INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Even before Alexander Rossi sputtered across the finish line to win the Indianapolis 500, race organizers and IndyCar officials were looking to seize the momentum from the historic 100th running of the showcase event.
They’ve put together a new ad campaign, kicked off a ticket renewal effort and have drivers urging everyone in the series to promote the sport.
“It’s time to take that, maximize it, to get these fans, get them excited,” American driver Graham Rahal said. “Get them to re-up on their tickets for next year. Are you going to see 400,000 here next year? No. Is it going to be as big as this year? Probably not. But I do think we can sustain it.”
That is the hope.
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Last week, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles and Mark Miles, the CEO of Hulman & Co., IndyCar’s parent company, unveiled a new, sleek logo for the 101st race. Topping this year will be tough.
A dramatic finish on the first day of qualifying led to James Hinchcliffe’s even more exciting pole-winning run the next day, capping an incredible comeback at the same track where he sustained a life-threatening leg injury in May 2015.
Three days later, organizers announced they had sold an estimated 350,000 to 375,000 tickets and that the race would be televised locally for the first time since the 1950s. Somehow, most or all of the fans managed to get to race without missing the green flag on Sunday, too.
The historic race included more lead changes (54) than caution laps (46) and more than one-third of the 33 starters in the field (13) led at some point, including Rossi, whose car made it across the finish line moments before it ran out of fuel. He became the second American in three years to win the race and made Michael Andretti a four-time winner as a team owner.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
“Alexander did an awesome job at saving fuel, to the point where he’s pulling in the clutch and coasting. It was just crazy,” Andretti said. “I’m a bit speechless.”
But there’s no time for rest.
Race organizers have already released a sleek new logo for next year, which is tilted upward to signify that the race is moving forward. Ticket holders from this year’s race have until June 19 to renew their tickets and receive special benefits including an invitation for a private party 101 days before the 2017 race.
The series is getting to work, too.
With 12 races left on the schedule, IndyCar will be airing new commercials with a new message.
“The creative theme is that this is an epic season and while it doesn’t mention anything specifically about the 500, that we’re coming to their tracks with the same heroes, the same champions, the same cars and during the same season,” Miles said.
Time will tell if it works. But the early returns from Indianapolis certainly are encouraging.
In addition to what happened on the track, attendance increased for each qualifying day and Carb Day.
Plus, there was growing interest in the events around the 2.5-mile oval. Ryan Hunter-Reay’s annual “Yellow Party” fundraiser for cancer research moved to a venue almost twice as large as the one he used in 2015.
All of it is giving IndyCar a high-profile chance to grow its fan base.
“I think this is a great opportunity to showcase what we have on track, our on track product and how great all these drivers are, how tight the competition is,” Hunter-Reay said. “Hopefully we’ll gain a lot of new followers.”
If they can figure out a winning combination.
“They’ve done a good job of promoting it (the 500). They’ve captured that audience again that maybe we had lost there for a little bit,” Rahal said. “Now we’ve got to keep their attention and keep it going.”