Revamped Belle Isle kicks off big stretch for IndyCar (VIDEO)

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The Indianapolis 500 has come and gone, and now the real fight for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship can begin.

This weekend’s Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit (Saturday and Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET; check local listings) not only marks the first-ever doubleheader weekend for North America’s top open-wheel series but also begins a run of five races in four weekends. It’ll be a tough stretch for everybody involved and it gets started with the island course at Belle Isle Park on the Detroit River.

The circuit has been overhauled following last year’s embarrassing track surface problems that caused the distance of the race, won by Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, to be shortened by a third (60 laps instead of the scheduled 90). Over 100,000 square feet of new concrete and 50,000 square feet of new asphalt has been put down to ensure that such a scenario won’t play out again, but just as importantly, the track has gone to a 2.3-mile configuration that was used during the event’s days under CART sanction.

This has brought in a new straightaway of about one half-mile connecting Turns 2 and 3 – adding a much-needed passing zone to a course that has been maligned repeatedly over the years as unexciting.

It cannot be stressed enough just how important physical conditioning and managing mental stress is going to be this weekend for the drivers and teams in Detroit. Two 70-lap races on a bumpy, narrow street circuit is going to be hard for them, but with the series championship now front-and-center after the “500,” they’ll all have to keep their eyes on the prize.

NTT re-signs as IndyCar title sponsor in multiyear deal starting with the 2024 season

James Black/Penske Entertainment

The IndyCar Series has re-signed NTT as its title sponsor in a multiyear agreement starting in 2024.

NTT, a global information technology and communications company based in Japan, became the series’ title sponsor before the 2019 season after starting as a sponsor of the No. 10 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.

NTT Data (a subsidiary of parent company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.) will remain the official technology partner of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 and the NASCAR Brickyard weekend.

With the extension, an IndyCar spokesman said NTT would become the second-longest title sponsor in series history. The longest title sponsor was PPG from 1980-97 (under the CART sanction of the Champ Car Series).

NTT replaced Verizon, which was IndyCar’s title sponsor from 2014-18 after IZOD from 2010-13.

“NTT is an excellent partner across our enterprise with strong expertise and a deep commitment to our sport,” Penske Corp. chairman and IndyCar owner Roger Penske said in a release. “From Smart Venue technology at the Racing Capital of the World to the reimagined Series mobile application, NTT is transforming the fan experience in new and innovative ways. We look forward to a bright future together.”

NTT has used artificial intelligence-enabled optical detection technology at IMS to provide information to the track’s operations and security teams, helping improve fan traffic flow and safety, the track said.

“IndyCar is a great partner for NTT Data because of our shared commitment to driving innovation, increasing sustainability and delivering amazing experiences,” NTT Data CEO Kaz Nishihata said in a release. “We also appreciate how IndyCar is so diverse, with drivers from 15 different countries, and races that range from short ovals and superspeedways to road and street courses. It’s both an incredible sport and a wonderful example for our world.”

NTT also has been instrumental in helping redesign the IndyCar app and providing more race and driver data for use in NBC Sports’ broadcasts by utilizing 140 data points from every car in the field.

“NTT is fully invested in the development and growth of our sport and has already established a terrific track record in our industry with problem-solving capabilities and access to top talent and tools,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said.

Said NTT Data Services CEO Bob Pryor: “We’re thrilled to continue our collaborations that enhance and expand the fan experience for motorsports and serve as proof points for data analytics, AI, and other innovative digital technologies. For more than a century, this racing series has pioneered innovations making driving safer for everyone, and by continuing this relationship, we will accelerate the pace of innovations and new technologies, particularly related to sustainability that ultimately can benefit organizations, communities and individuals around the world.”

Starting as a Japanese telephone company, NTT grew into a $100 billion-plus tech services giant with U.S. operations based in Plano, Texas.