As Fernando Alonso takes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today for his first taste of oval driving, the European tour has begun for Mark Miles works to reshape the landscape of the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Miles – CEO of Hulman & Company, the parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway – is meeting this week with key media in France, Italy, England and Spain to discuss the significance of the two-time Formula One champion's decision to bypass the Monaco Grand Prix in favor of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing." Miles is accompanied by veteran driver Oriol Servia, a Spaniard like Alonso and the teammate to Graham Rahal in the upcoming 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
Miles has been the driving force behind major growth moments in INDYCAR since taking the reins in late 2012. None, however, may have gained more notoriety than the announcement that Alonso would make his next step toward attempting to achieve the motorsports career triple crown (winning the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans) by competing this year in the largest single-day sporting event in the world through an arrangement with Alonso's McLaren Honda F1 team and Andretti Autosport's Verizon IndyCar Series Honda program.
Alonso is going through the Indy 500 rookie orientation program on track today, building up to speeds so that he can comfortably join in practice when it opens May 15.
Before departing on his trip, Miles expressed his desire to return more international venues to the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Currently, the only stop outside the United States is in Toronto, but Indy cars have raced at the likes of Australia, Brazil, England, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands in recent years.
Part of Miles' goal on the trip is to boost INDYCAR's exposure internationally, with domestic and international broadcast rights currently in negotiation for when current contracts expire following the 2018 season.
"It certainly doesn't hurt that we'll be top of mind again because of this May," Miles said, in reference to the global attention Alonso's decision has garnered. "We're not going over there to sell anything, but we are going to Europe the first week in May just to get with important broadcasters and the most important sports and national media in four countries.
"I think it'll help us in that way – just get a little more momentum in Europe as we look to relicence our media rights."
Building on the swell in emotion for Alonso's Indy 500 participation could also swell momentum to add overseas events that Miles would like to see on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in future years – particularly to open the season.
"People understand that the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is an international event," Miles continued. "I think it will help remind people in countries all over the world that we're open for business and thinking internationally.
"I will say that we think our international opportunities for doing races are only the beginning of our championship. I think February and that probably makes it impossible in western Europe because of the climate. But the (Alonso) news is heard around the world and I think it'll help us."
A move symbolic of Indy car racing's past mixed in the present, McLaren's involvement has been missing in Indy car racing since 1979 after scoring Indianapolis 500 wins in 1974 and '76 with the legendary Johnny Rutherford. Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group, has stated he would like to see the iconic marque become involved in INDYCAR racing on a longer-term basis.
Nostalgia for traditionalists and an attraction for fans around the world to come to the historic 2.5-mile superspeedway, Miles also believes other international companies could follow McLaren in looking to the Verizon IndyCar Series because of the value involved participating in the most competitive racing that exists today.
"It'll mean something, like in the short term, people from Europe coming over to see the race," said Miles. "As well as Formula One fans in the States that may not have planned originally to be in Indianapolis, they may be more inclined to come. Then we have this broader communications value.
"I think other brands interested in marketing in the States, other brands who have only seen themselves as using motorsports in Europe, will take another look at us. I think the most cool thing about it is that it has all these cool attributes, but it's perfectly consistent with the Indianapolis 500 race's history.
"McLaren has such a great history. When they roll out that papaya-colored car, our core fans that have been with us forever, I think they will really appreciate that. If in this generation, this iteration, we can take it into the future, it'll be that much more exciting." IndyCar.com