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HUNTER-REAY IS CROWNED IZOD INDYCAR CHAMPION, MANY CHANGES COMING IN 2013
Author: Mark W. Theisen
January 1st 2013 - By:  Mark W. Theisen

     West Bend, Wisconsin December 23, 2012:   While family and health issues have taken me away from my computer I have been keeping up with the happenings on the IZOD IndyCar series since the dramatic end to the 2012 season on September 15 in the MAVTV 500 at Fontana, California where Ryan Hunter-Reay took the 2012 series crown by finishing 4th after Will Power, who entered the finale with a 17 point lead, brushed the wall early in the race sustaining car damage that would relegate him to a 24th place finish while Hunter-Reay did what he had to do to win the title by three points.
     The 2012 15 race schedule had its ups and downs for both Hunter-Reay and Power but, once again, the final race was the Achilles heel for Power as for the third year in a row he lost the point lead and the title in the final race.
     Hunter-Reay received his laurels Thursday December 6th in Indianapolis some 11 week after the series concluded but those 11 weeks were marked by some noteworthy changes for the series.
     Most notably was the removal of Randy Bernard as CEO of IndyCar which came on October 20th when the board of directors of Hulman & Company, the parent of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar made the announcement that Bernard, who took control of the series in 2010, was out as CEO.
    Bernard, who came to IndyCar from the Professional Bull Riding series, endured significant drawbacks during his tenure including the death of Dan Wheldon in the 2011 season finale that was designed to bring IndyCar to forefront of racing. He was, however, highly instrumental in brining the new Dallara DW12 chassis to fruition in 2012, a chassis that made the series much more competitive in its first year of on track use.
    In the end Bernard’s undoing was his inability to identify with and work along side the car owners of the series, who for whatever reason saw him as an enemy rather than an ally in their efforts to grow the series in the highly competitive world of auto racing.
    Jeff Belskus, President and CEO of Hulman & Company took over temporary control of the series with a search for Bernard’s successor a top priority.
      On November 20th it was announced that Mark Miles, a member of the board of Hulman & Company had been elevated to CEO of the company paving the way for Belskus to devote full time efforts to revitalizing the series while Miles sees to the overall health and well being of the company that includes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
     Belskus was seen by the board to be more valuable to the company in his role of series director in as much as he been in contact with the teams for some time now and is well known and respected by the various promoters around the world that host IndyCar races or who are being solicited to hold races in the years to come.
     Miles kicked off his tenure by throwing out the idea of lighting the 100 year old speedway, not for the 500 but for other races that are held at the facility throughout the season.  The expenditure which is estimated to run between 5 and 20 million dollars is in its infancy of discussion at this time but it is seen, in Miles mind, as necessary for the speedway to grow its stature in the competitive world of auto racing.
     IndyCar received a ton of media exposure coming out of a most unlikely venue, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season banquet, when the owner of the 2012 championship NASCAR car, Roger Penske, offered Tony Stewart a ride in one of his Indianapolis 500 entries.
     Penske, whose cars have won an unprecedented 15 Indianapolis 500’s, and who currently fields cars for Power and Helio Castroneves, was dead serious when, on national television, he offered a car to the three time NASCAR champ, who also has an IndyCar title to his credit in 1997.  It is no secret that Stewart covets a win in the Indy 500, it is about the only significant racing conquest that is missing from his racing resume.
     But Stewart is committed to his NASCAR efforts for the foreseeable future and on Wednesday December 5th, at the IMIS Trade Show in Indianapolis he respectfully declined Penske’s invitation.  NASCAR runs the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway later in the same day as the Indy 500 and while the circumstances could have worked out for him to do the “double” time and obligations make it improbable and as the years slip by the elusive Indy 500 win for Stewart will probably not happen.
     Bridgestone Americas Tire Operation must have liked what they heard and saw in Belskus as they announced this past week that their Firestone tire brand would back the IZOD IndyCar series through 2018 as the sole tire supplier and will increase their support of the series in race sponsorship and promotional activities as well.  The contract will see Firestone tires on all the cars in 2016 when the 100th running of the 500 will unfold.
     Bernard had tenuous talks with Firestone and had been negotiating with other tire suppliers in case Firestone went away and that more than anything else began to widen the rift between Bernard and the owners.  Now with the peace of mind of a dependable and proven tire supplier in place the series can continue with improvement to the DW12 chassis and beyond.  This was a real coupe for Belskus to get this done so quickly.
     The IZOD IndyCar 2013 schedule will feature 19 races commencing on March 24th with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Florida and ending October 19th at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana California with the second running of the MAVTV 500.
     2013 will also feature three double header weekends of racing, the idea of which was instituted by Bernard when he had difficulty in finding enough venues to host events while still being able provide the minimum number of events to retain his television contract.
     The Chevrolet Dual in Detroit at Belle Island will feature races on June 1st & 2nd, each of which will be a separate entity and count equally towards the season title.  The Honda Indy Toronto events are July 13 and 14 while the final double header weekend will be October 5 & 6 in Houston.
     The series returns to Milwaukee on June 15th with the same type of promotional effort as last year promised by Andretti Sports Marketing.
     The showcase of the series the Indianapolis 500 is set for its 97th running on May 26th with practice and time trails coming the ten days prior.
     Pocono International Raceway returns to the schedule this year with the Pocono Indy Car 400 on July 7th and with the return of Pocono also comes the return of the “Triple Crown” program which will be sponsored by Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka.  Fuzzy’s will pay a one million dollar bonus to a driver that can win at Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana in a single season.
     The Triple Crown programs were run previously in IndyCar racing from 1971-1980 and l981 -1989 at Indianapolis, Pocono and Michigan International Speedways with Al Unser Sr. being the only driver to collect the bonus with his three wins in 1978.  Other drivers have won two of the three but only Unser Sr. owns the honor that will resurface this year and is yet another angle to follow throughout the season.
     The Honda Grand Prix of Alabama on April 7th, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 21st and the Sao Paulo Brazil race on May 5th precede the Indy 500.
     As far as teams go it is all best guess at this time.  Sponsorship dollars continue to be the key issue at this time.  Owners have the desire to filed additional cars but funding is the only answer they can deal with.
     Lotus was allowed to exit their relationship with the series after a disasterous debut in 2012.  What was to have been four to five teams dwindled to just one in 2012, HVM Racing, and with an unsure financial outlook at the parent company Lotus was allowed to leave their contract after fulfilling just one of the three years in the deal.
     Despite the loss of Lotus the series will not have a shortage of engines as both Honda and Chevrolet will have enough manufacturing capacity to handle the series and chassis will not be a problem at all as Dallara has continued to build over the off season an can handle an expansion of teams easily should they be called upon to do so.
     The field size limit last year was 26 cars with the exception of the Indy 500, which has 33, and for the most part those numbers were realized and are a target at this point in the off season.
     Penske Racing has dropped from thee teams to two with Ryan Briscoe being the odd man out.  Ganassi Racing has also seen a loss in sponsorship with Graham Rahal taking his sponsor over to his father’s team Rahal, Letterman, Lanigan Racing.  Ganassi is searching for a sponsor his fourth car and should that appear it would most likely be with Briscoe as the driver.
     KV Racing Technology is officially a two car team in 2013 after being a three car tandem in 2012.  Gone is Rubens Barrichello, who returns to his native Brazil to race in a stock car series this year after being unable to bring enough sponsorship dollars to continue with KV or any other team for that matter.
     A.J. Foyt racing has been rumored to move from one to two cars but that is also just a rumor as they have not even announced a primary driver at this time.  Rookie Conor Daly son of veteran 500 driver Derek Daly tested with the Foyt team but probably has enough backing to do a European series and not the IndyCar schedule but time will tell.
     Andretti Autosports the team of champion Hunter-Rey will again have Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe in their cars with the hopes of fielding a fourth at selected events during the season.
     Rahal, Letterman, Lanigan is also hoping to move from one to two as is Schmidt Hamilton, and Bryan Herta Autosport.
    I expect the releases on driver assignments and sponsors to come shortly after the first of the year and I will post monthly updates leading up to St. Petersburg for the full-time series campaigners and also those that are planning Indy only efforts.
     I wish one and all at Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!!