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With the arrival of the Indianapolis 500, IndyCar boosts the growth of F1 in the United States

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If the recent spike in ratings and the return of packed crowds are any indication, motorsports is experiencing a moment. As one of America’s biggest races approaches and Formula One has reasserted its American ambitions, the IndyCar series is trying to redefine its place in that growing auto racing landscape.

North American single-seater circuit television viewership increased 36 percent from last year; the sport has attracted more than 25 new sponsors since Roger Penske’s entertainment group purchased the series in 2019; and Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 is expected to be one of the most well-attended in 20 years.

That rise in popularity reflects a broader rise in interest in motorsports during the pandemic, where various types of racing have drawn increased interest on the track, and even on city streets.

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“We’re really pleased and excited about the momentum we’ve seen, even coming through and out of the pandemic,” SJ Luedtke, IndyCar’s vice president of marketing, said in a phone interview.

IndyCar, which features organized races from Toronto to St. Petersburg, Florida, sees North America as its primary domain. But as the series welcomes full-capacity crowds to the Brickyard, its intercontinental counterpart, Formula One, has broadened its ambitions in the United States.

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Formula One has captured new, young, American audiences, in part through the popular Netflix series “Drive to Survive,” which offered a closer look at personalities within the sport and spawned spin-offs from golf and tennis. F1 ran the inaugural Miami Grand Prix on May 8, about a month after announcing its third American race, the Las Vegas Grand Prix, which will debut next year. The other event, the United States Grand Prix, will take place in Austin in October.

F1 has one American team, Haas F1, and no American drivers, but both numbers could increase if it welcomes Michael Andretti, the former Formula One and IndyCar driver and IndyCar team owner Andretti Autosport, who is pushing for additional equipment.

Some drivers believe such advances threaten American auto racing, stiffening competition for fans and rookie drivers who may gravitate toward a sexier, more global sport. Others, such as 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, said F1’s expansion is at least cause for concern.

“It definitely increases the importance that we continue to evolve, continue to find ways to improve the product and find ways to differentiate ourselves from other championships,” Rossi told Autoweek in March. “A lot of good things are happening. But I think it’s important for us to accelerate that timeline and positive things to make sure that we not only don’t necessarily lose market share to Formula 1, but continue to build our own. IndyCar has been on an upward trajectory for at least the last five or six years, and we need to continue with even more competition on board.”

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Others within the sport see Formula One’s forays in a more positive light.

“I think it’s a very positive thing just for the sport,” NBC broadcaster Leigh Diffey said of Formula One’s success.

“I like the fact that he has been able to appeal to the sport not necessarily motorsport fans. We don’t really need to delve into F1 or IndyCar or NASCAR. It’s just the sport comprehensively: people are interested. We are seeing it. … I don’t know why, but if it’s attributable to Formula 1, let’s ride it, let’s enjoy it. Right now motorsport is going through a really positive moment.”

Luedtke used a reference to racing to describe the opportunity he said IndyCar sees in capitalizing on F1’s growth.

“I applaud what they are doing to move their brand and grow their portion of the sport. It’s beneficial to us and we appreciate the additional interest in single-seater racing, especially here in the United States,” he said. “’Let’s take it and run with it’ is how we’ve talked about it as a team, right? So, get in somebody’s wake.”

Luedtke said IndyCar’s priority is to distinguish itself and define itself.

IndyCar is boosting its “Challenge Everything” campaign to promote its drivers. He is using YouTube and TikTok to showcase his pranks and workouts. And he said he has “three to five irons in the fire,” which reportedly could materialize in a docuseries in the spirit of “Drive to Survive.”

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