IndyCar removes Barnhart from race control
The IndyCar Series officially removed Brian Barnhart as head of race control Wednesday after a controversial season in which drivers publicly questioned his decisions.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said Barnhart will remain president of operations and oversee everything from officials to safety development and event logistics. Bernard is actively searching for a new race director, who will serve as the senior official in race control and regulate all on-track activity.
In a second move, Bernard said Terry Angstadt resigned as president of IndyCar’s commercial division and will be replaced by Marc Koretzky, who joined the series in May as director of corporate business development.
Both Barnhart and Angstadt were holdovers from IndyCar founder Tony George’s regime. George was ousted as CEO by his family, and Bernard was hired in early 2010 to replace him.
Bernard and Barnhart both cited a need for two senior competition officials as IndyCar attempts to recover from the 15-car accident that killed two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon in the Oct. 16 season finale at Las Vegas. The series is moving to a new IndyCar next season and faces numerous challenges in its bid to remain relevant.
“As our sport continues to grow and we prepare for our first new car in almost a decade, we feel that splitting these roles will help fully service our teams and venues as we prepare for the demands of 2012 season,” Barnhart said.
The reality is Barnhart had been under fire most of the season after a handful of arbitrary decisions cost him the respect of the drivers. In two very public incidents, Will Power was caught on live television making an obscene gesture toward the race control tower at New Hampshire, and Helio Castroneves called Barnhart a “circus clown” in a Twitter rant.
Power was furious when Barnhart decided to resume racing at New Hampshire despite driver protests it was raining too hard. The slick conditions caused a crash on the restart that collected Power, who infamously flashed his two middle fingers toward Barnhart.
Barnhart admitted his error after the race — “You’re just kind of sick to your stomach and realize it was an error on race control’s standpoint and, clearly, my fault,” he said — but he was lampooned for the call and never restored his credibility.
About six weeks later, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves took to Twitter to vent about Barnhart penalizing him for passing under yellow in Japan. He complained Barnhart was inconsistent in penalizing some drivers and not others, changed the rule book when it was convenient and blamed Barnhart for “bringing down an entire series.”
Both drivers were fined $30,000 by Bernard for their disrespect, but both stood by their convictions.
And, Bernard stood by Barnhart.
“I am going to stay very supportive of Brian,” Bernard said in October. “He is very passionate, he tries very hard. I would never ask any driver what they think of him. They are paid to race cars, and that’s what they should do. Brian Barnhart is paid to officiate, and that’s what he should do.
“By speaking poorly against him, it’s only going to attract a significant fine because the series will not tolerate it.”
But Bernard has mounting challenges ahead of him — many unrelated Wheldon’s death — and Barnhart is out.
The challenge now will be finding a suitable replacement. Among the candidates are current Grand-Am champion Scott Pruett and ALMS race director Beaux Barfield. The new director likely will have to immediately work on tightening the rule book, which many drivers complained was too loose and put Barnhart in the position to make questionable calls.
Among other pressing issues is Bernard’s failure to formally announce the 2012 schedule, which is being held up as the investigation into Wheldon’s death determines if IndyCar can continue to race on high-banked ovals.
The series is unlikely to return to Las Vegas despite two years remaining on a contract to rent the facility from owner Bruton Smith for the season finale, and IndyCar has yet to sign an official sanctioning agreement with Texas Motor Speedway, a high-banked oval that is among the most popular venues on the schedule.
Should neither event return, Bernard will be left with a 14-race schedule and be forced to end a condensed season in early September at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. — a previously announced oval that is making its return to the IndyCar Series in 2012.
Bernard also is facing concerns about the new IndyCar, which Wheldon helped develop. Although drivers have found it acceptable in recent road course tests, they’ve complained it’s too slow and difficult to handle on ovals.
Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe tested the car Tuesday and Wednesday at California. Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan both tested it in early November at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and found the speeds to be almost 15 mph slower than what was expected.