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Bourdais, Coyne becoming championship contenders

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Over the last decade, Dale Coyne Racing has transformed from the tiniest of minnows in the IndyCar paddock to a giant-killing underdog capable of pushing the powerhouse teams when circumstances allowed. However, outside of 2013 when Justin Wilson kept the team in the championship hunt for much of the year, they’ve never been a championship contender.

That has all changed in 2017. While we’ve yet to see their prowess on ovals, Dale Coyne Racing has been arguably the strongest team out of the gate, highlighted by the remarkable opening races from Sebastien Bourdais. The IndyCar veteran took advantage of a timely caution to win the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and survived a wild array of strategy at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to finish up in second.

Of course, Bourdais had his fair share of carnage to escape, especially on the opening lap, which almost put an end to his day. “That was an incredible race. At the beginning, somebody lost an end plate or something. It flew by, I dodged it in the car, it went really close and it ripped off the whole left side of the rear wing and rear pod and that’s why we came in so early,” Bourdais of the opening lap chaos.

From there, it was about managing the fuel to regain track position, which Bourdais asserted is a strength of his. “I’ve always been pretty comfortable saving fuel and that one kind of came to us,” he said of the team’s strategy. “I was just really surprised that no one played the game. It was feasible fuel wise, for us at least. Good job by Honda, obviously.”

Bourdais also credited Dale Coyne’s improved engineering staff, and the chemistry that was built in, for the strong results out of the gate. “As far as the program is concerned, obviously (Dale) brought Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, my engineer from KV for the last three years. It’s a really good chemistry.”

At the end of two races, Bourdais leads the championship. On the driver front, it is no surprise at all that he is doing so. The Frenchman is a four-time Champ Car champion, a former overall winner at the Rolex 24, and a class winner at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and this year’s Rolex 24. Bourdais’ skills cannot be understated. But, leading the championship for a team that, despite a strong engineering staff, still lacks the finances and resources of Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Andretti Autosport is a daunting task.

As a result, Bourdais isn’t quite ready to say they’ll be contenders throughout the year. But, his seat atop the standings cannot be ignored, and the thought did cross his mind. “I was kind of thinking Championship a little bit out there!” he quipped. “I don’t know that we’re a contender but we’ll find out. We’ll have stayed up there for two races so that’s not too bad!”

After two races, Bourdais leads Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe by 19 points, with the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park next on April 21-23.

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‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”