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

18 Comments

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 leads first Monaco F1 practice, Button makes solid return

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s ongoing battle for supremacy in Formula 1 continued during first practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday morning as the duo locked out the top two positions.

Hamilton and Vettel have won four of the opening five rounds of the 2017 season and look set to enjoy a season-long fight for the championship, representing Mercedes and Ferrari respectively.

Hamilton drew first blood in Monaco, turning in a best lap of 1:13.425 around the tight streets of the principality to finish two-tenths clear of Vettel at the top of the timesheets.

The session saw Mercedes and Ferrari run close once again, yet Red Bull was also able to get into the mix at the head of the field with Max Verstappen finishing third-fastest, three-tenths of a second off the pace. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo was fifth-fastest.

Valtteri Bottas was fourth in the second Mercedes, but Kimi Raikkonen was less able to match his teammate’s pace, coming home seventh for Ferrari, half a second down on Vettel’s time in the same car.

Toro Rosso and Force India both had impressive sessions as both teams got their drivers into the top 10. Daniil Kvyat was sixth for Toro Rosso as teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. was ninth, sandwiched by Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon for Force India.

Jenson Button’s first running in a 2017-spec F1 car was impressive as he finished 14th for McLaren ahead of his one-off grand prix return. The Briton turned in 31 laps in total and lapped less than two-tenths of a second slower than teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, proving he has lost little of his touch over the winter.

Running in Monaco continues with second practice live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Thursday.

Sebastien Bourdais released from IU Methodist hospital; begins rehab

Photo: IndyCar
1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastien Bourdais only posted just yesterday that he was “unable to go for a run” – his spirit and humor clearly not affected despite sustaining multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in his crash during qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the No. 18 GEICO Honda on Saturday.

On Thursday, his post revealed even better news: he’s been released from IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, and will be set to fly home soon to Florida for his rehabilitation.

Bourdais’ place in the race at Dale Coyne Racing will be taken by James Davison, but judging by this first round of leaving, the Frenchman is keen to begin the recovery process as quick as humanly possible.

Bottas remains confident he can close gap in F1 title race

Getty Images
1 Comment

MONACO (AP) Valtteri Bottas has put his recent bad luck behind him and remains confident he can close the gap in the Formula One title race at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver’s fledgling Mercedes career has been a topsy-turvy one since he joined from Williams as a replacement for F1 champion Nico Rosberg.

He drove brilliantly to win his first career race at the Russian Grand Prix after securing his first ever pole position in Sochi last month. But two weeks ago he was undone by engine problems in practice for the Spanish GP and then failed to finish because of a turbo issue late in the race.

“It’s one to forget for sure. It’s been a bit up and down for me this year,” Bottas said Wednesday at the Monaco GP. “Bad result, good result.”

His other results so far are two third places and one sixth place, putting him 41 points behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel and 35 behind three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, his Mercedes teammate.

“The gap to Sebastian, to Lewis, is bigger than I was hoping for this year. But things can change quickly,” Bottas said. “What gives me confidence is that there is still 75 percent of the season left. I feel my best races are ahead this year. I feel I’ve done a good job in some races, but I feel there is more to come to be at a consistently good level.”

Although Bottas has impressed with this speed, he has yet to show the hallmarks of a genuine title contender.

His magnanimous approach goes somewhat against that.

Bottas showed his team ethic by allowing Hamilton past him in Bahrain so that the British driver could chase after Vettel.

He did so again in Barcelona, holding up Vettel for a crucial few laps. That allowed Hamilton to gain some precious seconds on Vettel’s chasing Ferrari. Hamilton won a thrilling race, Vettel was second and Bottas got nothing – except praise for his efforts.

It is a difficult situation for Bottas, who is on a one-year contract and has the added pressure of the demanding Hamilton as a teammate. With 55 race wins to his name, Hamilton is clearly the No. 1 driver, even though the team has not officially said so.

Over the past three years, Hamilton was on an equal footing with Rosberg as they fought each other for the title. This led to tensions and fall outs.

The 27-year-old Bottas is not relishing the prospect of finding himself in a similar position. But it might become inevitable if he does manage to close the gap on Hamilton and turn the title race into a genuine three-way battle.

“I can’t even imagine how it can be after a few years with a teammate battling for the title always. There is respect both ways (with Hamilton), which is good,” Bottas said. “(We are) just enjoying working together and hopefully that will help us in this close fight with Ferrari. It is a team sport anyway, so we need to push forward together.”

It’s hardly the talk of a driver desperate to win the title.

F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix (VIDEO)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

From the streets of Monte Carlo, Monaco, comes the crown jewel of the Formula 1 season (all times for the weekend via NBC or NBCSN here) this weekend, the Monaco Grand Prix.

And here with the pre-race updates from the paddock are NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales, along with the race crew from the F1 on NBC team who are on site in Monaco.

This is an interesting weekend for Monaco, given the Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battle for race wins and the championship so far in 2017. There’s also the question of whether someone can spring a surprise in Monaco, as has been done on several occasions over the years.

Here’s the show, below: