By Jenna Fryer
AP Auto Racing Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Target will leave IndyCar at the end of this season after 27 years with Chip Ganassi Racing that included 11 championships and four Indianapolis 500 victories.
The exit comes as Target is examining all of its marketing platforms under new chairman Brian Cornell. Target is also the primary sponsor of Kyle Larson in NASCAR’s top Sprint Cup Series and will return to his car in 2017.
Target’s relationship with Ganassi is one of the longest in any racing series, and the retail giant was a key player in helping Ganassi build his organization. Target not only sponsored Ganassi’s first car as a team owner, it eventually became a partner as the Ganassi team grew to one of the top two players in open wheel racing.
In discussing the decision to leave IndyCar, senior vice president Scott Nygaard rattled off a list of highlights from Target’s run: Jimmy Vasser winning Ganassi’s first championship, Alex Zanardi adding another two, Juan Pablo Montoya winning Ganassi’s first Indianapolis 500 and domination over the last decade by Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.
“It was a really difficult decision that we made — we’ve been with Chip Ganassi Racing for 27 years and we are ridiculously proud of the success,” Nygaard said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “But the Target brand is about being fresh and new, so we felt like this was the time to make the difficult decision and expand our sports marketing platform.”
About the NASCAR sponsorship, Nygaard said only that Target is excited for the 2017 season with Larson. Target’s contract with Ganassi runs through next year.
Chip Ganassi raved about his partnership with Target while noting he understood the company made a business decision after nearly three full decades together in IndyCar.
“It’s the greatest sponsor in racing, ever,” Ganassi said. “They’ve been nothing but good to me. They developed me personally and professionally. I’ve developed lifelong friends and relationships. I understand things change and people have different marketing efforts, and the way they want to stamp their name on things.
“But it’s one of the longest running sponsors in racing and they delivered for me and the team, and the team delivered for them.”
Target walks away from an enormous investment it made in IndyCar and aligning itself with Ganassi drivers as its brand ambassadors. That includes Dixon, who has been sponsored by Target for 15 years and is one of the greatest open wheel drivers in history. Ganassi said Dixon is “not a tough sell at all” to sponsors, and he expected to announce a replacement on the Target car within the next two months.
Dixon is a four-time IndyCar champion and his 39 career victories include the 2008 Indianapolis 500.
“I can’t thank Target enough for their partnership on and off the track over the years,” Dixon said. “They have been with the IndyCar team for an amazing 27 years, which is unheard of in professional sports, and on the car I’ve driven for the past 15 seasons. I have nothing but great memories and much thanks for Target being great partners for so long.”
Nygaard praised Dixon as a longtime Target ambassador.
“He is a true class act, a gentleman on and off the track,” Nygaard said of the New Zealand driver. “He’s always stood tall for the values of Target and the Target brand. He’s done more than we could ever ask for.”
Nygaard did not reveal if Target will replace its IndyCar sponsorship with another platform, only saying the company is “going through what that evolution of our sports marketing will be” in the future.”