Milwaukee IndyFest pre-race report

Whatever disaster hit Andretti Autosport for qualifications — a missed setup and a wrecked speed chart leader — it was forgotten today. Today, DHL signed a new sponsorship agreement for 3 years, and in turn, Ryan Hunter-Reay signed a new 3-year agreement to keep driving with Andretti. And smiles were had all around.

I caught Michael Andretti after the announcement to ask about the status of this Milwaukee race. Yes, they are depending on a good walkup, which says a lot about advance ticket sales. Yes, they are hoping today's sunny-but-cool weather helps. But Michael also said that sponsorship for the event was up, and certainly money is good for any event. Their aim, obviously, is not only to get the traditional race fans, but also the new fans who, as Andretti put it, tell their friends "You need to come and do this."

– Milwaukee is a paper clip track — but it doesn't drive like one. I caught up with Sebastian Saavadra after this morning's practice session. He told me that drivers are flat-out through turn 1, and lift somewhere in turn in order to turn into the back stretch. Other drivers note that turns 3 and 4 are likely to change during the race, that fast lines will change, and it will set up some passing situations — as well as increase chances for an exciting moment or two.

– Back to the DHL – Andretti – Hunter-Reay announcement — Such events are pretty boring to everyone but those doing the signing. Since someone put the first ad on their race car, we have been in an era of "sponsor based racing," which means we live and die by the opinion of marketing departments in corporations. Independent firms watch broadcasts, look at news coverage, and listen to audio feeds to count the number of times their logo is on TV, how many people saw, that logo, the situation of that sighting… in other words, they put a dollar value on the return on investment.
While not giving numbers — do they ever? — it turns out that winning the Indy 500 was a great thing in terms of advertising exposure for DHL. While other benefits of auto racing sponsorship are there — for instance, hospitality events, driver involvement with employees, etc — the bottom line is that the DHL expenditure translates into a positive effect on their balance sheet.
If IndyCar wants a bright future, they'll fight to find ways to make that happen for every sponsor.

Tim Wohlford, reporting from Milwaukee!

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