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.
A message from Robin
As you can imagine, the outcry from enraged IndyCar fans about Brian Barnhart being restored as Race Director was loud and lengthy. Not since Randy Bernard’s dismissal has there been such a volume of mail and at least a third of it came from first-time writers. I used up all my venom during TGBB’s last reign of terror so instead of responding to each person, we’ve decided just to run them in a group.
You will understand, also, that many of them have been shortened/edited, sometimes on the grounds of good taste, but also just to fit them into a reasonable length.
The “regular” Mailbag continues on Page 5.
My only editorial comment today is that IndyCar should have been smart enough to keep the Barnhart news in-house and share it with the drivers and teams – don’t make it a press release because bad news travels fast.
The season opener is cancelled and TGBB is back. While the first is not IndyCar’s fault it just adds to the bad feeling that surrounds the series. The second makes me wonder if anybody at 16th and Georgetown has the brains God gave a duck. Do the powers that be wake up every morning wondering what they can do to screw up that day? It’s fascinating, in an awful sort of way, to watch the governing body of a sports series that depends on fan support and sponsors whose ongoing financial contribution is contingent on fan interest in said sport, completely disregard the people who pay the bills. Shorten the season. Raise prices at Indy, an event that doesn’t sell out. Annoy the fans by bringing back a race director we despise. I love the sport of open wheel racing, but they are making it hard. I wonder if it wouldn’t be better if the whole thing just imploded and some new people made a fresh start. What fresh hell will next week bring? – Tim Adams.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. With Brian Barnhart back in charge [RIGHT, with Dario Franchitti, Mid-Ohio 2010], I’m re-thinking my travel plans for this summer. I’ve already purchased my tickets for Pocono so I’ll be going to that race but I am not willing to expend the time or money required to go to Milwaukee or Mid-Ohio or anywhere else if that clown is going to be running things. IndyCar can count on at least one less butt in one less seat. — Mike Grove.
Now I am done with my support/interest in the IndyCar series. This is either the most unlucky, snake bitten, or plain mismanaged sports or racing organization on the planet. Brazil, Barnhart, no driver news, negative sponsor news, etc. I tried to stay engaged, but even the Mailbag and your articles on Racer.com have not been able to keep me interested. You should be anointed for Sainthood for all of your efforts, but IndyCar has lost another fan. Not a doom and gloom fan, but a fan that, up until last week, was eternally optimistic about the turnaround. I just don’t see it. I will support the Indy 500 and the GP of Indy as long as they are in our backyard. But the dedication to the series has left the building. I have moved on to supporting Curling Night in America on NBCSN. — Mike, Avon, IN.
A real bum week for us open wheelers. Barnhart getting rehired, upgraded, promoted or whatever. For that caper Miles and the BCG should all be fired. That move was not in the best interest of IndyCar. That was bad enough, but now we get the news that Brazil has cancelled. It’s been stated in several reports that Bernie is or was involved. If true that would not surprise me. I would guess if that guy is involved along with politicians there was no way the lightweights at Indy were going to win. I hope you can get the real story. But don’t lose your job over it. The whole thing looks a little shady to me. –– Don Betsworth, Torrance, CA.
I cannot speak for the rest of IndyCar nation, but after hearing that Barnhart was back in “partial” control of race director, I immediately thought of Loudon and the boneheaded decision it was to start that race back up. Why in the world would they bring back such a controversial person to do the job of race director? Beaux Barfield probably didn’t get every call right, but at least you did not worry about what he or the other stewards were going to do at the beginning of the race. For the most part Race Control wasn’t noticed during the race unless something significant happened. A good referee is one that you barely notice and Barfield got that; Brian Barnhart got on his soapbox so many times during his tenure of race director, it made you sick. If he goes back to his assumptions, or mind-reading “abilities” of what drivers were or weren’t thinking during incidents, it’s going to be the same old TGBB. The only thing that might save him embarrassment from another idiotic decision would be the other race stewards convincing him that his decision more times than not, is the wrong one.
Just when you think this series is gaining some kind of momentum, they hire back BB, and a couple days later the already neutered season gets even shorter with the cancellation of Brazil. — Josh, Cabot, PA.
Well, well, well. TGBB is back at the helm. I’m sure the drivers are overjoyed, especially Will Power and Helio. Hope Lone Star JR’s back has healed after being thrown under the bus with TGBB going green on a wet oval track. Can’t wait to hear “Give me four good ones” for the 500. That is one tradition that has been really missed. Or tell them to slow down out there, they are racing too close. I just plain shake my head and wonder why. — Terry Gobble/ Urbana IL
Wow. The guy with all the made-up non-racing rules? Maybe we should just yell at the drivers from the grandstands “Slow Down.” I thought it wasn’t a good sign when he stayed with the company. We are just going back to where things were before “unification.” Maybe it’s time to start watching horse racing. — Tom Cheshire, Castro Valley, CA.
Why, why, why does IndyCar make it so hard to be a fan? Do they want me to give up on this relationship and they just don’t know how to tell me in words? Barnhart? Really? — Chris Ruske, Millville, NJ
So with the Brazil cancelation and TGBB back in Race Control is this the end? Seems too familiar to CART’s last days. –- Geoff.
I have a solution for Indycar. Let them bring back TGBB as director for all the races after Labor Day weekend. — Brian Bristo.
To say I am a little disappointed with the news of TGBB’s reinstatement of racing steward is an understatement – so let me be perfectly clear just in case whoever the person is from IndyCar who made this horrible decision reads this. I am stark raving, out of my flipping mind, seething with anger, disappointment, and rage. Please explain to me how this happened. As we both know, there are so many elder drivers who would be at least worth giving a chance rather than re-instating Barnhart — John Cassis, Houston, Texas.
So two days after TGBB is reinstated as Race Director, the Brazilian government cancels the Brasilia race. I can’t really say I blame them. I’ve about had it with IndyCar too! Now the off season is even longer. I realize choosing the Race Director and the race cancellation aren’t directly his fault, but Mark Miles’ and BCG’s decisions are alienating fans and driving away sponsors which are the lifeblood of the series. I’m convinced IndyCar (not the Indy 500) will die on his watch. How anyone can believe he is an improvement over Randy Bernard is beyond me. — Blake, Flower Mound, TX.
Really? Seriously? Is IndyCar so hard up that the only person they could find to be Race Director is Brian Barnhart? Just when IndyCar was starting to gain some ground with fans (me included, even though I’ve been an open-wheel fan since 1973), the powers that be not only shorten the season so it ends by Labor Day, then they re-employ Barnhart! What next, electric cars? — Barry, Fort Wayne.
Are you kidding me? Barnhart as race director….again? His decision-making last time was horrendous and I doubt his “race director craft” has improved. I hope the drivers and owners take a stand but I realize it may be fruitless. Another huge shot to the foot of IndyCar! — C.J. Eisman, Terre Haute.
Oh, well, the end is nigh. HE’S BACK! I just wonder how much of the Mailbag will be about this. I guess we will get our pep talks before laps at Indy again. Maybe we should build a track in Boston after the 100th and start running the 500 there so everything will work out just fine! Could TG be far behind? — Tom in Waco.
Seriously? If we are going to go backwards, just give the keys to the building back to Tony George. — Vincent Martinez, Arcadia, CA.
OK Robin, in the words of noted Race Control genius Brian Barnhart, “Gimme four good ones.” That is, four good reasons why TGBB should be allowed to manage a Burger King, let alone an IndyCar race. Hell…I’ll accept one, and it doesn’t even have to be that good. So let’s go: Can you fathom any legitimate to put him back in charge of Race Control, or is this a case of the 16th & Georgetown Good Ol’ Boy System noticing an empty seat after Barfield left, and being unable to resist filling the seat with one of its own? — Mike Jiran, Cranford, N.J.
Back when I ran a really nice store in a mall, we had a satellite store on the other end of the mall from us. We had to let an employee go for leaving the store unattended. Three years later my boss asked if I thought we should hire this person back. My answer was “Are you frickin’ kidding me?”
In the damage that came out of The Split, ONE MAN has never gone away, but has always put the worst spin on every job he’s done in IndyCar (sending cars out on wet ovals, nearly getting Rahal killed with a safety truck, double-secret penalties). He never walked away long enough to get 1) the stink of The Split off of him, and 2) get away far enough that he can come back with fresher insight. And now he’s back in charge. Are you frickin’ kidding me? The definition of insanity is definitely in play here. This literally makes me sick to my stomach. — Jeremy from Harrisburg (retching in Indiana)
I am extremely disappointed, though not surprised, in the news of Brian Barnhart being named as IndyCar race director. First, he represents the old IRL which should be forgotten about and pretended it never existed. Second thing is the arbitrary rules made up on the spot including no concern to how fans would receive it and no logical way to explain it. Paul Tracy [ABOVE] was ahead when the yellow light turned on at the 2002 Indy 500, but Helio won because TGBB said so.
The problem is not just about being a bad race director, but about being incompetent. The New Hampshire rain race in 2011 proved this. The blame was put on the officials in the pits for not passing the team’s concerns to the booth. So, the structure was the problem, but he was still in charge of it. After more than a decade of experience at Race Control, he had no idea that the teams and drivers were complaining about the rain. What were the procedures for officials to tell Race Control what is going on? Were there any procedures? How could he be race director for more than a decade with these bad procedures? Being in charge of a bad structure, bad procedures, and never fixing it is just incompetence. And from my experience with incompetent people in charge is that they never change.
IndyCar needs to stop listening to the car owners and listen to the fans. If they listen to the car owners, then all they get is saving money which leads to an uninteresting product. I guess the only way to protest is with my dollar. Luckily, I have yet to renew my Indy 500 tickets or my Fort Worth tickets. I was planning on replacing Houston with NOLA. They need butts in the seats, but won’t be seeing mine. Now, I will just stay home and consider going to Petit Le Mans and Sebring. — Jimi, Basile, LA.
While I appreciate Marshall Pruett’s perspective on the BB hiring I respectfully disagree with the main premise of why BB was bad in Race Control. I don’t think he was bad because he called too many penalties. I think he was bad because he was horribly inconsistent. The penalties handed to Franchitti (or not) at Toronto and Motegi in 2011 cost Power the title in my opinion. When the officials make a material impact on the championship (for the wrong call) you’ve got a problem. And yeah I agree: if he is still awful I won’t be mad at him. I’ll be mad at the hand that fed him. — Ryan in West Michigan.
What kind of person wants to return to a job that he got fired from? I swear if competition is tempered through TGBB’s bully pulpit and over officiating, I’m done spending my time and money on the Verizon IndyCar Series. — Steamed Steve.
Well I guess you were wrong. How can ANYONE consider him? There’s no one in the racing community that’s qualified? Did they even try to find someone else? Tim Cindric said on ESPN he didn’t think IndyCar looked very far in its search for a new race director. Marshall Pruett wrote, “Until we get to the point where Barnhart has done something new to warrant a digital lynching, it might be worth putting your faith in Walker to place his new Race Director in a position to succeed.” The problem is, then it’s too late, the damage will be done (again). If a dog has a history of biting, why stick your hand in his mouth? — Tony, N.Y.
It is so hard to be a fan of the circus act known as IndyCar. Barnhart originally left the series under a cloud of dubious calls and leadership and now the series wants him back? Do not get it. Really feel like selling my 500 tickets away. — Disgruntled fan in Muncie.
This is more a rant then a question but you need to send this to management, I’m done with IndyCar. I’ve been a huge fan (loyal) since the mid-’80s when my dad took me to my first race at the Milwaukee Mile and he bought me a Norton hat and was cheering for Bobby Unser. I followed CART religiously and attended as many races as I could and stayed with it after The Split. I was starting to get back into it slowly, multiple manufacturers and aero kits were helping. But after hearing the rehire of Barnhart and the cancellation of Brazil (the series looks like a joke) and not to mention the short season and the lack of innovation and luster of the Indy 500, that’s it – I’m done watching, following and even caring. — Tie from Maryland.
Please, please, please tell me there’s good news just around the corner! First I see the headline that TGBB is back running Race Control! (I admit I couldn’t bring myself to read the article). Then I read that primary sponsors are (or are threatening to) leave because of the short season. Where does that leave us? Integrity – poof, gone. Money – drying up faster than a California reservoir. Fans – abandoning both track and television. Does the “brain trust” running IndyCar have a secret agenda to implode the series? Do I just resign myself to following sports cars and F1? — Joel Staskiewicz
All I can say about IndyCar putting Brian Barnhart back in position to mess things up again is “it’s hard to move forward when you refuse to let go of the past”. Why can’t the series move on from the recent (15-year) past? We need new “blood” and new ideas, not the same ole “retread”. If this is best for the series, then fine. However, I just can’t get the picture of Will Power outta my mind! — Keith Schmitz.
I cannot believe that Indy Car is putting him back as race director. We been down this road before and it wasn’t good. Also if I have to listen to him giving instructions to every driver attempting to qualify at Indy, I will puke! I think it is time for someone else to take over IndyCar. In my 68 years, I have never seen such a mess! — Terry B., Missoula, MT.
ABOVE: Bobby Marshman, Rodger Ward and Parnelli Jones with Harlan Fengler, a former driver who became chief steward at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1958 and retained this role until 1974. He died in 1981 at the age of 78. (Image: Reel Racing Photos)
It’s true that I went to Ball State and that my IQ is lower than the number on Marco Andretti’s car, but even for someone as dumb as me I can’t understand WHY on EARTH the brain trust has seen fit to turn again to The Great Brian Barnhart. Do they not realize, especially in light of the NFL’s recent woes with Ray Rice and then Deflategate that credibility, especially in officiating and rule enforcement, is key to the public perception of a sport and its legitimacy? Without credible officiating, the public will view your contest as a farce, a laughingstock, a fixed game. Please, in the name of Harlan Fengler, tell these morons to make it stop! Continued allowance of TGBB anywhere near the official’s booth just makes the series look like a joke. — Mark, Mishawaka, IN.
Just read where TGBB is back as race director. It’s official, Indy Car just doesn’t care and doesn’t get it. I’m officially done with Indy Car. Time to check out PWC and DTM racing. — Dave Bostrom.
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO…PLEASE NO! — Shashi.
Are they serious? The Great Brian Barnhart is back in at IndyCar as Race Director? Well, I guess my high school history teacher was right when he told us that history will repeat itself. — Tony Piergallini, Steubenville, Ohio.
You know as well as I do there is not one fan, driver, or I’m sure owner out there who thinks Barnhart has any business being in charge of Race Control. Would it be possible for you to copy and paste the comment section below the RACER article announcing this travesty and e-mail them to Mr. Miles? – Rob Dixon.
Oh well more LOLZ during the three months we have IndyCar with TGBB specials. Do RHR and Will Power start off the season on secret probation? My “favorite” part of TGBB previous reign of terror was when TGBB was asked about his inconsistency. I believe RHR and Mike Conway were on probation for minor incidents, but Helio wasn’t, despite wrecking everyone and their mom during the first four races of the season because TGBB knows Helio wouldn’t wreck someone intentionally. – Stephanie Willerth.
Brian Barnhart!?! Really??? I’m going to go take a nap. Will you do me a favor Robin? Wake me up in time for next year’s Chili Bowl. – Jim Patton.
Do the people running the show have any idea what they doing! Are they blind! Do they not know what a mockery Race Control was under his control? I think they just want to chase away fans. — Joe Mullins.
I know you’re gonna get thousands of e-mails on this subject but I couldn’t help writing in. Whose idea was this? I can’t imagine this being really popular among the drivers, considering half of them are still active from the last time TGBB was in charge…not to mention at least three years of Mailbags of fans saying how much of a disaster this guy is. How is it going to be any different from 2011? — Nathan, Montreal.
Is there nobody in the world who would be a better choice as race director that TGBB? Unbelievable, really. I think you summed it up in your Mailbag, the IndyCar management has no interest in what the fans want. – Jim Doyle.
So TGBB is back and the whole Race Control situation seems as convoluted as ever. Please explain to me how we’re supposed to digest this. — John Fulton, Akron, Ohio.
This is a very sad day. After the fiasco that was the TGBB stewardship years, Indy management brings him back? Horrible decision. The only saving grace in is that I’m 68 years old and Alzheimer’s runs in my family. By the time IndyCar is dead (8-12 years) I probably won’t notice or care anymore. — P. Lynch.
Q: IndyCar needs to take a chance. With the cancellation of the Brazil race, IndyCar has the opportunity to do just that. In a massive PR blunder, the powers that be said the loss of the Brazilian round will not impact the financial support for the paddock, according to Miles. “Without going into details, it won’t change the Leader Circle distribution for our stakeholders,” he confirmed. While this is in some way reassuring to the “stakeholders” (owners I guess), this does nothing for the true stakeholders – the fans.
IndyCar had a great opportunity here. They should have said nothing about the “Leader Circle distribution”. They could have gone a totally different route. They could have said something like, “We hate we lost Brazil, but sometimes those things happen. Having said that we are going to have a race: somewhere somehow we will race. We will not lose one race from our schedule, even if we have to do it at another time. Even if it’s after Labor Day. We owe it to the sponsors of our series and teams, to our owners, drivers, television partner but most of all we owe to our fans. We have implemented a team to address this situation and make something positive out of a negative.”
It would seem to me that something along these lines would have turned a PR nightmare into a huge boost for the series. Show the fans that you care about them. Supposedly they are financially protected. Well if that’s the case, take a flier: give away a race date with no sanction fee, use the Brazil money. Promote the event yourself, just do something positive. It’s 4th down and 5 with :20 left in the game, down by 6, the other team just jumped off-sides giving you a free play, so why not take a shot at the end zone?
David, North Carolina
RM: I think IndyCar really got blindsided by this and when the word came down from Brazil there was no time for any kind of “what if…” scenario. Nobody thought there was enough time to try and find a replacement by early March, but on Monday, Marshall Pruett hinted in a story that Laguna Seca [ABOVE] could be an add-on possibility since Indy Lights are already scheduled there. Of course it’s a couple weeks into September so I’m sure the Boston Consulting Group would not approve.
Q: Let me make sure I have got this right. No standing starts, no double-file restarts, another short season and sponsors ready to pull out, Beaux Barfield out and TGBB back in, Brazil a wash, aero kits up in the air, the Boston Consulting Group is the lead advisor for marketing, more than half the field is filled by three owners, another struggling year to get 33 cars at Indy and Mark Miles having us to believe that IndyCar is well on its way back to the glory years.
Are you kidding me? Tell me Robin, at what point does Mark Miles wake up in the morning and realize his leadership is a failure? How much longer can IndyCar hold on with a leader who is so myopic and obtuse in his approach to the business model, ignoring the basic tenet of giving the fans what they want? Why can’t the Hulman family take charge and get rid of these cronies and hire Randy Bernard back? Who owns this company? Can’t they see what is happening? Or are they so obtuse in their thinking that they are blind to the obvious?
Daniel Bonham, Indianapolis
RM: As I’ve said, Miles answers to the Hulman & Company board and the Hulman-George family’s voice seems to be getting fainter and fainter. If, in fact, IndyCar turned a profit last year like Miles claims, then he’s in good standing with the people who count in his eyes and the bottom line. He may be failing the fans, sponsors and owners in certain areas but I imagine he thinks he’s doing just fine.
Q: I understand the Mailbag is basically an echo chamber. The same people write in to vent their frustrations, me included. You’re like the patient bartender, nodding and agreeing and being reasonably tolerant. But I’m done – complaining and writing. Canceling Brazil means a five-month, 16-race schedule, and four of the races are at two locations. At this point, I hope Honda, GM, Firestone, Target, Verizon, NBC Sports Network pull out in unison and force this turd to be flushed forever.
It took 20 years, but I’ve finally conceded that open-wheel racing cannot come back from 1996 and the IRL. It’s dead. I couldn’t care less how “good” the racing is. Nobody cares. If it’s a choice between Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo racing at Spa, Monaco, COTA, Monza; or Power, Dixon, Andretti racing at Indy, Indy again, or anywhere else, I’ll take the former.
Power, Bobby Unser and Gil de Ferran have all voiced the need for big horsepower, innovation, differentiation between cars, and a show. Of course, no one listens. Instead, year after year, we get the same crappy spec cars powered by similar anemic corn-fueled engines.
Steve, Aurora, Colo.
RM: I think Honda, NBCSN and Target could be on the fence when their contracts are up but more and more fans like yourself are vowing they are done with IndyCar. I do think the alarm bells are going off but nobody at IndyCar seems to be very concerned.
Q: I have to say that the latest news announcements from IndyCar have been troubling. I am not bothered by the announcements themselves, but by my reaction to them – I don’t care. Yes, I am an old fart, but I have been passionate about IndyCar for YEARS. Traveled all over the country to see the races, put aside family obligations to watch races, bought the t-shirts, all of it. I used to talk IndyCar with all of my friends, went to races with them. Now I don’t have ONE person to discuss the races with, much less attend a race with. And now it has come to the point that I just shrug my shoulders. I do wonder if the series has or is very close to jumping the shark? If nobody goes to the races (check); if nobody watches on TV (check); if the race tracks don’t care to schedule a race (check); if nobody wants to become an owner (check); if nobody wants or is allowed to build cars (check); if drivers volunteer to leave the series (check); if the century-old icon of the series is a shadow of itself (check) – just exactly what do you have left? I submit that it is way past time to either try some radical change or just let it go. All we have left are the museums.
RM: Well, of course you do care Mark because you took the time to write but the tone of your email echoes many others this week. I knew groups of Indy residents that religiously went to Milwaukee and Mid-Ohio and now they don’t even watch the races on television. The people who still seem to care the most are calling for some radical changes or, at the least, a return to innovation. But a lot of them are losing interest before they lose their voice.
ABOVE: Tom Bagley (Penske PC6) passes Bill Alsup’s McLaren at Phoenix in October 1979.
Q: Now that Brasilia has fallen through, do you think IndyCar will finally realize it needs to rethink its business model as far as race scheduling goes? Now the season starts all of one day short of seven months since its last event! Charging massive sanctioning fees to international governments and boondoggle street courses that disappear regularly is not creating a coherent schedule for the long term. IndyCar needs to come up with a model (relax sanctioning fee, co-promotion, etc.) that allows tracks to turn a profit if 20-25k show up, because that’s what IndyCar gets these days. Then they could race any number of places (Kentucky, Road America, Phoenix, etc.). Also, has IndyCar missed the PR boat with aero kits at this point? Race fans are getting a new F1 car design released every day at this point while Honda and Chevy hoard away their development-frozen kits.
RM: There have been no indications the schedule will ever go past Labor Day weekend as long as Miles is calling the shots. And I would assume his idea of a “foreign series” in the off-season has been tempered by the realities of what happened in Brazil and what happened to CART several times. As far as cutting sanction fees, these days you have to pretty much treat everyone equally unless it’s a situation like Milwaukee a couple years ago, where IndyCar needed to offer a sweetheart deal just to ensure having a race. But if one track gets a big break and the others find out, it’s mutiny. And co-promoting an event may end up being a necessity to get new tracks or keep current ones. More on the aero kits in a later question.
Q: With Brazil gone, we get to endure another two weeks of off-season, AND we lose one of just 17 rounds (now making 16 for 2015). Mr. Miles must still love his schedule, huh? Please tell me this race is going to be replaced by something? Even if God forbid it has to be run in September (yeah…I can see the IndyCar brass fainting over that idea.) This coupled with the news of Brian Barnhart retaking Race Control, aren’t us IndyCar fans having a great year already? I am now going to have a drink.
Justin Brockwell, Richmond, VA
RM: I do think IndyCar will try to replace Brazil (I’d have a doubleheader at Iowa or Milwaukee on the same day) and it’s possible Laguna Seca could be in play for September.
Q: Don’t the clowns at IndyCar know that a contingency plan is something already in place before something goes wrong??
Donald McElvain, Polson, Montana
RM: I don’t think there’s a reason to have a contingency plan when the track is almost finished and there were no signs anything was awry until the last minute. But it might be a good idea to have one the next time IndyCar tries to go outside North America.
Q: As an alternative to the Brasilia race, suggest to Miles that IndyCar could do a head-to-head exhibition of the new aero vs. old aero (maybe also include an IR07 formula car as well?) at a southern road course. Since kits are delivered March 1st, what better way to unveil and publicize the new performance? Make lemonade out of these lemons given by Brasilia!
Adam P., Bay City, MI
RM: I imagine they may try something like that in spring training at Barber Motorsports Park because it’s supposed to be the first time everyone is running together with the kits.
Q: What do you think about such a short season? I have read that it is a problem for the sponsors. Well, the aim of this mail is to ask if you can make an update of drivers who actually have a deal ready for 2015.
Hector, Santiago, Chile
RM: Like most of people with any passion or knowledge or skin in the game for IndyCar racing, I hate the six-month (now five-month) schedule but it’s the sponsors’ disdain that matters most. Gabby Chaves is in Bryan Herta’s #98 for 2015, Sage Karam is poised (whatever that means) for the fourth Ganassi car and I keep hearing Justin Wilson is signed at Andretti but just awaiting a car.
Q: I am positive I am #10,997 by now to chime into the Mailbag on the unbelievable news that greeted IndyCar fans: that Brian Barnhart is once again Race Director and the opening race in Brazil has been nixed! At least that one can’t be blamed on IndyCar management, but it sure doesn’t reflect too good on them, does it?! This all follows up on news that I’ve been reading lately about many very, very unhappy sponsors who are either pulling out or about to pull out of the series due to the too short season. This also doesn’t bode well for the series: worse, it seems that upper management isn’t showing much concern over these sponsors’ unhappiness, are they? On the positive news front, so happy to see Gabby Chaves likely will get a ride with Bryan Herta and Conor Daly testing for Schmidt Peterson at Sebring! Will JWil be signed at Andretti? Will ex-F1 shoe Rossi, Veach, and JWil’s kid brother find solid rides?
Tony Mezzacca, Madison, NJ
RM: For the record, you were No. 31 of 311 and, no, IndyCar doesn’t seem too concerned about some sponsors being unhappy with the short season. Conor has a shot, it’s all quiet on JWil and we keep hearing Rossi to Dale Coyne. Nothing on the other two. And Simona De Silvestro [ABOVE] supposedly has some funding and is also in the SPM picture.
Q: What are the chances of my favorite young American driver, Conor Daly, landing the second seat alongside Hinch at SPM? When does Sage get his chance?
RM: I think pretty good because Sam evidently wants to build his future with a couple of young drivers and I know Hinch is pushing for Conor. (And Marco Andretti was cool enough to give Daly $3,000 for his test). Sage tested at NOLA in the fourth Ganassi car so it seems to be all but official.
Q: It seems like a huge majority in IndyCar land decries the six-month schedule to avoid the NFL. Do you think anyone is listening to this? I feel it is hurting sponsorship attraction and hurting the chance of a good fan base. Are all the IndyCar 2018 articles being written for nothing? Most ideas are very good, but is anyone listening? Conor Daly/Alexander Rossi – we NEED both of these VERY talented American drivers in seats THIS year!!! Any chance? IndyCar should have one American driver that gets a scholarship each year to help them make the jump.
Harvey Pelovsky, Payson, Arizona
RM: I don’t know of anyone – owners, sponsors, drivers or fans – that thinks this short season (now five months basically) is a good idea or is working in IndyCar’s favor. Not sure if anyone at IndyCar besides Derrick Walker and Will Phillips reads the IndyCar 2018 series but it’s produced some good ideas.
Q: I read your Mailbag this morning and I see growing concern if anyone is listening. I was so excited when Randy was in charge and got this lifetime fan excited about the direction of the series. I was open to Mark Miles and curious what he could do with the series. Sorry but I will list my complaints: 1) Short season – enough said. 2) Lack of communication from TOP-DOWN. Why do Robin Miller, Marshall Pruett and RACER.com seem to be the best ongoing advocate of the IndyCar series? I love it and am appreciative but why doesn’t IndyCar do weekly video spots on their website, have more interaction with fans (especially during long off-season)? Where is the outreach? I have not missed watching a race (either in person or on TV) since the IRL started in 1996 and am sick of having to continually search for information. Does Mark not understand the need to PUSH information OUT to their fans to absorb? 3) Standing starts! They were loved by the fans and I cannot believe they caved. 4) TGBB…. Nothing needs to be said. What next…a new team with a VISION?
Mike Nicholas, Fishers, IN
RM: Can’t speak for the IndyCar website other than to say Dave Lewandowski does a good job of providing daily, timely content in the written form. But, as RACER has found out, 3-5 minute videos are quite popular and wind up being watched over and over on our YouTube channel.
Q: For the powers that be, I have a list of 10 demands of IndyCar that we the fans expect in no particular order: 1) No more Boston Consulting Group (except the GP of Indy has shown some promise) 2) Double-file restarts. 3) Racing in the fall. 4) Marketing/relentlessly using RHR as the face of IndyCar. 5) Standing starts on road/street courses and rolling starts on ovals 6) Fan input (ANY fan input). 7) Inspired management (or just bring back Randy). 8) Date equity (February X Super Bowl eve to October X Columbus Day weekend). 9) TV news coverage (in-season or otherwise). 10) Increase the horsepower/boost to get a driver’s attention.
RM: I’m afraid you could take Mari and her daughters hostage and not one of these demands would be met but they might offer you a chance to buy infield parking on Race Day.
ABOVE: Preseason testing of the new Swift chassis by Bryan Herta at Phoenix in January 2000.
Q: Just bummed out that IndyCar has not taken it upon itself to have a debut of the new aero kits. F1 does this every year with the new teams and cars. I remember looking forward to the debuts of the Reynards and Swifts every year. There would be testing spy shots and teasers all off-season. IndyCar continues to let me down. What’s the deal? No nothing? This is the biggest change to IndyCar in three years and nothing but crickets!
RM: Honda is planning an embargoed media rollout for the automotive magazines, LA Times, and west coast media in addition to an event for the motorsports media in advance of IndyCar Spring Training at Barber on March 16-17. General Motors also plans an unveiling in Alabama, just not sure of details yet. I also heard IndyCar was considering something in early March with the aero kits but may not be able to pull it off.
Q: Doesn’t Marshall Pruett’s article about Ben Bowlby’s design for Nissan prove that if you want to get fans to watch your race, THE CAR IS THE REASON? Not one word about drivers. The drivers will become known and famous IF the car works.
If Nissan will spend the money, won’t Toyota, Honda, Ferrari, Mercedes to get the biggest car market (well now next to China) to look at their cars? Even if we use Diego Rodriguez’s formula …inventive minds will bring us some new, interesting, and memorable racecars. Do away with “spec” cars and the $1,000,000 payment to each team and pay $10,000,000 to win and $500,000 to start. To keep up the same bull crap that has seen IndyCar decline and expect things to improve is the most costly thing we can do. Tell me I’m wrong…?
The Grim Reaper
RM: I went to Indy to watch Herk, A.J. and Parnelli after seeing them at Terre Haute and Salem and the Fairgrounds. And the Novi blew me away in 1958 as it rumbled down the front straightaway so it was also part of my affection for the Speedway. They went hand-in-hand – brave drivers and cool cars, and that Nissan commercial during the Super Bowl is still being talked about so obviously it registered with people. I’m not sure any of those big car companies will ever consider Indy because Le Mans seems to have captured their attention but about the only chance is for IMS to challenge their technology.
Q: What I offer is only an opinion. Unlike many of your “armchair authorities,” I know my place. Cheaper Indy cars and prettier too…..get rid of the wings all together. To see the prettiest racecar at Indy, and I saw the last of the roadsters run, hell even the last of the “high boys run”, I look at the racecar #82 Jim Clark drove there.
Fort Worth Dan
RM: In our 2018 series, respected designer Gordon Kimball said he’d rather see drivers sliding around at 180mph than doing 230mph on rails, and the removal of wings would likely accomplish that. But don’t bet on it.
Q: The next big sporting event after Super Bowl is the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am golf tournament this weekend [CBS Sports]. Everybody who’s anybody will be here. Two years ago, Rubens Barrichello played. Earlier in the week, Pebble Beach resident Danny Sullivan took him over to Laguna for the first time to run a few laps in a Skip Barber Viper. What about IndyCar scheduling a test at Laguna for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of that week? Might create some buzz and the teams and drivers could stay for the week and mingle with the celeb crowd at Pebble. With this planned, some could even be invited to play. It hasn’t rained here in over a month and temps in the last two weeks have been mid-60s.
Paul, Carmel, CA
RM: I think if Laguna were part of the IndyCar schedule it would make more sense but, if you had the cooperation of the golfing world, it could still generate some media opportunities during the LONG off-season.
Q: So it seems that people within the IndyCar community who are writing about IndyCar 2018 are saying the same basic thing. A longer schedule is needed, IndyCar in general, needs to be promoted a lot differently than it is now and the cars need more horsepower and less downforce, so basically a BEAST. The Indy 500 needs to be a standalone event like it used to be, and rules need to be opened to allow innovation. Isn’t that what the regular Joe fans like myself have been talking and complaining about for quite some time now? Also it seems to me that if the BCG didn’t recommend it, than Miles won’t listen. Will this be any different? Will he sweep these suggestions under the rug too? He doesn’t even seem to be in any hurry to get IndyCars back to Phoenix or Road America, and those should be at the top of his list. Why can’t he see that a six-month schedule for a spec series doesn’t seem that alluring to sponsors, manufacturers or new fans?
Kris, Ocala, Florida
RM: I can’t speak for Miles and I haven’t spoken to him since last summer so I don’t know if he listens to suggestions or complaints, or even cares. But he’s under the delusion that the TV ratings were better in 2014 because the season ended earlier when, in fact, they likely improved because they were so low in 2013. And his good move of getting the whole Month of May on ABC helped total ratings considerably.
Q: First of all, thank you for your commitment to IndyCar, your honesty and love of the sport. My first 500 was 1992 (even with that horrible weather, I loved every bit) when I was 13 years old and I’ve only missed one year since. I have a quick question about Jeff Gordon. I’ve dreamed of Jeff racing the 500 for years, but I know he’s always said he has too much respect for IndyCar to just jump in and do one race. Well, since he’s retiring and has said he’d like to still race cars, this seems like it could be a perfect storm. Is there even a shred of a possibility that we could see Jeff running in the 100th running of the greatest race in the world?
Randy from Milwaukee
RM: Well thanks for being a loyal fan. As for Jeff running the Indy 500, no chance it will ever happen. He’s made that abundantly clear whenever asked and it’s a shame since that was his goal when he was 15 years old. But he’s too old, too rich and too married. [ABOVE, Jeff with wife Ingrid and children Leo and Ella after he won the Brickyard 400 for the fifth time last year.]
Q: I read the story in the Canadian newspaper about IndyCar’s impending doom and I must confess I can’t disagree with the journalist. I know from reading your column that racing in IndyCar is suppose to be the best ever, but I may be missing something. I stopped watching halfway last season. Even if I was home and had the TV on, I found that I wasn’t paying attention. Your readers write how exciting it is, but that must have passed me by. I find Formula 1 far more exciting. You can talk about the racing in IndyCar but it doesn’t compare with F1, in my humble opinion. Any of the dicing between the top drivers (Alonso, Hamilton, Button, Vettel, Kimi…) is far more riveting for me than what I saw in IndyCar. Even though there wasn’t any passing, the dice between Hamilton and Rosberg at Bahrain was worth all the Indy races combined. I wish I could pinpoint what it is that’s caused me to lose interest. I don’t mean to diss IndyCar. It used to be my favorite.
RM: F1 has millions of viewers worldwide while IndyCar is anywhere from 350,000-2,000,000 (except for the Indy 500 which is 4-5 million) in North America depending on which network is airing which race. Knowing the Mercedes team is going to dominate almost every race isn’t nearly as interesting for me than having no idea who might win an IndyCar event the past three years. The racing in IndyCar has also been fierce but, obviously, that’s not been enough to keep longtime fans like yourself entertained. Sadly, for IndyCar, that seems to be the trend.
Q: I wanted to share some IMS seating information with last week’s writers. I have two suggestions: sit in a turn (as opposed to a straight), and sit in Turn 4 instead of Turn 1. Sitting in a turn is the most crucial, since it allows you to see much more of the track. I sat on the front straight near pit out in 2014, and could barely see cars exiting Turn 4 when everybody was standing. The other fans block the view. This happens less when the grandstand is curved to fit the outside of the turn. In a turn, it’s possible to see about half the track. This doesn’t happen on a straight.
I also think Turn 4 is superior to Turn 1. Tickets are cheaper and easier to get. Also, Turn 4 makes it easier to identify who’s driving which car. In Turn 1, you first see the cars when they’re 5/8 mile away from you exiting Turn 4. From the front, a lot of cars appear relatively similar from so far away. Especially from 10th position back, a lot of the one-off cars at the Indy 500 are primarily white, and the accent, colors & numbers are impossible to see until they’re halfway down the front straight. You can see that a car has entered the pits, but you have no idea who it is. It’s easy to see that one car is trying to pass another, but it’s difficult to tell who’s involved with the pass. In other words, you have no idea who’s in what car for 40 percent of the time you’re watching a car.
When sitting in Turn 4, you see the easier-to-differentiate side of cars as they pass through Turn 3. As the cars pass through Turn 4, you see the sidepods, sponsors, colors, and car numbers very well. You do have to watch the back of cars as they go down the front straight, but you know who’s in what car. You can also tell when a trailing driver is ‘getting a run’ on the car in front and setting up a pass into Turn 1.
Kyle in Raleigh
RM: Thanks for that perspective Kyle. Just checked IMStix.com and there are still good seats high in Turn 2 and Turn 3 but couldn’t find anything in Turn 4 but J tickets. I’d rather be in the north or south chute vistas than J because you can see more passing.