Japanese telecommunications company NTT has agreed a multi-year extension to its title sponsorship of US motor-racing series IndyCar, with the partnership set to continue delivering technology innovations for Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) as it prepares to welcome a record crowd in the COVID-19 era.

NTT succeeded Verizon in the role back in January 2019, with its fellow telco having served as IndyCar’s title sponsor from 2014 to 2018. The contract was due to expire at the end of 2021, but has now been extended with NTT to deliver the smart technology backbone that will enhance the race experience for IndyCar fans attending the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30.

Last year’s Indy 500 was staged behind closed doors for the first time in its history as IMS backtracked on plans to admit fans due to the global pandemic. Plans were announced last month to welcome around 135,000 fans to this year’s Indy 500, which would mark a record attendance for a sporting event since the onset of COVID-19.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway will open at up to 40% capacity for the event. The racetrack is the largest outdoor sporting facility in the world, with more than 250,000 seats and the ability to host almost 400,000 on event days throughout the site.

Along with its title sponsorship of the IndyCar Series, NTT has also extended its official technology partner status with IndyCar, the IndyCar Series, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Brickyard Weekend.

“With world-class technology and innovation, NTT has helped take the IndyCar Series to the next level,” said Roger Penske, founder and chairman of IndyCar and IMS parent company Penske Corporation.

“Over the first two years as entitlement sponsor of the series, the dedicated team at NTT has helped IndyCar become more efficient and effective through smart technologies. As our sport continues to grow by connecting with a new generation of fans, NTT helps take us down new roads by creating more engaging experiences through our shared digital platforms.”

In September, experience automation platform Realife Tech agreed a three-year partnership with Indianapolis Motor Speedway to aid the return of fans to the circuit. IMS went through a “rigorous vetting process” guided by NTT Data to evaluate multiple potential mobile app platforms, and ultimately recommended Realife Tech.

In July, Indianapolis Motor Speedway debuted a number of new features, including 5G connectivity and a huge new Pagoda Plaza Media Wall. Plans for the upgrades were first announced back in February 2020, a month after Penske Corporation completed its acquisition of IMS and IndyCar.

Looking forward, NTT said it has developed an enhanced digital experience powered by real-time, data-driven insights, analytics and machine learning that will enable race fans to enjoy ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ like never before across multiple channels and environments.

The key to this is NTT Smart Solutions. The secure, distributed platform captures data via sensors and micro data centres in designated areas through video and sound. The platform also integrates historical data sources, such as traffic, weather and social media to leverage cognitive analytics, learn regular patterns and detect and alert operations teams to the presence of abnormal ones.

Dynamic visual environments featuring the most exciting data-led content and storylines are enabled by machine learning and AI to bring the race to life for fans both at IMS and off site.

New features and enhancements this year include NTT Smart Venue. AI-enabled optical detection technologies, combined with real-time entry gate flow rate data, give the IMS operations and security teams better visibility into current and possible scenarios, enabling them to see a bigger, more real-time picture of the venue that includes the likes of visitor and vehicle traffic flow and congestion, as well as social distancing.

These enhancements will allow the event teams to optimise their resources in real time with faster, more data-driven decision making to focus their resources on areas where race attendees can benefit the most. At-gate IMS personnel also now have mobile POS capabilities at their fingertips for digital ticketing and parking transactions – all to help manage the event venue more safely and efficiently.

Powered by NTT, the IndyCar Data Experience will allow fans to engage with more race and driver data than ever before via multiple channels, including the IndyCar Mobile App and the IMS Media Wall at Pagoda Plaza.

The multiple track views stay up to date with real-time leaderboards and provide access to data and stats coming from more than 140 different data points from each car and the track itself. Among other events highlighted by the data experience will be a live race view of all competitors, biggest movers, featured head-to-head battles, race team and pit stop performance impact, as well as highlighted race events such as the green flag, yellow flags and the chequered flag.

Through the IndyCar Mobile App, fans will be provided with an enhanced user experience and can virtually ride along with their favourite drivers and teams. With additional live, in-car cameras and new video feeds, users can see up to five drivers from a first-person perspective. In addition, fans this year will also get to enjoy live streaming and a more integrated IndyCar Fantasy League and e-commerce experience.

“With no spectators at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for last year’s Indianapolis 500, due to the pandemic, we were set a new challenge – to think outside of the box in terms of leveraging our technology to bring the race to fans at home,” said Simon Walsh, CEO of NTT Ltd. Americas.

“Enhancing the viewing experience and creating the next generation of IndyCar followers – wherever they are – is a critical objective for IndyCar and NTT, and we look forward to continuing our work with IndyCar and the broader Penske Corporation and serving as a trusted partner to help the organisation continue their digital transformation and achieve their ambitions.”