Photo: IndyCar

Q&A: Mark Miles on INDYCAR’s state of play for May, 2017

Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – As practice occurs this week for the marquee race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, it provides a good opportunity to catch up with INDYCAR’s top man – Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co. – about the health of the series and the hoopla about this year’s race.

Fernando Alonso’s participation has opened the doors from an international coverage and attention standpoint; however, with 32 other talented drivers in this year’s field of 33, ensuring the best of the best who compete here on a regular basis don’t get lost will be key to monitor.

We caught up with Miles after his trip to Europe to kick off this month, with stops in France, England, Italy and Spain. Oriol Servia, Dario Franchitti and Max Chilton were also with Miles at various points on the media tour.

Of note, regarding the 2018 schedule, rumors have persisted about the potential additions of a race in Mexico and/or a race in the Pacific Northwest, believed to be a return to Portland. All existing races for 2017 are confirmed for 2018 as part of existing contracts.

MST: So you’re just back from the European trip. How did it go compared to expectations and what was the trigger for it? 

Mark Miles: “It was much more successful than I imagined. We could take the interest created by Fernando’s entry and use that as an excuse to talk about INDYCAR and the Indianapolis 500 race. We got drawn into the Fernando discussion – mainly in Spain – but here’s the Verizon IndyCar Series of today, here’s what defines it and here’s what you need to know today about Indy 500.

“For me, having traveled around the world for an international sport in the past and who is from Indianapolis, they’d always go, ‘Vroom, vroom!’ From my experience – everyone knows about the 500. We have name ID, but we haven’t done enough to cultivate the following and fan engagement. When you tell the story, people are intrigued.

“When you think about the things that even the Liberty guys would say when they want to improve Formula 1, it tends to be things like cost, competitive and dynamic racing. You have to be in the front, or you won’t have much chance to win the race.

“We tell our story about how competitive our series is – how (Sebastien) Bourdais can start last and win St. Pete – how many different winners we have, how our last 11 titles have been decided at the final race in the last 11 years, and the fact that oh by the way, we’re fast.”

MST: There’s an occasional perception that the Indianapolis 500 supersedes the Verizon IndyCar Series as an entity in terms of importance and promotion. Is it a balancing act or does one get put above the other? 

MM: “I don’t think it’s a balancing act at all. We push all of it. I came from a tennis background, anything the grand slams can do to lift the circuit and series is a good thing. It’s the same here. There’s no identity difference between the 500 and INDYCAR. The 500 is our major; our crown jewel. The health of INDYCAR is important to it, and vice versa.

“You’ll notice that not too many years ago there weren’t too many INDYCAR logos around here. Now you do see them. Because when you go to the Super Bowl, you need to see the NFL shield. It’s very top of mind. It’s not balancing – it’s load them both up and make them inseparable.”

MST: That being said, the decision to stream Fernando’s test did put the Indy 500 more on a greater scale internationally. What was the process in that call?

MM: “So what happened was two things. One was, Oriol (Servia) calls me the day of the Alonso announcement, because when he got up in L.A., he had I believe 60 messages from Spanish journalists. That was, that day, ‘We’re going to Europe. We’re going to tell our story there instead of have them come to us.’

“At the same time, we started thinking about the test… and this was occurring in Phoenix where I talked with Robby Greene of IMS Productions and our marketing team. What does it cost to turn this into a show? Most of us said, this is a test, why should you do that? Because there’d be enormous interest. We had no idea how high was up. But we thought if we turned into a show, a fully produced stream, at least whoever saw it that was new to us would see us introduced in a quality way. It was more about that, than knowing the result.

“We had 2.2-plus (million) uniques, and being in Spain when they were getting it, and seeing the frenzy, was ‘stupendous.’ I’m really glad we put our best foot forward in that regard.”

MST: There’s more to note beyond 2017, though. What’s a rough timeframe to have the 2018 schedule out?

MM: “We’ve gone back and forth on what kind of deadline to set, but we can be flexible because the foundation of the schedule is done. It’s really just working with our broadcasters to make sure the precise schedule helps us avoid conflicts and provides the best (TV) windows, and among a few interested (parties/races) to look to get added, we work to give them every opportunity to be considered.”

MST: What’s the planning process about the next round of TV negotiations?

MM: “Yes, more specifically, we are planning to spend the rest of this year negotiating with respect to media licensees, linear, over-the-top, video on demand, everything we’ve got. It’ll be through this year before we really get a sense of where we are going to be.”

MST: And there’s a new car to premiere next year, too, with the common spec body kit coming…

MM: “It’s exciting; we’d hoped to show it in Europe. Jay’s thinking it’ll be out there (running) in July, and we’ll add another great, attractive story line to IndyCar racing.”

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

Leave a comment

MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”