Mario Andretti has called on IndyCar stakeholders and media to stop letting politics dominate coverage of the sport.
The recent departure of CEO Randy Bernard – an immensely popular figure among fans, but a divisive one in the paddock – has prompted a heated backlash from the series' supporter base and some quarters of the press against the Hulman & Co board of directors.
The board, led by president and CEO Jeff Belskus, split with Bernard last Sunday. Belskus has taken over the IndyCar CEO role until a permanent replacement is found. Andretti believes that the sometimes-emotive coverage of the leadership change has diverted attention from what is widely considered to have been one of the best IndyCar seasons in years.
The four-time series champion said that he is disappointed that the quality of the racing is being overshadowed.
"Way too much, in my opinion, is being made of the political side," Andretti said. "I think we need to focus a little bit more on the fact that IndyCar has arrived at a really good point now. This season, I think, was one of the best in memory as far as being competitive.
"And all of the events ... some of the street events were traditionally very processional, but this year there was a lot of overtaking. The new car seems to have come out really well."
Andretti also believes that the pessimism that some fans have expressed about the series' future is unfounded.
"What's the big deal that everybody is making about one man leaving?" he said. "The series is going to be fine."
While most of the fan reaction has been in support of Bernard (LEFT), Andretti said that figures on both sides of the divide had been guilty of letting backroom machinations overshadow the racing. He cited a Twitter post issued by Bernard two days after the Indianapolis 500 that referred to attempts from some team owners to have him fired.
"There was an issue right after Indianapolis where he went on social media going, 'Oh God, they want me out,' or whatever, just begging to people to commiserate with him, instead of talking about and being excited about the Indy 500, which was one of, if not the, best in memory," Andretti said. "I just hate that. It takes attention off the main event. The product is what it's all about; that's my feeling. When you have the product there, then believe me, the rest will take care of itself. And the product is there now."
Meanwhile, Bernard has taken to social media to break his public silence for the first time since leaving the IndyCar helm. Bernard posted three tweets on Saturday thanking fans for their support.
"Let's not forget what this sport is really about: speed, world-class drivers, and the best competition in all of racing," he wrote.