Sylvania 300

Racing sponsors now at a crossroads of performance, ratings and ethics

Leave a comment

The last several weeks have seen sponsor stories take over from on-track ones as the dominant players in the North American racing news.

NAPA, of course, has made the biggest announcement with its decision to leave Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the year, in the wake of the controversy at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season finale at Richmond. 5-Hour Energy, additionally, seems displeased with the action the organization has taken in a statement it has released.

Other sponsors are on the move, which is normal in racing, but noteworthy in their timing after Richmond. Valvoline leaves Roush Fenway Racing for Hendrick Motorsports; Jimmy John’s goes with driver Kevin Harvick from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing.

Castrol made the jaw-dropping decision earlier this year to leave John Force Racing at the end of 2014 in NHRA after 29 years.

And then there is the report this morning that GoDaddy is re-evaluating its role as a primary sponsor in IndyCar with Michael Andretti’s team, citing low television ratings as the impetus for a potential move out of full-time primary sponsorship there.

It all adds up to a fascinating question: Which part of racing do sponsors prefer most? Is it on-track performance, ethics, or ratings?

To borrow a term from NASCAR President Mike Helton, the “ripple effect” of the last few weeks has changed the corporate game in a way we haven’t seen for quite a while. Sponsors often come-and-go from racing but it’s become increasingly apparent the Richmond saga has made a bigger impact on all forms of motorsport than we might have realized in the immediate aftermath.

If it’s on-track performance you crave, ideally, IndyCar would be the best bang for the buck. It costs substantially less – think in the $4 to 8 million range – for a season-long sponsorship (by comparison to $15 to $20 million in NASCAR). A sponsor can advertise itself at the Indianapolis 500, the largest single-day sporting event in North America, and have the chance to win a variety of different circuits.

That said, the marketing and promotional aspect of the variety apparently does not justify the ROI as it stands now. Roger Penske, for instance, has had to put together a consortium of sponsors to field Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe’s cars since Philip Morris tobacco money exited at the end of 2010 (livery was withdrawn at the end of 2009). Elsewhere around the grid, teams have become increasingly reliant on drivers bringing sponsorship to secure a seat. There’s still plenty of talent on the grid, but the days of fully-funded rides without bringing a dollar are drawing to an end.

NASCAR, meanwhile, can offer better TV ratings on the whole, with the performance aspect secondary. It’s why Danica Patrick, for instance – long seen by this writer and others as a good-but-not-great driving talent who has made most of her career via marketing – can afford to run 25th to 30th place every week, but maintain the GoDaddy support for the awareness and buzz she creates off-track.

Now, though, NASCAR faces an ethics crisis the likes of which it has rarely seen. If NAPA’s departure is the tip of the iceberg in terms of corporate America withdrawing its dollars, it could create another “ripple effect” – to borrow Helton’s words again – where more sponsors depart and hundreds of families see jobs go away. That might be an extreme way of looking at it, but it is certainly possible if sponsors don’t see the value in the tens of millions of dollars invested and the PR too damaging to their brands.

A good take from the Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass, linked here, suggests NASCAR needs to implement a “grand plan” to soothe sponsors and their concerns. Pockrass notes there are elements where NASCAR is already involved in direct communication with sponsors – notably via Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps – but that needs to expand in the wake of the Richmond controversy.

As a fan, you want to see sponsors – regardless of series – do the job of activating and creating a connection that spurs you to root for said sponsor and buy more of their product. As a sponsor, you ideally want to be successful in all three aspects of performance, awareness and moral standards.

Depending on the fallout the rest of 2013 as it relates to sponsor movement, we’ll see which of the three takes precedence in the motorsports landscape.

Felix Rosenqvist confirms end of Indy Lights program

16C_3180-L
© Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

CASTLE DONINGTON, UK – Felix Rosenqvist has confirmed that his Indy Lights program has ended following his move into Formula E with Mahindra Racing.

Rosenqvist moved into Indy Lights for 2016 after winning the FIA European Formula 3 title last year, joining Belardi Racing.

The Swede won his second Indy Lights race at St. Petersburg but was forced to miss a handful of rounds due to commitments elsewhere in GT racing and DTM.

Rosenqvist won both races of the Toronto weekend, which proved to be his last in Indy Lights. A move up into a race-seat in DTM with Mercedes was announced earlier this month after Esteban Ocon claimed a Formula 1 driver with Manor, but it was his Formula E deal with Mahindra – confirmed on Monday – that prompted him to call time on his Indy Lights involvement.

“I think it was more when the Formula E got confirmed,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports.

“The clash I have next week with Nürburgring and Watkins Glen would be there anyway as I’m Mercedes’ reserve driver in DTM, so that didn’t really change anything.

“But the fact that the next Donington test is interfering with Laguna Seca made it for sure that I cannot compete unfortunately. That’s a shame but that’s how it is.

“The deal we had with Belardi for this year was they were aware I had some clashes and there might be more clashes. It’s fine from both sides and it was expected.

“It’s a shame we couldn’t do more than we did.”

Rosenqvist remains keen to return to America in the future, having enjoyed an IndyCar test with Chip Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio last month.

“I think IndyCar is for sure really high on my list of things I want to do,” Rosenqvist said.

“Obviously I tried the car this year, had a really good test for Ganassi there. It’s something I would like to continue, next year or not, doesn’t really matter for me.

“But I would really like to try that one more time.”

Rosenqvist believes he could have been in contention for the Indy Lights title had he not been forced to miss a number of races, but says failing to do so may make it difficult for others to judge his ability.

“I mean I didn’t do the whole championship. I think it’s hard to rate people if they don’t do the whole championship because maybe you have less pressure,” Rosenqvist said.

“For sure I won three races, so that was definitely good. I would like to be there and fight for the title. I’m sure I could have done it.

“I think it’s up to people to judge their impression from the time I was there. I definitely enjoyed it and I would like to go back to America at one point.”

Here are your Firestone 600 at Texas (take 2) times on NBCSN

16C_2151-1
Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

The Verizon IndyCar Series takes what would have been an off week and now has not only an extra trip, but a short week, to head to Texas Motor Speedway for the resumption of the rain-postponed Firestone 600 from June.

Following the rain-delayed Pocono Raceway race, the remaining 177 laps at Texas take place on Saturday night.

Here’s the details for NBCSN’s coverage this weekend:

INDYCAR FIRESTONE 600 – SATURDAY AT 9:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN

NBC Sports Group continues its exclusive cable coverage of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series this Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET with live coverage of the Firestone 600 from Texas Motor Speedway. This race was rescheduled after torrential rain halted the race on Sunday, June 12, after just 71 of a scheduled 248 laps were completed. Saturday night’s race will resume on Lap 72, with James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports), who held the lead at the time the race was halted, at the front of the pack.

Will Power (Penske) won the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono on Monday to move within 20 points of teammate Simon Pagenaud who continues to lead the championship standings. Power has finished in first or second place for the last six consecutive races, which includes four victories.

Coverage begins on NBCSN on Saturday night at 9 p.m. ET with pre-race coverage, followed by green flag action at 9:30 p.m. ET.

Kevin Lee (play-by-play) will call the action alongside analysts and drivers Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell. Reporters Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will report from the pits.

Date Coverage Time (ET) Network
Sat., Aug. 27 IndyCar Pre-Race Show 9 p.m. NBCSN
IndyCar Firestone 600 9:30 p.m. NBCSN
IndyCar Post-Race Show 10:30 p.m. NBCSN

Here are your Belgian Grand Prix times on NBCSN, NBC Sports App

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP drives during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 23, 2015 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

After the summer break, Formula One is back in action this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix. Live free practice two and the race occur on NBCSN while live qualifying will occur via live streaming on the NBC Sports app (link here); it will air Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Full details and times for the weekend are below:

FORMULA ONE BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – SUNDAY AT 7:30 A.M. ET ON NBCSN

NBC Sports Group continues its coverage of the 2016 Formula One Championship this Sunday with the Belgian Grand Prix, as Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton aims for his fifth consecutive win and seventh victory in eight races. Hamilton now leads the drivers’ standings (217 points) by 19 points over teammate and rival Nico Rosberg (198 points) as he races towards a fourth career F1 season championship. Hamilton won last year’s race at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, the second Belgian GP win of his career (2010).

Live coverage begins exclusively on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app on Friday morning at 4 a.m. ET with Practice 1, followed by NBCSN’s live coverage of Practice 2 at 8 a.m. ET. Streaming coverage on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app continues Saturday at 5 a.m. ET with Practice 3 and live qualifying at 8 a.m. ET. NBCSN will air delayed coverage of qualifying on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.

Live Belgian Grand Prix coverage begins Sunday morning at 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN with F1 Countdown, and is followed by F1 Extra at 10 a.m. ET.

Lead F1 announcer Leigh Diffey will call this weekend’s action, and will be joined by veteran analyst and former racecar driver David Hobbs, and analyst and former race mechanic for the Benetton F1 team Steve Matchett. F1 insider Will Buxton will serve as the team’s on-site reporter in Belgium.

Times are below:

Date Coverage Time (ET) Network
Fri., Aug. 26 F1 Belgian Grand Prix – Practice 1 4 a.m. Streaming
F1 Belgian Grand Prix – Practice 2 8 a.m. NBCSN
Sat., Aug. 27 F1 Belgian Grand Prix – Practice 3 5 a.m. Streaming
F1 Belgian Grand Prix – Qualifying 8 a.m. Streaming
F1 Belgian Grand Prix – Qualifying* 1 p.m. NBCSN
Sun., Aug. 28 GP2 Belgium 6 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Countdown 7 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Belgian Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Extra 10 a.m. NBCSN

Clauson’s “Chasing 200 Tour” now in a race to register 200 new donors

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 20:  Bryan Clauson driver of the #39 Sarah Fisher Hartman/ Curb Agajanian car waits to take to the track for the Indinapolis 500 qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 20, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wednesday will be the day that the late Bryan Clauson’s life will be celebrated at Kokomo Speedway in Kokomo, Ind., the Noblesville, Ind. driver’s adopted home track.

Late Tuesday night, the Clauson family announced that Bryan’s pursuit of competing in 200 races this year – “The Chasing 200 Tour: Circular Insanity,” will continue on.

Clauson, who was revealed as a registered organ and tissue donor after his passing (an important element of what made him such a special person), helped to save five lives and heal dozens more.

But now, that race will continue, with the goal of registering 200 organ and tissue donors in Bryan’s memory, announced tonight.

“This has been such a bittersweet moment for our family,” said Tim Clauson, father of Bryan Clauson.

“We miss our son terribly. However, what has kept us going is the outpouring of support from the community and Bryan’s decision to be an organ donor. We have always been proud of him for the generous person he was. Being a donor saves lives and gives us hope to see Bryan continue to live on in the lives he has helped.”

Here’s the full release, via the Clauson website.

Countless BC Forever tributes took place this past weekend at both Bristol Motor Speedway in NASCAR and Pocono Raceway in IndyCar. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., one of Clauson’s closest friends, finished second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday. His emotional interview is below.