Menards, DHL extensions help IndyCar’s corporate growth

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It’s not that often anymore you go to a Verizon IndyCar Series race meeting and get one partner announcement press conference, let alone two.

Yet this weekend, in addition to the obvious story line of the weekend and the championship battle that went with it, IndyCar’s corporate health and upward trajectory with team sponsor extensions was a positive story line that emerged.

On Saturday, Menards announced it was growing its initial five-race deal with Team Penske – which began as a three-race deal for 2016 – into 10 full races for Simon Pagenaud in 2017. The fact that now Menards will be adorning the champion’s car, whether Pagenaud switches to No. 1 or keeps the No. 22, is another thing for the home improvement warehouse magnate to hang his fluorescent colored hat on.

And then on Sunday, DHL took its relationship with Andretti Autosport to another level, extending three more years through to 2020 with the team and with its lead driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Both companies expressed their take on why being in IndyCar is good for their business.

“I think IndyCar is on an upward trend now, for sure,” John Menard said Saturday. “I think that they are to be commended, the people that are running it right now, because I think they’re doing a great job.

“It’s not easy right now competing for attention in the sports world with all the things that are going on, all the different new sports coming in. To see IndyCar having some growth, having really successful races in the Indy 500 this year, Elkhart Lake was just a tremendous race. Only thing that could have made it better is if you would have won it. There’s been some wonderful races and wonderful things.”

“The decision was easy for us,” added Mike Parra, CEO of DHL Express Americas. “We continue our relationship that’ll be 10 years with Ryan in 2020. He’s an iconic driver … he’s great with our employees, our customers and great in the series. To add to it, be part of Andretti Autosport, the team history. No better time than to do it now.

“For us, it’s the opportunity to go international, go to China, Australia, the Middle East; that would be big. We want Montreal back, and we’re already in Toronto.”

Hunter-Reay, for his part, has been afforded the stability with DHL and Andretti Autosport that countered the instability he had earlier in his career.

Ironically, Hunter-Reay was teammates with German driver Timo Glock in 2005, when DHL first appeared in Champ Car. But the road from 2003 to 2009 was rocky for him before 2010 when he joined Andretti, and 2011 when DHL joined the renumbered No. 28 car.

“This is fantastic. To not stress about that, I can’t tell you how beneficial that is for the racing side,” Hunter-Reay expressed.

“I sure hope so, that this is becoming an iconic partnership, and it’s on its way there right now. You couldn’t see me in anything but a yellow suit. Pick me out of a crowd and I love that.

“To know the next four years are locked in and stable is priceless.”

Pagenaud, meanwhile, has not only grown as a driver but he’s grown as a professional within the Penske empire.

Like Hunter-Reay before him, Pagenaud went through a hodgepodge of cars, teams, sponsors and series before joining Team Penske.

And he’s quickly learned and grown to understand the importance of the Penske business – he noted it was key he won a race for all three of his primary partners this year, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, PPG Automotive Refinish and Menards. He also had a runner-up finish for DeVilbiss back at Phoenix in April.

“This is the kind of dream relationship,” Pagenaud said at Saturday’s Menards announcement. “Like Roger said, then comes the partnership relationship. Team Penske has this incredible way of doing things with partners. It’s not just sponsorship, it’s really a partnership where it’s a business-to-business relationship. I think that’s where it becomes interesting for any sponsors or partners to be with us at Team Penske.”

Penske praised Pagenaud’s understanding of the business side.

“I can tell you that he’s done a terrific job, not only with Menards but with all the sponsors,” Penske said. “I think the first year he was kind of getting his feet on the ground with us. I think he saw the information that’s available across the other three drivers which is certainly important. He’s executed. De Ferran really is the one who gave me the heads up when he drove for him. We had a lot of confidence in what Gil would say.”

It’s perhaps good timing that these two team extensions – along with Andretti Autosport’s recent signing of hhgregg, as well, in a primary role for Marco Andretti’s car – comes on the same weekend where Target signed off its 27-year run with Chip Ganassi Racing’s IndyCar program.

Knowing Ganassi, you have to think there’s a good chance of getting a big company or companies in to replace them as the primary sponsor on Scott Dixon’s car, and there’s a good chance it could be one of the vendors that’s been at Target or one of the existing alternate liveried cars coming on for a greater opportunity.

Looking at it from INDYCAR’s perspective, President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye, whose past has been on the team side and then on the commercial side with INDYCAR, Frye is pleased to see the companies committing what they are, now.

“It’s funny because I was thinking of that this weekend,” Frye said. “Seeing those, with DHL, Menards and hhgregg, is big.

“It’s encouraging, it’s something you work on all the time, but it’s a good sign.”

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.