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What’s next in Penske’s deal for INDYCAR, IMS, Indianapolis 500

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INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles offered some tremendous information on how he was able to help Hulman & Company, Chairman of the Board Tony George negotiate a deal with Roger Penske and what to expect next during an interview with NBC Sports.com.

Penske, Hulman & Company Chairman of the Board Tony George and Miles made Monday’s historic announcement that after 74 years of ownership of the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it has been sold to the Penske Corporation. Penske, Miles and key IMS and INDYCAR officials spent all day this past Tuesday surveying the property and its assets.

Miles is pictured above to the left, Penske in the center and George to the right.

Miles will remain with the new ownership group as CEO. The staff of both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR will be retained. Penske will incorporate a few of his trusted officials into the group.

“Of course, we cared about our people and the staff, but it’s Roger’s call how he wants to organize,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “It’s his view the approach he wants to take is get himself and the talent at Penske Corporation to understand what we are doing and for all of them to see how they can add value. It’s really his design that will take this approach with the people here and then add value to that.”

Because of Miles’ successful ability at turning INDYCAR and the Indy 500’s fortunes around since he took over in December 2012, Penske views him as a key member of the new group moving forward.

“For me, it’s really exciting,” Miles said. “I relish the opportunity to work for and with Roger Penske and his team and to see how much further we can grow the series and everything at IMS and IMS Productions under Roger’s ownership. I think it’s incredibly exciting. It’s a huge opportunity. I couldn’t be more delighted to have a chance to continue to be a part of it.

“I think I will learn a lot, and I hope I contribute a lot.

“That is my personal perspective. Roger told me he wants me to remain CEO, but we haven’t decided the name of the company. It will probably be Penske Entertainment.”

Prior to joining Hulman & Company as CEO, Miles had a 15-year tenure as head of the ATP tennis governing body and was the host committee chairman of Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in February 2012.

During Miles, turn at the helm of INDYCAR, the series has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance that included a sellout for the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and most recently, a new series sponsor with NTT and a dynamic television contract with NBC and NBCSN that has all races on the same family of networks.

Penske has stated he would like to keep the schedule at 15 to 17 races annually but said he was open to adding one more race to the schedule. Penske believes the current race team budgets are able to compete at that number of races.

On average, it costs a race team between $300,000 to $500,000 per race to compete.

The sale will not close for the next 30 to 60 days. Once that becomes official, Miles explained what should be expected.

“I’m sure there will be some things apparent fairly quickly,” Miles said. “Generally, the M.O. is for Roger and his team to deeply insert themselves and learn everything they can about what we are doing. That includes the facilities at IMS, around IMS and how we do what we are doing now. What the priorities are, etc.

“As they go through that, my expectation at a high level is if they see something that shouldn’t be a priority we are working on, they will let us know that. Also, most of the focus will be on are there ways to operate more efficiently and what are the priorities for growth in all aspects of the business?

“My guess is Roger is not big on writing down plans but agreeing and getting things done. I think we will be pretty far along in the process of onboarding by the time we close at the end of the year and that will be an ongoing process.”

Now that Penske owns IMS and the Indy 500, and public reaction is extremely positive, could next year’s Indianapolis 500 be a sellout?

“We haven’t had that conversation,” Miles admitted. “We are still looking at everything and how it can be better for next May.

“You are ahead of me on that one.”

In addition to Penske’s acquisition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500, INDYCAR and IMS Productions from Hulman & Company, there will be capital improvements made to the 110-year-old facility.

It is already considered a “Racing Shrine” but it’s about to get even better.

“We have thought for years and continue to think about areas that add more value for fans and the economics for the company all the way around the track and outside the track,” Miles said. “We have a list of six or 10 areas that could be invested in. And, the general condition and appearance of the place could be more ‘Penske like.’

“You know what I mean by that.

“But we never sat down and analyzed all of that to the point of knowing the investment, time and timeline of the construction, the cost and the ROI (return on investment). What we are doing already is, here are things to look at, let’s go over and look.

“Roger looks at things in great detail. He looks at paint and trim and graffiti and closets and then the bigger picture. What if we could add more high-quality seating and hospitality here? Just everything.

“It’s going to take a while to go through and get him immersed in everything and then sort out the priorities.”

The improvements will add to the fan experience, while the traditions of the famed event that is deeply rooted in history will remain the same.

“A hugely important asset and element of the Indianapolis 500 and the track are the traditions of so many individuals and families and we love that,” Miles said. “It means different things to different people. They all celebrate it and engage in different ways. The fact it means something, family traditions in different ways, it’s part of what the place is. Everybody respects that and we will start to help people have more opportunities to stay involved in that and connected.”

Miles guided professional tennis during the glory days of Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. He brought the Western Hemisphere to Indianapolis for the Pan American Games in 1987 and was the guiding force in bringing the Super Bowl to Indianapolis in 2012.

Orchestrating the sale of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after 74 years of ownership by the Hulman George Family to Penske is part of history, however.

“I don’t take time to think about it in the broader context like that,” Miles said. “I’ve never had a bad day, and I couldn’t be more excited with the opportunity to work with Roger Penske and his team to see how high is up? It’s not like there is a pinpoint.

“I understand this is really an important thing to the community.

“I love seeing the poll that ran on IndyStar.com that asked the readers on the day of the announcement if they were comfortable having Roger Penske as the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and 92 percent said yes.

“I recognize the Speedway is really important to our community and our state and race fans everywhere. This is really an exciting development for everybody. I don’t care about other things I have done and been part of, but this is certainly very exciting to be part of this history.”

When the sale is completed, there are other companies that Hulman & Company will still own, such as real estate properties in the state and mineral rights and mining companies, just to remain a few. According to Miles, those companies will be spun off before the merger with Penske Corporation is completed.

The new corporation that controls those assets may retain the name of Hulman & Company, but that new family corporation will not include motorsports for the first time since Tony Hulman purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from Eddie Rickenbacker on Nov. 14, 1945.

Miles is excited about the tremendous future that is ahead of the Speedway, the Indy 500 and INDYCAR. He also believes the Hulman George Family needs to be remembered for building the Indianapolis 500 into largest single-day sporting even on Earth.

“It was under the Hulman George ownership that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway became one of the supreme icons in sports on the planet,” Miles said. “It grew to mean so much to so many people, not just in Indianapolis, Indiana but race fans around the world and notable to people who didn’t care about racing as well. That is an incredible legacy.

“It’s part of the identity to the city and state because of their stewardship of it. It is a huge contributor to the economy of Central Indiana every year. It’s a source of pride.

“I think all of them can look back at their family’s contribution to the city and the state to know it is remarkable. It will never be forgotten.

“It should never be forgotten.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500

 

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500