With IndyCar coming off "one of its most competitive seasons in memory that ended with the first American champion in six years, its on-track product is viewed as excellent," but "conventional wisdom says everything else is a mess," according to Nate Ryan of USA TODAY. Whether it was the "protracted and bungled ouster of embattled CEO Randy Bernard ... (the latest in a series of embarrassing office politics debacles and airing of dirty laundry), a lack of cohesive and widespread marketing strategy for its stars and a TV deal that has hamstrung the sport with low visibility, ... IndyCar isn't in much better shape now than five years ago -- when Champ Car and the Indy Racing League merged into a single entity." Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles has "spent the past three months meeting with the drivers, car owners and key sponsors." Though Miles has "limited racing experience," he has "boundless business savvy, having spearheaded Indianapolis' successful 2012 Super Bowl bid." He also seems "more measured than Bernard." Miles wants to "eliminate potential overlapping of staffing in the front office of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway." He also would "like to have a new CEO by spring." But the "trickiest hurdle might be IndyCar's TV deal, which runs through 2018" (USA TODAY, 3/20).
THE CHAMP IS HERE: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin writes driver Ryan Hunter-Reay has "everything the IndyCar Series wants in a reigning series champion except notoriety." Hunter-Reay remains "uncelebrated nationally, and former IndyCar champions say it's an injustice that needs to be rectified." Dario Franchitti said, "All I've heard the last two or three years is that IndyCar needs an American champion again. Then it became anybody but the (Ganassi) guys or the Penske guys, or anybody but Dario. Well, Ryan went out and did it, and he did it on the last lap of the season. What more do people want?" IMS President & CEO and interim IndyCar CEO Jeff Belskus said, "He didn't get as much attention as I'd like for a variety of factors" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 3/22). The AP's Jenna Fryer noted IndyCar drivers and their "on-track product have been largely overshadowed by the off-track issues that typically plague open-wheel racing, and there's been no bigger casualty than Hunter-Reay." Bernard's "eventual firing and the unrest it created among fans overshadowed everything, including any potential marketing opportunities the series could have had with Hunter-Reay." IndyCar is "playing catch-up now, with Hunter-Reay's face adorning banners and ads for both the series and Sunday's race through the streets of St. Pete" (AP, 3/20).
FRESH FACES: In New York, Ron Levanduski noted the return of former Champ Car World Series driver A.J. Allmendinger "will not be a big enough boost to the series," as he is currently "only signed to run two events for Penske Racing." What the series "could use is another female star like Danica Patrick." IndyCar "may get that" in Simona de Silvestro, who "joined her first competitive team in KV Racing" (Elmira STAR-GAZETTE, 3/20).
TAKE TO THE BIG SCREEN: Miles said "planning is getting very specific about leveraging" Dreamworks' animated film "Turbo," which is "testing really well." Miles noted he is traveling to L.A. "to meet with the Dreamworks people to talk about big ideas to make the most of that" and this "unique opportunity is a big deal" (SPEEDTV.com, 3/19).
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: Driver Graham Rahal said of previously driving for teams other than the one his father, Bobby Rahal, owns, "I used to go to countless sponsor meetings. I would walk in with whoever it may have been, and the very first question would be, 'Why don't you drive for your dad?' I'm not going to say this is totally sponsor-driven, because dad and I wanted that as well." In Tampa, Jim Tomlin noted this year "everything has lined up and the son is driving for the father." Graham signed a "three-year contract in the offseason with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 3/20).
SIGN ME UP: Mutual of Omaha has become an associate sponsor of Andretti Autosport and driver Marco Andretti. The company will be highlighted on the side and rear wings of Andretti's No. 25 Car (Mutual of Omaha)....Driver Tony Kanaan signed a "nine-race sponsorship deal with Hydroxycut just in time for the IndyCar season opener." The deal between KV Racing Technology and the weight-loss supplement company "helps the team replace longtime sponsor Geico, which gave the organization little notice it was pulling out of IndyCar." The deal still leaves Kanaan's No. 11 car "with five unsponsored races, Detroit, Texas, Iowa, Pocono and Mid-Ohio." But KV "likes its chances of finding a partner because all but the Mid-Ohio event are ABC telecasts" (AP, 3/21).