IndyCar says it will a conduct a thorough search for a permanent replacement… (Carlos Osorio / Associated…)
No timetable is set to replace Randy Bernard, whose departure as chief executive of the Izod IndyCar Series sparked a storm of protest from some media outlets and fans this week, interim IndyCar Chief Executive Jeff Belskus said Thursday.
Making his first public comments since Sunday, when IndyCar announced that Bernard had stepped down, Belskus acknowledged in an interview that "Randy was very popular" and that IndyCar "has a lot of passionate fans."
"We do plan to conduct a thorough search for a permanent replacement," said Belskus, who is also CEO of IndyCar's parent, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp.
Asked if he was interested in keeping the series' CEO job permanently, Belskus said it was "premature to comment on who or who may not be on our short list" of candidates.
Bernard ran IndyCar for three seasons and drew high marks for ushering in a new race car this year, improving the series' competition and trying other steps to boost the sport's sagging popularity.
But IndyCar continued to suffer from poor attendance and television ratings, and some team owners reportedly were not happy with Bernard's governance. Several media outlets and fans asserted that Bernard was fired.
"No, Randy was not fired," Belskus said. "He did not resign. It was a mutual separation." But Belskus would not elaborate on what led the two sides to part.
"It's counterproductive to talk about the specifics of the conversations," he said. "It was between the board and Randy."
Belskus did confirm an Associated Press report that former IndyCar Chief Tony George made "an expression of interest" last month to acquire IndyCar for $5 million, plus proof of $25 million in reserves to keep the series stabilized. The offer expired Oct. 15.
"It was a takeover attempt on Tony George's part" that was "unsolicited" and the "board did not consider it," Belskus said, adding that the proposal also was unclear about whom the new ownership group would include.
"We see a bright future with the IndyCar series and that's why we don't want to sell it," he said.
Belskus declined to place a value on IndyCar, but added that it is worth "a lot more than $5 million."
IndyCar's schedule, highlighted by the Indianapolis 500, also includes three races in California: at Long Beach, Fontana and Sonoma.
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