The Many Benefits Of Chevy’s Return

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A quick tour of the comments section of the IndyCar blog sites this past weekend, revealed mostly positive comments about Chevrolet’s return to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Quite honestly, I wonder how anyone could find anything negative about Friday’s announcement – but a few managed to, anyway.

No matter how you slice it, this was big – for several different reasons. On the surface, it satisfies what has been the gripe by several of us: we now have manufacturer competition in the series again – something that had been lacking since the end of the 2005 season. As good as Honda has been for the series, they needed (and wanted) competition. It was hard to be impressed by Honda’s claim of no engine failures for the past five Indianapolis 500’s. Since they were only competing against themselves, they had detuned the engines where they were not pressed against the edge at all. That will change in 2012 when Chevrolet, along with another possible competitor, enters the fray.

We can expect engine failures to be part of the equation, beginning in 2012. Although some say that’s a bad thing – I welcome it. A blown engine is a sign that an engine is stressed beyond its limits in the quest for more speed. It can also serve as the great equalizer and add another element of suspense. By then, when Dario Franchitti checks out on the rest of the field at the Indianapolis 500, we’ll wonder if his engine will last. That has not been a question for the past few years.

There is also the question if a team has selected the right equipment, year after year. In 2003, Penske and Ganassi both made the right call by going with Toyota. Penske won Indy with Gil de Ferran, while Ganassi won the championship with Scott Dixon. By 2004, that move didn’t look so good. Toyota did little to improve their performance, while Honda really stepped up their game. Penske and Ganassi both struggled, while Honda won the next two Indy 500’s, as well as the next two championships. The result was Chevy and Toyota essentially being driven from the series at the end of the 2005 season.

Looking beyond the immediate intrigue of better racing and more interesting storylines revolving around each manufacturer’s evolvement, is what Chevy’s return does for the series off the track. This gives the series an immediate and sizeable boost of credibility.

A little more than a year ago, things looked awfully bleak for this series. They had just finished a season that saw two teams win all but one race. Oval races that had previously featured breathtaking side-by-side racing, had been reduced to circular single-file parades. Off the track, a family feud had sidelined the league’s founder and CEO. What had already been a series with very little direction was suddenly rudderless. Sponsors were leaving without being replaced and the new TV contract was producing abysmal ratings. Even the most optimistic fan had trouble finding much that was positive in the series.

Then IZOD was announced as the series sponsor. They said all the right things and promised to take the newly re-named IZOD IndyCar Series to a new level. Many of us were skeptical. We had heard the same thing from previous series sponsors Pep Boys and Northern Light. We had also seen FedEx come into the CART series and do next to nothing. Early signs sounded promising, but it was still the offseason.

Then on March 1, an obscure man from an obscure niche sport was hired as the new CEO – replacing Tony George. Again, there were skeptics – myself included. How could a soft-spoken guy from Professional Bull-Riding who had never seen a race before, be expected to resurrect our struggling series?

After attending two races in person this season and seeing the improvements that have been made in so many areas off the track – I’m no longer a skeptic. In my opinion, IZOD surpassed any and all expectations in their first year as the series sponsor; and enough cannot be said about the job that Randy Bernard has done in less than nine months on the job. Randy Bernard and Mike Kelly (Executive Vice President, Marketing, Phillips-Van Heusen, parent company of series sponsor IZOD) appear to have an excellent relationship, which resembles that of two people that have been working together for years.

IZOD has done everything you could ask from a series sponsor, which requires much more than just writing a big check. They have practically re-written the definition of sponsor activation. In doing so, they raised the visibility of the series during the 2010 season, despite a TV contract that limits exposure. They also raised the credibility of the series and helped justify other sponsors to come on board.

Although Roger Penske apparently worked hard behind the scenes to convince Chevrolet, his former partner, to return to the series – don’t under-estimate the role that Randy Bernard and IZOD played in Chevy’s decision to return. Nor should you under-estimate what this does to other companies that are weighing their decision whether or not to cast their lot with the IZOD IndyCar Series. Seeing a company like General Motors invest heavily in the series, gives other potential partners, sponsors, etc, something to think about.

When GM was facing bankruptcy almost two years ago, they announced that they were seriously scaling back their NASCAR involvement. Now that they are the “new GM”, I’m not sure – but I don’t recall hearing that they have increased their presence in NASCAR. I think that it is significant that they have chosen to return to IndyCar, rather than throwing more money at their NASCAR program. Don’t think other companies won’t notice that.

Although we fans will enjoy the on-track benefits of Chevrolet’s return to the IZOD IndyCar series, I think that the series will benefit more from the boardroom clout that General Motors provides in bringing in more potential sponsors. So far, this is the biggest accomplishment in Randy Bernard’s short career. I can’t wait to see what he does for an encore.

George Phillips

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11 Responses to “The Many Benefits Of Chevy’s Return”

  1. Jack in NC Says:

    Good post, George. I voted “Other” because you didn’t provide a space for “All of the Above”. I like the timing of the changes, too. New chassis and new engines in 2012, leaving 2011 as the centenary year with the old engines and chassis, so the series has something to look forward to after the centennial celebration.

  2. Izod, great. Bernard, great. GM, great. “All of the above,” too. I like to try to be positive about the series, but that’s sure gotten easier lately…

    The only negative result of competition that I could foresee is if things start to get more expensive. Indycar is a fairly economical investment for a sponsor–at least compared to Nascar or F1. With engine competition (and engine failures) I’d think that could make it more expensive to run a team.

  3. I hate to see failed engines robbing very skilled, hard-working, deserving teams of wins, points, and prize money.
    Yesterday I wouldn’t have liked to see a Red Bull team robbed of a race win and championship win by an engine detonating half a lap from the end of the race…

  4. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    No one WANTS to see engine failures, however, running identical detuned rev-limited engines in a spec series more or less eliminates any possibility of a team attempting to run their power plant on the ragged edge…. Back in the day of shade tree innovation, mechanics with a great deal of engineering savy, developed and modified existing powerplants and transmissions to produce an extreme amount of HP and torque. Through trial and error they got many of their projects tweeked to the point where these were relatively reliable while still producing competitive power. Each team / mechanic continually modified their existing equipment or began anew on different more modern equipment, always in an attempt to stay ahead of the other guys. Later when the manufactures became more heavily involved, things became much more expensive for the shade tree guys and they went the way of the horse and wagon. Lets face it, not many individuals or even groups of people can compete with the legions of people and the development equipment that a manufacturer can bring to bear…. The point is, now that there are two engines possible, the inclination by these two may be to push the performance envelop a bit more, which may result in one power plant being better on ovals and and the other being better on street or road courses. This may then result in the use of different combinations of aero parts which may then hopefully provide less predictable results, more competition and possibly even some blown engines.

  5. I share the assessment that I don’t want to see blown engines-at least all the time.

    However, take a look at what Formula 1 does with it’s engine rules. Teams are allowed to rev their 2.4L V8 engines up to 18, 500 rpm. That stress can sometimes lead to failures. Combine that with the 8 engine per car per season rule-something which I hope IndyCar adopts-and the possibility of an engine failure creates drama, which is what sports is about. There has been very little on-track drama in recent years because Honda has de-tuned their engines to avoid all mechanical problems. That has made the series at times-even to the most die-hard fan-boring. To borrow a line from ABC’s Wide World of Sports, there has been very little of the Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat. That will hopefully change with the arrival of Chevrolet.

    In regard to the poll, I voted every choice. In addition to the choices mentioned, there is also the promotional aspect that Chevy brings, not to mention the credibility that having having a major company like GM in the series can potentially bring.

  6. I don’t mind seeing engine failures when it is caused by pushing it to the limit by manufacturers or drivers. That’s racing! Failure in the pursuit of a win should always be an option. I say all of the above!

    • I LOVE to wach stuff blow up!!!!! I don’t care if the best driver dont win as long as I gets to see exploshins!!!! The more the better! As long as the driver I likes the most gets to win!!!!

  7. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Man you are right George, where the heck is everybody, I expected that this post would have drawn many more responses than this.

  8. I’m a little late to the party here, but I was kind of holding out for today’s deadline to see if anybody else is coming in. From the article on IndyStar.com, it doesn’t sound like Randy Bernard is expecting anybody else today. There was also an article regarding the Dallara facility groundbreaking, but there was no mention of who was there. There were rumors that some Fiat execs would be there, which might hint at Fiat getting involved, but I didn’t hear anything yet.

    Nonetheless, this is a good start for 2012. With 3 aerokits and 2 engine manufacturers, we’re going in the right direction. I’m sure a lot of folks will claim it’s not good enough, but we’re going in the right direction.

  9. While engine failures are expensive and can deprive an Andre — err driver of a seeming victory, like crashes, the add to the drama of the sport. I don’t want to see drivers injured and very few who attend races or watch on TV want to see anyone hurt, but the fact is that if race cars just ran start to finish on any kind of track, very few, if anyone would be watching.

    Years back when Rick Mears finally crashed he commented that the wreck was almost a relief to him. He knew that to win consistently, he had to drive on the edge. when he crashed, he knew he had driven past that edge. That was his confirmation that he had, indeed, been driving on the edge. He had to cross the line to be sure where it was.

    Likewise, we who are watching need to know that the drivers, cars, and engines are all performing at the edge. Wrecks and equipment failures remind us that this is a hard, demanding, sport which is beyond our abilities or willingness to risk the consequences.

    In racing, as in business and life in general, we must see and experience failures to be able to recognize success.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      “… we must see and experience failures to be able to recognize success.” I recognize success when a racer finishes first. I don’t need to see exploding engines to recognize the cars that finish first, second, and third. I don’t need “wrecks” to remind me that F1 or IndyCar racing is demanding and beyond my ability.
      I don’t belive the contention of fact, “… if race cars just ran start to finish on any kind of track, very few, if anyone would be watching.” Where’d that “fact” come from? We’re not supposed to see the cars go from start to finish?!
      I guess that the underlying sentiment is that ‘mericans like to see “wrecks” and explosions (witness Hollywood’s action movies’ box-office sucesses and NASCRAP’s $ucce$$).

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