SAO PAULO – IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said his heart sank when he saw dark clouds hovering above the exciting layout the series set up on the streets of Sao Paulo. He knew that one of its marquee events was about to get disrupted by bad weather for the second year in a row.
Sure enough, the clouds quickly turned into severe thunderstorms and torrential rain forced the Sao Paulo 300 to be postponed.
It was another setback for a series desperate to put on good shows to boost its image and increase television ratings and attendance.
"It feels like a lot of bad luck, the worst luck," Bernard told The Associated Press. "The black cloud just seems like it just keeps getting bigger up there. But you know what, where there's a rainstorm, there's a rainbow. Let's hope for that rainbow tomorrow."
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Bernard is trying to remain optimistic and sees nothing but a bright future for IndyCar, although rain for the second year in a row in Brazil definitely hurt.
The track on the streets of South America's biggest city was built to allow for plenty of passing and action, going through a stadium-like Sambadrome and the series' longest straight at just short of a mile.
But the inaugural race last year was plagued by embarrassing track problems and was cut short by a downpour that made the circuit undrivable. The rain caused even more disruption this weekend, forcing the race to be postponed from Sunday to Monday, when it was run before empty stands and ended at the two-hour limit with only 55 of 75 laps completed.
"We had two beautiful days of sunshine and fantastic competition, and when the green flag flies (everything) just turns," Bernard said. "It's some bad luck, it was very depressing. I mean, to see the work that everyone put into this event, all the sponsors, and to see so much work get taken away so quickly is disappointing."
Bernard, who successfully promoted the Professional Bull Riders Inc., took over IndyCar last year with the goal of revamping the series and increasing its visibility. He has been introducing several changes, including switching its name, adding fancy driver introductions, double-file restarts and even a totally new car for next season.
To get more fans watching IndyCar, Bernard is even adding a wild stunt to the prerace festivities at the Indianapolis 500 later this month — sending an unnamed Hot Wheels driver down a huge ramp in an attempt to complete a world record jump for a four-wheel vehicle.
But the focus is on providing exciting racing, which is why it was such a disappointment to see the Sao Paulo 300 get disrupted by rain again. Despite all the problems in 2010, the track provided a lot of passes and plenty of action.
Bernard was hoping to see more of the same this year, but lengthy delays — the race was red flagged twice before being eventually postponed — upset many fans who spent nearly the entire day in the rain to see only three laps run under the green flag.
"What we saw at the beginning of the race was a lot of excitement. It was short but there was excitement," Bernard said.
The race on Monday, again under the rain, had its thrilling moments, but only few fans returned to watch it. It didn't help that all five Brazilian drivers got into trouble early and never contended.
"This really upsets me," he said. "It was another form of bad luck in my opinion how the best drivers in Brazil didn't get to showcase their abilities because of the hard luck."
The Brazilian fans were disappointed, and it's unlikely those watching the race on TV around the world probably were much happier.
"Unfortunately it does hurt us," Bernard said. "(Monday's) ratings will be of course not as good as they could have been if we were on our targeted time slot. But that's just the breaks of any sport. It's actually something that happens from time to time and we are going to make the best of it."
The series saw an increase in ratings at the season opener in St. Petersburg, but then the numbers dropped for the following two events, in Alabama and Long Beach.
"Two or three races you can't determine your ratings, I think at the end of the year we will look at our overall ratings and I'm still confident we will be up 20 or 30 percent," Bernard said. "We were up significantly in St. Petersburg, in fairness, we had rain last year, but even if you went over two years ago it was still a huge increase so I think that there is momentum out there. It's just going to take time to continue to build it to where it once was."
The Alabama race was on the same day of this year's Masters, where Tiger Woods was in contention and helped the tournament steal many viewers on Sunday afternoon. In Long Beach, the comparison came with last year's race, which had unusually high ratings because that day's NASCAR event was postponed because of rain.
"I don't think you quit, you keep going and you better your sport. We know we've got a great product right now," Bernard said. "There is always next week. Our next race will be in Indy and we will do good there. I mean, it's the 100th year running and the momentum is going to continue. One race isn't going to stop this momentum. We've got great momentum going into a new car next year and I think we will be able to capitalize on it."
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