March Madness: Racing is finally back in full, busy swing

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March is undoubtedly my favorite month of the year from a sporting perspective. With NFL free agency, MLB spring training and the official March Madness kickoff, with Selection Sunday following the conference championships, there is no shortage of awesome this month.

In racing, that’s really apparent, as it is finally the fully fledged kickoff to the entire new season.

Yes, the Rolex 24 at Daytona brings North American racing out of its collective slumber to get the season kicked off in January. And yes, NASCAR has had now a full month of action, with now two rain-affected races at legendary Daytona and Bristol.

But this weekend marked the full complement of series in action that sees more than just NASCAR making racing headlines.

Formula One began its new era with a memorable, surprise-laden 2014 Australian Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg won and the emergence of the next wave of new talent – Kevin Magnussen, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Daniil Kvyat – began to showcase themselves.

Road racing was in the news with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, now run by the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The race had its highlights but was dragged down by a caution-laden first half of the race and admitted officiating mistakes in the second half.

NHRA shifted from out west to Gainesville for the Gatornationals.

Although it wasn’t on track, IndyCar made the news cycle on Friday with the confirmation of Verizon as its new title sponsor in what will be a multi-year deal. The two-day test at Barber Motorsports Park this week marks the official on-track reveal of the new Verizon IndyCar Series.

This weekend, there were four major, international racing events all to follow and while at times trying to keep straight what was all happening in Melbourne, Bristol, Sebring and Gainesville was all a bit much for my head, it was a welcome reminder that we’re about to really kick this 2014 racing season into high gear.

And that is music to my, and race fans beyond NASCAR’s, ears.

On the rest of the docket this month:

  • NASCAR Sprint Cup: Fontana (March 23), Martinsville (March 30)
  • F1: Malaysian Grand Prix (March 30)
  • IndyCar: St. Petersburg (March 30)
  • Pirelli World Challenge: St. Petersburg (March 30)
  • FIA WEC: Paul Ricard test (March 28-29)
  • NHRA: Las Vegas (March 30)

Verizon confirms IndyCar title sponsor role exit after 2018

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As perhaps expected, Verizon has confirmed Friday it will end its role as Verizon IndyCar Series title sponsor following the end of its fifth year in 2018.

Reports surfaced shortly after this year’s IndyCar season finale at Sonoma Raceway that Verizon was re-evaluating its role within the series.

Indeed, as it was before becoming title sponsor in 2014, Verizon will remain a partner with Team Penske despite not also carrying the series title sponsor role.

In a statement, Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles thanked Verizon for its support in this overall series role.

“Verizon has been a super sponsor and will continue to be so through all of next season. We appreciate that they reached their decision in a timely way so that we can thoughtfully and deliberately go back into the market for 2019,” Miles said in a statement, via Sports Business Journal.

Roger Penske also issued a statement, also via SBJ, saying, “We want to thank Verizon for the support they have provided the IndyCar Series and the role they have played as they helped us grow the sport as the title sponsor for the past five years. Verizon has helped the series reach new fans through their world-class activation and technology, including the Verizon IndyCar Mobile App. While they will no longer be the Series Title Sponsor after 2018, it is exciting they will still be in the sport through their relationship with our organization.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series has built a wave of momentum over the last few years with its competition level, parity and enthusiasm for some revived events, with Gateway Motorsports Park and Road America standing out as highlights being brought back after an extended hiatus.

The good news for INDYCAR (sanctioning body) is that there’s a new Dallara universal aero kit that’s been busy with testing the last few months and is now in the hands of manufacturers for manufacturer testing, and the series announced long-term extensions with Dallara, Chevrolet, Honda and Firestone earlier this year. New series champion Josef Newgarden has also been busy in a number of media events and appearances since the Sonoma season finale.

With this confirmation, INDYCAR has a new entitlement sponsor to find and a new TV contract to sort, with both existing contracts up after 2018.