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: The best reason for Chip to get Simona to fill the empty ride in the Target car is HISTORY, as in “making history.” First, to be the team owner and Target as the sponsor of a woman driver to win the pole for the Indy 500 would be a huge accomplishment. Secondly, to have Simona win the 500 would be considered one of the greatest feats in the history of auto racing. The publicity from either of these two accomplishments would dwarf any publicity Chip and Target could ever imagine from any of the other drivers mentioned to fill Dario’s seat. This would definitely be the jump starter that IndyCar is looking for and would finally be the lead story on ESPN as well as other programs. I really like TK but his initial win hardly rocked the nation’s interest (outside of IndyCar) and I doubt a second would have any more effect. The new leadership at IndyCar should be suggesting this scenario to Chip every chance they get. Come on Chip, roll the dice and really make a difference in the series. Put Simona in quality equipment and see where it may go. What do you think Robin?
Brad, LaPorte, Ind.
RM: Not sure about winning Indy since ovals aren’t her strength but Simona in one of those red cars could win races. As I mentioned last week, Target has a large female demographic so the potential for marketing is certainly there. Just don’t think it’s appealing enough for Ganassi.
Q: I saw pictures of Simona de Silvestro at COTA this year. Has she got an F1 ride yet? She wasn’t there for the good of her health. If not, light a fire under Chip Ganassi and get him to place her in the #10 car so we can see what she can really do. IndyCar’s loss would be another feather in Bernie’s cap. Has she got a ride with anyone yet?
Randy Shanklin, London, Ontario, Canada
RM: She was there taking part in an energy program and I believe she was invited by Bernie but no ride yet maybe a test with Sauber. It was a couple years ago that Bernie asked Derrick Walker if there was any talented women in the USA he should scout and DW told him about Simona but nothing ever happened.
Q: I read this week’s news that Iowa Speedway had been sold to ISC (NASCAR) with a bit of nervousness. It makes me wonder what their intentions are for the track, and with their history, I fear that they might do what they have done with several other ovals buy them, sell them, and in some cases close them. They bought Nazareth, and now it sits rotting to a slow death in eastern Pennsylvania. They bought Pikes Peak, and then sold it to some independent owners, with the stipulation in the buy/sell agreement that it couldn’t conduct a racing event with any more than something like 3,000 spectators. And contrary to reports, the grandstands are still complete and intact there. And now here comes Iowa Speedway into the ISC / NASCAR fold, and while I’ve not been a fan of Indy cars on any oval shorter than a one mile track, Iowa has been a success for IndyCar. Have you heard any rumble of what ISC’s intentions are for Iowa Speedway? If IndyCar loses any more ovals, I think it will be truly time to turn out the lights.
Steve, Northville, MI
RM: Haven’t heard but there is supposedly a press conference on Dec. 12 to reveal future plans. When IndyCar is held on Saturday night at Iowa, it’s drawn a nice crowd of about 30,000 and I would imagine ISC considers that a winner these days. I know I want it to stay on IndyCar’s schedule because it’s always a good race and the fans are fantastic.
Q: You have probably read or heard that NASCAR has purchased the Iowa Speedway. This is a very good thing for the Speedway, as they were admittedly having some financial problems. Locals immediately speculated that would mean a Sprint Cup race for Iowa. NASCAR announced there would be no Sprint Cup race in the “foreseeable future.” A local columnist wrote of course they had to say that to avoid panic among some of the track owners whose dates are thought to be at risk, but he boldly predicts a 50 percent chance for 2015 and a sure thing for 2016. He also predicts that, with the stability of the new owner, the state legislature will cough up some major funding to allow the seating expansion that would be required for a Cup race (an $8 million appropriation was introduced last year but failed to pass). This can’t be a good thing for the IndyCar race.
Chad R. Larson. Phoenix
RM: It might not be all doom and gloom for IndyCar because ISC likes to make money and it certainly seems like IndyCar can do that when run at the proper time.
Q: Why in the world would NASCAR buy Iowa Speedway? This could be a good thing for IndyCar and the Cup series but I’m sure it won’t be.
Jeff B., Joliet, Ill.
RM: Maybe NASCAR has realized how boring most of its 1.5-mile races are so it decided to buy a real, racy oval with the intention of staging a Cup race by 2015. Will it be at IndyCar’s expense? Stay tuned.
Q: As we well know, Sage Karam won the Indy Lights championship so we know that he has talent. But he is still young. What would it take to develop a young driver into racing in IndyCar? Being trained in a simulator? Or send him to Europe to develop his skills? Of course I mean F3 or GP3.?
Back to Ganassi, why is JR Hildebrand being overlooked? I’d love to see Hildebrand in the #10.???
RM: I look at Conor Daly as a good example of how to get the best experience. He’s been in Europe the past three years and done damn well in GP 3 and that competition is fierce. He also comes back and runs selected Lights races when available. Plus he’s done some testing in GP2 and a race so he’s doing about all any young open-wheel driver can. He’s got a lot more miles than Sage and he’s raced against a tougher lineup but Karam has done everything the ladder system offers over here and done it well. Another year of running against 8-9 guys in Lights won’t help him that much but if he doesn’t get an IndyCar ride where does he go?
I too would love to see J.R. get a shot with a Big Three team and have teammates but it won’t be with Ganassi in the #10 car.
Q: This missive may be a moot point by the time you read it…I agree with many fans that putting PT into the open Ganassi seat for a season would certainly stir the loins of many cranky motorsports pundits, but I also agree with you that Paul has about the same chance as Eddie Cheever of getting that ride (“So you’re saying there’s a chance….”). I also know you believe TK has the seat as good as landed, but I say “Whoa, mule!” Isn’t Paul di Resta the perfect candidate? Fast, young, not American, lots of F1 swagger, and obviously he has the family connection through Dario. His credentials are the air vent that blows Chip’s skirt up…
Doug Bowles, St. Albert, AB
RM: I’m not sure T.K. will be driving Dario’s car because, like I wrote a couple weeks ago, he’s got Brazilian sponsors so there might be a conflict if he drove the Target car. It makes the most sense for many reasons and Marshall Pruett is writing a Silly Season piece here on RACER.com that will shed more light on why this may happen. But, as we’ve both said, bringing di Resta over would be appealing to Chip.
Q: I haven’t missed an Indianapolis 500 since 1970 and wanted your opinion on Montoya’s drive when he won the race. I know he had an elite car, but the way JPM drove and where he put it in the corners and on passes was one of the best drives I can remember. Is my memory hazy?
Fred Cunningham, Simpsonville, SC
RM: Let me give you the best perspective I can think of to answer your question. Rick Mears was spotting for Jason Leffler at Indy in 2000 and after the race he said the only time he thought JPM hustled the car all day was when Buddy Lazier got within striking distance. Then Montoya vanished in traffic. It was a clinic and even got Mr. Foyt’s admiration: “that Montereier is a helluva driver,” said the Indy legend afterwards.
Q: I can scarcely believe all the complaints I read day in and day out on forums and in the Mailbag here and on video comments and etc. I know the cars look different now. I know they’re down on power. I know the 2014 season is going to be short and we’re looking at a weird GP at Indy. I know we’ve only got two engine manufacturers and no kits. But…To me, we are witness to the rebirth of American open-wheel racing! We’ve got a righteously deep talent field in Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, TK, Scott Dixon… I mean, every team has at LEAST one championship contender! So the cars have side pods big deal! They may be down on power, but they’re running FAST (and are getting faster), and the big crashes we’ve seen haven’t been nearly as horrifying as they were even a couple years ago! The ugly car is safer, everyone! (And frankly, I don’t think it’s ugly.) I’m a Johnny-come-lately to Indy cars. I used to find it mind-crushingly dull back in the ’90s and up to the late ’00s. I couldn’t watch it at all, and I was not a fan in the least. But last year and this year I watched every single race (more than once, thanks IndyCar’s YouTube channel), and my 3-year-old and 8-year-old jump up and down with me on every pass, every dive-bomb, every upset win… everything! IndyCar went from barely on my radar to my absolute favorite sport of all time in 2012, and this year only excited me more. Next year is short, but 2015 looks to be really promising. Frankly, I can hardly wait. And I am thankful to have such a beautiful, brilliant, badass sport full of incredible athletes to become absorbed in.
So my question is this: why don’t we, as Indy fans, stop complaining about what we don’t like and crow to everyone about what we do like? Throw viewing parties for Indy, talk about your favorite drivers around the water cooler, take the family to a race, and tell everyone you see how awesome it is. I’m ready for IndyCar to come back around as the biggest, baddest motorsport with the most hardcore, astronaut-training, 4-G-pulling daredevils in the world. It looks to me to be well on its way.
Zach, Rochester, WA
RM: I’ve been saying for the past two years that if you didn’t like the races IndyCar was staging then I give up. Multiple winners, surprise winners, little teams, big teams, 1-car teams and passing out the ass what more could a race fan want? I get the innovation and more horsepower arguments but why not enjoy the best racing I’ve seen in a long time (other than USAC midgets and sprints)? IndyCar puts NASCAR and F1 on the trailer when it comes to actual racing and drama but nobody is watching and I find that both depressing and puzzling.
Q: Great to see Al Jr. back in a racing car. I just hope he’s put his demons behind him and can be part of the IndyCar community once again. He was a heck of an IndyCar driver in his prime and it was always exciting to see him in the races. My first IndyCar race was at the Meadowlands in 1990. Al was slightly burned in a pit fire the previous race and was talking to fans and signing autographs. Are you close with Al? Just curious if he just could not handle being a superstar driver and the demands that put on his life. I guess I’m just glad the story can have a happy ending.
RM: I think we’re all pulling for him to beat his demons and Marshall has a good story here on Racer.com about his comeback with his son in sports cars. Al wasn’t happy with me when I wrote about his addictions but we shared a speaking engagement and talked things out a few years ago. I like Junior, always have, and he was a helluva talent who got de-railed and is fighting back.
Q: Ganassi and Penske have much more money that teams like Sarah Fisher Racing and Dale Coyne’s operation. As prep begins for next season, I know Ganassi and Penske will have advantages over the smaller teams. But exactly what will the big bucks in Ganassi’s and Penske’s war chest allow them to do in the off season that others can’t afford?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA
RM: They can go to wind tunnels and 7-post shaker rigs and experiment with their damper programs but the on-track testing is limited and that’s a big reason the playing field was still so level in Year 2 of the DW12. That and the fact you can’t change much on the car.
Q: I had to comment on Humpy Wheeler’s video. I know it’s kicking a dead horse but: I agreed with one point: Bring in more sprint car guys and Saturday Night Heroes.
The agreement ran out quick, however. Thanks Humpy. If IndyCar followed your suggestions we would be watching NASCAR. I have never heard the argument that the cars are too fast and too small to see from the grandstands. What was so overwhelmingly glaring was his admission that fans are so stupid they can’t tell who is leading a race because they can’t see the cars. Honestly I had to turn it off because he was incoherent. I don’t want to rip on the guy but at the same time, he admits the racing is really good, referencing the last Indy 500 with 68 lead changes. It was comical.
Dan Loken, Louisville, KY
RM: Humpy was a helluva promoter and I agree with his point about the fans struggling to identify the car number but that’s all. He’s been preaching those changes since the IRL was formed.
Q: I’ve been an observer of your Mailbag for several years now and am normally fine with others asking the questions, but I feel compelled to write in about this issue, which is the quick rise of Formula E and whether IndyCar can learn/capitalize on it at all? It seems to me that IndyCar has missed a great opportunity here.
A few years back when IndyCar said they would be getting a new chassis and engines the forums were abuzz with all the possibilities. I suggested on one blog that IndyCar needs to start embracing hybrid technology with their new cars. This would have solved several key problems for the series. 1) Bring new technology to the series that is capable of changing strategy race to race thus bringing more interest and excitement (like the good ‘ol days). 2) Attract younger fans with new and more relevant technologies. 3) Attract new manufacturers and sponsors related to hybrid technology, as well as electronics in general. Think sponsorships from tech giants like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Sony, etc. 4) Provide an identity for the series. IndyCar could surpass F1 as the leader in hybrid racing technology by making it a cornerstone of the series and simultaneously differentiate itself from NASCAR and its fan base and sponsors by emerging as the new, modern, and cooler racing series.
Now, all that means nothing without great racing, but assuming IndyCar can keep the great racing going the problem would take care of itself. I realize that at the time IndyCar was (and still somewhat is) on life support, so an idea that radical probably wouldn’t fly at the time. But I say, if IndyCar has any sense of self-preservation left, it should take Formula E seriously and watch it closely. Even if it falls flat on its face, IndyCar could still learn about new sponsors interested in promoting their technology through racing. But if Formula E does reasonably well, the series may be onto something. IndyCar can’t afford to lose the old school fans to NASCAR and the emerging tech-savvy younger generation fans to Formula E.
To illustrate my point that incorporating hybrid technology could spark interest and new fans, I watched the USGP race this year and saw an interview with actor Matt Le Blanc. When a reporter noted he went last year as well and asked why he liked coming to the F1 race he said it was because F1 represented the pinnacle of racing engineering and technology. So, my thought is if technology can attract a Hollywood actor to a “European” race in Texas, why can’t that attract young fans to IndyCar? I am a young diehard IndyCar fan but almost none of my friends are and I’m from Indianapolis. So, if IndyCar can’t grow young fans in Indy of all places then they certainly won’t be able to do it anywhere else.
IndyCar needs to do something radical and soon, or else not even the 500 can save the series. Mark Miles is making changes, but these changes only vie for existing fans, instead of creating new ones. Last time I checked this is still America and Americans only like the biggest and the best. The average American doesn’t care about a racing series playing second fiddle to NASCAR and F1. I realize that if teams resist new aero packages they will absolutely hate hybrid technology. But if the money is there for sponsorships from major car manufacturers looking to showcase their hybrid technology, they will change their tune. Start small by incorporating some form of KERS one year, electric motors the next, etc. Hybrid technology isn’t going away and as much as we racers hate it we can no longer afford to ignore it. The last thing I’d want to see is a bunch of cars that sound like overgrown mosquitoes zipping around. At least by making it hybrid technology we could keep those old internal combustion beasts and their glorious exhaust notes.
IndyCar has a real chance here to remake its image as the racing series of the 21st century by incorporating hybrid technology. Every major car manufacturer has hybrid technology. I’d hate to see Audi, Ford, Chevy, Mercedes, BMW, Nissan, Honda, Toyota, etc. take their sponsorship dollars to Formula E instead of IndyCar to showcase their technology. IndyCar has the advantages of being an established racing series rich in tradition and history as well having one of the largest races in the world that reaches millions of potential customers in the world’s #1 car market. This idea seems so obvious to me I’m amazed no execs at IndyCar have pursued it. IndyCar can’t afford to let an opportunity like this that would completely transform the series for the better pass it by. It may not get another. I’m sure there are a million reasons why it can’t work but I feel I’ve listed some pretty damn compelling reasons why it could.
Obviously great racing isn’t bringing back the fans like it should, so something else needs to be done and done soon before IndyCar becomes completely irrelevant not just in pop culture, but in racing as well. A shortened season and a road race that cannibalizes the 500 won’t do it. But incorporating hybrid technology into IndyCar could.
Eric Mauser, DGRC Project Scientist, Indiana University
RM: My friend, the very talented TV and movie producer Adam Friedman, has a good idea about how to incorporate all this hybrid technology into the month of May. I won’t share his idea yet but there is a place for it and someday it could be part of the Indy 500. You make some very good points and I don’t pretend to know much about any kind of technology but it’s obviously got some momentum with Formula E and IndyCar needs to embrace and encourage new manufacturers and ideas because, as you stated, good racing isn’t making any difference.