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Brown hints at Indy test, other details to come for Alonso, McLaren

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In a wide-ranging interview with “Trackside” on 1070 The Fan radio in Indianapolis, McLaren executive director Zak Brown has hinted at a few more details to come regarding Fernando Alonso’s upcoming arrival to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Brown, speaking to NBCSN pit reporter and show host Kevin Lee (co-hosts the show with INDYCAR communications head Curt Cavin), said a date has been determined for Alonso’s first test day at IMS in the jointly entered McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport entry but they would wait to reveal it themselves to create a big splash on social media.

You can listen to the full interview with Brown here, starting at about the 14:45 mark.

“There is, but we are not yet revealing that,” Brown told Lee. “We are working very closely with INDYCAR how can we expose the fans to Fernando Alonso and showcase fun and unique ways to do that live and digitally. I don’t want to spoil that announcement, because we’ll be revealing it to the fans.”

Brown also revealed a few further details about Alonso’s month of May program itself, including whether McLaren personnel directly will be involved in the entry.

“Andretti Autosport will take the lead. Michael will be calling the race. It will be his team over the wall,” Brown said. “We are sending out a small crew to support.

“We have some areas where some of the technology we’ve developed will be beneficial. From everything to the technology on the car to some of our people.

“We’ve got some people with some great IndyCar experience. We can’t detract or remove any effort towards our Formula 1 (effort). It will be people from the factory that will have relevant experience.”

Brown elaborated on McLaren’s longer-term goals for Indianapolis beyond 2017, and said you can expect to see existing McLaren F1 partners adorning Alonso’s IndyCar this year.

“I would like to see the Indy 500 being part of McLaren’s annual racing efforts when we go racing,” Brown said. “We have to make sure we do it competitively; it has to be commercially viable and fits our brand. We feel IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 offer all those things to McLaren.

“I’d say a full season program in McLaren is not yet under full consideration and would be years away because that would be a tall order.”

Brown also confirmed he’ll be joining Alonso in Birmingham, Ala. this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, where they’ll join the Andretti Autosport team for the weekend. He said they’ll land on Saturday.

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

Photo: Chris Estrada, NBC Sports
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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.”