Just a few hours before jumping in a USAC Silver Crown 2-seater at the Indiana State Fairgrounds piloted by Firstone Indy Lights Rookie Bryan Clauson, INDYCAR's CEO Randy Bernard sat down to answer a few questions from yours truly. Bernard gave his thoughts on the aero kit situation, when we'll hear about the $5 Million contenders, if the current car will be grandfathered into Indy, and whether or not he thinks Arie Luyendyk's IMS track record could be in danger.
16thAndGeorgetown: Last year's Firestone Indy Lights champion J.K. Vernay wasn't able to use his scholarship winnings to earn an IndyCar ride this year. Have there been any thoughts about awarding the funds to another competitor if the winner can't or doesn't use it?
Randy Bernard: No, it needs to be for that Champ. What I would say though is we still don't have a successful ladder series until every rung of that ladder is successful. And unfortunately $1 Million doesn't buy a ride. We even took it further than that, I think we offered him up to $1.5 Million so we could try this first year to make it successful. Unfortunately $1.5 doesn't buy you much in an Indy car. So, were working on some other options.
16th>: Obviously the aero kits are a very tender subject for both the owners and fans. The great majority of fans want them, while many of the owners don't. It's really a tough situation all around. What are your thoughts on allowing the kits next season?
RB: It's important that we maintain a very balanced approach on our decision. I've heard from the fans, which definitely want the aero kits. I've heard from the team owners that definitely don't want the aero kits. Most importantly there was some unknown expenses that the team owners are getting hit with right now and I can see their concern. I don't want to lose the momentum of having 26 or 27 cars and go down to 16 or 17 because of affordability. I have to play this out and determine whats going to be in the best interest of INDYCAR as a whole. I don't think we'll make that decision before the Indy 500 for sure.
16th>: You mentioned the concern for a possible dip in car count next season. Could the current Dallara be grandfathered in, at least at Indy to help car count.
RB: I think our new car, this is from what Tony Cotman says, our new car is going to be so much less drag and so much more efficient that with the power and the turbo, that the old car couldn't compete with it.
I think that there is three things we have to deliver to fans to give them a great experience. We have to give them great competition, we have to give them great entertainment and great value. I don't think that's the right story either to just let a car be grandfathered out there to compete if its not competitive.
16th>: It's fairly obvious for a couple teams which engine manufacture they'll be paired with next season, but have the rules for how the engines will be distributed been laid out?
RB: We're very close to determining that, but no its not been set in concrete yet.
16th>: There was talk of possibly going after the track records at IMS this year with demonstrations laps, that plan seems to of been put on the back burner, but where does the league stand on track records in 2012 and beyond?
RB: I think that would be a great question for Brian Barnhart, Tony Cotman and all of our experts on safety. After we see the car run I think we'll have a better idea. I'm a big believer that fans always looked forward to coming here and having the opportunity to see records broke. I am one to think that is something we should put into our sights, but I can't guarantee that will be in 2012 or 2013 or 2014. I'm still very confident, that eventually, that's a directions we need and want to go.
16th>: Dragon Racing just announced that Scott Speed will join the team for Indy and the finale at Vegas where he expects to run for the $5 Million. When should we expect to hear the 5 running for the money?
RB: You won't hear all of the decisions until August 15th, but I would think we might possibly roll one out per month.
16th>: Are the drivers and teams going to have to bring sponsorship for the $5 Million dollar challenge?
RB: Yes, exactly.
16th>: One major draw back to the $5 Million challenge at LV is that many of the other leagues are running that weekend as well. What's the chance that if the promotion returns next year of moving the challenge to a different track or date when more drivers are available?
RB: I think that's a good date. I'm hoping it's a perfect storm. You have NASCAR on ABC Saturday night, so they will be able to promote our race on Sunday on ABC. There will be a couple promotions I'm sure in that ABC race Saturday night for the Sunday. I'm rather confident on it that it's a good weekend. I think also that once the chase is situated, I still am confident that we will get some NASCAR drivers that will want to compete for that.
They do their qualifying on Thursday, were doing our qualifying Friday. They race Saturday, were going to race Sunday. It's very doable, we have probably 25 names and there are some fantastic names right now.