DM: Is China definitely happening? As soon as a calendar features a new flyaway event on a temporary circuit, I'm afraid Champ Car taught us to be very skeptical about it actually happening until we saw a pack of cars take the green flag.
RB: Tony Cotman was over there two weeks ago and he came back saying that things were going ahead just as planned. So I'm confident we have our 16-race calendar.
DM: So Fontana will definitely be the IndyCar finale this year. Mid-September is very early in the year to be concluding your season – two months before NASCAR's finale, and more than that before Formula 1's.
RB: I think putting more races back to back will only help us with our ratings. When we've had races every other weekend, we've lost a lot of momentum. After Toronto last year, there was tremendous buzz and excitement, but in Edmonton two weeks later, although that was still one of the highest viewing figures for a race on Versus [now the NBC Sports Network], we still didn't capture all the energy we could have if Edmonton had been the weekend after Toronto. So I think tightening our schedule – we now have five races back to back and a couple months later we have three more back to back – is a good thing. And I think the fewer events that have to go up against the NFL is a good thing.
DM: OK, but surely whatever momentum builds up this year, in what should be the most intriguing season in a decade, will disappear in an elongated off-season? Or are you planning an earlier start to the 2013 season?
RB: Well, to address the first part of the question, I believe that this off-season there has been a lot of talk about the series, we've seen a lot of things happening, and this time next year there will have been a similar amount of excitement with the aero kits. I think we'll keep the momentum. Will we look at next season starting earlier? I think we're always evaluating opportunities and we can't rule that out.
DM: But still, NASCAR and Formula 1 will be ending a lot later than IndyCar this year, and one of the seven F1 races that's held after the IndyCar finale will be in America. Was it a deliberate ploy to not compete against the publicity of the Austin F1 race?
RB: It wasn't deliberate and I'm still a big believer that F1 neither helps us nor hurts us. I think it's been proven that F1 doesn't have a big following in the U.S.
DM: Will there be progression of the TV package, including internationally?
RB: We saw tremendous growth in viewership internationally last year and that's great, but we don't want to take our eye off what we're doing here in the U.S. I have to be optimistic about what NBC Sports Network can do for us, but I want to see it. They've had a fairly good start – they gave us a couple of fairly good mentions in the Super Bowl and that's slight but better than nothing – so I think we can make some progress.
DM: As you'll have noticed, it's the fans watching the races on TV who are the most vocal. The ones at the track are always a little more forgiving because they're enjoying the event. Now, given the nature of many of the tracks IndyCar goes to – street courses, some of which are quite narrow, and natural road courses that only have a couple (at best) hard-braking zones for potential passing maneuvers – are you confident that the changes Beaux Barfield made regarding what's allowed as blocking won't turn the races into processions? The purist in me says that a driver defending by going to the inside line – so long as he adopts it before the braking zone, and doesn't weave – should be allowed to do so; Beaux's restored common sense to the rulebook, because a racer's instinct is to protect his position rather than step aside and say “After you, sir.” But the major flip-side is, had defensive driving of that nature been legitimate last year, there would have been far less passing. Are you OK with that?
RB: Obviously, you can go into that discussion with Beaux at the State of IndyCar conference on Tuesday, but I brought in Beaux to run Race Control and I have to give him every opportunity to succeed. I'll back his decisions and I'm confident that he'll make the right ones.
DM: I don't want to pre-empt your state of the nation address on Monday, but would you say IndyCar is where you projected it being this time last year?
RB: Yes. If you go back and look at the notes of our goals this time last year, and you see the progress we made in the ensuing 12 months, we hit almost every goal. We don't regard that as a “Hey, look at us.” It's just a steppingstone and it's now more important that we hit this year's goals. We have a solid marketing plan and believe we'll see great growth this year. Last year, everyone said it would be a lame-duck year with an 8-year-old spec car, and we saw a 28-percent increase in our TV ratings. I think this year, with three engine manufacturers, a new car and improved depth in quality of the driver lineup, I think we have a very exciting season ahead.