Robin Miller's Mailbag for Aug. 20 presented by Honda Racing/HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for Aug. 20 presented by Honda Racing/HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for Aug. 20 presented by Honda Racing/HPD

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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 millersmailbag@racer.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: I have been a Will Power fan ever since meeting him at the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, but he’s always found a way to choke at crunch time. Usually it seemed like immaturity and lack of confidence on ovals seemed to get in the way, but Milwaukee was a championship drive. Practice didn’t seem to go that well and I think even Will was shocked by his qualifying. He just seemed quietly confident, though. I think messing up Pocono may have helped him mature as a driver, any indication that is true? Also, any hope for Baltimore again?
Pete, Arnold, MD

RM: To be fair, someone drove into him on pit road while he was dominating at Kentucky in 2011, and that turned out to be the last points race of the year. Without car damage that day, he’d have that title. But you’re right, he’s just seemed more measured and business-like lately rather than panicked if he didn’t win or lead every lap. And throwing away all those points with penalties mid-season must have registered as well. But you nailed it: last weekend was a masterpiece. Taking away all that downforce for qualifying and then driving flawlessly yet aggressively in the race. Two races and more than 150 points still on the table, but Will appears poised to get that elusive title.   

Q: So what do the conspiracy theorists have to say caused Power to win on Sunday? Aliens? He stole Helio’s talent for ovals? Verizon gave him more horsepower? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Not after a crushing victory like that. The racing side by side with Tony Kanaan for the lead was probably some of the best I’ve seen all year. It took some serious guts to stick with it on the outside like that at Milwaukee and better still, he pulled it off. There may not have been a lot of passing and the win may have been a dominant one but I was entertained. Oh and I think Newgarden would be wise to re-up with SFHRECR or whatever they call the team. Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti likely don’t have any openings and any other move would probably be sideways.
Ryan in West Michigan

RM: Considering all the circumstances, I thought it was Power’s biggest victory to date. He took charge of the championship with a peerless performance from start to finish. People screamed about how boring it was but I can recall Rodger Ward, A.J., Mario, Michael and Little Al putting people to sleep with their dominance.

I think Josef is wisely waiting to see what engine is chosen (Honda loves the kid) for the merged operation and if something else opens up at Foyt or SPM.     

Q: I’ve been a longtime follower of your column and an even longer fan of CART, Champ Car and now IndyCar, been to numerous road, street and oval races over the past 25 years. I live near Chicago, so Milwaukee is the closest track to me, this year however I decided that I did not purchase tickets ahead of time not knowing if I was going to attend. Sunday morning I woke up and just couldn’t resist the fact that an IndyCar race was so close and I would not be there so the wife and I drove up and bought tickets for the show, which was good.

However, unless Andretti can figure out a better way to entertain fans with more than a pathetic Indy Lights race and a rickshaw race, (seriously, a RICKSHAW race?!?!?) I don’t see how they will ever grow this event. There has got to be something else out there that could help fill the time and entertain people who have given their time to attend the event. I also don’t want to beat a dead horse but there’s a track a couple of hours north that would FILL the entire weekend with racing.
Rich, Chicago

RM: Couldn’t agree more Rich. I wrote a commentary a few weeks ago that said ovals need to take the lead from street circuits and give the paying customers as much racing as possible instead of all that down time. Eight cars in the Lights race is embarrassing enough without rickshaws. And, of course, a double-header with sports cars at Road America would be a nice addition to the schedule…but we need to keep Milwaukee as well.


 

Q: After reading your article about the Milwaukee race returning for 2015, I was excited but I do agree with you on the ticket pricing. I don’t flinch at the ticket and paddock pricing, but I can see how it would keep people from coming. They really need to sell the Turn 1 and 4 sections for maybe $5 and sell the 100-level sections for $10-$15, then at least they would be fuller on the broadcast. 

A buddy of mine watching the race texted me several times asking where the people were. They also need to do more things like the Honda Section, but announce it sooner than a week before the race. Make Verizon, DHL, Marcus, Tires Plus etc do some legwork but benefit their brand.

I went to the Newgarden and Hinch autograph session at David Hobbs Honda and while it was a nice event, it was inside. Driving by, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t just a normal day at a Honda dealer. That stuff needs to be outside so passers by can see it and the show car (even if it still is a dreadful IRL-05). Secondly, they need to expand the marketing area to include Chicago. I live in the south suburbs and Fair Park is less than 100 miles away and there is no marketing action. Driving home from the race I was cruising down some Wisconsin county back roads to visit a friend in Kenosha and I passed two IndyFest billboards…get that stuff in Chicago, especially the northern areas, and it can’t hurt.

Lastly, you mentioned bland racing, which it can be. A question to that is why isn’t there an “intermediate oval” aero package? Would the racing be better if they weren’t running road course wings and punching such a big hole in the air? It’s a wide track that gets reduced to a single-line seemingly because of aero. Sorry for the rant, I just want what has become “my race” to grow and continue!
Chris, Oak Forest, IL

RM: I sent your note to Kevin Healy of Andretti Sports Marketing and Chicago is obviously a natural target. As for the ticket prices, just seems like $80 is a little high but $50 for anything in the main grandstand and $20 for the corners might sell better. Here’s the answer to your question about the aero package from IndyCar tech chief Will Phillips:

“There are some specific settings for Iowa, but always been road course spec for the flat one-mile ovals – Milwaukee, Loudon, Phoenix. The race this year was not the most exciting, but has been in the past with the same aero and power specs. We will be looking at how to make it better and have some ideas. Need to do some more homework now.”

Q: One word for Milwaukee: BORING! I have been going to the Milwaukee IndyFest for three years in a row. I have to say at this time I will not be going back. I’m just old-school and diehard as you and a lot of us since watching ICR since 1970. I want the ovals. I believe in the ovals! Milwaukee needs to be on the schedule. But where is the racing?

The only racing that I saw was RHR making passes early in the race. No passes for the lead on the track. Isn’t IndyCar supposed to be wheel-to-wheel racing? It was like a street course. Follow the leader. If the cars and the drivers are as close and competitive as ever, where is the racing?

Honestly I don’t have the answers on what needs to be done but this is the reason that people don’t come to the ovals. I have been as supportive as I can but I’m frustrated and very concerned that IndyCar is dying a slow painful death. With all the technology that we have today, why can’t we have good racing on a one-mile oval? Maybe too much technology is one of the problems? Maybe shut the damm computers off on race day?

Like you have said many a time: One-day event. Practice, qualifying and go racing. Maybe twin 125s.
Terry Gobble, Urbana, IL

RM: As I stated earlier, I’ve seen plenty of yawners at Milwaukee and Phoenix in the past 50 years and some great races as well. It’s crazy to think that a street race around a rinky-dink course at Reliant Stadium this season could be more entertaining than the Milwaukee Mile but it certainly was. Other than Iowa, which was badass from start to finish, and Indianapolis, the ovals at Texas and Pocono were pretty blasé. And with only 22 cars, we don’t need 500-milers – we need twin 125s or 150s. And IndyCar tech chief Will Phillips says they’re looking at making a better package as well (see answer above).

Q: Good Milwaukee race – NBCSN does such a great job showing the action throughout the field. RHR charging through the field was fantastic but the stands looked half full at best? Maybe 20k? And I hear quite a few were free tickets from Honda. IndyCar needs ovals and I have an idea that might help.

A) If you buy a ticket to any race it gets you into a oval race for $20, Indy excluded. Put a deal together with MIS like Randy Bernard did with Las Vegas in 2011 and they would be able to draw from fans that attended Indy, Belle Isle, Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Milwaukee for the $20 deal. Make it the season finale, a 500-miler and try to get Chevy to be the title sponsor.

B) They are going to have to make a different business arrangement with ovals. A partnership or lease the track or greatly reduce the sanctioning fee. I think this could work if they do this with ovals close to where the teams are and its main fanbase! Going to Kentucky, Chicago, MIS, Nashville and Milwaukee would be less costly for the series and teams. Make them one-day events. The teams could be at those tracks for a day and not have to worry about overnight stays. Leave early am and come back at night and save money for all involved. Drove home many times from MIS in my motorhome down I-69 and watched all the team vehicles blow by me so I know they can make it back.

C) IndyCar needs to become deeply involved in the promoting of its events. And needs to get the networks to allow for a standard 1 p.m. local start time for day races on Sunday. 4p.m. EST is just ridiculous! I know it must be for the West Coast audience? Drastic times call for drastic measures or Indy will be the only oval left.
Joe from Indy

RM: Got to give a nod to producer Terry Lingner and director Mike Wells because I watched the replay and they made that race a lot more exciting than it was because they followed the action regardless of where it was. But NBCSN went with a 3 p.m.-6 p.m. package this season and, with NASCAR coming on board in 2015, I imagine it will stay in that time slot. I think IndyCar understands the hurdles of oval tracks and that it also needs to keep them on the schedule. I like the ticket idea; empty seats don’t help anybody.    

Q: I was at Milwaukee for the race Sunday. It seemed to me that attendance was up? Maybe not leaps and bounds, but up from previous years. I think local promoting was WAY up from previous years, and certainly better than people from other races have noted! I thought I was for sure on your side about needing more ovals, and keeping the current ones except Texas! However IMO, the race at Milwaukee was pretty boring. RHR was fun to watch until the rear end broke, but other than that there was ZERO on-track excitement! I don’t know if it’s the tires giving up too fast, but for the average fan there was not enough passing on track. I brought a friend who had never been to an IndyCar race and he was less than thrilled with the race itself. Maybe it’s just me, but I like on-track passing! The road course racing has been top notch; ovals…not so much.
Kevin Schmitz

RM: According to my friends in Milwaukee, it was the best promotion in a LONG TIME but, sadly, it didn’t seem to have much impact on the crowd. Kevin Healy said it was better than the 18,000 I estimated because people were going back and forth between the infield and grandstands but it looked one-third full at best. Sorry your friend’s IndyCar debut had so little action up front and the only passing seemed to be when guys put on new tires and RHR’s charge. Jam cars always made Milwaukee exciting, but there didn’t seem to be any Sunday.

Q: I was shocked to see all those empty seats around the track, not only at Milwaukee but at many races this year. This reminds me of similar scenes just before CART died. I’m afraid this same low-attendance situation might lead to the same fate for IndyCar. series. What is your expert opinion?
Frank

RM: Indianapolis is the only oval that’s seen attendance increase in the past couple years – Iowa is down, Milwaukee is a third full, Pocono is so-so and poor Fontana will be a ghost town with a Labor Day date. As I’ve written and many of you have said, IndyCar needs to take some lessons from street courses and lessons from history in order to keep ovals viable.


 

Q: I am really sad about IndyCar racing in general. I consider myself an absolute diehard race fan. At 36 years of age, I have not missed a race at the Mile, Indy, nor Road America in a long time – all tremendous venues in their own right. But here lies the problem….I cannot simply continue to afford to support all these series (IndyCar, Nationwide/NASCAR, WOO Sprint Cars, TUDOR sports cars, AMA Superbike and even some USAC & ASA events). The cost to be a race fan is straining my pocketbook (and my marriage) if I continue to try and support them all.

So what do I do? I keep giving IndyCar a chance to keep all my affection…but they keep raising the price to do so…and their obliviousness of it is pushing me to my limits.

Let me document my Mile weekend Saturday adventure to help prove my point. I decided to take my 4-year-old boy and 66-year-old dad to the Saturday events at the Mile and I damn near ran out of cash before we got to the grandstands. For some reason, between Friday night and Saturday morning, Andretti’s promotional team decided to add $5 to general admission for kids under 12, and all adults. Now I can’t complain too much as I am dumb enough to pay the fee, but when your website on Friday night says $20 adults and $5 kids, I expect it to say that at the ticket stand the next morning. But nope, they mysteriously jumped $5 (on top of the State Fair’s $10 parking hit).

As we got 10 feet past the entrance, my boy and I hit the IndyCar apparel tent. To try and help develop my own little IndyCar race fan, I let my son pick out all his favorite drivers die-cast cars (at a whopping $9 each), along with his favorite drivers hats ($30), so $150 later we continued our adventure to the grandstands. Only to see 13 Pro Mazda cars run around the track followed by eight Indy Lights cars. All the while my boy was disassembling his new purchases, and asking, “Daddy why are there only three cars out there?” And my only response was, “It’s expensive to race cars, buddy, so not everyone can race.” And from the empty stands not everyone can afford to spend the $ to get watch these support series, then the IndyCars.

Thank goodness the IndyCars still sound great screaming around the Mile. As the speed blinded my good sense, I bought lunch and drinks for the trio ($60).

I love IndyCar the most and I will try and support them, but as my Saturday outing cost well into the $300 range, who the hell can go to these? I mean, I am a moron and will continue to pay and pay and pay but does IndyCar understand that they cannot expect “new” fans to do this? How does a family of four even make an attempt? How do you expect to gain “new” fans when costs are like this?

Hell, I work for one of the sponsors of the Mile race, so my Sunday was taken care of, but the whole stand that was purchased by the sponsor was empty (Turn 1-2 area). They gave away tickets and no one came. Perhaps they couldn’t afford all the food/drink/parking/fan apparel? What the hell are they planning to do to reach that next audience? I fear that once the diehard morons like me dry up (or have their wives shut down their bank & credit cards), who will support the series? I see a dark time in the future if they don’t fix something and try and reach a new fan base. I can’t believe free tickets and thousands of people stayed home. Is this all economy or the series? The TUDOR event at Road America was packed for three days.
Andy, Milwaukee, WI

RM: I can’t explain the $5 addition but I sent your complaint to Kevin Healy. The Milwaukee Mile used to be the only track that drew a crowd for IndyCar qualifying on ovals and the old grandstand would almost fill up. As I recall it was $10 (kids under 12 free) and also included a Formula Atlantic race, so I guess I’d try to do it on the cheap and build things back up. The infield at IndyFest offers lots of things for families so that’s a good move but, as I said earlier, tickets from $70 to $84 seems a tad high for one race and basically a heat race (eight Lights cars). Not sure what Road America charged but I heard it was a nice-sized crowd. IndyCar needs to make everything more affordable (hats, die-casts, etc), but it can’t control what promoters charge and they’ve got a sanction fee to cover so it’s a vicious cycle. But thanks for hanging in there and bringing your son along. If you get divorced I’ll buy you and the boy a pit pass next year.

Q: Kevin Healy and Andretti Sports Marketing deserve a huge pat on the back for the event they put on. I have been to the last three Milwaukee IndyFests (so all the ones they have organized) and they do more and more each year and make the event strong. I noticed more fan-friendly things this year and the crowd seemed large, but that’s hard to tell when you’re part of it. 

While I know a lot of people think Milwaukee needs its traditional place of being right after Indy, it was nice to see it play a part in the championship battle. Also, by having it so close to the Wisconsin State Fair, their efforts to draw support seemed to have paid off a bit and more importantly, a lot of the Fair Park vendors stuck around for the race. When I first went in 2012, maybe three of the food stands on Grandstand Ave were open for the race, this year they all were. Definitely positive momentum for that race.

It’s virtually impossible given the size of the tunnel and all the golf-cart traffic flow, but they need to work out a better way of getting people into and out of the infield. The pedestrian walk-way through the tunnel is very narrow and let’s face it, race fans aren’t the smallest of people (myself included).
Just some general questions:

  • Dan Andersen mentioned on the IMS Radio Network during Lights qualifying that he anticipated 15-20 cars next year with several new teams signed up.  Any indication of teams and/or drivers? (The IL-15 looks pretty sweet, I saw it in the paddock).
  • Does Marco Andretti enjoy driving in IndyCar? I saw him multiple times over the weekend and he just seemed frustrated beyond belief and wasn’t wanting to interact with the fans much. Would he be under less stress if he didn’t race for Dad?
  • With Carpenter and Fisher merging for 2015, by my count that leaves Bryan Herta as the only single-car team. Any indication if there will be a second BHA car next year?
  • Cooper Tires sells their used Lights/Pro Series Tires after the race. Why can’t or doesn’t Firestone do the same thing? I made more “friends” hauling my $10 Cooper Tire from the paddock to the parking lot; I think they are missing out!

Chris, Oak Forest, IL

RM: Healy & Company do a nice job and I heard a lot of compliments from fans over the weekend. I heard they closed the tunnel to cars a couple times to give the pedestrians some room. Foyt, Rahal and at least one sports car team have talked about getting into Lights but I’m sure they want a paid driver. Hard to get a read on Marco because he’s very shy and quiet, but I’m sure last weekend wasn’t much fun. And if he wasn’t driving for his dad, he probably wouldn’t have a ride. A.J. Foyt and Bobby Rahal are also one-car efforts. I just hope Herta can hang in there with one car for Union Jack. Firestone formulated a great, safe compound back in 1995 and doesn’t want any of its used tires getting into the wrong hands – like a competitor – to be dissected.

Q: Just back from my 14th trip to the Milwaukee Mile for IndyCar and first time back since 2012. Not a great race in terms of dueling for the lead, but basically a clinic by WP – as up and down as he can be on the ovals, Power really had a great day. No dumb mental mistakes, patience, smooth and not running the car harder than he had to run it. It was that good that I bet even Rick Mears was proud of him.

Glad to see Milwaukee will be back next year, and I hope with the beginning of some date equity (although it still belongs the week after the “500”), more fans will continue to attend.

HOWEVER, there is one thing about the fan experience that is A TOTAL TURNOFF. You can barely stand him when you hear him on TV, and when you are at the track it is UNBEARABLE. But this moronic, ego-maniac, narcissist Public Address announcer has got to go! His incessant yelling and screaming during driver intros, his blaring “ARE—-YOU—-Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrready?” is absolutely offensive. He might be trying to be exciting, but in reality, he is totally ANNOYING. As I try to have a conversation with my race-attending friends, it’s impossible during the race, but just as bad with this guy yelling over the PA system during pre-race activities. Let’s face it, this isn’t boxing, and he’s not Michael Buffer.

The problem is compounded with some rock concert reject manning the audio mixing board, who thinks that you need full volume over the public address system when there are no racecars on track for fans to hear announcements. IndyCar really needs to address this in my opinion, because it’s gotten to the point where I’d almost rather stay at home than attend the race because of this annoyance. I’ve got to believe other fans must have similar opinions, based on my looking around the crowd in my area when this guy was talking. Thank goodness they haven’t given this guy the microphone at Indianapolis. How I miss the golden voices of Tom Carnegie and Jim Philippe. Your thoughts?
Jonny, Northville, MI

RM: I’ve heard similar complaints for a few years but I think he’s been told to be that loud. The magic of Tom was that he only raised his voice when it was “a new track record” or “it’s a good one.” I hate the blaring music during introductions as well, but it seems to be the order of the day in the NBA as well.   


Q: Great to see another dominating Willy P performance. Got my fingers crossed that he delivers a championship for R.P. in 2014. Speaking of “The Captain,” it’s amazing to me that he still travels so much and calls races at 77 years old. How is he doing? Do you think it’s his intention to have Team Penske continue on without him at some point?
Lee Robie

RM: He’s still amazing sharp and fit and I think racing really helps keep him that way (although running 15 corporations all over the world requires lots of energy as well). I believe there will always be a Team Penske, just not sure to what extent and whether Greg, Roger Jr. and Jay will take over – or all three.  
‬‬
Q: Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman merging with Ed Carpenter is by far the best announcement. Now, depending on the choice of engines, CFH can finally become the next favorites in the IndyCar series. As far as the drivers go, it is up in the air. I wonder if Newgarden may stay? Hildebrand is waiting in the wings. And will there be a possibility for a third full-time driver in the series? ‬Then there is Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves who may graduate to IndyCar next year. But now Chaves is in a see-saw battle for the Lights title with Zach Veach. Not so sure where Conor Daly will be next year. Also, in any event that Veach wins the Indy Lights title, what will be the status for AA in the Indy Lights series after 2014? And how many drivers will step up from the Pro Mazda ranks in 2015?
JLS , Chicago

RM: I think it was good for the long-term future of both but, of course, the ideal situation would have been for both to stay separate and become two-car teams. Ed’s team already has three wins in 2014 and, depending on Mike Conway’s status, there could be an opening for J.R. Hildebrand to be part or full-time. Josef is smartly waiting to see the engine package and what else might be out there. Karam is under contract to Chip Ganassi but Chaves and Veach will want to move up. Daly says he wants to be in IndyCar so I imagine he’s got a shot with Foyt. For sure Spencer Pigot is ready to move up to Lights, along with Scott Hargrove, Garrett Grist, Nicolas Costa and maybe Shelby Blackstock.

Q: Empty stands. Michael Andretti must be taking it in the pocket book. Boring race and it’s only lap 46. Can we please go back to real cars? We’ve put up with glorified Formula Fords for long enough. Even F1’s become almost as bad.‬ Oh for qualifying tires, 1000hp, gear changes going up the hill at Elkhart Lake.‬ But no, we have cars turning left for 250 painful laps.‬ Please tell me what’s exciting about this?‬‬
Richard Lovell

RM: It wasn’t real compelling, agreed, and IndyCar knows it needs to work on the aero package for next year. Ovals can be riveting like Iowa or mundane like Pocono but these Dallaras have been amazingly racy on street and road courses the past two years so it kinda spoils us. As for Michael Andretti, his corporate crowd was up and ABC Supply is the title sponsor so I doubt he took it in the shorts.

Q: Another fun race but looked like poor attendance: seems like it should have been a packed house with the fair and good weather. Two questions, what the heck happened to Andretti’s pit crews? Hunter-Reay lost two or three spots every time he pitted and then Marco had a chance at the end and lost about eight spots in his last pit stop. It seemed like the crew was not strong enough to pick up the tires.
CAM in LA

RM: I was at the other end of the pits but it sounded like RHR lost a wheel nut (but it didn’t cost him that much on the track) and Marco’s fuel hose wouldn’t engage. Hinch also had some issues but usually those are three of the most efficient crews. 

Q: Why is it not possible to have the aero kits ready for the start of the season? As of right now they still have over five months to make it happen. It does not make sense to me that they will have them ready for March, but it’s impossible to have them ready for February.
Dave Bostrom

RM: Not sure they won’t be ready for the start of the season, stay tuned to RACER.com.

Q: I need someone to help me understand how JPM did not get a drive-through penalty for hitting his tire during pit entry during Milwaukee but Newgarden did get a penalty for driving over the air hose the prior race? From a safety standpoint, what is worse: the potential for a wheel to get launched or an air hose? I just don’t get it.
Lawrence H., Sanford, FL

RM: From chief steward Beaux Barfield:

“Montoya didn’t knock the wheel out of the box and it actually cost him time because they had to reposition the car. A precedent was set at Pocono with Carlos Munoz and he was given a warning – just like JPM. Josef, through no fault of his own, wrapped the hose up and dragged a crewman down, so a penalty was obvious.”

Q: We are in desperate need of turnover in IndyCar. There is too much talent waiting to get in and several drivers with rides who frankly do not deserve them. I think Saavedra, Rahal, and Sato have shown us their best and do not make the grade. If not for being relatively consistent, I would throw Marco in as well, though were his name not Andretti I doubt he would still be around. Meanwhile Daly, Karam, and many others languish without rides. Am I wrong? Should those I’ve mentioned remain in IndyCar based on merit alone?
Zach in Florida

RM: Not sure it’s desperate but Karam certainly distinguished himself at Indianapolis and I think Chip has a plan for him in IndyCar. Daly says he wants to be in IndyCar and I want to see him on a road or street course because he’s won races in Europe and that’s his forte. Rahal and Andretti have had miserable seasons but I still think they’re young enough to recover. Sato’s fate is in Honda’s hands.

Q: I was reading Marshall Pruett’s article on Sage Karam, “The Karam Conundrum” and Mike Hull mentioned how hard it is to compare drivers to one another without putting them in high-horsepower racecars, and it got me thinking. What about IndyCar teams putting on an annual test for the young talent driving current cars? It would give the teams a more accurate assessment of their abilities as well as giving the drivers an opportunity to open some eyes. It could be televised by NBC and staged during the off-season and give IndyCar an opportunity to remain in the news during the dark period. What say you?
Vincent Martinez, Arcadia, CA

RM: I say it’s a great idea, especially for television in the off-season. The last real shootout for a job that I remember was Allan McNish, Patrick Carpentier, Tom Kristensen and Jorg Muller at Sebring in 1996 fighting for one seat at Tony Bettenhausen’s CART team. I understand this would be more of an evaluation for younger kids but it could be good television and a chance to keep IndyCar in the news.

Q: Did I hear you say during this weekend’s Milwaukee Mile race that Jack Hawksworth basically lives hand-to-mouth? And that his father sold his car for a plane ticket for Jack and that his manager paid for his insurance for a test drive with Bryan Herta? I know very few drivers in racing (small percentage) and I am not rich by any means (never even been to an IndyCar race), but I would send him some cash! I like the kid even if he is not Canadian (read, Hinch). Is there any way to donate money or am I incorrect and all Indy drivers get something, even if not much?
Vernon Liboiron

RM: I did say all those things and wrote about it last week. Your gesture is more than kind but Jack gets by and doesn’t ask for much. And he would never accept money. He and his dad are proud people and an example of the dedication and confidence necessary to try and make it with very little funding. But his driving has been quite impressive and kudos for Herta and Steve Newey for hiring him.  

Q: I was pleased to see Hinch make those moves on the opening lap at Mid-Ohio. It looked to me like he was driving for his contract/ride for next year. I like Hinch, but I am usually disappointed by his starts and especially restarts. It seems to me that he always manages to lose one or more spots. Am I crazy, or do you think he could be better on the restarts?
Mark Hamilton

RM: I’ve never noticed Hinch having issues with starts and restarts but I’ll ask him. I do know he’s had rotten luck for most of 2014. He was looking like a winner at Houston before an untimely caution and lots of mechanical problems.  

Q: I have a picture standing with you at the Champ Car Spring Training at Laguna Seca for the season that never was (2008). Seabass set the unofficial track record that held for years until a Ferrari F1 machine broke it at the Monterey Historics. Helio’s official track record still stands. Last week RACER.com had extensive coverage of the Monterey Motorsports Reunion and all of Concours week around the Monterey Peninsula (find it in our Vintage Racing section -Ed). MotoGP was definitely a big fish in a small pond and, ultimately, because of the sanctioning fee, SCRAMP never realized the profits for the prestige of the event. That being said, like Historics week, MotoGP packed Laguna to the gills and the Peninsula was booming.

Mazda Raceway is ripe for another event to become big ticket. And, by the way, mild temps and never rain in the summer, mild temps and no snow in the Winter – just watch the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am in February. IndyCar has a real dilemma with the Pan Am Games coming to Toronto. Instead of trying to shift the date and make Eddie Gossage mad, why not give Toronto a year off, and consider a one-off next year at Laguna? You will find no venue or organization more flexible in making this weekend happen, even on short notice. IndyCar Nation will get Monterey, Carmel, Pebble Beach. Need I say more?
Paul, Carmel, CA

RM: I remember leaving my hotel at 7 a.m. to make sure I got into Laguna Seca in time for the start of the CART races in the ’90s because the crowds were so big but they steadily dwindled with Champ Car, and the last couple races were awful. But this new car is so racy it could make Laguna appetizing again; probably depends on Sonoma’s status. I know Laguna was talking with Randy Bernard but haven’t heard much since. It’s a good alternative, though, in case Toronto gets mothballed for a year.

And I think you’re thinking of 2007, and the Open Test for the Panoz DP01. That was when Bourdais broke that unofficial track record. By ’08, he was in Formula 1.


Q: I have to disagree on your comment in the 8/13 mailbag: “Don’t ruin a guy’s race because he nips or runs over a hose in a tight pit box while screaming out of his stall. Fine him. That’s all it needs.” I’ve gone over the wall crewing in several professional series. Running over an air hose is VERY dangerous.

Think of it this way, an air hose is 20ft elastic rope with a 4-10 pound weight on the end. If that gets caught on a tire, or even jerked hard, you’re going to accelerate that weight very quickly. Combine that with people and many gallons of fuel 10ft up in the air, and you have a verydangerous situation. Guys going over the wall know that they are taking risks. I’ve been hit with cars, pit equipment and even had another team whack me on the top of the head with their pit board. I’ve seen a car catch an air hose once, in the paddock, with a car going about 10 miles an hour and it put a hole in the side of a transporter.

Please don’t make a really dangerous thing out to be not a big deal or something that crews aren’t very wary of. In the big-dollar world of racing, you’d have to levy a REALLY big fine in proportion to a team’s budgets to make it effective. It most definitely should be a penalty.
Eric Harkrader

RM: I should have said if a guy nips an air hose, because you are right, running over one can create havoc. But I’ve seen guys clip one leaving the pits (like Bobby Rahal back in Toronto) and it hurt nothing or nobody yet he got a 20-second penalty and it ruined his race. I think you have to take into account those tiny pit boxes and what, if anything, happened, before giving a penalty.   

Q: It struck me during the Milwaukee race that maybe we fans can better help the sponsor situation in Indy car. I think sponsors have more savvy about the power of the web and other social media compared to the old-fashioned Nielsen television ratings. I propose this to all IndyCar fans: keep your smart phone and/or computer with you when you watch the races and search for the sponsors after their ads air. Web hits are monitored by sponsors and probably better reflect the number of eyeballs than the very limited number of Nielsen meters used to track TV viewership.
Gary in California

RM: Sounds like a winner Gary, I’ll pass it along to our readers.

Q: Excellent piece on Tony Stewart. My take is that Stewart was either trying to pull away or trying to give Ward a squirt of dirt. That’s all I’ll say.

On to other matters: The chatter on Alfa Romeo and Cosworth has gone disappointingly silent. Is that rumor dead? Also, did Honda, Chevrolet, and Derrick Walker hear Townsend Bell’s call for 1,000hp? Are the engines going in that direction? Finally, who can I lobby to get IndyCar back on the streets of Denver?
Steve, Aurora, CO

RM: The more I watch that video the more it looks like young Ward charged the car, that’s all I’ll say. Haven’t heard a word from Cosworth. The engines are getting more powerful each season but doubt they’ll ever get back to 1,000hp. You can lobby Mark Miles regarding Denver, but it would help if you included a big check or signed endorsement from a title sponsor.

Q: Too many times I see drivers, especially in NASCAR, have a mechanical or other issue, they jam on the brakes locking them up, and slide across the track slamming head on into another car, the wall, or some solid object. I’ve been watching racing since the early ’60s, and you’d never see the pros do that. They’d always try to spin the car so it would hit back end first to avoid serious injury. Are drivers today that bad or don’t they teach this skill in driver’s schools? Last weekend at the Glen, that one guy went all the way thru Turn one, across the track, and the runoff and slammed the wall head-on. Dude, turn the wheel so you don’t hit head-on, even if there is a tire barrier.
Ron, Corona, CA

RM: All I notice nowadays is that drivers seem to be taught to stay in the throttle as they’re spinning instead of just locking the brakes. But I don’t think anybody deliberately hits anything head-on. Stuck throttles can make it look like that.  

Q: I have to admit that the end of the NASCAR race at the Glen was thrilling. Good clean door-to-door racing producing a great finish. My comment is, how did they get there? With only a few laps left, nobody had the fuel to make it to the end without a yellow. Nobody was fighting for position and the cars were spreading out. Not the prognosis for a great finish. All of a sudden, a backmarker that was I think four laps down slows up and pulls off to the side. Supposedly with a flat tire. As soon as the yellow came out he takes off. Nobody in the ESPN booth said a thing. Well this not only made it possible for everybody to make it to the end, with everybody bunched up for the restart, at least one wreck was inevitable and that was what we got. So the tin-top fans got to see more wrecks and a made-up finish. I would have rather seen great last-minute pit stops determine the race. Just the thoughts of an old open-wheel fan.

Regarding Ryan Newman’s concern of guardrails and tires instead of SAFER walls or concrete, what would be the safety concerns for Indy cars at the Glen?
Joe Mullins

RM: So Joe, you’re saying that NASCAR may have thrown a bogus yellow flag to ensure a closer or more exciting finish? That seems preposterous. NASCAR is the purest, safest, fastest, most demanding form of motorsports in the WORLD. Take it back Joe. Apologize.

As for the Glen, IndyCar ran there with guardrail but it’s certainly not the barrier of choice for an open-wheel car.


Q: I was watching a racing telecast with my son when he asked, “What do the numbers on the cars mean?” It got me thinking – they mean NOTHING! Why do we need them? Wouldn’t it be better to replace the numbers on the car with the name of the driver? For a while in F1 they had drivers names in big block letters along with the car numbers. I think names would be better for new fans as they wouldn’t have to refer back and forth to the program to find who is driving what. Drivers would be more readily connected to the car and sponsors as well. OK you’d lose some of the “Foyt is always 14, Gurney is always 48,” and so on but I think overall it would help new fans find and follow their favorite driver. What thinkest thou?
Gary (in earshot of TGPLB)

RM: I think you make a lot of sense because you can hardly see the numbers and a lot of fans don’t know the drivers so it would be great advertising. I like it when the driver’s name is on the rear wing but I could see the sidepods as well.

Q: Will Power was so dominant in Milwaukee, that he really didn’t need any help, but Tim Cindric made a call to leave Will out on old tires halfway through the race. At the time it seemed like a bad idea to me, however the call proved to be advantageous for the last part of the race. At Mid-Ohio, Mike Hull made outstanding calls that put Dixie in the position to win. The role of a team manager to make adjustments during the race can’t be underestimated. Some of the best race strategist I’ve seen are; The Captain, Mo Nunn, Dan Gurney and Tyler Alexander. If you included the past 40 years, who would be on your list?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA

RM: Yep, Power made one less pit stop than Montoya and Kanaan because of that call and staying out. Jim McGee, Barry Green, Tony Cotman, George Bignotti and Clint Brawner come to mind, although the last two were excellent chief mechanics who just happened to make the calls as well.

Q: I just finished watching an interview with Jeff Burton and a couple of other NASCAR guys on SportsCenter. Anyway, Burton makes a comment about the new NASCAR rule on accidents and says NASCAR will lead the way in safety, as NASCAR has always done. I don’ t know about how you feel about that statement, but to me it’s like so many other inaccurate statements that come from NASCAR. Who was first to have the same safety crews, including a surgeon at every race? F1 and CART. Who was first with softer walls? Indy Racing League. Who was first to make the HANS device mandatory? Not NASCAR! In fact, what safety ideas ever came from NASCAR? It seems to me it has always overplayed its hand and IndyCar always underplays its hand.
It’s probably just me.
L.A. Johnson

RM: RM: First of all, that was Burton’s opinion and not a NASCAR statement but, of course, you are spot on. NASCAR and many of its announcers perpetuate the myth that the France family, not Tony George, paid for and built the initial SAFER Barrier. It’s funny, I recall when Scott Pruett was running NASCAR, he wanted to use a much safer seat from his Indy car and was turned down by NASCAR tech officials. And, amazingly, the head-and-neck restraint devices were not made mandatory in NASCAR even after Dale Earnhardt’s fatal accident. It took Blaise Alexander’s death in an ARCA race later in 2001 for that to happen.

Q: This is the first chance I had to give you my thoughts about the recent NASCAR weekend at Indy and Eldora. I am a big-time racing fan all around. I like them all equally. If I had to pick, actually NHRA would top all. Anyway, I attended the NASCAR Trucks at Eldora and the Brickyard 400 at Indy. Although these are NOT first-time events for me, I have to say the dirt track routes are becoming a favorite. As far as the Brickyard 400, I wish I didn’t go. The only reason I went is because it’s close and I love Indianapolis. Now, the Indy 500 is awesome, can’t ever replace that race and I will never give up my Section H seats off Turn 4. But as far as the Brickyard 400, what are your thoughts about possibly adding some grandstands and moving the Brickyard 400 to the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds 1-mile track?

As a farmer, I’ve been to that Fairground more than enough times to know that the track is long enough to hold 43 cars, it has plenty of paved pit space in the infield, the track is wide enough, and there is plenty of parking available to the fans on the grounds of the fairgrounds. The only addition would be more grandstand seating. What do you think about that? I know it’s not IndyCar-related and I know you are a diehard dirt track guy but wouldn’t it be great to see NASCAR Cup drivers on the dirt? I would pay $150 to go watch that instead of $100 to take a nap from lap 20 to 150 at the Speedway.
Andy, St. Marys, Ohio

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RM: A dirt race would draw as many, if not more, than this year’s Brickyard 400 providing you could add enough seats and it would be FIVE times more entertaining. But no chance. The best thing NASCAR could do is run the IMS road course instead of the oval. That’s not likely to happen either because it might look like they were admitting the Brickyard 400 is a bore that no longer appeals to many people.

 

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