Racin ‘Today »IndyCar hopes to crash through glass ceiling


The IndyCar Series is at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for a dual program. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – An Indy car is 1,655 pounds of open-wheel jewelry, designed to go 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 105e Indianapolis 500 _ “The Greatest Show in Racing” _ The 2021 program is a mix of high speed ovals, natural terrain courses and cutthroat road circuits.

Series coverage on NBC Sports 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 convincing,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Penske Entertainment Corporation, ahead of the 2021 season opener at Barber Motorsports Park on April 18. “When we get on the track, there is every reason the fans are excited about what they see in our sport.

That said _ calling all eyeballs.

NBC’s live coverage of the Honda Alabama Grand Prix was overtaken by the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on FOX. The INDYCAR race, won by Spaniard Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing, posted an average Nielsen rating of 0.59 and 914,000 viewers. The Cup race, won by Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports, recorded an average score of 2.0 and 3.3 million viewers.

Last Sunday, the INDYCAR Firestone Grand Prix in St. Petersburg, Fla. Street racing, also on NBC, posted higher numbers after starting earlier than the popular Talladega Superspeedway Cup. Dominant victory for Colton Herta in the streets of St. Pete on average 0.77 Nielsen and 1.2 million viewers. That’s an increase from the 676,000 viewers of last year’s St. Pete’s race, which moved to October and served as the season finale.

NBC reported that its total audience reach for this year’s race, including OTA and digital viewers, was 1.225 million, making it NBC’s most-watched afternoon INDYCAR event. Sports. It was also the second most-watched race overall, following the season opening night race on June 6, 2020 at Texas Motor Speedway here, which drew 1.256 million.

The series is back on TMS for a unique doubles weekend on NBC Sports Network. the Genesys 300 miles on Saturday and XPEL 375 miles on Sunday 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 the competition since Tony George’s Indy Racing League launched for the 1996-97 season continues: What will it take to break INDYCAR’s glass ceiling to make the national open wheel mainstream?

“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 the bottom line is 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 INDYCAR 2021 brand campaign launched on April 7 to highlight “the bold, unapologetic and all-around bad-ass’ mentality of its drivers. Created in partnership with Chicago-based Schafer Condon Carter (SCC), “Defy Everything” aims to appeal to racing fans and casual sports enthusiasts. The chief among the featured drivers is Scott Dixon, the six-time / reigning series champion who is in his 21st INDYCAR season and 20e back-to-back with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“This campaign reflects the risks our athletes take at incredible speeds to compete at such a high level, offering fans a glimpse of the provocative personality it takes to be an NTT IndyCar Series driver,” said SJ Luedtke, vice -President of Marketing of INDYCAR. “Showcasing their daring athleticism and skill will resonate with sports fans around the world, but we hope their provocative nature and unabashed personalities inspire anyone looking to overcome obstacles and turn the tables. “

Fans can experience this first digital campaign throughout the season on the series and driver / team social media channels through challenge stories, driver highlight packages, video content features and graphics. Campaign extensions include personalized video content with driver commentary.

“I think what they’re playing in is you want to be a social media disruptor,” said Eddie Gossage, president and CEO of TMS, 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 home runs. 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 Dance 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 seen as a class that could shake the viewer’s needle. Johnson drives a limited, not an oval schedule for Chip Ganassi Racing. He is joined by Romain Grosjean, 10-year Formula 1 veteran, formerly of the American-owned Haas F1 Team. Grosjean drives for Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing. And the Penske team added reigning three-time Australian Supercar Series champion Scott McLaughlin.

“Funny. I want to say that over the last five years we’ve probably used the line that“ this is the most talented group of drivers we’ve ever seen in the INDYCAR series. ”^” Said Hinchcliffe, who returned full time to Andretti Autosport this season. “Every year we say it starts to sound like a phrase we say just because we’re told, but it’s true because every year we keep adding more and more talent. I mean, the talent in this area right now is absolutely amazing and there are winners on every racing team here.

Other suggested remedies include adding a third engine maker to complement current partners Honda and Chevrolet and returning more oval tracks to the schedule.

In addition, Will Power of Team Penske, two-time TMS winner and 2018 Indy 500 champion, said some copy-chat marketing could be in order. “They have to sit down and watch what some of these other shows are doing with the Netflix documentaries and the Netflix TV shows,” said Power, the 2014 series champion. “I mean that exposes him to a very different audience. I can’t tell you how many non-racing people and friends are saying, “ Did you watch this Drive to survive? It’s incredible. It really got me into Formula One. ” I think they have to start looking in that direction.

Sadly, INDYCAR’s engine talks with Ferrari _ F1’s most glamorous nameplate _ ended unsuccessfully in February. “I think it has failed at the moment,” Gossage said. “A good groundwork has been done and I wouldn’t be surprised if they would see this again one day.”

Andretti noted that the manufacturers bring technical expertise to the series. “Yes, manufacturers are a great force in our sport at all levels,” said Andretti. “So the more the merrier because the manufacturers, they advertise, they invest in whatever series they’re in. It’s a good thing to have them on board.”

Gossage aligned TMS with George’s fledgling / all-oval IRL in the summer of 1996, at the height of his wicked “sanction wars” with established car racing teams. “America is an oval track country,” said Gossage. “We love the road courses. We appreciate them more today than 20 years ago, but it is still an oval track country. When the biggest race you have by far is an oval track race, the Indy 500, it’s hard to get the layman to agree on something that has nothing to do with the Indy 500. I think it would be good for IndyCar to have more oval tracks, and they want to have more oval tracks. “

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 races (ovals) at three venues so I know it’s something that is on their radar. I also think the addition of this street class to Nashville this year (August 8th) will be huge. But I certainly don’t have the holy grail of answers.

Ironically, neither Gossage, recognized by the industry as the “PT Barnum of Motorsports” for his promotional skills. “If I had that (mainstream) response, I would have most of Roger Penske’s money,” Gossage joked. “Not most, but part of it, I guess. I don’t know, to be honest. I would have liked to have had this answer.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday May 1, 2021

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