INDYCAR asks what’s ‘NEXT’ in 2017 promotional video

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One of the great elements in the Verizon IndyCar Series is the competing dynamic between the established veterans who’ve been around pushing two decades – Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan immediately come to mind – versus the more up-and-coming younger drivers such as Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud.

The latter three are among those featured in INDYCAR (sanctioning body here, not the series) releasing its new-for-2017 promotional video called “NEXT,” which follows past season concepts “RIVALS,” “SPEED” and “LEGENDS.” INDYCAR worked with brand agency partner Johnston & Wolverton to create this ad.

“We’re confident and focused on INDYCAR’s future,” C.J. O’Donnell, chief marketing officer of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said in a release. “The theme ‘NEXT’ will effectively deliver our message of continued growth and expresses the momentum our sport has experienced the last three seasons.”

The aforementioned growth expresses INDYCAR’s 55 percent increase in overall TV viewership since 2013 combined between ABC and NBCSN. IndyCar’s 2017 schedule is out but TV times and start times are yet to be released; that information should be out fairly shortly.

Going back to the the “NEXT” idea is an interesting choice, and seems to forecast several “next” elements.

For one, the immediate “next” is INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 spec aero kit bodywork, which figures to be revealed in the next month. The “next” there will need to be a transformative bodywork that makes the cars look cooler than they are now and can generate buzz beyond the oft-Indiana-only bubble that frequently permeates the atmosphere. The manufacturer aero kits from Chevrolet and Honda are frozen for 2017, as they enter their second year since changes were made to the 2016 kits, and third overall since the 2015 aero kit introduction.

The next “next” is that of picking which “next” drivers to highlight. The six drivers identified in the video are Newgarden, Will Power, Pagenaud, Rossi, Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

This is an intriguing mix of “next” choices because Hunter-Reay (debuted in 2003), Power (2005), Pagenaud (2007) and Rahal (2007) all debuted in IndyCar at least a decade ago, and among them, Hunter-Reay has both a championship and an Indianapolis 500 win, while Power and Pagenaud have won two of the last three championships.

It’s fair to say that of that six-pack only Newgarden, who debuted in 2012 and Rossi, in 2016, would more appropriately figure into the true “next” discussion since they have more of their careers ahead of them behind them, while the others – Rahal excepted, as he turns 28 on Wednesday – are 32 or older. It’s great to see Pagenaud being featured here strongly after winning his first title.

Interestingly, James Hinchcliffe is not among the “next” drivers chosen here, even though the “next” step for him would be breaking out into a bona fide title contender and multiple race winner after his star turn in the national spotlight on “Dancing with the Stars.” Nor is Carlos Munoz, who has almost won Indy twice, Conor Daly, who’s got enough potential to surprise, and JR Hildebrand, back for a full-time season after several years plugging away part-time. This is before you get into the other “nexts” who are currently talented enough to have a full-time ride, but are without one for 2017.

Another portion of “next” to consider – is the “next” brand choice here meant to usher out the veterans sooner rather than later? IndyCar’s true changing of the guard will come once Dixon, Kanaan and Castroneves eventually retire, but their performances the last few years give no indication that’s imminent, or that they’re waning.

Dixon’s 10-year run of finishing in the top-three in points snapped only this year, while Castroneves banked his 13th career top-five finish in points, and Kanaan was destined for a potential top-three or four finish this year before faltering. These drivers are peppered in the video but not featured prominently.

The most important “next “- arguably – is discovering what is IndyCar’s next big selling point. The 100th Indianapolis 500 has come and gone and lived up to the hype, but the 101st is, by no fault of its own, unlikely to carry the same weight and stature. The aero kits served their purpose for the manufacturers – particularly Chevrolet, which backed up its on-track success with a wealth of technology transfer – but were otherwise, largely, a heavy spending exercise that the teams incurred.

In a crowded marketplace both in racing and in sports, finding that key “next” is a stratospheric and/or polarizing star that can generate huge discussion beyond the racing itself.

That’s the first step in what this ad hopes to do, because the next “next” among drivers can only be as big or heralded as the product itself.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.