IndyCar Series to test drive VR

C.J. O’Donnell
C.J. O’Donnell

The Verizon IndyCar Series has struck a deal with Los Angeles-based virtual reality company Mandt VR to bring VR and augmented reality content to the property starting next season reports Adam Stern of Sports Business Daily.

The deal, whose financial terms were not disclosed, will be announced this week. It’s initially only for the 2018 season, though the sides are hopeful of extending it, according to IndyCar CMO C.J. O’Donnell.

Mandt, which has dabbled in motorsports with outfits including Chip Ganassi Racing, began shooting 360-degree VR and augmented reality content at the Aug. 26 Bommarito 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park, and it will record action at the season finale at Sonoma Raceway in September. The content will initially be divided into five videos and launched as free content on and the series’ Facebook and YouTube channels. There are no current plans to stream VR action live.

O’Donnell said IndyCar spoke to a number of VR vendors before landing on Mandt. Mandt is part of Hollywood TV and film production company Mandt Bros., whose credits include “Million Dollar Arm" and “Rome Is Burning." Mandt Bros. was founded in 2001, while Mandt VR was founded in 2015.

“They’re great storytellers, and I’m really optimistic that they’re going to bring both existing and new fans into our sport in a way we haven’t seen with past technology," O’Donnell said. “Their ability to deliver the excitement and speed of our sport in an immersive experience goes way beyond what we’ve been able to do so far and I think it’ll attract new people to take a look at [the sport]."

IndyCar is giving away content for free on their social media pages. So young fans do not bother to watch the race broadcasts, TV ratings are going down, and teams are losing sponsors as a result. When series powerhouses like Penske drops down to 3 cars and Ganassi is rumored to be dropping from 4 cars to 2, you know the series is in serious trouble. Someone in IndyCar had better wake up to the fact that TV ratings are still king. Without good ratings you will not survive.

Mandt will be shooting in the pit lane and garage, capturing in-car footage, and recording audio between drivers and their crews. On-track footage will be limited to practice and test sessions, given that the weight of the cameras would be a competitive disadvantage during actual races.

Fans who have VR goggles will get the full experience, but can view the content from a 360-degree camera perspective if they don’t. The footage will be archived on IndyCar’s channels.

"Some of the most compelling pieces I found are cameras mounted to crew members during pit stops, cameras mounted to cars and cameras just tactically placed in different positions around the paddock," O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said IndyCar and Mandt will seek out sponsors for the VR content, in a similar way that the series has started to integrate sponsors into its other digital and social content. The series hopes to put the footage out in the preseason next year, and it also plans to go back and capture content with the new race car that IndyCar is debuting on track in 2018.

Meanwhile, IndyCar this season shifted its marketing to be more digitally and socially focused to attract younger fans.

O’Donnell said those efforts are showing early returns. He said IndyCar’s Facebook page has added more than 250,000 users over the last calendar year. The series has seen growth in livestreaming events on Facebook and YouTube, and in the amount of content posted by drivers. He said practice sessions this season drew up to 100,000 viewers. Adam Stern/SBD

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