With IZOD leaving, there’s two likely candidates that make sense for IndyCar

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IZOD got what it could from the first four years of its six-year relationship with IndyCar before announcing its departure. It’s easy to forget now but there was a crescendo of activation from its initial dip into the series’ waters in 2008 through the end of the 2011 season.

While the last two years have seen a minimal IZOD presence, the presence of one partner increasing its visibility has been obvious and a second, long-time partner also makes quite decent sense. On the surface, it seems logical one of the two will take over for IZOD as title sponsor of the IndyCar Series.

VERIZON

Verizon would be a major coup for IndyCar title sponsor. It entered on a part-time basis with Roger Penske in 2009, with Will Power’s third car carrying Verizon signage at two races (Long Beach, Indianapolis). Verizon upped the ante to full-time sponsorship in 2010 with Power and hasn’t looked back since.

Beyond the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet, though, Verizon has entered into a partnership with IndyCar via the official Verizon INDYCAR app, and it has a team of marketing people at every race working to provide inside access for the fans.  Verizon has also been visible on the rear wheel guards of every single IndyCar this year, new for 2013.

From a “beyond IndyCar” standpoint, think for a second about how many Verizon stores and dealers there are nationwide. You have a company that could use IndyCar as its selling point versus NASCAR – sponsored by rival Sprint. Marketing aspects could include speed (230 mph-plus), the Indianapolis 500, and a variety of circuits and markets unmatched by any North American series. It also targets a much wider demographic outside the niche that is racing fans, given the level of exposure and the number of individuals nationwide who have Verizon products.

It’s exciting to write about the possibility, and I’m hoping it’s not just a dream at this point. If not Verizon, though, there’s one other company that makes a ton of sense:

FIRESTONE

IndyCar, its drivers and teams, love their Firestone tires. So much so, that there was a near mutiny toward the end of Randy Bernard’s era at the helm of the series at the mere suggestion of Continental tires coming into play as a replacement, both as a tire partner and potential title sponsor.

Looking at Firestone’s landscape this year, there have been many key changes. Longtime heads Al Speyer and Joe Barbieri have moved on. The company entered into sports car racing this year with the Bridgestone brand supplying the DeltaWing, but that will end at the end of the year with all prototypes in Tudor UnitedSports Car running on – ironically – Continentals next year. Additionally, Firestone moves on from Indy Lights at the end of the year, with Cooper supplying them next year.

From a branding and activation standpoint, Firestone could put all its muscle behind IndyCar and there would be no better way to do so than as title sponsor.

I will say this as a word of caution, though. Firestone would be a more conservative choice because it penetrates an older audience and the automotive market first, whereas you tend to think of Verizon as a company that could reach a wider, younger audience.

And if history is a judge, Firestone’s been here before. The awkward, clunky “Bridgestone presents the Champ Car World Series powered by Ford” from 2003 through 2006 was a nice way of saying, “Well, we have Firestone/Bridgestone support, but not much else.” By 2007, the warning signs had emerged for Champ Car, Bridgestone pulled its title sponsorship and Champ Car was absorbed by INDYCAR prior to 2008. Correlation is not causation, I know, but I don’t think anyone in the current landscape wants to feel the same about the possibility of a Firestone title sponsorship this time around.

Bottom line: I’d be happy with either, given their current involvement in the sport and respective levels of activation. So long as we don’t hearken back to the “Pep Boys” or “Northern Lights” eras…

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.