Auto Racing (105)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Move over, Danica.
NASCAR will unveil nine original commercials featuring more than two dozen drivers during the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
The spots will be broadcast in English and Spanish as the race is shown live on FOX and FOX Deportes.
The advertising campaign centers on NASCAR drivers who bring to life the unpredictability and drama of stock-car racing on and off the track. NASCAR calls the spots the "most comprehensive and integrated campaign" the sanctioning body has ever launched.
There was no immediate word on how many ads will include Daytona 500 pole-sitter Danica Patrick, the former IndyCar star who gained fame for sexy photos and GoDaddy.com Super Bowl commercials.
"The campaign was created to excite existing fans while engaging with new audiences, and is representative of where NASCAR is headed as a sport" said Kim Brink, NASCAR's vice president of marketing. "In developing the spots, we wanted to celebrate the heart of what makes our sport unique, challenge existing perceptions, inspire the entire industry and do it all as authentically and confidently as possible."
Why reaching the pinnacle of open wheel racing requires more than just raw talent
If you ask any amateur hockey player what the most important attribute is to make it to the NHL, they would say talent. If you ask any amateur football player what the most important attribute is to reach the NFL, its talent. If you ask any amateur race car driver what the most important attribute is to reach Formula 1, it isn’t about talent at all; instead, the attribute focuses on money. Sadly, this is more than just a theory.
It’s an unfortunate but true statement that becoming a professional race car driver requires much more than just skill and talent behind the wheel. If you don’t have the financial backing, then you’re more than likely going to be racing Formula 1 or NASCAR on the video game circuit.
Very rare instances have occurred where a driver has received the required funds from an outside source (not related to him/her) to compete on the professional level. For example, Canadian DTM driver Robert Wickens became a role model for younger drivers who currently compete in the karting circuit. Wickens managed to continually acquire sponsorships through hard work and dedication moving up the ranks of the open wheel world. Ultimately, he landed himself a gig at Mercedes-Benz as a Junior Team driver under the wing of the man himself, Michael Schumacher.
Wickens’ exceptional talent and dedication to his sport helped him push his dream forward, but he’s still trying to clear the final hurdle in making it as a Formula 1 driver.
These young race car drivers like Wickens have had exceptional careers thus far and deserve a chance on the Formula 1 stage, but in most cases they will have to pay their way up the ranks. Formula 1 rookie seats are mostly offered to the drivers who are willing to help contribute to the annual budget by bringing in their own personal sponsors and money. No longer are we seeing Formula 1 teams pulling drivers from the lower ranks and paying them, as these teams need as much funding as they can to survive. Sadly, more and more teams have started to take this approach which ultimately weakens the Formula 1 grid.
Why is it that the teams need funding? This question can have many different conclusions and is a very complicated one to answer. Research and development, driver and team salaries, cost of transportation, cost of hospitality all has an effect on the teams’ budgets. Formula 1 teams rarely publish their budgets and they can be a guarded secret amongst the big teams such as Ferrari and McLaren. Publications have speculated that Ferrari has spent well into the hundreds of millions for an annual budget while Caterham and Marussia have to make good with limited wind tunnel access and hindered engineering work on new components.
In all of my years being involved in motorsports, I’ve observed one thing that stands out from the rest. To move up, you have to kiss quite a lot of ass! If you’re not part of a wealthy family then you have some serious ground to worship. Despite what you want to believe, you won’t make it to Formula 1 just on skill alone. My good friend and ex-race car driver once perfectly said this to me:
“Do you want to race in Formula 1?”
“Do you have a million dollars set aside to get started?”
“Well there you go.”
This stuck with me. Why it stuck with me is baffling but it stuck all right. It made an impression, because it opened up my eyes to the truth that in order to move up you gotta move down…to the ground so you can polish whoever’s millionaire shoe and request that he/she pays for your next race or that upcoming test with the top team in Indy Lights or GP2. It’s this kind of shmoozing that is unfortunately necessary, but is also contributing to the decay of the sport. The wealthy families move up the ranks with little to no outside help, while average racing families struggle to find sponsorship year-after-year in order to succeed. The biggest problem facing these young drivers today is the economy, as it’s becoming more difficult to find someone or a group of people willing to hand over the necessary funds.
There’s a common saying that goes around the racetrack. If you want to become a millionaire racing cars, start with a billion!
Soon we will find out whether Robert Wickens can find enough sponsorship and make the right connections to fulfill his life-long dream. Let’s hope he doesn’t become another talent that didn’t shmooze the right people to get into the exclusive Formula 1 club. Either way, we should still be proud of our Guelph born Robert Wickens and all that he has accomplished up to this point.
How do you really reach the pinnacle of motorsport racing? What is the best way for the average driver to climb the ladder? The truth is, is that it’s all part of knowing the right people and going into their inner-circle to convince them to invest in you and your racing career. You have to prove to them that you’re truly something unique and special and worthy of representing them in the racing world. I wish more than anything that I could say that it really was all about talent, that it was all about racing teams sending scouts to pick the young drivers and nurture them into the next Alain Prost, but in the real world it’s only and always about the money.
MILTON KEYNES, UK – The launch today of Infiniti Red Bull Racing’s 2013 car, the RB9, not only marked the unveiling of the car with which the team will defend its Formula One Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles, but it also ushered in a new era for the team. The car features a striking new livery that reflects the strengthened relationship between Red Bull Racing and premium automotive brand Infiniti.
Triple World Formula One Champion Sebastian Vettel and nine-time grand prix- winner Mark Webber were on hand at the team’s UK base at Milton Keynes to give the world’s media its first glimpse of the new car and livery, which integrates Infiniti’s purple-hued branding with the team’s existing racing colors.
The unveiling was an opportunity for Infiniti to reveal that not only has it agreed a four-year deal to become the team’s title partner, as announced in November 2012, but also that it will become the exclusive Vehicle Performance Partner of the team.
Commenting on the enhanced relationship, Johan de Nysschen, President of Infiniti Motor Company said: “Our new, increased partnership as Infiniti Red Bull Racing is a key milestone for Infiniti and a clear indication of our commitment to building the brand globally,” he said. “While the first 24 months delivered outstanding results for both parties, our deeper involvement, which now sees us truly integrated as one team, will bring significant benefits to our people, processes and technology. We go into the 2013 season and beyond with a shared objective to deliver world-leading performance on the track and the road.”
Infiniti already has engineering personnel working at the team’s Milton Keynes HQ, highlighting the deepening technical synergy between the team and the car manufacturer. The marque aims to integrate further team members into the Vehicle Performance department in Milton Keynes.
Infiniti believes that rotating technical staff through the F1 environment will bring benefits in development processes and performance expertise. An early indicator of the value of the technical collaboration between the organizations was last year’s development of the Infiniti FX Vettel Edition from concept to production in just six months. More recently, Infiniti Red Bull Racing drivers Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Buemi had a hands-on role test driving and developing the new Infiniti Q50.
Commenting on the strengthened relationship, Infiniti Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner said: “Our stronger link with Infiniti from 2013 is part of the natural evolution of our team and demonstrates its growth. We are still a young racing outfit and this title partnership is a very welcome aspect of our development. I firmly believe it will prove to be of enormous benefit on both sides over the coming years.”
INDIANAPOLIS, IN -- Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier is stepping up to the IndyCar Series with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
The signing announced Tuesday makes Sam Schmidt's organization a two-car IndyCar Series team. Vautier will team with Simon Pagenaud, last year's IndyCar rookie of the year.
The two French drivers worked together in December during a test at Sebring.
Vautier won his debut race in Indy Lights last season en route to the championship, and did the same in the Star Mazda Series in 2011.
Pagenaud scored four podiums and finished fifth in the final standings last season when SPM was a single car team. Team owner Schmidt believes the organization will be stronger with two cars, and Pagenaud has said he believes he can contend for the IndyCar championship in 2013.
DAYTONA BEACH, FL -- Juan Pablo Montoya turned down pit road, stopped at his stall and picked up his boss and teammates.
Chip Ganassi and Charlie Kimball squeezed into the cockpit. Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas jumped on the hood.
Montoya gave them all a lift -- much like he did during the closing laps.
Destination: Victory Lane and the record book.
Chip Ganassi Racing won its fifth Rolex 24 at Daytona on Sunday, a victory that gave Pruett his fifth celebratory watch and tied Hurley Haywood's record for wins in the twice-around-the-clock endurance race at Daytona International Speedway.
"To have Scott tie Hurley's record is something special," Ganassi said. "I used to race against Scott Pruett, and he amazed me then with his tenacity, and we saw it again here. I never met a guy that was so team oriented. And for he and Juan to get back together and have a victory I think mended a lot of things there.
"Hurley asked me if I could just make sure that Scott retired now, and I said no. I said what I will do, though, is maybe ask Hurley to come out of retirement if he wants to join (Pruett). So there's a carrot out there for Hurley."
Humbled a year ago when both its cars failed to make the podium, the Ganassi organization returned to the Rolex 24 at Daytona determined to perform.
An eyebrow-raising lineup change that involved Montoya showed just how serious the team was about winning, and it delivered with its fifth win in 10 appearances in the prestigious sports car race and put Pruett in the record books.
"Having gotten to know Hurley real well over the years by racing with him and just as a friend, and to have him there at the end was pretty special," Pruett said.
The winning team of three-time defending Grand-Am drivers Pruett and Rojas, along with Montoya and IndyCar driver Kimball, making his Rolex debut, beat the Max Angelelli-led VelocityWW team by almost 22 seconds.
It was Montoya who closed out the win, driving the final stint and waging a strong battle in the final hour with defending champion AJ Allmendinger. Ganassi's No. 01 BMW Riley had a clear horsepower advantage, and once Montoya got past Allmendinger, the win was his for the taking.
But the Ganassi team figured it was four laps short on fuel, and Montoya needed to build a lead of at least 40 seconds to hold off Angelelli and Allmendinger when he was forced to stop for gas. The Colombian did it by turning laps close to qualifying pace, and breezed to his third Rolex victory.
"It was a lot of pressure; I thought we have a decent lead, we're just going to go out there and ride for two and a half hours," Montoya said. "And then you realize there's a caution and another caution and another caution, and with the way the rules are and the speed the car had, it's like you didn't want to get into a ... contest with anybody. You had to be smart about when you passed them.
"We were kind of concerned about the (Shank) car, what they were going to do with fuel because they told me they could make it until the end and that we were going to have to push, and we pushed like crazy and opened up a hell of a gap. It was fun."
Montoya's other two wins were with Pruett on the No. 01 car in 2007 and 2008, but he spent the last three years driving for the No. 02 Ganassi "star car" and came away empty-handed each time. When the Ganassi cars were left off the Rolex podium last season for the first time since 2005, team management went to work on the cars and setting up a lineup that gave them two chances to win.
Montoya admitted he thought the switch was "a weird move," but owner Chip Ganassi and team manager Mike Hull insisted it wasn't a demotion for the driver who has been stuck in a lengthy slump in his full-time NASCAR job.
Ganassi said the Montoya move was Hull's call, but he also questioned it when the decision was made.
"I read that as you did, and I asked him about it, and he said it was to balance the thing out," Ganassi said. "We needed to balance it out. We also had Charlie Kimball in that car, and we wanted to give those guys every opportunity to win, as well, and we thought the 02 car was obviously very strong, and so we thought we had two good shots at it here."
The No. 02 car, driven by Indy 500 winners Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray and sports car ace Joey Hand, was strong until McMurray hit the wall exiting pit road following an early morning driver change. The damage to the steering may have contributed to the mechanical failure that knocked the car out of the race with four hours remaining.
"It's hard. This is different than crashing in a regular event," McMurray said. "When it's just you, it's not the same as having three other teammates and the amount of people we've had down here for testing. It is very embarrassing, very humbling, very heartbreaking to be the guy that does that. You don't want to be that guy."
In all, Ganassi's two cars combined to lead an overwhelming majority of the 709 laps. The No. 01 team led 421 laps in a race that had 24 drivers combine for a record 77 lead changes.
But the attention was on Montoya, who is clearly under pressure to perform this year, the final year of his contract with Ganassi.
"I think you always race for your job. It's normal," Montoya shrugged.
He stepped up Saturday and Sunday as the No. 01 team had to balance out Kimball's inexperience. It was the first time racing in a car with a roof on it for Kimball, who has diabetes and uses his fight with the disease as his platform.
"Having these guys as teammates takes a heck of a lot off my shoulders because I knew that I could settle in, and as long as I was smart and didn't make too many big mistakes and kept us in the race, they'd put us in a position to win at the end," said Kimball, who had one turn in the car for two late-night stints.
The Chevrolet team of Angelelli, defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jordan Taylor finished second for team owner Wayne Taylor -- redemption after an engine failure 22 minutes in last year's event ended the team's day. But Angelelli was bothered by engine restrictions to their Chevy that gave the Ganassi BMW's a clear power advantage.
"We have something restricted, OK? Just like driving with handcuffs; you can't do it, can't drive," he said. "Montoya and the 01 car is another league, is an A class. We are B class."
Defending race winner Michael Shank Racing twice came back from seven laps down to finish third in a Ford. It was a disappointing finish for team owner Shank, but a moral victory considering the hole the team clawed out of to make it to the podium.
Allmendinger, racing at Daytona for the first time since NASCAR suspended him for failing a random drug test hours before the July race here, teamed with fellow NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose, IndyCar driver Justin Wilson and Grand-Am regulars John Pew and Ozz Negri for the finish.
Ambrose was added to last year's winning lineup after Negri broke his leg a month ago during offseason training, but Negri was able to return to the car this weekend for limited driving duties a mere six days after his cast was removed.
"We were saying that on the way over, John and I, how if you'd have told us after the first hour we could have a chance of finishing third, we would have been over the moon," Wilson said. "As we were on the podium, we were thinking, well, there's nothing quite like being first, but we just have to be grateful for the chance we had."
Audi Sport Customer Racing won the GT class in an Audi R8 with drivers Filipe Albuquergue, Oliver Jarvis, Edoardo Mortara and Dion von Moltke.
Toronto, ON – This weekend sees Canadian IndyCar front-runner and ‘2012 Fan Favorite’ James Hinchcliffe compete in his second ‘Rolex 24 at Daytona’, Saturday 26th – Sunday 27th January, at the Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Florida.
The 25-year-old from Oakville, who finished 8th in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series racing the #27 GoDaddy.com Andretti Autosport Chevrolet, returns to sports car action sharing the #70 SpeedSource GT entry with Marino Franchitti, Jonathan Bombarito, Sylvain Tremblay and Tom Long.
‘Hinch’ – who kicks off the 2013 IndyCar season in St Petersburg, Florida on Sunday 24th March, took time out to preview this weekend’s event – the centrepiece of the Grand-Am Road Racing Series:
Q: Having debuted in the ‘Rolex 24 at Daytona’ last year, and taking sixth in class – what are you hoping to take from the event the second time around?
James Hinchcliffe (JH): “A Rolex! But seriously, just being part of this race with a company like Mazda and a team like SpeedSource is such a great opportunity. We had a great run last year and we just want to build on that. Being part of a new program like the SKYACTIV engine is an added bonus. I love what Mazda is doing with this car."
Q: What was the biggest thing that surprised you from the whole experience of the race and why do you think it holds such an appeal for such a wide variety of drivers – not least from the IndyCar Series?
JH: “The biggest shock last year was the team telling the drivers that once our stint is finished, leave. Get out of the pits, forget about the race. Just detach and rest. I thought I'd be in the pits watching most of the race, but getting away and staying fresh is such an important part of getting the most out of yourself.
“I think this race holds such an appeal because of the history behind it, the challenge of it and luckily for all of us, it happens early in the year that most drivers have an open schedule and are dying to get back in a car!"
Q: Is it safe to say that the competitive fires still burn brightly even though this is a one-off for many of the participants?
JH: “Absolutely! Maybe a little more because its the first proper competitive event in a few months for most of us! Everyone is itching to get racing and, again, the history behind this race means that every driver wants to add their name to the list of winners."
Q: In IndyCar it’s only you that gets the privilege of driving the #27 Go Daddy Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport – how easy is it to adapt to the ‘sharing’ element of sports car racing?
JH: “It's a lot of fun working with team-mates in the same car. It really unites the team because you need four people to all be fast and comfortable with the same car, same setup. It's very unique but I love that aspect of it. Having said that, I love then getting into my Indy car and knowing she's all mine."
Q: Describe each of your Daytona team-mates using only three words!
JH: “Marino Franchitti – versatile, consistent, perfectionist. Jonathan Bomarito – fast, passionate, smart. Sylvain Tremblay – leader, experienced, dedicated.”
Q: Does the 2012 IndyCar season feel like a long time ago already or is that just us? Does participating in an event like the Daytona race really give you a kick start for the 2013 season? Not that we’re saying one’s needed!
JH: “Fontana feels like a life time ago. I think that since that race was a bad one for us, it makes the off-season even longer. It was a bittersweet day because we were celebrating for Ryan but disappointed with what happened to us. For sure getting back racing in the 24 really makes it feel like the season is coming and now it's down to business.”
Q: As it’s getting towards that time of year - do you have the inside scoop on the Go Daddy Super Bowl commercial set to air next month? Can we assume for some reason (better be a good one) you declined to be in it with Danica Patrick and Bar Refaeli?
JH: “Inside scoop? I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."
MARANELLO, Italy - Ferrari dropped its plans to appeal a pass F1 champion Sebastian Vettel made at the Brazilian Grand Prix after receiving clarification from Formula One's governing body on Friday.
Ferrari was considering an appeal after video from Sunday's race appeared to show that Vettel passed Jean-Eric Vergne while a yellow caution light was on.
"The request for a clarification from the FIA came about through the need to shed light on the circumstances of the move, which came out on the Internet only a few days after the race," Ferrari said in a statement. "The letter to the FIA was in no way intended to undermine the legality of the race result.
"We received tens of thousands of queries relating to this matter from all over the world and it was incumbent on us to take the matter further, asking the federation to look into an incident that could have cast a shadow over the championship in the eyes of all Formula 1 enthusiasts, not just Ferrari fans. Ferrari duly takes note of the reply sent by the FIA this morning and therefore considers the matter now closed."
If a rules breach had been proven, Vettel would have been hit with a 20-second penalty, moving him from sixth place to eighth in the race and giving Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso the F1 title by one point.
Alonso finished second in the race at Interlagos, but Vettel's sixth place was enough to give him his third straight F1 title by three points. The 25-year-old German became F1's youngest three-time champion.
Vettel appeared to be in big trouble when he was bumped shortly after the start of the race and spun. He dropped to last place before he could turn his car around and begin to chase the leaders. He steadily worked his way up the field despite a slightly damaged car and no radio communication.
It was during Vettel's climb back through the field that the alleged illegal overtake of Vergne occurred.
When there is a yellow caution flag or light, it signals danger on the track and drivers must slow down and not overtake. If a driver does overtake, he is penalized with a drive-thru or a 20-second penalty in the final results if the infraction is discovered after the race is over.
SAO PAULO (AP)-- Sebastian Vettel found himself spinning around on the track just after the start, watching helplessly as other cars whizzed past him. His Formula One title hopes seemed to be drifting away with them.
It was only the start of Vettel's problems Sunday in what he called the toughest race of his career. But he overcame all of them and came away with the only prize that mattered - his third straight championship title.
Vettel shook off a first-lap crash and other difficulties to finish sixth at the Brazilian Grand Prix, good enough to protect his lead over challenger Fernando Alonso and become F1's youngest three-time champion at age 25.
"Everything that could go wrong went wrong," he said.
Jenson Button of McLaren won the race at Interlagos, with Alonso second and Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa third. Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, F1's most successful driver, finished seventh in his final race after 19 seasons.
But they were all overshadowed by Vettel, who had to overcome a poor start, the early crash, a damaged car, a broken radio, a botched pit stop and pouring rain.
"Just look at the stuff that went wrong. It was for sure the toughest race," Vettel said. "We kept believing. It was never game over."
Vettel appeared in big trouble after he was bumped shortly after the start and spun. He dropped to last place before he could turn his car around and begin a difficult pursuit. But he steadily worked his way up the field despite a slightly damaged car and no radio communication.
"You are the man, you are a triple world champion," a team official told Vettel on the radio after he crossed the line, without being able to listen to the driver's response.
Vettel is the first driver with three titles in a row since Schumacher won five straight from 2000-04. The only other driver to win at least three consecutive championships was Juan Manuel Fangio from 1954-57.
"It's difficult to find the right words," Vettel said. "It's unbelievable. I'm still full of adrenaline. It was an incredible race."
Schumacher was the first to congratulate Vettel, having just bid his own farewell to the sport. Minutes before the race, he lapped the track with a flag with the words "Thank You." He used the radio to thank the mechanics and engineers he has worked with as well as his fans watching on TV.
The 43-year-old German is retiring for the second time after struggling in his return with Mercedes. He had ended his career after the 2006 season and managed only one podium finish after retuning in 2010, at the European GP in July.
Schumacher is leaving F1 with numbers unmatched by any other driver. He retires with the most wins (91), pole positions (68), fastest laps (77) and most podium finishes (155).
Vettel needed to finish fourth or better to clinch the title regardless of Alonso's result. The Spaniard would have a chance to overtake the German only by finishing on the podium. He looked to have the advantage after a superb start and a chaotic first lap, but in the end couldn't erase Vettel's 13-point lead in the standings.
Lewis Hamilton was leading in his final race with McLaren when Nico Hulkenberg crashed into him while trying to pass on a slippery track with 17 laps to go. Hamilton received a standing ovation from his McLaren team when returning to the garage.
"Mixed emotions, but I'm happy," he said.
While the race was filled with drama and potentially title-deciding swings, it had an anticlimactic finish behind the safety car after Paul Di Resta crashed just before the final lap. That meant Vettel could simply cruise safely toward the title.
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Sebastian Vettel showed why he doesn't have to start at the front of the grid to compete for podium finishes - an ability that kept him on track for a third straight championship title.
Vettel's lead in the standings looked to be in danger at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday when he was forced to start in the pit lane behind the rest of the field due to fuel irregularities in qualifying. But the two-time defending champion bumped and zigzagged his way up the grid to finish third, just one place behind main rival Fernando Alonso of Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen won the crash-filled race.
Vettel leads Alonso by 10 points with two races remaining, and could potentially clinch the title at the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, on Nov. 18.
After the setback in qualifying, Red Bull seemed to be focusing on Mark Webber, who was second and looked to be in a good position to win the race. But the Australian dropped to fifth after a bad start, then collided with Pastor Maldonado before crashing out on the 39th lap after colliding with Lotus' Romain Grosjean.
It was left to Vettel, who collided with Bruno Senna and Ferrari's Felipe Massa on his way up the order. Even after pitting and dropping from 13th to 21st, the German kept pushing until he passed McLaren's Jenson Button to retain his lead in the drivers' championship.
"Yes, it's hard enough to find your way once through the field but we did it twice today," Vettel said. "Quite difficult with some guys, little easier with other guys. But the most important thing was that the pace was there and we were in a very strong position.
"It was a big chance to lose out a lot today, but we didn't lose anything, so I'm very happy. The guys are pushing 100 per cent. I feel very happy they're all behind me and I try to do my best for them. I think we have two more races ahead of us; we're in the best possible position, so I think we're looking forward to the next race - a new grand prix, a new challenge."
Team Principal Christian Horner praised Vettel for bouncing back after being penalized Saturday for his car stopping at the end of qualifying. Race stewards ruled he had insufficient fuel to be tested as required by the FIA.
"After the problems of yesterday, it was a remarkable comeback from Sebastian to finish on the podium," Horner said. "He drove an unbelievable race today and his final move on Jenson was quite exceptional. To go from pit lane to podium was something we could only dream of before the race."
The big loser appeared to be Ferrari, which was unable to take full advantage of Vettel's problems - picking up only three points in the title chase.
"It's true that with Sebastian last, there was an opportunity to reduce the gap more significantly," Alonso said. "But it's equally true that our performance and our grid position could have seen us lose points in this grand prix. ... Let's hope we can put in a good result in an important country like the United States. Tonight I go to sleep thinking the glass is half full, rather than half empty.
Randy Bernard stepped down as CEO of IndyCar on Sunday, bringing an end to a three-year reign that was disrupted this season by several attempts by team owners to have him ousted as head of the series.
The decision was announced following an executive session conducted by teleconference Sunday by the 11-member Indianapolis Motor Speedway board of directors.
Jeff Belskus, the president of IMS and president and CEO of Hulman & Co., will step in as interim CEO of the IndyCar Series. Bernard, who has two years remaining on the contract he signed when he joined IndyCar in 2010, will stay on in an advisory position.
The decision was immediately criticized by Roger Penske, the most powerful owner in open-wheel racing.
"I'm very disappointed in this decision; the board continues to show poor judgment. There is no future plan," Penske said. "The series had momentum. New cars, new engines and new race formats, all brought about by Randy.
"No business can run with a senior management change every two years."
Both the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are owned by the Hulman-George family, which holds four spots on the 11-member IMS board and four spots on the 10-member Hulman & Co. board.
The decision for Bernard to step down was made by the IMS board, which felt a "mutual separation" was the only way to stop speculation over his job security.
Belskus, in a telephone interview Sunday night with The Associated Press during the final portion of the board meeting, gave few details about the split.
"Both parties agree that it's time to move forward separately, it's an amicable separation and Randy is going to stay on in an advisory capacity," Belskus said.
But IndyCar is coming off arguably its best season in series history. Bernard introduced the first new car in nine years this season, and the on-track product was perhaps the best in auto racing.
IndyCar had eight different winners, its first American champion since 2006 in Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Chevrolet won the engine manufacturer title in its return to the series after a six-year absence. Pressed how it was in IndyCar's "best interest" to part with a CEO who brought such positives to the series and was popular with fans, Belskus gave no answer.
"I'm not going to comment," he said.
It's been that kind of a month for IndyCar, which has been plagued by rumors of owner-led coups against Bernard all season. It reached a fevered pitch in the last month as series founder Tony George attempted to reclaim control with an offer to purchase the series from Hulman & Co.
It's long been believed that George, who was stripped of power in 2009 by his mother and three sisters, has been leading the charge to oust Bernard, who was hired in 2010 to re-energize the series.
Hulman & Co. has insisted George's offer was never entertained and IndyCar is not for sale. But George stepped down from the board nine days ago, citing a conflict of interest in holding a seat while trying to purchase the series.
It did nothing to quiet the uncertainty surrounding Bernard, who has worked for more than a year amid uncertain job security because he could never secure any sort of public support from the board of directors or the Hulman-George family.
The speculation was suffocating last week, and Bernard and an IMS spokesman both denied a report Friday that Bernard had been fired. It led driver Graham Rahal, one of the most recognizable names in the series, to plead for some sanity Friday afternoon.
"Come on people either keep Randy or fire him but this is foolish and embarrassing for this sport," he posted on Twitter.
After two days of silence and Bernard in apparent limbo, the IMS board called an emergency teleconference Sunday to figure out a solution.
In a statement, Bernard specifically thanked Josie George, who brought him to IndyCar and said the series is "better poised for success than it has been in many years.
"I have developed a passion for the sport of IndyCar," he said in the statement. "As IndyCar fans, we need to unify behind the sport in order to move it to the next level, and I look forward to providing input and being part of that unified voice along the way."
It's not clear what's next for the troubled series.
"Well, I have been named interim CEO," Belskus told AP. "We're going to conduct a search. We haven't established a specific timeline for a permanent replacement. It's all part of a planning process that we'll address."
It didn't sound very promising to Zak Brown, founder and CEO of the motorsports marketing agency Just Marketing International, and the man many believed would run IndyCar under George's offer to buy the series. Brown has said he has no interest in running IndyCar.
"It all appears a bit strange and kneejerk to me," Brown said Sunday night. "I don't understand why Jeff Belskus hasn't communicated a longer-term plan. Unless there isn't one, which as CEO, I hope he has. The industry needs to know the plan."
So do the weary fans, who seemed overwhelmingly in support of Bernard and had been threatening for weeks via social media to turn their backs on the series for good if George regained control or Bernard was let go.
Belskus said he's unsure what reaction will be to Bernard's departure.
"It is change and we recognize that different people deal with change differently, and with people differently," he said.
Engaging and energetic, Bernard had bold ideas in his attempt to revitalize a racing series clinging for relevancy outside of the Indianapolis 500.
But Bernard was stymied by a combination of his own missteps, the same old drama and dysfunction that weakened open-wheel racing and allowed NASCAR to surpass it as the top racing series in America, and the massive mess left behind by George.
And even if Bernard had been flawless at his job, it likely still wouldn't have been enough.
George wanted his series back and wanted Bernard gone, and even if he couldn't make it happen, Bernard couldn't find enough allies in a paddock that ran through CEO's at a comical rate before George formed IndyCar.
Plus, it's been a rough 13 months for Bernard, whose tenure was rocked by the death of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon in the 2011 season finale.
Wheldon was only in the race as part of a $5 million promotion Bernard had devised as a means to close the season with a bang and build momentum for what was expected to be a breakthrough 2012 for IndyCar. Wheldon's death paralyzed IndyCar for months, and took a heavy emotional toll on Bernard, who after 15 years with The Professional Bull Riders was unaccustomed to the inherent dangers of auto racing.
And Bernard, who maybe was naive to just how political the IndyCar paddock can be, found himself putting out fire after fire every time he turned around this year. Team owners appeared to begin turning on him following a meeting at Long Beach in April in which they complained about the cost of replacement parts and a series ruling in the "Turbogate" scandal that allowed Honda to make a change to its engine.
Rumors swirled during the entire buildup to the Indianapolis 500 of an owner-led attempt to have him fired. Bernard confirmed the plot in an ill-timed tweet two days after the race, removing all focus from what many believed had been one of the most exciting 500s in years.
Although talk of Bernard losing his job quieted after the tweet, the board of directors - which failed to offer him any support during the attacks following Wheldon's death - still remained silent about his job security.
By August, there was talk of the George-led effort to buy the series.
That his job status was even in question was puzzling to outsiders, who point to years of instability and dysfunction in American open-wheel racing. Bernard had been brought in specifically tasked with cleaning up 14 years of disaster left behind after George had hemorrhaged family money for years on IndyCar.
Bernard was supposed to stop the bleeding, and immediately slashed the budget. He worked toward dramatically cutting losses that reportedly averaged high eight figures under George's watch to mid-to-low seven figures for Bernard.
More important, he dramatically improved the product.
Bernard this year introduced the new car and brought in multiple engine manufacturers. He cleaned up the grid last year with harsh league scrutiny on Milka Duno, who had sponsorship to get a ride but was not skilled enough to be on the track, and that in part contributed to parity this season throughout the field.
Bernard also removed Brian Barnhart from his longtime role as head of race control following a controversial 2011 season in which it was clear Barnhart had lost the trust of the paddock. He also developed the "Road to Indy" ladder system, a development program meant to keep young drivers in IndyCar.
This season, Bernard was able to save Milwaukee from dropping off the IndyCar schedule - albeit in a sweetheart deal for first-time promoter Michael Andretti - but Bernard also got Andretti to step in and rescue the endangered Labor Day weekend event at Baltimore. He also brought IndyCar back to Fontana, Calif., this season for the first time since 2005, and announced last month that IndyCar will race in 2013 at Pocono after a 23-year absence.
Bernard announced the return of the "The Triple Crown" promotion, an IndyCar tradition last done in 1989, the last time the series visited Pocono. He's also been in talks with Phoenix and Michigan, two other traditional IndyCar tracks, about returning to the series for the 2014 season.
Although he received mixed reviews for his 2013 schedule announced earlier this month, few understood his reasoning for creating doubleheaders or a long summer-stretch of racing. Saddled with a tough television package he inherited from George, Bernard strung together six consecutive weeks of racing through the summer to get five dates on ABC, including a prime-time Saturday night event at Texas Motor Speedway.
And because IndyCar has so little shoulder programming and cable partner NBC Sports does not often air qualifying live, Bernard viewed doubleheaders as a way to get the series on television more often.
Alas, none of his gains were ever lauded the way his missteps were jeered.
The cancellation of an August race in China was a reported $7 million hit to his budget - one of the reasons speculated he fell out of favor with the board. And Bernard's desire for engine competition led him to ignore all red flags and welcome Lotus into to the series. The manufacturer was an embarrassing disaster from start to finish.