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…

Hamilton: ‘Super-tight’ between Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull in Hungary

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Lewis Hamilton is braced for a tough fight in his bid for a sixth Formula 1 victory in Hungary after Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari ended Friday’s practice running evenly-matched for pace.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull to the top of the timesheets in both FP1 and FP2, but with just half a second separating the top six drivers in the second session, there is still plenty to play for at the Hungaroring.

Hamilton wound up fifth in FP2, but feels there is still the pace in the Mercedes W08 car to bounce back on Saturday and continue his stunning Hungaroring record.

“It wasn’t the easiest start to the weekend, with the conditions very gusty. We end the day in fifth but there’s clearly good pace in the car,” Hamilton said.

“It’s super tight between Ferrari, Red Bull and ourselves at the top of the leaderboard, so it’s looking like it will be an exciting weekend. That should be good for the fans.

“There’s some more work to do overnight to fine-tune the balance to get the car just where we want it and I believe the pace is in there.

“We just need to unlock it ahead of qualifying because every tenth is going to be crucial with three teams in the mix.”

Mid-Ohio returns to IMSA schedule in May 2018

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will make its return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship calendar in 2018, marking the first time Mid-Ohio has been part of an IMSA calendar since the 2014 merger that brought together the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series.

Mid-Ohio’s return to the calendar will occur in May 4-6, 2018, and will serve as the venerable Lexington, Ohio permanent road course’s kickoff to its new season.

It’s been since 2013 when GRAND-AM last competed there and 2012 when ALMS did, and from 2007 through 2012 ALMS was always on the same weekend as the Verizon IndyCar Series raced at the track.

More to follow…

Acura moving ahead to solidify NSX GT3 customers in 2018

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Acura Motorsports is moving ahead with plans to get its first NSX GT3 customers to race in North America, as well as worldwide, following Thursday’s formal confirmation of the manufacturer announcing it will sell the NSX GT3.

The two teams who have developed and run the car this year, Michael Shank Racing (IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class) and RealTime Racing (Pirelli World Challenge GT class) had team principals Shank and Peter Cunningham on hand today at Mid-Ohio to describe the work they’ve done in the process of getting the car ready for customers in 2018.

Shank highlighted the customer service performed by Honda Performance Development when he ran a Honda-powered Ligier JS P2 prototype in IMSA in 2015 and 2016.

The media availability this morning at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course stopped short of confirming both teams will continue their own programs with the NSX GT3 next year, which would be customer-based and not factory as they are this year. That being said, both teams are working with Acura and HPD as they develop their 2018 programs.

Steve Eriksen, vice president and COO, Honda Performance Development, updated the production process in terms of getting NSX GT3s delivered to prospective customers.

“The production timeline and development was moved forward well ahead of Thursday’s announcement,” Eriksen told NBC Sports.

“That was done on purpose; the production was done well in advance to respond quickly when we get inquiries. The goal now is to move from interested parties to serious parties.”

Eriksen confirmed all four existing chassis, plus spares, run by Shank and RealTime this year are owned by HPD. It will be up to HPD to determine the path forward for those chassis after the respective seasons conclude.

For IMSA, the season finale is at Petit Le Mans on October 7 at Road Atlanta, and PWC’s last event of the year is a week later with the eight-hour SRO Intercontinental Challenge on October 15 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey.

Today’s media availability came a day after Acura confirmed the car will be available for sale worldwide at a price of €465,000 ($545,000).

This occurs after a year where there’s been more than 50,000-miles of on-track development between the two teams.

Shank has already delivered the car its first two wins in its inaugural season of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition. The Pataskala, Ohio-based team is working to figure out its 2018 plans, with Shank preferring to focus on his sports car component first before adding any potential IndyCar program.

Here’s slightly more info about that from the release:

The NSX GT3 is eligible to race in more than two dozen FIA-sanctioned racing series around the world, including:

  • The Pirelli World Challenge and WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series in North America
  • The Blancpain GT Series and 24 Hours Nurburgring in Europe
  • The Blancpain GT Series Asia and GT Asia Series
  • The Super GT GT300 class in Japan
  • The Australian GT Championship
  • The Intercontinental GT Challenge

Additional options and complete customer support, including parts and service, training and engineering services are available.  Orders for the NSX GT3 are being taken now by HPD, responsible for sales in North America, at AcuraClientRacing.com.  JAS Motorsport is responsible for NSX GT3 sales in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, excluding Japan.  MUGEN is responsible for sales in Japan.

Pagenaud paces Mid-Ohio opening practice

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Defending Verizon IndyCar Series and Honda Indy 200 champion Simon Pagenaud paced opening practice for this year’s occasion, posting a quick time of 1:04.9079 at the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Pagenaud, in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, sits third in this year’s championship with 404 points. Interestingly his only win this year has come on the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway back in April.

Graham Rahal, the 2015 Mid-Ohio winner, was second in the session in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at 1:04.922. Marco Andretti made it into third in his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda at 1:04.9814.

The top nine drivers down to Scott Dixon in ninth were separated by only 0.3241 of a second and all 21 drivers bar JR Hildebrand were within one second.

Other than a near miss when Helio Castroneves almost hit Esteban Gutierrez exiting the Keyhole, there were no issues in the session and no red flags.

Second practice runs from 2:15 to 3 p.m. ET and local time.

Times are below.