Takuma Sato in Brazil: Block, or not a block?

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So, how about those final few laps in Sao Paulo when Takuma Sato battled first Josef Newgarden, and then James Hinchcliffe for the win in the final IndyCar race before the Indianapolis 500?

Social media lit up in the immediate aftermath of Sato’s driving during the final few laps. There were a plethora of posts on Twitter that said some variation of, “This is blocking, and a penalty must be enforced!”

The Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates offered their thoughts. From Scott Dixon: “Quick look at twitter… Sounds like race control had to leave early to catch a flight… Can’t wait to hear the excuses!” Dario Franchitti added, “Maybe the 14 had a broken steering rack that caused him to weave across the whole width of the straight multiple times?”

Others said it was a form of gamesmanship where Sato used both the nature of the straight and the width of his car to his advantage. The backstraight in Sao Paulo is curved, and the natural racing line is to move from the outside, back across closer to the inside, and then back out again to arc into the final Turn 11 right-hand hairpin.

Race Control ruled no further action on any of Sato’s moves against Newgarden and later Hinchcliffe, but Hinchcliffe snookered the Long Beach winner anyway with a cross-over move to come out ahead onto the front straight and take his second win of the year.

From the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series Rulebook, blocking (Section 9.3.2) is defined as such:

“A Driver must not alter his/her racing line based on the actions of pursuing Drivers to inhibit or prevent passing. Blocking will result in a minimum of a black flag “drive through” penalty.”

The mantra IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield has worked to establish during his year and four races in the series is that you can defend, where you make a proactive move on a straight and hold that line, but not block, where you move in reaction to another car’s move.

Did Sato’s driving during the final stages violate that mantra, and should he have been penalized? Or, by Barfield and Race Control holding back and letting them race, was the finish of the race enhanced?

For what it’s worth, Sato has been issued one blocking penalty already this year, during qualifying at Barber Motorsports Park.

Optimism abounds with new INDYCAR media partnership

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Wednesday morning’s announcement that NBC Sports Group will become the exclusive home to the Verizon IndyCar Series via TV, digital, streaming, and direct-to-consumer rights was the conclusion of a long and thorough process to finalize a media partnership that can build on the recent growth of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

And CEO of Hulman & Company Mark Miles believes the final outcome is one everyone can be happy about.

“We’re delighted by every aspect of this announcement today and these arrangements,” Miles asserted in a media teleconference on Wednesday, also making note of a number of highlights about the new media package. “The increase in broadcast, the number of races on broadcast, is really important to the continued growth of the series. The continuity with one media partner who is committed to the sport and to INDYCAR, who can help promote from race to race to race to race throughout the season is important. Having our first product, if you will, our first offering to fans in the direct-to-consumer channel is important to us.”

Miles added, “It met our objectives of increasing the exposure of the sport, increasing the promotion of the sport, and getting us into the over-the-top (streaming) market. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

MORE: NBC Sports Group, INDYCAR partner on new TV and digital rights agreement starting in 2019

John Miller, president of programing for NBC Sports and NBCSN, echoed Miles’ enthusiasm and noted that INDYCAR viewership on NBCSN has grown substantially in recent years, and this new and enhanced partnership, which will feature the 103rd Indianapolis 500 broadcast on NBC in 2019, will build upon that.

“From the NBC perspective, we’ve seen the growth of IndyCar on our cable network NBCSN. We’ve had sustained growth each of the past several years. So the opportunity to have the entire series was very important to us. Of course, to be able to do the crown jewel, the Indy 500 on NBC, really puts the icing on the cake for us and makes our championship season portfolio even stronger,” Miller said.

James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, added that this will also help the individual drivers grow their brands and attract more sponsorship opportunities.

“As drivers, we’re out there risking our lives to put on a good show,” Hinchcliffe said. “The more people that get to see it, get entertained by it, the better it is for us. As athletes, we’re all individual brands in and of ourselves. Getting ourselves in front of more people, it raises our value to our current partners and potential partners. From every element, this is a huge win across the board.”

The sponsorship angle is a critical side-piece to the new media contract, especially in light of several new sponorship announcements for a number of IndyCar teams as well as IndyCar’s ongoing effort to find a new title sponsor for the series in 2019.

Miles further emphasized that new media partnership will do a lot to serve the business of the teams, drivers, and the series in regards to sponsorship.

“I think it’s important to the entirety of the IndyCar ecosystem,” Miles noted. “For the series itself, at some point we should talk about our sponsorship effort, how we think they’re going to be benefited with this relationship. James earlier talked about our drivers or athletes, and they are individual brands. They’ll get more exposure. That will be good for them.

“We earlier this morning spoke to our team owners. They’re enthusiastic about it as it gives them more to say in the marketplace, more value. Certainly that will be true for our promoters of the races as well.”

A few highlights of the partnership are below.

  • Eight races will be broadcast on NBC, including the Indianapolis 500. The remaining races will be broadcast on NBCSN.
  • Qualifying and practice for all events will also be available live, either through NBC, NBCSN,NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports App, or NBC Sports Gold an over-the-top streaming service offered by NBC.
  • NBC Sports Gold will also feature extra content to further supplement IndyCar coverage such as archived races and full event replays. Further information about that content will be revealed in the coming months.
  • Details about international coverage are pending.
  • NBC Sports Gold will also do a handful of exclusive live broadcasts for practice and qualifying sessions that are not televised.
  • NBC Sports Gold will do live broadcasts for all Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races. More details about coverage for the Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires series will come at a later date.