Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD . Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to email@example.com We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you.
And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, remember that Marshall Pruett tackles them in his Tech Mailbags. Please send tech questions to PruettsTechMailbag@Racer.com.
Q: So post testing…the aero kits have grown on me. A lot. I looked through the Day 2 test times and of the 23 cars that participated, 13 of them were covered by 0.5 seconds. Let me repeat that. THIRTEEN cars split by HALF A SECOND! And 21 cars separated by one full second.
Considering one second in F1 covers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and nobody else, it seems that despite being wildly different, the new aero kits have kept the parity between Honda and Chevrolet. That right there is really damn impressive, especially when you consider how easily this could have turned into a walkaway by one OEM or the other. Is Honda behind a little? They’ve been the underdog since the DW12 came out, so that really isn’t surprising. And with that small of a gap between the cars, a mistake in any race can easily be the difference between a win and a loss. I know a lot of people have complained that the new cars look weird and “ugly” (just like the bare DW12), but I get the feeling that some of these people won’t be happy until the cars are all sausage shaped roadsters again. Sorry folks, that ship sailed, docked, and has been scrapped and turned into beer cans.
Racecars should look futuristic and wild and crazy and have guns and rockets and thrusters and make you go “WHOA”. Technology is super cool, even if it isn’t always sexy. I’ve been drooling all over Marshall Pruett’s detail pics of the cars in testing. There is some seriously cool stuff going on here and its stuff you can see, not like engine or suspension changes. How good they look is a matter of opinion, but browsing the non-IndyCar news, these new cars have made an impact. Websites that don’t normally talk a lot about IndyCar featured stories on the new kits.
Put it this way: the story of the year so far (in terms of Mailbag letters) was TGBB, right? Look on the normal web, or even the regular automotive press, and you heard nothing. Aero kits? All over car and news sites. People outside of the IndyCar fickle, were paying attention. People went “WHOA!” when the new cars came out. It’s a superficial change in some ways, but to the casual viewer or non-fan, it’s a big leap from spec cars. Remember, it was only four short years ago when IndyCar was a truly spec series, and seven years since the reunification, which seemed like a last gasp of a dying form of racing. Something, somehow has worked (for the record, I give credit to Mr. Bernard for the progress IndyCar has made).
Wait, does this mean I’m saying IndyCar made a good decision? For the moment, yes. God willing this isn’t the only good news to come from IndyCar management this year.
-Dave Zipf, Lexington, KY
RM: Good observation. Even though Chevy dominated the charts both days it was still plenty close and, as Hinch said, GM has more big bullets. I think IndyCar has been lucky Honda and Chevy have been so close the past couple years and, hopefully, that continues on the ovals as well. Funny, even though Randy got the bum’s rush, he still cares about IndyCar and he called during the test to see how things were going. Also good to know that automotive websites and others outside IndyCar liked the aero kits. It’s entirely possible that youngsters and non-fans could be drawn to the new look, which would be a bonus since GM and Honda both seem happy to have their own looks.
Q: It seems like Andretti has found a strong lineup with Scott Speed and Jean Eric Vergne in Formula E. I know Speed was rumored to be doing some testing in an IndyCar. Any chance we can see one, if not both these guys racing a DW12 by the end of the season?
-Josh Fromer, Tannersville, NY
RM: Speed did a straight-line test and Vergne was the hot candidate to have an IndyCar seat but I think Simona and Justin are top priorities for the rest of 2015 unless Vergne hits the lottery.
Q: I guess this is a different sort of rant than normal. Robin – I like your work, love your passion and value your opinion. But every week I read your mailbag and every week I wonder why I did it. Honestly the amount of bitching and moaning is sickening. God knows there has been plenty to complain about over the past several years. But it’s always the same. We need 1,000 horsepower. Less downforce. The cars are too easy to drive. Tony George is Satan. Blah, blah, blah.
Now the latest focus of hand wringing is, of course, the aero kits. We’ve been screaming for years to get some creative license for the spec cars. Well now we have some and what’s the response? “Oh my God, the cars are so ugly!” Well yeah, they sort of are. They’re also apparently pretty damn fast. Let designers have their head and they tend to produce some wild looking stuff. At the time I thought Mario’s 4WD Lotus 64 in 1969 [ABOVE, IMS photo] was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. But for a few weeks it set Indy on its ear. Gurney’s Eagle looked crazy to me the first time I saw it. Years later it became the virtual spec car of the 1970s as everybody had one. The Parnelli Chassis in ‘72 with the dihedral wings was a swing and a miss but an aggressive effort.
It’s innovation. It’s creativity. And for the first time in a while we’ve got some. Sure it looks weird. Sometimes it doesn’t work the first time. Progress is like that.
I’ve been a diehard Indy car fan since the 1960s. At times it’s not been easy. We had a war and everyone lost – we get that. And yet, despite all of the missteps this series still has great racing at every venue and the biggest race on the planet. Do I wish we had more cars, bumping at Indy, and rides for young Americans? Absolutely. But there is a LOT to like about this series. I’m going to enjoy what we have and I don’t feel like having to apologize for that. I cannot wait for the season to start!
-Dan Eversole, St. Louis, MO
RM: I think sometimes we get so close to something that we have trouble seeing the positive side. Look, these cars don’t look as cool as the old days or even the new Lights car in my mind but, for what parameters they were given, it’s different and that was whole purpose of the exercise. If people don’t watch because of the ugly aero kits, it’s their prerogative but I think they’ll miss some good racing.
Q: I’m excited to FINALLY get this season underway. But, as I wrote last year, why does there have to be a two-week break until the second race of the season? I understand Brazil fell through and gaps around international events were to be expected from Round 1 to Round 2 originally. But a two-week gap this early in the season for back-to-back U.S. races? Can we get two or maybe three races in first? It’s not like they have 20 races or too many doubleheaders to contend with.
-Rob Peterson, Rochester, NY
RM: That is a pity, yes, but with three in a row in April, four out of five weeks is good in terms of staying on the radar after being off it for seven months.
Q: First race of the season and ABC is only showing the race and not practice or qualifying?
-Tom Patrick, Lake Arrowhead, Calif.
RM: Good news from Mike Kitchel of IndyCar: “Streaming will be available for all practice sessions in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Streaming of qualifying sessions will be available at all ABC event weekends (the exception being Indianapolis). Qualifying is not available to be streamed for NBCSN races as it is televised. All streaming will be done from our YouTube channel. Youtube.com/Indycar – we have 100,000+ subscribers on that platform and the streams will be available worldwide.
Streaming will also be embedded on the RaceControl.IndyCar.com page for viewing while watching Timing & Scoring.”
Q: While I was in the garage of this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona I had a conversation with another IndyCar fan, who had been to 10 Indy 500s – including 2014. After about 15 minutes of chatting, I noticed Ryan Hunter-Reay standing near one of the transporters. I asked the IndyCar fan I was talking to if he knew which that driver was and he didn’t recognize him but remembered when I told him it was the 2014 Indy 500 winner. I don’t know what this suggests but I think it’s an indication of the lack of promotion/or interest in IndyCar.
RM: It’s both and that’s pretty sad and very telling Pete. A few weeks ago, Channel 6’s Dave Furst, Steve Shunck and myself took RHR took dinner in downtown Indianapolis. We were there two hours and not one diner acknowledged Ryan, asked for an autograph or even pointed at him. The Unknown Indy Winner.
Q: I am an avid reader of the Mailbag and a lifelong Indy Car fan. I just received my tickets for the Indy 500 which I’ve had since The Split, which in my mind was the only good thing to come from it. We go out every year and this is the second year I am taking my boys who are 8 and 11. I was lucky that I took them last year to the most thrilling race and they can’t wait to go again.
The new aero kits are definitely different and will help diversify the field but my one concern is that sponsor area seems to be very limited. Honda did a nice job using the engine cover but the rest of the area especially the side pod are really small or obscured by the fin behind the front tires. Is this a concern to teams that are searching for their sponsors? Has there been any feedback from sponsors? What is the purpose of the fin and can it be reworked? Thanks for covering IndyCar with knowledge, respect for history and the loyalty you always share for our beloved sport.
RM: Haven’t heard anything yet but the sponsors weren’t at the test so maybe we’ll get feedback this weekend. I know Honda has more advertising room than GM on the engine cover but, other than a brief revolt over how big the Sunoco decal had to be and where it was placed, all quiet. The fin is all about aerodynamics. Thank you for your kind words.
Q: Any more news on Justin Wilson? I saw a photo of him at Barber talking in the Andretti pit, can we still cross our fingers hoping that something happens with the team? Who would be more responsible for sponsorship to make it happen, Wilson bringing his own sponsors or Andretti finding someone? Does Coyne bringing Huertas and Dracone to Barber mean that ship has sailed, or with Coyne only using one aero kit, is that a situation that Wilson doesn’t want to be a part of?
-John, Clawson, MI
RM: From what I gather, Andretti thought it had a sponsor for JWill but it fell through and now it looks like he’ll only get to run May for Michael. There’s no protocol for sponsorship: drivers seem to find as much as owners these days. I don’t think Justin wants to spend another season with Coyne and you can’t blame him. He got Dale his first win and would have stayed had things been handled differently.
Q: As a fan, in my personal opinion, I think IndyCar is currently at its best position to have one fantastic season. The new aero kits will have a big role in that. I’ll admit that at first I didn’t like the new aero kits from either manufacturer. It reminded me of Pontiac cars from early 1990s. They would add all sorts of plastic wings and body kits to make their higher performance cars look more aggressive. However, when I saw photos and videos of the cars in their respective liveries and when I read about the cars making much more downforce and going much faster in high speed corners at Barber, I quickly changed my mind. I still wish the aero kits looked a bit more simple and elegant but, the numbers generated at the track don’t lie. Compared to F1 current identity crisis, IndyCar looks more like a self-assured entity acting with clarity. They know their product, they are slowly getting to grips with the millennials, they respect and know their loyal fanbase and they are doing the best with the resources they currently have. The drivers are stars in their own right as well.
I am a F1 fan foremost and I regard F1 as the pinnacle of motor racing. That said, I cannot deny the progress IndyCar has accomplished lately. Their cars look like real rocketships and sound like one, too. Compared to F1, the technical regulations on IndyCar engines are less complex (not less sophisticated) and for the better. I get what F1 is trying to do and the markets they are trying to appeal with this hybrid technology but the reality is that the cars lack the visual and aural impact of the current Indy cars. I saw Ryan Hunter Reay Dallara at the Miami Int’l Auto Show last year and it blew me away. For a machine that’s designed to be functional over anything, it was quite the beautiful car. I sincerely hope that IndyCar gets the media exposure it deserves this year and that new fans start watching. Oversea races must be added in the future to gain more global support. Street races in Abu Dhabi, Germany and United Kingdom should be considered. Lastly, I want to see both Simona and Montoya win races this year.
-EJ Ortiz, Boynton Beach, FL
RM: If 2015 can be anything like 2014 (11 different winners in 18 races) or 2013 (10 different winners in 19 races) then everyone should be happy. I get that F1 is for techies and one team usually seems to dominate and it’s got millions and millions of worldwide viewers but another Mercedes match race doesn’t interest me. I like the fact I don’t know who is going to win ANY race in IndyCar.
Q: I live in the Orlando area and one would never know there will be an IndyCar race about 1.5 hours away in St. Petersburg this coming week. No billboards, no TV spots, no newspaper adds or articles by local sportswriters. I don’t know maybe I drive on the wrong roads, watch the wrong channels, or read the wrong paper, but I think it’s the marketing departments for the race promoters and Indy series that contribute to the lack of interest we see in IndyCar racing overall. Even if someone didn’t attend the race, maybe it would at least possibly peak their interest to watch the race on TV.
-Frank Gizzo, Kissimmee, Fla.
RM: Kinda surprised to hear that since IndyCar did run at Orlando a few years and I would hope Verizon at least has some kind of presence on radio ads for the St. Pete race.
Q: I saw you in the pits at Barber so you probably have the answer to this question. What do the teams think of the new aero kits? A Chevy guy told me that IndyCar made the teams put a hole in the tub floor because the cars were too fast for Barber. Really?
-Jay (Former doc with CART/ChampCar)
RM: The hole was added after the aero kit process began many months ago and that didn’t sit too well with Honda or GM (can’t blame them either). The team managers and owners I talked to at Barber seem OK with the kits, the mechanics not so much but GM and Honda are pleased so I guess that’s what really counts (keeping them engaged).
Q: What a great idea the aero kits are! Compliments to everyone involved with the concept, and finally making this happen after four years or so. After seeing all the testing pics and videos, both manufacturers’ rear ends are basically hollow and don’t look so bulky from behind. From your interview with Nick Wirth, it sounds like the oval kits are really wild looking and can’t wait to see them. As a longtime CART, ChampCar and IndyCar fan I can’t tell you how stoked about all of this I am. It’s super exciting and can’t wait to get the season started!
-Don Dahler, Minneapolis
RM: Graham Rahal said the oval aero kit was crazy so that may bode well for May and could make Honda even more different-looking than GM on the track.
Q: It amazes me that after so many people from current drivers, ex-racers and journalists have written about the downfall of racing with these downforce cars begging for more power horsepower and less downforce, we are moving to more and more downforce cars. After you reported about running flat into Turn 1 at Barber it makes me wonder if anybody is listening. It is not just IndyCar. NASCAR complains about aero push. F1 cannot pass with DRS. Drivers’ control of a car and skill has been replaced with a lead foot that does not lift. Will it ever change?
RM: I’d say if the current management is hell bent on breaking the IMS track record by 2016 then downforce won’t be diminishing. I guess it’s a necessary evil of today’s racing and I don’t see it changing. But I’m with Rick Mears and Gordon Kimball – I’d rather see a driver sliding through a corner at 180mph fighting for control than running on rails at 220.
Q: Thank you again for taking the time here every week. I know of no similar forum for any sports-focused website which goes to the extent that you do for the fans. It is much appreciated. Now, I’m hardly prepared to forgive the past sins of the current IndyCar ownership, and Lord knows the jury is still out on the effect it will have on the actual racing, but might these new aero kits be at least a significant step forward in giving this series the kick in the pants it needs? The cars are no doubt faster, and we’re going to see most, if not all, track records broken this year. On top of that, and I for one didn’t necessarily see this coming, but it looks like they’ve given us something we’ve all been asking for years: the cars have been made more difficult to drive. Granted, this more from a strength/fitness perspective for the drivers, but I think that physicality element, at least to that level, is now unique to IndyCar in the world of motor sports (no power steering a la Formula 1). As long as Honda can stay competitive with Chevy, IndyCar may indeed finally have something to build upon. Is my hope merely springing eternal, or are we truly on to something good here?
-M.G., Kentfield, Calif.
P.S. – After watching your interview, I can see that the Coletti kid has real presence and he’s apparently fast to boot. If he’s successful, that’s the type of talent IndyCar can also build upon, regardless of his nationality.
RM: No need to thank me, I’ve had the best jobs for the past 47 years and I’m always pleasantly surprised at the volume of passionate letters I get from you folks 52 weeks a year at RACER.com. I keep saying I can’t see the aero kits selling a bunch of tickets but it appears kids and some automotive types find them intriguing, which creates interest. The kits and added downforce have made the steering heavier and made it tougher – especially at a fast place like Barber. When somebody as fit as Pagenaud says he had to change his steering that’s noteworthy. Coletti’s attitude was as impressive as his lap times and KV Racing may have landed a sleeper.
Q: It’s been a while since I have written, however, I have been a regular reader of the mailbag. I don’t really have a question for you to publish, but wanted to Thank You for your stalwart support of Simona. I’m so glad she is back and with a top-tier team. Hopefully, she will get more financial support. As Tony Kanaan can attest, she runs well at St. Pete. That’s probably one of the best venues for her if she only has funding for one race. This time, she’s both a better driver and will be in a much better car, so he and the rest of the field had better watch out! Once she gets familiar with the Honda powerplant, it might make an interesting story to get Simona’s perspective from the driver’s point of view of the differences in managing Honda, GM, and Lotus power during a road/street race. She will be one of the few, if not the only, to have run all three powerplants in competition. The fact that Lotus was a failed powerplant shouldn’t take away from the interest, since the focus is on what goes on inside the cockpit (without giving away any trade secrets, of course).
-Ralph Cobb, Woodland, Calif.
RM: Between her personality, spunk and talent it’s easy to support Simona. Michael Andretti made it sound like they are doing everything possible to get her as many races as possible. We’ll ask her about engines but I imagine Lotus will rank third.
Q: Reading Twitter, Facebook and several other websites, there seemed to be a lot more interest in the Simona announcement than any other recent IndyCar news (excluding the aero kits). Even Andretti Autosport tweeted about how “excited” the fans were. Has AA said anything about the kind of feedback they received? Was the response more than they expected or did it just seem that way?
-Nick, Noblesville, IN
RM: Let’s put it this way, when my editor, David Malsher, found out Simona was going to be at Andretti’s shop a couple weeks ago to be officially announced, he told me to make a beeline for the shop and interview her because she’s hugely popular in driving traffic. The volume of mail about her has rivaled aero kits the past couple weeks.
Q: I have two questions. First off, am I the only one who loves the Indy cars this year? Maybe it’s because I was born in the mid 1990s, but I really think the only thing that comes close to this year’s Chevy is the late 90s Swift [ABOVE, Newman/Haas Racing pair Christian Fittipaldi and Michael Andretti at Michigan 1999], and third’s far off from that. Heck, I can’t think of many F1 cars I think are as attractive. Is the problem perhaps with the IndyCar’s fan base that it’s an echo chamber of older men (no offence) all remembering their first love back in 1975, incapable of getting past that relationship and realizing 40 years have gone by? Second question, as a Canuck, I can’t see why so many Americans care about the nationality of the drivers? I’m all for supporting the development of more American IndyCar drivers, because more good drivers is always good, but I would much rather the best drivers in the world race in the series, not mediocre Americans because they’re American. I think it would be far better for retention to promote the series’ fun, outgoing personalities, Newgarden, Hinch.
Hope to see you in Toronto!
-Kris M, Ottawa, ON.
RM: Well, I’m part of that old echo chamber and you probably have a point because we do live in the past and pretty much detest change. I think we miss the overall innovation and if kids and people your age find the new aero kits appealing that’s a good thing. As for American drivers, I think it’s necessary to have a half dozen U.S. winners/stars to help drive media coverage because the mainstream media doesn’t pay much attention to IndyCar. Having said that, nobody was more popular with the fans than Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi, Alex Zanardi and Tony Kanaan with Hinch quickly becoming a fan favorite. But it’s always cool to see how vocally you Canucks support your drivers.
Q: Just catching up on RACER.com regarding the recent tests. I see that Honda seems a bit behind the 8-ball compared to Chevy and hope that the Nick Wirth-designed aero kits aren’t too far in the wrong direction for Honda. I see that Wirth claims that the Oval kit is even “spacier.” I hope that some wind tunnel design was used, as Wirth’s attempt at designing an F1 car strictly with CFD at Virgin F1 was a dismal failure.
Since replacing Newey at March, Wirth has bounced around for a lot of years, but I just don’t recall any successful designs that could be attributed solely to him. On another note, how much do you think it would have cost Michael per race if PT was piloting the new Dallara/Honda and using the chrome horn? There would have been lots of nice souvenir winglets for the corner workers! I really think those wings will ‘grenade’ when we get to the bumpy temporary street circuits, but I hope I’m wrong! St. Pete will tell the tale I guess!
-Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, BC, Canada
RM: Chevy did post the fastest half dozen times in the first test but I wouldn’t phrase Honda as behind the 8-ball since it’s only a couple tenths off. I believe Wirth’s Simtek F1 design was OK, but you are correct – he needs a winner. The nose didn’t disintegrate in a couple of Barber incidents so maybe it won’t shatter like people are predicting. Looks pretty stout but, of course, Paul Tracy would be the litmus test.
Q: There should be a column before the first race that’s called “know your Dale Coyne TBA driver.” Who the hell is Francesco Dracone? But seriously. I remember reading something on RACER.com, might have been from you, asking Derrick Walker if a car showed up to Indy without an aero kit would they be allowed to race. his response was as long as they cut holes in the floor there’s no issue. Could you see someone putting a driver in a non-aero car to ensure 33? This reminds me of a very common practice of Simon having a new car for the full time guy and putting rookies in old cars or Hemelgarn showing up with a two-year-old Lola and getting it into the show.
RM: I miss the Sperafico family driving for Dale but Dracone battled Milk & Doughnuts at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma a few years ago. I imagine there’s a chance Buddy Lazier will go with last year’s model at Indy rather than buy an aero kit but he’d still need a new floor.
Q: How can I get the exclusive on carbon fiber body parts for this season? I can just see all that expensive stuff skittering over the pavement. Mo money, mo money, mo money! Sheesh, can they even use that much downforce? Have you seen the speedway aero kits yet? I am hoping they show some restraint. I sure miss the grace and elegance of the mid-90’s Indy cars.
RM: Considering they each spent $5 million or so, Honda and GM will be the benefactors although the early crashes haven’t sent pieces flying (yet). I guess we’ll wait on a couple street races before knowing. Won’t see speedway kits until May 3 at IMS.
Q: I was in Minnesota for a wedding a few weeks ago, and imagine my surprise when I saw an old CART game in the hotel’s arcade! Naturally, I had to play it. The game was very unrealistic, of course, because I think every other car besides mine crashed on the first lap. Oh well, it was good for a few minutes of entertainment, and it’s nice to see IndyCar being represented somewhere!
One other note: I bought a new car earlier this year from AutoNation, who I specifically sought out because of their association with IndyCar. When the finance guy asked me how I’d heard of them, I said it was through IndyCar and their sponsorship of Ryan Hunter-Reay. I think he may have been pulling my leg, but he seemed to know who Ryan was and said he “appreciates what Ryan does for them.”
In any case, I wanted to pass along that even in the long off-season, I’m still trying to support IndyCar sponsors as much as possible and I think current and prospective sponsors need to know that. My new car is a Chevy, and you can probably guess that I had narrowed my car choices down pretty well! That’s all, looking forward to finally starting the season this weekend!
-Lynne in Fort Worth, TX
RM: Well it’s good to hear SOMEBODY knows who RHR is and I passed along your story to the Andretti PR and marketing people.
Q: I love your bench racer series…I look forward to each and every installment. I started going to Indy in 1975 as a kid. My hero back then was Lloyd Ruby. I remember watching his blue and white McLaren blow up about 5 laps into the 1975 race and feeling dejected. I always remember him having bad luck but always seemed to be a pretty tough racer. Could you do a bench racer on ol’ Rube sometime?
RM: Oh yeah, ol’ Rube is going to be one of my May videos. Thanks for watching. [ABOVE: Ruby in the Bardahl Eagle-Ford at Indy in ’66, a “500” he could have won.]
Q: An observation maybe made before. All IndyCar team owners are former IndyCar drivers except for Roger Penske; a quality champion of sports cars in his day. No “sportsmen,” actors, or other high rollers as team owners like Newman/Haas, PacWest or RuSPORTs of years past. My glass is half full, but this seems to indicate that IndyCar will never grow beyond 24 or so cars on a given weekend. Your thoughts?
-Ralph Power, Indianapolis
RM: It’s an interesting point but Kevin Kalkhoven and Sully are two-thirds of KVSH while Ric Peterson has kept SPM afloat – ditto for Mike Lanigan at RLL, Stuart Reed and Wink Hartman and at CFH. If the economics of IndyCar improves, so might the car count but not sure the driver connection has any bearing on the size of the field.
Q: Should we long-suffering IndyCar fans, ever hopeful for an expanded schedule, take hope from the fact that Al Unser Jr. and Tony George were among the invited guests for the launch celebration on Saturday for the Altezza Drive Resort in Denver? Do you think IndyCar will add this track to the IndyCar schedule? Really, is there any plan to expand the IndyCar schedule beyond its momentum killing season ending August date at sometime in the future?
-JJ, Studio City, Calif.
RM: Altezza Drive Resort is the latest of America’s private driving clubs, a 2.78-mile road course on the outskirts of Denver. Unless TG and Junior were sent there as envoys for Mark Miles for the grand opening it was likely more social than anything else because neither negotiates race dates to my knowledge. Is it a possibility? I suppose but really doubt it could afford to host an IndyCar race. Or make that, “go to the expense.” If Boston comes through, the 2016 season would end on Labor Day weekend.
Q: Is there anything you can add to or clarify about this report of a Boston street race on Labor Day of 2016? I know they were talking about this race last off-season but I thought it went dead. I guess I’ll give another street course a shot but the commitment to the Labor Day finale is bizarre and unfortunate to put it lightly.
RM: I gauge new venues by Tony Cotman and he’s been saying for many months that Boston was serious so the latest story in the Boston paper would indicate it’s on schedule for 2016.
Q: Love reading all of the articles from all of the best and brightest about 2018. It is time for the IMS folks to wake up! Traditions are great, I love them too. You know what is better? Having the greatest race in the world be just that. We need to get the best drivers in America to race in this race! I have a ton of thoughts on what they could do to get this back where needs to be at the 500. Here are a few…
1. Take half of the Leaders Circle money away. Want to get it back? Run American drivers in one of your cars. Force their hands. Plus, bonuses for each American driver you put in the field of 33.
2. Offer any NASCAR driver that wants to race in the 500 a million bucks if they try to qualify. Work with their NASCAR owners, take care of all transportation needs. Get out in front of it. Make this easy for someone new embrace. Work with Chevy, I’m sure they can help get a few drivers to attempt this. Personal service contracts.
3. Move the date of the race. Make it a non-issue for the NASCAR boys (and girls). Run it on Saturday or Monday. Shake it up! When you think of the 1982 race, or the 1991 race, do you even worry about the damn day it was run on? No!
4. We need to get four to five of the best NASCAR guys every year, not one as a gimmick. Make a run at Kasey Kahne, Brad K, Kyle Larson, and the Dinger for starters. I know Dale Junior has made comments in the past about wanting to try it sometime. I know the ship has sailed on Gordon and Johnson. I know Kyle Busch itching to do it, Kurt having done it already. Let’s try for the moon here. I hate what has happened to open-wheel racing here in the States. We need to get the talent back, the rest will follow. Big names are a draw for us fans and most definitely for the sponsors.
-Jamie (from Columbus, OH -Rick Mears fan)
RM: There was talk once of giving owners more money for running an American (or deducting some if they didn’t) but we have to be sensible here. As much as we loved the mid-’60s with F1 and NASCAR drivers competing at Indy, times have changed. NASCAR owners (sans Tony Stewart and hopefully Chip and RP) aren’t going to let their high-priced drivers run in the Indy 500 and Earnhardt is about the only one that could probably move the needle in ticket sales. Kurt Busch was a good story last May but there were still lots of empty seats so unless there was a stampede of big names (no chance), it won’t matter at the box office.
(ABOVE: Oriol Servia with cigarette-sponsored Helio Castroneves and beer-sponsored Max Papis at Detroit in 2000)
Q: You made the point in last week’s Mailbag about the loss of tobacco sponsorship, and you’re right on. Every time I read fans longing for the good old days of multiple chassis manufacturers, multiple engines, etc, I want to scream at my computer: “Beer and cigarettes!” Fact is, those “good old days” aren’t coming back, and Mark Miles could open up the rulebook all he wants, it wouldn’t put any more cars on the track.
RP famously said that the way to go racing is with other people’s money, and he wouldn’t have been building a new PC chassis year after year without Marlboro footing the bill. Nor would he have been able to get Mercedes to build a bespoke Indy-only engine. While not as big a deal as the loss of Big Tobacco, the breweries have also pulled the plug. We all know the reasons for the loss of tobacco money; the loss of beer sponsorship is perhaps more complex. I would cite as reasons the fact that all the major American breweries are now foreign owed, and the reluctance of those selling alcohol to associate their product with anything involving driving a car, and any marketing that might be seen by children. They’ve seen what happened to tobacco, and they’ve re-focused their marketing elsewhere in response. It’s not just sponsorship of teams, either. For many years, it was the “Budweiser Grand Prix of Cleveland”, the “Molson Indy Toronto”, and so forth. You’ve mentioned in the past that a race event sponsor is what’s needed to bring back venues that have been lost- a lot of that was beer money.
Penske had his PCs, and even though he was the only one to build his own chassis during the ’90s, Budweiser money allowed Carl Haas to get Lola to build what was, at first, a one-off chassis (of course, coupled with Haas’ long relationship with Lola as their North American distributor.) And, when teams had money, a Reynard or Swift could come in and sell four or five chassis at a profit.
The ICONIC committee had to guarantee the four chassis manufacturers an exclusive spec-car agreement or none would have participated in the process, since the series was dictating the prices they could charge. So, all the nostalgia for the variety of the past is just that, nostalgia. Even if the rulebook were torn up in favor of some sort of “Formula Libre,” the teams don’t have the money to build their own chassis/engines-and anyone who showed up with a DW12 would wipe everyone else’s rears anyway, after all the chassis development over the past four years.
-Paul, Streetsboro Ohio
RM: I guess that’s what I’ve been saying for a few years: even if the rules were wide open, how many players would IndyCar draw? Would they make the current safety cell mandatory to be built around? If so, how many “innovators” would step up? Would ORECA or Swift or McLaren find it intriguing enough to invest millions of dollars? Would it take a major modification of the Indy 500 purse to draw the needed interest? The bottom line seems to be that Dallara was the only willing participant for the way IndyCar dictated the terms of the new car. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Q: The Mailbag is one of my favorite sections of RACER.com. Any rumors out there of IndyCar ever returning to NHIS? If not, can we start one? NASCAR, NHRA, and (part of) IMSA all visit New England, it would be great to see Indy Car.
-Barry Burke, Middletown, CT
RM: Thanks for reading but nobody is talking about Loudon (on either side). It’s a shame it didn’t get a longer contract to try and restore a following (50,000 at the 1995 CART race) when it hosted back in 2011 but it seems dead. Too bad. Helluva track for Indy cars – even in the rain.
Q: I read a lot of Mailbag comments saying with F1 shooting itself in the foot, that now is the time for IndyCar to gain popularity. It is not going to happen (and I don’t need to tell you this) but F1 is a WORLD racing sport -where IndyCar is USA-based. Well and good, but the fans can’t expect any takeover, until IndyCar starts going to more venues outside the States. You take all the comments/complaints/suggestions and do your best to answer. Sometimes a good one is marked for forwarding upstairs. But bottom line, if things were as they should be, there’d be no complaints, and certainly no breath holding for better things in 2018. That’s three years from now. I am passionate about open-wheeled racing and although IndyCar seems to have strayed from that iconic design, I’ll probably watch, but I’m also old enough that I’m of an age ownership is no longer trying to attract :-(
RM: No doubt it’s a stretch to think IndyCar has much chance to overtake F1 in terms of an audience (although a couple more races with 15 starters might shrink that gap) but obviously there is concern over there and you wonder about how long some teams and manufacturers can hang in there. But IndyCar running a couple of one-offs in Europe isn’t going to help its perception either.