Nextel Racing is here to stay

 by Jose Arrambide
July 10, 2004

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Roberto Gonzalez
Champ Car

Mexican sponsors have been very important to the survival of the Champ Car series, either sponsoring a car or a specific event.  Companies like Cerveceria Cuahtemoc (Tecate), TELMEX, Gigante, Herdez and Cerveceria Modelo (Corona) are helping in the effort to return the series to its former glory days. This year there is a new kid in town, Nextel Mexico, and AutoRacing1.com had the opportunity to talk to them, especially with Carlos Ortega, “Communications Director” of the group, so Autoracing1 readers can get to know more about the Nextel Racing Team.

Talking to Carlos we found out that Nextel Racing Team is not a one-time, one-year effort.  They have cars in 4 different categories. They have 3 different cars in the Mexican Formula Renault, sponsoring 3 Mexican drivers, Homero Richards (which by the way is last year's champion), Fernando Iriarte and Hugo Olivera; they have 2 different cars in the Mexican Cup Clio, sponsoring 2 Mexican drivers, Horacio Richards and Leslie Gonzalez (the only female driver in this category); 2 different cars in the Mexican rally circuit where they sponsor pilot Carlos Tejeda and his copilot Hugo Rios, and pilot Alejandro Pineda and his copilot Javier Merino; and of course the Champ Car driven by Mexican driver Roberto Gonzalez. 7 cars in 3 different Mexican categories and 1 car in an international category is something to brag about taking into consideration that Nextel Mexico has a short history in the racing world.

They began their involvement in the racing world 4 years ago by sponsoring a car in the Mexican Formula 3.  When Formula 3 was reborn as Formula Renault 2 years ago Nextel decided to cosponsor the Herdez cars in the Formula Renault and the Cup Clio (which is the support series for the Formula Renault),. Last year they had a small sponsorship of Mario Dominguez’s Champ Car, and they made the arrangements to get Roberto Gonzalez on the 2nd Herdez car in the Mexico City race last year. But 2004 has proven to be their awakening year.  They decided to end their relationship with Herdez Competition in the Formula Renault and Cup Clio to create their own team Nextel Racing Team, and decided to expand their efforts by adding cars in the Mexican Rally and Champ Car.

Nextel Mexican Racing drivers

We wanted to know why Nextel decided to expand so quickly their Nextel Racing Team operations. Carlos explained to us that there are two main reasons for this. The first one is that Nextel Mexico views racing as a great analogy for their business, “What we sell is speed Jose, we promise our customers the fastest way to keep in touch in the business world, and what a better way to reinforce this than by sponsoring racing cars,” Ortega said. The second reason was the profile of their customers, “Our main customers are companies, we have mainly corporative accounts, and our services are mainly used by executives. We have found that a high percentage of these customers are racing fans.”

Because of their involvement with Herdez Competition in the Mexican categories they decided to do a one race effort in 2003 with Herdez Competition, sponsoring Gonzalez in the Mexico City Champ Car race. After all of the exposure they got out of that race, they decided to look for a permanent ride for Gonzalez for 2004. They had talks with most of the Champ Cars teams, but they saw in PKV Racing the best option for their main objective, to improve Gonzalez's skills in a short time, so he can start battling for the top positions next year. They are betting on Jimmy Vasser to do with Roberto what he did for Michel Jourdain Jr... Their next step was to talk with NII Holdings (they control Nextel in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Peru) so they could sponsor the second PKV Racing car driven by Jimmy Vasser.

Roberto Gonzalez

We asked Carlos to explain why they decided to enter Champ Car in a very difficult time for the series, just after the bankruptcy and subsequent court battle, and the air was full of rumors of the death of the series. “We had no doubt in our minds that the series was going to survive. After getting to know Kevin Kalkhoven we knew that the series was in very good hands, and because Kevin is also one of the owners of PKV, we knew the team was here to stay.  Besides, Champ Car is the only international series with great Mexican drivers, so it was a no-brainer for us.”

I also wanted to know why the PKV cars only have the Nextel logo for the races outside of the US, but in the US they have the NII logo. He explained to us that although Nextel is a household name in the US, NII is not recognized yet by the public, so this is a way for the holding company to get exposure in the US, “but you can count on seeing the Nextel logos this weekend in Toronto” Carlos said.

We also wanted to know if their experience so far with Champ Car has been a good one or a disappointing one. “We are very happy with how things have been this year; Roberto is driving very well and is improving a little bit faster than we expected.  His last race he was in 7th place and we see this as a sign of things to come.

Roberto Gonzalez

We also asked Carlos to tell us if they got more out of their Mexican categories or out of Champ Cars and he explained to us that they don’t see it that way. “We see both sponsoring strategies as complementing each other, by having a car in Champ Cars we got national exposure by the media, but while sponsoring Mexican Categories we get regional exposure in every race, that way we work together with our different marketing strategies”.

Are you here to stay in the racing world; particularly are you here to stay in Champ Car and the 3 Mexican categories, we asked Carlos? “We are here to stay as long as the end results are good for us.  This year has been great for the Nextel Racing Team.  We have had a lot of exposure in all 4 categories thanks to the results of our drivers If things continue like this we will continue to sponsor the 3 Mexican categories and the Champ Car effort. Things are looking great for Nextel Racing and we want this to continue for many years.”

We also wanted to know if they are going to keep sponsoring only Mexican drivers or they are looking to sponsor different nationality drivers.   “As I told you we want to have great results in our different categories, and as long as we keep getting great results from Mexican drivers we will not look for drivers outside of Mexico, we want to support our local boys.”

At the end of the interview Carlos told us to keep an eye on Homero Richards, as he is their biggest hope for the future, and said that this will be a very busy weekend for Nextel Racing Team, all of their cars will be racing somewhere. We left the interview knowing that this team is here to stay and will keep getting great results in their racing efforts.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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