Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD . Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you.
And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, remember that Marshall Pruett tackles them in his Tech Mailbags each week. Please send tech questions to PruettsTechMailbag@Racer.com.
Q: My home race is coming up Robin; the Mid-Ohio Grand Prix in Lexington, Ohio. I’ve been attending the race since Teo Fabi won there in 1983. It’s my favorite IndyCar race and unfortunately it is also the most boring race on the IndyCar schedule. The narrow track and undulating terrain makes passing nearly impossible. Since the current IndyCar regime seems open to new ideas, why don’t we try something new at Mid-Ohio – a shortcut or Joker if you will?
Leading out of Turn 1 and up towards the Keyhole, drivers could follow the motorcycle part of the race course. Then once during the first half of the race and then again during the second half, the drivers could go straight into the keyhole just as they have done in past years. A line to be painted around the top part of the Keyhole for the shortcut driver to follow so they wouldn’t crash into each other on the entrance to the back straight. I know the old coots don’t like new ideas for anything that goes away from the so-called “heritage” of the sport, but racing is an entertainment business and right now Mid-Ohio provides very little on-track entertainment.
Don, Chardon Ohio
RM: Have you been talking to Will Power? He attended the Rallycross race at Charlotte recently and suggested in a phone conversation that a “Joker” might be an added benefit at some IndyCar tracks like Mid-Ohio. Owners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree also discussed lengthening the keyhole section and giving the old girl a braking zone, which it desperately needs. But, in these days of alternate tires and push-to-pass, looking at different ways to entertain the fans is paramount and maybe the shortcut is a way to spice things up in Lexington, Ohio.
Q: Yet another report of increased ratings following the Toronto race. Your Mailbag typically is filled with mentions of low attendance at races, but the reports of increased ratings this year has not seemed to have received much traction. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t TV ratings more important to attracting national sponsors than race attendance? If IndyCar is able to capitalize on these gains and translate them into attracting new sponsors, could this actually be a sign that the series is beginning to head in a positive direction? More sponsors, more money, more teams, more coverage – we need one of these dominoes fall to feed into everything else. On a totally different subject, when can we expect to hear about the 2015 schedule being released?
John, Clawson, MI
RM: You are correct John. Television ratings rule in that key area and, so far through eight races on NBCSN in 2014, viewership is up 46 percent from 2013. Mike Conway’s victory in Race 2 at Toronto was the most-watched Verizon IndyCar Series race telecast on NBCSN since the 2011 Grand Prix of Baltimore. And more than 600,000 people watched the last hour of the Iowa race, which is a damn good number for cable TV on a Saturday night. But, of course, IndyCar’s upswing in ratings is tempered by NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 pulling a 3.2 on ESPN last Sunday. As for the schedule, ideally I would think by Labor Day.
Q: I just watched Hockenheim F1 race and took a peek at the Brickyard; NOBODY came. Nobody goes to racing anymore in this country and when they’re not going in Europe, things must be bad. Racing fans are like Frank Zappa fans, we recognize unique greatness and appreciate the talent that few others do, but it is not reflected in sales and it just isn’t enough. We yearn for the days when CART was bringing fans to the tracks and Nigel, Ayrton, and the Professor were thrilling us in F1. IndyCar has lots of different people winning and F1 is actually not a fait accomplit for the first time in three years so where is everybody? I know I wrote last week saying you could see better on TV than at the track and I sound like a hypocrite now but good racing is not the reason not to go.
Tom in Waco
RM: Attendance for auto races is a universal problem and, at least from the perspective of IndyCar, it’s got nothing to do with the quality of driving or racing. People just don’t care like they use to and they’ve found other things to do. NASCAR still gets damn good TV ratings (a 15 in Indianapolis) and has loyal driver followings but that’s the Catch-22 because more and more are staying home and watching. IMS was only a quarter full for the Brickyard 400 last Sunday and it looked awful but in reality a crowd of 50,000 would be the second or third largest of the season for IndyCar. Iowa was half full, Pocono was pretty barren, Toronto was a shell of its former self and Fontana will be sparse. As I’ve been saying, a crowd of 30,000 must be considered a good one for the Verizon IndyCar Series these days.
Q: A couple years ago, you trumpeted the fact the Indy 500 had reclaimed its status as THE race in Indianapolis, in terms of attendance and atmosphere. Based on last Sunday, I don’t think there’s any disputing those claims but how did you arrive at 45,000 attendance (I heard you on JMV’s radio show, Monday) when The Indianapolis Star estimated 85,000?
Dan in Indianapolis
RM: Because I don’t care if I get a Christmas present from the Speedway. Seriously, Curt Cavin counted all the seats a few years ago and came up with roughly 250,000. A couple grandstands (going into and coming out of Turn 3) have been removed so let’s say 225,000 remain. At least four sections weren’t sold for this year’s Brickyard 400 and covered up by advertising so, for the sake of arguing, let’s say there were 200,000 available seats last Sunday. For there to have been 85,000, you needed one person in every fourth seat, 20,000 fans in the infield and 15,000 in the suites. Helicopter shots don’t lie and there wasn’t one person in every 20th seat of the stands that were open and the infield only holds a few thousand when it’s packed.
But let’s look at what longtime NASCAR observer/writer Monte Dutton wrote: “Forget what I think the crowd was. The best counter in the sport, Humpy Wheeler, figured the Brickyard Sprint Cup attendance was less than 50,000. The sport used to have lots of funny people. One of them, watching from home like me and almost everyone else in America, opined that there were entire sections on the front straight that could have withstood live hand grenades without any casualties.” As I stated in an earlier answer, a crowd of 50,000 is damn good for any IndyCar race other than IMS and considered major league in baseball or football. But it’s an eyesore at the Speedway because there’s no place to hide all that aluminum.
Q: You quickly mentioned in an answer in the July 25 Mailbag that James Hinchcliffe has opted out of his Andretti Autosport contract in 2015. Really? I would assume he wouldn’t do this unless he had someplace else to go. So where is he going? Who takes his place at AA?
Brian Henris, Fort Mill, SC
RM: Let’s just say that report was erroneous from the standpoint that Hinch didn’t opt out of anything and both sides claim they want to stay together if possible. It’s all about sponsorship right now. More later.
Q: It has been a long time since I have participated in the Mailbag but I am always reading it and soaking in as much IndyCar as I can while over here in Afghanistan. My question concerns TK’s points standing. I know it is a LOOONG shot that he could secure the title but hear me out. If TCGR can give him a solid car at Mid-Ohio – not out of question since they usually dominate there – and he can manage a podium and have some luck with others not finishing well and he could win in Milwaukee, he could surely move into the top five. From there if he finishes on the podium in Sonoma I think he could become a serious title contender moving to the 500 miles at Fontana and double points… am I just a crazed TK fan or is this not out of the question?
RM: Considering he’s 153 points behind leader Helio Castroneves with only four races remaining, it sounds crazed. But, considering the winner gets 100 points at Fontana, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see a DNF or accident coupled with somebody else’s victory and suddenly it’s a four or five man race. And Ganassi had a real good test at Mid-Ohio last week.
Q: With the season quickly coming to a (premature) close, any thoughts or insights on next year’s schedule? I’m assuming all of the current venues will return – St. Pete and Long Beach have already announced their dates – but when will we know about the proposed races outside of North America (Brazil, Dubai, etc.) and are there any others that might be in play? Champ Car put on some good shows at Lausitz (Germany), Rockingham (UK) and Monterrey (Mexico) in its day – any chance of those being considered going forward? With Bernie continually giving the one-finger salute to the track in New Jersey, would that be worth a look? Give it the week after Indy and the series could cross-promote during its pre-Indy 500 media blitz.
Any word on potential new teams coming in for next season? Finally, you frequently mention that you forward e-mails and suggestions to Mark Miles and the rest of the management team at IndyCar, but is there any feedback or evidence that they’re actually listening?
Scott, Bargersville, IN
RM: It sounds like IndyCar would like to open the season in late February at Dubai, followed by Brasilia in early March and then head home. I think New Orleans is still in play but the question marks are Pocono and Fontana. Can Houston get a decent date? None of those old Champ Car venues seem viable and I haven’t heard of any new teams yet. I know Derrick Walker and Jay Frye respond weekly to the fans’ mail that I send them and Miles does, sometimes, as well.
Q: Yes, IndyCar needs ovals. And damn-skippy Yes, IndyCar needs to go back to Phoenix International Raceway. And, unfortunately Yes, money is, as usual, the issue. So I have a suggestion…or a dream, whatever. Reprise the Copper World Classic. Make it a two-day event featuring IndyCar, Indy Lights, USAC Silver Crown, USAC Sprints and USAC Midgets. Saturday would feature practice and qualifying for all five series with Indy Lights and IndyCar running their first of two features Saturday night, under the lights. Sunday would offer final practices plus five races, culminating with the second Indy Lights and IndyCar races.
Honda sponsors USAC and provides IndyCar engines. Chevy provides IndyCar engines. Between those two manufacturers, and some give ’n’ take from ISC and IndyCar they should be able to find a way to make this financially feasible. You want a race sponsor prospect? How ’bout Arrow Electronics, a Fortune 200 multi-billion dollar corporation based in Denver that has a plant in Phoenix. Arrow is the company that helped build the semi-autonomous Corvette that Sam Schmidt drove at Indianapolis last May using head movements. If Dennis Wood was alive he could make this happen.
Bill Tybur, MotorSportsPromos, Tempe, AZ
RM: I like your thinking Bill but I also recall PIR pairing the remnants of the Copper Classic with the Indy Racing League in a three-day show and it flopped badly (I recall they ran the midget feature on a Thursday night at 8 o’clock in front of 50 people). But, with proper promotion and some creativity, it could be resurrected into an open-wheel weekend with non-stop action. It behooves Honda, USAC, Chevy, IndyCar and how about we make you the promoter?
Q: Maybe you can pass along this link to the promoter/manager at Iowa. http://www.ismasupers.com/. A 7/8-mile oval with Winged Supermodifieds alongside an IndyCar weekend? I’d drive from Pennsylvania to see that. I suspect with $10,000 to win they would get a great turnout of northeast and Ohio/Michigan Supers. If there are any left out west, they’d probably tow in too. :) Throw in the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprints… Wow, now that would be a fast weekend of racing. USAC seems to have all but dried up on pavement, but these other series might bring in some fans.
One thing I think IndyCar must start doing is to look at itself as a smaller series in the grand scheme of things. Don’t believe they’re as big as NASCAR (they’re not) and that they “deserve” coverage, fans, etc. just because Indy is a big race. They’ve got to look all over the country at ways to make new fans before they can start thinking it’s 1995 again. I think that’s the biggest problem overall with their marketing and promotion and even the way they run the shows. They’re not hungry enough to try new things and go get people to come to the races. The promotion for Pocono that you’ve heard about (or lack thereof) is a perfect case in point. It’s like they just expect people to be there. Yet there are ads like crazy for the two NASCAR races. It makes no sense!
RM: Again, I like the idea because those ISMA winged sprinters put on a helluva show at Winchester and other tracks around the Midwest and Iowa would suit them as well. The Iowa fans used to come to the USAC shows on Friday nights but, as you correctly stated, pavement racing (other than a few Silver Crown shows) in USAC is DOA with sprints and midgets, so these two would be an affordable alternative for Jimmy Small & Company. More bang for the buck is the key.
Q: With four races left the Carpenter/Conway tandem has been a success. You predicted that last March. Can you see a team in 2015 following the Carpenter strategy? If so, what unemployed road racer, or oval specialist might be given a chance?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA
RM: It’s a unique situation, obviously, and I don’t see anything similar waiting in the wings. A veteran like Oriol Servia is great out of the bullpen for ovals or road/street courses but, other than a second car, no owners want to rotate drivers like Ed has done so well.
Don’t know the ins and outs of the Verizon app.
Q: I just had a reality check. London, England, recently changed their laws so having a street race there is now possible. That would be a dream to see IndyCar on the streets of London. The only possible issue I see might be TV money and TV ratings. Unless I am missing something?
RM: I think if there was any chance of a street race in London, then Bernie and F1 would be the first choice. And there is going to be a British round of the FIA Formula E championship I believe Jenson Button ran a McLaren around the streets a couple years ago but I’ll have to ask Nigel Roebuck.
Q: I’m already hearing promotions for IndyFest on the radio in Milwaukee instead of the typical week before race. Kudos to Michael Andretti for going the extra mile and getting the word out earlier this year. I was never a huge fan when he raced but I do appreciate what he does for the sport. Without him, they probably wouldn’t race at The Mile anymore. You’ll have to let us know if the extra effort helps with attendance.
John Risser, Muskego, WI
RM: That’s good to know, we need Milwaukee to return to its days of glory. And you might not have liked him, but watching Michael run Milwaukee was always a thing of beauty.
Q: I know you’re not a NASCAR guy but, with IndyCar taking the weekend off, we spent the weekend at IMS. The most competitive race the whole weekend was the IMSA sports cars. There was passing, rubbing, bumping and all under GREEN-flag racing. I hope the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gets the idea that IMS is a single-lane track for the boys from NASCAR and that they need to get moving with installation of APRONS in the four turns so there are more places for deeper driving and more chances to pass under green-flag racing.
The Cup race was one of the worst, most boring races I’ve ever attended, I fell asleep in my seat in Penthouse E about halfway through the race and when I woke up, the three guys next to me were also sleeping. Maybe NASCAR should give the IMS road course a chance? It couldn’t hurt. I’ve been coming to the Speedway for 42 years for Indy cars, made every NASCAR event and every F1 race that was held here and Indy’s new best kept secret, the Historic Races that were held here the first week of June. I will return for the 500 as long as my body will allow me and I plan to purchase IMSA tickets for 2015 but NASCAR? Time will tell if I return for this snooze fest. Can’t wait for Mid Ohio next weekend.
Tony Piergallini, Steubenville, Ohio
RM: You’re right, the TUDOR Championship race, for IMSA’s UnitedSportsCar Championship, provided the best race by far at IMS. Supposedly there was talk about moving Cup to the road course and it makes sense because The Glen and Sonoma are always entertaining. But aprons would certainly help stock cars. How could you fall asleep? I heard an ESPN reporter on local radio Monday say the race was exciting and not to be missed.
Q: I thought that when Verizon acquired primary sponsorship that they were “going to take things to the next level?” How do they increase awareness of IndyCar when the only advertising they do is to people who are already fans during the races? It seems like a no-brainer to me that if you want to increase the fanbase, you need to reach out to people not familiar with the series. Why Verizon, Honda, Chevrolet, Firestone… don’t cross-market IndyCar in their national advertising MUCH more is beyond comprehension. Honda seems to be the only company that promotes IndyCar a little in national advertising and in their stores.
Don Dahler, Minneapolis
RM: All I know is that Verizon has three or four cool IndyCar promotions that have played on prime time TV shows as well as the NBA playoffs and F1 races on NBC and they’ve got bigger plans for 2015. You’ve got to remember they didn’t sign up until last March so I’d say give them 18 months to get things rolling.
Q: I’m a big fan of IndyCar who has recently moved to Australia. The recent letters about promoting IndyCar have resonated with me. There’s two things they would be wise to consider:
First, unlock the Verizon content app that’s currently only showing live stuff to Verizon customers. I understand that Verizon wants some return on their sponsorship investment, but really, do they think anyone is going to switch to Verizon just to watch live streaming video on the app? Most people don’t even know the app exists! Open it up and show stuff with a big Verizon bug or banner and they may triple their exposure. They would be wise to use the recent Americas Cup sailboat racing IT model – tons of very good live content that enhances viewing experience during the race and full streaming coverage of every race immediately upon completion of the race. All of that was open to everyone, all the time. Amazing stuff, really.
Secondly, at least open the app to out-of-USA viewers who couldn’t sign up to Verizon even if they wanted to. What’s the harm in that?
Jason Mulveny, Manly NSW, Australia
RM: I sent your suggestions to the folks at Just Marketing and IndyCar. With Verizon the series sponsor, it’s possible they could figure something out for you folks outside North America.
Q: I would love to know what Justin Wilson and Josef Newgarden thought of the late red flag at Toronto. I think it was a real BS move that totally negated the idea of an alternative strategy and playing the yellow flags. A very unfulfilling ending to say the least. Also, does IndyCar have any ability to mandate that the track surface be one material (preferably asphalt)? The concrete patches really messed up the ability of the cars to race in the rain.
Joe in Sacramento
RM: I flew home with Josef and he never said a word about the red flag and I think most of the drivers figured that considering what the Toronto fans had endured all weekend that a green-flag finish was the least IndyCar could give them. Don’t think IndyCar can mandate anything on a city’s streets – just deal with it – although the circumstances conspired on Saturday.
Q: I can understand why IndyCar didn’t want to start the race in Toronto on Saturday – we didn’t need a repeat of Surfers Paradise 2002. But what about sending out a support race series to help dry the track? When the track was too wet to start at Road America in 1997, CART sent out the Dodge Neon support series to run an extra race during the stoppage. The slow, heavy tin-tops had no trouble with the wet track, it gave the hardy fans some entertainment, and running a race on the track dried it out enough to run the CART race when it was done, complete with Alex Zanardi donuts at the end. It’s unfortunate that IndyCar didn’t use this same trick in Toronto to reward those loyal fans who sat through the rain.
RM: Not a bad idea. Mikhail Aleshin said he thought a few slow laps by everyone would have dissipated the standing water enough to race so sending out sedans might have worked even better. Reminds me of a funny story Dave Despain related. He was an aspiring flat-tracker and they were running the Sedalia, Mo. mile but the track was rougher than a cob and all the national numbers refused to go run. “Send out those novices,” barked national champion Gene Romero pointing at Despain. “They don’t know any better.”
Q: My question has to do with an article I read in the Toronto Star. In essence it states that the Honda Indy Toronto must run in June due to a conflict with the Pan Am Games. The organizers have known about this for three years now. They can’t race in August due to the CNE and track construction and take down being next to impossible. I know there are races that traditionally run in June that may have muti-year deals and fixed dates but hasn’t Toronto come up with a solution yet if they knew this was happening three years ago?
Kevin Savoree stated that Toronto is too important an event to lose. If the fans who stood/sat there and wouldn’t budge and waited and waited Saturday before the first race was scrubbed are the guide, he’s exactly right that IndyCar, Exhibition Place and the City of Toronto would be foolish not to find a solution. After this event, how close in your opinion are they to a solution and should anyone worry that Toronto might not be on the schedule next year?
Geoff in Toronto
RM: I’ve heard conflicting reports. First I heard it would be held in June because of the Pan-Am construction but then IndyCar said there wasn’t any room in June. General manager Charlie Johnstone assured Paul Tracy there would be a race in 2015, but didn’t give a specific date.
Q: Your piece on the decision not to race Saturday made a lot of sense, which made me wonder about their process. Was this the same group who review incidents during the race? Maybe they were trying to avoid another “double number 1” salute from Power (see New Hampshire 2011). And speaking of that, how was it they revised the starting positions for Power, Montoya, and Briscoe? I know these are tough calls, but Beaux Barfield seems to function well in these pressure situations. Is Derrick Walker trying too hard to make everyone happy?
Lee Robie, Cincinnati, OH
RM: Yes, Race Control made the call after listening to the drivers and attempting to clear out the problem area but you have to remember that Power was pissed because TGBB re-started an OVAL RACE in the rain at Loudon with slick tires. Those three all came in for service/repairs of some type and were sent to the back, even though the race hadn’t officially started. That miffed some folks, pleased others and seemed to confuse most. I think Derrick’s goals are to be fair and consistent.
Q: I had the unique perspective of being able to attend the TUDOR Championship round at Canadian Tire Motorsports Circuit (Mosport) last week, and the IndyCar double-header races in Toronto the following weekend.
With the Honda Toronto Indy was the fascinating Pirelli World Challenge double-header, Indy Lights, USF2000, Canada’s Porsche GT Cup, and F1600. The sports cars had the smaller classes of the PWC series, and the Prototype Lites races on their bill. I saw lots of racing, and most of it was pretty good. Hopefully the same thing will happen next year.
I was able to see comparisons between the many series, and noted that the morning warm-up at Mosport was held in rain and fog, and it went according to schedule and no delays. I was surprised as anyone that the IndyCars did not race in the rain on Saturday. All of these drivers with maybe a couple of exceptions have raced in the wet before, and it made them look like prima donnas when they would not race in the rain. Not only was that a disappointment, but they left us fans sitting in the rain in our grandstand seats for almost three hours, encouraging us to stay, and since the drivers stayed in their cars throughout, the fans mostly stayed on in anticipation of a wet race. Then IndyCar decide to postpone the race, but did not bother to announce it. If I hadn’t got onto RACER.com when I got back to my hotel, I may have missed the fact that it was decided to run two IndyCar races on the Sunday. The sports cars however ran as per schedule, and with no caution flags laps, at Mosport, for 2 hours and 45 minutes with almost 40 cars in it. Mind boggling.
Am I upset with the IndyCar crowd? Hell no. I arrived at the Toronto track at 8am on Sunday, and the first race of the day was already half way over. There were eight races on Sunday, including two IndyCar races, a PWC race, and Indy Lights among them. I also read your Mailbag, and I read Marshall Pruett’s articles on the State of the Union in the TUDOR championships. I find it interesting that you feel that IndyCars should hook up with the TUDOR cars more, and yet the TUDOR competitors feel they should have less to do with IndyCar. I suspect from what I am reading that the reason is because of the headaches involved with scheduling and trying to get more track time for themselves; but I wonder if maybe some sports car entrants are preventing this from happening more. Oh well, the Pirelli World Cup races more than made up for this, and I got to enjoy both series in the same week.
RM: As I reported, the lack of information and treatment of the fans on Saturday by the promoters was bush league. No announcements, nothing on the big screens and only when they saw the teams rolling cars back to the paddock did they realize it was over for the day.
As I also wrote, if IndyCar couldn’t figure out how to run in a light mist to moderate rain then it can’t ever bill itself to an alternative to F1. Better rain tires would have certainly helped but, as some of the younger drivers suggested, at least go out and try to run a few laps at reduced speed for the people in attendance. As for the IMSA/IndyCar doubleheader, it’s a win/win/win for sports cars, Indy cars and the promoter. I hear people say IMSA doesn’t want to play second fiddle to IndyCar. Really? They’d rather play to an empty house? Look at Long Beach, Barber and Detroit through the years – great Saturday turnouts to see the sports cars. If both sides want to stay on the map, they’d best run as many double-headers as possible.
Q: A friend and I were discussing Marco recently and we both agree that he doesn’t show much joy in what he’s doing. Granted, better results might change that to some degree, and Michael wasn’t overly emotional either, but Michael was able to light the fuse when he was in the car. Marco just seems like he’s involved in the family business because it’s what’s expected given his last name. The passion and fire shown by Mario and Michael seem to be missing. Speaking of generational drivers, what became of A.J. IV, and Mini Al? I can’t help but wonder how much fun it would be to see another set of Rahals, Andrettis, Unsers, and Foyts all at the top of their game racing together again.
John Fulton, Akron, Ohio
RM: Marco is an introvert, like his dad, and showing a lot of emotion (good or bad) isn’t his style but he doesn’t seem to get the joy out of driving that Mario did. When he won at Sonoma, he didn’t seem as happy as his dad and grandfather. Michael never looked happy either and admitted he was the driven by the pressure to perform and live up to his last name. And I think Marco feels that same pressure but just may not have the chops to win like his two heroes.
Q: From the shots taken in the pits following Graham Rahal’s return to the pit box in Toronto, it appeared that Bobby Rahal was very displeased with his son. Graham seemed to be surprised by the apparent tongue-lashing his father directed toward him when he arrived back at the Rahal pit box following his demise. What was Bobby so upset over that could be attributed to Graham? I still like this team and they sure have had more than their share of bad luck and being caught up in crashes. I’d like to see some wins that other small teams have garnered.
Thomas Grimes, Waco, TX
RM: I didn’t see it but was told Graham was upset with his latest mechanical gremlin and Bob was trying to calm him down. It’s been a humbling and frustrating season, no doubt, and the pressure to produce is magnified by having the National Guard on board.
Q: With regard to making ovals work, two questions. From the way-out-there category, what do you think would happen if the Hulman-George family sold IndyCar (but not IMS) to the France family? Assuming they agreed on a price and contractual language to keep the ICS running and the 500 each year, do you think the France family would be invested to grow the ICS if they owned it? From the not-so-absurd category, since ISC has never been a friend of IndyCar, do you think the Hulman-George family could enter into a business relationship of some type with the France family such that a percentage of profits from races at ISC or other NASCAR-owned tracks would go to NASCAR? The point being if the France family stood to make money on IndyCar, perhaps they would be more willing to help it grow at the ISC tracks, perhaps even run ICS on Saturday and Cup on Sunday at compatible ISC tracks (I know, Sprint vs. Verizon would be a potential issue). And for the record, I did not smoke any crack before I wrote this.
David, Greensboro, NC
RM: Put that pipe down David. I suppose I could see ISC buying IMS (that’s only been a rumor for 20 years) but not IndyCar. Brian France has bigger fish to fry (the recently formed car owners’ group) than owning another series and everyone should have learned from the IRL days that NASCAR has no desire to help Indy car racing. Plus, what’s the incentive? NASCAR already has three series with half-full to empty grandstands.
Q: IndyCar, like F1, is obviously having a tough time putting butts in the seats – IndyCar for its own bag of reasons, while F1 shot itself in the foot with both barrels, killing it’s series’ hallmark sound with it’s bone-headed engine change. IndyCar has the perfect golden opportunity to throw F1 out of this country, again, and start filling the stands if they wake up and jump on this opportunity. All they have to do is get rid of their awful turbochargers, which killed their own lame sound, get Honda and the Bowtie folks to spin those things back up to 15k where they belong and make some real music. People don’t go to races to hear a bunch of vacuum cleaners go around a track, they go there to feel the sound of each car, not just the boring drone turbos produce. If IndyCar ever expects to start filling the seats in the grandstand with something other than paint schemes to make it look like there are people there, they had better wake up.
RM: I gotta say that the old turbocharged engines in USAC and CART sounded damn good and plenty impressive so it’s not the turbos as much as the horsepower. But Townsend Bell and Gil de Ferran are firm believers that Indy cars need to be beasts like they were in CART’s heyday and more people would be attracted. I’m skeptical it would make a noticeable difference in attendance or viewership but I do hear a lot of people say the same thing about 1,000hp and having your breath taken away by a Penske, Lola, Reynard or Eagle aping around a corner and accelerating to the next one.
Q: Based on Texas and Iowa, if there is a yellow with 20 or so laps left at Milwaukee or Fontana, will the LEADER come in for tires?
John Campbell, Oregon
RM: Good question. Depends on the situation. How old are the leader’s tires? How many cars on the lead lap? How many lapped cars between the leader and second place? Would it be a difference-maker at Milwaukee like it was at Iowa? I know what you’re saying but T.K. did what seemed logical at Iowa by staying out. If he pits, everybody follows. But why Ganassi didn’t split its four cars’ strategies remains puzzling to me.
Q: I am in total agreement with you. If I hit the lottery, I would gladly help fund SFHR and Josef Newgarden. Not only do I see tremendous potential in Josef, he is one of the most affable drivers in the paddock. Sarah always talks to everyone and has done a lot with her team and for IndyCar.
I was very surprised to see an for IndyCar on NBCSN. Someone is finally paying some attention to what you and everyone else has been saying. Any rumblings about Pocono?
Dino, New Hanover, Pa.
RM: I believe Josef has one year remaining with SFHR and a win would do wonders for that little group. He’s been close and he’d be Penske perfect in my opinion but we’ll wait and see what happens. Nothing on Pocono yet.
Q: One thing I like about Formula 1 is, race to race, it’s easy to tell which drivers belong to which cars. The sponsors and car colors do not change throughout the season. But how many sponsors and paint schemes has Marco’s car had this year? I’m finding it hard to follow a driver on track. And hasn’t Montoya’s livery changed at least once as well?
Bill Jurasz, Oracle, Austin, TX
RM: I guess that’s a major difference between F1 and IndyCar sponsors. Tony Kanaan has different paint schemes because Target’s sponsorship utilizes different customers while Team Penske has Triple A, Shell/Pennzoil, PPG, Hawk and other companies for selected races. It’s confusing to the fans sometimes but it’s necessary to keep the drivers employed and on track.
Q: First, I think Honda deserves a thumbs-up for using Hinch in TV commercials. Second, Honda deserves a thumbs-down for no mention of IndyCar at their dealerships. I bought a new Honda recently and the dealership had no posters or anything related to IndyCar. I was hoping to see at least one poster of RHR since he won Indy with a Honda. Only thing related to IndyCar I saw was a salesman wearing an old IZOD IndyCar polo shirt. Shame. My stepfather went to the Toronto Indy for the first time. He loved it! He’s already talking about going again next year. IndyCar gained a new fan!
RM: Hinch is made for television and I imagine that Honda dealerships are under no orders to promote IndyCar. It would make sense at Bobby Rahal’s place but don’t you suppose it’s up to the individual dealers? Congrats for making a new fan but you must have taken him on Sunday, not Saturday.…
Q: This is a tough one because it might hurt the close racing, but we need more separation between the cars as it’s not really fun to watch the 15th-fastest guy win races because he pitted early and got lucky on strategy. Kudos for taking advantage of the rules but with the 15th-fastest car you really shouldn’t be in contention for the win. The close nature of the series, while producing great side-by-side racing, makes winning a crapshoot and it seems that more TRUE racing should reward speed and not good luck. I don’t want to go back to the early ’90s when Little Al would check out on a street course and lap everybody, but I also don’t like seeing a backmarker win because they pitted early and got a lucky caution and cycled to the front – that’s bogus.
Brady, Frisco, TX
RM: I imagine you’re referring to Mike Conway’s win at Toronto but he was rewarded for taking a chance the slicks would be OK for the drying track. Or Carlos Huertas winning at Houston. But opting for alternate pit strategy has always been around: it just seems more effective this season and qualifying really doesn’t mean what it used to on a street circuit or road course. And timely cautions are also part of an equation that is far from exact. Dale Coyne won Houston (and should have run 1-2) because he wisely adjusted to the timed race and was rewarded.
Q: I have to say I am a little confused by the “lifelong race fans” who say they are tired of strategy being used to win races. Some people seem to think that smoking a cigarette and drinking a cup of coffee during a pit stop is racing, but it is not. Maybe these lifelong IndyCar fans should start a movement to get Ray Harroun’s victory thrown out, but then again it would take some work to figure out who didn’t use some sort of strategy. Or maybe they should go watch a sprint car race, where they don’t refuel…Oh wait, in sprints and midgets you have to select a right-rear tire then race accordingly, making sure the tire lasts and your car is fastest at the right time.
I just challenge those fans to try to learn a little about racing instead of just bitching that they’re going away, or simply turn off the audio and just watch. My teenage son can tell you which cars are on what strategy and who should pit when by watching live at the track, not by having a TV announcer tell him. For me, my car is almost ready for Saturday so I have plenty of time to work on my excuses. Let’s see…didn’t have time to work on the car, motor is four years old and wore out, tires are junk and of course all of the other racers are cheating.
RM: I hear educated and race savvy fans say they wish the fuel mileage races would go away but, as I said above, it’s been part of the landscape for a long time and it’s not going away. IndyCar adds laps to races to try and ensure it’s a minimum two-stopper but then a couple cautions at the right time make three stops a winning formula. Fans don’t like to hear about backing off to save fuel five laps into a race, and neither do I, but it’s the reality, sometimes.
Q: I’m a racing nut and I enjoy a full weekend of racing. I would rather have Indy Lights and IndyCar in 2-3 days (preferably three) at Pocono instead of one. I want to see as much IndyCar on track activity as possible. What other series could run on that weekend at Pocono?
RM: We had a suggestion earlier in this Mailbag for the winged sprinters of ISMS super modifieds to run at Iowa but Pocono may be too big. If you don’t have 33 cars and a big financial incentive, I’d like to see the 500-miler at Pocono scrapped in favor of a couple of 150-mile heats. A race at 11 a.m. and again at 3 p.m. would be better than a strung-out field of 21-22 cars.
Q: How about this idea for next season’s schedule? On last weekend in April they race at Kentucky Speedway. Friday is Verizon IndyCar World Fastest School Kid Field Trip at Kentucky Speedway. They invite every school in the area from Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and the first 50,000 school kids to take advantage of the offer get a field trip to Kentucky Speedway for $1. At 10:45 a.m. IndyCars race for one hour then at 12:00 all IndyCar drivers are required to go into a section of stands for autographs and pictures. Verizon has sales reps all over the seating areas that day to show and promote all its different apps etc. Just think, a great sales promotion for Verizon with younger kids who seem to want nothing more at any time than to text or play games with their phones and maybe convert some of them to IndyCar fans along with converting them to Verizon. Saturday night, you have the feature race and any school kid who presents their $1.00 Friday ticket voucher gets Mom, Dad, and sibling half-price tickets for the feature. Try it for one year with IndyCar, Verizon and Kentucky Speedway splitting the cost.
RM: Not sure about Kentucky but I like the concept and I sent your suggestion to Jay Frye, the IndyCar/IMS chief revenue officer, to look over. No doubt that bringing kids to a race is a better seller than sending drivers to schools. If you can hook them early, you can make fans for life.
Q: My daughter and I traveled six hours round trip to the Iowa race and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Seemed kinda dumb that the drivers autograph session was on Friday, but there were inflatables, games, and the Fan Experience on Saturday before the race. We met Pippa Mann, Paul Page, David Hobbs and PT – all were accommodating and gracious. My daughter even watched the entire race this year! Anyway, really hoping Iowa and IndyCar continue their relationship, certainly it can’t rain or threaten rain every year, can it? I wish all the people who complain about the series could have an experience like we did!
Richard from New England
RM: Glad you had a good time and that’s well deserved for such a trek. The last three years the weather has been threatening or has actually rained at Iowa so that never helps the walk-up crowd and had you been in Des Moines at 6 p.m. on Saturday night, no way you’d have driven an hour to the track with the ominous storm clouds. Always one of the best races of the year so I hope it stays forever.
Q: I see Formula E is scheduled to visit Long Beach on April 4 of next year on a track slightly different than what IndyCar uses. Based on the 2014 IndyCar schedule, this race would be one week prior to a potential IndyCar race. Is IndyCar moving to a different track, and is it concerned a Formula E race so close on the calendar might impact promotion/attendance?
Lou Edina, MN
RM: No, IndyCar isn’t moving and the Formula E race is free of charge so I don’t see any conflicts or problems that would impact the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach crowd.
Q: I just read that, as of last week, Kurt Busch was 25th in both Sprint Cup points (where he has only one win and is virtually locked into the Chase) and IndyCar points. That is awesome and pathetic at the same time. It’s awesome because Busch has only one IndyCar race under his belt, and he is 25th in points (which bodes well for him, since his one race was the Indy 500 in which he finished sixth). It’s pathetic because he has only one IndyCar race under his belt, and he is 25th in points (which bodes poorly for IndyCar because to have a guy who has run only one race to be in 25th in points means that the number of competitors in IndyCar this year has been LOW, LOW, LOW).
In any event, kudos to Kurt on his points position in IndyCar and on his likely spot in the Sprint Cup Chase.
On a final note, I didn’t get to watch the truck race at Eldora, but it was another huge turnout. When will “the powers that be” in NASCAR and IndyCar realize that PEOPLE WANT TO WATCH DIRT TRACK RACES?!
RM: I don’t think it’s pathetic: there are only 22 full-time cars and IndyCar pays double points for the 500-milers so sixth is like two decent finishes. Tony Stewart wants Cup and/or Nationwide at Eldora and it’s a great idea because he could add seats and draw more people than showed up here last Sunday. But he needs to put some real clay on that track and give us a cushion again.
Q: May I suggest that IndyCar, the drivers and owners may be the biggest problem with growing IndyCar. 1) The fans want double-file restarts and the drivers shout, “No!” and IndyCar caves. I guess they want to leave the double-files to the “best drivers in the world”, NASCAR. 2) The fans and some drivers want “beasts” to drive with 900+hp but the manufacturers, IndyCar and maybe the owners say “NO!” I suppose they like NASCAR having the “beasts” (in more ways than just horsepower). 3) The fans want technology, different cars, anything other than cars that came from a rubber stamp; “NO!” shouts IndyCar and owners! Instead we get “kits.” Really? If IndyCar thinks the fans are the biggest problem I would suggest otherwise. Maybe they should look in the mirror and paddock for their problems instead of the empty stands. Just how does a promoter sell single-file restarts, lower horsepower and kits?
Donald McElvain, Polson, Montana
RM: The owners and drivers lobbied against double-file restarts, even though they’d been a big hit with the fans and had gone exceedingly well. Sometimes owners and drivers shouldn’t be seen, heard or allowed to vote. The aero kits are costing the owners more money and I think I’d just as soon see things left alone because the racing is so close and so good.
Q: I’ve enjoyed following the “Gospel according to Robin” for a lot of years: I THANK YOU for your interest and passion! Unfortunately… in a way… there have been more than a few weeks where your “bag” has been of more interest than the actual on-track show. Fortunately not nearly the case as much in these past couple of seasons!
1) I SO want to agree with you on the abolition of pit speed limits. However, the minute a driver loses control doing 160, instead of 60 and simultaneously wipes out several crew members ON MULTIPLE TEAMS I’ll feel exactly how I did after the Vegas tragedy. Going into that race, I minimized and rationalized away so many unnecessarily dangerous circumstances, only for them to horrifically materialize. Just not sure a dramatic increase in pit speed is worth the risk.
2) Forgive me if this is a dumb question, but do you know if any oval track promoters have considered just going to a single admission price with all reserved seating structure? To me this would reward both the fans and promoters. It helps all fans because of potentially and wisely lowering ticket prices, but also rewards them by purchasing early to obtain the best seating. Instead of having fans stuck at the BOTTOM of an oval (like Pocono) where the vantage is limited and wasting a bunch of good seats, reward ALL of the people that come out with a GOOD high seat and try to build larger crowds from there. The reward for the promoter is that hopefully they could spur MORE advanced ticket sales and reduce the risk incurred by race-day walk-ups. I’d really hate to see venues like Pocono and Texas drop off the IndyCar map, as it will be difficult, if not impossible to get them back once gone. The pool of available, desirable and cooperating venues is scarily rapidly diminishing.
Rich “Wracked Opinion” Armstrong
RM: Thanks for reading. As far as pit speed limits, I wouldn’t let the crews go over the wall until the car had stopped. Obviously, that doesn’t mean another car couldn’t come roaring into the pits and slide into a crew already servicing a car but I think the drivers could handle it just fine. I think your one-price tickets would work on the ovals, for sure. And 15,000 fans all scrunched together looks much better than everyone spread out along the straightaway. Sounds better too. Pocono and Fontana both have very reasonable prices but maybe a $40 ticket for a reserved seat and paddock pass would help draw more folks.
Q: So this has been burning me up since April and I have wanted to ask it, but just haven’t. I am an increasing fan of IndyCar and a bit of F1 also. I have been dragging my family off to a few races. The last Las Vegas race was our first and very depressing as the accident that took Dan Wheldon happened at our first race. Been going to Fontana since and in April we discovered how fantastic Long Beach is.
So, the night before Long Beach we are checking into a hotel and Pirelli World Challenge is on a lobby TV. A guy strikes up a conversation. I tell him I am going to see that tomorrow at the Grand Prix, but I am here for IndyCar. He says, “Why IndyCar?” I then proceed to tell him that…it’s because they are racier, more competitive, more fun to watch, etc. It turns out he was just an argumentative tool. This just rubs the guy the wrong way and he proceeds to “school me” that F1 is faster, better racing, whatever. I tell him they are quicker, but slower and that there is no way they could compete on a superspeedway, because their aero kits are different and they would fly off the track. The guy claimed that an F1 car could do 297mph at IMS. He didn’t like it when I laughed and told him who Arie Luyendyk is and how fast open-wheel cars can go without sailing off into the wild blue yonder. So tell me, oh open-wheel swami: who was right? Too apples and oranges?
Gary Nelson, Flagstaff, AZ
RM: IndyCar racing has been the best big-time series on four wheels the past two seasons, no argument. This year, because Red Bull and Vettel have been equalized, Formula 1 has been pretty damn entertaining as well. But, other than the refreshing driving of Daniel Ricciardo, the top step of the podium is usually between the Mercedes duo of Rosberg and Hamilton, whereas it’s impossible to predict the winner of any IndyCar race. An F1 car going 297mph at Indy? Paul Tracy and Nigel Mansell are the only two brave enough to try that and they’re retired. Plus, that speed is ridiculous for an F1 car. You win the argument.
Q: I first saw Indy car races in the early 1960s at Trenton and Langhorne. I was reflecting back on these races. Back then when Americans resisted the rear-engine cars that had taken over Formula 1, Jim Clark and, I believe Dan Gurney, ran the cars in Trenton. I can remember the fans cheering when Clark’s Lotus broke down. I think they were actually expressing relief fearing that maybe these rear-engine cars were better than the front-engine American cars.
The link below is to a YouTube video of, I believe, the last race at Trenton in 1979. Back then, there was talk that Roger Penske was going to buy the track from George Hamid, who was the owner of the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. I remember thinking at the time: is this just a negotiating tactic in the Indy car war? You recall Indy car had split into two camps from which it has never recovered. Was Penske serious about buying the track or not? If he was serious, what happened? The link below describes the dogleg that had been added to the track to take it from a mile to a mile and a half. At the time, I thought it was a gimmick, but now with the road and street courses, maybe it was ahead of its time.
The criticism of Indy car racing at the time was that it was just four left turns. The nice thing about a track like Trenton was that you could see the cars all the way around. Pocono has that feature as well. You can see the pits and the track all from one seat. Last year I went to St. Petersburg and Pocono and sat where I could see the pits. I passed on both Baltimore races because they had no seating opposite the pits. Seeing the cars in only one corner of the track with no pit action has little appeal to me. The old New Jersey State Fairgrounds which contained Trenton Speedway remained vacant for many years and is now a sculpture garden which was created by Seward Johnson of the Johnson & Johnson family.
RM: As I recall, CART needed racetracks early in that war and I think RP was serious about buying it to go along with MIS. Not sure what happened but Trenton was a cool track and pretty damn challenging.
Q: I just watched the Toronto Indy on DVR and despite not seeing race 1, was thoroughly entertained. Kudos to Seabass on passing PT and Dario on the all-time win list and winning again in open-wheel. I must be getting soft in my old age to be happy for someone who was once my least-favorite Champ Car sourpuss, but I’ll bet Paul Newman was smiling down! Kudos to IndyCar and Walker for red-flagging then calling race 1.
I don’t agree with your assessment. TO is a concrete jungle, just look at the melee in the run-off. Aleshin and Hawksworth may race in the rain across the pond, but not on narrow street courses with changing grip and little run-off. Natural road course? Go for it IndyCar! Not in TO though. I doubt that Sarah Fisher or Herta or Coyne can afford to tear up racecars just for a show. Kudos to Race Control for allowing repairs BEFORE the race started. Nobody wants to see a championship decided on an ill-conceived start attempt.
Kudos to the whole NBCSN team for making the entire Saturday telecast entertaining, from PT’s overzealous use of the telestrator, to Bell’s insight, to your interviews. It was all entertaining (PT, get Patty to tie your tie, brotha). The booth has massive chemistry. Varsha is great, and TBell and the Thrill from West Hill rock. Find a way to wedge Hobbs in there too. The piece on Coyne was great. I sure hope TO isn’t derailed by the Pan Am games like Vancouver was by the Olympics. What a shame. IndyCar is gaining such traction, we are seeing Hinch in TV ads here, the local networks actually report results now, but I was shocked into reality when the commentators reminded us the season ends in a month! A MONTH! No kudos to Mark Miles!
Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, BC Canada
RM: Thanks Trevor, a good way to take us out of the third 10,000-word mailbag in three weeks.