Track improvements, Kohler title partnership key for Road America return

Photo: IndyCar

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The Road America that the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to for this weekend’s KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) is a slightly different place than the last time a North American open-wheel series raced here in 2007, with what was then the Champ Car World Series.

Between a new victory lane, a new Paddock Shop and Fan Engagement Center, a new concession and a new main gate, the latest capital improvements have freshened up the 4.048-mile road course that retains all of its character as, it’s been dubbed, “America’s National Park of Speed.”

“You’ve gotta keep doing things to stay ahead in the industry for the fans, the drivers, and the participants,” track president George Bruggenthies told NBC Sports. “You have to create an experience – a wow.”

The other important element of the weekend proceedings comes from a title sponsorship standpoint, with Kohler Co. signing on as title sponsor.

At the time of the release in late May, President and CEO of Kohler Co. David Kohler said, “Kohler shares this passion and enthusiasm and we are excited to welcome Verizon IndyCar fans to our home to take part in the return of IndyCar racing at Road America, one of the most beautiful and unique tracks in the world.” The company was founded in 1873 and, headquartered in Kohler, Wis., is one of America’s oldest and largest privately held companies.

Bruggenthies expanded on the relationship, noting how much of an impact Kohler Co. has already had on the track over the years in a variety of events.

“Historically Kohler has been a big partner at a variety of events for a long time. We just reengaged them, and things worked out,” he said.

“They’ve been involved in our vintage event, sprints, the tunnel entrance, plenty of partnership activity. Their employees do a lot of things at the motorplex; their engineers, they go karting, we use Kohler engines. It’s a local company. It’s a natural thing.”

Bruggenthies said there’s been “very strong interest” on advance ticket sales, with camping also selling quite well.

Leave it to racing legend Mario Andretti to describe the importance of the track coming back to the calendar after the nine-year hiatus.

“This venue, this facility carries a lot of tradition for good, honest road racing in America,” he said.

“The glory days for IndyCar, this was part of it. It can be again.”

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.