Road America’s state of the union: Good NASCAR, IMSA crowds; IndyCar still waits


I had a brief opportunity to catch up with Road America track president George Bruggenthies this weekend regarding the year to date for its two major events (plenty more, including motorcycle and vintage weekends, also take place during the year).

The NASCAR/Pirelli World Challenge weekend in June went off well in terms of ticket sales and TV appearance, despite the intermittent rain that delayed the start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Meanwhile this weekend’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race, a single race weekend compared to the double, one-off GRAND-AM Rolex Series/American Le Mans Series weekend that occurred in 2013, saw ticket sales close to what was achieved last year.

“We’re close on sales,” Bruggenthies told MotorSportsTalk ahead of Sunday’s TUDOR Championship race. “Last year as a one-off event with both, it was always going to draw more. But we’ve had perfect weather this weekend.”

Additional sponsors came to the NASCAR weekend in June, with two new sponsors including new race title sponsor Gardner Denver. Bruggenthies confirmed the Pirelli World Challenge will return to the track next season, as well.

But the elephant in the room continues to be whether the Verizon IndyCar Series will ever return, for what would be the first time since the former Champ Car series’ last race there in 2007.

IndyCar rookie Jack Hawksworth competed at the track this weekend for the first time; he praised it and wondered why IndyCar wasn’t at the track. Additionally James Hinchcliffe was in action as well, racing at Road America for the first time since Formula Atlantic in 2008. Sadly he wasn’t able to drive as local driver and teammate Scott Mayer wrecked out of the race on Lap 3; Hawksworth’s entry finished fourth in the PC class.

Bruggenthies, who’s told me previously that the sanctioning fee IndyCar requires has been too high, now said it’s more the schedule that’s an issue.

“With Mark Miles ending the year on Labor Day, it compacts everything,” Bruggenthies explained. “The schedule is more the issue than the business side. Of course we’d need sponsors to make it happen.

“I could do Labor Day. But there’s another event already there. Derrick Walker was here this weekend; we’ve talked.”

Perhaps the greater sticking point from an IndyCar at Road America standpoint now compared to a year or two ago is the fact the TUDOR Championship would rather position itself as a lead series, not play as a second feature on an IndyCar weekend.

IMSA President/COO Scott Atherton expanded on that in an interview with MotorSportsTalk Sunday morning from Road America, where the 2015 IMSA schedules were announced.

“We race with IndyCar in Long Beach and Detroit. We play together nicely and there is positive synergy between the two organizations,” Atherton said.

“But we’re careful to position the TUDOR Championship as a featured lead act, so to speak. When we race with IndyCar, there’s two of them in those historical venues.  Long Beach has been an open-wheel venue for 40 years, so it’s tough to be considered an equal there, but that market is so important to us and our stakeholders. If you’re a road racing product, you have to be in Southern California, and that’s the only option.”

Atherton said he would not be opposed to any additional content with IndyCar, but in terms of a joint IndyCar/TUDOR Championship weekend at Road America, Atherton said he has not had any dialogue with Bruggenthies on the topic.

Interestingly there was an IndyCar vendor presence this weekend in Elkhart Lake anyway, but not at Road America.

Andretti Sports Marketing, which promotes this upcoming weekend’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers at the Milwaukee Mile, had a presence at the iconic Siebkens Resort both Friday and Saturday night.

Bobby Rahal, Katherine Legge and Derrick Walker were in attendance Friday night – all had a vested interest in the TUDOR Championship weekend. Rahal runs the two-car BMW Team RLL entry in GT Le Mans, Legge races the radical DeltaWing coupe and Walker’s Walker Racing team operates the Team Falken Tire Porsche in GTLM. Saturday night, GT Daytona polesitter James Davison of TRG-AMR and Dodge/SRT marketing director Beth Paretta were on site.

The promotion was spearheaded by Laura Cooper, Andretti Sports Marketing Director of Marketing Services, who has local ties to the region.

“She’s been involved with a variety of events here in Elkhart Lake, Skip Barber, charity events and the like,” Bruggenthies said. “With Walker, Bobby being here it was a natural. It’s no problem for us; it’s not detrimental.”

IndyCar: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports expands mentoring program for tech school students

Photos: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
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IndyCar team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced today that it is extending and widening a unique sponsorship and mentoring program that began last season with students from Lincoln Technical Institute.

The program began last year, with students from several Lincoln Tech branches attending select IndyCar events for an entire weekend.

The students, primarily from auto and diesel training programs, got an insiders experience with the team, taking part in team meetings, watching team workers prepare and service the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe, sat on pit boxes during practices, qualifying and, of course races.

The overall experience was to get students more interested and involved in potential careers in the IndyCar field.

“We said at the beginning of last season that we knew our students would benefit and learn from the professionalism and drive of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team,” Lincoln Tech President and CEO Scott Shaw said. “But the experience they received working with the entire pit crew team and in particular crew member Cole Jagger – a Lincoln Tech graduate himself – went beyond even our own expectations.

“We were grateful for the time they spent mentoring our students, and we are thrilled to once again be part of the racing legacy of team owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson.”

Lincoln Tech will once again serve as an associate sponsor on Hinchcliffe’s car for the entire 2018 IndyCar season. In addition, it is expanding its Mentor Program to select students to attend a minimum of nine IndyCar races from six last season.

Students are selected based upon their grade point average, attendance, conduct and overall commitment to becoming outstanding automotive technicians. An interest in IndyCar and a desire to work in the industry is also considered.

One student that took part last season, Tyler Crist of Lincoln Tech’s Denver campus, joined the team at the IndyCar race in Long Beach last April, watching as Hinchcliffe won the event.

“It was the best weekend of my life,” Crist said after the event. “It reminded me of why I joined this field in the first place and to never give up on my dreams.”

Jagger will oversee the expanded mentoring program this season. For Jagger, being involved especially hits home, as he is a graduate of Lincoln Tech’s Indianapolis campus.

“I totally enjoyed working with the Lincoln Tech students that participated in the Mentor Program last year and look forward to meeting this year’s group,” Jagger said. “Being a Lincoln Tech grad, I hope the students realize that if you have a passion for cars, a career in racing is something that’s not out of reach. If I can be an example for them to follow, that makes it even more rewarding.”

In addition to the at-track activities of the mentoring program, several Lincoln Tech branches across the country will utilize CNC computerized machining and manufacturing tools to assist in creating car parts for SPM.

“Through this unique partnership, we’re able to hopefully find the next class of talent that could one day be part of our organization,” SPM president Jon Flack said. “We’re looking forward to another year of the mentorship program and having their students be ‘boots on the ground’ gaining real-life experience with our team.”

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