to the series that competes over venues such as superspeedways, short ovals, permanent road circuits, and temporary street circuits.
"We need these type of tracks in our series, to help us keep that balance where we can proudly say we are the most versatile race car drivers in the world,'' Bernard said. "So we want to work with Jerry and Bruton.
"We want to look at today, sit down and reevaluate everything and get our arm around the financials and marketing and promotion and how much PR we were able to get out of this, too --- ABC, as well,'' Bernard said. "We know that a 4 o'clock start is not the most opportune time for the locals and the live attendance, but what we feel is most critical is the later you go on ABC, the more households you're going to attract.''
Bernard stopped short of saying he was disappointed in the turnout. Bernard said former track owner Bob Bahre said a crowd of 7,500 turned out to watch the Indy Racing League's latest race in Loudon in 1998. It was down from 8,000 the previous year.
Track officials had expected a turnout of 25,000.
"I don't think we're disappointed, I wouldn't say that,'' he said. "We came in here with expectations of we wanted to see what we could do. Did we think we would have more? Yes. I'll say that. The fact we're significantly up from the last time, I think we're making progress.''
Asked if it would be more advantageous to move away from the two NASCAR Sprint Cup dates the IndyCar Series event was sandwiched between this year, Bernard said, "It's a good point, and that's one of the things we have to look at.''
Other issues Bernard addressed:
* IndyCar's TV contract extension with ABC through 2018.
"This is a very good deal for IndyCar as well as for ABC,'' Bernard said. "I think that says a lot that they're willing to do a deal for six years. It's substantially better for us, financially, as well as we believe there's a lot of new promotional ideas that can be added to this contract that will help IndyCar.'' Bernard indicated ABC would produce a half-hour prerace show before the IndyCar World Championship Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
* The delay in IndyCar's introduction of aero kits on the next-generation chassis being developed by Dallara.
"I know that the ICONIC committe 16 months ago made a commitment to have an aero kit as part of the new car for 2012, and let me tell you, I'll be the first one to tell you no one's more disappointed than I am that we're not going to do it [for 2012],'' said Bernard, who indicated the delay was based on deferring the expense of adding aero kits to the Dallara-built chassis cars to next season.
"We also have to look at the long-term future of the sport. We feel it's very important that we're listening to the team owners as much as possible on this one,'' Bernard said. "I don't want to see our car counts go from 26 and 27 down to 16 and 17 because of [the cost of] an aero kit."
Bernard indicated owners expressed concern about the capital outlay associated with ramping up to a new car while having to absorb increased expenses in tires and equipment.
* The successful shakedown of a new Dallara-built during an intial test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, last Monday and Tuesday.
"We are extremely pleased with the results of our first test of the new chassis,'' said Will Phillips, IndyCar vice president of technology. "Everything performed as we expected in this initial shakedown. All systems were sorted and checked, and we look forward to our next test.''
Bernard said the car would have two other tests at Barber Motorsports Park and at Texas Motor Speedway, where it was expected to undergo a high-speed session. "Our goal is providing competition, entertainment and value for the fans,'' Bernard said. "Fans want to see track records and if we can't provide that, then we're not being what IndyCar is all about.''