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Ride with Team Penske's Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Juan Montoya, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal, Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' Simon Pagenaud and Chip Ganassi Racing's Ryan Briscoe as they spin, crash, fly and pass each other throughout last Sunday's 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

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Ryan-TKSo yesterday we dealt with this Saturday’s Verizon IndyCar Series championship contenders. Today, we look at those whose pace this weekend could alter the destiny of the championship simply by running as strong as the Penske pair and getting between them or ahead of them.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Ed Carpenter, Scott Dixon and Juan Montoya are drivers who’ve not only won races in 2014 but have also looked very strong at Auto Club Speedway in the past, although in JPM’s case, that was a decade-and-a-half ago. It goes without saying that they will be potential winners on Saturday night.

More intriguing are the drivers who’ve not yet won in 2014 (despite us having 10 different winners already this year) but who are surely capable of doing so. OK, a couple of these require some stretch of the imagination…but Fontana is a place where odd things can happen.


Tony Kanaan
If it took until midseason for Chip Ganassi Racing to get going in 2013, what can you say about 2014? Last year’s lethargy looks like a sprint off the blocks by comparison. Having said that, with the season so compacted, if you started off behind the eight-ball, that’s where you were gonna stay for many, many rounds.

And yet, through it all, Tony Kanaan has driven well, often a match for Scott Dixon even on street courses – something not many of us expected. Inevitably, though, it’s on the ovals where we expect Kanaan to be A1-class, and he hasn’t let us down, has he? The whole team missed Indy setups by a surprising margin, but TK was quick at Texas (albeit using up his tires faster than Carpenter and Power), was the only man capable of matching the Penskes at Pocono, dominated at Iowa, starred at Milwaukee – and missed out on all of them.

Kanaan still has a tendency to work through fronts too quick – his style isn’t subtle –but if there’s a chance of a late stop on fresh rubber for a final-stint charge, is there anyone better?

BriscoeRyan Briscoe
After a slow start, as he found his bearings in his new environment, relearned how to take advantage of the resources at his disposal, Ryan Briscoe is doing exactly what you’d expect: elevating the No. 8 team to the level of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Target cars, more often than not. But then Ryan’s natural pace has never been in question. What’s gratifying is to see him show this turn of speed while making no unforced errors. He’s truly matured since his Penske days.

Less satisfactory is to see Lady Luck chop Briscoe’s legs from under him on a consistent basis. For example, his reward for getting into the Firestone Fast Six at Sonoma was to have his race ruined by a rival’s error at Turn 2, Lap 1.

Nevertheless, Briscoe’s quick and brave and he could truly shine at Fontana. Now that the Ganassi team has made up much of its lost ground, that means he’s very much a candidate for Victory Lane.


NewgardenJosef Newgarden
Fairy-tale authors are poised, pen-in-hand, to see America’s newest IndyCar hero finally take a win. Robbed of victory in Long Beach and Mid-Ohio through no fault of his own, arguably Josef Newgarden’s – and the Sarah Fisher Hartman team’s – most impressive feat this year is to be so strong on so many types of track.

Three years into his IndyCar career, he remains a prime example of how a driver on a one-car team can make solid progress. It’s just a slower process than if he were teamed with an established ace – or any teammate to bounce ideas off.

Newgarden is ready to win, he was strong at Texas in qualifying, as fast as anyone at Iowa except Kanaan, and he’s got a good rein on his emotions for a 23-year-old. Contract in hand for next year, he’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain by going no-holds barred for victory.


MarcoMarco Andretti
Equipped with bravery, fast hands and a desire that matches even that of Will Power and Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti knows what it takes to grasp an opportunity and never let it go. Sure, 2014 has been a flat-line year – rarely looking way off, but looking a victory contender only at Barber and Indy – we’ll never know what he might have a achieved at Texas and Iowa had mechanical failures not let him down.

If he finds a good setup, Andretti’s a firebrand. He won’t back down, he will exploit any weakness in his rivals, and he knows how to play the long game in a 500-mile race. So long as Honda and his pit crew are up to the task, he could dominate at Fontana.

HinchPitsJames Hinchcliffe
Is this really the man who won three races last year, the man who’s proven he can, on his best days, match Hunter-Reay on any type of track? You could write a book on why James Hinchcliffe’s season has looked as solid as a pyramid of cards, despite showing an ace-like turn of speed on several occasions.

I sometimes feel he’s too polite in a racecar – has he ever been pinged by Race Control for blocking or doing anything questionable at all? (For example, I think a meaner driver could have kept Sebastien Bourdais behind at Mid-Ohio.) So now, as a free agent and therefore someone who needs a hard result to prove his undoubted turn of speed, it’s time for Hinch to throw away the kid gloves and become The Man with the Iron Fists. Drive like he did at the Indianapolis 500, complete with that chancy aggression, and this race could be his.

 

Justin Wilson
IndyCar is so close, it’s cruel. Miss by a fraction and you’ll miss by a mile, and Justin Wilson, like Andretti, has endured one of those seasons where he too often becomes the beige wallpaper in a race – there, but JustinWilsonunnoticeable. There are signs it’s getting to him, too, as this colossus of driving talent finds himself another year nearer the end of his career.

His frustration is understandable. He’s a realist and would have expected that three years into the life-cycle of a spec car, the resources of the big teams would have allowed them to edge away from the smaller teams. But Wilson has seen Schmidt Peterson take two wins, Ed Carpenter Racing take three and – bizarrely – his teammate, rookie Carlos Huertas, take one. Even Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, whose budget is probably less, even, than DCR’s, have had Newgarden running top five on a regular basis and threatening for wins. Meanwhile, Justin hasn’t had a sniff of a podium, except on that same surreal day when Huertas won.

We digress. If Coyne’s No. 19 is up to the task this weekend, Wilson can win. Last year's pelvic injury hurt, but won't have affected his confidence. But if the car's a slug, he’ll be in need of a miracle to reach Victory Lane.


 

MunozCarlos Munoz
The giant-killing potential shown on occasion by Jack Hawksworth/Bryan Herta Autosport, the overachievement of Ed Carpenter Racing and the underachievement (until recently) of Chip Ganassi Racing, have distracted people’s attention from the very solid and well-rounded performances of Carlos Munoz.

For now, Munoz is underappreciated, but only because people forget there genuinely are 10 potential race winners at every IndyCar event. For a rookie, Carlos has done an outstanding job in a season when even Andretti Autosport team leader Ryan Hunter-Reay has struggled to be consistently fast. He has the aggression of Andretti, and he was great at Fontana last year, considering his call-up to sub for EJ Viso was so last-minute. Auto Club Speedway is a track that rewards the brave, and Munoz is that and more. He also has the self-confidence to close the deal should he find himself running for the lead in the final stint. Watch for him!

Graham Rahal
In 2014, Graham has been laboring under the twin burdens of being on a single-car team (most of the time) Rahaland being on a team run by his father. The latter wouldn’t be a problem if he didn’t bruise like a peach at the accusations of nepotism and silver-spoon privileges hurled his way via social media. Instead, the underwhelming results have disguised several drives of promise, and he has become an easy target.

The fact is, young Rahal has a lot of talent and, when he’s confident, he’s not only quick but also aggressive. But two people who should know have implied that he has quite a narrow operational window. Put him in his comfort zone, and there’s no reason why he can’t run up front, but right now it seems hit and miss as to when he and Bill Pappas’s setup ideas overlap.

AleshinMikhail Aleshin
We think his job is secure for next year, and so Mikhail Aleshin has nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting the hammer down and displaying his natural talent which is very, very strong and seems adaptable to ovals. His drives in both Texas and Milwaukee were excellent.

It’s been many years – maybe as far back as Bruno Junqueira’s debut season with Ganassi in 2001 – since we’ve seen a Euro-trained Indy car rookie adapt so swiftly to the peculiar demands of oval racing.

Hmmm… On second thoughts, maybe a first win is a bit of a stretch, but in 2014, Aleshin has proven he could have a long and illustrious career in this series should he choose to stay, and he should find Fontana fun.

Takuma SatoSato
You want a quick, brave and talented driver at the Auto Club Speedway. A man with all those qualities is AJ Foyt Racing’s mercurial Takuma Sato. He falls under the “Usually Invisible in 2014” category heading, but he’s a guy with the capacity to surprise. Delicate he’s not, so if this becomes a race of tire preservation, he’s unlikely to excel, but if there are several yellows, allowing regular visits to the pit lane, it could well be followed by a trip to Victory Lane for one of the most popular drivers in the series.


Charlie Kimball
To be honest, his 2014 performances haven’t justified his inclusion here, as he’s become very much “the other Ganassi driver,” especially as Briscoe has come on strong. But flashback to Fontana 2013 and you’ll see CK as one of the victorious Power’s biggest threats. If Kimball can recapture the confidence to put it all on the line, then Ganassi and his race engineer Brad Goldberg can surely provide him the car to go hunting big game.

Kimball

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A WINE COUNTRY MYSTERY

With official testing at Fontana and RACER's coverage for the season finale kicking off just three days after Sunday's GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, I'll keep our Rewind column somewhat brief.

Here's what I started writing around lap 35 at Sonoma: "Team Penske's Will Power earned pole and dominated the race with ease as his closest championship rivals found new and inventive ways to impale their title hopes with misfortune or ineptitude."

DJ Willy P was crushing the field in the same way he owned the field a week earlier at Milwaukee. His lap times were staggering – often between 0.5 and 0.9 seconds faster than second-place man Josef Newgarden. Power's lead hit 9.8 seconds after 16 laps and the rout appeared to be on while his teammate Helio Castroneves – his closest championship rival – sat buried at the bottom of the field thanks to a messy opening lap.

Simon Pagenaud – third in the standings – was holding a rather quiet P9 on lap 35, and while Ryan Hunter-Reay was holding strong in P4 at the time, he, Helio and Simon all needed to be vying for the lead to keep their championship hopes alive.

Then...we got to lap 39 where Power took what should have been on a pressure-free cruise to a win, maybe a second-place finish, or worst case, a run to third, and capitalized on the bad day his pursuers were having. Minus the spin and subsequent fall to the bottom of the running order, Power's lead to Helio could have been closer to 80 points – almost a mortal lock with 103 total points available at Fontana Saturday night.

lat-levitt-sp-0814 13518Yet with Power's drop to P20 on lap 40 and eventual fight back to P10, he managed to extend the gap from 39 points after Milwaukee to 51 leaving Sonoma. For a guy whose IndyCar career has rarely been visited by Lady Luck, she was definitely riding shotgun in Sonoma after he looped his car on cold tires (ABOVE). If making his way back to P10 wasn't a clear sign of her presence, think of all the dicey situations he faced while carving through the field over the final 45 laps. He would have ended up P9, if not for a pass under a local yellow at the final corner on the last lap, and rather than receive a stiff penalty for the infraction, he was simply moved back to P10.

Power's unforced error in Turn 7 could have been incredibly damaging to his quest for a title, but in a year where his mistakes rarely come with significant championship penalties, he found a way to cross the finish line with an advantage.

Power and Castroneves have combined to finish second in the last four IndyCar championships – something the pair will likely overcome under the lights in Fontana. Castroneves can certainly erase that 51-point lead on the 2.0-mile SoCal oval, but it will take a fairly epic "Help me Tom Cruise" meltdown on Power's part, or the cartoon anvil falling square on his No. 12 Verizon Wireless Chevy, to derail the momentum that has the 31-year-old headed toward his first IndyCar crown.

Pagenaud and RHR are still in the mathematical mix, but the odds would say Divine Intervention would be required for either man to come out ahead of the internecine duel among Penske drivers as explained here:


lat-levitt-sp-0814 14333Here's another note I made around lap 35: Where's Conway? (I should make another note – stop taking notes during the race...they're obviously wrong more than right...)

Conweezy started P17, was a big beneficiary of the opening-lap scrap in Turn 2, vaulted to P8, fell back after his Ed Carpenter Racing team took him off strategy by pitting on lap 16, shot to the front when most of the field pitted under the caution on lap 37, and looked like he was going to score another opportunistic win as he and Graham Rahal shared the lead through lap 82.

Conway made his final stop on lap 60, meaning he needed to make it through lap 85 on a tank of ethanol with his Chevy-powered ECR Indy car. Eventual race winner Scott Dixon made his final stop one lap after Conway in his Chevy-powered No. 9 Target entry.

Taking a next-level look at how Dixon won and Conway lost, Conweezy was at a 1-lap fuel deficit, yet had to start a fairly significant fuel-saving effort in the final laps. Dixon had one extra lap of fuel at his disposal, yet raced hard, passed Conway, and led the last three laps. In theory, and had Conway been able to match Dixon's fuel-saving efforts, the lead change would have taken place on with one lap remaining, but with Dixon's best-in-class skills at stretching fuel mileage, he gassed his way to the lead much earlier than Conway expected.

Conway turned a 1:24.173 on lap 82, his final lap in the lead, before he went into fuel crisis mode. As if he was trying to send a message, Dixie took the lead on lap 83 and turned a 1:23.173 – one full second faster than Conway – followed by a 1:23.328 on lap 84 and a nasty 1:23.082 on the final lap.

LAT Davis SONO 2014 3529"I think we were about seven seconds behind Conway, in somewhat conservation mode, and gaining about a half-second per lap," Chip Ganassi Racing Managing Director Mike Hull told RACER. "[Conway] was obviously saving fuel big time, and we were also saving, but we were also gaining on him. There were guys ahead of us, then they peeled off into the pits, and then we were following Conway and we slowed down to match his pace.

"We knew by doing that we'd save a lot more fuel, which we did, and we'd also have enough fuel to use the Push-to-Pass, which Scott used to get by into the lead. And I read later Conway used his Push-to-Pass to try and stay ahead, but I don't think he had as much fuel saved to get away with it."

Conway's car stumbled and coughed on the final lap, crawling to a stop just shy of the finish line. It was a sad end to his day, and he definitely deserved better than a finish of P14. Rahal's moment in the sun also went awry due to a fuel strategy that had the No. 15 Honda driver pitting three laps before Conway. It was a refreshing sight to see Graham leading and looking at ease, and despite staying up front for 18 laps, a late stop for fuel and an extra trip down pit lane to pay the price for speeding left the Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver a distant P20 at the checkered flag.

Dixon, on the other hand, dropped the hammer and never looked back. Pagenaud, who must have shot through a ripple in time, improved 14 positions to claim third and RHR, who qualified a disappointing 10th, was another big winner on the opening lap and turned the gift into a stellar run to third.

All of Dixon's hard motoring over the final few laps came at a price, and according to Hull, the team's fuel calculations were put to the test. In the end, the Kiwi and his Ganassi engineers aced the Grand Prix of Sonoma exam.

"When he crossed the finish line, we had approximately 4/10th of a gallon left!" Hull admitted. "Scotty drove up to Turn 7, did his victory donuts in front of our tent full of Target guests, drove the rest of the lap, and pulled into Victory Lane. After the race, the tech inspectors went to pull a fuel sample from our car and all they could get was about a half-cup...

"I don't know if you read a lot of [Lotus founder] Colin Chapman's views on racing, but his big thing was the car should disintegrate when you cross the finish line. There should be nothing left to consume. So why do you want to give fuel a free ride? If you have enough fuel to do the cool-down lap and have a gallon left, that's seven extra pounds you're carrying around for no reason. Needless to say, we were quite pleased there was so little left for IndyCar to gather..."

FORGET F1 AT SPA...

If you lost your mind over the squabble between championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at Spa last weekend, trust me, it had NOTHING on the fierce duel that decided the 2014 Pro Mazda title at Sonoma Raceway.

Race 1 on Friday saw contact between Florida's Spencer Pigot and Canada's Scott Hargrove leave Pigot on the sidelines and Hargrove with a tasty lead going into Saturday's finale. Hargrove took the lead into Turn 2, Pigot was spun from behind by Hargrove's teammate Neil Alberico (Neil was spinning and collected his good friend Spencer), dropping Pigot to the back of the field. Pigot proceeded to scythe through 10 drivers in short order and, despite posting incredible lap times, Hargrove matched his pace while leading – there was no way for Pigot to make up all of the ground he lost by the end of the race.

Pigot's teammate Kyle Kaiser then experienced a mysterious problem that resulted in stopping his car atop the Carousel – in a frighteningly dangerous spot. A full-course caution immediately followed...and moments later, Kaiser's stalled car miraculously refired...

With the field packed up behind the pace car, Pigot's gap to Hargrove was tantalizingly small, and once the race resumed, he continued carving his way forward. Thanks to the unintentional (Alberico) and intentional (Kaiser) acts by their respective teammates, the disadvantage Pigot suffered on lap 1 was erased, and unfortunately for Hargrove, the restart triggered a gearbox issue which slowed his car. He vigorously – and dangerously – defended from Pigot heading into the wicked-fast Turn 8/8a complex, forcing Pigot onto the dirt, where he nearly crashed.

JGS 4360-XLPigot (LEFT, IMS photo) managed to hold on, pass Hargrove, and soldiered home to take fifth – enough to overtake Hargrove in the standings and earn the championship. If it had been a Saturday night dirt track race, both teams would have been throwing punches in Victory Lane until the sun came up.

Instead, we had an American badass earn the title, an equally impressive Canadian youngster demonstrate he was a broken gearbox away from becoming champion, and the Pro Mazda series stake its claim as the wildest rung on the Mazda Road To Indy.

Congratulations are also due to Frenchman Florian Latorre who had a monster weekend at Sonoma to take the USF2000 crown, and to Gabby Chaves, who won the Indy Lights title. Years of Indy Lights dominance by Sam Schmidt's team was derailed by Gabby's Belardi Racing outfit – another point worth celebrating.


 

16C 9387-XLFinally, Schmidt's Jack Harvey (ABOVE, IMS photo) went from an Indy Lights rookie in March to tying second-year Lights driver Chaves in the points by the end of the weekend in Sonoma. Chaves and Harvey finished with 547 points, yet the young Colombian took the title due to more second-place finishes. Chaves won four times this season, with the last one coming at Pocono at the beginning of July. Harvey also won four races this year – all within a 22-day span, including both rounds at Mid-Ohio and both at Sonoma.

It's hard not to feel excited for Gabby and Jack, and based on his late-season performances, I have to believe Harvey piqued the interest of a few IndyCar team owners. He didn't win the championship, or earn the advancement prize, but he did make the guys who came into 2014 as the favorites look rather ordinary once he found his groove.

MISCELLANEOUS

• Takuma Sato's fourth-place finish felt like a win to the A.J. Foyt Racing team. The Japanese driver was surrounded by his enthusiastic crew after the race and something akin to a mini celebration broke out for a few seconds. Taku's haul from 20th to fourth was one of many surprising results on a day where very little went according to expectation.

Helio portrait• Helio Castroneves says he and a few others received an apology from Sebastien Bourdais for triggering the lap 1 crash at Turn 2 – a cool and unexpected gesture.

• He also described the earthquake that nearly destroyed the hotel he and Will Power stayed at as the scariest event of his life. I felt bad after learning how shocking the ordeal was for so many of the teams visiting California because, and as blasé as it probably sounds, the quake was an afterthought for me and many other locals. Unless you're thrown out of bed or hear big things crashing down around you, the ground shaking isn't something that automatically triggers a huge response. Again, that's not said to sound cool or disaffected, but after your 100th quake, the 101st isn't a shocker. Having grown up about a mile from the San Andreas fault line, my childhood home was always rocking and rolling, and while Sunday morning's quake did manage to wake me up, it only served as a reminder to get up off of the couch and go to bed. Arriving at the track a few hours later, the magnitude of the damage in nearby Napa was a genuine surprise, and the accounts from the drivers who had glass flying and breaking in their rooms was alarming. It's a normal part of life on the West Coast and I'm sure the members of the IndyCar Series and all of the support races last weekend will count their blessings when they fly home.

• In a move that typified his season, Chip Ganassi Racing's Ryan Briscoe had one of his best weekends of the year – through qualifying – turn into another fruitless result. Hit on the opening lap, the front of his car took flight – at least partially – in the lap 1 contact and again later in the race in Turn 7 when he had nowhere to go other than over the front of Sebastian Saavedra's spun car. The two liftoffs only added to his misery – the Aussie ended up finishing 17th to complete a genuinely crappy day. If the race itself was forgettable, Briscoe's tone-on-tone dark blue/light blue NTT Data livery was a winner.

• With Bryan Herta Autosport's former energy drink sponsor joining the pantheon of turds who failed to deliver what they promised, it was great to see the team's former primary sponsor Barracuda Networks back for their home race at Sonoma.

• If you believe in karma...Scott Dixon had last year's Sonoma race firmly in hand until the unsightly pit lane contact took place with Will Power's right-rear tire man Travis Law. Dixon was assessed a drive-through penalty, giving Power an easy win, and as Power noted after Sunday's race, Dixie's victory was a richly deserved payback after Sonoma 2013. Power made this observation while ruing his own misfortune, revealing a rather interesting element of his personality: Although he was distraught over turning a pole into a P10 result, he had the presence of mind to consider Dixon's win, run the numbers, and arrive at the conclusion Dixie was owed the victory. Impressive.

• Of course James Hinchcliffe was the driver who suffered the most in Turn 2 on lap 1 (BELOW). He qualified fourth – best among the four-car Andretti Autosport team – and saw his horrible year continue as he sat stalled in the middle of the road after being hit up the backside. Forget the exorcists – Hinch just needs the 2014 season to end so he can take his driving gear, result sheets, luggage, clothing, and everything else he used this year, toss it in the backyard, and set it on fire. Hopefully that will free him from the grips of whatever has turned him into the No. 1 Andretti punching bag. Those three wins last season must feel like they happened an awfully long time ago, and with the Canadian in a contract year, bad luck is the last thing he needs. A win at Fontana would be a wonderful present to one of IndyCar's most valuable assets.

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Ferrari wants engine freeze lifted

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The Ferrari Formula 1 team wants rules that prevent engine manufacturers tweaking their designs during the season relaxed in order to help close up the competitive order.

Ferrari and Renault have built engines down on power compared to the leading Mercedes unit under F1's new turbocharged V6 hybrid regulations introduced for this year. The rules permit alterations to engine mapping and software, but forbid manufacturers from changing mechanical parts on their units unless they make a special request to make alterations for reasons of reliability, safety or cost.

Team principal Marco Mattiacci told reporters after the recent Belgian Grand Prix, where Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth but complained of a lack of straightline speed, that F1 should be less restrictive in its engine regulations.

When asked whether he would like to see the engine restrictions lifted, Mattiacci said: "Yes, in a certain way not as rigid as it is today.

"I would like to see a couple of opportunities [allowed] a year to work on the engine. The DNA of Formula 1 is innovating and catching up with the best and fastest one. That's what we keep, as Ferrari, insisting, and one of the areas [where this can be done] is engine freezing."

Ferrari has recently restructured its engine department and ditched former engine chief Luca Marmorini after a disappointing first half of the 2014 season.

2014 ENGINE STATS

Wins
Mercedes   9 
Renault    3
Ferrari    0

Poles
Mercedes  12
Renault    0
Ferrari    0

Fastest laps
Mercedes  10 
Renault    1
Ferrari    1

Podiums
Mercedes  26 
Renault    8
Ferrari    2

Led laps
Mercedes  639 
Renault    71
Ferrari    32


Originally on Autosport.com

imsa 3

JPFor those of us from the Rolex side of the merger, we haven't been to Virginia International Raceway since 2011, and it was great to be back.

It's definitely one of the more unique courses out there. Even though it traditionally acts as a "club" circuit during the year, one rebuilt several years ago to begin the trend of "country club" style racetracks, it's an excellent place for racing. It also has a great history to it that dates back to the 1950s before disappearing for some time and then being rebuilt.

Drivers enjoy it because you have every combination of corner. Hard braking, fast sweepers, right/left combinations, and elevation changes that lift the front off the ground... all the things that require a little bit of bravado and precision. Virginia as a whole is also a very picturesque place. If you ever have the time to stay for a few days the circuit is only a few hours from a number of historic sites that helped shape the country.

Unfortunately, even though the track has a lot of runoff, the grass doesn't really do much to slow you down if you go off course and that has caught out a few people over the years. We all remember the massive accident that Eduardo Cisneros had last year when he tangled with Marco Holzer and, unfortunately, it's common once you lose all control. Once in the grass, you're a passenger.

During Saturday practice this caught out our good friend Richard Lietz, who spun in someone else's oil and ran hard in to the tire wall, followed by a big hit from Jan Magnussen who followed suit. Jan wasn't cleared to race for Sunday, but Richard suffered the worst fate with a fractured left arm.

Our best wishes go out to Richard, as he has a rich place in the history of Magnus. He was with us for our very first race at Daytona in 2010, and would continue to run in each of the following four years, including taking the checkered flag for the team during the 50th running in 2012. He's actually far more of a character than most people realize. I'm not quite sure what his road to recovery is like, but everyone here wishes him well.

imsa 27884343As for the weekend at VIR, my biggest point to make is how much I enjoyed a return to two-class racing. If I'm being completely honest, one of the reasons I enjoyed racing in the Rolex Series over ALMS was the simplicity of the format. Two-class racing is significantly easier to follow, easier to explain to guests and sponsors, and far easier to follow on television.

I understand the switch to four-class racing was a necessary evil as part of the merger, but the GT-only race at VIR reminded me of how much I enjoy the two-class format. I seem to be in the minority, but I think in an era where we're trying to sort out how to capture more fans and generate outside interest, one of the biggest obstacles is trying to explain it in two sentences or less. This weekend at VIR, we were able to do that. At events where we have to explain the reasoning for two prototype classes, one of which has two very distinctly different car types, and then how to tell apart the very similarly looking GT cars...you've already lost their interest.

VIR was a throwback to what I enjoyed and what I miss about sports car racing: simplicity for outsiders.

The race itself was pretty average for us. My opening stint was decent but because of the one-hour minimum drive time, I spent most of the time concentrating on saving fuel so that our car's fuel cycle could go long enough to meet my minimum drive time. A yellow came out just as we were running out of gas, and that created a bit of a cluster as we had to take an emergency service, and then had a little confusion with the series on when we were allowed to make a "full" stop for driver change, etc.

Andy did his best in his stint, but our pace was only going to get us so far, and the last hour was focused on saving fuel until the end. Sixth wasn't bad compared to our last few races, but not particularly special either.

COTA should be an interesting venue, I expect the more GT3-oriented cars to be strong and it's tough to say how we'll stack up. Either way, we're just keeping our heads down as we try to finish the year as strong as we can.

-John

Honda Racing MailbagWelcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD . Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you.

And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, remember that Marshall Pruett tackles them in his Tech Mailbags each week. Please send tech questions to PruettsTechMailbag@Racer.com.

Q: Once again, it looks like the only driver in the IndyCar series who can beat Will Power is Will Power. Despite another untimely mistake, he actually extended his points lead, so it seems like the racing gods have decided that this is his year for a championship. Still, it’s got to be frustrating for everyone involved, especially when compared to the very “Penske-like” performance of Roger’s other team at Bristol over the weekend. Ryan Blaney steals the Nationwide race from a dominant Kyle Busch on the last restart, check. In the Cup race, Logano wins his third race of the year, equaling his teammate who makes it a Penske 1-2, check. With Will on the pole at Sonoma, I thought Penske would sweep the weekend.

Does Power (and the other drivers) have a sports psychologist or guru to help him? It seems like controlling his aggression is the last piece he needs to become a champion. He didn’t drive like a champion in this one, but I’m pulling for him to close it out on Saturday.
Lee Robie, Cincinnati

RM: It was kinda shocking to see Will go from first to 7th (after the pit stop) to 20th because he’d been brilliant up until then – on almost every lap for the last two race weekends. But he recovered and, as you pointed out, increased his point lead in the process. I think Tim Cindric, Rick Mears and The Captain have all chipped in to work on his psyche and it’s working. He’s had a championship season but left the door cracked open just a little last Sunday.

Q: After the first few laps under yellow I opened a bottle of Verite le Desir Sonoma County North Coast and by lap 14 it was gone and the race looked a lot better. I think it cost about $370 and was cheaper than actually wasting my money to go and watch it at the track. I remember when an Indy car left black marks exiting a corner and there were real drivers all called Al or any name with fewer than three letters.
R. Lovell

RM: Well, the first 36 laps were pretty ho-hum but the last 30 were about as entertaining as you could hope for on a road course.

Q: Everyone saw the yellow flag at the end of the race and knew the reason. Why was no action taken against those that ignored the yellow?
Bruce F.

RM: There was. Power was docked one spot, from ninth to 10th but I think he, Justin Wilson and Sebastian Bourdais were pretty preoccupied trying to beat other to the checkered flag and couldn’t see Conway’s car parked so close to the wall because on corner exit, there’s a major kink in the wall.

Q: I was watching the Sonoma race and I do realize that there was an earthquake in the area, but even with that in mind, the attendance looked awful. Do you have any idea what the attendance was? And was the attendance a direct result of the situation that day or are there other problems for the race at Sonoma?

Could you also explain to me why Mark Miles seems intent on making Fontana fail? Moving it from Labor Day to July won't be any better. Why is it so difficult to have NOLA two weeks after Labor Day and then have Fontana two weeks after that? With Fontana being a Saturday night race, that would make NOLA the only race on during the NFL season. This would extend the season, as most fans want, and put Fontana in the best possible situation to succeed.
Brian, Joliet, IL

RM: Sonoma is one of the toughest places to calculate attendance and it seems to be about the same as the past couple years. It was a gorgeous day so maybe the earthquake had a little to do with it but the fact remains that IndyCar doesn’t draw anything close to what NASCAR does. Miles followed the Boston Consulting Group’s suggestion to end the season early but I don’t know anyone within the IndyCar community who thinks it’s a good idea. I think finding someone to take Labor Day weekend will be tough, although Boston claims it wants to do it in 2016.

Q: I've been a fan of racing since I was born as I grew up going to local SCCA events and started volunteering at the age of 5. Luckily my region is spoiled as we have Laguna Seca, Sears Point [Sonoma], and our own club track all within three hours or less of where I live, which provided lots of exposure to many series. Thus you can assume correctly that I am a big road racing fan and not so much an oval fan. In fact I fall asleep if I try to watch NASCAR (so I don't) and struggle a bit with IndyCar on ovals.

However, because I absolutely love the series, instead of just going to my usual events (Long Beach, Houston, and Sonoma), I am planning to go to Fontana for the first time, as well as hopefully the 100th running of the Indy 500 in two years because I believe that diversity is what makes these drivers truly the best. We saw that with Power when he dominated road courses but lost due to his lacking oval skills. This series needs this uniqueness and should maintain its storied history as those are the stories we tell younger generations to make them understand what they are watching.

So despite the heat (which can't be worse than flagging for 10 hours in Houston, right?) I am going to head down for the weekend and see who wins the championship. I will say that, like everyone else this year, I am not impressed with the schedule for the event. Gates don't open until 4 p.m. that day and the only thing happening is the IndyCar race.

Lastly, been wanting to say this for a while. There ARE still young people interested in cars and racing (I'm 25). I work on my own cars as far as my skills let me, including my '68 Mustang, and send it to my brother when I can't. Lots of my friends do similarly, and I still see quite a few young people at our events. Just as drivers and not spectators, and that seems to be the trick. Participating is one thing, sitting around and watching seems to be another, so they need to figure out how to hold the attention span of kids who didn't grow up with it like I did. See you at Fontana.
Heather S., Vallejo, CA

RM: First of all, thanks for being the part of racing that doesn’t get paid or recognized but is nonetheless a vital cog. The Lights season ended at Sonoma and I think the Fontana promoters understand it’s going to be damn near impossible to get people to show up at 6 p.m. – let alone in the heat of the 100-degree day. Glad to hear your age group still has interest and passion.


Will-PT

Q: I like Will Power because he's a hard charger and he reminds me of a young Paul Tracy. Same sort of aggressive brilliance combined with random instances of stupidity. He still has one more chance to display the latter but I think we'll see the former. Earlier this season I thought Tony Kanaan was a has-been but in the last part he's proving me wrong. Good for him. Will Helio go down in history as the greatest Indy car driver never to win a championship? His podiums, poles and laps led are impressive, but never a title. Is it bad luck or bad management?
Doug Mayer

RM: There are some similarities between WP and PT (ABOVE, together at Mont-Tremblant in 2007) and they’re always worth the price of admission. TK has made a lot of folks eat their words the past couple months and it’s good to see him rally. As for Helio, he’s had more bad luck than anything else the past two years but you ask an interesting question regarding the best never to be a champ. Parnelli Jones and Bill Vukovich immediately come to mind, along with Dan Gurney, Lloyd Ruby, Gary Bettenhausen, Bill Holland and Frank Lockhart. And Will Power. So either he or HCN are finally going to be #1.

Q: I’m hoping Mark Miles reads this letter, because after the MAVTV 500 this weekend, the IndyCar season is over. Mr. Miles (I’m trying to be nice here): It’s way, way too early to end the season.  See, you are worried because football season is starting. Wake up Mr. Miles! The NFL and college football seasons are not your competition – it’s other of forms of racing. Those other forms of racing haven’t finished their seasons yet.  NASCAR has 11 races left after your finale, Formula 1 has seven, and U.S. sports cars have two. 

Yes, I am a football fan, but I’m also a baseball fan, a basketball fan, and a hockey fan. But number one, I am a racing fan. When the IndyCar season is over I may watch a few NASCAR races. I will be sure to watch every Formula 1 race, and I will be sure to not miss the sports car races, either. I’ve got to be like countless other racing fans.  See IndyCar isn’t running anymore so other forms of racing will get my attention, and while the motors are shut down, and the cars are back in the shops of IndyCar teams lying dormant, there are other forms of racing still running clear to November.

Why are you worried about football? Why has IndyCar lost focus on who its REAL competition is? Because if it’s not football season, guess what – it’s still hockey season, NBA season and the MLB is still playing. Why aren’t you worried about those? Mr. Miles, your competition is NASCAR, Formula 1, sports cars, and whatever any other type of racing that is still running when you aren’t. IndyCar is off the map, and nowhere in the papers, or on TV because they aren’t running. Please, I’m asking nicely, Please make the IndyCar season run WAY past Labor Day, because my attention is no longer on Indy cars after Labor Day. It’s on other forms of motorsports that are still running.
Kris, Ocala, FL

RM: Mark wasn’t around when the Indy Racing League ended its season before the NFL started but it didn’t make an ounce of difference in the ratings. You are spot on: the 500,000-1,000,000 die-hard IndyCar fans will find the races and DVR football or at least switch back and forth. Being off the map for five or six months is a lot more damaging than going up against the NFL.
 
Q: With Loudon canceling its contract after a single year, and the Providence street race now completely dead, I no longer believe any rumors about IndyCar or other series having races in the New England area anymore. But this week there are articles in the Boston newspapers about new Mayor Marty Walsh trying to get a street race in the seaport district of Boston. What have you heard on this? Frankly I think it has barely any chance of happening, as the people of Boston could care less about auto racing. Also, the people of Boston are too smart to throw money at IndyCar for a race that is guaranteed to lose the city money. Providence seemed like a great location for a city looking to hold bigger events. But Boston I think will never happen and really won't be successful if it does happen.  
Patrick Dinsmoor

RM: I heard the mayor of Boston found out about a proposed race in Providence and approached IndyCar about staging a race in 2016. I believe Paul Newman tried to get a race in Beantown and Philly and had no luck so if Cool Hand Luke couldn’t get it done, I guess I’d be skeptical as well.

Q: I just read an article in the Boston Herald saying that Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was in contact with the top brass in IndyCar about landing a Labor Day race on the streets of Boston in 2016. As a lifelong Boston resident who has always been very far away from any open-wheel races and struggles to be a part of the sport outside of watching TV broadcasts, this information really piqued my interest. While I understand these conversations would likely be in the very preliminary stages, I guess my question is, how often do cities/racetracks reach out to IndyCar and vice versa? Does this type of story come out in other cities all the time and I am only really paying attention because this time it’s my city, or do these stories really have legs?
Patrick Gilmartin

RM: Well, Fort Lauderdale, Quebec City and Providence all expressed interest, or were approached about a street show, during the past couple years but nothing ever happened. The owner of the oval in Madison, Ill. is interested in bringing IndyCar back. It doesn’t happen all the time and usually it’s more smoke than fire but when the mayor gets involved, it could happen.

Q: Big Page 3 article in The Boston Herald this morning about city of Boston seeking a race for the Seaport District, Labor Day 2016. Mark Perrone, president of GP of Boston. This effort has the mayor's approval.
Chuck, Chelmsford, MA

RM: Perrone was the man trying to bring a race to Providence and is a former employee of Champ Car but I understand Providence is broke, so I imagine losing millions on a race wasn’t in the budget. Remember, Baltimore had great crowds and good races but lost millions and went away after three years. It’s a tough nut to make money and keep it going. 

Q: I recently saw an article about a potential IndyCar race in Boston in 2016. I think it’s a great idea. What do you think are the chances of it actually happening? I'm excited but skeptical, especially given the aborted attempt to do a race in Providence. IndyCar has a problem getting its name out there but I'm always struck about how much local attention races can get. I remember growing up in the 2000s during the last days of the Cleveland GP and the race dominated local news and the Plain Dealer for a week. My other question is, have any other tracks or promoters expressed interest in hosting races? And has anybody made any attempt at getting Cleveland back?
Cameron Taylor, Ashland, Ohio

RM: Read the previous three answers for your Boston questions. As for Cleveland, no conversations, but former promoter Mike Lanigan may bring back an airport course to Houston in 2016 if Shell embraces the idea.


 Mosport-AudiQ: I agree wholeheartedly that Mosport (ABOVE) should host an IndyCar race but what I don’t agree with is that the track needs more upgrades, because the track ownership just spent a pile of money on the facility in the past year and half. And you can’t tell me an Indy car would be faster around the track than the Audi LMP1 prototypes went around the track a few years ago at 1m04s. It sounds to me like IndyCar is just trying to soak Mosport out of more money like F1 and if they go and fence the track in, I for one won’t be going, because the facility is just fine the way it is.
Bert Walsh

RM: First off, Mosport is a potential back-up track in case Toronto can’t work out a date and I wrote that IndyCar visited Mosport to inspect the validity of having a race. Ron Fellows & Company have done a magnificent job at Mosport but the fact remains there are concerns about runoff areas and the sustained speeds on Indy cars. It would be great to have Toronto and Mosport. And Vancouver, Calgary and Quebec City…

Q: IndyCar is making a BIG mistake. Their season very definitely should go into the fall months. What's the age of the fans of Indy? My buddy and I are in our early 70s, and the heat isn't working for us. We attend Texas every year because it's at night. Getting rid of Houston in any of the May-Sept. months is a great thing. I live in Ft. Worth and I wouldn't attend a race in Houston unless it WAS run spring or fall. And I never did attend when CART ran there. I would attend a Circuit of The Americas race in Austin if it’s held when the temp is likely to be no more than 92.

An oval needs to be worked in sometime before the "500" also. Maybe Homestead, since it's far 'nuff south, or late April in Kansas? Tell those in charge at IndyCar to just go ahead and roll over and play dead. They're gonna be before too long anyway!  Go ahead and concede the WHOLE sports world to the golfers and pro football fans....in the fall anyway. WATCH OUT! Canadian football might catch on BIG someday. Then we can try to work in 18-21 races in maybe 3-5 weeks. Not only will the racers be racing on the tracks, but the transporters will be racing tween venues also! Have a modified Mexican Baja, only Stateside.....with semi-rigs!!!
Dan Gallion, Ft. Worth

RM: Can’t see IndyCar going back to Kansas or Homestead because they were financial losers but your stance is representative of most IndyCar fans: Being off the air from Labor Day isn’t going to work.

Q: Enjoyed your article recently: "How Double-Points Have Changed the 2014 Championship Fight." I would like to share my own opinion on one scenario that I think needs to be considered for the points structure, and hear your thoughts about road/street course qualifying/Fast Six qualifying. Qualifying on the ovals in the series, other than Indy, is a boring process. Mainly it is just a few quick laps and it’s done, and the driver who sits on the pole gets the one-point bonus for the fastest average time.  That is fine, unless the qualifying process is revamped for the ovals (i.e. heat races).

However, knockout qualifying for the road and street courses is a different process, and more appealing for that matter. I feel that more points need to be awarded in the knockout qualifying format as there are three sessions of on-track qualifying, and more track time activity. Over an hour’s worth of work for one point (compared to the 2-3 minutes on oval qualifying). My feeling is, if at Indy "so many" bonus points are awarded through qualifying (which I agree with and understand), why can't the same be done with the Firestone Fast Six? For example, five points for the pole winner and two points for the remaining members of the Fast Six. What are your thoughts on that scenario?
Jamie Doellinger

RM: I think you make a great point: grinding to make the Fast 12 or Fast 6 or pole on a road or street course requires more talent and effort in qualifying than any oval except Indianapolis. I don’t like all the points that were awarded at Indy and if IndyCar retains that system next year then your idea should be implemented. I’ll send your suggestion to Derrick Walker, Mark Miles and Beaux Barfield.

Q: What do you propose for the support races for the ovals? Sure we need more action but the Pirelli World Challenge cars can't race on an oval. Sports cars? No. Lights double-header? IndyCar double-header? Robby Gordon’s off-road trucks? School bus race? Big wheels? Ten laps around Jimmy Spencer in a red wagon?
Ron Thompson

RM: Lights, Mazda and F2000 double-headers at places like Iowa and Milwaukee and IndyCar double-headers at Pocono, Fontana and Texas would be more popular than long races with only 22 cars.


Pagenaud

Q: What are the odds that Simon Pagenaud joins McLaren-Honda in F1 for 2015?
Ralph Power, Indianapolis
RM: None. He’s hoping for a test. He’s probably too old (30) to ever get a shot at an F1 ride unless he brought millions.

Q: You've often spoken of great American open-wheel talent that doesn't get a shot at IndyCar (like Conor Daly and others), usually because of a lack of sponsorship. In their place, teams usually end up signing foreign talent, typically because they bring some form of state- or state-run corporate sponsorship (like E.J. Viso). In various interviews and articles posted on RACER.com and other sites, I've also noticed a lot of team owners mention that they'd like to field a car for so-and-so driver "if they bring a budget" or something like that. One F1 team owner even said that it was "irresponsible" of drivers to not bring sponsorship with them!

I find this trend highly disturbing, not only for IndyCar, but for all motorsports. I understand that times are tough, but for the IndyCar's long-term health, they need to sign proven, marketable American talent (and there is plenty to be had), whether they bring their own sponsorship or not. Were this the case, drivers like Daly, J.R. Hildebrand, and Sage Karam would already be tearing up the IndyCar circuit every weekend instead of begging for rides.

Take NASCAR, for example: When was the last time a NASCAR team asked a driver to bring sponsorship? Do you think the JGR deal with Carl Edwards was contingent on him bringing his own sponsors? A team asking a driver to bring money to the table is unheard of in NASCAR; finding suitable sponsorship has always been the team's job, and provided they have a driver worth his/her weight, they usually have little problem finding sponsorship. This system has served NASCAR very well, mostly keeping anyone from "buying" a ride with a major team (Paul Menard and Danica Patrick may be the exceptions), and as a result, the best talent has gotten the deserved opportunities?

Now, I'm not saying that these "paid" drivers aren't talented or that they don't belong in IndyCar. However, the trend of teams pursuing only "paid" (and mostly unknown) drivers is hurting IndyCar in the long run and preventing the series from growing in they way it most desperately needs to: with mainstream American fans.
Garrick Aube

RM: The short, honest answer is that it’s not a good time to be an open-wheel or driver with IndyCar aspirations. The money required to run USF2000, ProMazda or Indy Lights is staggering, let alone the IndyCar Series. Many owners can’t raise enough sponsorship so they depend on drivers to bring money. It’s not going to change and somebody like Sage and Josef Newgarden could be the exceptions but they still needed money from winning the Lights title to get their foot in the IndyCar door.

Q: I am sick of all the complaining about the racing at Milwaukee and Pocono. Was it the most exciting race ever? No, but it was racing! Tony Stewart once said: "Look up ‘racing’ in the dictionary and tell me what it says. Then look up ‘passing.’ We're racing here. If you want to see passing, we can go out on I-465 and pass all you want. This is about racing. This is about cars being fast. It doesn't have to be two- and three-wide racing all day to be good racing!

"Racing is about figuring out how to take the package you're allowed and make it better than what everybody else has and do a better job with it…. For some reason, in the last 10 years, everybody is on this kick that you have to be passing all the time. It's racing, not passing. We're racing.

"I don't understand where this big kick has come from. We need the media's help as much as anybody to remind people this is racing. When somebody does a great job [insert Will Power/Penske at Milwaukee], everybody hates that. I don't understand that. It baffles me as a racecar driver.”

And this fan, too. As a race fan, when I buy a ticket, I don't know what to expect, that's why I attend races. Every race cannot be like this year’s Indy 500 or restrictor plate NASCAR. Then it is not racing: it feels and becomes like contrived "WWE" entertainment crap. I get passing helps keep the casual fan interest, but contrived passing, as a diehard fan, turns me off. When I look back at Milwaukee, it was a beautiful day of beer, loud racecars, the smell in the air and a race day that overall I enjoyed because I am a true IndyCar fan with realistic expectations of what the show can or will be.
Steven Strom

RM: Well you and Stewart make a good point. I can remember lots of oval races in the ‘60s and ‘70s that the winner lapped second place or only five or six cars finished and the passing was mostly lapping slow cars. IndyCar has spoiled us the past two years with all the good racing and close finishes but watching the individual brilliance of A.J., Parnelli, Mario or Gurney in the day was just as riveting as close racing.


RahalQ: Let's have a little fun and talk about the big, hot and heavy romance between Graham Rahal and Courtney Force. I'm a big fan of the NHRA drags and also follow the IndyCar Series so I think it's pretty cool that these two hooked up last year. That's a pretty good score on Graham's part and Courtney doesn't look half bad in that ESPN Magazine spread. However, I wonder how long she waits before kicking Graham to the curb due to his dismal on-track performance. She has done quite well in her first few years at the helm of one of her dad's Funny Cars. That woman knows how to stand on the loud pedal and get her car to the finish line and win races. Yet, Graham has done squat. I see her dumping him eventually and upgrading to someone who at least finishes on the podium once in a while. What's the scuttlebutt among the lunch crowd over at the Mug ’N’ Bun regarding these two lovebirds? What's the over/under on how long this is going to last?
Jon Clark

RM: The old racers I eat lunch with have no interest in anything beyond 1980 so they have no clue about this racing romance. But Courtney seems like a sweetheart and they appear to be a happy couple. And Graham ran well last Sunday (ABOVE) with his lady cheering him on.

Q: Since we're in the midst of contract silly season, I'd like to suggest a couple of player trades to make all the players live up to their (unfulfilled) potential: Marco Andretti for Graham Rahal.  So both of them can learn that after you have another crappy season full of excuses, you might not get invited over to the team owner's house for Thanksgiving, or for another contract for next season. Kyle Busch for Lewis Hamilton. So Lewis can learn that it's necessary to "take your whiny little butt to the bus" and for Kyle to learn to take orders from the Germans. What say you?
Russ Wakeman

RM: I’ve always thought Marco would be better off driving for somebody else and Graham didn’t go with Bobby until it became a necessity. They’ve both shown flashes of their pedigree but I think everyone knows they wouldn’t currently have an IndyCar ride without their fathers. I’m thinking Kyle and Lewis would be good teammates.

Q: I've been noticing the lack of Firestone commercials on the IndyCar broadcasts this season and wondered if they may once again be looking to exit the series. In the past they've talked about leaving and even dropped their sponsorship of Indy Lights. With Cooper Tires now on board in the Road to Indy ladder series, and seemingly not having any tire-related issues to date, is there an opportunity for them to move up as either the sole tire supplier or a competitor to Firestone?
Scott C., Bargersville IN

RM: Naw, Firestone re-upped last year through 2020 but I’m sure they’d welcome competition. Cooper Tires is the presenting sponsor of all three series in the Mazda Road To Indy, but remember that all three are promoted by Dan Andersen, so that uniformity probably made sense. I’ll ask about the commercials.

Q: A small Indy Lights field, rickshaws, and a need for more excitement at the ovals. How about we combine the rickshaws and Indy Lights? You could be the in-race reporter in a rickshaw. It's brilliant! Don't thank me because I know you won't.
Tim Davis, Detroit, MI

RM: Thanks Tim, but I’d much rather ride in a two-seat IndyCar with PT or Mario than a rickshaw. But point taken, fans want to watch real series – not rickshaws.

Q: Last week’s was the most negative Mailbag I have ever read. What is wrong with people? I don't get why people have gotten so addicted to passing. Racing is about embarrassing the competition, burying them into the dirt, not about being side by side all the time. I enjoyed the race a lot at Milwaukee. GREAT SHOW!!! I love racing and I sure as hell saw racing! I didn’t pay to see passing, I paid to see racing. People need to freaking relax. Glad I finally met you.
Hunter Smith

RM: It wasn’t the most negative Mailbag by a long shot but probably in the Top 10 (smile). As I said elsewhere in this Mailbag, fans are spoiled by the last couple years but some of the diehards like yourself appreciate racing in its purest form.

Q: I would assume the drivers at the top teams get paid the best. What of those in the lesser teams? Maybe point me in the direction of the same question for other series? Thank you for any consideration in responding to this question. The economics of professional auto racing are quite mystifying to me and I often wonder how they can afford to do it.
Warren Westfall

RM: Back in CART’s heyday, Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr. received retainers rumored to be $6-7 million a year and, obviously, those days are long gone. The Honda/Toyota war kept salaries in the $4-5 million range for some stars but I imagine the top dollar today is $2 million to a Dixon or RHR or Kanaan. And some drivers take a percentage of the sponsorship they bring to make a living. NASCAR has so much money that even the driver in 35th spot makes more than half of the IndyCar regulars. Little E, Gordon and Stewart make millions on merchandise, salary and earnings.


Sage-Karam

Q: There is no other way to say it, other than to be blunt: Indy Lights is a joke. Eight cars racing is not a legitimate racing series nor is that a legitimate steppingstone. That they televise races with eight cars participating is beyond sad. Will the new package help bring a full field of cars? If not, what's the point? Watching Milwaukee with eight cars is pathetic, and when I have seen other races with 12 cars it's still pathetic. They need 24 or more cars or they need to fold the series as it's not only pointless, it's doing IndyCar more damage as it makes them look very Mickey Mouse.
John Cassis, Houston,

RM: No argument, the car count has been embarrassing and, hopefully, those zoomy new Atlantic-looking Lights cars will draw more interest, in the same way that the reboot of Atlantics in 2006 – new car, $2m prize for the champion – revitalized that series. The sad thing is that Lights has remained a good training ground: – look at Newgarden, Hawksworth, Karam (ABOVE) and Munoz. The top three in any year are all good prospects. Sure, it’s tough to gauge talent when there are only 8-12 drivers, but Jack Harvey, Gabby Chaves and Zach Veach and Matty Brabham are all good pedalers with an eye on IndyCar.

Q: I'm a longtime racing fan that moved from Massachusetts to Indiana about a decade ago. I'm a diehard fan that is trying to find new ways to engage fans in the stands to ensure the product live at the track is worth the price of the ticket/hotel/travel. I love the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but at the same time get frustrated by the lack of information I can get from my seat. I attended the "500", Indy GP, MotoGP, SVRA and the TUDOR Championship races. For all of the races I struggled to get real information as to what's occurring on the track. The timing boards can't be seen from any seat that’s not on the main straight, as the new rotating scoreboard in Turn 3 I think is lit by ten candles.

Anyway, why can't there be an information ribbon placed on the top of the inside wall facing the fans? Something like the ribbons around Lucas Oil or Banker's Life? Almost like an extension of the new scoring pylon? I think one way to help engage the people at the track is to somehow transfer that information to the fans that don't want/need scanners. Use the ribbons to post the last pit stop for the Top 10, so the fans can figure out the pit strategy or the impending scenarios? I watch V8 Supercars and one of the cooler things I see at some tracks is a real speedometer for the cars on track. How cool would it be for fans in Turn 1 knowing how fast Helio and Power are going barreling into Turn 1 on the last lap? And, for the love of all that's good in the world, when are the video screens going to be updated to something more suited for 2015 and the future?

Also, why is IMS not doing something drastic to optimize the revenue in the best viewing areas. For example, with the $100 million that was given to the track there should be new stands placed from the Paddock to Stand E, something that puts a stamp on a world class venue. The more penthouse suites in the area of Turn 1, the more revenue, and more guaranteed fans. I look at these F1 venues, like in China, India, and Malaysia and they have some gorgeous stands and architectural stamps to show the world that their facility is world class. I know we have the Pagoda, but what fan gets to ever go in there? I just look at what Daytona is trying to do to ensure their facility is looked at as not just a racing venue, but a state of the art stadium and wonder why Indy can’t do the same.
Steve Driscoll

RM: I haven’t sat in the seats since 1967 at IMS so I can’t offer much in the way of commenting except that a lot of fans complain about the video boards and I like your idea of the info ribbons. I would imagine with all that money IMS borrowed, a lot of the older grandstands will be getting an overhaul but I think there may be too many unsold suites to start building more. I will send your comments to Doug Boles, IMS president.

Q: NBCSN must have been scraping the bottom of the barrel for booth coverage last weekend. We're currently working lap 30 and I'm ready to take a nap with all the excitement Brian Till and Sam Hornish Jr. are putting into this broadcast. I'm wishing they would just let Paul Tracy and the pit reporters call the race, since they at least are making an effort to be entertaining and exciting.

I get that the booth personalities have prior engagements, but here is my challenge to NBCSN for 2015 (and thanks to a ridiculously long off-season, they shouldn't have a problem doing this):  Sit down and work out the schedule so that Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy are in the booth as often as possible. We know Leigh will be tied up with F1 on a couple of occasions; fine, then Bob Varsha needs to be his designated replacement. Likewise when Townsend and/or Paul can't make the booth, there needs to be a designated replacement. This should, preferably, be someone who has been around IndyCar within the last few years and not racing stock cars (sorry Sam). Now, I get that what I suggest isn't as easy as it sounds, but sitting through the rest of this race will be a challenge…It's like listening to the good (NOT) old days of Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear.
Chris, Oak Forest, IL

RM: I disagree. I’ve always liked Brian Till and I thought Sam meshed well with PT for their first time together. Nobody could have made those first 30 laps sound very exciting. This was PT’s first year and he’s done a great job and hopefully wants to do it full-time in 2015. TBell likes racing sports cars so there will be conflicts and I imagine Leigh’s priority will remain F1.


 RossiQ: Do you remember the 1990 song from Hall and Oates named "So Close" with the lyrics “So close, so far away…”? that would describe the mind of Alexander Rossi (ABOVE) after the very last minute when Max Chilton's money arrived at the very last second, meaning Rossi could only participate in FP1. I was so anxious to see a U.S. driver in Formula 1 once again. But that is the racing business. Either way, he actually outperformed his old team during his first practice for Marussia. There is no doubt that he has the pace. As far as 2015 goes, this seat may go to the highest bidder between Max’s father who owns Aon insurance and Gene Haas. This would be interesting.

And speaking of Haas Formula, how about having Mike Conway as their primary driver alongside Rossi? Conway will be committed to the WEC in 2015. His experience with GP2 and as a Honda F1 test driver in '07-'08 alongside IndyCar would make him as the best candidate for the primary seat? And what are the chances for Gene into merging with current GP2 and GP3 teams in the near future so they can bring US  talent in the near future?
Juan Solano

RM: I’ll be amazed if Haas’s F1 team ever turns a wheel and I can assure you that Conway isn’t on his radar. Mike is trying to decide between IndyCar and WEC.

Q: Why don’t the large national sponsors of IndyCar (Verizon, Honda, Chevrolet, Firestone) promote and cross-market the series more with their national advertising? Target promotes IndyCar some in stores, but the other large players are almost non-existent with their cross-marketing. Advertising at the races and on TV during the race broadcast is to current fans. A quick tie-in with their national advertising would really help reach out to people unfamiliar with IndyCar, and I believe increase the fan base and ratings. Seems like a no-brainer to me if they want the series to grow!
Don Shomann

RM: Can’t speak for any of those companies but Honda has spent millions in the past on commercials and title sponsorships. Ditto for Firestone. Target has a commercial with Dixon and TK and Verizon is doing radio and television ads all the time all over the country. Heard one today driving to San Francisco airport.

Q: Why do IndyCar fans feel it necessary to try to put down NASCAR? Is it because if IndyCar fans looked at the series honestly they’d admit that what we have is at best a series that once was the envy of the entire racing world, and today can't even get its results on sports programs? Or is it because they feel if NASCAR fans left NASCAR. they’d somehow rush to IndyCar? (NASCAR had 5,400,000 fans watch the Michigan 400 on TV, and IndyCar had how many viewers for Milwaukee – maybe 390,000?). That is not even mentioning the attendance at MIS versus Milwaukee...Of course Milwaukee only has 38,000 seats, but it was sad to see so few fans in attendance...or was it somehow NBCSN's fault? When the truth is, if fans leave a series they may stop watching racing and wouldn’t it be better to suggest that if a NASCAR fan tuned into an IndyCar race they might enjoy it as well? Why not watch both; record one, watch the other?

IndyCar fans are quick to point out NASCAR’s yellow flags due to a lapped car having a supposed flat tire and how it affected the finish; they seem to forget that TK’s “500” victory was, in the eyes of many, tainted by his friend’s rubbing the wall and causing the race to end under yellow. Now IndyCar fans who laughed at GWC finishes, have just as much a gimmick in Red, Yellow, Green, White, Checker finishes and tell everyone it is different; it’s NOT. Racing of all types should be promoted, and it isn’t a serious sin to love them all…or is it? If it’s got wheels and goes fast I’ll watch it and I’ll bet there are a lot more like me. Let's promote RACING, ALL TYPES OF RACING!!
Ted

RM: I don’t know how many IndyCar fans make fun of NASCAR or vice versa but I’m sure there’s a little jealousy (I know I’m jealous when I think about where Indy car racing was 20 years ago and where it is today compared to NASCAR’s success). I also think IndyCar fans get tired of being slighted by ESPN or USA Today and, because of that, Average Joe thinks NASCAR is the only form of racing in the USA. I watch NASCAR because I want to see Kyle Larson kick ass.

Q: When a company stops listening to their customers, it fails: look at F1 and the mockery that is. IndyCar is the best series out there by far – best sound, best engine formula, there is parity and the drivers are so charismatic. WE, the fans, have been crying for so long but we don't show up at the races. WE are at fault for those empty stands. Let's buy tickets and support those sponsors, that's what will make IndyCar good again. Ford says IndyCar is not good for business? Well I am a Ford guy, I own a Ford Ranger desel with a turbocharged engine and I love it and I want a Ford Ecoboost winning the "500", but I won't buy or recommend anyone else buy a Ford car until they are in IndyCar. (They are sucking so bad in NASCAR, it is painful to watch). Ford needs to be in IndyCar because if not I will sell my truck and get a Silverado. Maybe you can show this to Edsel or Mark Miles. Thank you and keep doing this because until WE, the fans, wake up, IndyCar will not have 20 races at 20 cities. Live strong, my favorite sport!
Felix Pineda, Miami, FL

RM: No doubt that if enough consumers speak, the company will listen. We all thought Ford might come running after GM returned to IndyCar but obviously that’s not the case. Take a photo of trading in your Ford for a Chevy and send it to Edsel, explaining why.

TransAmAudi1For Audi of America, racing in the 1988 Trans-Am series with the all-wheel drive 200 was a chance to rebuild a tarnished reputation by kicking some all-American V8 butt.

This story is an excerpt from RACER magazine's GREAT CARS III ISSUE, on sale now.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then adversity deserves the credit for birthing a pair of flame-spitting, wastegate-chirping siblings that set North America alight for two unforgettable seasons.

Faced with a public relations disaster that threatened its future in the U.S., Audi chose a daring path in the late 1980s by commissioning a motorsports program to provide the kind of PR salvation that carefully crafted words could not.

Audi had become the face of "unintended acceleration," a scary phenomenon that plagued a number of manufacturers in that era. Accused of building demon-possessed cars that took off on their own, lawsuits flew, panic set in, and Audi's reputation went from quirky offshoot of the Porsche/ VW group to maker of boxy death sedans.

A perception-altering cure came in the form of rally tech wrapped in an ingenious road-racing package devised by Audi of America and built by Audi Sport in Ingolstadt, Germany. Led by AoA's Jo Hoppen, the undercover program had an early supporter in sports car legend Hurley Haywood.

"Jo called me in '87 to come and run a six-hour race at Road Atlanta," he recalls. "I assumed it was with a Porsche and he said, 'No, we're running an Audi 200.' I said, 'The sedan?' He said, 'Yes, it's an all-wheel drive and I want to get your opinion on what it's like to drive.' It was practically a bone stock 200 with safety equipment added. The weather was bad and we were trouncing the competition in the wet. Afterward he said, 'I'm working on something...I'll get back to you in a couple of months.'"

That exploratory run confirmed the potential of Audi's famed AWD system in road racing. Selecting a series was next, and the SCCA's popular Trans-Am was chosen as the perfect platform to shift the conversation toward intended acceleration. Finding a team to run the cars was next.

"Jo rang and asked if I'd be interested," says Group 44 owner Bob Tullius, who fielded Jaguar's Trans-Am and IMSA GTP cars with great success. "He came to Winchester, Va., we talked, I showed him the shop and he said, 'Good, we'll do it.'"

TransAmAudi4But as Tullius soon found out, Hoppen's colleagues from Ingolstadt weren't interested in working as equals.

"They were going to build cars and send them with a small staff of specialists to familiarize our people with them," Tullius recalls. "Well, that was fine except the minute the cars arrived, the Germans sent about 30 guys, they never left, and they'd hardly speak to us. Our crew was hardly allowed to touch the cars. We were hosts."

The internal discord was kept hidden as Trans-Am readied to open the 1988 season on the streets of Long Beach. Populated by high-powered, lightweight tubeframe cars from Chevrolet, Ford and Oldsmobile, the series was a showcase for big V8-engined, rear-wheel drive machinery.

TransAmAudi3Compared to a Camaro or Mustang, the 200 looked like a geek. But embracing its unconventional stance became a point of pride for Audi as it built its racecars from shells taken directly from the production line. If Americans were going to move past their fear of unintended acceleration, Audi knew the Trans-Am 200s needed to look similar to the ones on the showroom floor.

In the hands of Haywood and German duo Hans-Joachim Stuck and two-time WRC champ Walter Rohrl, the 200s unleashed a special kind of hell on Trans-Am.

At 510hp, the Audis were the least-powerful cars in the field – nowhere near the 650hp-plus of the V8s – but with asphalt-shredding acceleration and cornering, and unrivaled braking capabilities, street circuits and road courses soon revealed AWD was more valuable than almighty horsepower.

TransAmAudi2

"I remember the look on Scott Pruett and Willy T. Ribbs' faces when I went around them in a corner at Long Beach," Haywood chuckles. "I said, 'Wet or dry, this car is going to win everywhere. You're stuck to one line, but we can go anywhere, and you guys are history.' And that's basically what happened..."

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14DAY2rl3356NASCAR announced today its national series schedules for the 2015 season, featuring date enhancements to races along with a pair of long-term broadcast partners.

"The 2015 NASCAR national series schedules promise to provide our fans with the compelling competition and storylines they so richly deserve," said Brian France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO. "These enhancements to our race dates, particularly in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will be of benefit to our fans and other stakeholders in our industry. From the start of the season at Speedweeks at Daytona culminated by our championship finales at Homestead-Miami, we're looking forward to the great racing that will be delivered through our outstanding television network broadcast partners FOX, FOX Sports 1, NBC and NBCSN."

Key date changes featuring Darlington Raceway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway, some of NASCAR's most tradition-laden tracks, highlight the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. Following the 57th running of the Daytona 500 Feb. 22 on FOX, Atlanta Motor Speedway will host the season's second race weekend (March 1), while Darlington returns to its traditional Labor Day weekend date (Sept. 6). The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to Atlanta for the first time since 2012 as part of a unique doubleheader on Feb. 28 with the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Additionally, Daytona's always-anticipated July race weekend takes on a different look as the Sunday, July 5 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race marks the return of broadcast partner NBC.

A big "West Coast swing" during the schedule's early stages sees the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series run on three consecutive weekends, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 7-8, Phoenix International Raceway on March 14-15 and Auto Club Speedway on March 21-22.

Bristol's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series spring date moves deeper into the calendar from mid-March to April 19. Dates for the spring races at Phoenix and Texas Motor Speedway (April 11) step back one week from their 2014 schedule slots.

From the season-opening weekend at Daytona through June's events, FOX and FOX Sports 1 will combine to serve as the broadcast home of all races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Starting in July at Daytona through the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, including each series' championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NBC and NBCSN will carry the second-half action for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series. The entire 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule will be broadcast exclusively on FOX and FOX Sports 1. On radio, programming surrounding the 2015 NASCAR season along with the exciting national series race calls can be heard on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Motor Racing Network (MRN) and the Performance Racing Network (PRN). The Indianapolis Motor Speedway's radio network will carry the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series events at IMS.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will feature 36 events including two standout non-points races – the Sprint Unlimited on Feb. 14 at Daytona and the 31st annual NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 16. Soon to have a new entitlement partner, the NASCAR Nationwide Series once again contests 33 races, while the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series increases to 23 events next season with the addition of the Atlanta date.

When running concurrently during NASCAR Sprint Cup Series companion weekends, the date changes are also reflected on the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedules. There are nine companion weekends on the 2015 schedule that feature all three national series along with 18 combination weekends between the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series and seven dual events where the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series run together.

There are six "stand-alones" on next year's NASCAR Nationwide Series calendar, starting May 17 at Iowa Speedway. Included among those are two road course races, at Mid-Ohio on Aug. 15 and Road America on Aug. 29. The later Road America date takes the place of the former Atlanta date. There are seven NASCAR Camping World Truck Series stand-alone races and two Wednesday appearances – on the dirt at Eldora Speedway on July 22 and at Bristol on Aug. 19. Iowa hosts the trucks three weeks earlier in 2015, on June 19. And the series again runs internationally on Aug. 30 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.


Click here for the PDF version of the 2015 NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule.

 


Click here for the PDF version of the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule.


Video: The Great Cars III Issue

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FROM THE RACER CHANNEL ON YOUTUBE

The Eagle Soars. Episode 2 of "Dan Gurney: All American Racer," presented by Bell.

 

The First 200mph Lap. Episode 5 of "Dan Gurney: All American Racer," presented by Bell.

 

Verizon IndyCar Series: News and views from Robin Miller and Marshall Pruett.

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