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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ Newman/Haas looking good, Tracy debates Bernard

by Gordon Kirby
For coverage of Firestone's post-season withdrawal from the IZOD IndyCar series please read my blog at Motor Sport's website www.motorsportmagazine.co.uk. I hope the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's 100th anniversary will help Randy Bernard sell the right tire company to replace Bridgestone/Firestone. It's a tall order because the technical and operational demands of supplying first class tires that are durable, reliable and perform well on tight street circuits to short ovals and superspeedways are very steep and very expensive.

Meanwhile, things are looking good for Newman/Haas Racing to be in business this year with the fast and experienced Oriol Servia driving. There's still an outside chance that Newman/Haas will run a second car for rookie James Hinchcliffe but Servia's seat and sponsors should be announced in the next week.

"I'm not at liberty to say anything but we will be testing and racing," Servia said at the end of last week. "It's looking good. You will see us at the track. It's hard to get the funding but we've been working very hard and I'm excited that we will soon have an announcement."

As I wrote in January, Servia will be a great team leader for Newman/Haas. He won at Montreal for the team in 2005 and finished a close second to Sebastien Bourdais in that year's Champ Car championship. Oriol is a smooth, smart driver and a forceful racer who's also a gentleman. He's just the man to bring the team back from the doldrums into which they drifted last year. I wish Servia and Newman/Haas the very best of luck this year.

With only three weeks to go before the start of the IndyCar season in St. Petersburg three former champions or 500 winners--Paul Tracy, Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon--have yet to find rides. Tracy hopes to be in business most likely with Eric Bachelart's Conquest team, but he's still working to make something happen.

"I've got a couple of things kicking around," Tracy said last week. "I've got one that could be a pretty good deal. I'm hoping to have an answer next week and maybe go to Barber and take a flier in somebody's car. The problem is me, Wheldon and Kanaan are all fighting for the same seat. I think I've got more than they've got but it's hard to raise money. I've talked to Newman/Haas and KV but they want more than I can raise."

Tracy is not happy that Randy Bernard is spending time chasing what he believes is a $5 million chimera when Kanaan, Wheldon and he are struggling to find the money to be in this year's field. Tracy believes Bernard's $5 million Vegas bonus was poorly thought-out and is not likely to be successful.

"What's Randy Bernard doing chasing these NASCAR guys when the Vegas race is on a NASCAR weekend on the other side of the country?" Tracy asked. "None of those guys can do it. It's impossible logistically as far as travelling back and forth, just like Montoya and Tony Stewart have explained. Why didn't he think about that before announcing the whole thing?

"The only guy out there who could pull that thing off because he has the experience is Montoya. But he's already said he's not going to do it."

Tracy pointed out that the contracts all of today's top professional drivers sign make it impossible for them to make one-off appearances like Bernard's $5 million challenge.

"Those guys in NASCAR have got contracts with Chevrolet or Ford or Toyota just like any F1 driver is going to have a contract with an engine manufacturer. There's no way they could drive a Honda-powered car in an IndyCar race. Same thing with a guy like Tom Kristensen. He's under contract to Audi. Sure these guys would love to do it in their hearts, but that doesn't mean their contracts and the lawyers would let them do it."

PT raised a couple more questions.

"What happens if your $5 million superstar comes in and you've got a battle for the championship and your invited superstar is involved in or causes a wreck that takes a guy out of the championship? Or what if he beats your guys who are racing for the championship and takes all the glory and makes your guys look bad?

"If the thing turns out to be a bust it's just another black eye for Indy car racing. Randy has done some good things but I think he's wasting his time chasing around after the NASCAR guys and putting up $5 million for guys most people have never heard of. It would be another story if he pulled a Michael Schumacher and Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart but that's not going to happen. They've got to deal with reality instead of just blowing smoke."

As Tracy says, today's drivers are tied to a series and a team by contracts with commercial sponsors and engine manufacturers. In the sixties and seventies when Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt raced in multiple categories the shoe was on the other foot. Competing contracts with Firestone or Goodyear and also Ford enabled them to do it. Mario raced in NASCAR and won the Daytona 500 because of Ford and Firestone and his Firestone connection helped in F1 with both Lotus and Ferrari. Goodyear was Gurney's primary backer for All American Racers and Dan and Foyt raced and won at Le Mans because of Ford and the tire companies.

"Back in the sixties and seventies guys like Mario and Foyt would go run whereever they felt like every weekend," Tracy remarked. "They could be in an F1 race one weekend and an endurance race the next weekend and then a NASCAR or Indy car race. Well, it doesn't work like that anymore because of the contracts everyone signs today."

Tracy laughed at talk of trying to bring in some drivers from the World of Outlaws or elsewhere.

"Now they're talking about trying to get a couple of World of Outlaws drivers," he said disgustedly. "But who gives a damn? There's maybe 5,000 people who watch World of Outlaws. It's a great, little show, but that's what it is--a little show. I don't think you'll get TV ratings by bringing in Brian Clausen, Sammy Swindell and Travis Pastrana. They might bring a crowd at a local track but they're not going to bring a national audience."

As we all know PT is famous for his unvarnished straight talk. He's also a great driver and showman and we can only hope he's in the field this year. Likewise with Kanaan and Wheldon, IRL veterans now who surely deserve a place in IndyCar. But as everyone says, it's a tough market.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2011 ~ All Rights Reserved

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