Updates on a couple of talking points in the Izod IndyCar Series:
Team owner revolt?
A pair of stories on SpeedTV.com made it sound like the IndyCar Series was on the brink of a team owner revolt potentially as cataclysmic as the splits that rocked Indy car racing in 1978 and 1996.
Reports of an owners-only meeting at Infineon Raceway in which much displeasure about the way the series was handling the introduction of the Dallara-built 2012 chassis were accurate. But following another owners' meeting at Chicagoland Speedway a week later in which IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard and new car project manager Tony Cotman were present, everyone presented a unified front.
The owners are rightfully concerned about making multimillion-dollar outlays for new equipment at a time when open-wheel racing is suffering significant economic woes. Although costs for the new car (and the new formula turbo engine) will be reduced by about 40 percent from current prices, buying even discounted new equipment is more expensive than soldiering on with the old.
Bernard said he expected some backlash from the design-by-committee process that resulted in Dallara being awarded the basic chassis contract.
"My job as CEO of IndyCar is to appease [the team owners] as much as anyone else," said Bernard. "I hope they know they can come to me, and sometimes I'm going to get some butt-chewings, no doubt. This is one of those times when they had some concerns. They called a meeting, brought me in, asked me where I stood on it, and we walked away like we should have -- together.
"Every one of these team owners has millions and millions of dollars invested. If I made one mistake in this entire process, before we announced the car, I should have had a project manager named right there. I should have named Tony Cotman right there."
Dennis Reinbold of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing spoke for the team owners' group and played down the notion of a revolt by owners.
"It's highly exaggerated and greatly inaccurate and that's why we wanted to have this discussion -- to clarify that," Reinbold said. "The other misnomer is that you can't get team owners and officials to agree on certain things. But that's what we ended up doing. We sat in a room with about 30 guys and had a good conversation that went very well. And we all agreed on things."
Reinbold claimed the owners are satisfied that they will have a significant voice in the development of the new car.
"We're at an infancy stage of determining what this new chassis is going to be and what it's going to look like and that sort of thing," he said. "So this is a critical time, which is why we wanted to talk to Tony about the product development so he could have our input. It's still got some questions surrounding it, and we had concerns. Randy and Tony listened to those and handled that very well. We will work with Dallara to try to put some things into the new chassis that we would like to see and that they would like to see.
"Next weekend we're planning to reconvene with Tony because he will have more information to share. I think he has a lot of us who can help him. We have a lot of questions; he doesn't have all the answers right now, but we'll develop those answers together."
End for Chicago and Indy?
There is no question that Chicagoland Speedway has produced some of the most memorable races in IndyCar Series history.
Saturday night was no exception, with a photo finish and pack racing reminiscent of a NASCAR restrictor-plate event at Daytona or Talledega.
That kind of racing is not popular among NASCAR drivers, and 30 mph faster and with exposed wheels, it's even more dangerous and stressful for Indy car drivers.
"It puts on a great show," said race winner Dario Franchitti. "The fans, I think, really love it. I'd just like a bit more control, I guess, to be in the drivers' hands. It's just an unfortunate fact of life. These cars are maybe too quick and the tracks weren't designed with our cars in mind.
"The trouble with this style of racing is sometimes it's either how brave or how stupid you want to be. Sometimes it's not what you do or the person next to you, it's the person three up or something, or the backmarkers. I'm just glad everybody got out of here in one piece tonight."
It sounds like Franchitti and the other drivers won't have to worry about returning to Chicagoland. With less than a third of Chicagoland's 75,000 seats filled Saturday night, it appears that Indy car racing's 10-year stint in Joliet is done.
Whether that's the result of a lack of interested Indy car fans in the region or a lack of promotional effort on the part of the track (and its owner, the NASCAR-affiliated International Speedway Corp.) will never be known.
The underlying theme is that IndyCar's business relationship with ISC is finished. ISC tracks host four IndyCar events, including the 2010 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and all are notable for poor attendance.
Chicagoland Speedway president Craig Rust indicated that the track and the series are far away from agreeing on a sanctioning fee, and Bernard seems much more interested in reviving an event at the Milwaukee Mile.
"I want that event bad," Bernard said.
"Chicagoland and ISC have their primary own objectives, and IndyCar has their primary objectives. I'm not sure we're all on the same page right now. But we still have a great relationship with ISC."