Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Now what for Dale Jr., Rahal after National Guard withdrawal?

9 Comments

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know this was coming, but it still doesn’t soften the blow.

The loss of the National Guard sponsorship for both Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in NASCAR, and Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda in IndyCar is both troubling and a sign of the times in terms of how fragile racing sponsorships can be.

We’ll start with the 88 car. Consider you have NASCAR’s most popular driver, riding the wave of momentum this year with what’s been by far his best ever season at Hendrick Motorsports and best overall since 2004 – when he won six races and contended for the title down to the wire.

Hendrick now has to sell the 20 races the Guard sponsored, which sounds easy in theory but not necessarily execution. There have been a handful of unsold races along the way for the 88 this year and last; while they’ve eventually been filled, it is still an exercise in pounding the pavement and convincing companies the car needs to be sponsored.

For 2015, Junior has Nationwide Insurance (12 races), PepsiCo (5) and Kelley Blue Book (1) locked in. So as of August 2014 – the time when many Fortune 500 companies are beginning or finalizing their marketing and sponsorship budgets for the following season – it’s likely going to take finding several other companies to fill the remaining 19 points races.

The catch, of course, is that the Hendrick Motorsports statement said the Guard plans to continue in 2015 – so figuring out whether that holds true or the “Guard draws down after 2014” prospect becomes the reality is a question mark on that side.

While filling the void on the 88 might take time, Earnhardt Jr. is still a more sellable asset than Rahal, who at 25 should be one of IndyCar’s most popular drivers but hasn’t quite had it all click.

Rahal, the driver, has failed to recapture the heights he achieved as a then 20-year-old in 2009 with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, when he often troubled the Ganassi and Penske squads at the front of the field. A year of taking part-time opportunities, two midlevel years with Ganassi of his own and a homecoming to his dad’s team a year ago have yielded little – he’s only had six podium finishes in the last five seasons (three in 2011, one apiece in 2012, 2013 and 2014).

source: Getty Images
Second at Detroit only podium for GR this year. Photo: Getty Images

The National Guard sponsorship only got awarded to RLL after a legal battle with John Barnes of Panther Racing, who submitted a higher bid that was ultimately rejected. Panther, unfortunately for its crew, was unable to make the grid in 2014, and thus the series lost another car.

I can’t imagine when RLL worked tirelessly throughout the offseason to capture the Guard support that they thought it would have only been for one year. That’s a royal kick in the pants for a team that added a sponsor and added depth in engineering (Bill Pappas) to support Rahal’s 2014 season.

My hope for RLL is that they weren’t blindsided with this news, and that they have another backup plan ready to replace the $12 million in overall funding brought both to the team and to the at-track activation.

And if there is an upside for RLL, it’s that Bobby Rahal has been in this position before, of needing to find sponsors to replace ones that have left him and his team in the lurch.

Consider just in the last six years, Ethanol, Service Central/Midas/Big O Tires and Acorn Stairlifts have all adorned but now left RLL. Others such as Shell, Miller, Argent, Pioneer and Gigante/Office Depot have all passed through the RLL sponsor arena and have since left IndyCar entirely.

After 2008, RLL had to withdraw from IndyCar full-time once Ethanol pulled out, and Takuma Sato’s 2012 effort was run on a relative shoestring budget without a major sponsor. Still, Sato damn near won the Indianapolis 500 that year.

Perhaps there was a perception issue of the Guard’s presence in motorsports; perhaps the Guard did more than what was reported and that the government never really “got it.” Consider this insight from Kurt Busch’s girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, founder of the Armed Forces Foundation:

Alas, what this withdrawal means is twofold: BIG money in American racing is an endangered species, and no sponsorship is safe.

When you combine the fact the Guard spent more than $40 million this year on its two racing sponsorships and activation/marketing, you have to realize that’s an unsustainable number for any company to support in modern day motorsports. The fact this is a government sponsorship only adds to the perception that it’s a wasted, sunk cost.

Second, when a driver as popular as Dale Jr. is set to lose one of his biggest sponsors, it’s a troublesome sign. The business model in NASCAR is at the point where it almost has to change to make sense. You can guarantee the Race Team Alliance is taking notice of this fact.

Where both the 88 and the 15 go from here is anyone’s guess, but they both have been put on notice by this drawdown.

They’re back for more: ‘Dinner with Racers’ 2 kicks off today

dwr2promo
Photo courtesy Dinner with Racers
Leave a comment

The second season of “Dinner with Racers,” presented by Continental Tire, drops its first batch of episodes today.

The 28-episode season follows the first 28 episodes released last year. This year, podcast hosts and sports car veterans Sean Heckman and Ryan Eversley saddled up in a Honda Odyssey minivan for the cross-country tour, while riding on Continental Tires.

There’s some great guests and details. Here’s the full breakdown, plus a video, below:

One year after the successful debut of the motorsport podcast series “Dinner with Racers,” the antics of Ryan Eversley and Sean Heckman have returned for the binge release of “Season Two,” launching today. Following their 2015 debut that featured a month-long road trip recording 26 conversations “over dinner” with some of the most interesting characters in motorsports, the duo will launch another 28 recordings for their 2016 adventure. The second season will be released in two waves, with “Release One” launching the first 14 recordings immediately, and “Release Two” featuring an additional 14 recordings slated to release on December 16. All episodes can be found at www.dinnerwithracers.com or via iTunes.

Traveling for 40 days across 29 states, and covering 12,000 miles in 2016, the trip was made possible in part by the Honda Odyssey that was lent to the team by American Honda Motor Co., Inc, and most importantly thanks to a continuing title partnership with Continental Tire, who not only provided Cross Contact LX20 tires for the trip but covered the team’s expenses, as well as every meal.

Continuing the same theme from the debut season, #DWR2 follows a nearly identical format. A factory racing driver for Acura in the World Challenge series, Ryan Eversley makes up half of the hosting lineup, with motorsport marketing / creative content veteran Sean Heckman completing the duo. Using their unique blend of humor, insight, experience, as well as genuine love of the sport, Eversley and Heckman pick up right where they left off in Season One, exposing some of the most unique and entertaining stories from their variety of guests.

Meeting up with 28 different characters “over dinner,” listeners will exposed to a variety of personalities, everything from NASCAR and IndyCar star drivers, to some of the most respected engineers and mechanics, journalists, and broadcasters in the business. Stories cover everything from what it was like to be the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and then Daytona 500, to giving up a contract worth over $2mil just to be a “good guy,” to turning a satiric twitter account in to a full-time job, as well as enjoying life after nearly three decades in prison. Topics include everything from a transgender pig, to being given dead cat whiskers as a good luck charm, to having guns pulled in the middle of a race shop, and even buying a race track in the hopes of laundering money through it.

For Ryan Eversley, a chance to continue the series was a welcome one.

“I know it’s a cliché, but It truly is such an honor and a privilege to be able to do this,” stated Eversley. “Both Sean and I were truly blown away by the fan support from Season One, it’s honestly something we weren’t expecting. It really meant a lot to get so many nice comments, and that kept us very motivated for Season Two. I think our genuine love of the sport translates when people listen, because we really enjoy hearing the real back stories in what makes everyone so unique. This season did not disappoint us at all. This show lives and dies by its guests, and we couldn’t have been luckier to have such a great group who were not only engaging and interesting, but also incredibly gracious with their time. It’s an absolute blast doing this, and we really appreciate Continental for continuing their support, as well as Honda for giving us an incredibly comfortable car for such a long trip.”

For Sean Heckman, a similar sentiment is shared.

“What he said,” stated Heckman.

Additionally, the series will continue to support less exposed musical acts, with each episode promoting a variety of musicians and bands at the close of every episode.

THE FULL GUEST LIST

RELEASE ONE (available now):
Johnny O’Connell
John Eversley
Calvin Fish
Joey Hand
Janet Guthrie
Brad Kettler
Mike Shank
Marc Miller
Landon Cassill
Dan Binks
Kenny Wallace
Kevin “Rocket” Blanch
Mike Hull
Ed Carpenter

RELEASE TWO (coming soon):
NASCARCASM
Matt Hardigree
Justin Marks
Marty Smith
Max Jones
David Hobbs
Hurley Haywood
Don Whittington
Randy Lanier
Eddie Gossage
PD Cunningham
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (with Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney)
Brendan Gaughan
Alex Gurney

Wolff: Mercedes was wrong to issue Hamilton orders in F1 title decider

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium  during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Toto Wolff has conceded that Mercedes was wrong to issue orders to Lewis Hamilton in his Formula 1 championship showdown in Abu Dhabi with Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton risked angering Mercedes’ management when he went deliberately slow during the closing stages of the final race of the year, in a bid to cause teammate and title rival Rosberg to lose positions.

Hamilton was told on multiple occasions to pick up speed, with Mercedes fearing that it could lose the race win to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Mercedes F1 chief Wolff admitted that the team was wrong to tell Hamilton to pick up speed, adding that the title contenders should have been left to fight it out on-track.

“In the heat of the moment, sometimes when you make decisions you get them wrong,” Wolff said.

“In our mind, the way we think, this race is giving us the same number of points as other races and we try to win that one, not considering that there was much more at stake for the drivers.

“How the race panned out, we should have communicated differently and in hindsight let them race in the way they deemed to be appropriate.”

Hamilton held on to win the race in Abu Dhabi, but Rosberg clinched the championship by finishing second ahead of Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Rosberg announced five days later that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, freeing up a seat alongside Hamilton for the 2017 season.

Hamilton has previously said that he was not concerned who his new teammate was, so long as he had equal rights within the team.

However, Wolff acknowledged that Mercedes’ new driver would need to create a good balance with the three-time world champion.

“He has been a great pillar in the team’s success. When he came, everything changed, so he has played a role,” Wolff said of Hamilton.

“It’s very important to keep him in a good place. The dynamics between the two drivers is one of the factors we will consider.”

Sim racers join Formula E teams ahead of Las Vegas eSports event

2016/2017 FIA Formula E Championship.
Marrakesh ePrix, Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan, Marrakesh, Morocco.
Saturday 12 November 2016.

Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _SLA8272
© FIA Formula E
Leave a comment

Ten sim racers have joined up with teams on the Formula E grid ahead of the Las Vegas eSports event at the beginning of January.

Formula E announced last summer that it would be holding a non-championship event in Las Vegas that would pit its drivers against racers from the virtual realm.

With $1 million in prize money on offer, the race is poised to be one of the most lucrative eSports events.

Ahead of the event in Las Vegas, each of the 10 of the sim racers that have qualified have been paired up with a Formula E team.

“I’d like to officially welcome the sim racers who qualified through the Road to Vegas Challenge to participate in the inaugural Visa Vegas eRace,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said.

“I’ve been following the progress of the sim racers throughout the qualification process, and I can’t wait to see them on the same track as the rest of the Formula E grid.

“Accessibility and fan engagement are two of the key cornerstones of Formula E, and what better way to promote this than getting the sim racers to compete in the same colours as their Formula E counterparts – it will be fascinating to see who comes out on top.”

The sim racers in the event are:

  • Gregor Huttu (FIN) – Panasonic Jaguar Racing
  • Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola (FIN) – Andretti
  • Olli Pahkala (FIN) – Mahindra
  • Enzo Bonito (ITA) – Techeetah
  • David Greco (ITA) – Renault e.dams
  • Graham Carroll (GBR) – DS Virgin Racing
  • Aleksi Elomaa (FIN) – Venturi
  • Bono Huis (NED) – Faraday Future Dragon Racing
  • Petar Brljak (CRO) – NextEV NIO
  • Patrick Holzmann (DEU) – ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport

The Vegas eRace will take place on January 7.

Hunter-Reay, Rahal complete Acura NSX GT3 lineup at Rolex 24

rhrrahal
Photos: Acura
Leave a comment

Verizon IndyCar Series stars Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal will complete the eight-driver lineup for the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona in the pair of Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3s.

These two drivers join the previously announced six-pack of Andy Lally, Ozz Negri, Jeff Segal, Katherine Legge, Mark Wilkins and Tom Dyer. The first four are the full-season drivers while Wilkins and Dyer are the third drivers for the full Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup slate of races. Daytona, as a 24-hour race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule, makes up the longest round where four drivers are expected for most entries.

Exact lineups are yet to be determined. Both Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) and Rahal (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda) run Hondas in IndyCar, and switch from their previous teams in IMSA. Hunter-Reay was third driver in the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP last year, Rahal the fourth driver in one of the BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLMs.

Both Hunter-Reay and Rahal will test the car at Daytona next week.

“We’re thrilled to have Graham and Ryan join the Michael Shank Racing effort at Daytona,” said Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development (HPD), the racing arm for Acura in North America. “The debut of the NSX GT3 at the prestigious Rolex 24 will mark the return of the Acura brand to IMSA sports car competition. The addition of Graham and Ryan to an already excellent driver lineup, coupled with the experience provided by Michael Shank and his team, will make the NSX GT3 a serious contender for the GTD class victory at Daytona.”