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/

 

MRTI: Road America Saturday notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Saturday at Road America saw all three series of the Mazda Road to Indy complete in action again, with the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires concluding its weekend with Race 2, while the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda completing their opening races of the weekend.

Indy Lights saw its two main title combatants duel for the win, while Pro Mazda saw its Race 1 winner complete a weekend sweep. And in USF2000, the points leader continued a run of dominance on the way to victory.

Reports on all three series are below.

Indy Lights: Herta Outlasts O’Ward, Franzoni for Race 1 Win

Colton Herta celebrates winning Race 1 at Road America.

Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta took his fourth win in a row on Saturday at Road America, winning Race 1 after dueling with his Andretti Autosport stablemate Pato O’Ward and Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni.

Franzoni held the lead off the initial start, but Herta quickly worked his way up to second after starting third, and immediately mounted a challenge for the lead. After trying to pass Franzoni on the outside entering Turn 5 for two laps in a row, Herta finally was able to get around him on a third attempt, again taking the outside line on corner entry.

O’Ward then quickly moved into second after Franzoni dipped two wheels into the dirt in Turn 7, and O’Ward quickly charged toward Herta to battle for the lead. He, too, tried several times to pass Herta on the outside entering Turn 5, but was ultimately unable to do so and lost ground to Herta after he ran out of push-to-pass.

It left Herta alone up front to cruise to the win, his fourth in a row in 2018. O’Ward and Franzoni finished second and third, with the Belardi Auto Racing teammates Santi Urrutia and Aaron Telitz finishing fourth and fifth, with Ryan Norman and Dalton Kellett rounding out the field for Andretti Autosport.

Results are below. Race 1 will roll off at 10:50 a.m. on Sunday morning and will air at 10:00 p.m. ET on Sunday night. Pato O’Ward will start on the pole.

Pro Mazda: Malukas Completes Road America Sweep

David Malukas was in perfect form again in Race 2 at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

BN Racing’s David Malukas capped a perfect weekend at Road America by winning Race 2 from the pole.

Malukas did face a brief challenge from Juncos Racing’s Carlos Cunha off the start, with Cunha actually leading briefly into Turn 1. But, Malukas quickly retook the lead entering Turn 3, and was never headed from there.

Behind him, points leader Parker Thompson was involved in contact with Raul Guzman in Turn 5, with Guzman, making his Pro Mazda debut with RP Motorsport Racing, hitting the back of the Exclusive Autosport.

Guzman stalled on course, bringing out a full-course caution, while Thompson fell back as far as 12th when racing resumed on Lap 3. However, he quickly regrouped and put in maybe the best drive of the day, working his way up to fifth in the closing laps – including a pass on title rival Carlos Cunha – and putting him right behind a battle for third involving Rinus VeeKay, Thompson’s other title rival, and Harrison Scott.

Scott eventually passed VeeKay for third, which opened the door for Thompson, who got around VeeKay right after to take fourth.

Thompson was unable to get close enough to challenge Scott for third, but his charge to fourth remained mighty impressive.

Up front, though, no one had anything for Malukas, who led teammate Toby Sowery in a second straight 1-2 for BN Racing – Sowery made a slick three-wide pass to get around VeeKay and Cunha on the Lap 3 restart.

Scott was third, followed by Thompson and VeeKay in fourth and fifth, with Cunha finishing sixth.

Results are below. The race also featured a tribute to the late Jeff Green, a former Pro Mazda driver with Juncos. Peter Dempsey, part of the Juncos effort on the engineering side last year, drove Green’s No. 60 chassis from 2017, while Victory Franzoni piloted his No. 23 Dallara IL-15 alongside.

USF2000: Kirkwood Continues to Roll as He Dominates USF2000 Race 1

Kyle Kirkwood celebrates winning USF2000 Race 1 at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Cape Motorsports’ Kyle Kirkwood continued his dominant run in USF2000 by winning Race 1 on Saturday.

Starting on the outside of the front row, Kirkwood got around pole sitter Rasmus Lindh, from Pabst Racing Services, on the outside entering Turn 1 and never looked back, leading all 12 laps on his way to victory.

Lindh, meanwhile, was involved in a heated battle for second with his Pabst teammate Kaylen Frederick, along with ArmsUp Motorsports’ Keith Donegan and DEForce Racing’s Kory Enders. Lindh eventually fell back as far as fifth following a bobble, allowing all four to get by, though he did get back around Enders for fourth.

Ultimately, though, Frederick and Donegan emerged to finish second and third – it’s the second straight podium for Frederick, and the first for Donegan – with Lindh and Enders rounding out the top five.

The race was slowed twice for incidents involving Sabre Cook. Cook, running with Team Benik, spun into the gravel trap in the Carousel on Lap 3, but was able to rejoin. Later, on Lap 11, she ran wide exiting Turn 7 and spun back across the track as she entered Hurry Downs, making contact with the wall on the outside just before the entrance of Turn 8.

Cook climbed from the car under her own power, though her race did come to a premature end.

Results are below. Race 2 rolls off at 9:00 a.m. ET (8:00 a.m. local time), with Lindh again starting on the pole.

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