IndyCar CEO sounds off about team owners, Hunter-Reay move

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Even in the midst of celebrating the centennial running of the Indianapolis 500, IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard has his eyes fixed on the future.

Specifically, Bernard realizes the decisions he makes about the series’ new engine and chassis package to be rolled out in 2012 are critically important to the racing enterprise’s short-term and long-term success.

The open-wheel series hasn’t had new car specifications since 2003, and fans have become displeased with the lack of upgrades to the cars.

Bernard is debating on whether to roll out aerodynamic add-ons to the cars—those not made by the series’ sole chassis supplier Dallara—in 2012 or 2013.

New chassis will be rolled out for the season opener in March, 2012. And one camp is calling for the aero kits, which are key in making the cars look and perform differently on the track, to be rolled out next May. Another camp, primarily team owners, is pleading for the series to hold off with aero kit add-ons until 2013.

“I expect to make a decision on that by mid-June,” Bernard told IBJ on Wednesday. “It will probably be some kind of compromise on what fans and the owners want.”

Bernard said he hears fans’ complaints about owners dragging their feet and going against the desires of fans who buy tickets and otherwise support the sport. Still, it’s clear that IndyCar team owners have Bernard’s attention.

“It’s important to listen to the owners and drivers,” Bernard said. “I have a lot of respect for the owners. It’s important to remember that it’s the owners writing the checks.

“What’s more important, the aero kits or the teams maintaining financial viability?” he added. “I think the most important thing is not to lose cars and teams.”

Speaking of teams and owners, Bernard said he doesn’t have a problem with Andretti Autosport’s deal with A.J. Foyt’s team to replace Foyt’s driver with the sponsored Ryan Hunter-Reay. He pointed out that the rule that allowed the maneuver “has been there for decades.”

Sources told IBJ that Andretti paid Foyt about $200,000 to let Hunter-Reay replace his driver, Bruno Junqueira, for this year’s Indianapolis 500. Since Hunter-Reay didn’t qualify the car, he will move to the back of the field and start from the 33rd position.

“I think it’s Michael Andretti’s responsibility to do everything he can to take care of that sponsor (DHL and Sun Drop), Bernard said. “I want him to take care of that sponsor.

“I don’t think it hurts our credibility at all,” Bernard added. “Ryan’s a great driver. I think he could contend for the race. Now wouldn’t that be a story. If it was a bad driver … well, I’m not going to mention any names, but if it was a bad driver, I would have been sick.”

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