Photo: IndyCar

Carpenter, Hildebrand make most of windy Indy 500 practice

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Heavy winds saw limited running during Day 3 of practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. However, the Ed Carpenter Racing duo of Ed Carpenter and JR Hildebrand still managed to stay busy, with each driver turning more than 50 laps in total on the day (Hildebrand did 54 while Carpenter did 52).

As Carpenter noted, even though the wind made conditions far from ideal, there was still valuable information to be had. “The wind was very, very gusty, (and) variable. And to me, if you can go out and get comfortable in conditions like that, I think it bodes well for the car, the race car and how comfortable you can be. And you never know, it could be this windy on race day. So I thought it was important to go out and run,” Carpenter explained.

Hildebrand echoed those sentiments, explaining that running in difficult conditions produces extra data regarding how sensitive the cars can be. “It helps to be able to increase your understanding of how variability like this affects the car. And that allows for you to make better decisions later on, because you know some of those things a little bit better rather than just having to kind of guess,” he asserted.

Both drivers have been quick all week, even turning the first (Carpenter) and third (Hildebrand) fastest no-tow laps during Tuesday practice.

JR Hildebrand crosses the yard of bricks during practice for the Indy 500. Photo: IndyCar

As Hildebrand detailed, even though the speed charts don’t always tell the whole story, they can be a good indication of who will be a threat come race day. “I think if you look at the stackup during practice over the last handful of years, the cars that are running in the top 10 frequently tend to actually be the cars, one way or the other, that are running in the top 10 during the race.”

Further, counting today’s results, the ECR teammates have turned the most laps out of the 33 entrants. As of writing, Hildebrand has completed 212 laps with Carpenter completing 182. For Hildebrand, the track also helps his engineer Justin Taylor, in his first season in the Verizon IndyCar Series after working on Audi’s dominant LMP1 sports car program, gain IndyCar experience.

“I think Justin comes into this, you know, with a very open mind, obviously, knowing that the team’s done a lot of really good work here to sort of develop the cars to where they are, where we start,” Hildebrand said of Taylor. “So there’s a little bit of comfort in knowing that these guys have been here, either with Ed and (his engineer Matt Barnes), they’ve run together here for a long time.”

Practice continues tomorrow at 12:00 p.m. ET.

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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.”