By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Indianapolis 500 telecast ratings rise over 2010
2. Teams use off week to test Milwaukee
3. Wheldon sent packing on Victory Tour
1. Indianapolis 500 telecast ratings rise over 2010: ABC’s high-definition broadcast of the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 on May 29 delivered a 4.3 preliminary overnight rating in metered markets – up from 4.0 in 2010.
Viewership increases were realized in Chicago, Las Vegas, Tampa, Fla., Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, among others, of the 56 markets during the noon-3:30 p.m. (ET) race broadcast. ESPN on ABC’s one-hour pre-race show hosted by Brent Musburger — with a blend of compelling features and the sights and sounds of the pre-race ceremonies on Memorial Day weekend – also attracted strong viewership numbers.
It was the 47th consecutive year that ABC telecast the 500 Mile Race — one of the longest-running relationships between a sporting event and a network.
“All in all, the race was excellent with storylines throughout that kept the viewers’ and spectators’ attention,” said Randy Bernard, CEO, INDYCAR. “We saw a significant television increase in the metered markets, and it’s important for us to keep our momentum moving upward to 2012. With the introduction new car, we think it’s a great storyline and we’re optimistic there are more good things to come.”
Dan Wheldon won the drama-filled race on the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, overtaking the crippled car of rookie JR Hildebrand a few hundred yards from the start/finish line. Hildebrand’s car made right-side contact with the outside retaining wall exiting Turn 4 on the 200th and final lap, but he was able to slide across the “Yard of Bricks” to claim second place.
Wheldon, a resident of St. Petersburg, Fla., earned $2.56 million from the purse of $13.5 million. Hildebrand, of Sausalito, Calif., who was voted the Chase Rookie of the Year, received $1,064,895.
More excitement and drama is sure to come from the Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway on June 11, featuring two 125-lap races on the 1.5-mile oval with a one-hour break in between. VERSUS will broadcast both events starting at 8 p.m. (ET).
ABC will televise IZOD IndyCar Series races from the Milwaukee Mile (June 19), New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Aug. 14) and the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16).
It’s an off weekend of competition for the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights, but teams are using June 1-3 to test at the Milwaukee Mile for the June 17-19 race weekend.
2. Teams use off week to test Milwaukee: Fourteen IZOD IndyCar Series drivers will put in a day on the oval June 1, while 10 more will test June 3. Thirteen Firestone Indy Lights driver/car combinations will be on the track June 2.
Fans can watch testing each day (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) in Turns 1-2, and Milwaukee 225 promoters will host a watching party (food, drinks, apparel, ticket purchase) June 3 in the Turn 2 parking lot.
Both series return to the historic track after a year’s absence. Scott Dixon, who won the IZOD IndyCar Series race in 2009, will be among those getting re-acquainted with the flat racetrack on June 3.
The fifth-place finisher in the Indianapolis 500 on May 29 will be joined by Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and reigning series champion Dario Franchitti; 500 Mile Race runner-up and Chase Rookie of the Year JR Hildebrand of National Guard Panther Racing; Graham Rahal, the third-place finisher in the ‘500’ and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Charlie Kimball; Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves and series points leader Will Power; Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing’s Oriol Servia; and Ana Beatriz of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
“I’m looking forward to going back,” said Sarah Fisher Racing driver Ed Carpenter, who will be among the drivers testing June 1. “It’s a very challenging racetrack for drivers, engineers and teams, so there’s definitely a premium on getting a good balance on the car and a good setup. We’ll be working on that during the day.”
Also at the track June 1 will be Andretti Autosport drivers Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Mike Conway; Vitor Meira of A.J. Foyt Racing; the KV Racing Technology-Lotus contingent of Indy 500 fourth-place finisher Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato and E.J. Viso; Ed Carpenter of Sarah Fisher Racing; Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Justin Wilson and Beatriz; Simona de Silvestro of HVM Racing; James Jakes of Dale Coyne Racing; and Conquest Racing’s Sebastian Saavedra.
Firestone Indy Lights competitors getting in laps June 2 include Firestone Freedom 100 winner and series points leader Josef Newgarden, along with Sam Schmidt Motorsports teammates Esteban Guerrieri, Bryan Clauson and Victor Carbone. Team Moore Racing’s Victor Garcia and Gustavo Yacaman, Team Jensen’s David Ostella, Andretti Autosport’s Stefan Wilson, Bryan Herta Autosport’s Duarte Ferreira and O2 Racing’s Peter Dempsey also will be in cars.
3. Wheldon sent packing on Victory Tour: Waiting for the initial volley of early-morning TV and radio guest appearances, Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon reflected on the hectic race that transpired a few hundred feet from his victory podium perch at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
His milk- and champagne-soaked firesuit washed overnight for a photo shoot, Wheldon also put into perspective his place in the race’s history.
“For me, winning the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 is very special,” said Wheldon, 32, a resident of St. Petersburg, Fla. “I love this racetrack. I love this race and what it’s done for my career even before being a two-time winner. That is an emotion that didn’t come into it before, and because I’m more experienced I’m able to appreciate this more and you have more time to appreciate it.
“It’s certainly different from the last one. I remember I was out for most of the night with my sponsor, Jim Beam. Last night, I went to a driver party for about an hour and then I retired to bed. (Two-year-old son) Sebastian crawled into bed with us about 4 o’clock in the morning and kind of took over the bed.”
Wheldon, who started sixth in the No. 98 William Rast-Curb/Big Machine car for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb/Agajanian, overtook the sliding, crippled car of rookie JR Hildebrand just before the start/finish line to become the 10th two-time champion of the race.
“They’re both obviously very good and it’s an amazing achievement by everybody,” Whedon continued as he was given the two-minute cue for “The Early Show” on CBS. “This one was definitely more emotional; there was a lot more going on. A lot of things have changed in my life since 2005.”
In the succeeding years, he exchanged marriage vows, has two young sons and is coping – along with his extended family – with his mother, Sue, having Alzheimer’s disease. He championed the Alzheimer Association’s message of early diagnosis and risk-factor education during the month.
“For me, there’s a lot going on back home with my family and it was certainly nice to win,” he said. “It was very emotional and different from the last one because of that but nevertheless very good. This also is potentially my only race of the season. It wasn’t one of the races with one of the big, powerhouse teams; it was with (former teammate and longtime friend) Bryan Herta. We didn’t do this deal because we were friends. We would have still been friends even if we hadn’t done this deal. We did it because we believed in one another and we believed that we could win.”
Soon after the media obligations at the Speedway, Wheldon went shopping for clothing for the multi-city Victory Tour that starts May 31 – among his appearances will be a visit to “Late Night with David Letterman” on June 6 — and a suit for the Victory Banquet later in the evening.
“I didn’t think I’d need one,” he said of the improbable victory.
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues with the Firestone Twin 275s on June 11 at Texas Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 8 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM channel 94 and www.indycar.com. The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with the David Hobbs 100 at the Milwaukee Mile on June 17.