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 email@example.com 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: Just read your column about Josef Newgarden at Mid-Ohio and could not agree more with your question as to why one of the big three teams aren’t talking to him. It’s odd how Roger and Chip don’t really develop young drivers any more. I guess they get their pick of whomever they want regardless. Newgarden also showed class by accepting the pit error and not acting like a spoiled child as others have in the past. As you said, he has everything going for him, he’s fast, good looking, has class and is an AMERICAN! Think he’s got a shot with Penske?
RM: I think Tim Cindric interviewed him a couple years ago when he was 21 and maybe didn’t think he was mature enough yet. But The Captain has a good eye for talent and Newgarden is Penske Perfect in every way – from his fan popularity to media savvy to emerging talent. I would hope he gives the kid a shot by 2016.
Q: Help me out here, because I am a big Sarah Fisher/Josef Newgarden fan, I am amazed at what this little team is able to accomplish and I am pissed. One part of me thinks Josef should have shown up at the shop Monday morning demanding answers from the pit crew, another part hopes Sarah walks someone out the door. The issue for me is that with most IndyCar pit stops, the crew has plenty of time to prep. They can lay out the tires, get into position and perform the stop very quickly. Now things can happen, someone can slip, the fueler can have trouble engaging, a wheel nut could fall but to have someone make a conscious decision to loop a hose across the path of the car and no one says or does anything to correct it is unforgivable. If this truly was an “accident” then I suggest they immediately purchase neon orange hoses and hold a meeting to discuss what to do in the future. With that said I am not a knee jerk kind of guy, so please help me understand what happened.
Alex, Northern Calif.
RM: Team manager Andy O’Gara called Josef into the pits as he was going through Turn 9 so it was a surprise because the crew was preparing to service the car the next lap. They obviously scrambled and it was a disaster. But, to your point, even in all the chaos, somebody should have seen that hose sitting in harm’s way. As for Newgarden’s attitude, he’s getting more aggressive on the track but remains even-keeled off it – even in the face of that gut-wrenching pit stop that cost him his first victory. I doubt he would ever call for somebody to be fired. And I went to the Indiana State Fair with him, Pagenaud and Aleshin last night and Josef was his usual good-natured self and appears to have already moved on.
Q: It has been nice to see Josef Newgarden and SFH Racing improve. Do you think we will see Josef and SFHR get their first win? They seem to be knocking on the door, would really be nice to see them both get their first wins.
John Cassis, Houston, Texas
RM: Ed Carpenter got Sarah her first and only win to date in 2011 at Kentucky but Josef nearly stole one at Iowa last month and was leading Long Beach when he got taken out. So, yes, it’s only a matter of time until he wins for her and Wink Hartman.
Q: My third visit to Mid-Ohio and, once again, it didn’t disappoint, except for the paddock pass wouldn’t allow entry into the pits this year and I heard a lot of people complaining about that. The race was one of the best I’ve seen at the track; Josef Newgarden’s stellar performance (reading your “Jilting Josef” article I can assure you that you weren’t the only one yelling the F word, whether verbally or silently in your head), a great finish for Graham at his home track and Scott Dixon’s fifth win at the track, we weren’t disappointed with the show.
Do you think Josef had the speed to catch Dixon in the end for the win had the pit stop debacle not occurred? Surely this kid (he’s only about a few months younger than me so I can get away with calling him a kid, haha) is the next rising American star? With Graham’s improving performances & more consistency from Marco these three are going to be the ones to keep an eye on. Do you think Graham will see a return to the podium in any of the last races this season? As far as next season is concerned, do you know if Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan racing is planning on bringing back a second full season car for Servia, Filippi or another driver? And what’s the word on their Indy Lights program, is that confirmed or still only a possibility?
Craig Tomastik, Galena, OH
RM: Of the 100 or so people I ran into after the race they had ALL used the F word after Josef’s last pit stop. But, yes, he had no problem staying on Dixie’s rear wing (on black tires no less) and then just took off after passing Bourdais on reds. He had carved out a nice gap prior to that last stop and was one good stop away from his initial victory. Graham and Marco started on the front row at Milwaukee a few years ago so both could make the podium next weekend or at Fontana. Bobby Rahal says he’d like to run two cars and a Lights team – see Marshall Pruett’s story here – but it’s too early to know.
Q: Long-time follower, first-time writer. Since my previous #1 driver, Dario, had to give up driving, I have “adopted” Josef as I agree with your opinion of his potential. As a corner marshal, I admired the rookie’s internal fortitude to try to pass Dario on the outside in Turns 1 and 2 at Long Beach in 2012 and have been pulling for him (and his team) ever since. When he once again qualified on the front row at Mid-Ohio, I thought “he can do this.” Needless to say, I almost cried when they had the pitstop problems and again with the required drive through penalty. His (good) day will come but, as you said, it should have been at Mid-Ohio.
RM: Think about this: he’s on a small team and he’s never had teammate (except at Indy) or any veteran’s help and he’s still been up there battling on ovals, road courses and street circuits. And he’s only 23. Look at Michael, Little Al, Montoya, Marco and Graham and compare the advantages they had starting out to Newgarden. It’s obvious to most people, but maybe not car owners, that Josef’s “got it.”
Q: Enjoyed your piece Monday on Josef Newgarden and it is great to see the “little teams” succeed. There is a quote on a calendar in our office from Michael Jordan, “I’ve failed over and over and over in my life and that is why I succeed.” I think it fits SFHR. This might be a pipe dream but hope SFHR finds funding to become a 2-car team, Josef stays, and IndyCar overall becomes stronger.
James A. DaPuzzo III
RM: It would certainly behoove IndyCar to have Sarah and Wink score a big sponsor, expand to two cars and keep Newgarden. That’s why it’s so important to get that first win for Hartman – he needs to stay engaged and enthusiastic. But coming close is only good for so long.
Q: The Mid-Ohio race was the “what could have been” race. For a track known for no passing there was some great racing up until about Lap 60. And then Dixon was gone. Yawn. That’s all I can say. What a boring finish. It was one of the few times I was hoping for a yellow to bunch everyone up to make it interesting. Also, was it me or did it seem that TK spun on Lap 1 due to the curbing? David Hobbs did mention it once that TK may have gotten too much of the curb but it was not discussed and everyone focused on what Josef should have done or not done. And I agree with you and Josef’s pit crew gaffe. &%$#!!!
Lawrence H., Sanford, FL
RM: Yes, there was a lot more action than usual and it was still entertaining until Josef’s last pit stop (Lap 62). Then it ended like so many Mid-Ohio races from the past. TK didn’t mention the curb and kinda treated it like a hard racing incident.
Q: I used to hate seeing Mid-Ohio on the schedule because I knew we were in for a day of follow-the-leader, but this year’s race was different. Hinch had a start for the ages, Kimball banged wheels with Montoya, raced Power hard, Briscoe showed muscle, the great Newgarden passes and Dixie going worst to first, and that’s what I saw on TV. I can only imagine what I could see if what the fans saw at the track. So why did this year’s fantastic race break the boring mold of recent IndyCar races at Mid-Ohio?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA
RM: Stout cars, aggressive moves and some pretty good driving would be my short answer. Firestone’s reds and blacks also play a big role in overtaking.
Q: If the clown show that was Q1 doesn’t convince IndyCar that they need to implement on-board starters, nothing will.
Mike Grove, Copley, OH
RM: On this issue, I defer to Marshall Pruett most of the time but, clearly, IndyCar needs to address this ASAP.
Q: It seems to me that Firestone and IndyCar could do a much better job with the rain tires used this year, after the Toronto race and Mid-Ohio qualifying it looks to me like very few drivers can handle the rain with this setup. Call me crazy but I think my 2010 Hyundai Sonata might have had a shot at the Mid-Ohio pole in the rain! I know that horsepower is an issue but frankly a street tire seems to get far better traction. Have any of the talented engineers with English accents tried adjusting or leaning out the air/fuel mixture to cut horsepower in the engine? With all the brains in the paddock somebody must have a solution to end this rain-induced chaos. Maybe you have an idea Robin?
Dave Pisula, Westerville, Ohio
RM: The drivers have asked Firestone to make them a badass rain tire for street circuits in 2015 since those are the places that always lack grip or are insanely slippery like Toronto. They can deal with a wet track (like Barber) but Mid-Ohio was damn near flooded before qualifying began so, short of having 2-3 rain compounds like F1, nothing anybody could do but tiptoe around. And IndyCar wants to control costs so one rain tire is all that’s requested from Firestone.
Q: Why does IndyCar keep the time running during red flags in qualifying? With the junk rain tires that Firestone has, qualifying at Mid-Ohio was a joke! With the short time spans in qualifying between one or two reds, the session is over. Please tell somebody at IndyCar to change this.
Lenny Mishik, Fairview Pk. , OH
RM: IndyCar guarantees five minutes of green time in the Fast 6 and one timed lap in the others but it does seem crazy to not stop the clock. The time-certain schedule because of all the races might play into it, but IndyCar is the top billing so give the fans their money’s worth.
Q: I was at the Mid-Ohio race and you should give TK major props for me. We listened to the driver meeting before the race and they announced that they would do restarts this time from the finish line. TK asked why and if this was a promoter request. The answer he got back was that it was for the fans and the suites. TK pointed out that restarts on the back stretch going into the esses was a big fan favorite. They ended up keeping the restarts on the backstretch. THANKS TK! What were the crowd numbers this year? Seemed low. We got out in record time.
Randy in Dayton, OH
RM: Can’t imagine changing after all these years so I’m glad TK spoke up (I suggested a standing start to him because the track is so tight but he insisted a flying start was what he wanted). Friday and Saturday weren’t nearly as big without the TUDOR sports cars but Sunday made a nice comeback. One longtime Mid-Ohio observer and Mansfield resident guessed 25,000 and that looked plausible.
Q: So I went to Mid-Ohio for the second straight year and it may sadly be my last. The race isn’t scheduled to start until 3:50 p.m. on Sunday. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if the race were on Saturday but on a Sunday, when so many of us have to go back home for work the next day? Best case scenario is that the race ends by 5:30-6 p.m. Sit for an hour or so to let traffic thin out a little bit and then drive for 4.5 hours to get home shortly before midnight. And all this for a sub-1.0 rating on TV?
Let’s be courteous to the fans who actually spend the $$$ to go to these events and start the races so that we can get home at a decent hour. How about showing a full tape-delayed race at the 3-6 p.m. time slot instead. Otherwise, more fans like me (and I’m one of the thick-skulled, diehard, methanol-inhaling junkies) might just say to hell with it and stay home. Mid-Ohio is my fourth IndyCar race of the season and I’d like to go to Milwaukee too but these start times are just killing me.
Steve, Sheridan, IN
RM: I hear you Steve and I’ve always said and written that the paying customers should curry favor and all races should start at 1 p.m. (except for night shows obviously). I know a lot of people from Indianapolis who passed on their annual trip to Mid-Ohio because of getting back so late and then going to work. Same thing is going to happen at Milwaukee (Indy and Chicago fans aren’t prepared to fight Sunday night traffic and I don’t blame them). NBCSN has a 3-6 p.m. window this season so every race has been a late starter except Indy but tape delays aren’t going to happen. And I imagine NASCAR will have the 1-4 p.m. window next year on weekends they run on NBCSN.
Q: I’ve been going to Mid-Ohio for years and all three days this year had as big of a crowd as I can recall in recent memory. The ovals need to take a look at Mid-Ohio’s weekend schedule for inspiration – about 10 hours of non-stop racing for three days. No wonder it is one of the better attended races. IndyCar also needs to be more proactive in promoting races (specifically ovals) or I am afraid our schedule in a few years will be the Indy 500 plus eight road/street double headers. Sure, we have Verizon on board and TV ratings are up, but there were also only 22 cars at Mid-Ohio. The last four years have seen car counts at this race of 24, 25, 27 and 27 (2013-2010 respectively). We are heading in the wrong direction in car counts and three teams control half of the field, which cannot be healthy. We all whine about the schedule, but the car counts concern me just as much as the schedule. Is there talk of any new teams looking to join for next year?
To end on a positive note, thanks to Simon Pagenaud for speaking with my son for a few minutes and taking a picture with him this weekend. Simon is a big reason my young son is becoming a big IndyCar fan. He appears to genuinely be one of the friendliest drivers in the paddock and it is no wonder he is quickly becoming a fan favorite!
Adam in Ashland, OH
RM: You can put on good races at most places with 22 cars, just not 500-milers at Pocono and Fontana. Fan Force United is trying to come up with the funding to run Stefan Wilson next year but that’s all I know of at the moment.
And you’re right: the fast, friendly frog is a good guy and a helluva racer and his popularity is growing.
Q: I’m hearing Andretti is contemplating another car for 2015. I realize car count is very important for the series, but is it healthy for a few car owners to have so many cars entered? Every sponsorship dollar the top teams get is a dollar a small team needs to compete. I’d hate to see the series become like NASCAR and the NHRA nitro classes where only three or four teams can compete for wins and championships. I fear this will at some point eliminate the ability and desire of small teams to participate, thus negatively impacting car count. Your thoughts?
John Fulton, Akron, Ohio
RM: Good question. On one hand having three guys own half the field is concerning since there are only 22 cars. But it’s also a good thing Michael Andretti, Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske have the wherewithal to do it or IndyCar would be hurting. Yes, it needs more owners and some younger owners who will be around for a long time. And now is the best time because you can buy the same car as the Big 3, get the same engine and kick their ass like Carpenter, Coyne, KVSH did …and SFHR almost did.
Q: With three races remaining in the IndyCar season, it appears Silly Season has arrived. Does Simon P. stay with Schmidt or go elsewhere? He’s a proven winner but what other options does he really have at this point?? Is Graham Rahal going to stay with Bobby Rahal or will he be released? Also, will the National Guard sponsorship leave RLLR due to this awful season? I honestly could see this going either way based on how this dreadful season has gone.
RM: Considering Andretti is scrambling to try and keep four wheels under Hinch, I think Simon will stay with Schmidt Peterson Hamilton in 2015. But I imagine somebody like Ganassi or Penske has told him to sign a one-year deal and check back about 2016. Graham has been running much better the past three races so hopefully that keeps The Guard happy.
Q: I read the Silly Season article on Racer.com and I noticed one very absent piece of information. What are Sage Karam’s prospects for 2015? Is he content to wait for a ride from Ganassi? The article certainly implied that Chip won’t have an opening.
I’m still gutted for Newgarden. I thought for sure he was going to win Mid-Ohio.
RM: Sage is under contract to Ganassi and I’ve heard one possible scenario is that he runs the Indy 500 and maybe a couple other races in 2015 while driving sports cars full-time for the Chipster. Then, he moves into a full-time IndyCar ride in 2016.
Q: Why is it my favorite young American driver, Conor Daly, despite his desire to race in the IndyCar Series and obvious ability, continues to be ignored by owners in the paddock? Please tell me someone is open to give him a chance? I know you have proclaimed you will help if you win the lottery, and that remains a slight possibility because I know you are a degenerate gambler, but it remains a long shot.
Brian Henris, Fort Mill, SC
RM: I think if Mike Conway goes full-time sports car racing in Europe next season then Conor has a chance to replace him at Ed Carpenter’s. I want to see him road race, that’s his forte. There’s also a chance he could race a second car for A.J. Foyt because Larry and Tex both liked Daly from Day 1 in his Sebring test.
Q: Who needs a Chase? The top 13 drivers in IndyCar still have a chance to win the title. Seemed odd when they announced during the race that there were only three races left in the season, and it’s the beginning of August. Any chance Mark Miles & Co. extend the season next year? Start in February outside the USA where it’s warm and finish at the end of September, run between 22-24 races. Nice schedule, not all bunched up, and not a lot of down time, where the fans forget about IndyCar, and the mechanics do not get laid off. I heard that Kalkhoven was in Europe over the weekend. Cosworth talks?
RM: IndyCar hasn’t needed any phony chase or gimmicks the past decade since the title is always decided at the season finale. Double points at Fontana do keep a lot of drivers in with a possibility. The season will start in Dubai at end of February, then move to Brasilia in the first weekend in March (if the track work is finished) and then come to America. But I don’t think it’s going to last much longer, if at all. However, finding somebody to host a race on Labor Day seems very unlikely. Check out Marshall Pruett’s schedule story here.
Not sure about KK’s trip.
Q: You have preached about how if IndyCar is to move forward and grow once again, it must partner with the race promoters. Of course, I couldn’t agree more. That got me to thinking about something one doesn’t normally see or read about much concerning IndyCar. That is: money. Once in a while, we see where the driver that wins the pole for a race is presented one of those giant checks. This is normally seen at the Indy 500 if not elsewhere.
My question is that we never see how much the owner/team gets for a win. I know in F1 that money is distributed at the end of the season based on the Constructors’ Championship. Is this how it also works in IndyCar? This led me to ponder another question. I realize that IndyCar is a business, and as such, it needs to make a profit. But as Woodward and Bernstein told us to “follow the money” in Watergate, (yeah, I’m THAT old), maybe we need to “follow the money” in IndyCar.
My point is that if there is not enough of an income stream to make IndyCar profitable, then perhaps this is the reason it does not partner with race promoters. Then again, maybe this just makes a good conspiracy theory, but we don’t ever see or hear about how money is distributed or how much is made after race expenses. What is your take and can you perhaps fill in any of the blanks.
Jerry Laake, Davenport, Iowa
RM: The reason you never read about how much the winner of an IndyCar race makes is because it’s so embarrassingly low. I believe it’s still $30,000 and the money trail is easy. Because of the Leader Circle Program, all that money that used to go into the purses now goes to the owners in three or four payments that totals $1.2 million. It screws the drivers who run for 40 percent and mechanics who earn a percentage but, without the LCP, we might not have 18 cars. It’s a vicious Catch-22. The IRL lost millions and millions and IndyCar isn’t making any money either, but it’s not a black hole like it was. And a track that co-promotes a race with IndyCar only cares about its own bottom line – not theirs.
Q: With all the talk about ways to better promote IndyCar, how come no one mentions one of the best promoters they COULD have, David Letterman? I know he’s retiring soon, but he could have a different driver on each week and put them in front of a huge audience. Kind of surprised he’s never done this since he is an owner.
Dustin in KS
RM: Nobody on a national level has done more to promote IndyCar, its drivers and the Indy 500 than David but he can only do it so often (Indy winner, the champ, a special story like Zanardi).
Q: Glad to see the rolling chicane is going to tin-tops!
Dino, New Hanover, Pa.
RM: Milk & Doughnuts ran ARCA so going to Nationwide is just the natural progression for an up-and-coming young driver.
Q: I have to think Curt Cavin is now a bit mad for being played by Michael Andretti. I hope by playing these games that it doesn’t all backfire and end up with the sponsor being deterred from dealing with a guy like Andretti, who has now lost some credibility and trust (whatever that may have been whittled down to) or IndyCar in general. While we’d all like to see Simon Pagenaud on a “big” team, simply because he deserves it, I do not want it to happen at the expense of Hinchcliffe and I’m concerned that this is one of the scenarios. I doubt it’s something like UFD taking its budget and Hinch to Ganassi, though that would be preferable from my point of view. When do you think the music (and BS) will stop and we’ll know what’s been signed for next year?
RM: Yeah, still not sure why Michael would say Hinch didn’t exercise his option when it was Andretti’s call. Don’t think James was any too pleased and, like he said, why, in this economy would he announce he’s a free agent with nothing waiting in the wings? If UFD stays, it’s going to be with Andretti and the team claims it wants to keep The Mayor and that Pagenaud is second priority. But probably have to wait until after the season to know the final result.
Q: I was doing some thinking about this year’s off-season and more specifically Andretti Autosport. If James Hinchcliffe decides to leave Andretti, that would open the door for Simon Pagenaud to join the team without adding a car. But what would happen with Zach Veach and Matt Brabham? I think Brabham could use another year in Lights. But I think if Veach wins the Lights title Andretti could run a 5th car but if he takes second, I see him becoming the other driver for the Andretti Formula E team. What do think of this scenario?
Also, what about a return to Circuit Mont-Tremblant? I was watching the 2007 Champ Car race and the crowd looked strong.
RM: Let me start by saying that Hinch doesn’t want to leave Andretti (see question above yours). And if they can’t find money for James, not sure there’s any better chance for Simon. Brabs needs more seasoning, but Veach may be out of luck – at least for IndyCar, unless he finds a sponsor. St. Jovite is a great track, but nobody is looking there. Quebec City would seem more likely and possibly Calgary, but that’s just wishful thinking.
Q: I saw Dave Despain’s interview of Kyle Larson on MAVTV. As much as you’ve bragged on this kid, I expected at some point Dave would ask him if he had any desire to try IndyCar. He never asked. Have you chastised the old windbag for this?
John in Arkansas
RM: Naw, he only had 22 minutes and Kyle has told Chip he’d like to do it some day but I doubt if it happens for a while, if at all. I asked Ganassi about it last weekend and he said he feels like both ends suffer doing the double. But I said Larson is young, hungry and gives him another serious bullet. He didn’t sound like it will never happen, but it’s not a priority.
Q: I watch every IndyCar race possible and go to Sonoma every year. One of the problems with having IndyCar races on Saturday nights is the following: I go to my local race track almost? every Saturday night as I’m sure a lot of folks do. I like all forms of auto racing with IndyCar being number #1. Given the chance to watch Sierra Jackson in her sprint car live or watch TV is a no brainer! Also, I tweeted Davey Hamilton and asked if he knew Sierra. His quote was, “Yes I do and she is the real deal!”
On another note: We ran our Formula Atlantic and Super Vee July 4th weekend at Pacific Raceways in the Historic Grand Prix. Parnelli Jones was there and we had over 200 cars entered! My point is this; someone like Penske or Andretti needs to take an interest in bringing IndyCar back to the Northwest. Race interest is huge here! The track needs upgrading, but I believe the future economic plus would offset that in a reasonable amount of time. ?
RM: Well the good news is that IndyCar only runs three times at night so you can tape the race and still watch Sierra. I understand she’s quite a good shoe and people keep updating her progress. Portland showed some interest a couple years ago but, nothing lately, to my knowledge. Love to go back there, fans were always great and it was a big deal during the Rose Festival. But it needs corporate support, like every other track nowadays.
Q: I just won tickets to the Milwaukee 250 on the 17th! This will be my first race outside of Indiana. While I have no control over where the seats are (and I don’t yet even know where they are), any tips on enjoying that race and venue? Looking forward to the short oval experience!
Michael Thom, Fishers, IN
RM: Congratulations on the win. The grandstand is awesome because you can see all the way around in just about any seat. But the corners are always good as well. Really, you can’t go wrong.
Q: A couple of quick thoughts on the upcoming Milwaukee race and IndyCar in general. So far I’ve heard commercials for Milwaukee IndyFest on one of the major news/talk outlets at least a half dozen times in the past two weeks which is great. Not sure about billboards as I haven’t gone on I-94 in quite some time. Hopefully they can attract at least 25k to this race. Moving it back to the traditional week after Indy or as part of the State Fair (another bygone tradition for IndyCars) could only enhance their chances of larger crowds for the future as well.
One question regarding ads though…why don’t they say “the cars and stars of the Indy 500” like they used to? The casual fan would be more likely to be interested if they made that connection.
Dan Hanke, Milwaukee, WI
RM: Not sure why that phrase isn’t used more often because that was always the hook at Milwaukee – the drivers from last week’s Indy 500 at State Fair Park. It’s the one thing that resonates with non-race fans. Glad to hear it’s being well promoted.
Q: Have to agree with you that maybe IndyCar should become “co-promoters” at the ovals to help boost attendance at those venues. Why not try to put more butts in the stands by racing at ovals around the midwest where the IndyCar base seems to be the strongest? Use some cross-promotion at the ovals within driving distance from Indy. Chicago, Kentucky, Iowa, Michigan, St. Louis, even Pocono, etc. Maybe IndyCar can get back in at some of these tracks if they became the promoter or co-promoter. But if they did, they would actually have to do something to promote the race! As an example, by purchasing your Indy 500 tickets, you are entitled to purchase as many tickets at these other tracks as you want, buy one, get one free, no limit. It’s not like they are limited for space.
Getting two people (probably new ones who would not normally attend without the deal) to attend with one paying is better than they have now. This deal would only be available to person who paid in full to see the Indy 500. So, not all attendees at these other tracks would be 2 for 1. Could also help build Indy 500 attendance. Why not? They aren’t going to run out of seats in any case. And, they really, really need to get creative to rebuild the fan base. Just an idea. Just do something!
RM: The IRL races at Joliet, Ill. and Kentucky started out pretty strong, just like the CART races at St. Louis and Chicago but they eventually withered away to a few thousand. But I like your idea because promoters make nothing from all those empty seats and it’s going to take some kind of bargain to get people off the couch and heading to a race a couple hours away.
Q: A lot of the letters you receive comment that sponsors should give drivers more visibility in their commercials. They have it backward, drivers are the ones responsible for giving the sponsors more exposure. Like her or not, Danica Patrick is the gold standard for someone that understands how that works, she is constantly out in the public eye giving her sponsors exposure. No one else is even close. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson appear in commercials because the have the gravitas that comes with being multi time champions. None of the recent Indy 500 winners have been able to capture the general public’s imagination to make them credible or interesting spokespersons. You mentioned James Hinchcliffe as being someone who had the necessary skills but he didn’t seem to make the bells ring for GoDaddy and most likely 1 out of 100 Target shoppers here in Miami have no idea who Tony Kanaan is and he lives here in Miami. The drivers who have always captured our imagination are the ones who have dominated a series and driven the best cars or, like Danica, have broken new ground. As for the cars, having two models of Dallaras represent almost 15 years of Indy Car racing is not going to excite anyone and is going to look a little pitiful in the Indy Museum.
The reliability of the cars has eliminated another part of the drama of racing. Almost every racing fan knows the phrase “And Mario slows” or some variation of it. Part of his mystique is the many times his car failed him in the 500. Having a fast car that usually fails to finished is part of the drama of the race and it is sorely missing in these days of low horsepower engines built to last. And in some series, like ones with a balance of performance, the faster cars are slowed down so the slower cars have a somewhat equal chance of winning. Isn’t racing suppose to be about having the fastest car and if you don’t, going back to the drawing board to make it quicker?
RM: Well it’s really a two-way street because if you don’t have a sponsor willing to fork out the money for commercials you can have all the personality in the world and nobody will ever see it. GoDaddy loved Hinch, it just started downsizing and Target was able to project Vasser, Zanardi and Montoya onto a national level but IndyCar either doesn’t have the big sponsors necessary to pull it off anymore or the ones who can like The National Guard or ABC, chose to advertise in other avenues. I loved the ‘60s and ‘70s and all the various cars and engines that went with those years but today’s racing is ferocious and more competitive than ever before. I don’t pretend to know what makes people want to watch, or not watch, but Townsend Bell is convinced if the cars were beasts again it would really help.
Q: I just finished reading last week’s Mailbag and I wanted to comment on a question you were asked. Someone was wondering why we are not seeing more Verizon/IndyCar advertising. It may not be much but when I was at the Hawk/International Challenge (a vintage racing festival) at Road America, right in the middle of the paddock, along the main road through the paddock, at a point where you pretty much had to pass it, was Verizon with the whole setup that they usually have in the Fan Village. Product displays, games, their IndyCar trailer and the Verizon/Will Power display car. So I wanted to let others know that I personally have seen at least some IndyCar advertising that I’ve never seen before at Road America and kudos to Verizon/IndyCar for sending the Verizon setup to other tracks besides the ones IndyCar races at. And while I’m talking about it, I can’t help but ask about RA and IndyCar…
I remember reading an article last year from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in which George B. was quoted saying that he had a title sponsor lined up if IndyCar wanted to return and the only problem was finding a date. Was that a false report or did the sponsor leave the table or… ? Also, wasn’t there supposed to be a two-day testing session at RA in 2014?
Cullin in Wisconsin
RM: Thanks for the Verizon update, I think they’re going to do more and more as time goes on. As for Road America, I do recall that report but just recently George Bruggenthies said there were no plans for IndyCar to return in the immediate future. An IndyCar/TUDOR sports car doubleheader would be a winner but both series need to greatly reduce their sanction fees or co-promote because the expense of televising Elkhart Lake is also a big deterrent.
Q: I am still shocked that IndyCar has not been able to make a deal work with Road America. I remember talk started to heat up when Mark Miles came on board. However I haven’t heard anything since then. Do you know if anything is moving on either side? Also I would like to know how NASCAR can find a title sponsor but IndyCar cannot. Is IndyCar’s sanction fee higher than NASCAR? I mean didn’t Mario help bring Champ Car back there one year? I would be willing to pitch in a few bucks to help them come back. I really hope they go back to Road America because this is the place that made me fall in love with IndyCar.
Neal W. Aurora, IL
RM: I know Elkhart Lake was hot to trot and I think George B. met Miles at Milwaukee last year (or tried to) because he was serious. Not so much anymore. NASCAR gets better TV ratings and that’s a big plus to a title sponsor. Mario did help rescue the race in 2003.
Q: Three reasons why attendance will never be what it was in the “good ole days.” (1) Events have life cycles. Things that were fun when we were in our 20s aren’t so fun when you are 40 or 50. My first race was in Long Beach when Emerson was sporting a pink 7-Eleven car and I immediately fell in love with racing. I didn’t miss a LBGP for 15 years and went to several races at Laguna, Fontana and even IMSA at Del Mar. But eventually, the hassle of attending began to outweigh the fun and I have probably only gone to 2 or 3 TGPLBs in the last 10 years. Racing needs a constant influx of new fans and I don’t see the younger generation all that interested.
(2) Part of what hooked me at that first TGPLB was the whole experience; the sights, sounds, smells and the atmosphere. It really was a huge beach party with not an insignificant bit of Mardi Gras thrown in for good measure. Support races were interesting; Trans-am and the Pro/Celebrity races especially. Over the years, rules and regulations became tighter and access became less and less. The race girls in the booths put on more clothes or disappeared completely. Society has evolved as well. It’s no longer acceptable (I know, it never really was) to spend all day at the track drinking and then drive home or to the hotel. Police presence/enforcement is way up. The diehard fan is always going to be there but there is nothing to grab the casual event goer. It’s just not that fun if you aren’t a big race fan.
(3) Let’s not forget that we all have 50, 60, 70-inch or larger TVs hanging on our walls. They project beautiful images in crystal clear 1080p. Combine that with a multi-channel sound system and there is really no better place to watch a race or any sporting event for that matter. If I don’t like the announcer, I just turn down the center channel; you can’t hear what the announcer is saying at a track anyway. You never miss anything, there are no lines or crowds, always plenty of replays from several angles and pre/post coverage you don’t get at the track. If you miss the smell, fire up the YZ80 and let the exhaust seep into the living room and you have it all. I just don’t see big attendance in the future so IndyCar needs to find a workable revenue share system that will allow events to be successful with low attendance.
Mark, San Diego CA
RM: Well said (although Long Beach still offers great access and party atmosphere for diehard and casual fans) but you nailed it with point #3. As I was driving home from Mid-Ohio on Sunday night, I was thinking would I ever drive to Mid-Ohio again to watch if I wasn’t working for RACER or NBCSN? The answer was probably not. If I could fly and land a couple miles away, sure, but I’ve been going up and down highways to racetracks for almost 50 years so I’m a bad example. Television is making more and more people stay home from lots of things, not just auto races, so it’s time to get REAL creative with tickets and enhance your shows. Saw quite a few younger fans at Mid-Ohio and that’s what it’s going to take to sustain IndyCar – new fans. But I’d still drive to Kokomo or Bloomington or Winchester in a heartbeat to watch midgets or sprints.
Q: In response to Gary Nelson’s question about F1 vs. IndyCar top speeds. The top straight-line speed record in an F1 car is 247mph. Honda achieved that a few years ago by taking their F1 car out to the Bonneville Salt Flats and modifying it for top speed, which included removing the rear wing. An F1 car on a real track in race/qualifying trim would never get close to that speed. By comparison, Gil de Ferran’s CART car had an AVERAGE speed of 241mph for a full lap around Fontana back in 2000. No idea what his top speed was on that lap, but it’s a pretty safe bet that he was over 250mph at some points on that lap.
Today’s Indy cars are a lot slower than that – the pole speed at Fontana in 2012 was 216mph. I believe Mr. Nelson’s friend who claimed that F1 cars reached 297mph at Indy got his mph and kph mixed up. 297kph (184mph) sounds just about right for the top speed of an F1 car on the Indy road course. Over a full lap on a road course, an F1 car would be way faster than an IndyCar, since the F1 cars so much better under braking, through corners, and under acceleration. The Montreal track is the only one where they both ran the same layout, and the F1 track record there is six seconds faster than the Champ Car lap record. Bottom line? It doesn’t really matter which is faster. They’re both great to watch, and there’s no rule saying you can’t be a fan of both!??
RM: Thanks for that history lesson Max. I was at Fontana and I thought both Mo Gugelmin and Gil ran over 250 mph down the straightaways. And I think the Panoz DP01 would have been closer to the F1 times at Montreal. Unfortunately it never ran there, so the last time there was a comparison (2006), F1 cars were being compared with a six-year-old Lola design with a spec engine and control tires (on a slightly damp track, as I recall). Alonso’s F1 pole time was five seconds quicker than Bourdais’ Champ Car pole. Bearing in mind those technical restrictions and relative annual budgets – Newman/Haas ($20m per year?) and Renault ($200m per year?) – I remember being impressed that the difference was that small.
Q: I was reading your mailbag, and saw the question/comment from Jason Mulveny of Manly NSW, Australia regarding the IndyCar14 app. Thought I’d pass this information along: “Verizon is actually working to build an entirely new app for 2015 and as such, they are looking to make it available to non-Verizon customers. There is likely to be a charge, but at least it will be available.” Mark Sibla, IndyCar.
RM: Thanks Mark, a lot of people have been asking for that to happen.
Q: This is my first time writing to the Mailbag, although I’ve been a loyal reader for many years. Please bear with me, as I have a few comments regarding IndyCar. To start, this year I was able to convince my 26-year-old son and soon-to-be-daughter-in-law to come with me to Indy, and while there was a bit of eye-rolling about watching cars go around in a circle all day, they quickly – very quickly – became fans of the sport. The kind invitation to use a pit pass cemented the experience, as they were able to participate in the pre-race grid-walk. Meeting Mario and Marco, Hinch, Sage Karam, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan was a thrill beyond words for them. Fans were made for life, and they’ve already ordered tickets for next year, as have I. My son’s fiancee said it best: “You have to see Indy to believe it.” She’s right.
However, at the base of the Pagoda she noticed large posters promoting the previous year’s winners of the MotoGP, Brickyard 400 and Indianapolis 500. She was stunned to see her new hero Kanaan have to share equal billing with the winners of two other lesser events, noting that it devalues the Indy 500. I agree. It sends a wrong message to IndyCar fans and says that the current management of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway merely sees the 500 as just another race to be held there. It should not be so. For nearly 100 years, too many have paid too high a price to secure its legacy.
Additionally, we watched the Mid-Ohio race over the weekend on NBC Sports Network, which was very well done, and was miles away from anything offered by ABC. We all agreed that the on-track product was superb. While we missed Karam’s presence at Mid-Ohio (and hope IndyCar will do all it can to keep him in the series), the new breed of young lions, especially Hawksworth, Newgarden, Munoz and Aleshin, resonates with younger viewers. Those at 16th and Georgetown should take note: these guys are remarkably marketable. My hope is that IndyCar can rise to the challenge and use their freshness to bring a sense of renewed vigor to the series. Its patient and supportive fans deserve no less. While I personally am no fan of a spec-car series, my kids don’t seem to care, and as they rightfully point out, the racing in the IndyCar Series could not be any better. Now, if we can only make others aware of that, all will be right with the world.
Greg Perigo, Fort Wayne, Ind.
RM: Thanks for the report, support and making some new fans. Your last line struck me because that’s been my contention. I don’t think today’s youth cares about big engines, high HP and innovation like my generation did. At least not enough to make a distinct difference.