IndyCar lands communications company NTT as title sponsor

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IndyCar announced a multi-year title sponsorship deal Tuesday with NTT, a global information technology and communications company based in Japan.

The series will be called the NTT IndyCar Series. NTT Data, a subsidiary of parent company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., already sponsors a car for Chip Ganassi Racing and received enough exposure from that deal to warrant a larger piece of the open-wheel racing series. The season’s first race is March 10 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The partnership revealed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit also makes NTT the official technology partner of the IndyCar Series, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.

“IndyCar has grown in terms of all of our fan metrics and is a valuable global brand that NTT recognizes,” Mark Miles, president and CEO of IndyCar and IMS parent company Hulman & Company, told The Associated Press. “We feel great about it because they are a corporate giant in global communications and their strategy is to begin to expose the NTT parent brand, which in Japan is a company much like a merger between AT&T and Verizon.”

NTT replaces Verizon, which was title sponsor of the series from 2014 until it ended its partnership last season. IndyCar had nearly two years to replace Verizon, but the NTT deal came together rapidly at the end of last season.

The company approached IndyCar executives before the September season finale asking if it was too late to discuss the entitlement package, and IndyCar immediately opened talks. The broader deal was completed in roughly three months and sealed with a November trip to Tokyo in which IndyCar officials and Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato made a winning pitch to NTT.

“This is a huge chance for us to let people know who NTT is,” said Tsunehisa Okuno, executive vice president and head of global business for NTT. “Everyone knows about IndyCar and there is room for growth in the European market and the Japanese market. NTT is a global company and North America is a very important market for the brand. We think we could offer something exciting with NTT and Indy by using the NTT technology.”

NTT has already been developing a new mobile application for the series that will replace the Verizon app, which limited live content to Verizon subscribers. NTT also will use its proprietary platform to support the series and venues in delivering analytical insights.

“In an average two-hour race, IndyCar timing and scoring pulls in more than 50 million data ratings off the cars,” Miles said. “It’s fertile ground if we can turn it into digestible compelling content to the fans.”

Bob Pryor, the CEO of NTT Data Services, said the partnership with the Ganassi team helped the company recognize the potential in IndyCar.

“We’ve seen how NTT technology and innovation can help drivers and teams, and we believe it can also advance the sport and fan engagement,” Pryor said. “Also, the depth of the relationships we were able to expand with our clients, other sponsors, and the automotive industry as well as the brand awareness we were able to build, has and continues to be significant.”

NTT began as a Japanese telephone company that has grown into a $106 billion tech services giant with U.S. operations based in Plano, Texas. NTT Communications is a technology partner of McLaren Formula One.

IndyCar’s 2019 schedule includes 17 races, all of them in the United States except for a stop in Toronto.

Miles is trying to add two international events to the schedule that would run in February, and IndyCar has already visited Australia about a potential race. NTT supports IndyCar’s vision on expansion.

“There’s been an IndyCar race in Japan and we would love more IndyCar racing in Japan,” Okuno said. “If we could make it happen, it is a very good showcase to let Japanese clients know what we are doing in bigger markets.”

More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Cooper Webb beats Ken Roczen in Arlington Supercross photo finish

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Cooper Webb scored his fourth win of the season in a photo finish over Ken Roczen in Round 7 of Supercross competition.

It was a remarkable end to a barn burner race.

Roczen was still looking for his first win since San Diego in 2017. He took the lead from Eli Tomac on Lap 4 as the pair came out of the whoops. Roczen held the lead for the next 21 circuits. On Lap 4, Webb was mired in sixth – the worst position among the top four contenders that entered the event with only two points separating them.

Webb mounted his charge at that point, meticulously picking off the competition until he was embroiled in a heated battle with Marvin Musquin. Webb knew that his only shot at catching Roczen was to get past Musquin as quickly as possible, but he could not run the risk of taking his teammate down. Webb passed Musquin on Lap 19 and began picking at Roczen’s lead.

With time off the clock and the final lap underway. Webb was on Roczen’s back tire hoping to force a mistake. When that did not come, Webb dove into the final turn to get side-by-side with Roczen and break the leader’s momentum. The two crossed under the checkers in a virtual tie. Webb beat Roczen by two-hundredths of a second – the closest margin in Supercross history.

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“That was just insanity,” Webb told NBCSN after the race. “It was clicking I guess.”

Webb’s win gave him the points lead and the red plate.

Musquin rounded out the top three to keep the points battle tight. This is Musquin’s fifth consecutive finish of either second or third.

On Lap 1, the race had a completely different storyline. Tomac took the early lead ahead of Roczen and Musquin. Webb was seventh and it appeared he would be the first of the top four to blink.

Instead, it was Tomac that bobbled. He went down on Lap 6 and kept falling until he landed 12th. This was the first time he’s failed to finish among the top 10. The disappointing finish dropped him 16 points off the pace, fourth in the standings.

Blake Baggett and Joey Savatgy rounded out the top five.

Zach Osborne’s return to Supercross was not what he expected. Osborne was running eighth when he got crossed up and went over the tough blocks on Lap 8. He could not return to the race and finished 22nd after a dramatic showing in his heat.

Complete Results
Points Standings

250s

Round 2 of 250s East started where Round 1 ended – with Austin Forkner in the lead. This was the first time in more than a decade that a rider had perfect nights in the first two rounds. Forkner had to overcome mistakes in timed practice after going off track once and nearly landing on another rider on a separate occasion. That contact might have ended his night before it began.

Instead, Forkner posted a lap of 50.899 – his fastest of the night – on the second trip around the track in the Feature. As he got into traffic, the lap times slipped into the 52-second range.

Helping Forkner to his dominant win was the fact that no one seemed to want second place.

Chase Sexton was Forkner’s closest competition for the first half of the race. He stalled and lost second to Jordon Smith at the midway point. On Lap 15, he went down and fell to fourth. Now 13 seconds behind the leader, his chance of winning was done. Sexton recovered to finish third and land on the final step on the podium

On Lap 18, Jordon Smith laid his bike down while running second; he ultimately crossed under the checkers fourth.

Their mistakes allowed Justin Cooper to climb into the runner-up position and secure the second position in the points standings.

Martin Davalos rounded out the top five.

Complete Results
Points Standings

450 Heat 1: Ken Roczen led every lap on his way to a 4.8-second win over Justin Hill. … Joey Savatgy rounded out the top three. … Zach Osborne got off to a tough start on his return to Supercross. He went down on Lap 1 after burying the front wheel. Osborne almost saved his bike, but got run over from behind by Aaron Plessinger. Osborne fell to 18th on the first lap; improved to 15th by Lap 2. He kept rolling, picking off one spot per lap. Osborne grabbed the final transfer spot from Kyle Chisholm just as time ran off the clock.

450 Heat 2: Cole Seely took the lead from Chad Reed on Lap 1 and held it to the checkers. After Roczen took the Heat 2 win, the battle for the championship was previewed in Heat 2, however; Eli Tomac caught up to Seely’s back wheel, but came up about a half second short. … Cooper Webb showed he is not going to be overshadowed in the playoff battle with a third-place finish. … Marvin Musquin finished seventh.

450 Last Chance Qualifier: Justin Barcia flat out dominated the LCQ with a 12.5-second win over Alex Ray. … Kyle Chisholm finished third. Ronnie Stewart lost the final transfer spot to Scott Champion on the last lap – but not for long. Champion went down as he was headed for the checkers and gave the position back to Stewart. … Tyler Bowers was disqualified before the beginning of the LCQ for running into Barcia during their heat race.

250 Heat 1: Mitchell Oldenburg blazed into the lead with the holeshot and grabbed a 1.4 second lead by the end of Lap 1. It was Oldenburg’s first heat win of the season. … He held that advantage through the end of the heat and beat Justin Cooper and Alex Martin. … With time running off the clock, Lorenzo Locurcio took the final transfer spot of ninth.

250 Heat 2: Austin Forkner and Jordon Smith went side by side on Lap 5 with Forkner blasting past on the whoops to win the heat. … Smith held on for second with Martin Davalos rounding out the top three. … Kyle Peters almost provided the drama of the night exiting Turn 1. He got wiggly in a big pack and bunched up the riders from seventh on back. Peters recovered to finish fifth. … The final transfer spot came down to a three-man battle between Brandon Hartranft (eighth), Joshua Cartwright (ninth) and Steven Clarke just missing in 10th. … Joey Crown joined Clarke in the LCQ after finishing 11th.

250 Last Chance Qualifier: Kyle Cunningham was seventh at the end of Lap 1, but he picked up two positions per lap until he was third on Lap 3. He took the lead on Lap 5 and held it till the end over Ramyller Alves and Steven Clarke. … TJ Albright grabbed the holeshot, but lost the lead to Clarke on Lap 3. He fell back to fourth and was under heavy pressure from Jayce Pennington until the two riders made contact with on the final lap. Albright survived to finish fourth; Pennington finished a distant 16th.

Points Leaders

450s
Cooper Webb (150) (4 wins)
Ken Roczen (148)
Marvin Musquin (144)
Eli Tomac (134) (1 win)
Dean Wilson (110)

250s West
Adam Cianciarulo (114 points) (3 wins)
Shane McElrath (106) (1)
Colt Nichols (104) (1)
Dylan Ferrandis (102)
RJ Hampshire (75)

250s East
Austin Forkner (52 points) (2 wins)
Justin Cooper (44)
Jordon Smith (42)
Chase Sexton (39)
Alex Martin (34)
Mitchell Oldenburg (34)

Top 5s

450 top 5s
Ken Roczen: 7
Marvin Musquin: 6
Eli Tomac: 5
Cooper Webb: 5
Blake Baggett: 3
Dean Wilson: 2
Joey Savatgy: 2
Jason Anderson: 1
Justin Barcia: 1
Justin Bogle: 1
Chad Reed: 1
Justin Brayton: 1

250 West top 5s
Adam Cianciarulo: 5
Shane McElrath: 5
Colt Nichols: 4
RJ Hampshire: 3
Dylan Ferrandis: 3
James Decotis: 2
Jacob Hayes: 1
Garrett Marchbanks: 1
Jess Pettis: 1

250 East top 5s
Austin Forkner: 2
Jordon Smith: 2
Justin Cooper: 2
Chase Sexton: 2
Alex Martin: 1
Martin Davalos: 1

Next race: February 23, Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.

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