Davison, Luhr debuts add some flavor to tail end of IndyCar season

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As the championship battle intensifies as the IZOD IndyCar Series season progresses, it sometimes becomes easy to look away from the back of the field. Still, there’s something cool about seeing fresh faces get an opportunity toward the tail end of the season.

There were only two one-off entries the second half of 2012, and neither was originally planned. Giorgio Pantano deputized for Charlie Kimball at Mid-Ohio, and Bruno Junqueira for Josef Newgarden at Baltimore. Kimball and Newgarden had injuries that cost them one weekend apiece.

Now, at Mid-Ohio, James Davison will make his debut for Dale Coyne Racing while Lucas Luhr will do likewise for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing at Sonoma. Davison’s story is one of perseverance and persistence; Luhr is a sports car ace who should adapt fairly well to a car close in performance to his HPD prototype, and has the opportunity to race more than a handful of cars in the same class.

Said Davison of his opportunity, “It’s an incredible feeling to finally realize my dream of becoming an Indycar driver after 4 years of adversity on the sidelines. I’ve had to work overtime for this opportunity and can’t thank Dale Coyne and all my supporters enough for their continued faith in me.”

There may be two more. Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star has linked Luca Filippi, who was slated to run Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s second car in 2012 before budget failed to materialize, to potentially replace Alex Tagliani in the Barracuda Racing team run by Bryan Herta and Steve Newey.

Coyne, meanwhile, may have a second debutante if Stefan Wilson is able to match Davison in being able to turn a test into a race drive in one of the remaining races.

Either of Filippi or the younger Wilson would also be another welcome addition to the field. For now, we have at least two new first-timers who will be keen to make an impression.

My hope is their debuts go better than a trio who made their first starts in 2011. Ho-Pin Tung (Sonoma), Joao Paulo de Oliviera (Japan) and Dillon Battistini (Kentucky) all made their debuts in succession, and in each case, it’s been their only IndyCar start.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”