INDYCAR asks what’s ‘NEXT’ in 2017 promotional video

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One of the great elements in the Verizon IndyCar Series is the competing dynamic between the established veterans who’ve been around pushing two decades – Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan immediately come to mind – versus the more up-and-coming younger drivers such as Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud.

The latter three are among those featured in INDYCAR (sanctioning body here, not the series) releasing its new-for-2017 promotional video called “NEXT,” which follows past season concepts “RIVALS,” “SPEED” and “LEGENDS.” INDYCAR worked with brand agency partner Johnston & Wolverton to create this ad.

“We’re confident and focused on INDYCAR’s future,” C.J. O’Donnell, chief marketing officer of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said in a release. “The theme ‘NEXT’ will effectively deliver our message of continued growth and expresses the momentum our sport has experienced the last three seasons.”

The aforementioned growth expresses INDYCAR’s 55 percent increase in overall TV viewership since 2013 combined between ABC and NBCSN. IndyCar’s 2017 schedule is out but TV times and start times are yet to be released; that information should be out fairly shortly.

Going back to the the “NEXT” idea is an interesting choice, and seems to forecast several “next” elements.

For one, the immediate “next” is INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 spec aero kit bodywork, which figures to be revealed in the next month. The “next” there will need to be a transformative bodywork that makes the cars look cooler than they are now and can generate buzz beyond the oft-Indiana-only bubble that frequently permeates the atmosphere. The manufacturer aero kits from Chevrolet and Honda are frozen for 2017, as they enter their second year since changes were made to the 2016 kits, and third overall since the 2015 aero kit introduction.

The next “next” is that of picking which “next” drivers to highlight. The six drivers identified in the video are Newgarden, Will Power, Pagenaud, Rossi, Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

This is an intriguing mix of “next” choices because Hunter-Reay (debuted in 2003), Power (2005), Pagenaud (2007) and Rahal (2007) all debuted in IndyCar at least a decade ago, and among them, Hunter-Reay has both a championship and an Indianapolis 500 win, while Power and Pagenaud have won two of the last three championships.

It’s fair to say that of that six-pack only Newgarden, who debuted in 2012 and Rossi, in 2016, would more appropriately figure into the true “next” discussion since they have more of their careers ahead of them behind them, while the others – Rahal excepted, as he turns 28 on Wednesday – are 32 or older. It’s great to see Pagenaud being featured here strongly after winning his first title.

Interestingly, James Hinchcliffe is not among the “next” drivers chosen here, even though the “next” step for him would be breaking out into a bona fide title contender and multiple race winner after his star turn in the national spotlight on “Dancing with the Stars.” Nor is Carlos Munoz, who has almost won Indy twice, Conor Daly, who’s got enough potential to surprise, and JR Hildebrand, back for a full-time season after several years plugging away part-time. This is before you get into the other “nexts” who are currently talented enough to have a full-time ride, but are without one for 2017.

Another portion of “next” to consider – is the “next” brand choice here meant to usher out the veterans sooner rather than later? IndyCar’s true changing of the guard will come once Dixon, Kanaan and Castroneves eventually retire, but their performances the last few years give no indication that’s imminent, or that they’re waning.

Dixon’s 10-year run of finishing in the top-three in points snapped only this year, while Castroneves banked his 13th career top-five finish in points, and Kanaan was destined for a potential top-three or four finish this year before faltering. These drivers are peppered in the video but not featured prominently.

The most important “next “- arguably – is discovering what is IndyCar’s next big selling point. The 100th Indianapolis 500 has come and gone and lived up to the hype, but the 101st is, by no fault of its own, unlikely to carry the same weight and stature. The aero kits served their purpose for the manufacturers – particularly Chevrolet, which backed up its on-track success with a wealth of technology transfer – but were otherwise, largely, a heavy spending exercise that the teams incurred.

In a crowded marketplace both in racing and in sports, finding that key “next” is a stratospheric and/or polarizing star that can generate huge discussion beyond the racing itself.

That’s the first step in what this ad hopes to do, because the next “next” among drivers can only be as big or heralded as the product itself.