Back to Racing News & Views
OFF SEASON SPONSORSHIP SEARCH CONTINUES IN INDYCAR
Author: MARK THEISEN
January 1st 2015 -  WEST BEND, WISCONSIN December 16, 2014:   The City of Indianapolis hosted the 2014 edition of the Performance Racing Industry trade show  December 11th, 12th & 13th at the cavernous convention center in downtown Indianapolis and it was hoped that maybe some new tidbits for the 2015 IndyCar season would be forthcoming, but alas, nothing much new emerged.

     The PRI show has grown by leaps and bounds since being acquired in late 2012 by SEMA.  The show was originally the brain child of Chris Paulson and Tony Stewart and for three years the pair put on an extremely successful racer oriented trade show but since SEMA took over they have turned this event into a must attend stop for every race driver, builder and owner in the country.

     That fact was not missed when looking at name badges throughout the center that featured most every state in the country and some foreign visitors as well, not to mention booths from every company associated with supplying parts and products to the racing industry.

     Chevrolet, Ford and Honda had a very large presence at the show as did IndyCar with a booth featuring a vertically mounted IndyCar to draw people into the booth and on-going press conferences designed to generate some additional interest in the series, perhaps through the seeking of sponsorship from the throngs of manufacturers in attendance at the show.  Time will tell if that effort was worth the money spent for the show booth.

     Chevrolet featured Stewart on the opening day and, fresh off the fourth of five operations on his injured right leg from a 2013 sprint car accident Stewart was able to walk into the convention center without the aid of crutches and is eagerly awaiting the day when his leg doesn’t hurt anymore.

    He handled every media question with clarity and when questioned about the August sprint car accident that took the life of racer Kevin Ward Jr., he said, “I think about it every day”.  

     Stewart was on hand to announce that longtime friend Steve Kinser will be back in a Stewart Racing owned sprint car in 2015.  After saying that 2014 would be his final season the 60 year old Kinser opted to run a 40 race schedule in 2015 as a was of drawing away from the sport at his own pace and Stewart indicated that the he would provide a car for Kinser for as long as he chooses to compete.

     Graham Rahal was on hand along with his Indy 500 winning father, Bobby, to talk about the 2015 season but most of the questions directed at the younger Rahal were about his engagement to and fast approaching marriage to Ashley Force, daughter of 16 time NHRA champion John Force that will happen in 2015 on a weekend that both drivers do not compete in their respective series.

     Bobby Rahal did reveal that the loss of sponsorship from the National Guard took them by surprise and that has slowed the progress of the team down as the decision caught the team “off guard” but that they are progressing nicely in a search of a primary backer for 2015.  Several associate sponsors have come forward to help but that big backer is still being sought, and that scenario is still plaguing the entire IndyCar series.

     Scott Dixon was on hand at the IndyCar booth to discuss 2015 and that fact that long time backer, Target, had cut back its sponsorship role at Target Chip Ganassi Racing from two cars, down to just one, his for 2015.  The Target car driven by Tony Kanaan in 2014 will be sponsored by NTT Data in 2015.  

     Ganassi Racing had four cars in 2014 and now have three firmed up for 2015.  They are still trying to put together a deal for a fourth entry for either returning Ryan Brisco or perhaps Sage Karan, the 2013 Indy Lights champion who finished 10th in this year’s Indy 500 in a car that had help from Ganassi Racing.

     So what do know so far for 2015?

     Chevrolet has indicated that they would prefer to have 12 full time entries in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.  We know that Team Penske is full and will feature four cars for defending series champion Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud.

     Ganassi has three of his four teams ready; Sarah Fisher Hartman Carpenter Racing has two and although KV Racing Technologies has yet to announce it’s driver lineup it is expected to have two cars when the green flag drops on the 2015 season in March in Brazil.  Sebastien Bourdais is said to be a lock to return to the team but no official word as yet.  That is 11 confirmed with the 12th and final slot at Chevrolet to go to the fourth Ganassi when it comes together.

     Honda has indicated its preference to do 10 cars but is open to 11 depending on what transpires in the coming few months.

     Honda has three cars confirmed from Andretti Autosports, and two from A.J. Foyt Racing.
In 2014 Honda supported the teams of Schmidt Peterson and Dale Coyne Racing and they are expected to field two cars each but at this time only Schmidt Peterson has announced a driver for one of the two, James Hinchcliffe, who comes to the team from Andretti Autosports.

     It is also expected that Rahal will be the 10th supported team, the 11th will come if the Andretti group can put together sponsorship for a fourth team, the number they had this past season.

     Each Manufacturer has indicated that they will expand engine deals for the Indianapolis 500 above what they will do for the regular season and for the 2015 Indy 500 we known of three confirmed deals:  Bryan Herta Autosport for Jay Howard:  Lazier Partners Racing for Buddy Lazier; and Byrd Racing for Bryan Clauson.  None of these one-off Indy 500 deals has announced a sponsor yet along an engine deal.

     In 2014 22 cars came to the grid for each of the Verizon IndyCar series races other than the Indy 500.  I had hoped that number to grow for 2015 but it looks as though the manufacturers are calling the shots and perhaps we will see just one more car in 2015 unless some bug money people come forward and convince either Chevrolet or Honda to expand upon their parameters.

     If  have 23 season long competitors and now three additional for the Indy 500, it looks as though 33 is still a far ways off for the 500.

     As far as drivers with hopes of a 2015 ride in the series we have:  Brisco, Karam, Justin Wilson, Stefan Wilson, JR Hildebrand, Luca Filippi as well Conor Daly, Alexander Rossi, and other drivers from the Indy Light series that are also out trying to find sponsorship money that can put them in one of the available cars.  

     Time is running out, March is not that far away and much is still needed to be done to firm up the series for 2015.

NOTES:

     A.J. Foyt, four time Indianapolis 500 champion and current Verizon IndyCar team owner survived yet another brush with death but this time it was not on a race track or on his ranch it was in Baylor-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, Texas.  

     On November 12th Foyt had triple heart bypass surgery and although the surgery was successful Foyt developed serious complications with his lungs.  He was kept on a ventilator for eight days to allow his lungs to recover full functionality.  10 days in the ICU was followed by 10 additional days in the hospital finally being released from the hospital on December 2nd.

     Foyt, who will turn 80 in January, credits the doctors and staff at Baylor-St. Luke’s for saving his life.

     2015 will be a new beginning for the Indy Lights series.  It will feature a new car, the Dallara IL-15 and a new engine supplier, Mazda.

     The series had used the same chassis and engines for several years and this change was long over due and it is hoped to attract more cars and drivers in the series that is the final step in racing the Indianapolis 500.

     Mazda now provides engines and backing along the entire route to the 500.  Starting with USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda to the Pro-Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires to the 2015 Indy Lights presented by Cooper tires drivers and teams will deal with only Mazda as they advance their careers toward the 500.

     Shelby Blackstock will graduate from the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires to the Indy Lights series in 2015 in a car provided by Andretti Autosports.  Shelby is the son of music icon Reba McEntire and has recorded one victory in his two Pro Mazda seasons.

     Double points will again be awarded for the big three events in the 2015 season:  The Indianapolis 500 and the races at Pocono Raceway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana to spice up the race for the 2015 championship.

     Standing starts have been taken out of the equation for 2015.

     The Push to Pass Button returns for all street and road course events in 2015.

     Testing on the new “Aero Packages” that are designed by Chevrolet and Honda for their respective entries will commence in March and will be on the cars for the North American debut in March.  The Brazil race will feature the regular configurations.  I can’t wait to see these packages that will offer the fans more opportunities to distinguish the cars from each other and perhaps provide the competitive “edge” that will give that particular manufacture the “upper hand” all season long.

     2015 will provide a host of information and you can read all about here at Bronco’s Pit Stop.

     In the meantime here’s wishing everyone a Joyous Holiday Season and a Great 2015!