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: I really genuinely hope I’m over reacting. The words I’d like to use can’t be published. We’ll call Sunday’s race a circus instead. Race recap? Cue the Benny Hill music. The worst part? The racing appears to be worse. Last year at St. Pete these cars still seemed very raceable. Yesterday they did not. The only overtaking I can recall is James Jakes sinking like a stone (big surprise) and on restarts (Power’s restart from 4th was brilliant). To make matters worse? We get side-by-side coverage during yellow flag periods and they reserve their full screen commercial breaks for green flag runs. It is almost like the drivers had such a long break everyone forgot how to race. Oh wait… And yes. TBell hit it on the nose. These aero kits seem to be made of plastic. The Dallara base kit was so much more durable and raceable. I hope everyone who wanted engineering and parity is happy because I’m not. But hey… maybe I’m overreacting. I hope so, but I somehow doubt it.
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: I don’t think we can make a definitive call on whether the racing was worse (Graham Rahal passed five cars in the first two laps, Tony Kanaan passed three in one corner on a restart and, as you stated, Power went from fourth to first in one fell swoop). And JPM chasing down WP and then holding him off was good stuff. But you are correct, the old wings were much sturdier and allowed for contact, which you’re always going to have at street courses. Behind Indy last year, Houston was the best race because it allowed bumping, grinding and racing to co-exist.
Q: Lifelong IndyCar fan here; when I walk into Indianapolis Motor Speedway on race morning, it still thrills me after 28 years. I tell myself that people need to either embrace it the way it is, or shut up and get out, BUT DANG! I never thought I’d see the day when I would say that the F1 cars actually look better than the Indy cars, but that day has come to pass. With these aero kits, IndyCar has created something with all the finesse of an 1800s wing glider, and about as much sturdiness. ‘Hey, let’s stack a bunch of mini-wings on top of our wings – it’ll be great!’
Seriously, one of two things has to happen: 1) the drivers have to race cleaner (and THAT’S not going to happen, now is it?) or 2) these kits have to be redesigned. There was bumping in yesterday’s F1 race, too, but it didn’t result in a shower of shrapnel on the track. Of course, what can you expect of something that’s called a kit? Doesn’t sound very impressive, does it? My new least favorite word – winglet. Another couple of words I could not get out of my head yesterday – cheap and flimsy. Please tell me they’re going to fix this posthaste, because I cannot imagine sitting through races run entirely under caution while they pick up little pieces off the track. What good are these aero kits if they can’t race with them?
Cyndy Riordan, Kankakee, IL
RM: I think IndyCar is going to take a long look at the aftermath of Sunday’s race and the fan being injured by flying debris might also weigh heavily, although it could happen at any track. We all agree the past three years have been some of the best racing ever and you can’t afford to have that compromised. And you certainly can’t put your fans at extra risk if, indeed, this is a product of the aero kits.
Q: Given all of the trepidation about the aero kits – effect on passing, fuel mileage, tire wear – I thought the St. Pete race was a good opener. Weekend crowds were good, and I liked the city’s new “Embrace the Race” campaign. The much-feared debris cautions due to the aero kits didn’t seem to be any more than normal – e.g., wing endplates. I saw Mark Miles at a downtown restaurant Friday night and wondered, does he even consider the voice of the fans? With all of the concern about the relatively short season (and long offseason) and the desire to add different venues, he doesn’t seem to want to offer even lip service to the fans. And, throw in Ganassi’s recent comment about the inevitable death of IndyCar if this trend continues, it makes you wonder what it will take to wake him up?
Scott Cooper, Bargersville, IN
RM: The St. Pete race had two cautions for 10 laps in 2014 and last Sunday there were five for 22 so debris cautions could be more prevalent this season and that’s exactly what a lot of mechanics and engineers were predicting BEFORE last Sunday. I think Miles listens to the owners just a little more than to the fans, which doesn’t appear to be much.
Q: Finally, we have a race to talk about! Will Power was just a little bit better and deserved to win, but brought home P2 points like a champion. I imagine the dynamic at Team Penske will be very interesting to watch this year as all four drivers expect to win. Those de-briefs may not be friendly for long. It was fun trying to pick out the aero kits from a line of cars on TV. For example, whenever I saw the little “wing on a stick” on the front, I knew it was a Chevy. Of course, many bits were gone by the end of the race, so the true fan will need to ID pieces while they fly up in the air. Who would be a good sponsor for this carnage – Phantom Fireworks? And from just looking at the cars, there has to be a place for Dyson vacuum cleaners to sponsor something. Carlin and Ed Jones were quite impressive in Lights – I guess a new car really does level the playing field. Do you think their knowledge and setups from other Dallara cars in Europe helped them get the jump on the field?
RM: Power dominated the entire weekend and his last pit stop likely cost him the win, so he was understandably disappointed. But I love the fact The Captain doesn’t give team orders and allows his drivers to have at it – that’s what the fans want and deserve. The competition between those four promises to be great entertainment. Trevor Carlin’s team didn’t just raise the bar in Indy Lights, they kicked it off the stanchions.
Q: The new cars look positively stupid! How many more ornaments can you hang off a car? How can we expect fewer yellow flags when the cars are just begging for their appendages to be broken off. This is NOT what any IndyCar is supposed to look like. Reference the mid 90s: that’s what an Indy car should like.
Todd, Ft. Lauderdale
RM: Younger fans seem to like the aero kits while old schoolers don’t – that’s what I heard over the weekend. But NOBODY wants extra laps of caution.
Q: I have not written in a few months but decided to write in and give an ATTABoy to IndyCar for the weekend at St. Pete. I watched F1, NASCAR and IndyCar this weekend. IndyCar is really putting a terrific product together on the track. We know the racing has been great for the last three years but as much as I liked the differences in the aero kits giving us a different look to the manufacturers, man are those things bulky…but wow do they RACE great.
IndyCar is really starting to get some traction with race fans. Watch IndyCar and see great racing! JPM and Will’s race to the finish was awesome. I am very excited about what Mark Miles is doing and I love the Mazda Road to Indy feeder system. (Enough to get our team back in the series for the first time since 2006). I have been a chronic complainer for years like most of us old race dogs but, other than a stronger Honda front end to cut down on debris cautions, IndyCar racing is on the upswing and is really FUN again.
Dr. T (Stephen), Desoto, Texas
RM: I always say that if you’re lucky enough to have two drivers fighting for the win at the end of a race, it’s all you can ask. JPM catching Will on blacks, then getting past with a great out-lap and a slow pit stop for WP added a change at the top and some drama as they raced hard to the checkered flag. Glad you are back in the series and credit Dan Andersen and Mazda with giving the feeder system some momentum.
Q: Haven’t written in a while, but felt compelled to do so after the St. Pete race. Much more a statement than question this time. Could the new aero kits have made these cars any uglier? I’m an Indy purist but not an all-or-nothing guy. In this case, I have to draw the line. We’re just a few very small pieces of carbon fiber away from turning IndyCars into some sort of new sports car prototype class.
And while we’re on the subject of carbon fiber…car owners have to be close to jumping off the roof of the race shop this morning thinking about the impending aero kit replacement bill. Congrats to JPM, but you certainly couldn’t consider that an entertaining race, especially for the casual fan.
RM: They’re certainly not pleasing to the eye like an old Eagle, McLaren, Penske, Reynard or Lola but they have raced well so I guess it’s a trade-off. And you are correct: owners cannot handle extra expenses, which could be the case with the aero kits on street courses. I’ve been to lots of shows at Long Beach, Toronto or fill in the blank through the years that never had a close finish so it wasn’t that bad.
Q: I have to comment on the season-opening IndyCar race. It was just as I thought it would be! Nothing more than yellow flags full of carbon debris. Even Katherine Legge tweeted “Holy Debris, Batman.” The cars look no faster on TV than they ever have and I kept looking for Simona’s car and due to all the BS on the cars, the car numbers were impossible to see. On TV, you cannot tell a Honda from Chevy except briefly. And oh, by the way, tell all the Honda folks that lost all of their front wings that our Snoqualmie Historical Railroad here in Washington has some spare cow-catchers they can borrow. They’ll look exactly the same!
I understand modern technology, but Indy cars now look like overweight, slow, closed-wheel cars. Indy cars used to look like they were going 200mph sitting still, but no more! I must be getting old, but I’m losing interest and Formula 1 cars now look better.
RM: I had trouble picking up the numbers as well so that’s not good for live audiences or on television. Your feelings seem to represent a lot of the old guard.
Q: Over/Under Miller: Will we see the new Honda front wing before the Detroit green flag or after?
RM: I’m betting before, but I also like Wisconsin to beat Kentucky.
Q: I must say these aero kits while originally a good idea have been a failure. The kits make the cars look butt ugly, they look easier to drive and have not accomplished their objective. We don’t need stoppages every 10 laps to pick up debris. It ruins the spectacle of the race. They need to make these cars difficult to drive. How did they go from a formula that worked back in the early ’90s to what we have now? They need to remove these winglets and all these added wings and simplify the rules that govern aero kits.
We need a lot less downforce and more horspower. Bring back the 1,000 horsepower turbo V8s. Make the cars difficult to drive. The noise will draw the fans to the fence. I want to see snap oversteer out of corners, I want to feel the cars when they fly past. I want to see the drivers lift going into corners on ovals. I want to see the drivers feather the throttle as they manhandle these cars exiting the corners. Give the skill back to the drivers.
The answer is so simple yet the powers that be continue to ruin the sport. And that’s not even mentioning what they have done with the scheduling. Maybe it’s just me, but I know IndyCar can be so much better than what we have today. What would you suggest need to improve Indy cars?
RM: First off, the cars are hard to drive because of all the downforce and no power steering – it just looks easy on television because you can’t see the drivers fighting them unless it’s an in-car camera. I defer to Rick Mears, Gordon Kimball and Stefan Johansson: they favor more power, less downforce and slower corner speeds where the driver is sliding at 180mph rather than planted at 230mph. I think the worry now is, will these aero kits separate the competition too much? If it does, then I’d go back to the old stuff – except GM and Honda spent millions on aero kits, so there is no easy solution. Let’s give it a few races to see if there is, indeed, a class system.
Q: I, for one, kind of liked the race. Even my 15-year-old son commented about how cool the cars looking and that the racing was still close. A little surprised at the amount of Honda shrapnel all over the track (my count was eight Honda wings broken and two for Chevy), they generally seem more fragile. The question I have is with the way the Honda bodywork shudders leaving the pits does anyone see that as a problem? Is that not an indication of its fragility? Looks like a dog shaking itself dry after a bath. Why is nothing done to stiffen it?
Pete Arnold, MD
RM: A response from RACER’s tech guru, Marshall Pruett:
“It’s an issue that looks bad on TV and also contributed to the numerous caution periods to clean up aero kits pieces that often belonged to Honda-powered cars. Like a wobbly shelf, Honda needs to get out the hand tools and put a few more screws and bolts in place before the situation happens all over again at NOLA, Long Beach, Barber, and every other circuit where contact is expected to happen. And asking the drivers to dial things back will never work – it’s like asking JJ Watt to gently sack the QB or Mike Trout to softly drill the ball over the outfield fence instead of over the upper deck. Elite athletes give everything they have, and drivers are no different.”
Q: If aero kits were meant to differentiate the cars visually and generate interest among non-IndyCar fans, I’m not sure that they’ve been successful so far. Watching the St. Pete race, I had a tough time telling the difference between the aero kits when the cars were at speed, even though I knew what to look for. The non-racing fans that were watching with me seemed decidedly uninterested in the aero kits, and mostly just wondered why the parts kept falling off. They were, however, very impressed with the speed at which a pit crew could replace a damaged front wing.
I’m not going to sit here and say that IndyCar should scrap the aero kits tomorrow, but right now IndyCar (and F1) seem to be stuck in a no-man’s land when it comes to innovation. They allow enough innovation to drive the cost of the sport way up and break up close racing, but they don’t allow enough innovation to capture the interest of anybody except for the most die-hard fans. If you want close racing and lower costs, you need a spec car that is specifically designed to facilitate close racing and low costs (see the Panoz Champ Car). If you want innovation that will capture the public’s attention, you need to really open up the rulebook and let the teams go nuts (see the Nissan LMP). Trying to have a foot in each camp will give you expensive, lousy racing that is ignored by the public.
RM: Since you didn’t ask a question, I don’t have an answer except that you make good points and I guess you need to opt for either good racing or innovation. Except IndyCar has had great racing the past three years and it wasn’t enough to create much interest. The reaction of your friends watching Sunday’s race might also be the norm. All I know is that I liked the fact 11 different drivers won in 2014 and I couldn’t tell you who was going to win any race.
Q: Why not save IndyCar owners from their own stupidity by requiring all the wings, flips, kicks, tips etc be made of aluminum? You could make a thousand of them in about 10 minutes for $100.
RM: Bring back fiberglass, aluminum and get rid of carbon fiber except for the safety cell and Indy might have 50 cars again.
Q: I very much enjoyed the St. Petersburg race. Yes, there were a lot of carbon fiber bits all over the place. Perhaps those front wings will teach the drivers to go back to the “old ways” and no longer “bump and pass” the way they were doing with the regular DW12. After the halfway point, the racing got really good and JPM got the job done.
I will get to the point. After reading an interview in USA Today Online with Chip Ganassi regarding the short season, I was wondering, what is the feeling up and down the pit lane with regards to Mr. Miles? The Chipster is quite dejected and Mr. Penske also doesn’t seem amused, either. Now, those two gentlemen field eight cars out of 24. You hear us fans constantly beat the dead horse with regards to this important topic, but I get the sense the owners are staying politically correct and pick and choose words carefully when speaking about it. Are the owners happy/satisfied with Mark Miles?
Add to that the IndyCar 2018 article with Sam Schmidt, who also expressed concern with the season length and the struggle to explain it to sponsors. It is quite obvious Mr. Miles is too stubborn and follows blindly the “Boston Tea Party Group Report,” only thinking about the bottom line. IndyCar needs a revolution and, in my humble opinion, Mr. Miles is not the person to lead it. He can’t hear if he doesn’t listen. He may be a suit, a leader, but he is NOT a motivator.
Rudy from Ohio
P.S. USA Today is doing an excellent job covering the Verizon IndyCar Series. They are constantly posting articles and the quality is very good. Looks like that partnership may be a good one after all.
RM: I didn’t see the story but I know Chip has a big sponsor unhappy with the short season and Penske made it very clear over the weekend he had no interest in racing outside of North America. I know two other owners upset with stopping on Labor Day because it’s cost them potential sponsors. Listening to car owners can be a dangerous thing because they’re all selfish, but not listening to them about something that affects everyone like the schedule is not smart either. IndyCar bought its way into USA Today, which, of course, is pathetic but that’s how Gannett operates and it’s the biggest paper in the country so IndyCar had to play the game.
Q: Love the new “yellow” kits. Is it true “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister is the new IndyCar theme song? Any speed gains the kits provide are negated by all the yellows they cause! Can’t we just have cars that are sleek, clean and sturdy with more horsepower? The geniuses in the wind tunnels that designed this one apparently forgot they have to run on actual tracks with lots of other cars.
Mark in Centerville, OH
RM: I don’t know but I like the new theme song for IndyCar.
Q: While I was watching the St. Pete race, one of the presenters pointed out that a possible yellow flag was averted when a worker ran out onto the main straight to pick up the piece of wing that had fallen off during a large gap between cars. I was thinking, if local yellows cannot be done for some reason, whether IndyCar should consider implementing the WEC’s “Code 60” where all cars hit the pit speed limiter and some workers come out and pick up the pieces. This would have the track cleared and the race back to green in half a minute at the shortest and only a few minutes at the longest. This would also be easy to implement because all the cars already have a limiter installed and it would just be a matter of writing it into the rules. With so many street courses on the schedule, I think this would be a valuable improvement and would drastically reduce time under yellow.
Victor, New Haven, CT
RM: I think any time there’s a situation like that one (the debris was on the straightaway with easy access for someone to jump out and snatch it) IndyCar would do it. But a lot of the street courses are concrete jungles with limited access so it’s not that simple and, besides, the way some of those wings shredded there were pieces everywhere that needed to be swept up as well.
Q: Is there a consensus as to whether or not the rear bumpers/wheel guards have been effective in their purpose of preventing wheel-to-wheel contact? As I was watching the race yesterday, it occurred to me that the cars would actually look pretty damn good if they were removed. But if they have indeed been successful in making the racing safer, then they should stay put. Form should follow function and, most importantly, safety first.
And is it just me, or is anyone else annoyed that Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti own half the field in the series? Would any of the sponsorship money going to these teams go to other teams if the series mandated a two-car limit for each team/owner? Or would we just have six fewer cars on the grid? I’m all for higher car counts, and yes its just one race, but I don’t want to see one team occupying four of the top-5 positions all season.
Eric Kiebel, Eden Prairie, MN
RM: Don’t think the purpose was to prevent contact as much as try to limit cars climbing wheels and being launched. Obviously, Dario’s crash showed it can still happen but maybe it’s helped in other cases.
I think we should be appreciative the Big 3 owns 12 of the 24 starters or we’d have 18 cars. NASCAR has Hendrick, Gibbs and Stewart-Haas so it’s pretty much the way of the world right now. And IndyCar had all kinds of parity in 2012-2014 despite the Big 3’s strength in numbers.
Q: I read today’s (3/27) Friday edition of the USA Today and while I did appreciate the article on the Penske foursome on the back page of the Sports section, I thought with the new agreement with the paper that IndyCar might get more than just one article. And I was thinking there would be an advertisement, not necessarily the whole page, but at least a quarter page advertisement from some associated sponsor (say Verizon) listing the date, time and channel of the race. But there was only the one article. Do you know any more about how this media arrangement is going to work? It doesn’t seem any different than past coverage they provided the series.
Tony Lynch, Atlanta
RM: My understanding is that IndyCar’s deal will get stories on Thursday and Monday of race weeks and probably something special for May or the Indy 500. Trust me, there were two stories last Monday (one by Brant James and one by Jeff Olson) and that was more space than IndyCar got some months last year. It’s a much better deal for IndyCar but, of course, they had to pay for it, which is crap.
Q: Love the Mailbag every week and your dedication and insight to the sport. This might be answered this weekend before the mailbag is published but who do you think could be the surprise driver of the season? (Ganassi, Penske, Andretti teams excluded) I personally think Hinch has a shot of doing some damage this year. We saw what Simon did last year with SPM. James might do the same. How about Chaves or Hawksworth? Chaves is a great kid, my dad and I chatted with him at Mid-Ohio in the paddock for about 10 minutes. Super happy he got a ride, seems very humble and I’ll definitely be rooting for him this year. I could see Simona having a great year with Andretti as well. The single driver teams definitely have their work cut out for them, but honestly there are so many things that could happen anyone can win any week. That is what makes this one of the best forms of racing on the planet. F1, NASCAR just can’t match it.
I wrote a while back complaining about the length of the schedule and the whole TGBB thing but to be honest, I feel like a kid the night before Christmas with the season starting. With the USA Today news, ESPN Player coverage, and possible addition of Boston road course, things are going in the right direction. Just need a longer schedule that’s all. One last thing. Will you be doing the grid walk this year? See you at Mid-Ohio.
RM: I think Hawksworth, Filippi and Coletti will all have their shining moments but Simona is only scheduled for two races right now. I wrote in the RACER preview that I thought Graham Rahal would return to form and he looked damn good Sunday (climbing from 15th to fifth) before getting a drive-through for avoidable contact. Time permitting, I think we’ll do some grid walking.
Q: Ever since I started reading your Mailbag, readers have been claiming IndyCar is at death’s door. I never agreed up until this past weekend. I spent the weekend of 3/20-3/23 in St Petersburg. Seeing the track being put together, and actually getting to drive on portions still open for public driving with the walls and catch fence up brought out the inner child in me and was unbelievably cool. There was only one problem: I HAD COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE GRAND PRIX THE FOLLOWING WEEKEND! IndyCar has been so far out of my thought process due to the offseason and appalling lack of promotion, I did not remember the race date. I would have paid whatever amount needed to change my flight and caught whatever hell at work to change my time off to make the race weekend. I also would have dragged along my brother and four nephews to their first IndyCar race. I am right in IndyCar’s demographic wheelhouse as a 28-year-old making $75k+ a year and I follow cars and technology. How could IndyCar not try to reach someone like me during the SEVEN-MONTH OFF-SEASON? Instead I listened to Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever call the race in snowy Chicago, and they can take the fun and excitement out of a wet T-shirt contest.
Desmond, Oak Lawn, IL
RM: It hurts that Chicago no longer has a motorsports beat writer (or if they do he or she isn’t covering IndyCar) or a race so it’s not going to get much (if anything) from the Chicago media. That’s why a winter tour with the drivers (like the old Cincinnati Reds’ caravan) would be perfect for IndyCar during all the down time.
Q: I see that at St. Pete, Simona de Silvestro outqualified Marco Andretti by 0.11 seconds. My advice to Team Andretti: give Marco’s car to Simona and let her run full-time and then put Marco in the “shared” car with Justin Wilson. Marco on the ovals, Justin on the street and road courses.
Chad R. Larson, Phoenix
RM: Andretti is working hard to get Simona in a full-time situation and Marco drove a good race Sunday despite an extra pit stop to repair a wing. Your suggestion has less chance than IndyCar running in October.
Q: It is amazing that in Indy Lights now SPM has brand-new rivals and two new kids on the block with Ed Jones and Max Chilton. After looking at their performance, this could be the team that IndyCar looks to expand in 2016. Carlin’s results with GP3 and Formula 3 in the past shows it can be a powerhouse. And after an announcement from Hulman and Co. CEO Mark Miles about exploring new horizons outside the U.S. for Indy Car, I would say not only to have IndyCar races, but also have the Indy Lights to showcase their talent. Maybe somewhere in the future, there could be another team wanting to go into the MRTI due to the high costs of Formula 1. I know it is to early or it would not be possible, but anything can happen.
JLS, Chicago, Ill.
RM: I’d agree that SPM has a new rival and Carlin’s debut in Lights was nothing short of dazzling. They out-work everyone is the storyline and Trevor Carlin is exactly what IndyCar needs – a respected racer that wants to move up to IndyCar.
Q: What happened to the Indy Lights series? Seemed a few months ago we were expecting about 16-18 entries and we wound up with the same amount of starters we had at the same race last season. Everyone was raving about how the new car is going to bring more entries and it would be cheaper. Did we all speak too soon?
RM: No, there’s a couple teams with cars that are still piecing together sponsorships or waiting until May to start. Sounds like 15-16 could be feasible. And even though there were only 13 cars at St. Pete, it’s a field with quality.
Q: Opening day, oh boy! OMG! Cheever and Goodyear: Grass growing and paint drying. Successful drivers but terrible talking heads. Just my opinion. Is there no one else willing to do that job? Two of the best would be Kendall and Tracy.
Mike Ripper, Brooksville, FL
RM: I like Cheever and Goodyear [ABOVE, in 2000. Note irony of Cheever’s main sponsor] and both are plenty engaging and funny OUTSIDE the booth. They have no chemistry nor do they exude much enthusiasm or emotion. I know I work for NBCSN but Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell seldom miss a thing – ditto for Leigh Diffey – and they make the races ENTERTAINING.
Q: The ABC crew made the race UNWATCHABLE for me. They wave the green, and the whole crew resorts to silence. On lap 12, they are already exhaling and waiting for things to happen. There are guys pitting early, strategies unfolding, and drivers with mechanical troubles to talk about, yet, nothing from the crew. No information. Goodyear and Cheever speak in the same exact tone. They almost sound identical. They are not entertaining to listen to at all and show ZERO emotion. There was a near crash in the pits when they waved Rahal out as I think Dixon came in, and they said NOTHING. In my house, I sure yelled, and from claiming he needs new shorts moments later, I’m sure Graham yelled as well. Yet the ABC crew didn’t think it was even an exciting moment.
They hardly talked about any team’s strategies, and they didn’t talk anything about troubles drivers were driving with. They might as well have been on my couch next to me watching. Then Power and Montoya are racing 1-2 and they both pit. This is very exciting and EVEN MY FRIEND WHO KNOWS SQUAT ABOUT RACING SAYS,”This is just like Long Beach last year where that guy pitted fast and came out ahead of the other two.” (Newgarden vs. Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe) The NBC crew called it perfectly.
Look, my friend goes to a couple races with me, drinks some beers, knows some of the drivers, and other than the racing he watches around me, doesn’t know much. Yet, he knew MORE than the ABC director, and all three of their well-paid announcers. Then, Montoya did it!!! We only knew because we watched the leaderboard, and knew to look. I felt like we were watching THE RACE and ABC was just showing cars go around. It was the most important part of the race, and they didn’t care to even show or talk about it. How is something THIS bad even allowed by ABC? It’s a joke when I feel I can legitimately do a better job, and I have no TV or radio experience. What can we as fans do?
PS: NBCSN does a phenomenal job. I wish you guys called the race.
Jonathan from Long Beach
RM: I watched the replay when I got home and you are spot on: they didn’t react to Power’s awesome move, Kanaan’s great restart, Rahal’s overtaking, Helio grabbing the top spot and seemed oblivious to JPM reeling in Will before the last pit stop exchange that decided the race.
Q: Can you tell me the name of the genius who keeps Goodyear and Cheever on the ABC broadcast team? Those two guys bring absolutely NOTHING to the table. Are they napping during the broadcast? And Goodyear is a butcher of the language. On lap 32 when he said, “As case usually happens,” I nearly soaked my STP boxers.
Rob, Philadelphia, PA
RM: Is that worse than when he says, “eckspecially?”
Q: I thought the ABC broadcast team did a good job televising the race. Allen Bestwick is an adequate lead guy, and I like the job Jon Beekhuis and Dr. Jerry Punch did on pit lane. I checked the IndyCar website to see the season broadcast schedule, and saw two races are on CNBC. Really? They couldn’t get on ESPNEWS? Esquire Network? Local access television? If I’m not mistaken, most of the weekend programming on CNBC is infomercials. The only sports coverage they really get is spillover or third-tier sports during the Olympics. Something about this is unsettling to me. I’m probably in the minority, but I wish ABC had more than five races.
RM: It’s too bad they didn’t use Beekhuis and Punch more often because they actually followed what was happening on the track. NBCSN is home to F1, NASCAR and IndyCar along with NHL hockey and the Tour de France so there are a couple of conflicts and Texas and Mid-Ohio are on CNBC. I wish NBC had the rights to IndyCar for there would be five or six network shows and the rest on NBCSN. Network television is paramount, but there’s no comparison to the product.
Q: What’s the NBCSN commentary lineup for IndyCar for this year? Will David Hobbs or Steve Matchett join in for any races? I think it’s cool they cross promote. Matchett always mentions fast laps/speeds unlike the ABC team. But hey they got Jon Beekhuis so that’s a step in the right direction. No interview with James Jakes after he got rear ended? Thanks ‘Always Bad Coverage.’
Rob Peterson , Rochester, NY
RM: Hobbs will do Milwaukee as always while Matchett will be at Toronto, Fontana and Pocono.
Q: Haven’t read the mailbag in a few years, but I see there are still a lot of never-ending “questions.” So I’ll be brief: Let’s dump Sonoma, an ugly racetrack with brown as far as the eye can see, and replace it with Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca?
Mike Talarico, Riverside (home of NO raceway) Ca.
RM: I think Laguna would be the option if Sonoma ever goes away and a double-header with sports car might bring the crowds back from the CART days. (ABOVE, Laguna Seca in 1999. Plenty of brown there, too, by the way…)
Q: I’m watching F1 FP2 on NBCSN as I type this email. I don’t normally watch practice, but gave it a go in Australia and now in Malaysia. What I find fascinating and worthy of watching is the emphasis Will, David and Steve put on explaining the tech and design side of racing. They do it during the races and qualifying, but they spend more time on it during practice. And this got me thinking. Is the fact that IndyCar broadcasts lack this kind of attention to HOW the car works – instead of just whether it does or not – affecting the viewership?
When I try to get people into racing (NASCAR or open-wheel), the hardest part is trying to explain that it is much more than just people driving around. When Steve Matchett and Will Buxton are spending even just a few minutes explaining the changes in the design of the nose of the McLaren cars and the effects those designs have on the car, it’s the kind of thing that makes me go “Hmmm, that’s information that could be useful when trying to explain how these cars do what they do.” Heck, even Matchett’s “Tire Facts” segment before the race may be interesting to new viewers. I know because it was interesting to me when I first started watching F1.
One of the many problems IndyCar has right now with the broadcasts is the lack of attention to THAT side of racing. Yes, they talk about engine suppliers. Yes, they talk about the fitness of the drivers. And yes, they will talk about the look of the new aero kit. But there is little to no attention on the technical side other than the few minutes every other month from Jon Beekhuis. It’s the same broadcaster – NBC – doing both series. Why can’t we get the same TYPE of coverage? If IndyCar wants to think of themselves at the alternative to F1, wouldn’t they strive to find ways to help make the broadcasts show it?
If we’re not going to get more minutes or hours of broadcasting for IndyCar, why can’t we better utilize the time we DO have than just the, “Oh, it’s another race and once it’s over we’ll go to the next one” mentality? It’s the amount of science behind racing that should set it apart from any other sport and I feel it’s not being spotlighted.
Mat, Washington, IL
RM: Well, we have a Professor B segment with Jon whenever possible and I think P.T. and Townsend do a good job of letting our viewers know how it feels inside the car or what’s going on mechanically or aerodynamically as the race progresses. I understand there’s an element of gearheads that want more technology but F1 is more about that than IndyCar these days. I’ll pass along your suggestion to our producer.
Q: I have an off-the-track sort of question. My first racing love is American open-wheel racing but I do watch that scripted racing series in spec cars called NASCAR. I suppose I just need a racing fix. I just feel that the FOX broadcast crew has one main job and that’s sell the product, instead of being honest in the booth to fans. All too often Darrell Waltrip will make a statement at the end of what real racing fans call just an average NASCAR event like in Fontana and say, “Boys this is making my heart beat faster.” Well I’m grateful that IndyCar and F1 don’t use this practice. Any thoughts my friend?
Mark McKinley, Floyds Knobs, IN
RM: Mark, are you insinuating that DW might be acting? Or that he’s not genuinely having heart palpitations over the edge-of-your-seat racing at Fontana? Or that he might say anything useful? Shame on you.
Q: I’ve been reading the Mailbag since its inception and one constant has been the complaining of a lack of “innovation” in IndyCar by comparing then vs. now. The then is whatever “then” when said person fell in love with the Indy 500, so if you are 65 years old the roadster was your thing, if you are 49 like me maybe Gurney Eagles of the ’70s got you interested and so on.
Here is the thing – all this innovation is really just largely fiction of our minds. Hogwash you say? I love the Offy as much as the next person and consider myself fortunate to have seen a crazy driver trying to make an Offy midget competitive (I still remember that noise!) at Lake Hill Speedway in St. Louis in the late ’70s, but the Offy ruled Indy for 30 plus years. Sure others tried things but the Offy ruled. Same goes for aerodynamics, really – no wings on roadsters, then tiny wings that had to be part of the body, then the giant dinner table of 1972. The rules, for the most part, held those wings back, not innovation.
I’m sure you recall Smokey trying a wing on a roadster and not knowing enough to make it work. Herk made wings work on a roadster though didn’t he? The next innovation was the Cosworth but it took rule changes to make the Offy uncompetitive, not innovation. I’d imagine that an Offy with modern fuel injection and turbocharging would be a competitive Indy car engine today.
Not only is innovation more difficult due to rules and the industry but what innovation there is never sees the light of day. What we really miss are the days when three guys could weld up some tubes or bend up some sheet metal, stuff an Offy or stock block in the back and have a go at Indy. In the old days we’d have seen every version of Chevy and Honda aero kit testing. Today all that happens in wind tunnels, on computers and so on.
If the builders of the Antares [ABOVE in ’72, driven by Roger McCluskey. IMS Photo] could have run it through modeling software it would have never been built. Blame computers maybe for the lack of public innovation but be sure that there was plenty of it with the new aero kits, we just never saw any of it on the racetrack, just the final versions.
Love the Fireside Chat series, what was an idea to fill the long off-season has turned into a brilliant idea that is going to rule the rest of your career! Good thing you’ve got plenty of content!
Bryan Cohn, Lawrence, KS
RM: I don’t know what happened to the Mickey Thompsons, Smokey Yunicks, A.J. Watsons, Bill Finleys and Dan Gurneys (and there may still be a few dreamers and innovators like that out there) but free thinking, risk taking and dreaming have been replaced by aerodynamics, wind tunnels, computers, simulators and fear. Nobody wants to take a chance anymore and the rules prevent it anyhow. So enjoy your memories and thanks for watching my videos.
Q: What do you think of Mark Miles’ idea of pitching IndyCar to overseas venues as a lower-cost alternative to F1? I think this has possibilities. Sponsorship would have to step up, of course. I have to admit that Miles has my attention. Formula 1 might be at a vulnerable spot right now. Maybe a series with actual passing might make some headway!
RM: I think it sounds a lot better than the reality. I’ve been to Brazil, Germany, England, Japan and Australia during the past 40-plus years and only Surfers Paradise captured a big, consistent audience (although Motegi really picked up after Takuma Sato started in IndyCar). So the only out of North America trip that might work would be Australia and New Zealand because of interest (Power and Dixon) and climate.
Q: I know we’ll get the usual “IndyCar has great momentum” talk (which is the same refrain we hear every year at this time) but let’s look at some actual statistics. Since the end of 2011, we’ve lost Kentucky, Las Vegas and Motegi from the oval lineup. We’ve gained Pocono (although most feel like 2015 will be the end of that relationship). So from a oval perspective, that’s a net loss of two. At the start of the 2013 season at St. Pete, we had a 25-car field. We started 24 in 2015. Since 2013, we’ve lost three full-time teams (Panther, Dreyer & Reinbold and Dragon) and gained none. There were seven American drivers starting the 2013 St. Pete race. There are six in 2015.
So, the reality is since Mark Miles took over, we have fewer ovals (and that number is likely to keep falling), fewer full-time teams (and we’ve added none), fewer cars on the grid, fewer American drivers (and that number was already embarrassingly low to begin with) and still only the bare minimum (33 or 34 cars tops) showing up at Indy each year. Momentum? Yep, and it’s still rolling down the hill the wrong way in the metrics that mean the most to many fans.
Drew, Gale IN
RM: Beneath the smoke and mirrors it’s not the healthiest picture but I don’t think you can blame Miles for most of it. Ovals were in trouble long before he came along and so were Indy 500 entries. Ditto for American drivers. But I’m actually encouraged there were 24 cars at St. Pete – especially knowing how hard it is to get sponsorship.