Johnson Lands Carvana as Sponsor, Keeps Number 48

Photo: Jimmie Johnson at the news conference announcing Carvana sponsorship

Carvana will sponsor 7 time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson when he begins his Indycar adventure next March. Johnson will drive for Chip Ganassi Racing and will keep his former series number, 48.

In a news conference between practice and qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Johnson admitted, “I have a very steep learning curve ahead of me.”

Ernie Garcia, CEO of Carvana, said as an industry leader, he is excited to join with another industry leader.

Johnson said he is most looking forward to racing at Long Beach, where he fell in love with Indycar, and at Laguna Seca. He said he has always wanted to drive the corkscrew and didn’t think he would ever get the chance.

Chip Ganassi said the plan is to run the 48 car the entire schedule, which means he has to find another driver for the four oval races. Johnson ruled out driving in the Indianapolis 500 for 2021.

The official release:

Carvana Partners with 7-Time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson and Chip Ganassi Racing in INDYCAR

Chip Ganassi Racing and Johnson revving up for 2021 racing season

PHOENIX (Oct. 24, 2020) — Leading online auto retailer Carvana (NYSE: CVNA) announced today it will be the primary partner for 7-time NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) Champion Jimmie Johnson and Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) for the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES racing season in the newly-formed Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing entry.

Johnson co-holds the NCS record with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for most premier series championships and is the only driver to win five consecutive titles (2006-2010). Johnson’s 83 career wins is tied with Cale Yarborough for sixth all-time and is tops among active drivers. With an impressive record any athlete would envy, Johnson saw his next challenge in INDYCAR, and recently announced his plans to race with CGR in his continued pursuit of excellence. 

“Jimmie Johnson has already made his mark as one of the best NASCAR drivers in history, yet he’s continuing to push himself with a new challenge,” said Carvana Chief Brand Officer Ryan Keeton. “He’s not resting, but raising the bar, and that’s a mindset we can very much relate to. We’re looking forward to that shared challenger mindset, teamed up with Chip Ganassi Racing, for what is sure to be a fun, exciting racing season.”

Ahead of the upcoming season, Johnson is scheduled to participate in tests with CGR in the No. 48 Carvana Honda at Barber Motorsports Park and Laguna Seca in November. Johnson’s new paint scheme will be unveiled prior to the start of the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season where he is scheduled to compete in the full road and street course calendar.

“Carvana is a young, tech-forward, smart and aggressive company and is the perfect partner for this next challenge in my career,” said Johnson, who will be competing for 2021 INDYCAR Rookie of the Year. “I’ve dreamed of racing in INDYCAR since I was a little kid. Going from one championship organization to another with CGR, you know the resources, including great people, are going to be there. To have friends like Scott (Dixon), Dario (Franchitti) and Doug (Duchardt) there to lean on and learn from just makes this transition so much better. 2021 is going to be a lot of fun!”

“I think this is a perfect fit for our organization – Carvana is a very exciting technology company that is always continuing to challenge themselves to be the best they can be,” said Team Owner Chip Ganassi. “Like us, they value innovation – and when you add it all up, we seem to have a lot in common, which is why I think this relationship can really grow and be successful. You all know Jimmie and his accomplishments. Jimmie is a champion and a winner and will bring tremendous value to our organization. I think we’re going to learn as much from him and his approach as he is going to learn about INDYCAR racing. It will only move the team in a positive direction.”

As the pioneer of online car buying, Carvana created an easy, transparent way for consumers to purchase their next car – the ability to shop more than 20,000 vehicles, finance, purchase and schedule touchless delivery, all in as little as five minutes from the comfort and safety of home.

Indycar Works in Qualifying Amid Big News Days

Good morning from the northern annex of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg media center. I hope that those of you at the track are following COVIS protocols and are staying safe.

Today’s schedule, all times Eastern:

Practice- 10:55-12:25 NBC Gold

Qualifying 3:05-4:20 NBC Gold

8:00-9:00 (tape delay) NBCSN

I will have a spoiler alert report after qualifying. The pole winner will not be in the headline.

There were several bits of news yesterday, and I understand some more news is coming around 2 pm today.

Firestone has extended its sponsorship agreement for this race through 2023. Should St. Pete remain as the opening race of the season, this venue will be our first look at the new 2.4 liter engine with a hybrid system. the news is also encouraging in that a company in these uncertain times is willing to make a commitment for that length of time.

Last night Team Penske made it official that three time VA Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will drivea fourth entry for the team in the NTT Indycar Series in 2021. McLaughlin makes his Indycar debut this weekend. A link to the announcement can be found here:

https://thepitwindow.blog/2020/10/23/team-penske-adds-mclaughlin-to-indycar-for-2021/

Scott McLaughlin addresses the media in Austin in February

Per Adam Stern, Chip Ganassi Racing has secured sponsorship for Jimmie Johnson to the road and street courses in 2021. An announcement is expected soon. This may be the 2 pm announcement,scheduled for today.

Last, best wishes for a speedy recovery to my friend Jake Query, who is recovering from a heart attack, and resting comfortably in Indianapolis.

Back after practice

St. Pete Track Busy with Series Finales- On Track Schedules

The postponed Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg not hosts the NTT Indycar Series finale, the Road to Indy season ending races also take place this weekend. Mazda MX-5 Cup and Porsche GT3 Cup action is also on the agenda. Indycar does not get on track until Saturday morning at 10:55 am for a 90 minute practice. Friday is dedicated to practice and qualifying for USF 2000, Indy Pro 2000, Mazda mx-5 Cup, and Porsche GT3 Cup. each of the support series will have two races. Both Mazda races are Saturday. The second races for the other three series are on Sunday before the Indycar finale. The schedule by day (all times Eastern):

Friday

TimeSeriesSession
8:45 AM – 4:00 PM Gate Hours
9:00 AM – 9:40 AMMX-5 CupPractice 1
10:00 AM – 10:45 AMPorsche GT3 CupPractice 1
11:05 AM – 11:35 AMUSF2000Practice 1
11:55 AM – 12:25 PMIndy Pro 2000Practice 1
12:45 PM – 1:25 PMMX-5 CupPractice 2
1:45 PM – 2:15 PMPorsche GT3 CupPractice 2
2:35 PM – 3:05 PMUSF2000Qualifying 1
3:25 PM – 3:55 PMIndy Pro 2000Qualifying 1
4:15 PM – 4:35 PMMX-5 CupQualifying
4:55 PM – 5:10 PMPorsche GT3 CupQualifying

Saturday

TimeSeriesSession
8:15 AM – 5:45 PM Gate Hours
8:30 AM – 9:15 AMMX-5 CupRace 1
9:30 AM – 9:50 AMUSF2000Qualifying 2
10:10 AM – 10:30 AMIndy Pro 2000Qualifying 2
10:55 AM – 12:25 PMNTT INDYCAR SERIESPractice
12:50 PM – 1:35 PMMX-5 CupRace 2
1:55 PM – 2:40 PMPorsche GT3 CupRace 1
3:05 PM – 4:20 PMNTT INDYCAR SERIESQualifying
4:40 PM – 5:25 PMUSF2000Race 1
5:35 PM – 6:15 PMIndy Pro 2000Race 1

Sunday

TimeSeriesSession
9:15 AM – 3:00 PM Gate Hours
9:30 AM – 10:15 AMUSF2000Race 2
10:40 AM – 11:10 AMNTT INDYCAR SERIESWarm-Up
11:30 AM – 12:20 PMIndy Pro 2000Race 2
12:40 PM – 1:25 PMPorsche GT3 CupRace 2
2:30 PMNTT INDYCAR SERIESRace

St. Pete Broadcast Schedule; Selling Limted Number of Tickets

The broadcast schedule for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is out. Notable is the delayed television broadcast of qualifying. Qualifying will be shown live on NBC Gold for those who have purchased it. This qualifying sesion will be just the second traditional knock out qualifying leading the Fast Six this year. I have missed the Fast Six format, although I have enjoyed the way the grid is set for the double headers. The broadcast schedule:

Oct24 Saturday Practice 10:55 AM – 12:25 PM ET

Oct24 Saturday Qualifications (Live) 3:05 – 4:20 PM ET

Oct24 Saturday Qualifications (Delay) 8:00 – 9:00 PM ET

Oct25 Sunday Warmup 10:40 – 11:10 AM ET

Oct25 Sunday Pre-Race 2:00 – 2:30 PM ET

Oct25 Sunday Race 2:30 – 4:30 PM ET

Yesterday afternoon, Green Savoree, the race promoter, put a limited number of tickets on sale. the event has a 20,000 fan limit per day. Ticket holders who had seats for the original March date received an email yesterday with a reassigned seat. In my case, I am in the same grandstand, same section, but just four rows lower than my regular location. I even retained the same seat number.

Whenj the March race was cancelled the promoters gave ticketholders the opportunity to get a credit for the 2021 race. i know several fans who took advantage of that offer. Some were unhappy because there was no cash refund option. I’m disappointed that Green Savoree did not extend a similar deferral until 2021 option to those who kept their tickets, but who cannot for one reason or another go to this race. I have chosen not to attend because of the pandemic. I know of another fan, who I believe has been to every St. Pete race, also in this situation.

I understand this promoter has been hit the hardest by the schedule upheaval this year. They have lost two races entirely, Toronto and Portland, were allowed just 6,000 fans per day at Mid Ohio, and were in danger of losing this event completely as well. It is a sham that the good will of the fans takes a backseat to their bottom line.

Lessons Learned in 2020 – Fewer Schedule Disruptions in 2021?

Six schedule revisions, cancelled races, races run in front of empty stands, and races with severely limited attendance are what most will recall about the 2020 NTT Indycar Series. It has not been easy for team owners, sponsors, drivers, crew, or fans. Yet, I find it impressive that the series will have run 14 races this season, and I find some optimism for 2021 in the way things have played out as we head to the season finale at St. Petersburg in a little more than two weeks.

The protocols in the paddock have appeared to work well with masks and distancing in place. Teams kept to themselves. Media interviews mostly were on Zoom, and in-session talks with team personnel conducted with microphones on poles.

Accommodating fans presented other issues. It is challenging for tracks to regulate individual behavior. As the season wore on, I noticed improvement in track management and fan compliance.

Road America was the first race of the season to allow fans. protocols like temperature screening at the gates, mask wearing, and social distancing were in place. I must say the track staff wasn’t strict on enforcing the mask requirement, and while most people kept their distance, I observed many who did not.

Iowa limited the crowd each night to 5,000. In the stands people stayed within the boundaries of their assigned seats and stayed with the group they came with. White circles on the hills kept groups at a proper social distance. mask compliance was somewhat better than at Road America.

At World Wide Technology Raceway (Gateway), I noticed even better mask compliance. the crowd was small enough that social distance was easily maintained. In the first turn grandstand, two rows of seats were blocked from spectators followed by one row of seating.

Mid Ohio had a 6,000 per day fan limit. Track personnel reminded fans to wear masks and respect the limits of the squares marked in the general admission areas.

At Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend, the 10,000 fans allowed each day could choose either a north or south bubble to sit in. Each area had its own entrance and moving from one area to the other was not allowed. Mask compliance was good, as was social distancing.

The fans improved in adapting to the rules as the season went on. I have concerns about 20,000 fans at St. Pete. Spectators will need to be spread out quite a lot. We’ll see how it goes.

I have hope that next year’s schedule will go pretty much as planned unless there is another significant surge of the virus. First, all tracks now have a COVID plan in place for the paddock and fans. Tracks have worked with local and state governments to determine safe fan limits.

Any concerns about races might come in the early part of the season, but I hope that by the end of the year things will be closer to normal. I don’t look for any race to be allowed full capacity until 2022 at the earliest. Fans hoping to get paddock access in 2021 may be disappointed. I don’t see that perk returning for awhile.

While there will still be some limits at races, I think we will see a more normal schedule with fewer disruptions. It will take time to return to a completely regular routine with no attendance or movement limits. We may also see shorter race weekends as well. the series has learned this year how what can be accomplished in a shorter time frame.

Yesterday was Fun- Let’s Do It Again

Saturday at IMS:

8 am- Gates Open (gates 1 & 9)

8:30-10 Indianapolis 8 Hour/GT World Challenge America pre qualifying

10:20-10:50 Indycar Qualifying -Race 2

11:10-11:50 TC America/TCR Race 2

12:10-1:10 Indianapolis 8 Hour/GT World Challenge America Qualifying

2:30-5:00 Indycar Harvest Grand Prix Race 2 (NBC)

5:30-5:45 Indianapolis 8 Hour/GT World Challenge America Pole Shootout

Can Indycar top yesterday’s race? Some attribute the great racing to the weather conditions. Today’s high is expected to be 64 degrees. race time temperature should be around 61 with partly cloudy skies. No rain is in the forecast.

Temperatures for qualifying will be in the low 50s.

From last night:

Harvest Grand Prix Race 1- Quick Thoughts

https://thepitwindow.blog/2020/10/02/harvest-grand-prix-race-1-quick-thoughts/

This is an important day for Scott Dixon. He needs to regain some momentum back and try to extend his points lead over Josef Newgarden. The lead has shrunk from 116 points going into Mid Ohio to just 40 after yesterday.

Can Rinus VeeKay continue to be a factor today? He should be fun to watch.

Indycar, Chevy, and Honda have a major announcement at 11:50 this morning regarding the new hybrid engine.

I’ll be back after qualifying with a quick report. Enjoy the day.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan to Build Race Facility in Zionsville

From Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing this morning:

ZIONSVILLE, Ind. (Oct. 7, 2020) – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL), an automotive racing organization, announced plans today to expand its Indiana operations, establishing its global headquarters in Zionsville and creating up to 73 new jobs by the end of 2024.

“Indiana’s reputation as a leader in motorsports continues to pick up speed with companies like Rahal Letterman Lanigan choosing to invest in our state,” Governor Eric J. Holcomb said. “We look forward to supporting RLL’s continued growth in Indiana as the company leverages our state’s business-friendly environment and skilled workforce while racing to the checkered flag.”

The company, which has four entries in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA)’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, will invest more than $20 million to build and equip a state-of-the-art racing headquarters at the northeast corner of Creek Way and 106th Street in Zionsville. The 100,000-square-foot facility, which will occupy 13 acres southeast of the downtown area, will allow RLL to consolidate its existing INDYCAR operations in Brownsburg, as well as its IMSA operations in Ohio. The new building will feature office and event space as well as automotive R&D and light manufacturing operations to support the dynamic functions of RLL’s racing teams. The company expects to break ground on its headquarters late 2020 and be fully operational by spring 2022.

“We are very excited about this project, and excited about being in a park-like setting in Zionsville,” said Bobby Rahal, co-owner of RLL. “We feel that this building will make a statement about who we are at RLL and what our intentions are about the future. Having our entire organization based in the Indianapolis area, in Zionsville, is going to be a big plus for our organization. We have done a great job of having two facilities, as is showcased by our wins in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Indianapolis 500 this season, but it is certainly demanding having people in two places. We have had time to really look at the building and design every aspect with input from our personnel to maximize the space.”

Founded in 1992, RLL is co-owned by three-time INDYCAR champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, former CBS Late Show host and Indiana native David Letterman, and Mi-Jack co-owner Mike Lanigan. This year, RLL earned its second Indy 500 win and first since 2004, when Takuma Sato also took home his second victory at the historic race. RLL’s INDYCAR team is also headlined by Graham Rahal, son of Bobby Rahal, who is a six-time winner in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

“We have been working on building a race shop for over five years and are now ready to move forward,” said Mike Lanigan, co-owner of RLL. “I am personally very excited and honored to be working with the town of Zionsville. I used to live in the area years ago and look forward to our team integrating ourselves into the community and their various programs. Having our racing teams under one roof will not only maximize our abilities, it will provide economies of scale to keep the cost down. That savings will enable us to reinvest more back into the company.”

Indiana is globally recognized as a leader in motorsports. Home to the “Racing Capital of the World,” Indiana welcomes visitors from around the world to Indianapolis for world-class racing events like the Indy 500, Brickyard 400 and IndyCar Grand Prix. Motorsports-related businesses operate in all of Indiana’s 92 counties, with more than 2,400 motorsports businesses like RLL supporting more than 421,000 motorsports-related jobs across Indiana.

“Our efforts to seek the right fit for Creekside Corporate Park have proven successful with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing expanding to Zionsville and choosing Creekside Corporate Park for their corporate headquarters,” said Zionsville Mayor Emily Styron. “In Zionsville, we have the best of both worlds – a thriving business community and an unparalleled quality of life. RLL fits in well with the local culture and business environment and I know their team will love being part of this community. We are thrilled to welcome RLL to town.”

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation will offer RLL up to $1.2 million in conditional tax credits based on the company’s job creation plans and up to $300,000 in conditional tax credits from the Hoosier Business Investment (HBI) tax credit program based on the company’s planned capital investment in Indiana. These tax credits are performance-based, meaning until Hoosiers are hired, the company is not eligible to claim incentives.

About Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, based in Hilliard, Ohio and Brownsburg, Ind., is co-owned by three-time IndyCar Champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, former CBS Late Show host David Letterman and Mi-Jack co-owner Mike Lanigan. In 2020, the team is in the midst of their 29th year of open wheel competition and has 29 wins – including the 2004 Indy 500 from pole with Buddy Rice and the 2020 Indy 500 with Takuma Sato — their 33 poles, 107 podium finishes and 1992 series championship.  The team also competed in the American Le Mans Series from 2009-2013 as BMW Team RLL where they won both the Manufacturer and Team Championships in the GT category in 2010 and swept all three GT titles in 2011 – Manufacturer, Team and Driver. In 2012, the team finished second in the Team Championship and third in the Manufacturer Championship and in 2013, the team finished second in the Driver, Team and Manufacturer Championship. Since 2014, BMW Team RLL has competed in the GTLM class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with a two-car program and has brought their total to 22 wins – including the 2019 and 2020 Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance races, 28 poles and 82 podium finishes as well as a second place finish in the Manufacturer, Team and Driver championships in 2015 and 2017.

About IEDC
The Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) leads the state of Indiana’s economic development efforts, helping businesses launch, grow and locate in the state. Governed by a 15-member board chaired by Governor Eric J. Holcomb, the IEDC manages many initiatives, including performance-based tax credits, workforce training grants, innovation and entrepreneurship resources, public infrastructure assistance, and talent attraction and retention efforts. For more information about the IEDC, visit http://www.iedc.in.gov.