NTT signs extension as IndyCar title sponsor

IndyCar NTT title sponsor
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INDIANAPOLIS — IndyCar announced a contract extension with NTT at its title sponsor Thursday, a move that solves one of the big financial questions facing Roger Penske in his second year as owner of the series.

NTT is a global technology giant that became title sponsor of the IndyCar Series in 2019. The company has since become the official technology partner of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Brickyard weekend.

“Over the first two years as entitlement sponsor of the series, the dedicated team at NTT has helped IndyCar become more efficient and effective through smart technologies,” said Penske, who became owner of IMS and IndyCar in January 2020. “As our sport continues to grow by connecting with a new generation of fans, NTT helps take us down new roads by creating more engaging experiences through our shared digital platforms.”

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Next on Penske’s to-do list is ironing out a new television contract. The current deal with NBC Sports is in its final season. IndyCar is also courting a third engine manufacturer, which would not enter the series any earlier than the 2023 debut of a new engine.

The new V6 engine will go from 2.2 liters to 2.4 and add approximately 100 horsepower. The twin-turbocharged V-6 will also have hybrid tech for the first time.

“We believe that in every respect the series is growing,” said IndyCar CEO Mark Miles. “I hate talking about being positioned for growth. I like growth. I think it’s happening now. All the metrics are indicating that. More fans are paying more attention, being more engaged with us.”

A critical component is extending the relationship with NTT, a company that helped the relaunch of IndyCar’s mobile app and is working on boosting the data experience for viewers.

“We wanted to get it into the hands of more fans and more users so we started by focusing on access. The previous version was only available on one carrier. We made the app available on all carriers and platforms,” said Eric Clark, NTT Data Services chief digital and strategy officer.

“Then it was a race to put more data into it, more analytics, give more value, make it more compelling for fans who want to download the app and use the app before, during and after the race.”

Clark said app usage is up 30% during live races and downloads have increased globally, with New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Sweden emerging as popular IndyCar markets. Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon is from New Zealand and the series fields five drivers combined from Australia, Canada and Sweden.

“As we continue this partnership, we are committed to drive more data, analytics, AI, and more compelling use cases into not only the app but also to the fans that are at live race events,” Clark said.

At Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NTT worked with Penske on the 100-foot Pagoda Plaza video board that provides a new viewing experience inside the historic track.

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”