NTT INDYCAR SERIES leadership said the season is off to a flying start even as the first race, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding, isn’t taking the green flag until Sunday.
From a sparkling open test last month at The Thermal Club in Southern California to exciting progress on a six-part docuseries to million-dollar capital improvements made to the St. Petersburg circuit, Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles said the series has significant momentum.
And it’s only the first week of March.
“It was a really busy offseason,” Miles said at Saturday’s gathering of senior executives of the series and three of its partners. “While we were kind of quiet about putting plans in place and working through exactly what we are going to execute this ’23 NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship season, lots, lots going on.
“I think there’s a ton to be excited about.”
Miles highlighted ongoing sustainability efforts by INDYCAR, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and partners such as Firestone and Shell, and he noted that progress toward taking the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit presented by Lear to a new downtown circuit will give the series “another Nashville” event.
The wildly popular Big Machine Music City Grand Prix made its debut in downtown Nashville in 2021. The event returns this season on Aug. 4-6.
“I think it’s going to take us by storm,” Miles said of the Detroit race set for June 2-4. “I see all the plans, all the investments. To be downtown is going to be a very different Detroit (weekend). For us, it’s going to be a Nashville, a big lift to the season, the championship.
“And our friends at Hy-Vee are doing it again (with the Iowa Speedway doubleheader July 22-23). They’ve doubled down on making it the biggest possible show in Iowa, and I think it will pay big dividends. Lots to celebrate.”
But first, tropical St. Petersburg gets the season off to a hot start, and Miles anticipates record attendance for the three-day event, which features new spectator grandstands and suites.
“It’s just upping the game, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for with our promoters,” Miles said of Green Savoree Racing Promotions. “So, we’re really pleased with Green Savoree in doing that, and we are especially pleased that we were all able to announce that we have extended our arrangements with them for another couple of years and with Firestone.”
A contract is in place to continue the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which began in 2005, at least through 2025. Sunday’s race airs live on NBC, Peacock, Telemundo Deportes on Universo and the INDYCAR Radio Network at noon ET.
“So, the future will continue to be bright, and we expect ongoing growth,” Miles said. “And this event will continue to be positioned as the kickoff to our championship year, so we’re excited about that.”
INDYCAR also announced this week that NTT DATA, whose parent company is the series’ title sponsor, updated the INDYCAR Mobile App, which has already received major kudos from the sport’s biggest fan and supporter.
“When Roger Penske calls and says, ‘This is super,’ that’s a good grade,” Miles said. “He lives on (the app) on race weekend, and that’s that guy’s feedback, but it’s true for all of us. It’s a big step up.”
Margo Cooke, vice president, brand, creative, events & sponsorships at NTT DATA Services, emphasized that NTT Is committed to a long-term partnership with INDYCAR.
“We like long-term partnerships,” she said. “(They’re) important.”
Miles said he expects the new unscripted docuseries “100 Days to Indy,” which debuts at 9 p.m. ET Thursday, April 27 on The CW, to be an exciting watch. He said officials from Vice, the company producing the show, have numerous storylines to follow, and Nexstar has “very substantial” plans to promote it.
“We don’t know really what that’s going to produce, but we know it will put us in front of younger eyes, and I think they are going to be great partners as they do everything they can to promote it and develop an audience for it,” Miles said of Nexstar. “And talking yesterday with the leadership of Vice that is actually creating the show … they are passionate about it, excited about it.”
Add that to the $3.3 million in additional marketing support INDYCAR and its teams recently committed for national exposure over the season’s first seven races, and Miles said it’s a terrific start to the year. The campaign is voiced by NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers.
“We can’t do enough to (promote) our stars and to grow their fan bases and make them more known to fans,” he said. “So, them telling the story is an important part of the strategy.
“Frankly, we’re spending a lot of money to get (the sport) out there, both in linear and in a kind of hyper-targeted digital and social campaign. We hope that it will get us in front of more fans – new fans – and increase the television audiences and do a lot of good things to continue the momentum that INDYCAR has had.”
That momentum is evident in this weekend’s 27-car field, the largest participation by teams and drivers on a full-time basis since 2011.
“I think not just quantity, but I think quality,” INDYCAR President Jay Frye said. “The quality is one of the best we’ve ever had to this point.
“We look at what we did in 2022. There were a lot of great things that happened with the 5,881 passes and the fastest front row to the (Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge) and the fastest pole and all this type of stuff. We've got a lot of work to do to surpass 2022, but we're excited about the 2023 season.”
As for sustainability, this event is the first of five on temporary street circuits in which Firestone is using its green tire constructed with rubber made from the guayule plant. Also, this is the first race weekend for Shell’s 100% Renewable Race Fuel used by all of the cars. The fuel contains a significant mix of second-generation ethanol combined with another renewable component to create the 100 percent renewable formulation that will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60 percent compared to fossil-based gasoline.
“With this shift in fuel, you should not expect any change in performance, but instead, we will build on a motorsports heritage that will power progress for a more sustainable future,” said Bassem Kheireddin, the motorsports technology manager of Shell Global Solutions.
Cara Krstolic, director, race tire engineering and manufacturing, and chief engineer, motorsports at Bridgestone Americas, said the guayule tires are part of the company’s goal to have a 100 percent renewable tire by 2050.
“Racing is a great platform to be able to do that because we only build this many tires for racing as opposed to what we would have to build to go on to a consumer tire,” she said. “So, you can make a big change in a small market and have a really big impact on that.”