Robin Miller's Mailbag for Sept. 11

Robin Miller's Mailbag for Sept. 11

IndyCar

Robin Miller's Mailbag for Sept. 11

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If you have a question about open-wheel racing, send it to MillersMailbag@Racer.com. We can’t guarantee your letter will be published, but Robin will always reply.

Q: This Tony Kanaan business is lame. As a fan of open-wheel, I’m tired of a far less interesting series getting the talent. NASCAR has really set itself up to be one of the dullest series on the planet. To see them be rewarded for the mistakes of 1996 again and again is getting old. At some point people are going to stop going to races, at some point people are going to stop tuning in (some already have). The racing is crap, and the people in charge of that series make the worst years of the IRL (prior to semi-reunification in 2002) look like CART back in its heyday.

I hope TK doesn’t take the offer, and why should he? If you remove the money from the equation (by far the largest factor in all of this) is it a good move? I’d say no. Outside of Tony Stewart there’s really yet to be any driver with a Formula 1/IndyCar background with any really long term success in the series, short term being only LEGENDS like Foyt and Mario. Someone give the man a ride. The guy is literally intertwined with Indy, as is Dario, Helio, and the late (great) Dan Wheldon. The word “NASCAR” should be the last thing that crosses this guy’s mind. Let’s hope Michael, Chip or Jimmy comes through.

Not So Mid-Ohio

RM: By far the prevalent sentiment from IndyCar fans to Kanaan is: “please don’t go” but who can blame him for listening to what Joe Gibbs had to offer? At 38, it would be a difficult transition to be sure and TK doesn’t want to leave IndyCar. I don’t think he will either.

Q: Maybe it’s time to hang it up. I’ve been an avid fan of Indy car, Formula 5000 and Grand Prix going back nearly 50 years. It is getting very discouraging watching our stars fade into obscurity or go off to NASCAR. The article about Tony Kanaan is just the latest kick in the teeth. We also see our favorite Open Wheel tracks get the short shrift in favor of contrived, artificial street circuits. Toronto, Long Beach and Houston provide no vistas like you get at Watkins Glen or Road America. Ovals like Phoenix and Trenton provided the excitement that drew traditional Indy car fans regardless of who sanctioned the race. Maybe it is time to try to get the traditional fans back in the house and forget the sunny day fans who go for “a happening” rather than great racing at a great permanent track. Or maybe it’s time for the fat lady to sing.
Thomas Bastian

RM: It would be a kick in the teeth if Kanaan left for stock cars but don’t jump to conclusions. My story said he went and met with Gibbs about a possible ride not that he signed or is going to sign. I’m afraid the sunny day fans outnumber the oval track diehards (except for Indianapolis).

Q: How can one of the most popular drivers in IndyCar who is a season champion and the reigning Indy 500 champion NOT be a commodity for teams to want to hire without having to bring money? From your report it looks like Joe Gibbs Racing is willing to give him a ride with no need to bring funding. That’s a pretty sad state of affairs if you ask me. Along those lines, to me it does not seem like IndyCar, the teams, the team sponsors, and event sponsors are going out of their way to promote the drivers, the brands, and the racing. I’ve seen more ads with Tony Stewart, Jenson Button, Little E, Kyle Busch, and NASCAR personalities versus IndyCar.

Tell me the last time you saw Dario or Dixon in a Target commercial, RHR in a SunDrop ad, or even TK for Sunoco. The only promotional ads that I can remember seeing drivers in are all on TV: Hinch in GoDaddy commercials; the IZOD commercial three years ago that had drivers in it; Charlie Kimball in a Novo Nordisk commercial; and James Jakes in an Acorn Stairlifts commercial. I don’t think I’ve seen a printed ad with anyone.
Chris, Virginia

RM: Kanaan’s situation is more about the financial reality of IndyCar than anything else and, of course it’s sad and unfair but the lack of TV viewers impacts sponsorship and, in turn, a team’s ability to hire. The lack of big-time sponsors is also why there’s such a void of TV commercials with drivers.

Q: What is it with Cup teams constantly trying to poach IndyCar drivers? It’s not like they don’t have enough of their own talent at lower levels just itching to move up. If I were a driver trying to break in to Nationwide or Sprint Cup I’d be pissed at this sort of thing.
Doug Baggett

RM: Well let’s be honest: Ganassi gave Dario and Montoya their chances, Allmendinger’s departure was orchestrated by Red Bull (with a start-up team) and Penske had Hornish change seats so it’s not like there’s a big bidding war among the elite NASCAR teams for Indy drivers. And TK hasn’t done anything but fly to Charlotte and listen.
 

Q: I understand that the NASCAR money would make a move attractive and TK is a great driver, but what does he bring that’s attractive to Gibbs? He’ll not bring lots of sponsor money; if he could, he would stay in IndyCar. He’s not going to bring millions of fans; he’s popular, but IndyCar does not have that type of fan base. Recent IndyCar drivers have not become proven winners in NASCAR look at Dario, Danica, Montoya, Allmendinger, Villeneuve, Papis, Hornish, Casey Mears and others. Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon got their starts in open wheel, but that was years ago and they made the move to NASCAR at a much younger age. What does TK bring to Gibbs that a proven NASCAR driver does not?
John in Charleston

RM: That’s a good question but I imagine they like Kanaan’s drive and aggression. Or is it the fact they’d be stealing the Indianapolis 500 winner? But you are right in the regard that it’s difficult to understand the interest in a 38-year-old who has never driven a stock car (except for The Prelude at Eldora).

??

Q: What is your opinion about Tony Kanaan leaving IndyCar? Also I loved your video on RACER.com about IMS road course. I am wondering if the drivers were towing the company line about using the road course at IMS??
?
?Sean Jurjevic?

RM: ??My opinion is that it would be a big blow to lose TK to NASCAR but I don’t think he’s going to leave. I think he’s exploring options and was flattered that Gibbs wanted to talk to him about a possible ride. I think Rahal and Briscoe were being good soldiers.

 

Q: While I felt Baltimore had some good racing with some nice passing, I also witnessed a lot of “beginner” mistakes. Is this due to a narrow track or just narrow-minded drivers? As for the Dixon/Power debacle, I almost fell off the couch when I saw that. For as experienced as Will is, you would think that if he is going to make an aggressive move like that, that he would also take into consideration the field behind him, especially a Ganassi car. Do you think he will be put on probation for that? Finally, what are the chances of IndyCar coming back to Chicago?
Jason Guralnick, Chicago, Ill.

RM: I think any time you put 230mph, spec Indy cars on a tight street circuit there is going to be some contact. Power admitted his mistake and I don’t think it was intentional. Chicagoland? Maybe 50/50 at best, Joliet didn’t draw many people the last few years of IRL.

Q: I have to say, I am quite surprised at the fan reaction to Scott Dixon’s complaints. He is by far one of the kindest and most professional racers in the paddock, so when I hear him complain, I know it has merit especially when I came to the same conclusion watching the replays at Baltimore and Sonoma. Will Power, from Day 1, has been a whiner. From what I can tell, he is not well liked in the paddock and seems to not have the proper mental fortitude necessary to be a champion. So when I read the last mailbag and see that everyone has turned on Dixon for his comments about race control and Power, I can’t help but wonder why everyone is cutting Will so much slack.

I mean, this guy’s excuse for running into Dixon was that he wasn’t even looking in his mirrors. How is that an excuse? It’s his job as a racer to know what is going on around him! Why do fans like Will Power? He complains more than anyone, but when Dixon or Franchitti (two champions) have a problem, your mailbag readers turn into angry villagers with pitchforks.
Mike Fontanetta

RM: I don’t think everyone has turned on Dixon and, you are correct, he’s most always a class act in victory or defeat so he’s entitled to voice his displeasure in these circumstances. As for Power, sure he can moan with the best of ’em but I’ve also seen him own up to mistakes in tough situations. He’s certainly not Dario’s favorite but I don’t think he’s necessarily unpopular with fellow racers.

Q: Getting really sick and tired of some of the “big stars” whinin’, bitchin’ and complaining all the time. As long as TGBB took care of TCGR, everything was cool. The people on the scene told Barfield that Dixon’s car could not be fixed in time so he made the call. Put your Big Boy Panties on and get over it. Don’t want a penalty, don’t drive thru someone else’s pit and hit the tire man. It seems as though Scott and Dario have graduated from the Andretti School of It’s Not My Fault. Went to my first 500 in 1950 at 5 years of age so I’ve seen most of the best over the years. Too bad A.J. is older than me or there would probably be some “Bitch Slappin'” going onand it’s needed!
John T. Feeser, Wilmington, N.C.

RM: Most people seemed to think TGBB favored his former employer (Penske) over Ganassi and considering what happened to Dixon at Baltimore, how can you fault him for being angry or bitching? He got spun out and then crashed out. Hell yes, he should be mad. As far as taking the blame, I’ve heard Dario and Dixie admit mistakes on several occasions and certainly more than one retired Indy winner who NEVER owned up to anything. But I do think the bitching has increased in volume this season by a lot of people.

Q: OK I get it: Dixon’s p***ed at Barfield and wants him gone. Isn’t that the LAST THING the drivers want fast turnover in the race director’s chair? Barnhart was a MISTAKE, that I get, but Beaux seems like he’s TRYING (my opinion) to call it as incidents happen, with as much valid information as possible from what means he has in front of him. And now Scott’s got a bee in his helmet because of the calls against him in the last races, probably more so for leaving his car on track at Baltimore, and wants Beaux axed. I have to think that’s the WORST that can happen, outside of making Derrick Walker the Supreme Commander with all calls and rulings coming from his desk (and I bet he’s ducking that chore big time.)

Thoughts please.
John Corbin, Columbia City, Ind.

RM: I’m a big Beaux fan and I think he’s done a lot more good than bad in his two short years. I’ve yet to hear him get on the radio and yell at drivers to back off and not race so hard. And he hasn’t started an oval race in the rain or stolen the Indy 500 from anyone, either. The biggest complaint seems to be his consistency on blocking so I wish he’d clarify that and stick with it. And get off Twitter.

Q: Are you disappointed in the inconsistency of Beaux Barfield’s decisions? Drivers are calling for him to be fired. He is in a tough position, as we do not want too much interference with the on-track product. What can be done? We appear to be approaching an NBA mentality were all contact must result in a penalty. This is racing and drivers will see things differently depending on the results, but crying avoidable contact for every instance is a slippery slope. Take the aggression away and we will stop watching. Baltimore was a blast, because of, or in spite of over-zealous drivers going for over aggressive moves.
Mike, Plainfield, Ind.

RM: As I said in the letter above yours, the inconsistency claim seems to be about the blocking rule. As for avoidable contact, it’s the worst phrase in racing and impossible to police (was Servia more guilty than Rahal at Baltimore?). But you are correct, that’s why people watch and while you don’t want anarchy in the streets, contact is part of the game.

Q: I’m a passionate fan of car racing (F1, IndyCar, Rolex Sports Car Series, Le Mans) and I prefer to watch the races on natural road car courses. I find watching IndyCar racing on urban courses is simply terrible due to the fact there are too many incidents that should be avoidable if common sense would be used. I find there is no flow, no proper racing rhythm. So I would like to know what you think about the future of racing on urban courses for the IndyCar Series.
Jean-Richard Belanger

RM: It takes no talent to spin somebody out in a street race but between fading brakes, hot tempers and spec cars, it’s impossible to avoid the bump and run. It’s the nature of the street race beast and while we all want to go back to Elkhart Lake and Watkins Glen, it’s got to make financial sense to go to those tracks. I think IndyCar will always have a large presence on street circuits because right now cities seem to be more interested in these races than traditional road courses and ovals.

Q: I’ve been thinking about the road race at Indy. I’m not a big fan either, but if it’s going to work, it’s got to be creative, and it can’t crowd out the 500. If Baltimore has to bump out of the Labor Day slot, why not use that slot as the new IMS road course date? I’m sure there’s more than one casual fan that associates the 500 with Memorial Day weekend, so why not “own” summer and close out with a weekend double-header on the IMS road course on Labor Day?

And speaking of the double-headers, is there any possibility of reconfiguring run-off areas so double-header tracks can be run in reverse direction for the second race? I can’t help but think that would be a fun and cool way to keep the second race fresh. It seems IMS would be a perfect candidate to try it out since they are working on the layout now. Lastly, just to keep tradition in the loop, and something that for sure would grab headlines, how about a three wide standing start? That could be amazing.
Jason “Bananaspeed” Mulveny

RM: Originally Mark Miles talked about ending the season on the IMS road course but he’s trying to figure out a way to jumpstart May so that’s why it will open the month. Not sure which way the cars will run but there’s several plans, or options, being discussed. Three-wide standing start for a road course race? Sure.

Q: I guess I’m the second person who likes the IMS road course (thanks for the support, Graham Rahal). I attended the first Grand-Am race there and thought the racing was quite good. We sat at Road Course Turn 1 (near IndyCar pit in) and had an excellent view of the first half of the track sitting high in the stands. Road course Turn 1 has a massive run off area, so drivers were willing to get aggressive on the brakes and make passes. There was plenty of contact for those who prefer a more physical style of racing. Road course Turns 3 through 6 are wide enough to allow side-by-side racing and multiple lines. I also really enjoyed being able to see more than two corners of the track, which isn’t common at most road courses. Although I doubt I’d be able to travel in for a second race in May, I think it would be a decent show.
Kyle in Raleigh, N.C.

RM: The biggest concern in my mind is there are so many seats that have limited views of the track but I guess that’s the nature of every street race so maybe it wouldn’t matter. I still think 40,000 would exceed expectations but I have no doubt the racing would be good.

Q: I recall years ago, Formula 1 wanted to do their race in June before or after the grand prix in Montreal (I don’t recall which), and essentially someone at Indy shot down the proposal saying that it was impossible to convert the track from an oval to a road course in a few weeks time to accommodate them and that’s why the USGP had a September date. So, now that IMS is contemplating doing the road course in the beginning of May, how are they able to convert it to the oval configuration in a couple of weeks to prepare for the 500????
??Steve Stuber??, Saint Louis, Mo.

RM: I’m told that it only takes a few days to convert so that won’t be a concern.??

Q: What is up with the management of IndyCar? 2014 is taking two steps back instead of one step forward. I read articles about how Randy Bernard talked with this guy or that track butis it me or do the Hulmans want to distance themselves as much as possible from Randy or are they as inept as I thought?

After watching the race from Turn 1 at Baltimore (full lock-up by Pagenaud to pass Marco is not racing?) the action is not the problem. Nor the drivers. It’s non-racers running a racing series. I know of a half-dozen small companies who’d love to get their name on an IndyCar but have been rebuffed by IndyCar management.

I put together a small effort in SCCA racing up here in the NW and have no shortage of “sponsors” because my team values them. These are people who have never been to a race and got hooked first time out. I know the difference between what I do and what IndyCar, but I hear nothing from them on supporting new teams or promotion, etc. If it wasn’t for Andretti Sports Marketing, several races would be terrible for the fans. What is the first thing they teach you in management school? “Be proactive, not reactive.” You listening, Mark?
A.J. Stettner, Long Beach Wash.

RM: The Hulman/George family really doesn’t have much say in how IndyCar or the Indy 500 runs nowadays. They’re outnumbered on the board and they can vote but not dictate policy. I think Mark Miles is trying to learn the business and landscape while also looking for the right person to head up marketing (hopefully before 2014). It’s distressing to hear about potential sponsors being turned away so please, please share those details with me in an e-mail to the mailbag (which I won’t share with anyone except maybe Miles). Between trying to kick-start May, racing outside North America and hoping to change the culture, Miles is plenty active but there are only so many hours in a day.

Q: If new aero kits are still happening for the 500, might we also see new aero kits for the Indy road course race? That might actually cause a few people to care. Also, I read that next year’s Honda engine will have a twin turbo. If this is the case, does that mean we can finally do away with the overhead air intake?
Kyle Lantz

RM: I’ve been told we’re going to like the aero kits and, yes, they will be for all races and the cars don’t have to have that dreaded IRL intake.

Q: Mark Miles’ comment about this not being 1960 is missing the obvious. Pre-1960 through 1995, people went to the Indy 500’s opening day, practice and Pole Day because there was something new to see. New cars, engines, tires, drivers, concepts etc. were the norm and people clamored to see them. And the best part of Pole Day, where the bulk of the field would practice during the heat of the day, has been emasculated now that each car has 19 attempts or whatever it is. Single-car qualifying on an oval for an entire day is no spectacle.
Brad, Bloomington, Ind.

RM: In fairness to Mark, he said “since 1996” in our interview so he understands that the status quo isn’t working (same decision made by Randy Bernard when he went to double-headers, double-file restarts, triple crown). There are some plans being discussed for May which might get people enthused again about time trials.

Q: Someone recently mentioned the fact that the DW12 having tougher chassis, wings, etc. resulted in more dive-bombing. I agree with that analysis and am thankful for the increased safety of the car, but I frankly would like to see the rear-wheel pods removed next year. Again, the problems is too much bumper-car driving. That’s NASCAR, and in IndyCar it’s wrong.

I don’t want to see anyone injured in wheel-to-wheel launches, but if there’s no incentive to curtail deliberately trading paint, bumper cars will continue. The perception is becoming that IndyCar drivers are nothing special or any more talented than the drivers in any other ol’ series out there. My opinion is that rubbing fenders is only adding to this misperception. Some contact is unavoidable of course, but it should not be the intent or result of a car designed to foster bumper-car behavior by removing a negative consequence of doing so.
Bradee Beard, Rapid City, S.D.

RM: Rubbing fenders or trading chrome horns on a street race is a helluva lot different and safer than doing it on a superspeedway or any oval. The fact that this Dallara is stout and allows aggression has made the street shows entertaining in my mind.

Q: Just read Marshall’s Pruett’s story about Walker reviewing procedures after what happened in Baltimore. Double-file restarts aren’t the problem! Drivers (Scott and Marco) jumping the start is the problem. The double file starts add much excitement to the races. You want to cut down on the carnage of Baltimore? Simple fix…no passing until after start/finish line! What say you?

Also what’s up with Scott and his crying and bad-mouthing of Race Control? He would have received a huge fine had he been in the tin-top series! All this bitching and crying only makes the series look bad. Hope Derrick starts hammering down on this.

Lastly, I’ve not seen anyone give James Davison props for his drive at Mid-Ohio and especially Sonoma. Was top 8 in final stages of race before being wrecked. He has definitely shown he belongs in the series! Hope he gets a shot next year!
Juan, Phoenix, Ariz.

RM: Haven’t seen Dixon jump any restarts and I understand his anger at Baltimore but I do like the fact drivers are allowed to speak their mind (his fine will be worked off as it should be) unlike the tin-toppers. I think he’s wrong about Barfield but we can disagree on that. Davison showed nicely in his two starts and did kinda of get lost in the shuffle.

Q: I enjoyed Baltimore despite all the carnage but after reading the 9-4 Mailbag I couldn’t help noticing that no one commented on Simona’s performance. If HRH, The Princess of Petulance, had ever come from 17th to fifth on a street course, the kudos would have gone on for months. Simona flat DROVE through the field with very little help from attrition. Yet when I watched Atlanta later, I heard that Danica was driving a “great” race (three laps down at that point). My question is a simple one: “WHEN DOES SIMONA GET THE CREDIT SHE DESERVES?”
Jim Malloy, Pittsburgh, Pa.

RM: Speaking of getting lost in the shuffle, yes, agreed, Simona drove her heart out at Baltimore but it was lost with all the other storylines. And don’t quote NASCAR commentators using the word “great.” So and so had a great run (and he was 17th).

Q: You need to help me out with this one. I’m a lifelong loyal Indy car fan, but something isn’t adding up with what I read and what actually happens, relative to drivers. If winning purses are embarrassing (and therefore not even published), there is little viewership, the season schedule is a mess, there is limited horsepower, and there is a good chance you’d have to bring your own sponsors/money to be able to race, why would a good racer want to race in this series? Is it simply being able to race in the 500? The legacy of Indy car? Being interviewed by you? C’mon: what am I missing?
Randy Mizelle, N.C.

RM: When you hear Harvick or Johnson say that while growing up they idolized Rick Mears and wanted to be an Indy 500 driver, I imagine it was because of the speed, the history and how cool the cars were compared to an old tin sled. Indy drivers made a lot more money than NASCAR drivers in the 1980s and ’90s but now it’s reversed. Ya really think Montoya has had more fun the last few years than kicking ass in CART and banging wheels with Schumacher in F1? But if you start out in open-wheel and get good, you want to advance and be an IndyCar regular. I guess now you’re just hoping you don’t have to bring too much money.

Q: Why does IndyCar think that non-points races will work better in Europe than points races worked for CART a decade ago when the economy was better?
Jim Overmeyer, Islip, N.Y.

RM: Not sure I follow you. Mark Miles wants to generate more money for his teams and hopefully keep mechanics from being laid off for six months. Whether its points or non-points is moot; the goal is to provide revenue.

 

Q: Is there a reason Houston can’t be before the Indy 500 either the week before or after Barber? Seems to make more sense for team travel and weather. August seems insane, especially if it is a double-header.
Matt Converset, Decatur, Ind.

RM: Shell sponsors a huge golf tournament in the spring, that’s why, but I think the race will be in June in 2014.

Q: Well the Italian GP was somewhat boring despite Mario Andretti do a guest analyst spot. His stories and insight did liven it up. The RACER article on his Formula 1 days was a nice follow-up. Fairly good but the big point most writers never find out is that while driving the Lotus 79 Mario spent the whole season using the weight jacker to balance the car which provided him a huge advantage on top of the ground effects. Not even Colin Chapman was fully aware of this at the time.

Also, Mario’s famous comment about most drivers, even at the F1 level, thinking that the brakes are only for slowing the car down still sticks in my mind today. His car control, in any type of racecar, is unlikely to been seen again in my life given the specialization needed today. Do you agree with my comment about current era drivers being unable to duplicate Mario’s feat in so many different types of cars?
Tom Patrick, Lake Arrowhead, CALIF.

RM: We’ll never see another Parnelli, A.J., Mario or Dan Gurney the four most decorated and diverse racers ever. But I think Tony Stewart might have been able to hang with them had he been in that era. Mario is always good to listen to and a national treasure. And check out part 2 of the Andretti World Champion story: tire stagger and weight-jackers do get mentioned as tools that only Mario appreciated.

Q: I went to Laguna Seca to see the Grand-Am race. I was so impressed to see Bourdais, Tags, Dario and Dixie handle a much different car on a very slick track. But the highlight of my weekend was to talk with Dan Gurney. I know he’s world famous, but I feel he is still underrated. Can you write about Dan for those who never saw him drive?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco
, Calif.

RM: The best story I can tell you about Daniel Sexton Gurney is what Jim Clark’s father told him at the funeral. “You were the only one my son feared.” No better compliment.

Q: Has IndyCar ever considered using the knockout qualifying/Fast Six format on an oval? Even modified to have six cars on track at a time could be spectacular.

Baltimore was very entertaining and IndyCar could be really entertaining at a tight proper road course with some runoff area. Would Lime Rock or Virginia International work for IndyCar?

Any talk of modifying the points system? Helio leading the series, while running around in 12th place most of the time, would lead me to think that it needs some tweaking. What do you think?
Joe Walsh, Sacramento, Calif.

RM: It’s really good on a road course but not sure it would have as much drama on an oval. I realize single-car oval qualifying is beyond boring and heat races are fine but need to pay more money. Lime Rock and VIR are too small, I’m told, and we probably shouldn’t touch the point system since the last several titles have been decided in the season finale.

Q: Steve Matchett was in the booth for one IndyCar race this year and really did an exceptional job. Any chance we’ll see him in any of the last races of the season, or perhaps next year?
Mark Holden, Cutler Bay, Fla.

RM: I think the plan is to use Matchett and Will Buxton at a couple races to help cross-promote IndyCar and Formula 1 on NBC Sports Network. Probably see both again in 2014.

Q: I’m a good friend of Ralph (Mike) Frey, aka Ralph the Mouth. I’ve known Mike for 30 years at K-C and was introduced to you in Milwaukee many years ago. Is it true that you and Mike took his fleet car, I believe a boxy Malibu, on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
Bob Thibault

RM: That would be true but, of course, I didn’t let him drive (he spun out on dry pavement at 30mph in 1968) and he screamed like a little girl as we went into Turn 3. A lot of people used to drive their passenger cars around IMS back in the day because there was no security especially at night.

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