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: Help me here. Marshall Pruett says that it looks like Ryan Briscoe will get the No. 10 ride for Chip Ganassi. Why? There isn’t one thing about that hire that excites me. Ryan has had lots of chances having been with Ganassi before and also Penske. Chip said he wanted to make a splash. This at best would be a pebble falling in a puddle. Why not go for Paul Di Resta or someone from outside the series? Or how about Conor Daly? (I know he’s an American) If he wants to get another driver from the series, what about Justin Wilson? Who deserves it more, Wilson or Briscoe?
In my opinion it’s not even close, it’s Justin by a landslide. (Does Chip hold it against Justin that he pulled his car in a few years ago at Daytona when he heard a sound under the car and it cost the team the victory?) Or is this just a one-year deal until he can try and get Pagenaud next year when he is available? If it happens it’s very disappointing. Also why in the world can’t Justin Wilson get on one of the good teams? I think he’s one of the very best.
RM: I think most everyone (except Chip) agrees that JWill is long overdue for a seat with one of those red cars but it’s not going to happen. The reason I thought T.K. would get No. 10 and Briscoe would then take over No. 8 for Ganassi is that sponsor NTT Data likes Ryan and Kanaan would be media magic for Target. But T.K. told us that his Brazilian sponsors had to be with him and Target doesn’t share space with anyone outside its company umbrella (nor should it), so it was not a slam dunk he was headed for the No. 10. Marshall revealed Briscoe had been released from his Panther contract, which opened the door for Ganassi. So maybe it’s a one-year deal until Hinchcliffe or Pagenaud become available. Unless Di Resta gets the ride, but looks like he is DTM-bound.
Q: What does Mr. Ganassi see in Briscoe that makes him worthy of one of the five best seats in the series? I don’t want to sound mean, but Briscoe has never struck me as a top-5 talent in IndyCar.? I compared his stats with his teammates during his time at Penske. His wins dropped off after his first two years. He won as many races as Helio, but one of Helio’s wins during that time was the Indy 500. Power ran a partial season of six races in 2009.?
His championship finishes aren’t any different. During his time at Penske, there were four or five Penske and Ganassi’s A-team cars competing for the championship. Only one time did Briscoe finish ahead of another of them in the championship (2009). He also finished behind one other car three times. It seems that Briscoe consistently left something on the table during his time at Penske. I believe there are several current IndyCar drivers who would perform better than this in a Penske car (Wilson, Pagenaud, Bourdais). What am I missing?
Kyle in Raleigh
RM: First off all, it should be noted Marshall is making an educated guess based on his daily phone conversations with teams, agents and drivers. And I’m still guessing it’s going to be Kanaan. As for Briscoe, he came within one mistake (crashed while leaving the pits in Japan) of being a champion for Penske and I think he’s certainly among the top 10 drivers today. True, he did get his butt kicked by Power but so did a lot of other people in terms of poles and victories. Ryan is a much better driver than his first stint with Ganassi and there’s no denying those three you mentioned are all deserving of No. 10. But wondering and guessing who will replace Dario has been good for a long off-season and I’m sure Chip enjoys all the speculation.
Q: OK, here’s my theory: Journeyman Alex Tagliani in the Target No. 10 for 2014; until… after his one year contract with AA expires, Hinchcliffe moves over to the No. 10 and fulfills Target’s desire for a very marketable, young winner in 2015. Discuss…
Brad C., Lindenhurst, IL
RM: That’s certainly a possibility because with Target in Canada and Hinch’s appeal it would be a natural fit. And we know Ganassi was interested in him for the B team before Franchitti’s injury. Tag is set to be a sports car driver for Chip and I could see him running at Indy but not full time.
Q: Here’s a hare-brained idea for the Target car, or at least the other Ganassi ride if TK gets it: Alexander Rossi. Yeah, he breaks Chip’s mold in that he’s an American driver, but he’s won in GP2 and has shown good speed. Thoughts? Why not Kimball? Kid looks like he has the chops and would probably do better still on the “A” team.
Dave, Andover, KS
RM: I think Conor Daly or Rossi would both be a good choice for the future, start out in the B team and then move up, but Chip really doesn’t rate Americans. Charlie got a ride because he’s got a great, loyal sponsor in Novo Log Flex/Pen and I’m sure Ganassi looks at his success in 2013 as a bonus but I doubt if he would consider him for the A team. Q: I can’t understand why Simona De Silvestro is not even considered an option by Ganassi for their open spot. Compared to the other free agents out there she’s actually one of the best choices. Paul Di Resta? An average F1 driver who crashed a lot this year, doesn’t know the tracks or cars and is used to lots of driver aids. Put her and Di Resta in equal cars on ANY current IndyCar track tomorrow and she kicks his butt. Tagliani? He was the worst driver in the series last year, he’s done. Servia? OK today he’s probably a better all-around driver but give her a full year with a good team like Ganassi and that probably changes.
Her potential upside is a lot bigger than older drivers who have already peaked. She’s clearly not a difficult person to deal with and proved at Houston she’s ready to start winning now (not two or three years down the line like newbies would be). There must be something else going on behind the scenes, it just doesn’t make any sense that top teams don’t take her seriously, especially given who their options are now. Over the years I’ve seen elite teams hire drivers with less talent, experience and maturity.
RM: I can’t say she hasn’t been considered by Chip but, knowing him, I’d be shocked if he did. You’ll get no argument from me that she’s talented and ready to step up but she’s neither a “national number” or a winner two big strikes in Ganassi’s pecking order. As I’ve written the past few weeks, considering Target’s big female demographic it could be a home run with the home office. At this stage, I just hope she finds a decent ride for 2014.
Q: Lot’s of talk about Simona getting Dario’s ride in the No. 10 Target machine. Let’s get real here. Ain’t gonna happen. I think the best scenario would be TK getting the No. 10 and Simona taking the car scheduled for TK. I think that would be Chip’s best move as he gets a proven fan favorite in the primary car and another hard charger and crowd pleaser in the secondary car. He could keep the Target sponsor on the No. 10 and go out and get Swiss Miss to sponsor Simona’s ride. Whad’ya think?
Bill Phypers, Brewster, NY
RM: I think that would be her only chance of landing with Ganassi but it’s a long shot at best.
Q: Where do your readers get the idea that Simona is better than Danica? Now I cheer for Simona, she is a nice person easy to talk to, and quite talented. BUT her record is nothing next to Danica’s.
Simona has finished 19th, 20th, 24th and 13th in the years 2010 thru 2013 in the IndyCar Series, and she has finished 14th, 31st, 32nd, and 17th in the only race that means squat…the “500.” Now Danica: She finished: 12th, 9th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 10th, and 10th from 2005 thru 2011 in the IndyCar Series, and she finished 4th, 8th, 8th, 22nd, 3rd, 6th, 10th in the “500”, and that is a better finishing average than the current hero TK. And that is forgetting that she won in the series, and led the “500”.
Hate Danica because she is pretty, left for NASCAR (where drivers actually get paid) or because you think she is a b…ch, but at least be honest….she is the BEST FEMALE driver ever to climb into a racecar. Cheer for Simona, I do, but please understand she has yet to show the results that would make her a challenger to Danica. If I were advising Simona I’d go to series that races only on road and street courses because she really has bad luck on ovals and she is not comfortable.
RM: A couple things. Danica always ran well at Indy and had her best years when it was the oval-oriented IRL. I think she’s the best female oval-track racer that’s ever driven an Indy car but, clearly, Simona is superior at road racing. Her teams haven’t compared to the ones Danica drove for either. The bottom line is that de Silvestro can manhandle an Indy car on tracks that are much more demanding than any oval. And she’s fast. Q: So, I guess Bryan Clauson’s foray into IndyCar was all of one race. He is the type of driver who this sport DESPERATELY needs. (This is when you explain that he lacks sufficient road racing prowess to catch on in the current IndyCar world, which is true but is also an indication that your sport is fatally flawed to begin with when it leans so heavily to the road/street racing side of things).
Clauson is young, very talented and very accomplished. He’s won multiple championships against other very high-level racing talents and won them racing in front of actual American open-wheel racing fans (many of whom live within driving distance of IMS). He got a huge audible response at Indy two years ago from the paying customers (which tells you that Randy Bernard had the right idea and there is a craving out there by many folks to root for someone like this). And for some odd reason the kid actually still aspires to race IndyCars and make it his destination series.
The fact that we don’t have room for someone like Bryan and seemingly have zero interest in anyone from the AOW oval genre, is sad, pathetic and inanely stupid. We don’t have room for just a couple of AOW oval grads in the biggest AOW oval race in the world? Think how stupid that sounds. We are ignoring real talent and also ignoring our real heritage in this sport. And most real Americans are sick of it and have moved on and aren’t coming back. The folks running the sport (CEOs, owners and engine manufacturers not necessarily in that order) aren’t smart enough to figure out this is a major reason why so few people are still watching or caring? This sport and the Indy 500 wasn’t built on F1 washouts and wanna-bes. It was built on the top-tier American oval racers and top- tier American road racers and a handful of top-tier foreign born drivers. Now its completely reversed and screwed up (and its arguable how many of the current drivers are “top tier” to begin with…).
There is much more to the racing product then how many cars are on the lead lap at Indy or how many different winners you have or how entertaining the racing is. And, sadly, it appears nobody in the IndyCar world is savvy enough to figure that out. And if they do, they simply don’t care. I want to see Conor Daly battling Bryan Clauson on the track in an IndyCar. Just like I want to see Austin Dillon battling Kyle Larson in Cup. Those are drivers and potential rivalries that could interest fans and Americans to pay attention. One sport usually gives Americans what they want and what they can get interested in. One sport is clueless and has been for a long time.
Bill, Maplewood IN
RM: When I took Randy Bernard to his first USAC sprint race in 2010, he wondered why none of those drivers mastering 900hp were at the Indy 500. I explained they used to be but that all changed in the USAC/CART war. I told him it was criminal that some of the best oval-track racers in the country couldn’t even compete at Indianapolis and he immediately began working on the USAC/IndyCar initiative that got Bryan to IMS in 2012.
Think about this: running Sarah Fisher’s second car, Clauson was among the top 10 in practice a few times and had a great qualifying run going before crashing on the last lap. With only 33 cars, he went back out in his repaired car and ran conservatively the rest of the month like he was told. What happens if he qualifies in the middle of Row 4 (that’s where he was headed going into that fourth lap) and runs well in the race? Maybe an owner or two believes that a USAC champion still belongs and gives him a shot.
As it was, Bernard gets fired and Clauson and his ilk are again forgotten. “Too big a transition” was the consistent comment. But Daly crashed in practice this past May and it was labeled a rookie mistake that really didn’t hurt him. Nor should it. My only observation is that on a good night in Indiana Sprint Week, there might be 3,000 spectators which dwarfs any practice day at IMS. Would many of them like to see Clauson competing against Daly or Newgarden and would they come to 16th & Georgetown? We’ll never know.Q: Great news about ABC covering all of the Indy racing magic in May because this is an excellent opportunity to attract more viewers on a major national TV network. I will, however, miss NBCSN’s coverage of qualifying and Bump Day. I also doubt ABC will cover qualifying at any of the other races they will feature. Do you think NBCSN will have a season preview show similar to the pre-Fontana show? I am not holding my breath that ABC will add one to their coverage of St. Pete’s.
Damn, it looks like I missed a wonderful night of USAC racing on Turkey Night at Perris. Cold? I was hoping that MAV-TV would show the race, but I haven’t seen anything yet on its guide. I have been watching Indiana Sprints on MAV this week and saw Dave Darland almost win at Gas City. The LA Times recently featured MAV-TV in the business section and talked about its role in filling the gap Speed TV left. I am happy that they are going to show the Chili Bowl in January! Is it true that one has to inherit tickets in order to attend in person?
RM: Not sure yet about pre-season show but NBCSN will cover Carb Day and, for sure, we’ll all miss covering qualifying. But being on ABC all month is good for the teams and sponsors.
Dave Darland and Damion Gardner put on a show at Perris and, at 47, Darland is still a badass. Somebody needs to fill the breach left by SPEED and MAV-TV looks to be the logical candidate, although RACER is working on some things for 2014 as well. The Chili Bowl is sold out except for Tuesday night.
Q: I read every entry in your mailbag, and recently I am finding them of one of two minds: Everything is hunky-dory and we should all just sit back and enjoy the ride, and everything is waiting for 2015, 2016, 2017 or 2018 for sure and suddenly the stands will be filled and the TV audience huge. Horse poop! Then I see the five-month 2014 schedule, (which is such a mess I will ignore it except for one thing). The month of May is now covered by ABC, and it brought this to my mind…Mr. Miles did one thing, he made the Speedway independent and covered by ABC!! Tony Hulman would be proud.
The Speedway which makes money, could and, if they are smart they will, run the month of May which could include the new hybrid series as, “The Greatest SPECTACLES in Racing.” I bought tickets to the road race and it didn’t diminish my, or my families’ love for the 500. We’ll come down from the Toledo, Ohio area for the road race, come back to watch practice for the “500” and return starting on Thursday for the “500.” Add a Formula E race and we’ll be there too. No need to have the same cars for all three races — let the road race be the DW12s, they are in the habit of racing for nothing anyhow, an FE race with those cars, and the “500” with a new open formula (which for a year or two I’d grandfather in the DW12) by promoting INNOVATION.
Pay a huge purse for ENTERING and WINNING the “500”. Dump the IRL into the hands of anyone willing to lose their butts (it’s never made a profit, and never will without major changes). If the IRL survives, (and that is far from certain) and wants to include the results of any or all three of the races in their total…fine, if not, nobody cares who wins the other races or the championship anyhow.
To prove the point what happened to the Mario and A.J. trophies??? I know your opinion on innovation, but if the current races, which have been very competitive, can’t bring fans and TV viewers it’s time to do something different. The FE will bring a lot of very rich companies, and some may fall in love with taking a shot at innovation for the regular racecars. I can promise you one thing — keep doing the same thing over and over, and seeing the fan base continue to decrease can only end one way…….failure!!
RM: First off, glad you are such a passionate fan and I wish you got some kind of free gas card from IMS for supporting all of May. I think Formula E has gotten the attention of Mark Miles, Derrick Walker and Will Phillips and they are looking into it as a possibility at IMS some day. An all-electric 500 the day before Indy might be a hit with all the companies and people reportedly interested in this formula.
Q: Well, I see that the folks that are in charge of IndyCar racing just don’t get it. The new schedule has been published along with the starting times. Once again, the folks sitting at home on the couch are WAY more important than the paying fan. If there is any rain at Milwaukee, like there was a couple of years ago, it will be virtually impossible to run the race on the scheduled day. That means either wasted money on tickets or additional expense for a motel room. So, Mr. Miles, you can kiss the four fans that were going to attend this race goodbye. When will you boneheads start considering the fans in the stands? Let the “fans” that are sitting home on the couch watch the race on tape delay.
RM: All IndyCar races should start at noon or 1 p.m. except the night shows, obviously, because it gives the paying customers a chance to get home at a reasonable time on Sunday night. Of course television is important but I’m in favor of tape delays if that’s what it takes to cater to your on-site fans. It’s very tough to get Chicagoans to drive back home at 7-8 p.m. from Milwaukee on a Sunday evening.Q: I greatly respect your insight to open-wheel and all form of motor racing, so what gives with F1 and NASCAR scheduling important U.S. races on the very same day? Scheduling two high-end races on the same weekend when both of the state’s major market cities have pro football teams playing on race day and six major state universities playing on qualifying/ support race day seems like a fool’s errand. May be shutting it down in September isn’t such a bad strategy.
RM: I guess the easy answer is that Bernie doesn’t give a flying duck about what anybody else has going on an F1 weekend. He said once he didn’t care if anybody showed up at the races because he’s got the richest and most popular TV package in all of sports. And I really don’t see much crossover between a NASCAR and an F1 fan.
Q: Northwest fans have been under-served since the races in Vancouver, Portland and now Edmonton have lost their series spots. I realize I’m showing my age even mentioning some of these tracks, but I’ve stayed loyal through a lot of changes.
After re-watching the race at Sonoma, I’ve booked accommodation and flights for the August 2014 weekend to get my live IndyCar fix. Bringing the family in the hopes of rekindling my teenaged boys interest in the series. Would love your comments on two things: Best place to watch the race, and most important thing not to miss out on while we’re there. Final question: Any hope of a race back at PIR or somewhere in the Northwest?
Dan, Vancouver, BC
RM: I’ve heard Portland still has interest and it would be great to find a spot in Vancouver because that race always drew great crowds. As for Sonoma, there are so many good spots around the track in the elevated stands and you can literally see most of the track. So I’d say anywhere around Turn 3 and just keep following the curvature of the track. Great vantage points.
Q: Any chance they would put Bobby Unser in the radio booth with Paul Page? I would definitely listen. Thanks for another great year of coverage and for making it fun.
RM: Thanks. I doubt if Uncle Bobby is up for doing radio but I’m sure he’d do a guest spot for 45 minutes or so and you know it would be entertaining.
Q: What IndyCar needs is more people watching the great racing. More people will draw more sponsors. Plus they need younger fans. Two ways to achieve this: Give away free tickets at every high school near a race for Friday or Saturday practice/qualifying and pit/garage tours. If the younger generation can watch practice and see the cars up close for free, they are more likely to get involved and buy a ticket for race day. And a lot of those that don’t attend the race will watch on television. Plus, those kids will spend money while at the track on Friday or Saturday.
Get a title sponsor that will promote the series. Find the largest national retailer or restaurant chain (Target, McDonald’s, Hooters) that will commit to actively supporting the series in television spots, online and in their stores, and give them the title sponsorship for free for three years. The series is dying for in-your-face promotion.
RM: I recall the IRL giving away tickets to schools at Phoenix but it didn’t seem to make any difference. I do like the idea of getting kids to the track and hoping to hook some of them but it might be even better to bus them out to a race, free of charge. I think Jay Frye is working hard on a title sponsor but it’s a real challenge with IndyCar’s TV ratings.
Q: One thing the shortened IndyCar season has done is allowed drivers to add sports car racing to their schedule. They can run major events before and after the IndyCar season without any conflicts. My question is about their pay. Do they get a decent check for running three or four sports car races or is it mostly for the experience?
RM: I don’t think many of the full-time sports car drivers get much of a paycheck, let alone the weekend warriors from IndyCar. I always heard Dario, Montoya and Dixon drove the 24 Hours of Daytona for free and most guys do it because they’re rusty and the love road racing. And they’re bored.
Q: It seems as though everyone can’t stop saying enough about how great Montoya was during his win at the 500 in 2000. Am I the only one that remembers Buddy Lazier actually running him down and showing at a minimum on par competively? Maybe Montoya made it look easy based on his style but I distinctly remember Buddy reeling him in late. It almost seemed like the IRL regulars couldn’t do enough to get out of the way of Juan but once Buddy came close to anyone they’d make it much more difficult for him to pass. In a two-car race that year Buddy might have taken him. That guy was/is truly something special at Indy.
RM: Well, let’s see JPM led 167 of 200 laps in his debut with the IRL car and when Buddy made a late charge to close to within a few car lengths, Montoya immediately pulled away to a 7-second victory. Rick Mears said he thought that was the only time JPM really tried hard all afternoon. But Lazier did a fabulous job this past May, jumping into a car at the last minute and qualifying quite nicely. He’s always run well at IMS.
Q: Now that enough time has past to get some perspective for the 2013 season, what would you say were the best?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco
RM: Driver: Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power. Race: Indy, Baltimore, Brazil. Pass: Charlie Kimball on Pagenaud at Mid-Ohio. Moment: Tony Kanaan finally winning Indy. Interview: Hinchcliffe anytime. Driver/Team Chemistry: Target/Ganassi. Best Team with Doing More with Less: Sam Schmidt’s group. Q: I saw a picture of what I believe is a 1994 Penske Indy car converted for sports car racing on Facebook. And it looks really cool, like it had that second incarnation Can-Am style. It looks a more subtle approach on enclosed wheels but not too much to take away open-wheel physique. Versus Dallara’s drop-the-ball approach which was the poorest attempt. If IndyCar can redeem them self on choice of the way the car looks. Then they should let Honda and Chevy have all freedom on the aerokits to look like this: http://www.racingsportscars.com/photo/1996/Brands_Hatch-1996-04-08-006.jpg.
And another thing, increase the HP and rework the exhaust to sound angry. I have a hard time to believe these 2.2-twin turbo V6 can’t sound as angry as 1.6-2.5 liter turbocharged global rally cross cars sound like. I’m the part of the younger crowd (I’m 23) that still follow the sport.
Kevin, East Hanover, N.J.
RM: Good to hear from the youth of America and I do think you will be happy with the GM and Honda aero kits in 2015. And a lot of people feel exactly as you about the lack of noise and grunt from the engines.
Q: I just got done reading Marshall Pruett’s article on the lawsuit between Panoz and Ben Bowlby. When I heard that Panoz was continuing the DeltaWing without Bowlby, All-American Racers, Nissan and the tire manufacturer I wondered what was going on. I was happy to see Bowlby hook up with Nissan and continue the evolution of the DeltaWing design. It appears that there must have been something going on behind the scenes between Panoz and Bowlby.
It is a shame now that it has ended up in court. I hate to see the development of the DeltaWing concept suffer because of power struggles and internal bickering. It is hard to understand. This happens in racing all the time when someone goes from one team to another. How do you stop someone from using what they have learned at a previous job?
RM: Sometimes there are non-compete clauses built into contracts but I don’t know if that was the case with Bowlby. He’s a brilliant guy and I know Dan Gurney really enjoyed working with him.
Q: I thoroughly enjoyed your running through the pits at the IICS races this year. I hope they keep that part of the pre-race program as long as you are up to it. I have a few comments that are counter to what you have said and what many of the other writers apparently feel.
1) I do not care for street races and feel that they should be a limited part of the schedule. There are a few good ones, St. Pete and Long Beach for instance, but most of them are not good racing and, I think, are a huge disruption to the cities and their citizens. Plus, I am not too sure that the economic impact balances out in favor of the city. I have not seen any definite figures, but I can’t see how all of the disruptions, modifications to the streets, placing of the barriers, etc. are being offset by the additional income to the local economy. And, the high-speed running through a concrete canyon is very dangerous and does not allow good viewing, even on TV and the track side big-screens. The situation with Dario shows another hazard of the street races; the chain link fences. DW proved how dangerous these can be, even on an oval track where they are, most likely, better constructed that the ones on a temporary street course.
2) I never was a big fan of Paul Page as an announcer. He did a fair job when he had the likes of Bobby Unser to prop him up, but I did not feel that he was in the class of Bob Varsha, Bob Jenkins, and a few others. (In this regard, I would like to see you up in the booth taking a more active part in the race coverage. And how about Donald Davidson? Wouldn’t his knowledge of the history of the sport add a great deal to the coverage?)
3) I would not look forward to the return of PT to the series. Over the years (I have been an open-wheel fan since the ’50’s) I can only recall one other top level driver that made as many bonehead moves as he did or that was as antagonistic as he was.
4) I do not find the DW12 car to be as ugly as so many seem to. In my opinion, it is much better looking than the F1 cars. And, it is easily the safest car that has ever been in American open-wheel racing.
5) I do not feel that more speed is the only way to increase interest in the sport. For one thing there are two big negatives to more speed; one being the limit of human reaction time and another the problem of G-forces in the corners of high-banked tracks, as CART found out years ago at Texas where the race was canceled at the last minute because the G-forces were causing the drivers to black out momentarily in the corners. Speed is not the only answer as this year’s 500 and other oval races have shown. Races can be exciting from strategy, multiple lead changes, good, clean passing, etc.
Thomas R. Clem, Sr., Ivanhoe, N.C.
RM: Thanks for watching. I’ll answer your questions in order. Street races were quite boring and predictable prior to the DW12 but the past two years have given us some of the best racing in recent memory. They also draw better than ovals. I was always a critic of Paul but, believe me, he’s a big improvement over the last guy and Donald is always part of the IMS radio network. Fans either loved or hated PT but he was always worth the price of admission. I miss him. The DW12 races much better than it looks. For all the good racing the past two years, it hasn’t resulted in good TV ratings and a lot of people think speed, records and innovation would turn things around.