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Volume 23 No. 13
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IndyCar steps up search for third auto manufacturer in series

IndyCar has redoubled its efforts to land a third auto manufacturer over the last year, pitching at least six companies about joining the series, according to CEO Mark Miles.

Among those pitched during the last year are Ford, Toyota and Fiat-Chrysler brand Alfa Romeo, sources said.

The sanctioning body currently has two original equipment manufacturers: Honda and Chevrolet. It renewed the push for a third last November with the promotion of Jay Frye, IndyCar’s president of competition and operations, who is now heading up the effort.

Honda and Chevrolet are the only two original equipment manufacturers in the IndyCar Series.
But while Miles says IndyCar remains in talks with some of the brands, he added that it’s likely too late for anything to happen before the 2018 season.

“There’s some open doors,” Miles said, “but I wouldn’t call them well developed at this point.”

Ford and Toyota both said last week they have no current plans to join IndyCar; efforts to reach Italy-based Alfa Romeo were unsuccessful.

Parallel to IndyCar’s push to find a new car manufacturer are efforts by engine manufacturer Cosworth to do the same for close to a year.

“There’s no exclusive relationship or anything like that, but obviously as they try to grow their business, they see the opportunity to work with a third OEM as something they’re interested in,” Miles said of Cosworth. “We have certainly encouraged them and tried to give them information that might be helpful as they scour the market for opportunities.”

Sources familiar with IndyCar financing projected that it would cost a car manufacturer around $25 million to $30 million in startup costs to join IndyCar, and around $10 million to $15 million annually thereafter.

An IndyCar deal could be attractive to a manufacturer because the series has a strong Midwest presence both in fan support and corporate base; runs the popular Indianapolis 500; and features some of the best racing in America.

Among the top issues any prospective car manufacturer would want clarity on before joining the series is the future of IndyCar’s aero kits, which were introduced in 2015 as a way for Chevy and Honda to have differentiated cars but have subsequently been riddled with issues. IndyCar could decide to shutter the kits and move back to spec racing, which is when all manufacturers in the series run the same model of car.

After much haggling over issues with the aero kits, Honda extended last year with IndyCar through the 2017 season. Chevy’s deal with the series expires after this season, but Miles said he expects a renewal to “happen soon.”

As far as how important a third manufacturer is to the series, which has seen some business gains in recent years but is still far behind NASCAR in most of those metrics, motorsports marketer Zak Brown said the move would add intrigue to the series plus a financial boost.

“A third manufacturer is great for everybody,” said Brown, chief executive of CSM Group and executive chairman of Just Marketing International. “It’s great from a sport standpoint because fans like it, but also it means more money in the sport because they’d support a couple teams and raise the competition. There’s just no downside to having a third manufacturer come in.”