IndyCar Series takes center stage in latest Will Smith movie

The IndyCar Series will be center stage in movie theaters starting Feb. 27 with the nationwide opening of the Warner Bros. Picture film “Focus” starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie.

“Focus” is a con man film in the mold of “Ocean’s Eleven” with a backdrop involving IndyCars and a billionaire race team owner.

Scenes with IndyCar Series cars were shot at NOLA Motorsports Park, which hosts the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana on April 12, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans.

The movie features Indianapolis 500-winning team owner and former IndyCar driver Bryan Herta and Carlos Muñoz, the 2014 Rookie of the Year from Colombia.

“We were approached about providing cars for the movie and two other drivers had conflicts, so I thought, ‘What the heck; I’ll drive it,’” Herta said. “I hadn’t driven an Indy car since ‘06 or the new car ever, so I thought it would be fun to get in the car and see what it feels like for first-hand knowledge.

“Obviously, movie driving is a little different than racing, but it was still good to get out there and feel the downforce, the power and all those sensations again,” Herta added. “I think the contract said we couldn’t go over 100 mph. I’m not going to say we didn’t though.”

The 23-year-old Muñoz sounds like a guy ready to trade in his racing career for one in Hollywood.

“After those days, I knew for sure I wanted to be a Hollywood star,” the Andretti Autosport driver said with a laugh. “It was my first time with such an experience and probably my first and last time in a movie. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie and how our scenes turned out. I think it's great for IndyCar to be featured in such a manner.”

IndyCar is trying to leverage the big-screen appearance into a big marketing bounce.

Leading up to the movie opening, several IndyCar Series race markets hosted private screenings organized by Warner Bros. Show cars will be present at screenings in Tampa, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Indianapolis and Detroit. Drivers Ed Carpenter and Jack Hawksworth will be on hand to introduce the movie in Detroit and Milwaukee, respectively. Bryan Herta Autosport driver Gabby Chaves and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe will attend the Indianapolis screening.

IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal and his fiancée, Courtney Force of NHRA fame, joined the star-studded red carpet premiere at the famed TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 24. Rahal, son of Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, and Force, daughter of NHRA legend John Force, announced their engagement and the joining of two of racing's most well-known families in November. The No. 15 Midas Indy car, which Rahal drove in 2013, is featured in the movie.

“Aligning the stars and cars of the Verizon IndyCar Series with the stars of a major motion picture like ‘Focus’ made a lot of sense to us,” said Mark Miles, CEO of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway parent Hulman & Company. “Warner Bros. and the entire ‘Focus’ production staff have been great partners throughout this process, and we look forward to positioning our brand with more of these opportunities in the future.”

This isn’t the first time the IndyCar Series has been featured in a movie. Most recently, the 2013 movie “Turbo” was an animated story of a snail who dreamed of winning the Indianapolis 500.

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