Milwaukee’s date in flux as Andretti Sports Marketing looks to continue growth plan

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As it stands this Tuesday, October 14, the Verizon IndyCar Series 2015 date at the Milwaukee Mile has not been set.

The series will return, but it’s just a question of when. After being on Father’s Day weekend in 2012 and 2013, the race shifted to August this past year, post the Wisconsin State Fair.

However, the anticipated massive bump in attendance didn’t come, despite a high level of promotion in the market and additional foot traffic that saw the ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers advertised at State Fair.

An August return is possible; the Labor Day weekend has also been mooted and it’s even been suggested the race could run in July. Race general manager Kevin Healy of Andretti Sports Marketing joked, “I can tell you it will be between March and September.”

As Milwaukee seeks to find its home on the calendar, Andretti Sports Marketing president John Lopes said the mantra of date equity isn’t as important as some would make it seem.

“I don’t know if it matters so much anymore,” Lopes told MotorSportsTalk in an interview at Andretti Sports Marketing’s offices in Indianapolis.

“Date equity is a mantra for every promoter, but I don’t think date equity is an issue for Milwaukee yet because we haven’t found the right date yet. This is one market where it walks and talks and acts differently than others.”

How so, you ask? Adverse circumstances affected the two June years, and while Lopes was happy with the promotion, he was surprised by the August date not producing the desired number of sold tickets.

“Every time we think we’re smart on a date, we learn that maybe we’re not as smart as we thought we were,” he explained. “We really thought Father’s Day would work, so we went with this whole Father’s Day promotion, and ‘generations.’ What we learned is we were hurt by a couple things: we were hurt by June Sprints, the fact it was Father’s Day, and by rain, and that happened two years in a row.

“So we moved off of that, and thought, ‘OK, let’s see how we do without those three things going against us.’ It didn’t change the needle. So that was a head scratcher for us.

“Now we don’t have so much of a choice. Our date, which will come pretty quickly from IndyCar, will be where can they fit us. So maybe, funny enough, we might not get a date we want, and watch, we’ll have more than with our other dates.”

Lopes explained the three-year growth model for IndyCar at IndyFest, and how Andretti Sports Marketing has helped to save the event from going away.

“We took Milwaukee initially as a one year at a time type thing,” he said. “The first year, we came in to help IndyCar do it. For those of us who are close to the sport, it’s one of those things we didn’t want to see fail. It’s our version of Wrigley Field.

“A lot of promoters had had issues over the years. I honestly don’t know what the common thread was. We felt we could come in, and so long as we contained costs, we could slowly build it up over three years. It’s occurred that way. We’ve built it up from a sponsorship standpoint.”

The additions of ABC Supply Co. as a title sponsor and Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers as a presenting sponsor, Lopes said, really boosted the event. The company’s national sponsors – DHL, Dr Pepper Snapple and on down the line – also helped grow and support the race. Where the company needs to increase is by growing the base of Milwaukee sponsors.

“In terms of expectations, that’s been good. In terms of a point of pride for the company, that’s been good. But, we need to put more butts in seats. That’s the singular issue,” Lopes admitted. “It’s a bit of a head scratcher, and we don’t yet know the answer.”

Lopes said the event has grown from less than 10,000 fans in 2011 to north of 25,000 over three years. While an optimistic goal, Lopes said if they could attract 45,000 fans, it would be huge for the race.

Some have attested the attendance issue is an “oval problem,” where it appears IndyCar draws lower on ovals than on road and street courses, that’s a bit of a misnomer. Most oval grandstands IndyCar races on were built during a period of grandstand expansion, and that perception has hurt ovals.

“This isn’t unique to Milwaukee, or unique to racing,” Lopes explained. “Somebody showed all the empty seats at the 49ers game last week. It’s symptomatic of events in general; it’s harder to sell tickets to events now than ever.

“It’s attributable to a changing culture in entertainment, because 20-30 years ago it was the only thing. Now you have so many different options of entertainment, sports, festivals.

“It looks to me like they overbuilt. Because of that, we’re wrestling with a perception of it’s not a big event. But there’s several thousand in the infield alone, and ten of thousands in grandstands.

“It might be hard to compare us to the L.A. market, but I can tell you there were less there than Milwaukee. I think we do a good job in the market, and we are trying to bring in more.”

Lopes said the zip code analysis revealed a wide number of potential attendees from Northern Illinois, but because of the challenge and cost of media buys in that market, they haven’t been able to attract the number of fans from that area.

Overall though, Lopes said the event’s future is secure, and the goal now is to grow the event rather than simply save it.

“We’re refining it. We’re not saving the world or the event. The event is saved. Now it’s how do we put more butts in seats.”

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.