Q: In your Ganassi odds chart you said there’s almost no chance of Justin Wilson getting the Ganassi ride. Why? What’s the real reason? He’s one of the fastest guys on the circuit. What do Ganassi, Penske and Andretti have against him? If the teams used “Moneyball” style evidence-based statistical performance analysis, Wilson would be the bargain of the paddock. There’s gotta be something about Wilson (other than performance) that the top teams don’t like. Does he have a hidden secret? What’s the real reason that one of the fastest guys in IndyCar can’t land a top ride?
RM: It’s the most puzzling question of the past decade to me because JWil has it all: speed, smarts, race craft, personality and is great with fans and media alike. We talked last week and I asked about Penske and he said they had one brief conversation a few years ago and that was it. And he wasn’t optimistic about any chance with Ganassi. I just hope he lands with Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan as Graham’s teammate for 2014.
Q: In your Mailbag of Nov. 20, a couple of fans said they hoped Justin Wilson would get the Ganassi ride, but you didn’t seem very hopeful of that. Why? Who do you think stands the best chance, and why?
Wilson is a great driver, has the respect of everyone, is supposed to be the nicest guy on the planet, and from what I’ve read, other drivers feel if he had a great ride, he’d be a terror. So, why do you not think that’s feasible?
John R Sinclair, Palm Bay, FL
RM: I guess because I think I know what appeals to Ganassi and Justin isn’t flamboyant enough (although you could have said that about Scott Dixon a few years ago). I still feel like TK is the obvious choice because of his experience, popularity, Indy record and he’s already on the dotted line.
Q: I understand Tags, Wilson and Briscoe have all been mentioned as (very worthy) replacements for Dario. However I can’t understand why Simona has gotten so little press. She’s proven, takes care of the equipment, has fan appeal and brings her own sponsor. Plus imagine how much she would learn with that caliber of team. Sounds like a slam dunk to me. If she doesn’t land there where would you think she’ll wind up?
RM: When you consider that Target has a huge female demographic it makes even more sense to consider Simona but, as I stated, I doubt that Chip even rates her as a candidate. Not sure where she’ll land but it’s getting late and not many good seats available.
Q: So…the big question now for Chip Ganassi is…who does he pick to replace the Legend…Dario Franchitti? Chip was quoted recently…“The obvious question is, do you go with a proven talent in that car or do you go with a young up-and-comer? That car is part of a team that for years has run at the front of the pack, and everything that goes along with running at the front in terms of scoring points for championships and helping teammates win championships. That’s not always the best position for a young, up-and-coming driver to come into.”
So I have the perfect proven talent to recommend to the Chipster. He is NOT a “young up-and-comer”…but he is a good friend of Dario’s, a former teammate, and a true competitor who can keep the #10 car winning, and go for his second Indy 500 victory. He is a proven thriller and he loves his chrome horn. Yes, you are correct: it is Paul Tracy and what a circus he would bring to Target Town. It would be great to see Dixie not only dealing with his favorite driver Will Power but how much fun he would have with his new best friend PT. Robin, you have to admit…it would be one hell of a year. Think of how many drivers will spend every race weekend wondering where “The Thrill from West Hill” is on the track and learn to hate the sound of chrome rubbing their car.??
A PT Fan in Austin
RM: I don’t think Ganassi ever considered PT during his prime so Eddie Cheever has a better shot at that ride than our hero. And, to refresh Chip’s memory, he put a hungry, young, up-and-comer in his car in 1999 named Montoya and it worked out pretty well.
Q: A lot of folks are bemoaning the fact that while the racing in IndyCar is interesting, the viewership is still declining. They are equating this with a decline in the series, but I disagree and the proof is in the interest in the series from Europe. One can assume that Paul di Resta might be interested in his cousin Dario’s ride for obvious reasons, but Sergio Perez has expressed interest, too. Schmidt has hired a former FR3.5 champ, Mikhail Aleshin (sack of rubles notwithstanding), and others have expressed interest as well.
I’d like to see Robert Wickens, who beat teammate Jean Eric Vergne to the FR3.5 title in equal equipment a couple years back, achieve a top open-wheel ride. The fact is; the racing is great, the product is there, and the TV package is slowly improving (at least with respect to some of the on-air product (NBC sports telecast). As long as IndyCar doesn’t mess it up, the series will crawl out of the dungeon.
Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, BC Canada
RM: Wickens would be the best choice of all those mentioned because he’s Canadian, he’s a winner and along with Hinch he’d drive the popularity of Toronto and wherever else IndyCar lands north of the border.
Q: I have a hard time with some of the suggestions for the Top 3 races of 2013 submitted by Pruett and Malsher. How anyone could leave off Brazil or the 500 is beyond me. And I respectfully disagree with your suggestion of Long Beach. While I was extremely happy to see Sato win, I read the article trying to remember why you would suggest Long Beach. I knew Sato won, but I forgot where. I forgot everything else about Long Beach.
My third race of the year is Baltimore. As ridiculous as it sounds the race should be judged by the last stint after all of the pit stops are finished. Power’s bone-headed collision with Dixon had major championship implications. Dixon’s tirade had entertainment value? and the final stint on track? How many drivers had a shot at the win during that final stint? I think it was something like six or seven. Certainly there was a lot of stupidity on track in Baltimore, but there was some epic racing at the end and it was an intense finish where you never knew what was coming next.
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: Brazil and Baltimore were both great coming down the stretch but you have to remember that if Marshall and David and I all picked the same three races there wouldn’t be a lot of different things to say. Long Beach didn’t compare with those two or Indy but I guess I was looking more at the emotion of Sato and Foyt finally winning. The big thing is that there were almost no duds, so it would be hard for the three of us to pick a ?wrong? race.Q: I’m sure you will be swamped with emails about Juan Montoya this week. I think his return from the dark side is good for the IndyCar series. It suddenly became more interesting, and filled a void left by Dario Franchitti’s retirement. And, there is still a seat left to fill with Ganassi. Question: Does Montoya have an extra fire burning inside to beat Ganassi considering the circumstances?
Question 2: Have you seen the new road course yet at IMS? If so what do you think? Was it worth the $5 mil? And, (just a pipe dream): since they had all that equipment, and fresh asphalt did anyone maybe in the middle of the night, remove the pesky grass on the aprons?
Dan, Louisville, KY
RM: I don’t think there’s any doubt that JPM wants to kick Ganassi’s butt and that’s a little extra incentive but just being competitive every time out seems to be the main impetus ” and returning to his roots. I’ve seen the IMS road course modifications and they took a boring, flat, mundane circuit and made it about as good as you could expect. Not optimistic the apron will return to the oval though.
Q: The success of TK at Indy this year notwithstanding, the KV team has been underwhelming in results and driver retention. Public comments to that effect have been increasing from those in the sport and allusions to “reasons” have been made but without specifics. Can you shed some insight on what’s holding the team back?
RM: I heard the engineering staffs didn’t mesh too well for a while but KV’s biggest obstacle could simply be the lack of funding to compete with the Big 3. Some say when team manager Mark Johnson left, so did the leadership but I really don’t know of anything sinister.
Q: I’ve watched IndyCar for about seven years and the appearance of the Russian driver Mikhail Aleshin in the series was a pleasant surprise for me. But I have one concern: isn’t it too early for SPM to sign Misha, when he has not yet had any test on an oval? Many race fans from former Soviet Republics think that oval tracks are easy, just turn left at full throttle etc. I think that oval track are hard, there are no place for mistake. So, if Aleshin got used to the ovals, could he become the rookie of the year?
RM: Road racers adapt to ovals faster than the other way and Aleshin is a talented driver, no question. Sure, he’ll have growing pains for a while but with Allen McDonald as his engineer, his learning curve will be much easier. And he’ll likely battle Luca Filippi for rookie honors.
Q: Do you know if Tomas Scheckter has retired for good? At age 33 it’s a shame if he has! I don’t understand why a guy that has so much talent can’t get a full-time ride! The guy stands on the gas as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen! He crashed and burned a lot early in his career but a lot of young drivers go through that, and as he got older he smoothed out. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t get along well with others or that he can’t bring the big sponsorship $ with him? But one thing is for sure its not because he can’t drive a racecar!
RM: I’m afraid he has, at least in terms of making IndyCar his profession. He’s been working on his dad Jody’s organic farm, Laverstoke Park Farm, in England (I’m told their steaks and burgers are great). He did a one-off in a Nissan 370Z at the Britcar 1000 at Silverstone this year, and won his class. I always enjoyed watching Tomas drive and he was a delight to deal with out of the car as well. I wish he could have hooked up with Morris Nunn because that could have been the steadying influence he needed.
Q: Despite falling TV ratings, losing two big races (including my hometown race in Baltimore), and the contracted span of time the 2014 schedule fills, is there a ray of hope for IndyCar with all the interest it seem to be generating among current and hopeful F1 drivers? Paul Di Resta and Sergio Perez have both expressed interest in the No. 10 car, and several other up-and-comers like Sam Bird have expressed interest in making the move as well. Not the halcyon days of the reigning F1 champ spurning F1 to come drive an Indy car, but maybe a some light amid all the darkness of late.
Also if more top international guys make the switch, do you foresee this helping further the idea of a second non-points paying international half to the season? I think of IndyCar as a domestic series and love U.S. drivers and manufacturer involvement as much as the next guy, but if going international is what it takes to save and maybe even grow the sport, I’ll take it.
Steve J. Sollon
RM: Well it sounds like Perez is taking di Resta’s ride with Force India and I imagine if there was an IndyCar race staged at Brands Hatch or Silverstone, Dario’s nephew might help the draw. But nobody, short of Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel, is going to make IndyCar an overnight hit internationally and the best formula for success might be racing in China or India with a local hero.
Q: Firstly, do you think it’s a boost for IndyCar that two top-line drivers (Perez and Di Resta) are looking at IndyCar as a serious alternative if they end up elbowed out in the game of moneybags musical chairs that F1 seems to have turned into? For me it’s good to hear that IndyCar is attracting the interest of these guys. Couple that with the return of JPM, and we’re finally starting to see guys with name recognition back in the sport.
Also, with at least one of Perez and Gutierrez likely to be available, why isn’t IndyCar trying to get more of a foothold in Mexico? The Telmex money is there, Adrian Fernandez manages these drivers so must have links with Carlos Slim, so why not get a race in Mexico City, push for some Mexican drivers and go for this untapped market? With two (maybe three if COTA gets on the calendar) races in Texas, you’ll get a crowd boost there too. Are there even any rumors flying around about trying to get an increased Mexican presence?
Also, the General Secretary of FOTA tweeted this week that he’d heard from two independent sources that he’d heard a particular person was trying to put together another U.S. F1 team (I know, don’t laugh). Have you heard anything similar? It’s not Andretti, is it?
Finally, IndyCar is building up a bit of a following here in the UK, do you know if it’ll still be on our screens next year?
Rikki, United Kingdom
RM: Oh yeah, it’s probably good but it’s more of an alternative than a major desire whereas world champion Mansell dumped F1 for CART of his own volition. That gave CART instant credibility around the world. As I said last week, you get Perez in an Indy car in Mexico City and there would likely be 200,000 but not sure anyone else has that kind of star power right now. Not sure on all the details on IndyCar in Great Britain but I recall Nigel Roebuck telling me the ghastly news it was pay-for-view on ESPN (now owned by BT Sport).Q: Humpy Wheeler released a video this week talking about how he would help IndyCar increase its fan base. Among other things he suggested that the cars needed to be slowed down. A field of 33 cars had to be qualified for oval races. He also suggested that the body of the car needed to be enlarged so the people could see who is sponsoring the cars. Do you think Humpy is eating too many fried baloney sandwiches down in Martinsville, or is he onto something?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA
RM: He had all those same ideas back when he was promoting Indy Racing League events for Bruton Smith and I don’t think any of his suggestions would make any difference. But I would love to see him promote some IndyCar races because THAT would help attendance and notoriety.
Q: I am 60 years old and have been an Indy car fan since I was in my teens. In my opinion Indy car racing was never better than from about 1970 until The Split. I think some of the problem is not running on high quality tracks that don’t have railroad tracks crossing the racing surface. I know that they dropped Baltimore but I am just saying: why can’t they get back to good tracks like Road America, Laguna Seca and others? At present I am embarrassed to watch some of the races.
The old saying is, you have to spend money to make money so find some money to advertise the hell out of the sport for about two seasons. Also you should have at least two chassis suppliers, two engine suppliers and two tire suppliers. Those companies will help bring more advertising and more flexibility to the sport. What is your opinion?
Lee Lewis, Galion, Ohio
RM: Well, first of all, Road America and Laguna Seca are under heavy consideration for 2015. Of course we’d love more cars and tires but nobody is interested in that kind of competition ” they all want exclusivity. Except Firestone: they welcome competition.
Q: I live in western New York, about a 10-hour drive to Indy. If Indy ran the road course race on Saturday and the 500 on Sunday, I would be there for sure. In fact, it would be an annual trip for me. I’m not going to make the 10-hour trip and spend a week there; just won’t work for my schedule. I’m sure many others are in my same situation. It might not make sense for the teams, track or series ” but if they want to fill the stands they should consider what is involved for fans to travel there.
Mark, Niagara Falls, NY
RM: Obviously, that would be ideal for trying to draw a crowd because it appears the only people going to the road race will be from central Indiana. But the whole point of opening May with another race is to try and re-create some interest in the whole month. Race weekend is still a big draw, it’s the other two weekends that need help.
Q: Regarding a previous letter about Laguna in January. It never snows here and it’s hit and miss with the rain. That is the start of our rainy season. But that is also the month for NFL playoffs. I would say go against the Pro Bowl the week before the Super Bowl, but in reality, everyone around here is preparing for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am one week after the Super Bowl. I would say March or April would be far enough away. Again, chance of rain in those months is high. Summers are mild weather, never hot. Indian Summer fall is gorgeous. The season used to end here and then everyone would play golf at Pebble. Bottom line is Laguna can be a viable winter/early spring venue because of no snow, unlike other parts of the country.
Paul, Carmel, CA
RM: Thanks for that info and I would imagine a fall race might be the plan to run with Fontana.
Q: The picture of Dario and Parnelli holding the Baby Borgs ” two class individuals who happen to be some of the best of all time. Mark Miles sure better get the PR machine up and running because you can’t replace Dario, you have to find another great racer and personality and market the hell out of them to take his spot. Also, when you see Dave Calabro, please tell him not to refer to IndyCar racing as ?The League.? Some are still out of touch.
Phil Berg, Homecroft
RM: Steve Shunck was the PR machine for Borg-Warner and he really surprised Rufus with that Baby Borg. Dario will be tough to replace but somebody will come along, maybe Hinch, to help fill that void. Roger Penske still calls it the Indy Racing League so he didn’t get the memo either.
Q: With your open letter to ABC about your criticism to their IndyCar coverage, why not consider having Australian or British commentators on ABC. Look at Toby Moody: he has a familiar voice on MotoGP’s coverage on Eurosport for many years with Julian Ryder. There’s also Charlie Cox: he commentates the MotoGP on the BBC, he has a perfect combination with former GP racer Steve Parrish. Why not ABC look at these ones that their voice can be familiar to replace Marty Reid?
RM: Well, I think it’s always good to have your anchors familiar with your sport so those guys might be a stretch and, besides, I think ABC will hire from within for IndyCar. Hoping it’s either Brian Till or Vince Welch.Q: You mentioned Gerry Forsythe in the previous mailbag, and I wanted to ask, are the rumors true he’s bitter at the Hulman-George family and that’s why he’s no longer involved in racing? I had heard rumors too that Jacques Villeneuve, Carl Haas, Gordon Johncock, and a few others weren’t interested in running/being involved with Indy anymore due to that. I feel “Team Players” is a missed presence in the series. Having a team with such ties to Canada I think really would help the series quite a bit, as I think the Land of the Maple Leaf is a really untapped market.
Also, I wanted to give a shoutout to Dario. By far my favorite driver to have ever raced while I’ve been a fan and one simple act sealed it for me. I was at practice during the Month of May in 2012. I’m walking by, and I see Dario just coming out of the car. I yelled out “Dario: you rock!” just hoping to get a wave. He walked right over to me, and signed my program without even asking. Class act and I hope he’s involved with the sport for quite some time. He at least needs to be in the booth. If you could, forward him a thank you from me for that, and everything he’s done for the sport.
RM: Gerry never got over Champ Car merging with the IRL and I called him last summer and asked if he was ever coming back and he didn’t sound very interested. Carl Haas is in poor health, Johncock came back last May and I have no idea about Villeneuve.
Q: Just watched the Formula E video. Looks like a 1990s F1 car and sounds like a steroid golf cart. (20 cars on the grid and every squirrel in a 50-mile radius will be freaking out.) Does anybody seriously think this is going to appeal to motorheads of any sort? Yeah, I get techno-geeks digging the squeal, but be it F1/ IndyCar turbo scream, NASCAR roar or NHRA thunder, if it ain’t visceral it ain’t racin’!
RM: I don’t know if it will catch on with the public but it does appear that a lot of major tech companies are enamored with the idea, so it could be gangbusters.
Q: As a huge fan of the Indy 500, IndyCar and BMW, it would be a dream come true for me to see BMWs run at Indianapolis. Bobby Rahal has a great relationship with BMW. Has there ever been any talk of BMW supplying engines to IndyCar?
John Seaburn Delk II
RM: There was a rumor back when BMW powered Nelson Piquet in F1 for Brabham but that was 30 years ago. Never heard them mentioned since.
Q: One of your correspondents in last week’s Mailbag was lamenting all of the bitching and moaning by open-wheel fans, so I’ll contribute something positive. Outside of Indy cars, I think the most exciting (and interesting) cars to watch are the ISMA supers. Almost all different designs, big tires, big horsepower and wicked fast even on small ovals. Anyway, my son and I went to get our “fix” at Star Speedway in Epping, NH, back in September. It was a struggle with the weather but Jon McKennedy won the race at full distance.
However, we were really impressed by Alison Cumens. She started 20th and finished eighth but the way she wheeled the car through the turns was really amazing: easily the smoothest driver with the best line out there and she ran down and passed a lot of veteran drivers on a rain-slicked track. (Yes, they kept racing in the drizzle to get in the full 200 laps.) I know that you like to keep an eye out for young, talented drivers so here’s another one for the list: Alison looked like the real deal out there in a car that sure isn’t for the faint of heart. She started out in Midgets ” winning at Oswego ” while a student at Penn State. She finshed the year with a 3rd in the ISMA Feature event at Thompson, also taking ISMA Rookie of the Year. The future is out there, we just need to look for it and support it!
Royal Richardson, Chester, NH
RM: Appreciate the scouting report and keep us posted on Miss Cumens. Does she have aspirations of Indy cars or stock cars?
Q: As a younger fan (23) of the sport, and a fan who considers himself knowledgeable of the sport and its history, I have to say IndyCar is well on its way back. Next year I will be attending my eighth Indy 500, The Indy GP, Milwaukee Mile and hopefully Iowa. On top of that I can say with the help of DVR, for the first time in my life, I’ve seen every green-flag lap from the 2013 season. The product has impressed me more and more with each passing season and these DW12s ” although I don’t totally view them as an open-wheel vehicle ” have done great things for the on-track product.
?Every year while attending Indy with my father and two family friends I hear the same quotes, complaints and stories of Indy’s past. IndyCar is back now though and making a legacy post-Split. All I ask my older fans to do is roll with the punches and be thankful we still have IndyCar. I understand how bad the Split was but also understand it could have been worse. I understand the 500 and series as a whole needs better marketing efforts (I would gladly help) and that the on-track product cannot sell the series itself. And I also understand the series needs more sponsors to stand by it, not a clothing manufacturer who in the eyes of many (myself included) did nothing for the sport. But I thank the likes of Verizon, Go Daddy, Fuzzy’s Vodka, Firestone or Lids who made it almost impossible to not find a driver represented in its merchandise booth. Those sponsors believe in the product on the track, the series and its drivers.
It’s time for the older generation to not forget the past and golden days but understand the climate has changed in open-wheel racing. The series is smart to try and adapt to the younger generation, otherwise it would have no future. By adapting to the younger folks some moves will upset you but we are trying to ensure my generation can and wants to take their kids to the track like yours were able to.??
Jake S. Colgate WI
RM: We’ve had some young, passionate fans write in the past couple weeks and it’s good to know you kids are out there. I represent the Old Guard and we do bitch and moan a lot about the past but I guess we’ve been subjected to so much stupidity in the past 20 years, we can’t help ourselves.
Q: I hear Dave Darland has picked up a tentative ARCA ride, and intends to run Daytona. He wants to try some of his patented hometown Saturday night Kokomo slide jobs in a tin-top.
Steve Chassey, Glendale, AZ
RM: That’s what I read in Speed Sport News and that would be cool to see the old man finally get to run a big superspeedway since he never got a shot at Indianapolis. Maybe he’ll ask you to spot, Chas.