(Originally posted by Bash to Planet-IRL.com.)
It’s hardly a surprise that Will Power won his eighth pole of the season at Sonoma on Saturday, but he came very close to missing the Firestone Fast 6. He advanced on a last-minute flyer — he’d dropped to seventh in round two and was rolling through the pits with the end of the session nearing when he was told to go back out and tear off one last attempt. He said in the post-qualifying press conference that it was one of those defining laps — his tires were not up to temperature, and he did what he could with it.
Power’s dominance with poles and wins has sparked a debate among the Twitterati about whether this is good for the sport or, at the very least, even interesting. Many are raising the point that it’s the same old driver winning again and again — and what’s more, he’s a Team Penske driver, and they seem to win everything. Others (and I fall into this camp) are still dazzled by the thought that this guy was a relief driver who showed strong and even won a race with a makeshift crew last year while running a very limited schedule. To top that, he has since recovered and returned from a very serious injury sustained here at Infineon last season.
Power drives like he fully realizes the opportunity he’s been given and has zero intention of letting it slip away. Smart, gutsy and confident are the adjectives that define his attitude. He’s like the shark quietly slipping through the waters, waiting for the moment to strike. It’s not necessary to say much at all when you have that kind of talent for delivering the fatal bite. It’ll be interesting to see if he runs away with the race.
In addition to qualifying yesterday, the track action included an informal media availability with IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard. The following is a paraphrasing of the topics covered in that conversation.
- NASCAR’S scheduling moves in the last week caused some wrinkles in planning the 2011 IICS schedule, but those wrinkles were easy to iron out.
- He’s aiming to keep the schedule as close to 50% ovals/50% non-ovals as possible and doesn’t think there will be any big surprises.
- The car count has been higher, and there are more promoters interested in IZOD IndyCar Series events.
- SMI has the best promoters out there. If an SMI track is interested, he’ll go after it intently. He said he had dinner with Infineon Raceway president Steve Page and that they are on the same page about where they want to take the race here at Sonoma. Sponsors have shown big interest in this race — lots of CEOs attend. He wants to bring CEOs here and showcase the racing in the beauty of California.
- There may be opportunities for the IICS to promote events in the future. He would be interested in this if he thinks the Series could do a better job in certain markets than the promoters can (read: Milwaukee). But he wants to be sure that he walks before he runs because he doesn’t have experience promoting races. Series-promoted events could happen as early as next year.
- On the Las Vegas front, there’s a lot of work to do to get a race there. Vegas is a great fit; the sexy, showy, lifestyle is what IndyCar racing is all about. But he needs great partners to pull it off. He has a strong relationship with the city and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. He wants to make sure they are on board to strongly support the event. If not, there are other promoters who are interested in an event. There’s some serious work to do in a very short time to get Vegas on the schedule.
- RB spent two and a half hours with Bruton Smith in Texas on Tuesday and got a crash course on promotion, and he had a great time with that.
- The relationship with ISC hasn’t necessarily soured — it’s just that their objectives and the objectives of the IZOD IndyCar Series are not the same. There’s no reason to push an event in that kind of environment just for the sake of having an event.
- International races are of interest, but he doesn’t want the Series to take too many events out of the US. China is of interest, but he’s still just creating relationships there and is nowhere close to an event yet.
- He’s looking for promoters who have really strong plans to show how they can hold and build successful events.
- Network TV ratings are flat, but Versus is up about 25%. He will have meetings with the heads at Versus next week to discuss how to keep this growth going.
- There are still two years of exclusive network broadcasts left in the ABC contract, so a move to another network is still a ways off. CBS and The Master’s golf is the longest-running sport-broadcaster association on US television with ABC and the Indianapolis 500 following in second. ABC has been a great partner, but there is interest from other networks. He is never happy about promotion unless the ratings are going up — he wants to see growth.
- His first year as CEO has been fascinating, remarkable, overwhelming. He has been home to Los Angeles three times since the beginning of the year, and one of those visits was the Long Beach race! He joked that he wished he’d been hired six months before or six months after the ICONIC car selection had to be made — but in seriousness, he was glad to be here for it to learn so much more about the cars and spend so much more time with manufactures, fans, etc. He said it was like “getting kicked in the butt with a golden horseshoe.”
- He spoke on how to blend what manufacturers want with what fans want. Manufacturers want to sell cars. Fans want to see exciting racing, great entertainment, and great value. A lot of focus is on value these days. Everything is in competition with us. When the Series comes to someone’s town, he wants to be sure they’re spending their entertainment money with us instead of the latest movie or other sport of any kind.
- A strong ladder system and seeing Firestone Indy Lights drivers moving up is very important to him. He has to find a way to pay for moving the best young drivers up regardless of personal funding. The system needs strong partners who want to promote ladder-series drivers to the IZOD IndyCar Series. We also need to have the best drivers in the world — it can’t be a rich man’s sport. RB is pleased with the ladder system but feels it can be better. He was not happy that Star Mazda offered their champion a ride in Grand-Am — graduation needs to be to FIL.
- The 2011 marketing plan, due September 15th, will continue to focus on the image created by IZOD this season but will also start to reach out for the fans who were lost in the mid-90s. One of the targets in that effort will be to relate to Americana — the USAC, dirt track fans out there.
Watch for more news from Sonoma through my Twitter account, @SpeedFreakBash, and here at Planet-IRL.com.