State Of INDYCAR Address: What did we learn?

Tonight’s State of INDYCAR presentation at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis was mostly devoted to celebrating the accomplishments of 2011, but also featured multiple new announcements as the series prepares for the 2012 campaign.

But while we learned of much-needed alternative TV programming and the continuation of a long-standing partnership, we also learned something about series CEO Randy Bernard: He’s willing to dish it out against his critics just as they have dished it out on him.

Let’s run it all down:

- Firestone

In what should be welcome news for every fan of the sport, INDYCAR announced tonight that its tire contract with Firestone has been extended to the 2014 season. Even better, the series says that negotiations are already ongoing to extend the company’s sponsorship and supply deals beyond that as well.

“It means so much to us,” said Firestone’s Al Speyer tonight in Indy. “A lot of people at Firestone carry that legendary history all the way back to the early 1900s at the [Indianapolis Motor] Speedway and IndyCar, and really, the thing that means the most to us was how much the IndyCar community wanted us to remain here. We got a lot of feedback from the teams and all the constituents here. The management of INDYCAR worked very hard on this and the drivers very much were a strong piece of this.”

Speyer also took time to credit the fans that voiced their opinions on keeping Firestone in the fold.

“Finally, last but not least, I’d like to send out a big thank you to the fans, because the fans talked loudly as well,” he said. “They’re critical to all of us and INDYCAR has some great fans.”

- Television

The NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) made one of the bigger announcements of the day in revealing a new series called “IndyCar 36.” Based off of its current NHL 36, the series will follow a single team and driver throughout select race weekends in a behind-the-scenes look at the sport. As stated above, this helps address a major need to expand INDYCAR’s broadcast offerings beyond qualifying and race days.

But NBCSN will also carry plenty of races too: Barber, Long Beach, Brazil, Texas, Edmonton, China, Sonoma, Baltimore and the season finale in September at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Meanwhile, ESPN has added a sixth race to their usual five-race IndyCar offering. This year, the Mothership will carry the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, followed by the Indianapolis 500, the revived Detroit Grand Prix, and the Milwaukee, Toronto and Mid-Ohio rounds. All six ABC races will also carry ESPN3.com streaming of onboard car cameras.

Finally, the Firestone Indy Lights series will have all of their races televised in 2012, which is a great boost for INDYCAR’s developmental series. Last season, eight FIL events were aired live.

- Sponsorship

INDYCAR also announced a trio of new business partnerships tonight. The series is now in a partnership with Discover that will feature the debut of an INDYCAR Discover credit card next month. The card will allow holders to earn special IndyCar rewards; based on other credit cards of its kind, we can probably assume those will range from merchandise to race trips and driver meet-and-greets.

Fans can register now for the card at IndyCarDiscover.com.

In addition, national retailer Lids will become the online and trackside merchandising manager for INDYCAR, and Fuzzy’s Spirits — makers of the Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka that serves as main sponsor for Ed Carpenter — has become the series’ official spirit and vodka.

- Mobile/Internet

IndyCar COO Marc Koretzky revealed an upcoming, enhanced IndyCar Mobile app by Verizon that will feature telemetry with augmented reality from GravityJack. The app will be supported on iOS Apple, Android and tablet devices, but as you’ve probably already guessed, it will only be on Verizon hardware only. In addition, INDYCAR.com will receive an overhaul, with the first phase of the new site coming online in time for St. Petersburg and the second phase coming around the Indianapolis 500.

- Addressing The Critics

In closing the event, Bernard decided to address INDYCAR’s legion of critics head-on in a move that was somewhat surprising. Of course, this ending speech was meant to get those in attendance and those watching around the world online fired up about the upcoming season. And from what I noticed in the Twittersphere, people seemed to notice Bernard’s confidence in his words — even if some of them didn’t agree with those words.

He also took the chance to dismiss speculation of any potential exit, declaring that he would remain with INDYCAR “as long as the Hulman-George family and the board wants [him].”

“I plan on keeping the promise I made to the Hulman-George board when they gave me this incredible opportunity two years ago,” he said.