13 September 2011
$5m Vegas prize for Wheldon's eyes only
Travis Pastrana was also ruled out after he broke his ankle at the X-Games and had to pull out of not just Vegas but his first runs in the NASCAR Nationwide Series as well.
"I want to thank all three of them because they all had a lot of interest in this, and we felt that it was a lot of fun just getting to visit with them about this and try to make it happen," said Bernard, before going on to explain that IndyCar didn't want to disappoint fans after having raised expectations with the original challenge.
"We wanted to not let our fans down. We had a lot of buzz, a lot of interest about this $5 million challenge. So we felt we should try to go on and try a new challenge." As a result, IndyCar turned to Wheldon, who wouldn't have been eligible for the original $5m challenge because of his IndyCar series experience, which explains why he gets the additional handicap of a back row start. "We wanted to keep it within the sport," added Bernard.
"Dan Wheldon won the 2011 Indy 500, and he has the most stories written about him this year than any other driver on the IZOD IndyCar Series, and the fact that he's got a great personality and we think that he's going to be a great, huge asset our sport, and we can build him into a superstar," explained Bernard.
For Wheldon, it's a chance to not only get back to racing but also to get back together with the people that made his Indy 500 victory possible.
"For me, this is a great opportunity [and] to be back in the car under these circumstances, you know, is going to make for a great weekend," he said. "Bryan Herta Autosport, Sam Schmidt - we saw that collaboration work very, very well at the Indianapolis 500. We rocked the boat a little bit by beating Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi's teams, and there's no reason we can't do that again."
"It's great for not just Bryan Herta Autosport but Sam Schmidt Motorsports, which was a collaborative effort with us at Indianapolis this year," agreed team boss Bryan Herta, who is currently leading testing of the new 2012 IndyCar safety cell with Wheldon. "When Randy let me know that this opportunity was going to be available to us, you know, first thing we did was get with Sam and work out a deal where we'll work together again to run Dan in the car. We're going to see a collaboration not just of people but of sponsors."
Michael Andretti, whose Andretti Autosport team recently announced that they were keeping the sponsorship backing of GoDaddy into 2012 despite the exit of Danica Patrick from the team, was happy to see the web services company involved in the promotion.
"I think it's great that they're getting involved with IndyCar as well," said Andretti. "We're excited about it. We're going to be wishing Dan some luck, but, unfortunately, we do have four cars in there and we're going to be trying to keep you from getting that $5 million. Sorry about that!"
As part of their sponsorship plans, GoDaddy have said that they will be sponsoring an extra car with Andretti Autosport in 2012 "with driver to be announced" - and there is considerable speculation that Dan Wheldon might be in the frame for that seat, with GoDaddy looking for their next big breakout star to follow on from Danica.
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