Firestone, NBC Sports, Acura and other musings

Sponsorship News

My, my, my… what a few weeks it has been for the NTT IndyCar Series!! After the big news a couple weeks ago that NTT would become the title sponsor for INDYCAR’s top series, the news has continued to flow almost daily. And in what seemed like an impossibility a few years ago, none of the news can even be considered negative.  Let’s catch up a bit…

In sponsorship news, the Indianapolis 500 has gained a new “presenting sponsor” to replace the outgoing PennGrade.  Starting with the 103rd running in 2019, the Indianapolis 500 will be presented by Gainbridge.  I’ll be honest, I had never heard of Gainbridge before this announcement, and a week later, I still don’t really know anything about them. According to Forbes, Gainbridge is “a newly formed online annuity and life insurance agency,” so they are something financial. Since my finances are generally pretty limited, I don’t get too excited about these types of firms.

What I am excited about, though, is that A.) another sponsor is willing to give INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway money to be associated with them, and B.) it is another set up for an existing sponsor.  Though terms of the deal were not disclosed, I think it’s safe to assume the investment required to have your logo on everything Indianapolis 500 related for the next few years is not small. So while we little people may not be intimately familiar with Gainbridge and/or their offerings, it still says something that a company sees a great value in the Indianapolis 500 name, wants to be part of it, and is willing to shell out significant money to do so.

Additionally, Gainbridge is under the corporate umbrella of Group 1001, the primary sponsor for Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach. This adds Group 1001 to a long list of companies who have dipped their toes in the IndyCar waters at the team level and gone on to much larger investments in the series. Sponsors such a IZOD, Verizon, NTT, Fuzzy’s, ABC Supply, and more have graduated from team sponsors to race or series sponsors over the years. This type of increased commitment is a strong sign to other businesses that INDYCAR is a solid place to invest, especially with strong at-track activation as these companies have shown.

In more sponsorship news, INDYCAR’s longest-running race outside of I-465 got a new title sponsor for the first time in my 38-year life (literally) when Acura was confirmed as the new title sponsor of the Grand Prix of Long Beach on Tuesday. Toyota, the previous sponsor, had been in that role since 1980, an unheard of run for a single sponsorship. It will be strange to not refer to the race as the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach anymore, but with headquarters for Honda Performance Development (Acura’s parent company) just down the road in Torrance, Acura is a natural fit to keep the Grand Prix going in its 45th year and beyond. Honda has won at Long Beach an astounding 13 times, including seven in a row from 1996 to 2002.

Firestone extends stay until 2025

In more good news for INDYCAR, the Series locked up a key partner (drivers might say they are THE key partner) as Firestone extended their relationship with INDYCAR through the end of the 2025 season.  In the early part of this decade, there were grave concerns that Firestone would actually leave INDYCAR altogether. This caused great consternation among the teams and drivers, and only a “last-minute” deal that saw team owners agreeing to a significant price increase saved the relationship. It’s remarkable how Firestone has gone from having one foot out the door to being a partner for at least seven more seasons.

There are strong cases to be made for and against open competition in INDYCAR, whether on the chassis or the engine side. However, I strongly think a survey of the paddock would reveal very few, if any, who want to see another tire war. Firestone’s reputation for quality and safety has never been questioned, and in all my years of watching IndyCar races, I can’t count more than one of two instances of a Firestone tire failure.

I think there are many fans, and probably drivers, who would genuinely like to see Firestone continue to increase the performance and durability differential of the primary and alternate tires on road and street courses, but their reluctance to do so is certainly justified. But I think we can all agree that after seeing many tire debacles in NASCAR, INDYCAR is in great hands with Firestone tires!

NBC Sports Gold INDYCAR Pass

This morning, we finally got details on NBC Sports Gold INDYCAR Pass, and the package looks promising.  First the major details:

  • $50 annual subscription that runs from February 7, 2019, to January 31, 2020. This price jumps to $55 on March 11.
  • All NTT IndyCar Series practices and qualifying will be streamed live and available on-demand.
  • All NTT IndyCar Series races will be available on-demand though the timeframe for the races was not disclosed. (Note that all races can be streamed live through the NBC Sports App but will require authentication, i.e. you have to have a cable subscription with NBC and/or NBCSN.)
  • Indy Lights races will be streamed live on the NBC Sports Gold App. The release makes no mention of on-demand offerings or of practice and qualifying sessions for Lights. Indy Lights did confirm via Twitter that live streaming will still be available on IndyLights.com and the RoadToIndyTV app.
  • All streaming broadcast will receive “television-quality production” with booth announcers and the like.  In other words, they won’t be just static cameras with no announcers.

At first glance, I am highly encouraged by this news. I think $50 is a very reasonable annual fee, almost absurdly reasonable. For those who haven’t cut the cord because of needing NBCSN to get your INDYCAR fix, this could be the final straw. For others, maybe not.

I know there will be a crowd of fans who are discouraged they will have to pay this year for what has been free in previous seasons. I’m sorry, but such expectations are simply not realistic or sustainable. NBC Sports is paying a very hefty amount of money to broadcast these events, and expecting to receive them for free just isn’t fair to them. Sure, INDYCAR was able to stream most practices last year, but as far as I recall, they were never able to stream sessions while NBCSN was live on air. So now that NBC or NBCSN will be live on-air (albeit online), we shouldn’t expect them to allow INDYCAR to give away the content for free. Not everything in the world can be free, and INDYCAR isn’t (nor should it be) any exception.

Additionally, no mention of international availability was made. I’ve already seen a few folks chime in from Canada that the package won’t be available there though. I’m assuming the package is only available to US subscribers as NBCSN is only available in the US. I feel bad for our international friends who love to watch IndyCar races as much as I do, and I really do hope a solution will be available to everyone before the season starts.

NBC Sports, my money is on its way!

Driver news

Just a couple driver news bits to catch up on. As most have assuredly read by now, Conor Daly will be driving the fifth Andretti Autosport car in this year’s Indianapolis 500 (Presented by Gainbridge [that is likely the last time you’ll see that written out here]). With Conor having secured one of the most coveted rides for the Month of May, it’s “put up or shut up” time for the second-generation driver who has yet to crack the Top 20 in five previous Indianapolis 500 starts.  But with Andretti Autosport having won three of the last five 500s, Daly’s #25 Air Force Honda should be significantly stronger than anything he’s piloted previously.

And announced just this morning, Charlie Kimball is returning to Carlin Racing for an abbreviated 2019 season, climbing behind the wheel of the #23 NovoNordisk Chevrolet for only five races this year. Fans of Charlie will be able to catch him at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the 103rd Indianapolis 500, the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, and the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterrey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. This will be Charlie’s 11th season with NovoNordisk and his ninth season in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Carlin’s primary driver, Max Chilton, will return for his second full season with the team with backing, once again, coming from Gallagher.

Upcoming tests

Testing for the upcoming 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season kicks into high gear tomorrow (February 8) as most of the field will be on track at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for a private test.  It will be the first time in 14-years that Indy cars have returned to the legendary 2.238-mile road course on the Monterrey Peninsula. Expect most of the usual suspects to be on track as 23 cars will make the trek out west.

Included in those drivers is Kyle Kaiser, the 2017 Indy Lights champion, who will be behind the wheel of the Juncos Racing Chevrolet.  Juncos have not finalized their 2019 IndyCar plans but are expected to field one car at selected events.

Fans in the Laguna Seca area can watch the testing for $20 with tickets purchased online or at the gate. Those who have already purchased tickets for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterrey receive a $10 discount.

After heading west, the circus will move south for the official INDYCAR Open Test at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on February 12-13.  This will be the first time the full field will have an opportunity to test at the current US stop of the Formula 1 World Championship.

There will undoubtedly be comparisons between times next week and those of the F1 guys from last November. I’m not personally too concerned if the Indy cars are several seconds slower than F1 because I know they are going to put on a much better race. After some private IndyCar testing last fall, there were rumors of possible alterations to the track to encourage better racing (and to reduce F1 comparisons), but those talks seem to have died down for now. Hopefully nothing comes of it and INDYCAR will race the full track in all its glory.

Fans will be able to stream the action from COTA starting Tuesday, February 12, at 10:00 am CST.

Final tidbits

From the “Wasn’t That Already the Case?” files, AJ Foyt was recently inducted into the Houston Sports Hall of Fame, rectifying a terrible wrong of being shunned in the Inaugural Class of 2018. Foyt was inducted with other legends such as George Foreman and Jackie Hurst, Jr., and joins other Houston sports standouts such as Nolan Ryan and Hakeem Olajuwon.

INDYCAR recently added a couple highly-respected names to its marketing and communications staff. SJ Luedtke has been hired as INDYCAR’s Vice President of Marketing and will oversee the advancement of INDYCAR’s branding, accelerating fan growth, and working with media partners to increase “consumption and ratings.” In other words, she’ll be responsible for making more people aware of INDYCAR and bringing up INDYCAR lackluster TV ratings.  Luedtke had previously been with Nike and was the Senior Brand Director for Football.

Also joining forces with INDYCAR is long-time motorsports veteran Mike Zizzo, who will become a communications consultant to INDYCAR. Zizzo previously had extended stints with CART, NASCAR, and the Texas Motor Speedway.

One last late breaking item

I know I said earlier there wasn’t any bad news, and this isn’t really directly related to INDYCAR, but the Indianapolis Business Journal is reporting this morning that former driver and WISH TV racing analyst Derek Daly has filed a $25 million wrongful termination suit against his former employer. Daly claims he was wrongly fired and slandered by WISH TV after allegations surfaced of a racial slur Daly used in a radio interview in 1983 shortly after arriving in the United States. Daly contends he was not given a fair chance to defend himself against the allegations and the WISH TV fired him while giving out false information regarding the situation.

Regardless of how this court action plays out, it’s unfortunate that a person of Daly’s character, which has been unblemished and impeccable for over 3.5 decades since this incident occurred, is being soiled all these years later based solely on the allegation of someone who didn’t hear the words come out of Daly’s mouth. In fact, this person didn’t even hear it from someone else who heard the words come from Daly. There’s just so much to shake my head at here, but that’s not what this site will be used for.

Thanks for checking in at the Field of 33.  I’ll be sure to be back next week with a wrap up of testing from Laguna Seca and COTA! In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Twitter for all the latest updates.  Find me at @Fieldof33 and @Fieldof33_Blog!

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