Place your Bets on Championship Round
Dave Lewandowski, IndyCar.com
LAS VEGAS – On Oct. 16, what happens in Vegas certainly won’t stay in Vegas. The IZOD INDYCAR World Championships will have global reach.
With the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign as the backdrop, INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard announced that Las Vegas Motor Speedway will play host to the races that will crown the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Lights champions. ABC will broadcast the 200-lap IZOD IndyCar Series finale at 3:30 p.m. (ET) as part of its five-race deal that also includes the March 27 season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., plus Indianapolis, Milwaukee and New Hampshire.
That was Part 1 of the news conference attended by IZOD IndyCar Series drivers Marco Andretti, Ryan Briscoe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power, in addition to Las Vegas race winner Al Unser Jr., Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Association president Rossi Ralenkotter and Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. vice president of marketing Mike Kelly.
Bernard also surprised most in the audience by announcing INDYCAR will up the ante of the IZOD IndyCar Series race by welcoming challengers to a high-stakes shootout on the high-banked oval. It reinforces, Bernard said, the series' positioning of its drivers as the best of the best.
“We showcase our drivers as being the very best, fastest and most versatile in the world,” he said, “and we are putting our money where our mouth is. If any race car driver in the world outside of the IZOD IndyCar Series can win the Vegas race, we will give you $5 million. We will accept five entries for this challenge, with entrants being determined by mid-summer.”
Bernard wasn't finished. He also announced that fans purchasing a ticket to any INDYCAR race during the 2011 season are eligible to receive a complimentary ticket to the championship races. Full details for the ticket promotion will be announced March 1 on indycar.com and 866-INDYCAR. Tickets to the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships go on sale Feb. 25 through Ticketmaster.com.
“I said at the INDYCAR State of the Sport in mid-January that we must give our fans a great experience with three primary elements -- great entertainment, competition and value,” Bernard said. “There is not a city in the world that can provide entertainment like Las Vegas. Las Vegas Motor Speedway will provide some of the fastest and most exciting racing fans will see anywhere, and the ticket promotion is true value. This is a time when INDYCAR can tell our fans that we thank them for their support.”
Added Kelly: "In 2010, our first year as the title sponsor, the IZOD brand, together with the league worked aggressively to build awareness and excitement around the series, especially within the major markets, looking for ways to connect with new fans through a host of events and promotions that connected with pop culture. We can't think of a better place than Las Vegas -- one of the greatest entertainment cities in the world -- to take these initiatives to new levels and celebrate the 2011 World Championships."
Unser jokingly said the $5 million challenge might be enough to lentice him out of retirement.
"If I lose 10 pounds and call Roger (Penske), I'd be all in," said Unser, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner who is a driver coach with INDYCAR.
INDYCAR christened the $72 million Speedway Motorsports Inc.-owned superspeedway a few miles north of the strip of glitzy resorts and casinos in September 1996, with Richie Hearn taking the checkered flag. Eliseo Salazar, Arie Luyendyk, Sam Schmidt and Al Unser Jr. also won INDYCAR-sanctioned races through 2000. Sebastien Bourdais won Champ Car races in 2004 and '05.
The 1.5-mile racetrack was reconfigured in 2006, with variable banking (to 20 degrees) one of the more notable projects.
“We had the opportunity to conduct a test with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske at Vegas last October and our cars performed very well at this facility,” said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and operations for INDYCAR. “Its banking and width is similar to Chicagoland Speedway, which has produced some of the most exciting racing and closest finishes in the history of the series. With the help of Firestone and Honda, we know we can deliver a great at-track product for the fans with our season finale.”
Unser said the racing in 2000 was two- and three-wide, and he expects most of the same throughout the field this fall.
Dario Franchitti returns for the diverse 17-event (18 races including the Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway) schedule of road and street circuits and ovals, looking to secure his third consecutive IZOD IndyCar Series championship in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car. Of course, as in the past two seasons, the title battle went to the finale. Will Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, came up a few points shy last year. Briscoe and Scott Dixon dueled with Franchitti to the final laps in 2008.
In fact, the past five champions have been decided in the final race.
"Las Vegas Motor Speedway has produced thrilling open-wheel races in the past, and the return of the IZOD IndyCar Series for its season-ending event is sure to provide more thrills in October," said Chris Powell, president of LVMS. "We know there's a huge fan base of IndyCar fans in the western United States. Hosting the season finale, and the media attention it generates, gives our speedway and our city another opportunity to showcase so much that Las Vegas has to offer."
The balance of the schedule will be aired on VERSUS, the IZOD IndyCar Series’ exclusive cable network home.