IndyCar business: Indy 500 win like “manna from heaven” for DHL with Andretti

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Earlier this offseason, we chronicled several elements of Andretti Sports Marketing and Andretti Autosport’s 2015 plans (Milwaukee date evolution, Miami/NOLA promotional plan, MRTI programs, fourth car update, NOLA weekend promotion and Red Bull GRC breakout).

However none of it happens without the people behind the scenes doing the work or, crucially, the commercial partners aligned to an organization.

As far as the widely accepted top three teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series go, key partnerships have helped provide stability from a commercial and sales standpoint that have allowed the team to bring in the best personnel and drivers.

Team Penske’s Verizon (and previous to that, Phillip Morris) relationship has been pivotal to its success; Chip Ganassi Racing has grown over 25+ years thanks to Target; and Andretti Autosport has enjoyed successful relationships with several partners, notably DHL and the Dr Pepper Snapple group for long-term deals.

Consider these three teams have won all IndyCar championships since 2002, consider these three teams could be fielding as many as 12 full-time cars next season, and consider that the rest of the field seems to have a revolving door of primary sponsors and you can see why it can be so difficult for the rest to catch up.

Along with John Lopes, the driving force for many of Andretti Sports Marketing’s deals is Starke Taylor, its Vice Chairman, hailed as a “tour-de-force” by the company’s president.

“We [Taylor, Lopes, and Michael Andretti] formed Andretti Sports Marketing’s partnership specifically to expand our ability to grow and diversify our marketing capabilities and it’s paying off,” said Lopes.

Lopes expanded on DHL’s relationship with Andretti and how huge the Indianapolis 500 victory was for both respective organizations.

“Anytime you win the 500 with a sponsor, it’s like manna from heaven,” Lopes told MotorSportsTalk during an October interview at Andretti Sports Marketing headquarters in Indianapolis. “It’s a good thing.”

While the ‘500 win with driver Ryan Hunter-Reay stood out, it wasn’t the trigger that helped lead to a new three-year extension between DHL and Andretti Autosport for RHR’s No. 28 Honda-powered Dallara.

“DHL had committed to the extension before the Indy 500. We’d talked about it for months,” Lopes said. “It started with a small sponsor, Exel, way back in 2005 and has been with us since the whole history. That was one of the first deals I was involved with (he’s been with Andretti since 2005).”

How does DHL succeed with Andretti? It’s more what happens in boardrooms and meeting rooms than in engineering rooms.

“The whole foundation of the relationship is based on business-to-business,” Lopes explained. “So we are a sales arm for DHL in B2B in the U.S. We have literally a guy who, 60 percent of his work life is focused on selling B2B for DHL.

“I work on it every day with my colleagues.  We’ve become logistics junkies!  I could sit here and talk all day about DHL Global Freight, Exel port operations in New Orleans, and DHL Express international mail service.”

Andretti’s partnership with DHL is meant to increase DHL’s business returns.

“So we are actually tasked on our ROI year-end report, with what we’ve done to assist in DHL’s global business growth,” Lopes said. “We have a meeting where we report to them every week on our status.

“It’s probably one of the things we stress over the most; are we selling enough international express relationships and helping them grow?  If that is successful then the sponsorship is gravy.”

In an era of motorsports where multi-year contract extensions are almost as rare as bald eagles, getting a three-year deal done now in IndyCar – as Andretti and DHL announced in Milwaukee in August – speaks to the work ethic and dedication of both sides.

Hunter-Reay, of course, serves as both the wheelman and brand ambassador. It’s something the modern driver must succeed at, because driving today is about so much more than pure talent.

“Ryan’s done a nice job with it and is a great brand ambassador,” Lopes said. “But it’s about the business relationships.”

When you look back on RHR’s ‘500 win – he gets recognized for it later today with his likeness revealed on the Borg-Warner Trophy – one of the most memorable images will be his son Ryden in a matching, yellow DHL firesuit.

The “awww” factor is priceless there. As is the ROI.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.