IndyCar's Dixon, Kanaan thrilled to have NTT as new title sponsor

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Behind the IndyCar trophy, from left, IndyCar President and CEO Mark Miles;  NTT Executive Vice President  Tsunehisa Okuno and IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan speak at the announcement of a title sponsorship deal between IndyCar and NTT, a global information technology and communications company based in Japan, Tuesday at the Detroit auto show.

Detroit — IndyCar named NTT as the title sponsor of the series Tuesday afternoon at the North American International Auto Show at the Cobo Center.

In addition, NTT becomes the official technology partner of IndyCar, the IndyCar series, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.

NTT replaces Verizon, which had been the title sponsor of the IndyCar series the last five years.

“NTT is a technology company and we have so much data that is so important to the teams and their ability to be better racers, to our fans if we can capture everything that is going on in terms of data and turn that into content that they can consume it will be compelling," said Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "That’s incredible and leads to a younger audience as well as good content for our existing fans.

“They are a huge major company so it’s a really important milestone for us. I’m tired of saying we’re in position for growth. Now I can say we’re growing. This (NTT) is a global giant.”

NTT companies, including NTT DATA, NTT Communications, Dimension Data and NTT Security, generate over $106 billion in annual revenue worldwide and spends $4 billion in research and development.

NTT has been involved in the IndyCar series for the past eight years as a sponsor of the Chip Ganassi team. Ganassi drivers have won six series championships in the last 10 years with Dario Franchitti winning in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and Scott Dixon in 2013, 2015 and last season.

Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, worked with NTT while competing in the No. 10 car for Ganassi from 2015-17 before moving on to drive the No. 14 car for A.J. Foyt last year.

“I’ve driven their car for three years,” Kanaan said. “They are the reason I came to Chip (Ganassi). They are an awesome company to work with. We developed together the Hitoe shirt which I wore under my suit and gave me all the information in my body, my body heat, my muscle strength, dehydration and my heart rate, which was awesome.

“It’s an awesome company to be associated with. I think it’s going to be a great title sponsor for us. Technology-wise, they are huge. They ended up spending $4 billion in R&D so I know they are developing a new app for IndyCar. I think we have a great partner here.

“One thing to point out, just how amazing (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and Mark Miles, how good of a job they did turning the situation around when you had a huge sponsor like Verizon leaving the series and in four months they put such a big deal together.”

Dixon had NTT as a sponsor on his car for several races back in 2017, including a win at Road America.

“I’ve always been on the other car (No. 9), but there was definitely a strong period through 2017 when we ran a lot of NTT paint schemes,” Dixon said. “They’ve always been a great group of people to work with and it’s cool to see how they activated the 10 car program (with Kanaan), but now also stepping it up to a major role as the title sponsor of the IndyCar series.

“I think just the enthusiasm with what they’re going to be able to do with the app, I think all of that will be very productive. We all know we have the greatest racing in the world. I think between NTT and obviously the new NBC deal, which we’ve seen the rewards with the NBC deal already with the advertising they’ve been doing in line with the NFL, it’s going to be a big season for everyone.”

The IndyCar series will make its annual stop in Detroit on June 1-2 with the series’ lone doubleheader on Belle Isle’s 2.3-mile street course. The season will get underway March 10 on the Streets of St. Petersburg.

“I love the doubleheaders,” Dixon said. “I think in our 2013 championship without the doubleheaders (won both races at Toronto, finished fourth in both Belle Isle races) we probably wouldn’t have won the championship. I’ve always felt if we’re here on a race weekend we should be racing. It’s been a good and bad track for us in the past personally, but I think Roger (Penske) and his group with Bud (Denker) do an amazing job with this venue here on Belle Isle. And throughout the years they keep updating it, making it better, the crowds are getting better, the racing is getting better so there are just so many positives. It’s always fun to come here after Indy (500).”

Dixon won on Belle Isle in 2012 and Race No. 1 last year.

IndyCar back at MIS?

The IndyCar series will be racing in Austin, Texas, for the first time this season. So, would Dixon like to run at MIS, a two-mile superspeedway, again? The series last had a race — the Firestone Indy 400 — at MIS back in 2007.

“I think IndyCar is still trying to expand to around 20 races, but you have to pick the right ones,” Dixon said. “They (Miles and Frye) are constantly working hard, even with the changes we have going into ’19 with Laguna Seca being the finale (Sept. 22), but also the first time going to Austin (March 24). I think there are some really good venues on the horizon, too. We know the racing would be fantastic at MIS, much like Texas, much like Indianapolis.”

Ganassi was asked if he could ever see MIS on the schedule again.

“I hope so, I loved it there,” he said. “I think it would just take someone to raise their hand and say, ‘Let’s go.’”

Would MIS be too fast a track for IndyCar?

“I don’t think so,” Ganassi said. “We could work around that. We could get that to work.”