IndyCar has had ups, downs since Wheldon’s death

It’s been a mixed bag for the IndyCar Series since Dan Wheldon’s death in the season-ending race in Las Vegas.

On the upside:

Ed Carpenter announced he'll field his own team next season with a three-year sponsorship commitment from Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan signed a deal with Honda and said it will attempt to run a full season in 2012.

Team Penske resigned Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves and Will Power.

Chip Ganassi Racing recently announced that rookie Charlie Kimball will remain with its IndyCar program, having concluded a new multi-year agreement with his sponsor, Novo Nordisk.

KV Racing Technology signed with Chevrolet.

IndyCar last week announced a September race in China.

Lotus has finally nailed down a couple of deals to put its engine on the grid next year.

But it’s far from smooth sailing for the series, and its CEO, Randy Bernard.

The 2012 schedule announcement—or lack thereof—has to be slowing down sponsorship and ticket sales for next year. Bernard told IBJ in September that he hoped to reveal the schedule in October.

Now, sources inside the series say the schedule likely won’t be unveiled until after the Wheldon investigation is finished and it is determined whether high-banked oval tracks are suitable for the open-wheel cars.

Not every team is finding sponsors to be plentiful. Sarah Fisher Racing, for one, is searching for both a sponsor and a driver after Carpenter left and Dollar General drove off to NASCAR. The team’s difficulties came on the heels of its first victory at Kentucky.

Series officials admit there are problems with the 2012 race in Baltimore, as the promoter there struggles to cover his bills from the 2011 event.

And, perhaps most troubling for the series, questions have begun to arise about Bernard’s future.

Fan are complaining about the direction of the sport, and open-wheel insiders have begun to whisper that the Hulman-George family is questioning Bernard’s leadership. Bernard, before and after Wheldon’s death, has insisted he is in IndyCar for the long-term. In 2012, he’ll be entering his third year of a five-year deal.

Despite Bernard’s insistence to the contrary, questions about his future with the open-wheel series can’t help him sell the sport.

 
 

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