As attention turns to the double title at Texas Motor Speedway, can IndyCar gain more momentum nationwide?
FORT WORTH – An Indy car is 1,570 pounds of open-wheel jewelry, designed to be run over 200 mph.
The NTT IndyCar Series Drivers are an international cast of intrepid elite athletes with resumes ranging from Indy Lights to Formula 1 to NASCAR.
Anchored by the 105th Indianapolis 500 – “The Greatest Show in Racing” – the 2021 program is a mix of high-speed ovals, natural terrain courses and cut-throat street circuits.
Series coverage on NBC is bordering on saturation, with nine of 17 races airing on the network, as well as cable broadcasts and live streaming platforms.
“I think the thing about IndyCar is it’s just compelling,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp., ahead of the 2021 season opener at Barber Motorsports Park on April 18. so that fans are excited about what they see in our sport. “
That said – calling all eyeballs.
NBC’s live coverage of last Sunday’s Honda Alabama Grand Prix was overtaken by the Toyota Owners 400 of the NASCAR Cup Series at Richmond Raceway on Fox. The IndyCar race, won by Spaniard Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing, recorded a Nielsen average score of 0.59 and 914,000 viewers. The Cup race, won by Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports, averaged 2.0 and 3.3 million viewers.
The IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix street race in St. Petersburg, Fla. Will be broadcast live on NBC on Sunday. The series then heads to Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth for a double-title weekend on NBC Sports Network. The Genesys 300-miler on Saturday and the XPEL 375-miler on May 2 are the only oval track rides in the series leading to the practice of the Indy 500 on May 30.
And so the question that has puzzled management and competitors since Tony George’s Indy Racing League launched for the 1996-97 season continues: what will it take to do and integrate IndyCar?
“Well if I had that formula I would probably bottle it and sell it,” said motorsport legend Mario Andretti, 81, who retired from the cockpit in 1994. “I think every single one series tries its best to polish it up and do it all, give it credit because it seems like the fans today are more and more demanding because they are more and more sophisticated I guess.
“But at the end of the day, when it comes to talking about IndyCar and what they have to offer, I think the product is there, without a doubt. It’s just to get people really used to getting a sequel.
Enter ‘Defy Everything’ – the 2021 IndyCar brand campaign launched on April 7 to highlight the ‘bold, unapologetic and flawless mindset’ of its drivers. Created in partnership with Chicago-based Schafer Condon Carter agency, “Defy Everything” aims to appeal to racing fans and casual sports enthusiasts.
Among the featured drivers is six-time defending Chip Ganassi Racing Series Champion Scott Dixon.
Fans can experience the digital campaign throughout the season on the series and driver / team social media channels through challenge stories, highlight packages, video content features and graphics.
“I think what they’re playing is you want to be a social media disruptor,” said TMS president and CEO Eddie Gossage, brand creator of his track “No Limits, Texas”. . “You want to break the balance with the things you say or the things you do. And a disruptor in the world of young adults – in a world of social media – is a very big positive. This is how I see it. I think it’s a great campaign. I think it’s cool.
IndyCar has hit some notable marketing homeruns. Brazilian Helio Castroneves, three-time Indy 500 champion, raised his profile by winning the fifth season of Dancing with the stars in November 2007.
Danica Patrick, then 23, launched ‘Danicamania’ in May 2005 as the first female rider to lead the Indy 500 en route to fourth place and the Rookie of the Year honors.
Canadian James Hinchcliffe was among the first pilots in the series to tap into social media as the self-proclaimed mayor of the fictional internet town of “Hinchtown”. Those clicks led to a series of TV commercials linking Hinchcliffe’s Honda race car to showroom models. And yes, “Hinch” also finished second in season 23 of Dancing with the stars.
In contrast, Dixon, a 40-year-old New Zealander, whose numbers mark him as the greatest driver of this generation. Dixon started the season with 50 wins, two behind Andretti for second all-time spot on a list topped by the 67s of Houston native AJ Foyt Jr.. The six titles in Dixon’s series are one short of Foyt’s record set between 1960 and 1979.
But is “Dixie” common?
“Unfortunately, probably not,” Gossage said. “It’s particularly disappointing when you consider Scott Dixon’s success. But come on, Mario Andretti is still a household name, and he won Indy in 1969. Scott, he’s not a very strong personality. He’s a great guy with a great sense of humor and a real man. I mean, he’s a badass. But Scott is a bit bland publicly.
The 2021 rookie class, led by six-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, is being promoted as the one who could move the public’s needle. Johnson drives a limited, not an oval schedule for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Other suggested remedies include adding a third engine maker to complement current partners Honda and Chevrolet and returning more oval tracks to the schedule.
Sadly, IndyCar’s engine talks with Ferrari – F1’s most glamorous nameplate – ended unsuccessfully in February.
“There is a technical side, of course,” said Andretti. “And yes, manufacturers are a great force in our sport at all levels. So, the more the merrier because the manufacturers, they advertise, they invest in all the series in which they are found. It’s a good thing to have them on board. “
The modest Dixon won his record-breaking fourth TMS victory last June.
“I really went to great lengths to get more ovals,” said Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 champion. “You have to look at what IndyCar was founded on and what popular races are. We only have four [oval] races at three venues so I know it’s something that’s high on their radar. I also think the addition of this street course in Nashville this year will be huge.
“But I certainly don’t have the holy grail of answers.”
John Sturbin is a senior writer at RacinToday.com, based in Fort Worth. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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