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Social media a boon to F1, NASCAR — but IndyCar lags

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NASCAR and Formula One have embraced social media. But IndyCar is struggling to keep up with its motorsports counterparts.

In a Wednesday story on IBJ.com, Indianapolis Business Journal sports reporter Anthony Schoettle gives a social media breakdown that shows IndyCar is trailing in the Twitter world.

“In terms of Twitter followers, NASCAR is king, with more than 1.1 million as of Tuesday morning. Formula One’s official Twitter account has a tick under 538,000. The IndyCar Series has just short of 92,000. Formula One has built its large following with just over 5,000 tweets, compared with the IndyCar Series’ 21,700. NASCAR has more than 37,000.”

That lack of social media prowess may also play a role in IndyCar being somewhat stagnant when it comes to attracting new fans — and more importantly, new sponsors and their fat wallets, Schoettle writes.

“IndyCar Series executives have their hands full trying to bolster the all-important live attendance and television viewership numbers that drive sponsors to be a part of their series.

“But there’s another set of numbers to be concerned about, and it clearly has the attention of sponsors.

“Twice in the last month, I’ve gotten newsletters from prominent firms representing sports sponsors listing the social media following of the major auto racing series. The numbers don’t lie. And for IndyCar, the numbers aren’t particularly good.”

Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan has 606,000 Twitter followers, according to IBJ, many of them new followers after Kanaan won the world’s most famous race last month. But the numbers drop off dramatically afterward: Part-time IndyCar (and NASCAR part-timer) A.J. Allmendinger has over 109,000 followers (most likely from his full-time NASCAR days). Dario Franchitti is close to 100,000 followers and Helio Castroneves is just under 87,500.

As Schoettle noted, “The other top full-time IndyCar drivers have well below 75,000, and most are under 50,000.”

By comparison, two former IndyCar drivers lead the way: Danica Patrick (nearly 919,000 followers) and even Juan Pablo Montoya, who has struggled since transitioning from Formula One to NASCAR in 2007, has 745,000 followers.

And there lies an interesting irony. Even though both Patrick and Montoya have done little in their NASCAR careers to date, they still far outrank fellow series racers like five-time champion Jimmie Johnson (436,000 followers), four-time champ Jeff Gordon (nearly 419,000) and defending Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski (417,000).

Keselowski picked up more than 100,000 new followers in the span of just over one hour when the 2012 Daytona 500 was red-flagged after Montoya ran into the back of a track jet dryer, igniting a monstrous plume of flame that damaged the racing surface at Daytona International Speedway, requiring emergency repairs before the race could restart. During the down time, Keselowski tweeted away behind the wheel of his parked race car, and with some well-placed prodding by Fox Sports TV, fans signed up to follow Keselowski in record numbers.

But while Formula One the sanctioning body trails NASCAR in Twitter followers, that can’t be said about F1’s drivers. They blow the roof off: Fernando Alonso (1.7 million), Lewis Hamilton (1.6 millon) and Jenson Button (1.5 million).

Haas reveals VF-17 ahead of sophomore Formula 1 season

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The Haas Formula 1 team has officially revealed its new car, the VF-17, ahead of its sophomore season on the grid.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, enjoying an impressive first campaign during which it exceeded all expectations.

The VF-16 carried Romain Grosjean to 29 points, including a fifth-place finish in Bahrain and an impressive charge to sixth on debut in Australia.

Its successor, the VF-17, hit the track for the first time on Saturday in Barcelona, with images being leaked on Twitter ahead of its official unveil on Sunday.

The new car retains a similar livery to the VF-16, with the Haas Automation company colors of grey, red and black all featuring, but the chassis itself sports an aggressive new look following an overhaul of the technical regulations.

“I think the pedal box is the same, but all the rest is very different from last year’s car,” Haas team principal Guenther Steiner said.

“You always try to make a faster car, which is normally a lighter car. Now we can put on more ballast and get better weight distribution. The aero is completely new, as are the tires, so we needed to have some built-in adjustability.

“Aesthetically, the car has a more aggressive look. It’s lighter and more aerodynamically efficient. Everything we learned from our first car has been applied to our new car.”

Grosjean will be joined at Haas this year by Kevin Magnussen, who has previously raced for McLaren and Renault and has signed a multi-year deal with the American team.

McLaren MCL32 F1 car gets first track test in Barcelona

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McLaren Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne both got their first taste of the new MCL32 car in Barcelona on Sunday ahead of pre-season testing.

McLaren unveiled the MCL32 on Friday, with the biggest talking point being its striking new orange livery that harks back to the team’s racing roots.

Prior to the start of collective testing on Monday at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, McLaren took advantage of its filming day allowance to turn in some laps on Sunday.

Alonso got the first run in the Honda-powered MCL32 before handing over to Vandoorne in the afternoon.

Red Bull unveils RB13 Formula 1 car ahead of testing

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Red Bull has become the latest team to unveil its new car for the 2017 Formula 1 season, revealing the Renault-powered RB13 on Sunday morning.

Red Bull enters 2017 after returning to the top step of the podium last year, taking two race wins en route to second place in the constructors’ championship.

Daniel Ricciardo finished third in the drivers’ standings behind the dominant Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, while teammate Max Verstappen became F1’s youngest ever winner at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Both drivers return for 2017 and will pilot the RB13, which sports an aggressive new look following an overhaul of the technical regulations in F1.

Red Bull revealed the new car with a snazzy launch video playing on the number 13, saying that its new RB13 could be “unlucky for some”.

The RB13 – aptly launched at 13:13 local time in Barcelona – is much wider than its predecessor and also sports the ‘shark fin’ engine cover that also appears on a number of the other cars that will race this year. The car also retains the sleek matte look that the team debuted in 2016.

The RB13 will hit the track for the first time on Monday with the start of pre-season testing in Barcelona, Spain.

More to follow.

Otmar Szafnauer confident new F1 rules will create ‘uncertainty’

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Sergio Perez (L) of Mexico and Sahara Force India and Esteban Ocon of France and Sahara Force India unveil the VJM10 car during the Sahara Force India Formula One team launch at Silverstone on February 22, 2017 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Force India chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer is confident that Formula 1’s new technical regulations will create uncertainty and allow teams to move up the pecking order.

Force India enjoyed its best season in F1 last year, finishing the year fourth in the constructors’ championship behind only Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.

For 2017, new technical regulations are set to make the cars significantly quicker over a single lap, prompting teams to place great focus on preparing for the upcoming campaign.

Speaking following the launch of Force India’s new car, the VJM10, Szafnauer was positive about the chances that the new rules would bring for both the tam and the sport.

“Whenever you mix up the rules it’s bound to introduce some uncertainty. There’s the opportunity for teams to achieve or underachieve and if that happens it will disrupt the status quo,” Szafnauer said.

“Will the new rules create better racing? Only time will tell. The cars will be significantly faster – not down the straights, but through the corners – but the braking zones will be reduced and that won’t necessarily have a positive impact on overtaking opportunities.

“I certainly like the aesthetics of the new cars because they remind me of the racing cars of old. I’m sure they will look spectacular on the track too.”

When asked about Force India’s objectives for the year ahead, Szafnauer remained coy, but said that the early signs within the team were positive.

“As a team we have some internal objectives, but it’s very hard for me to verbalize those ambitions because it’s impossible to know what our competitors could achieve given such a huge change of regulations,” Szafnauer said.

“What I can say is that we have met our internal targets for the car – for example in terms of the aero numbers we set as the goal for the launch car. How those targets compare to our competitors is impossible to say until we hit the track.”

Force India will enjoy its first public run with the VJM10 car in Barcelona on Monday at the start of collective pre-season testing.