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IndyCar sets start times for its 2016 races

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One of the things missing from the release of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule at first glance – and this was the key to note since the races were pretty much already known – was specific start times for races. Planned TV start times were listed.

As we click into the new year, INDYCAR has put out the start times for 2016. Many of them follow the trend of 2015: later afternoon or early evening start times.

In theory, it sounds stupid – hey, if you’re coming from out of town, and the race starts late, it means you’ll have to burn an extra day of vacation or you’ll get back super late Sunday night.

But witness the fact NBCSN’s ratings went up significantly this year, 34 percent from 2014 (from 378,000 in 12 races to 507,000 in 11 races), and you’ll see the strategy worked. It was the most watched IndyCar season on NBCSN since IndyCar rights were acquired in 2009, when the network was then known as VERSUS.

Was later start times the only reason? Of course not. Having NASCAR on the network drove additional viewership and worked in some cases as a perfect lead-in. Having all three major series – NASCAR, F1 and IndyCar – on NBC Sports Group properties allowed for a good level of cross promotion, as well.

Two other things to note below. One, the Toronto and Mid-Ohio races look set to air live on CNBC. NASCAR is yet to announce its full 2016 TV schedule but those dates, July 17 and July 31, see NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races on Sundays at New Hampshire and Pocono, respectively. The NBC portion of NASCAR’s schedule will begin at Daytona in July.

Mid-Ohio aired live on CNBC last year and then was re-aired on NBCSN immediately following the conclusion of the Pocono Cup race; in theory, it could make sense to do that again, as the NBCSN rating for IndyCar at Mid-Ohio was north of 600,000 viewers.

The second thing to note is that only three races – St. Petersburg, the 100th Indianapolis 500 and the new race at Elkhart Lake – have start times prior to 2 p.m. ET. The Elkhart Lake start time of 1:08 p.m. ET is particularly important for those fans from Chicago, Indianapolis or wherever who’d be making the trip. Figure that’s 12:08 p.m. CT and local time and if the race ends, worse case at 2:30 p.m., you can easily be home not too late at night. This is a good thing.

Anyway, without further adieu, here’s your start times and networks for the 2016 season. All are subject to change but figure these will be the likely targets:

Date Race Network Start Time
March 13 St. Petersburg ABC 12:52 p.m. ET
April 2 Phoenix NBCSN 8:35 p.m. ET
April 17 Long Beach NBCSN 4:37 p.m. ET
April 24 Barber NBCSN 3:37 p.m. ET
May 14 Indy GP ABC 3:50 p.m. ET
May 29 Indy 500 ABC 12:00 p.m. ET
June 4 Detroit 1 ABC 3:50 p.m. ET
June 5 Detroit 2 ABC 3:50 p.m. ET
June 11 Texas NBCSN 8:50 p.m. ET
June 26 Road America NBCSN 1:08 p.m. ET
July 10 Iowa NBCSN 5:50 p.m. ET
July 17 Toronto CNBC 3:37 p.m. ET
July 31 Mid-Ohio CNBC 2:37 p.m. ET
Aug. 21 Pocono NBCSN 3:48 p.m. ET
Sept. 4 Boston NBCSN 2:37 p.m. ET
Sept. 18 Sonoma NBCSN 7:37 p.m. ET

NASCAR America: Newgarden recaps rise to IndyCar title (VIDEO)

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Newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden joined NBCSN’s NASCAR America on Tuesday to reflect on his rise to the top of the series.

Newgarden chatted with show host Carolyn Manno about his championship season, integration to Team Penske and bonding with his three teammates, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Pagenaud won Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale but it wasn’t enough to overcome Newgarden’s points lead.

 

Report: Verizon likely to drop IndyCar title sponsorship after ’18

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One of the under-the-radar elements that’s percolated in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock this year is Verizon’s activation strategy itself, in its fourth year of its first five-year deal as title sponsor of the championship.

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, told the Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern while he thinks it’s likely Verizon will end its title sponsorship of the series after 2018, they hope to continue the relationship in a different capacity.

While Verizon got in before 2014, IndyCar was a viable platform for the wireless company to activate in a way it couldn’t in NASCAR, when Sprint was the Cup Series’ title sponsor.

That’s since changed with Sprint’s contract ending after 2016. Verizon still activates within the paddock, working with CSM Sport & Entertainment, but its activation outside the paddock has seemed rather limited this year.

Verizon’s primary point of access or reference point of digital technology has been the Verizon IndyCar Mobile app, which was initially only for Verizon Wireless users but was later expanded to other carriers. That provides some app-specific exclusive content as well as a compilation of written, photographic and video content from IndyCar.com.

Even in the paddock, a Verizon-sponsored “Lunch with Legends” series – where some of IndyCar’s stars from the past had lunch at tracks with fans to provide some exclusive access – was not retained for 2017. Verizon hosted an event at a 5G-outfitted house in Indianapolis this year, prior to the Indianapolis 500, to showcase some of that network capability and virtual reality (VR) technology.

Provided Verizon does not continue as title sponsor past 2018, it would leave the IndyCar series in almost the same situation as prior title sponsor IZOD was in 2013, with a lame duck year.

The absence of a Verizon contract renewal has lurked beneath the surface all year in a year when INDYCAR (sanctioning body) has announced several long-term extensions with key manufacturer partners Dallara, Firestone, Chevrolet, Honda and many of its race tracks.

The competition side of IndyCar has done rather well and has enough momentum with Jay Frye at the head of its President of Competition and Operations for the last two years.

But it’s imperative for IndyCar’s sake its commercial side does as well too, which will make the 2018 season an interesting one from a “how to progress” and find a partner that can truly activate to lift the series’ profile even bigger than it is now.

The title sponsor evolution and the series’ new TV contract, with the current one set to end after 2018, enter as the early leaders in the clubhouse for biggest off-track stories to follow over the winter and into the start of 2018.

Vettel loses huge ground in title race after Singapore blip

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SINGAPORE (AP) In the space of three races, Sebastian Vettel has dropped twice as far behind Lewis Hamilton as he was ahead of him.

After winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in late July, Vettel led by 14 points, with both drivers on four wins heading into the summer break.

But after crashing out on the first lap in Sunday’s Singapore GP, the Ferrari driver trails Hamilton by 28.

“That was very disappointing and it was definitely not the result we were expecting,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. “But it doesn’t mean that the battle is all over, just that it has become more difficult.”

Yet it might seem to Mercedes that, for all of his experience, Vettel is throwing away the Formula One title.

“Clearly we would not feel comfortable in Ferrari’s shoes,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “But this is not the time for cheering.”

Hamilton has won all three races relatively comfortably since the championship resumed in August, and with only six GPs remaining Vettel faces a huge task to stop Hamilton.

“We guarantee that we will be fighting right to the final corner of the very last Grand Prix of the year,” Arrivabene said.

Mercedes is still expecting a challenge.

“This result doesn’t change a thing in the big picture,” Wolff said. “If anything, it’s a stark reminder that there are six more opportunities for the luck to go against us this season, just as it happened to Ferrari.”

But it will be abundantly harder now for Vettel because, unlike last season, Hamilton has so far not retired from any races. Although he has failed to finish on the podium four times for Mercedes this season, that is the same number as Vettel’s finishes outside the top three.

After winning three of the first six races, Vettel’s grip has loosened with only one win in the past eight.

Points have been thrown away, too.

At the British GP in July, Vettel looked at least assured of a podium finish until an unexpected tire problem at the end of the race bumped him down to seventh.

On Sunday, he had a great chance to win starting from pole position on a hard-braking track much more suited to Ferrari than Mercedes.

A few seconds later, he was out of the race.

Vettel made a hasty error of judgment trying to cut off Max Verstappen heading into the first turn and ultimately caused a crash that also took out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen – who had made a blistering start – Verstappen and Fernando Alonso.

Vettel apologized to his Ferrari team afterward.

With both Ferraris out, Mercedes had a clear path as Hamilton won his 60th career race and teammate Valtteri Bottas took third.

Mercedes faced a similar scenario at the Spanish GP last year, when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg collided on lap 1 and both went out. Mercedes was livid with both drivers that day, and came perilously close to imposing team orders on them.

“You kind of feel for Ferrari. I have been in the situation of losing both cars,” Wolff said. “I know how bitter this is.”

The difference was that Hamilton and Rosberg were fighting each other for the title and, with no main rival from another team, it effectively cost them nothing.

Within Mercedes, Hamilton’s title charge is now the priority.

Although team orders are very unlikely to be imposed, it is clear – unofficially at least – that Bottas will be racing to help Hamilton equal Vettel on four world titles.

Wolff confirmed as much when he inadvertently referred to Bottas as “our second driver” in his post-race debriefing on Sunday, before quickly correcting himself to say “ah, other driver.”

Bottas has had a fine first season since joining as an emergency late replacement for Rosberg, who retired days after winning the 2016 title. Bottas has even exceeded expectations with 10 podiums in 14 races, including two wins, and sits in third place overall.

With a new contract for next year already signed, the Finnish driver has no need to impress Mercedes management and can play an ideal support role to Hamilton in the closing part of the campaign.

Still, he has a little bit of ambition left.

“There are plenty of races to come and plenty of opportunities,” said Bottas, who is 23 points behind Vettel. “Definitely Sebastian is the next target.”

With Hamilton ahead and Bottas closing behind, Vettel is under pressure to deliver at the Malaysian GP in two weeks’ time.

Ocon confirmed for another year at Force India

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Sahara Force India will keep the same driver lineup in 2018, with Esteban Ocon confirming Tuesday he’ll stay alongside Sergio Perez next season.

Although the two drivers have occasionally been at odds this year as Ocon has threatened Perez’s place as team leader, both have been instrumental in keeping Force India a clear fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, at the top of the crowded midfield behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

Ocon’s had a very strong year, with 56 points scored and having made the points in all but one race (Monaco) this season. His best finish is fifth at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Being confirmed for 2018 means like others, the jockeying for spots in 2019 will be fascinating to watch.