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IZOD IndyCar Series: Changing the Future

The IZOD IndyCar Series has undergone massive changes since the last time we saw the likes of Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal, and Scott Dixon racing around tracks in excessive of 200 miles-an-hour. For starters, the series finally has a title sponsor, something they haven’t had since the 2001 season. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway also announced significant changes to the Month of May, shortening qualifications and practice leading up to the famed Indianapolis 500. The biggest change came in June, when Tony George was ousted from his position as chief executive officer of the IMS Corporation and the IRL, the league he created and developed some 15 years ago.

The start of 2010 has brought even more developments for the open-wheel racing series, some that will shape the course of the league for years to come. Let’s take a look at what’s happened over the past two months.

January 28: When George was forced to resign his position of leadership, it was said he was stepping down to focus all of his efforts on his Vision Racing team. Apparently it was not to be. George announced in January that he was suspending operations of the team due to a lack of sponsorship. Vision Racing was a family business for George, who co-owned the team with his wife Laura. The primary driver was George’s stepson, Ed Carpenter, and Carpenter’s sister, Lauren George, wrote for the team’s Web site.

Their operation was located on Indy‘s Northwestside in a 32,000-square-foot facility, and employed about 16 staff members, all who were released upon the announcement. Carpenter stated that while the team was shutting down for the time being, they’re “still pursuing opportunities to resume operations.” There was talk that George, along with former Champ Car World Series co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven, was attempting to organize a group to purchase the Indy Racing League, although those appear to be just rumors at this point.

January 30: A few days after the announcement that Vision Racing was folding, effectively removing George from all aspects of open-wheel motorsports, Randy Bernard was introduced as the new chief executive officer of the Indy Racing League. Bernard is the founder and former CEO of Professional Bull Riders Inc., a bull riding organization that made impressive strides under his guidance. The decision was met with some harsh criticism, mainly because of Bernard’s admittance that he’s never attended an IndyCar race. Although, in his defense — and I’m being sarcastic here — he did see several NASCAR races while pursuing a sales executive who worked for Texas Motor Speedway.

Sarcasm aside, Bernard did do some great things for the PBR, building the series from the ground up and turning it into an international sport that distributed $9 million in prize money in 2009, while taking in sponsorship of more than $26 million. He landed a broadcasting contract with the Versus Network, the same network who broadcasts the majority of the IRL events. He also aligned the PBR, a fringe sport by any definition, with television partners like Fox and NBC. Although many racing purists are appalled by his lack of experience in open-wheel racing, the marketing and promotional ability Bernard displayed with the PBR could be just the thing to attract some much needed attention to the fledging sport.

February 6th: When Danica Patrick, by far IndyCar’s most marketable asset, announced a deal to drive for NASCAR’s JR Motorsports in December, it was unknown what kind of impact it would have. Well, after witnessing the media frenzy surrounding Patrick’s ARCA debut earlier this month, it’s safe to say her star status is already doing wonders for NASCAR viewership, though how that will translate to the IZOD IndyCar Series is yet to be determined.

Patrick finished 6th in her first foray into stock car racing, drawing rave reviews from her crew chief and the car’s owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., son of former Brickyard 400 winner Dale Earnhardt Sr. The interest in Patrick as a stock car driver grew even more intense the next weekend, when she made an appearance in the Nationwide Series event at Daytona International Speedway. Both before and after the race, people were lined up 10 deep outside of her merchandise trailer, and the television ratings saw a 33 percent increase from the previous year’s event, making it the most viewed Nationwide Series race ever on the ESPN networks.

Patrick is expected to run a shortened schedule of 13 races this year, while at the same assuming full duties for Andretti Autosports, her employer in the IndyCar Series. The hope is the increased fame of Patrick will trickle down to open-wheel racing, but there’s a chance the appeal is only in seeing her join the good ol’ boys of the NASCAR series. Either way, however the Patrick situation plays out, there will long-ranging ramifications for both racing series’.

February 10: At the Chicago Auto Show, the possible future of open-wheel racing was unveiled, and what an unveiling it was. Reminding many people of the Batmobile, DeltaWing’s futuristic concept car was shown to IRL officials in the hope that it is picked to be the chassis for the series starting in 2012. Designed by Ben Bowlby, a former Lola engineer who designed cars for CART, the car is said to be able to run at speeds in excessive of 235 mph, while using half the power and fuel consumption that today’s Indy Car’s use. Chip Ganassi, who was directly involved in the design, was adamant in saying this design was not a car, but rather a concept that can be made by any manufacturer, and can accommodate a variety of engine configurations at a very cost effective price.

The central Indiana-based company plans to test the car for safety and performance sometime this August. The IRL is looking for a new chassis provider, and four companies have submitted designs. Dallara, which is the current chassis manufacturer, is considered the favorite, but Swift Engineering, and Lola, who supplied chassis for Indy 500 winners Graham Hill (1966), Al Unser (1978), and Arie Luyendyk (1990), are also in the running, along with DeltaWing. A decision by the league isn’t expected until May, at the earliest.

As you can see, it’s been an eventful 2010 for the IZOD IndyCar Series off the track, and with the season set to kick off on March 14 with a race through the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, things are about to get eventful on the track as well. For a series that is very much in flux, how things play out over the course of the summer will be something that Indianapolis sports fans who follow the sport will be watching with guarded optimism.

For more IZOD IndyCar Series news, along with all the happenings at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, be sure to check back with funcityfinder.com on a daily basis.