SALINAS, Calif – The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season wraps up this weekend at the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. As always, the series held a season closing press conference with industry leaders to discuss their thoughts on the past season and what’s in store for 2020 and beyond.
See, 2019 was a key year for IndyCar. In came a new entitlement sponsor (NTT Data). In came a new fuel sponsor (Speedway). In came a new television network (NBC Sports). There was a lot of new for what the series expected to grow.
On Friday, Mark Miles, IndyCar CEO, confirmed that the metrics once again went up for the series.
“I’d start by saying we believe IndyCar is the most compelling form of motorsport on the planet, and I think that’s more true, more defensible every year,” Miles said. “Under Jay’s (Frye) direction, with the combined expertise and experience of our teams of Dallara, Honda, Chevy and all of our suppliers, we just keep getting better, the racing improves, it’s more competitive, and it’s all done while being very attentive to managing costs for the team.
“I’m also delighted to say that in almost every metric, our marketing and promotional and commercial initiatives are growing the sport and ultimately attracting more fans. With that said, let me just take you through some of our specific observations, what I think of as high points.
“So on the track, what can you say? We do believe it’s great competition, probably the most competitive form of racing. The number of cars, as you know, if you follow the sport, has been solid on the grid for IndyCar races, 22 here to 24 throughout the year, and at the Indianapolis 500-mile race, we continue to add to the number of entrants. 36 this year trying to get in, and from my perspective, Bump Day is back, and I think the fans loved it.
“Looking beyond that, we have had seven winners so far, seven full winners, and seven wins for Honda and nine wins for Chevy so far, a great balance in terms of the result between the manufacturers.
“And for the 14th consecutive year, I’m sure most of you have written this, the championship has come down to the finale, and we’re thrilled about that.”
In terms of attendance, Miles said that all the data obviously hasn’t been collected yet, but over 1.5-mile fans were in attendance through the course of the season thus far.
“While we don’t have auditable numbers from all of our promoters, I think it’s fair to say that it’s meaningfully up,” Miles continued. “We believe at about eight of our races there has been increased attendance from year over year at their tracks. We think four of our races set weekend records for their events, and we think it’s fair to say that more than 1.5 million people in total attended our races this year before this weekend.”
The TV numbers were also up, which as what NBC Sports executives said was staggering.
“The average total audience delivery, total audience delivery for the series was 1,129,000 viewers for races through the first 15. That doesn’t include the Portland data, which will contribute meaningfully, or here at Laguna Seca, both of which as you know are on NBC network.
“Season to date, 11 races have posted growth over their comparable race viewership numbers last year, which we think is terrific. And NBC’s inaugural Indy 500 had total audience delivery of about 5 and a half million people, 11 percent year over year, which is a great accomplishment and something that these guys to my right and their team worked very, very hard to make happen.
“We’ve been really pleased with this partnership, proud of the partnership. It’s worked from our perspective really well, and to be able to report the results that bear that out is the proof in the pudding.”
Miles also notes that almost all of their sponsorships are not only sold for this year, but almost sold out for 2020 too.
“We had a great May. We’ve continued to have a series of great successes in May over the last several years, and that’s just so important for us. At IMS we think we continue to make history. We know we continue to delight fans, and we do all of that for lots of reasons, but not the least is which is to make an important contribution to the growth of the NTT IndyCar Series. This has been a remarkable from our perspective in sponsorship, so in less than 12 months, we’ve added as new sponsors NTT as our title sponsor of the series, Speedway as official fuel and convenience store, Gainbridge as the presenting sponsor of the Indianapolis 500-mile race, and I’ll take all comers on whether or not we’re able to add another meaningful sponsor for next year and announce that before the end of this year with Bright Close. Those are new.
“97 percent of our sponsorships are in place through 2020, so we’re now really focused on selling for 2021, and I believe we have the kind of story to tell and the momentum which will help us continue to grow.”
In terms of what’s ahead, Jay Frye notes that the new overhead device protection piece will get a lot of testing in the coming weeks. Three different tracks for six different drivers will take place starting on Oct. 2 and ending on Oct. 15.
“The first test will be coming up at IMS on October 2nd,” Frye said. “We’ll go to Barber on October 7 and Richmond on 10/15. So it’s a very aggressive schedule, but the ball is in motion for a 2020 implementation. So again, we think this is going to be something that’s going to really set the standard on driver safety. We’re excited about it. We really appreciate what all Red Bull has done, PBG, Henkel, Isoclean. There’s been a lot of people involved and we’re excited about the future of that.”
Also, the series will move to hybrid power soon, in which Frye said won’t go away from the identity that they’re going towards.
“In regards to the hybrid piece, it’s very important that we remain true to our DNA, and our DNA is fast, loud, authentic and unapologetic, so when we put together this product or put together an RFP for this product, that had to meet all those criteria,” Frye continued. “A couple of things we’re working on with this piece is one is for safety so the cars will have electric starters, so the driver spins, they stall the car, they’ll be able to start the car into 1 so the driver is not exposed.
“Another will be our AMR guys out there with an umbilical cord having to start the car, so they won’t be exposed. Another thing that’s really a byproduct of the whole system is hopefully we’ll keep the pace of the race going, so there won’t be as many yellows, so that will help, too. But one of the bigger parts, the biggest part in our opinion is horse power, so our goal, our stated goal is to get over 900 horsepower. This product will give us at least 50 of that, so we remain true, again, to our DNA. We want to have less downforce but have more horsepower. We’re excited about this. We’ve got 10 current RFP’s out, so the plan is to have a chosen partner in the first quarter of next year for a 2022 implementation.
“These projects are big. I think they’re game changers for the sport, but at the end of the day we’ve got to be who we are, and that’s fast, live and authentic. We’re excited about the direction, we’re excited about what Mark has talked about, and we just look forward to a great weekend this weekend.”