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. Please send tech questions to PruettsTechMailbag@Racer.com.
Q: Why does IndyCar have such an aversion to standing starts? Is this because of the debacle at the Grand Prix of Indy last May? Personally, I believe the drivers should suck it up and figure it out. Keep the standing starts and dump the double points at Indy and Sonoma.
John H., WI
RM: I’m told the standing starts are tabled until the engine manufacturers can nail the launch software and make things more reliable. No doubt Indy’s big accident raised the bitch-O-meter with the drivers but even with all its technology F1 still has stalled cars. It’s a lot better than the strung-out starts at most street courses.
Q: Randy Bernard was an outside-the-box thinker and a marketing man. Two things that IndyCar desperately needs. The past three seasons, IndyCar has had some of the best racing on the planet mostly thanks to his blueprint. The DW12 is great, double-file restarts we entertaining as hell, standing starts were also entertaining and showed IndyCar drivers diverse talent. Now the DW12 is going to change. Double-file restarts and standing starts are gone. Why are they going back to the same old same old? IndyCar just can’t stand entertained fans!
Jeff Loveland, Chilton, WI
RM: Obviously this regime doesn’t pay much attention to what the fans want because the majority that I hear from LOVED double-file restarts and standing starts. The drivers were against double-file restarts from the onset but they provided some added excitement at tracks that seldom had any on restarts. And there were only a couple of incidents, but certainly no more than we’ve seen with single file through the years.
Q: I just saw where IndyCar made rule changes announcements. So…let me get this right…they pick the worst/least likely to pass race course to end the season and then they want to double the points for the Sonoma Snoozer Grand Prix? How lovely…oh, and the complete elimination of standing starts? Terrific! Now only six cars can be off the last corner at Long Beach, packed up side by side while everybody else is rolling through the last corner single file at 20mph. I still wonder what the people who come up with all of this are thinking? You would think St. Pete, Long Beach, Indy GP, Belle Isle and Sonoma are all well suited to host standing starts? No wonder why all us IndyCar fans have something to bitch about…our series does this clueless stuff!
Slightly annoyed Bryan D. in Atlanta
RM: If, in fact, the deciding factor to chose Sonoma was because San Francisco offered the best place for on-track hospitality and the banquet, then it’s an even worse decision. The two most important factors: is it a racy place and/or can it draw a crowd were obviously inconsequential. As for Long Beach, a standing start made it so much better and fairer and I know Jim Michaelian loved it and so did the paying customers.
Q: Forget about my Mailbag submission about the growth of Indy Car. Double points are back, standing starts are gone, and the season ends before Sept. 1. I can live with double points at Indy. I’m not a fan of double points at the finale. There is nothing special about that race. I understand the cars aren’t working exactly as expected for standing starts, but they need to happen. Can we get ANY good news this off-season for IndyCar? Pagenaud going to Penske kind of counts, but there’s no new names being added to the roster of drivers (yet) and the Carlin Lights news doesn’t count (yet) so it has been an off-season of disappointment after disappointment.
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: Good news? Jeff Belskus got fired and the roundabout hasn’t killed anybody yet. But I do think Carlin coming here is a big, good story.
Q: What are you views on the scrapping of standing starts and the introduction of double points for Sonoma? I’m pretty disappointed, to be honest. Having a few races as standing starts added an extra element of intrigue and interest for me, not to mention a variety we don’t really see anywhere else. As for double points at Sonoma. Did they not realize how badly it was received in F1? Not to mention the minimal effect it had in the end. Double points for the Indy 500 I understand. Double points for any 500-miler I understand but for the final race? No.
Dominik Wilde, Warrington, England
RM: I hate double points and the fact there will no longer be standing starts. I guess IndyCar’s reasoning is that without double points at Fontana there would have been no thrilling finale to draw a big crowd and massive television audience.
ABOVE: Billy Boat blows an engine, sending Robby McGeehee into the grass during the 2003 Indy 500.
Q: Just read the new rules and I have to say WTF is going on? Double points is a gimmick, having motors last 2,500 miles isn’t pushing development, and no more standing starts is a horrible decision. Double points: Been watching IndyCar since late ’80s and unless a driver ran away from the field all season then the last race always meant something. Mileage: I will bet anyone that one of the commentators this year will throw out a stat that says something along the lines of how little engine problems we have had all year or that no engine blew up all year. THAT’S BECAUSE THEY ARE RACING ENGINES THAT HAVE BEEN DETUNED SO MUCH MY GRANDMA COULD DRIVE IT. Why would any engine company come into a sport that demands them to make the motors last so long? I remember when motors only lasted 500-600 miles and you remember how good the racing was back then. Having motors blow up because the teams pushed them beyond the limits used to be apart of racing.
Standing Starts: “We know the fans enjoy it, and we love it, too,” said Derrick Walker. So we’re gonna have to put a stop to that. IndyCar doesn’t listen to its fan base. They treat the drivers like they are little boys who can’t be challenged. They wrecked last year so we have that happen again or they keep stalling so its bad for TV? Demand Chevy/Honda to build a better launch program. Walker mentioned the width of track. Is the Monte Carlo street track wider than Long Beach or IMS? This is all BS. I really believed that Walker was going to be a voice of reason and hold to his philosophy. It’s not the case. If I could run IndyCar for a day I’d make sweeping changes across the board because these changes are what the fans want. At least I’d be listening to the people who ultimately pay my salary. That is something they haven’t done in about 20 years.
Dan Michaelian, San Jose, CA
RM: I believe Honda and General Motors favor the mileage rule because they don’t want open warfare – it’s too expensive for the return that’s offered. I think Derrick is a good leader but I totally disagreed with him about double points and abandoning standing starts. And, as a reader above pointed out, Randy Bernard did listen to the paying customers. I couldn’t run your rant in its entirety because of its length but I did send it to Mark Miles and Walker.
Q: Double points at Sonoma just because it’s the last race of the season? Seriously? Whose bright idea was that? Didn’t IndyCar learn anything from the derision that was heaped on F1 for doing the same thing last year? Double points at the three 500-mile races made some sense since they were twice the length of the other races but doubling the points for the finale is the sort of artificial BS gimmick that is ruining all forms of racing these days.
Mike Grove, Copley, OH
RM: I guess IndyCar figured this year’s championship only had drama at Fontana because of double points so it was a good idea. I disagree. Qualifying points at Indy is bogus, just like double points at a road course race that’s usually determined by your starting spot. IndyCar didn’t need gimmicks to have thrilling point races for a decade and this smacks of NASCAR. F1 was smart enough to throw it out after one try.
Q: The recent press release from Ganassi Racing seemed a little puzzling. First of all, I thought Scott Dixon was already under contract. Secondly, I also assumed Target was already on board for the upcoming season. From this, sounds as if the Target sponsorship is being cut back to just one car, and Tony Kanaan will have a different primary sponsor. If true, can any of this be attributed to the shorter season?
Also, a lot of drivers from Europe seem to be looking at making the move to the IndyCar series. The only problem is the lack of available openings and teams. Have you heard of any movement in luring new teams, current teams adding additional cars, or former teams coming back in full time?
Scott Cooper, Bargersville, IN
RM: I think you are pretty perceptive. Not sure the reasoning, but T.K. will have a new primary and Target has a new CEO so maybe there was a cutback. The good news is that Target will be sponsoring Chip’s team for the 26th consecutive season. I think Dixie is under contract but the press release was more about his longevity. As for new teams, nothing on the horizon for full-time status but Carlin claims it wants to move up after getting indoctrinated into Indy Lights so that would be a nice addition to IndyCar.
Q: In your Mailbag you’ve made several comments about how IndyCar made no attempt to get Sarah Fisher in a car even when she was the current fan favorite. And they made no effort to keep Danica and Simona from leaving. This raises a single question for me: What the hell is wrong with these people?
Chad R. Larson, Phoenix, Ariz.
RM: We were at Homestead and Sarah was given a plaque as the most popular driver prior to the race and received a nice ovation from the crowd. She was in street clothes because she had no ride. As fate would have it, I rode up the elevator to the press box with Tony George and I asked him after spending all the money on the IRL how could he not invest in its most popular driver? I don’t recall his response but, other than her short stint with Walker Racing, she was never on a top-line team. I understand IMG was pushing Danica to NASCAR and the price tag was too strong for anyone in IndyCar but I’m not sure anybody even tried to keep her in open-wheel. Keeping Sarah or Simona would have been much cheaper than Danica but that old IRL money train has long since been parked.
Q: Jean-Eric Vergne is competing with Andretti in the Uruguay Formula E race. Does this strongly hint that JEV will be taking Andretti’s fourth car for the 2015 IndyCar season…or is this just coincidence? Also, is there any update on any of the other drivers seeking a ride? Love the fireside chats and can’t wait to be in the stands at St. Pete.
George, University of Florida
RM: No, not unless he brings some sponsorship. Heard Zach Veach recently had a positive meeting with Andretti about the fourth car so, again, whomever finds the money first is likely going to get that seat. Thanks for reading RACER.com.
Q: So, comes the news that Alexander Rossi is looking at IndyCar as his new racing dream (OK, “dream” is a stretch). This leads me to the following: How do we get young, hungry American race drivers interested in IndyCar as THE pinnacle of their racing career?
It seems there are two, two and only two, tracks for young racers in America. You either want to go to the NASCAR big time or to F1 – which for as long as can remember…well, not since Dan Gurney quit racing anyway, has never cared if an American raced in its series – as the goal for your racing career. How do we end this? How do we get sprint and midget car racers interested in IndyCar? Surely Ed Carpenter has demonstrated a sprint/midget driver can excel (and I think Ed could’ve been competitive on road street circuits if he really wanted to be), so the mindset of oval racers can’t all go toward NASCAR, can they? And Americans in F1? Name me the last American-born racer who had success (or was even wanted) by F1? Maybe IndyCar (and owners) needs to start its own driver development program in lower ranks of American racing.
JJ, Studio City, CA
RM: Americans like Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, Sage Karam, Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot always had their eye on CART or IndyCar and two of them (and hopefully Sage) are making it their career. Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly chased the F1 dream and both showed promise and had success but it’s all about money. And money (earning it) and opportunity (being hired to drive) are the reasons USAC stars like Kyle Larson and Chris Bell will be lifers in NASCAR. Mazda’s ladder system works, it just needs more IndyCar owners and IndyCar resources to make it more appealing and cost effective.
Q: I’m getting rather tired of reading the daily story of X F1 driver is looking at IndyCar. Exactly how does a driver’s money not going as far in F1 help IndyCar? Sure, it provides a team with some money, but it does ZERO to push the sport forward. Nobody that’s not watching IndyCar now cares or knows ANY of these guys (that goes for Rossi, too). Joe Smith in Iowa who doesn’t pay attention now, isn’t going to start because of former F1 driver X.
IndyCar can’t become, “Well I don’t have the funds to run F1 so I guess I’ll settle for IndyCar.” These guys sell that they want to be in IndyCar, but they don’t really. They just want somewhere to land. You don’t build fan interest that way. I know these teams are just trying to survive in many cases, but there has to be a look at the big picture. Drivers that are in a seat for one or two years, and then gone because of a budget don’t push the sport forward.
The argument is always: If those guys don’t bring a budget, then that’s one less car. So be it. I personally don’t see a difference in the big picture. We keep getting beat over the head with TV ratings. “F1 budget guy” doesn’t help that. NASCAR wins because of their drivers, not the racing. EVERY driver in the series has some sort of following because people have watched them progress up some sort of ladder. That’s the only way you get people who are not paying attention currently to start.
KT, Noblesville, IN
RM: No argument from me K.T. Hell, most of America couldn’t recognize Scott Dixon if he walked down their main street, let alone some F1 castoff. But, starting with CART, we’ve always had F1 defectors like Teo Fabi, Derek Daly, Emerson & Christian Fittipaldi, Stefan Johansson, Roberto Moreno and Raul Boesel (to name a few) that made their living here and became somewhat known because they all had lengthy runs. Like I said a couple weeks ago, if Alonso decided to come here that is HUGE and immediately generates interest like Mansell did. But, other than Lewis Hamilton and maybe Vettel, I don’t think anyone else moves the needle.
Q: All at once we are seeing a lot of IndyCar interest from young drivers with F1 or F1 ladder series experience. Carlin is joining Indy Lights. Is this a sign that IndyCar is doing better or does it just show that F1 is turning to crap? Do any of these drivers bring enough money to up the car count or are we just increasing the pool of drivers without rides?
John in Charleston
RM: I think it’s more a question of IndyCar being an affordable alternative and F1 just out of touch with economic reality. You could run a car at Indianapolis for what it costs to take a one-day F1 test. So far, I haven’t heard of any of these F1 drivers with sponsors but it’s still early. And there’s always a lot more drivers than available rides.
ABOVE: Rockingham Speedway effectively demonstrated the IndyCar oval racing art in the UK, but was abandoned after just two races in 2001-’02.
Q: I am sensing an increased interest in IndyCar by European F1 feeder system teams and drivers. Might it be a good idea to start a separate IndyCar Euro series? They would use the exact same cars and engines as IndyCar. They would run in the summer on the circuits that F1 no longer runs. They could even run a couple of oval races at Rockingham UK and Lausitzing in Germany. Of course they would take the month of May off so they all could come to Indy to try to qualify for the 500. That would solve the problem of getting enough cars to have real bumping at Indy. This would also be a great alternative to the very high financial price needed to enter F1.
Ben, Westfield, IN
RM: Carlin’s decision to try Lights with an eye on entering IndyCar is big news because it’s such a top-shelf operation and a rich history. But I don’t know think there’s enough interest to have a second-tier IndyCar series in Europe. Not sure anybody would care, other than the participants, and it would also likely play second fiddle to GP2 and GP3.
Q: I wanted to say I agree with you about 98% of the time and read almost every article you put out but saying Jean-Eric Vergne in IndyCar wouldn’t sell a single ticket would be a bit of an exaggeration. Most U.S. F1 fans that I’ve talked to about it, myself included, would be interested in seeing a fairly talented F1 driver racing in IndyCar and JEV certainly qualifies as fairly talented. He was pretty much the equal of Daniel Ricciardo when they were teammates and look how he made the 4-time champ look average this season. I’d also add that neither Alexander Rossi nor Conor Daly are anywhere near the level of driver that JEV is. I know we need more talented American drivers but Rossi and Daly are certainly not Hunter-Reay or Newgarden no matter how much we wish they were.
RM: Thanks Rob but I must warn you that if you agree with me 98 percent of the time then you likely need some kind of medication. Or a CAT scan. But I appreciate your sentiments and while you are the first fan to write about JEV, I’m sure there are several F1/IndyCar fans that would welcome him. I guess my point is that unless he starts winning like Zanardi or Montoya, it won’t mean squat in terms of an impact in media and the box office. I know, before they became CART stars, we didn’t know much about them either but you have to remember they drove for the best team at the time. And Rossi and Daly might be able to get to RHR’s stature if given the same opportunity. My theory is that we desperately need to try and make some American stars that resonate with the general public before we worry about most guys left behind by F1.
Q: What do you make of Jean-Eric Vergne, Alexander Rossi and Dean Stoneman looking for IndyCar rides? I guess if they bring in some money/new sponsors that is a good thing but I certainly don’t see them moving the dial on IndyCar popularity. It’s unfortunate that nobody in the U.S. knows who Rossi is. Plus, there are not that many rides available. I would pick Simona De Silvestro over these three only because of her oval experience. This long off-season is a complete drag.
RM: I make that they see a dead end in F1. Simona certainly has a higher profile here but any and all of them will need to bring money and, other than Herta and Coyne, not much out there.
Q: With the demise of the Marussia team and the potential of further teams closing their doors in F1, several F1 drivers have now set their sights on America and IndyCar. With Conor Daly, Alexander Rossi, Simona De Silvestro, Jean-Eric Vergne, and Dean Stoneman expressing their desire for an IndyCar ride, not to mention all the other drivers currently seeking rides, it is the best of times and the worst of times. If we had the owners and teams to fill the needs, we could be looking at 30 cars at every race and 40 cars fighting for 33 positions at Indy. What a perfect time for IndyCar to step up and assist the teams even more. A little investment now (millions being little), could mean big payoffs in the future. IndyCar could once again be the racing series it once was.
RM: Yeah, too bad the old CART and IRL money trees aren’t still in bloom but those days are long gone. IndyCar is trying to save money not spend it, so unless it’s a free engine here and there or $200,000 to insure the 33rd car at Indianapolis, it’s not going to happen.
Q: I’m glad to hear the recent news about drivers seeking rides in IndyCar from other forms of auto racing, but why now? I know some good seats are still open, but it still boils down to money. It doesn’t appear that there is any more money now than a few years back. If the money was there Daly and Rossi would have had partial seasons or full seasons with IndyCar. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad to see new blood, I just cannot see too much developing when there are no new owners or no new major sponsors jumping into the mix. Could you help clarify “why now?”
Charlie, Westfield, IN
RM: I guess because F1 demands insane money and its lost one team (and maybe another) so IndyCar is the cheaper alternative. But it always has been. And there isn’t any more money over here, it’s just easier for drivers to raise a few million over there. I think Rossi may land somewhere (Marshall Pruett will have more on this ASAP).
Q: Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi are hoping to break into IndyCar after years of beating on the door of Formula 1. European GP2/GP3 drivers are coming to America hoping to snag IndyCar rides as well. Why in the world would an American racing fan watch F1 over IndyCar right now? I know there are a lot of people on the fence but if aero kits raise interest, new manufacturers jump on and teams begin to form out of F1/Le Mans teams, this could be a really fun couple of years.
RM: It beats me why anyone would favor a two-horse show like F1 over the exciting crapshoot that IndyCar has become the past couple seasons. But F1 still has a mystique and millions of fans that are loyal regardless of the dominance. The aero kits could be a game changer, just hope it’s not the wrong way.
Q: The Carpenter/Conway situation last year seems like it could work for up-and-coming drivers as well. Say one of the European drivers, or even an American road racer, teams up with a USAC guy and they share a ride, this would require them to find less funding each and would also have them driving at their strength. Additionally it would put them in front of an audience that would be more likely to care about them in general.
Did anyone enjoy watching Carlos Huertas be terrified of ovals? If that seat had been filled by say Bryan Clauson it would have been much more competitive and given the fans a better show, perhaps even bringing in a few USAC fans who have long since drifted away from IndyCar. Conversely, nobody wants to watch a USAC driver struggle on road/street courses. I realize the odds of anything like this ever happening are beyond slim, but for a pair of logical drivers with only limited funding it could be the answer. Your thoughts?
Zach in FL
RM: You make a good point. The best way for a USAC star to be more than an “Indy only” driver would be in a situation like Ed’s. But, obviously, it’s a very rare situation and finding another owner willing to split the season would be a challenge. I imagine Dale Coyne might entertain the idea and nothing would be finer than if Clauson could compete in all the ovals and get a serious feel for an Indy car. The Byrd family plans to run Bryan at Indy through KVS Racing, so maybe if it goes well, Iowa and Milwaukee could be added.
Q: It seems to me that one problem plaguing IndyCar is lack of promotion, either from the track owners/promoters or IndyCar? Aside from a select few races with deep-pocket sponsors (Long Beach, Barber, Houston, Indianapolis), there’s very little local/regional promotion of the races to either draw gate attendance or television viewership. Let’s face it if the races aren’t promoted, casual, fringe or potential fans don’t know there’s an event. Whose responsibility is it to promote these events? Is it left up to the track owner/promoter or to the marketing wonks at 16th & Georgetown? How much of it is left up to sponsors like Verizon, Firestone and the like? Also, since the IndyCar Series is operating in the black, how much of those profits will be pumped into promoting the series and/or race events to help draw a larger audience?
John Olsakovsky (aka @JohnTheRaceFan), Kingwood, TX
RM: It’s an argument I used to have with USAC, which claimed no responsibility in promoting its races because it was the sanctioning body. Typical backwoods logic from USAC. As it stands today, Verizon runs radio, TV and newspaper ads to promote IndyCar races (a fan from Cleveland heard a radio spot last summer for Mid-Ohio and Fontana) along with signage. If it’s a Honda- or Firestone-sponsored race, they both do good jobs of promoting as well. Longtime title sponsor Toyota does a bang-up job with Long Beach while Barber, Sonoma, Fontana, Texas and Detroit seem to do more than their fare share of getting the word out.
IndyCar is lucky to have as many good partners as it does because promoting isn’t one of its strengths – unless you count hoisting an Indy car on a crane for New Year’s Eve. That should sell a lot of tickets for May. And the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s recent Indy 500 promotions of personal stories, photos and Glamping is laughable. Of course I remember a time when IMS only spent $5,000 a year on promoting the Indy 500 – six billboards around the state giving the dates for practice, qualifying and the race plus the museum hours. Before 1996, Indy didn’t require any promoting.
Q: I saw a video that just became available of the 1912 Fiat S76 28.5-liter racecar starting up for the first time in 100 years. It is pretty impressive – the car almost turns on its side from the torque and you can see flames shooting out of the combustion chamber. The guy who drove this thing almost 180mph must have been one of the bravest (or craziest) drivers in history.
It started me thinking about why racing in all forms is losing popularity. Present-day racecars are fast, but they’re not spectacular. They corner on rails, tracks are glass smooth, and the cars look effortless to drive (I know they aren’t). Think of what a 30-car field of these Fiats would be like. Ratings would go up for sure.
Obviously, we can’t go back to 1912 Fiats, but this reinforces my thoughts that racing has been taking the wrong direction for some time. Even my racing buddies, who are as hardcore racing fans as you can find, are starting to get bored by the current racing series. The cars need to be more powerful, louder, have less aerodynamics, and poorer handling. In other words, a real handful to drive. I think that’s the key. Seeing a driver working to control the beast creates a much more interesting human element in racing. None of my thoughts here are particularly original and I’m probably preaching to the choir, but the video just really struck a chord.
Charles Gordon, Alto, NM
RM: More than likely, anyone with a passion for motorsports was hooked by a sight or sound. For me, it was the Novi thundering down the front straightaway at Indy rattling all the folding chairs in the paddock penthouse. You are right, the visual of a driver fighting for control or the scream of a 4-cam Ford were just as important as cheering for Herk or Parnelli or A.J. I’m told the new underwings will take away a lot more downforce and make the cars tougher to drive in 2015 but they’ll probably still look too planted to be thrilling. They don’t sound like beasts either but the flip side is that the racing has been great. It’s just not enough to bring a lot of fans back or make a lot of new ones.
Q: I have heard or read you and others comment that some tracks like Mosport and Road Atlanta (ABOVE) might be “too fast” for IndyCar. Obviously, every racecar comes with a throttle and brake so it would be up to the drivers to drive the cars in a manner to keep them on the track. With all of the complaining we hear about the venues where IndyCar races, I would think that a “too fast” track would be appealing. Is the concern about the safety measures available in case somebody crashes, or is there something about the track layout that makes it inherently dangerous, like if cars could become airborne going over the crests of hills at speed?
RM: The concerns are the runoff areas at some of the fastest corners. I always figured if those ALMS muscle cars (Audi, Porsche, Honda) could handle Mosport and Road Atlanta, no reason Indy cars couldn’t but it seems to be a universal feeling among drivers, teams and officials that it’s too dangerous. It’s a shame because I think both would draw good crowds.
Q: Have you ever talked to Sarah Fisher about her interest in driving again? I wish we could see her race the current cars on any oval, and her road racing performance wasn’t that bad when she drove for Dreyer and Reinbold Racing (#5) in 2007. Do you think she would ever be up to that again? And how do you believe she would do if she returned to the cockpit? Loved your female IndyCar racers video. (And I noticed how you cleverly never declared one of them as being the best all-around driver.)
RM: No but I fairly confident in saying she has no interest. Two kids and a race team occupy most of her time. Hard to say, I’m sure she would be fine at Indianapolis but it’s more a matter of re-stoking that desire and I don’t think she’s got it.
Q: Excellent article on Sierra Jackson. I hope she will get a chance at Indy because I think she would do well. It looks like she has the “right stuff.” It is too bad MONEY always seems to be the problem nowadays. To many “balls to the wall” drivers never gets a chance due to the ride buyers. Glad you got to talk to A.J., sounds like he had a very close call.
Don Betsworth, Torrance, CA
RM: Her best shot would be if Davey Hamilton started his own team and that’s still a possibility some day. I counted five ride buyers (Saavedra, Huertas, Aleshin, Munoz, Kimball) out of 22 last year, maybe six if Sato brings an engine deal. But the talent level is much higher than some of those old CART/IRL ride buyers. Super Tex dodged another bullet and thankfully is on the mend but he is one tough customer.
Q: I know you’re not a fan of Formula E. As different as they are, FE and IndyCar seem to have quite a bit in common – they are both relatively spec series for now, but are opening up areas for development over the next few years. Historically, there is no race like Indy that has done more for the development of the internal combustion engine, and Formula E, while in it’s infancy, has the potential to do that for the electric motor.
The best thing that FE and IndyCar have in common is what they don’t have in common: their schedules. Since Formula E has an alternative calendar and IndyCar (and the ladder series) has a short calendar, it would make a lot of sense for the two series to avoid scheduling conflicts. Between the two series, they could actually provide year-round racing for those of us that love racing. Having the series work together has advantages for the teams like Andretti and Carlin that participate in both. They can have drivers like RHR or Marco in a car year-round, without the confusion of driver substitutions. The team members will have work year-round. Equipment and personnel can be used for both series. This could encourage some of the FE teams to follow Carlin’s lead and look at IndyCar.
I, for one, welcome more “furriners” to IndyCar and love hearing the rumors of guys like Charles Pic and Jean-Eric Vergne interested in racing in IndyCar – let the best racers in the world compete, regardless of where they’re from. Formula E has quite a few big names involved – Senna, Prost, Trulli, Piquet, etc. If there aren’t any conflicts, all of those folks could be racing in the “500,” too. Bump Day could be big again.
At the same time, some of the American drivers get some more time on the international stage. Let’s embrace that international aspect and really grow both series. For sponsors, this is a 2-for-1 deal – they are going to have their brand on display somewhere in the world year-round. DHL is a good example –- they are already involved in both series. If Bernie Ecclestone and NASCAR won’t work with IndyCar, maybe Formula E will. I just see a lot of potential here. As the old saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Travis R, Noblesville, IN
RM: Interesting suggestion and I imagine if Penske and Ganassi fielded Formula E teams this could have a real chance to get some legs. There are big names and major companies involved in Formula E and one would assume the Indy 500 would interest them. Mark Miles favors global expansion, so this might work as more of a double-header format. The key would be finding someone to pull all this together and, of course, finding the money to compete in both.
Q: I really enjoy all your pieces and really love your insight. I would like to think that I really know a lot about sports car/formula car racing having followed it since the early ’70s in jr. high/high school. But I really don’t know anything…just know that I really enjoy it.
Anyway, I keep waiting for you to start the campaign on who’s replacing Bernie so we can all get behind you. Now, I don’t have a clue about Bernie except what I read but I hope F1 is grooming someone to take over when Bernie unexpectedly expires. Based on attitude in the media, I’m voting for the next person in line to be Jacques Villeneuve. Their attitudes seem to be very similar in regards to racing and I think the transition would be fairly seamless. Now business acumen might be another matter. :-)
RM: I think Jacques is a little too radical for most of the F1 crowd but Motorsport touted Jean Todt as the man with the keys to F1 a few months ago. He seems to be the likely candidate.
Q: So…I’ve seen that Reba McEntire’s kid Shelby Blackstock is graduating up the Madza Road to Indy one more time starting next season. Now the $1.25 question: Is Shelby Blackstock an incredible driver who is deserving of an Indy Lights ride? Or is he just a mildly talented driver who just happens to have a pile of money under his butt to do whatever he wants? Every racecar he has even driven has been showcased with “Starstruck” – some kind of rich music production company started by his parents.
RM: I’d say he’s an above average driver who seems pretty heady but a work in progress (one Pro Mazda win and three poles in 2013 and 10 top-5s last year) that happens to have the backing to chase his dream. It would behoove IndyCar if this kid has the right stuff to make it.
Q: With Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider heading to NASCARland for NBCSN in 2015, do we yet know who will be on pit road for the Verizon IndyCar Series races? And while on the subject of the broadcast crew, why can’t NBCSN just put Leigh Diffey in F1 full time? They obviously prefer him doing F1, Leigh obviously wants to do F1 (really, he always comes off as somebody just calling the IndyCar races because he has to.) Plus, IndyCar & NBCSN would be much better off anyway if someone who gave two hoots were directing traffic up in the booth. I can think of three people who would fit this job perfectly: Bob Varsha, Dave Despain and Robin Miller.;) Any chance NBCSN would finally give IndyCar a full time play-by-play anchor?
RM: Kevin Lee leads the pit coverage but not sure about the rest of the cast. Have to disagree with you about Leigh. I think he likes IndyCar as much, if not more, than F1 and has a better connection because he’s at most of the races. Some people think he gets too excited about a pass for seventh but I’d rather have somebody animated than a monotone. He also meshes well with T. Bell and P.T. and I’m always impressed with how observant he is throughout the race. He doesn’t miss much and that’s a talent. Appreciate your suggestion but I’m happy just being on the team at my age with my three chins, Despain is very content at MAVTV and Varsha will likely be involved again.
Q: I just read last week’s Mailbag and saw that IRL shirt that mentioned going fast since 1996. Is that actually real? Do the people that design the shirts know that it’s been one series since 2008 and it’s not the IRL anymore? How is this shirt even allowed?
RM: They should have all been burned after the merger but I’m not sure when that photo was taken. I’m hoping all of those shirts have been taken out of circulation but they could have been part of the year-end sale.
ABOVE: It didn’t make the race in this final incarnation in 1966, but the Novi remained part of Indy’s unique mystique.
Q: So I decided to go back and think about what the product is that IndyCar is presenting and is it really that compelling?
I focused on two venues that I attend every year….Indy and Mid-Ohio. What do they have in common? Both are events that truly are more than just one race. Mid-Ohio has many series and frankly some of the slowest, cheapest, and very poorly advertised series are a ball. The IndyCar race in contrast is usually a parade with little passing and generally won in the pits or on a fuel strategy. Frankly, Friday and Saturday are way more fun than Sunday…and the ability to wander the property, go into the garage area, and watch from various spots around track makes up for basically a boring race.
On the other hand, Indy is a “happening.” I arrive on Thursday, attend the “Oldtimers” dinner, wander the garages (less fun now that all the cars are just alike), watch the Indy Lights, and Carb Day and spend that evening and Saturday talking to old friends about races past and races present. Watch the crowd arrive, go through the pre-race (I’ll miss Jim Nabors), and wipe a tear away for all the people who were part of previous races those that died here and those that won. And no matter how good or poor the race is, it is a chapter in a long line of memories of great races, sad races, poor races, wet races, deadly races, and even some that are remembered as “only if” races!
Indy always was the temple of what is new in racing….the garage area was a marvelous, mysterious place, a place where a kid of 15 could put his nose against the fence to get a glimpse of the Novi, the twin-engine Porsche, the first roadster, and the fearless men who tried to tame these beasts. Today the car means nothing, and hence those that drive them are not revered anywhere near as much.
I’ll always remember Sam Hanks winning and retiring, and I was thrilled both because he won and because he quit. I was and am close to Paul Goldsmith and I worried every time he climbed into one of those cars of the 1950s and early 1960s. He and I talked about death (since we were killing about one a year) and he told me…”If I die racing, I have lived more in 10 minutes than most men live in a lifetime”! We now laugh about it, but the danger was real.
Indy remains an event, a happening, the rest of the series is a cobbled-up mess of ever-changing venues, more and more road/street courses, with contrived rules and an increasing attempt to create excitement where none exists. These events are attended by few and watched by a mere dribble of what once watched. Frankly I am beginning to believe that unless and until Indy returns to what it was…the mecca of racing innovation, (and I don’t mean with unlimited funds, but within a cost-effective reasonable limit), and let the series go its own way, we’ll continue to slide into the abyss of mediocre entertainment, watched by fewer as we die off. Am I missing something? Are we right and everyone else wrong?
RM: I met a couple of young college students last season (Mark Miles fixed them up with credentials for Milwaukee) who had the same passion and enthusiasm for Indy and Indy cars as you and I. Even in its spec state, IMS still holds a place of reverence for a lot of people, just not sure how many of them are younger and will grow old with it like us. There is no denying some of Indy’s big lures were the unknown, the experiments, the secrecy, the bravery and the fight to make the race.
Race Day is still a massive crowd and the TV number is decent but it’s just a different time, so just be thankful you have those memories of when it was 30 Days in May and you couldn’t miss a day.