Photo courtesy Chip Ganassi Racing

PNC Bank becomes primary sponsor for Scott Dixon’s car in IndyCar

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Chip Ganassi needed a sponsor for his star IndyCar driver and refused to compromise the value of Scott Dixon simply to slap any company name on the side of the car.

Little did the team owner know he only had to look in his own hometown for a solution.

PNC Bank on Tuesday announced an increased partnership with Ganassi in which the Pittsburgh-based institution will be the primary sponsor for Dixon. The car was unveiled in Indianapolis.

Ganassi still lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh, went to the same high school as PNC Chairman Bill Demchak and opened his first account with the bank as a teenager.

“Chip has a few years on me, I won’t say how many,” Demchak told The Associated Press. “We’ve known each other 30 years or something.”

That relationship led to an initial partnership between PNC and the Ganassi organization that began in 2014. PNC brought corporate clients to IndyCar races.

“Frankly, we were pleasantly surprised at the reaction we got from clients, the business we got from clients, and the potential for sponsorship,” Demchak said. “When (Dixon) came up as open this year, much to my surprise, it was a pretty easy decision to step up and sponsor the car.”

Terms were not released.

Ganassi used patchwork sponsorship on Dixon’s car last year after Target left IndyCar after nearly 30 years with Ganassi. Target also pulled out of NASCAR to concentrate on soccer at the end of last season.

Ganassi didn’t panic, used three different sponsors on Dixon’s No. 9 car last season, and Dixon won one race, the pole for the Indianapolis 500 and finished third in the championship standings.

“We had plenty of opportunities to give it away, and I have to say that I was not overly joyed with that prospect,” Ganassi said. “We maintained some sort of level of competitiveness throughout the transition and here we are now set for 2018 and forward.”

Dixon is a four-time IndyCar Series champion and will finish his career as one of the best racers in American open-wheel history.

Dixon is coming off a class victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which was the 200th win for the Ganassi organization. Dixon is ranked fourth on IndyCar’s all-time win list with 41, one victory behind Michael Andretti. He trails only A.J. Foyt and Mario and Michael Andretti in career victories.

“I was on the phone with the bank one day and they said `It’s interesting that Dixon’s car is open. It’s an interesting opportunity for someone,”‘ Ganassi said. “It took me by surprise to hear that. I’ve never had any sort of partnership or major sponsor based here in Pittsburgh.”

Ganassi doesn’t want the focus of this new sponsorship package to be on a merger of two Pittsburgh-based companies.

“Our brands are a little larger than Pittsburgh,” Ganassi said. “It’s nice to bring these two brands together, and it’s nice we are both from Pittsburgh, but it’s not the meat of the deal.”

The IndyCar season opens in March and PNC Bank plans on having a strong presence throughout the season. Demchak sees the value in activating at IndyCar events and the potential for both PNC and the Ganassi organization.

“We bring businesses and corporate executives to the races, and the emotion, if you target the right clients, the emotional attachment to Indy is really strong,” Demchak said. “It’s a client event that is not typical. It’s not taking them to the Masters, or a golf tournament. It’s something totally different, and it’s powerful. It appeals to our broad-based consumer client across the country, and with Scott in the car, there’s going to be a lot of television coverage showing our name.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/

 

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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