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.

F1 Preview: 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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The third trip to the Baku City Circuit for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix comes slightly earlier in 2018 for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Contested in June each of its first two years, the event was moved to April for 2018.

Although the circuit was initially criticized for its close quarters, its mix of tight corners and high-speed sections has produced quite a lot of action.

Last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was particularly eventful. Sebastian Vettel intentionally hit Lewis Hamilton under a Safety Car after he thought Hamilton brake-checked him, and Vettel was given a 10-second stop and go penalty. Later, the headrest of Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG Petronas W08 came loose, forcing him to make a late pit stop.

The Sahara Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon saw their budding rivalry come to blows, as they made contact while battling inside the Top 5.

Valtteri Bottas finished second after early-race contact with Kimi Raikkonen, and Bottas pipped Lance Stroll for second at the finish line. Stroll, for his part, scored his first career podium.

And, Daniel Ricciardo rebounded from an unscheduled pit stop early in the race – Red Bull Racing had to clear debris out of the brake scoops due to overheating – to take a stunning victory that featured a remarkable three-wide pass on Stroll, Felipe Massa, and Nico Hulkenberg. Highlights of last year’s race can be seen here.

Will this year’s race produce as many thrills? Talking points ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix are below.

Hamilton Seeks First Baku Podium, and First Win of 2018

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The first two trips to Baku have not been kind to four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. His 2016 outing was fairly unremarkable by his standards, as he finished fifth after qualifying tenth.

The 2017 event might have been a victory for him if not for the aforementioned problems with Vettel and a loose headrest. Alas, he again finished fifth.

It’s hard to believe that Hamilton does not have a victory through the first three races of 2018. Combine that with his desire to erase the bad memories of Baku from 2016 and 2017, and the Briton will be extra motivated to stand on the top step of the podium.

Red Bull Looks to Keep Momentum

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Red Bull Racing is riding high after the Chinese Grand Prix, when Daniel Ricciardo took a shock win due to tire strategy following a Safety Car.

And the Baku circuit is one that Ricciardo likes, and not just because of last year’s victory, but also because it presents a lot of chances for overtaking.

“Baku is different to other street circuits – because there are places where you can pass,” Ricciardo asserted in a preview on Formula1.com. “Actually, lots of places where you can pass. As opposed to Monaco and Singapore where there’s not many places to overtake really.”

He added that the track’s combination of high-speeds and tight corners put a premium on getting your braking points exactly right, otherwise the track will bite you.

“The trickiest thing in Baku is braking. There’s so many braking points where you have to commit and you have to brake as late as you can – but there’s no room for error,” he detailed. “Once you’ve committed to that braking point, if you’ve locked a wheel, you’re in the wall. I’d say the hardest part about Baku is finding the limit with braking, and just having that confidence.”

Teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, looks to rebound after again catching the ire of many rivals and onlookers for his contact with Sebastian Vettel in China. Further, Verstappen looks to avenge last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which he dropped out following a power unit failure.

“Last year was a very unfortunate weekend for me. It was a shame because the car felt really good but I encountered a lot of problems which ultimately meant I missed out on a potential podium, perhaps even a win. I’m hoping this year I can make up for that lost opportunity,” said Verstappen in the aforementioned preview piece.

Ferrari Looks to Reclaim Dominance After China Hiccup

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

After winning the opening rounds at Australia and Bahrain with Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari had their first hiccup of 2018 in China, when a Safety Car butchered their tire strategy and left them vulnerable when others, chiefly Ricciardo and Verstappen, pitted for new tires.

Vettel was relegated to eighth after spinning following contact with Verstappen, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished third, his second podium in three races to start 2018.

Baku was one of the races from 2017 in which Vettel drew criticism for his on-track antics – see the aforementioned collision with Hamilton – and he’ll hope to get back on the podium to avenge both his struggles from China and from last year’s Baku outing.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, will look to get back to his winning ways for the first time since 2013.

Misc.

  • McLaren F1 Team sits a much-improved fourth in the constructor’s championship on the strength of two double-points finishes, with Fernando Alonso leading the way. Alonso has finishes of fifth, seventh, and seventh after three races, while Stoffel Vandoorne has points finishes of ninth and eighth to his name so far.
  • Sahara Force India still only has one points finish in 2018 – Esteban Ocon’s tenth in Bahrain. It’s hard to believe how far this team has fallen, even if the midfield is jammed with ultra competitive teams. That they have been off the pace to start 2018 is genuinely surprising.
  • Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team have been the strongest of the midfield teams so far, along with McLaren, and they should contend once again for points this weekend.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix rolls off at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday.

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