DETROIT — The deal to bring NTT and INDYCAR together for a series entitlement agreement started with a September phone call.
Doug Duchardt, chief operating officer at Chip Ganassi Racing, contacted Jay Frye, INDYCAR president, with the tip that NTT DATA, a team sponsor, was looking to expand its interests in racing. Frye phoned David Croxville, NTT DATA’s chief financial officer. In appropriate INDYCAR racing style, it set the wheels in fast motion on a three-month journey culminating with Tuesday’s announcement of global giant NTT as the IndyCar Series’ new title partner in a multiyear agreement.
Interested parties met during the weekend of the season-ending INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16. Frye and Mark Sibla, INDYCAR chief of staff, composed a 10-page term sheet for NTT DATA to present to parent company NTT, the information technology and communications leader.
Near the end of November, both parties were ready to meet in person at NTT headquarters in Tokyo.
“I felt pretty confident when we went over there because we had a huge amount of support from NTT DATA Group. They’ve become great friends and they do a great job,” Frye said after Tuesday’s NTT IndyCar Series announcement at the North American International Auto Show -- nearly three months to the day from the Sonoma meeting. “Our platform was that it was a turnkey solution. It was important that we went over there because face to face is much better than emails and texts.
“I felt really good when we got there. I felt really good about how the meeting went. But even after the meeting, the work wasn’t done. There was still a lot of work to be done. It was every day. Think every day since the series banquet (at the end of September) through a three-month period with two big holidays in there, too. Something happened every day on this for three months.”
INDYCAR decision-makers were ecstatic to partner with NTT, which grosses nearly $110 billion annually and spends $4 billion each year on research and development. The global communications company will also be the official technology partner of INDYCAR, the NTT IndyCar Series, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.
“They have like 80 percent of the global Fortune 500 companies as customers, so they are in and out of critical business stores all over the world all the time,” said Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, owner of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “When they develop something in terms of a technology application for the IndyCar Series, they’ll be proud of that and brag about that because INDYCAR is known by all these companies. We will be a case study where they can show what they can do. I just think it helps propel our name around the world in important places.”
As each side pursued the partnership, each had other options. Croxville and NTT DATA CEO Bob Pryor said NTT was considering several possibilities. Miles was also talking elsewhere.
“We had another serious dialogue that was into specifics, going with another alternative,” Miles said. “But we thought this would be ideal. We very much wanted it to happen. I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but, of course, we were somewhere between relieved and delighted and really energized.”
Miles, Frye and the rest of the INDYCAR team were optimistic but realized nothing was guaranteed as they boarded that 13-hour flight to Tokyo in late November.
“We were told by our friends at NTT DATA with us that maybe it was a 50-50 chance or maybe a little better,” Miles said. “It was very much not a done deal. At the end of the ultimate discussion with their NTT president/CEO (Jun Sawada) and their executive vice president (Tsunehisa Okuno, shown above receiving a commemorative race helmet from Miles and Frye), they said, ‘OK, let’s get this done.’
“The next question was, ‘So what should be our timeline to do it?’ We said, ‘We’ve got to have you on everything certainly by the first race at St. Petersburg, and ideally by the first open test at Circuit of the Americas in February.’ We had to get the contract signed so we could announce it, and no better place to do that but the Detroit auto show.”
Although there were so many layers to the agreement and so much constant communication, Frye’s confidence stemmed from a process that kept gaining momentum.
“When you go through these things, having gone through them a few times, there was never any ‘Aw, shoot’ moment,” Frye said. “This thing was always building. By the time we got to Tokyo, I felt like we had really built this with the help of NTT DATA. You want (to meet) face to face. You want to formalize things: Here’s who we are, here’s what we’re doing, here’s how it’s going to work. You’re a global brand that wants to have a bigger platform in North America. Here’s how we’re going to do that. It worked out really well.
“It’s been a phenomenal three months to get to this point. Now the work really begins, right? There are a lot of things that have to happen, a lot of things that have to happen real quick.”
NTT replaces Verizon, a partner since 2014. Miles was appreciative that Verizon gave the series an early heads up about their decision.
“Verizon came to us about a year ago and were great about giving us notice,” Miles said. “They completely appreciated the relationship. They volunteered to talk to anybody else we were talking to, to be a reference about INDYCAR. They’ve been great partners, and they continue to be our phone service provider.”
The newly named NTT IndyCar Series season kicks off with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10. All 17 races air live on NBC or NBCSN, with radio coverage provided by the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.