Photo: WeatherTech Racing

WeatherTech Racing solid on day 1 at Le Mans

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The WeatherTech Racing trio of Cooper MacNeil, Bill Sweedler, and NBCSN’s Townsend Bell began their 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans venture on Thursday during practice and provisional qualifying, with Sweedler and Bell aiming to repeat their 2016 triumph in the GTE-Am class, done under the Scuderia Corsa banner.

Their No. 62 WeatherTech Racing Ferrari 488 GTE-Am machine ran without incident during six hours of practice before placing ninth on the provisional GTE-Am class grid.

As Sweedler explained, Thursday was about settling into a routine and establishing a baseline. “We were getting the car sorted today. We were fine tuning the setup and getting our compulsory night laps. We are where we were last year and we won the race last year. We are jelling as a team. Cooper is new, but he fits right in and has a lot of confidence in the car. We will do the same tomorrow and be as prepared as we can be for the race on Saturday.”

Bell added that he had to reacclimate himself with driving at night, and he even made a couple little mistakes involving the cockpit lights and headlights.

“We were getting acclimated to running this new car at night. I forgot to turn on the cockpit lights and then shut the headlights off on the Mulsanne going into the first chicane. It is good to thrash through it and get those things out of the way,” Bell revealed. “This place is intimidating at night, it is a completely different world out there when it gets dark. The balance of the Ferrari is terrific. It is a good race car. Just to have the time to make the little mistakes now is helpful.”

MacNeil, the newest member of the team, who has competed at Le Mans twice in 2013 and 2014, emphasized that making it through the day cleanly was a vital part of their Thursday effort.

“The first day was good. All three of us kept the car clean, away from contact and on the track,” MacNeil detailed. “It is always good when you have a nice clean day of practice. That saves the car and saves the work for the crew. They work hard and don’t need any unnecessary effort going into 24 hours of racing. All three of us ran solid quick laps. I am looking forward to tomorrow.”

WeatherTech Racing resumes their effort on Friday with second official practice.


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‘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.”