Inside Milwaukee IndyFest, Part 1: How it Works

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Roughly once monthly over the next several months, with more to come in the last month, MotorSportsTalk will take you inside the preparation for the ABC Supply Co. Inc., Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers, taking place August 16-17, 2014, promoted by Andretti Sports Marketing. Through this series, we look to provide insight on the behind-the-scenes process of how a Verizon IndyCar Series event comes to be; from pre-race events, to partner activations and promotions, to staff overview.

At 5 p.m. on a frigid, March Sunday night, Andretti Autosport Indy Lights drivers Zach Veach and Matthew “Matty” Brabham visit JB’s on 41 bowling alley on 27th Street in Milwaukee, and meet their bowling opponents.

No, not us, the assembled media and race fans who have come out to the event; it’s the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee collegiate bowling team.

It’s a fun local Milwaukee event, and one that may have seen Veach discover a backup career if his progression through the Mazda Road to Indy doesn’t fully work out.

He beat me by two pins after a 10th frame turkey in our first game, and then was busy exchanging high-fives and fist-bumps with the UWM team during the second, as his strikes were flowing like water.

Several weeks later, he carried the winning momentum into winning the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season opener at St. Petersburg, his first career victory.

But back to bowling: it was a fun night had by all. The historical anorak in me loved to see one kid wearing a 2010 KV Racing shirt, which featured both Lotus and Cosworth branding even though Honda provided the actual power that year.

This event is one of many supporting events organized by the Andretti Sports Marketing team, some five months ahead of the 2014 Milwaukee IndyFest, as the team works to plan the Verizon IndyCar Series weekend of August 16-17, 2014.

There are a few more months available this year in terms of preparation. In 2012 and 2013, the race was held on Father’s Day; a Saturday in June. In 2014, Milwaukee IndyFest moves to August to increase awareness and foot traffic throughout the Wisconsin State Fair.

What that means is that the Andretti Sports Marketing staff has been preparing for the event since November 2013. The Andretti Sports Marketing team meets once weekly to develop and execute key event planning and marketing tactics related to the race weekend.

This bowling event was capper to two days in the city; other events that featured a Milwaukee IndyFest presence included visiting a Milwaukee Wave soccer game and the Milwaukee Auto Show.

During the time in March, nine volunteer leads met for the first time, with direction from the Andretti Sports Marketing team. Volunteer leads assist the team with security, medical, track operations, safety, redemption, observation, event services, and guest services. Later on, the volunteer leads direct the 180+ volunteers that assist with the execution of Milwaukee IndyFest race weekend.

Specific duties related to the race itself are led and handled by Andretti Sports Marketing staff. The staff has a designated person or persons in charge of race PR/marketing and client services, operations, entertainment, and side events (such as the National Volleyball League, for instance).

Preparing the number of corporate sponsors is something the Andretti Sports Marketing organization is also working on at the moment, as is getting the infield logistics set up to handle the elements that make up the “three-day festival of speed.”

In April, further meetings will follow to help determine more about how the event comes together.

More information:

Websites: Milwaukee IndyFest, Andretti Sports Marketing

Twitter: @MKE_IndyFest, @AndrettiSM

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.