Bernard scores major coup, brings Chevrolet back to IndyCar Series
AVONDALE, Arizona -- It was Robert F. Kennedy who uttered one of the most famous quotes of the 20th Century: "There are those that look at things the way they are and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"
Those words could just as easily be uttered by IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. When the former leader of Professional Bull Riders (PBR) was hired to lead IndyCar in February, he was attempting to take control of a product that seemed to be known for accepting the status quo. Oftentimes, major decisions were not made because of the prevailing attitude that, "We can't make it happen."
Bernard, however, doesn't believe in the word "can't."
He disputed that IndyCar "can't" lure another engine manufacturer into the series when the 2.6-liter turbocharged engine formula begins in 2012. Bernard delivered in a major way by not only bringing in another manufacturer to join Honda, but an iconic American brand at that.
Chevrolet will return to the Indianapolis 500 in 2012 and to the IndyCar Series as a full-time engine manufacturer. The car company will also be involved with building an "aero kit" that will give its cars a unique sense of styling as well as competitive aerodynamics.
The announcement on Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the latest validation that Bernard is a man fully prepared and capable of leading the IZOD IndyCar Series back to prominence.
While some were simply satisfied with always asking "why?" Bernard's response was "Why not?"
"I look at my job almost as an NFL field goal kicker," Bernard said in a telephone interview Friday. "As long as you are kicking field goals everyone is happy. But the day you miss one your head is on the line. That's a great analogy because my job is to keep my head focused on what is next. We have a lot of work to do. This is a fantastic day for us because it's an American engine manufacturer with a great heritage like Chevrolet. But we still have a lot of seats to sell, ratings to increase. We need a great marketing plan and need to help Honda and Chevy capitalize on selling cars. We are their partner. We need to be listening to them and make sure we do that.
"We have a lot of work to do."
When IndyCar announced in June 2008 that it would begin the process of a new chassis/engine package, there were times that plan appeared to be stuck in neutral. When Bernard took over the reins of the series, he kicked it into overdrive.
"I try to make my mind up on something, and if I think it is the right thing I'm not going to take no for an answer," Bernard said. "I 'm going to keep working and working and working. I went out on the line at the ICONIC press conference and said we would sign another engine manufacturer. We committed to an additional one and this opens up the playing field right now. It's a great start for the future of IndyCar and continues our momentum."
Chevrolet will return to the series that it left following the 2005 season. That was before unification between Champ Car and what was then known as the Indy Racing League which comprises today's IZOD IndyCar Series. When IndyCar decided to move away from the current normally-aspirated engine and adopt a 2.6-liter turbocharged formula, the time was right for Chevrolet to look to the future and how it can benefit its company's production-based market.
Bernard also listened to the most important constituency of all -- the fans.
"To me I hope we have listened to what fans wanted," Bernard said. "What I've heard from day to day to day is fans and everyone in IndyCar wanted competition. The second thing they wanted was an American manufacturer. This is the first step. Chevy coming back and competing with such a rich heritage is fantastic. It's a dream come true for me being here for nine months."
It was a natural choice for both companies.
"Our strategy and their strategy lined up very well," Bernard explained. "Relevant technology and innovation were all very important to their strategy. They want to use IndyCar to showcase their technology. I think that lines up really well with our new car and the aero kits up to a V-6 turbo and 2.4-liter. They were very excited. It didn't take any convincing from us. Gil de Ferran and I met with them in July and we had a presentation that we took to Europe to the American manufacturers. It was not only about the strategy of our 2012 car; it was about the strategy and future of IndyCar. They listened very intently and we could tell there was some interest when we first met with them. Then Roger Penske called me a few months ago and he said we have someone interested in the game. I didn't want to know who at the time because we were talking to so many people and we were working other relationships. Then when the time was right we could start negotiating our engine deal."
Jim Campbell is General Motors U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. He was involved in the company's previous efforts in both CART and IndyCar when the company competed as an engine manufacturer in 1986-93 and 2002-05 with V-8 engines, winning 104 races, powering six driver champions and scoring seven Indianapolis 500 victories.
The new Chevrolet IZOD IndyCar Series engine program will reunite one of the most successful partnerships in motorsports as Team Penske will introduce the Chevrolet engine in 2012. Team Penske previously tallied 31 Indy car victories with Chevrolet engines, including four Indianapolis 500 wins.
The decision to return to IndyCar just seemed right to General Motors, which has overcome the dark times of a trouble automotive economy and once again has emerged as a major automotive force.
After all, what is more American than Chevrolet competing in the Indianapolis 500?
"I think it is important," Campbell said. "It's a natural for us and it's great for the series. We're competing on the track with one of our general market competitors so that is a good thing. We have quite a history here with Louis Chevrolet. It's special to announce we are coming back in 2012. What we like about the series now is it has a distinct fan base for Chevrolet. They appreciate the technology. We like the series for a distinct base for Chevrolet at Indy, we are seeing within viewership that the 18-34 male viewership is up 40 percent. Third and most important is the ability to translate what we learn on the track to the production vehicle. Where we are going in the next four or five years in terms of fuel economy, Cap A standards and greenhouse gas emissions will require us to supply mass propulsion technology to vehicles to make them efficient yet fun to drive.
"What we get in the IndyCar Series is the ability to learn very fast. We're going to go to a 2.4-liter or smaller displacement and direct injection which is very important. Third is turbo-charging and they run E 85 here. When you put all of those together that is the technology we have to be adept at and be at the cutting edge of to deliver a great driving experience but also the efficiency standards required."
"The journey we are in now to give manufacturers and teams and sponsors a chance to craft the next chapter of IndyCar. Plus, we love competing at Indianapolis and in the IndyCar Series."
Chevrolet is king in NASCAR where it won the Manufacturer's Championship for the 34th time in the Sprint Cup Series. The return of the Red Bowtie to IndyCar was a major topic of conversation Friday at Phoenix International Raceway.
"Thank God we finally have an American-made engine back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," said Tony Stewart, the two-time NASCAR Cup champion who competed won the 1997 Indy Racing League championship and has competed in five Indianapolis 500s.
"It's great news for IndyCar," said IndyCar Series driver Danica Patrick, who is competing in a limited NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule this season. "IndyCar has desperately needed some competition out there. What I remember about Chevy from the last time they were in the IndyCar Series is they had big qualifying engines and they could be fast but at times they were worse on fuel mileage. I think about those things and how that would play in a race and create overtaking and shake things up. They were good at winning some poles because they were fast.
"This creates more options. It's a real win for IndyCar to finally have some other manufacturers involved the series. Hopefully, it's a snowball effect for IndyCar and even more manufacturers come in."
Jeff Burton may be a Southern-born stock car driver from South Boston, Virginia but the NASCAR veteran also has a deep appreciation for all forms of racing.
"Chevrolet is such a huge part of American motorsports," Burton said. "To not have an American manufacturer at Indy for the 500 is a disappointing thing. It's great for the 500 and for Chevy to be back as an engine manufacturer back in the 500 I think is a really good deal for American motorsports. Chevy is so committed to motorsports and I think it's a great idea. Chevy's involvement here obviously is really, really respected. They've had a lot of championships and done a great job. I think it's really cool. Some might say well, I wish they were spending that money here in NASCAR but the fact of the matter is that we need an American manufacturer for the Indy 500 and I think it's cool that Chevrolet has stepped up to the plate."
His teammate, Clint Bowyer, echoed those sentiments.
"I think Chevrolet going back into the Indy Car Series is definitely a big day for all of them involved," Bowyer said. "Chevrolet has such a big impact in our sport of NASCAR and they're going to once again have a big impact over there."
And four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson grew up as an IndyCar fan and would love to one day race in the Indianapolis 500.
"I'm happy to hear that the Bowtie will be back," Johnson said. "Maybe that will give me a chance to go race there someday."
There was a time when the general consensus that a driver such as Johnson "can't" race in the Indianapolis 500 because it would interfere with his NASCAR commitment. But Bernard would like to lure him and some of the other NASCAR names to the world's biggest race with a $20 million bonus that would go to any driver that won the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same day.
While that is another ambitious idea that Bernard is working on, getting Chevrolet to return to the series is another huge accomplishment for the IndyCar CEO.
"This keeps our momentum moving," Bernard said. "We've had fantastic momentum for the past year and we think IndyCar is back. Having Chevy as an American company involved with us is a big deal and we are excited about the future of IndyCar."