Highlights from the teleconference with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard on his announcement of a $5 million bonus available to an “outsider” winning the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Regarding the $5 million challenge, who would you like to see take this challenge up?
“We want to see anyone who thinks that they are good enough to compete with our drivers. I think that we threw it out there with the belief saying that, first and foremost, we believe our drivers are the best drivers in the world. They are the fastest, most versatile racecar drivers in the world. We have to gain credibility for these drivers, and there's not a better way than to throw a challenge out like this.
A couple of years ago, nobody could have imagined this coming out of IndyCar – such an ambitious challenge like this being thrown out to drivers outside the series.
You touched on it just now, but can you talk about the ambition that comes with putting out something like this to everybody in the country, every driver in the country?
“Let me tell you something: [executive vp of marketing for Phillips‑Van Heusen] Mike Kelly and I feed off one another. It's our job to grow this. We have to think outside the box. We sat down and created our plan and our objective.
First of all, we defined our sport. We said that we are going to be known as the fastest, most versatile racecar drivers in the world, and I think that's very important. And the second thing; we are not going to run from danger. Our cars are fast, superspeedways, short tracks, road and street courses which shows the versatility, but let's not forget, these are some of the fastest cars in the world and we need to showcase that and what better way than to create a World Championship where we are really putting the money out there where our mouth is.”
It's been over a decade since IndyCar has come to Vegas and the last time, there were attendance problems (LEFT). With the track and SMI, what do you feel they have learned in the past decade since IndyCar has been in Vegas, and what do they have to do in order to make it succeed this time around?
“The last time they were here was during the split, and I promise you, if the NBA split tomorrow, they would have the same problems; or if the NFL split they would have problems. I think it's very important that it's reunified. This isn't Champ Car. It's not CART. It's not IRL. It's IndyCar, and this is the IZOD IndyCar Series and it's about the world's best. That's what we have to deliver.
“In our ‘State of IndyCar' [teleconference] we talked about giving our fans a great experience: entertainment, competition and value. I mean, entertainment, you can't get any better than Vegas. Competition, it's going to be some fantastic racing as you heard today from all of the drivers out here, as well as value. We want to make sure that we thank our fans. The economy is great right now and by offering a free ticket to anyone who goes to another event we think gives our fans great value.”
The Las Vegas race will be the day after the NASCAR race in Charlotte. Do you have any sense yet or feeling, has there been any reaction from the NASCAR community that a driver or two on the Cup side might come?
“We are not going to speculate on who is going to come over, as much as we would love to. I think definitely it was planned to have it on Oct. 16 because Charlotte is on that (Saturday) night live on ABC, we are on live on ABC on Sunday; so there should be great cross‑promotional opportunities there. We think it's going to give a great opportunity to increase our viewership coming out from last year at Homestead on Versus. So this was thought out on why we picked Oct. 16.”
The fact that this thing is happening during NASCAR's championship playoff Chase, was that considered at all? Do you think that might impact if guys come over or not?
“The challenge was made, and we don't want to separate out NASCAR, F1 or any other series in the world. I mean, it could be someone from Rally Car who comes in and wants an opportunity.
We want to see the best drivers in the world who think that they can drive an IndyCar and want to give it a shot. First, they are going to have to test and then they are going to have to qualify and then they are going have to win. Basically it's those types of steps in order to win the money. It's not going to be an easy task, that's for sure.”
How are you going to pick? I've already heard from three guys who have a ride for the Indy 500 only and are asking, “Will we be eligible because we don't have a full‑time ride?” Let's say you get 15 different people from rally and sports cars, how will you select? And will you help them with a special test session?
“Yes, first of all, we will have to provide some testing out here in Vegas. Secondly, we will create a selection committee. Don't forget, we are also dealing with the integrity of our drivers, and we want to make sure that we choose the selection committee that selects racers who are great and have an opportunity to win. It won't be for one‑off type of Indy drivers.
“This is a challenge to showcase the sport of IndyCar to other motorsports around the world, and try to attract a new audience and some new drivers and showcase how important, how tough it is to be an IndyCar driver.”