Don’t rule out IndyCar at Road America, but don’t believe it yet, either

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Open-wheel fans have, since the unification of IndyCar and Champ Car in 2008, clamored for Elkhart Lake, Wis.’s Road America to return to the schedule. Consider a Friday report from The Business Journal serving Greater Milwaukee the latest in the “will it or won’t it” actually happen category.

Senior reporter Rich Kirchen spoke to IndyCar’s vp of business affairs, Matt Breeden, in advance of next weekend’s Milwaukee IndyFest at The Milwaukee Mile. Breeden didn’t dismiss the possibility that Road America could happen for IndyCar in 2014, if the finances work out.

“They (Road America) have been complementary to Milwaukee in the past,” Breeden told Kirchen, noting that races in Milwaukee and Elkhart Lake would not be mutually exclusive. “I wouldn’t rule it out in the future.”

The sticking points in recent attempts have been both the sanctioning fee amount, and finding a suitable date given the close proximity of the two events (60 miles).

Last year, Road America, the 4-mile road course, was tossed around as a potential last-minute, 16th event replacement for the canceled IndyCar race in China, but was not added.

Road America has always said it needed to make financial sense for the track, and in an interview I conducted with track president George Bruggenthies last year, he said the sticking point was that what IndyCar was asking was too high.  A year later, the principals Bruggenthies mentioned are no longer in a leadership position for IndyCar (Randy Bernard has since been ousted as series CEO), which leaves open the opportunity to negotiate.

Road America’s schedule highlights for 2013 include the NASCAR Nationwide Series (pictured) in two weeks, on June 22. Later, on August 10-11, the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series are on the same weekend but race separate races. The ALMS will be amalgamated into GRAND-AM next year, and conceivably, could leave room for another series to run on that weekend.

The last open-wheel race at Road America, Champ Car in 2007, ran on that same August weekend as ALMS.

Everything about an open-wheel reunion with Road America makes sense in theory, but only as soon as the dollars do for all parties, can the dream turn into reality.

Michelin appoints new North American motorsports director

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Michelin North America has named Tony Ménard as director of motorsports, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Ménard is succeeding Chris Baker, who has held the role for the past eight years. Baker is scheduled to retire in March of 2020, ending a lengthy career that began with Michelin in 1982.

“Chris has played a vital role in the growth and success of our motorsports program, both for BFGoodrich and Michelin in North America,” said Matthieu Bonardel, global director for Michelin Group’s motorsports business entity. “His passion and understanding for motorsport fueled growth in the organization and established credibility in the market. Chris’s leadership propelled the Group, which experienced tremendous success with race wins, and advanced the way the brands leveraged our motorsports participation to benefit the overall business.”

A native of Le Mans, France, Ménard has served in several positions during his 30-year career with Michelin, most recently serving global business leader for Michelin brand in the passenger-vehicle category. Ménard has worked closely with the North American motorsports team since early July in preparation for the transition.

Baker oversaw the development of the motorsports function for Michelin and BFGoodrich Tires brands as a single business unit in North America. He also directed the expansion of Michelin’s involvement in IMSA sports-car racing as the “Official Tire of IMSA” and BFGoodrich Tires partnership with SCORE International Racing as the “Official Tire of SCORE.”

During Baker’s tenure, BFGoodrich achieved an unprecedented 650 off-road class wins, including five overall victories in the Baja 1000. The brand also demonstrated performance in the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing, Ultra4 King of Hammers, and provided strong support of grass roots racing across North America with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), National Auto Sport Association (NASA), and Super Production Challenge in Canada.

“I am incredibly grateful to Michelin for the opportunities and support throughout my career, and to all the folks that I have worked with and continue to work with,” Baker said. “I want to thank all the teams, partners, officials and fans who have made our relationships so successful and are essential to the brands’ successes. I look forward to witnessing the continued success of our motorsports programs under Tony’s leadership, as well as the contributions of the Michelin Motorsport North America staff and volunteers, who are completely dedicated and invested in representing our brands in competition.”