Robin Miller's Mailbag for April 8, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for April 8, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for April 8, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD . Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you.

And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, remember that Marshall Pruett tackles them in his Tech Mailbags. Please send tech questions to PruettsTechMailbag@Racer.com.

 

Q: I am concerned that every question in your mailbag does not address the spectator injury at St. Pete. I live in Los Angeles, and planned on taking my 4-year old son to Long Beach. Every year I take him there and to Fontana, and every year my wife questions me/lectures me regarding our safety as spectators. I’ve never been concerned. Now I am, I think. It seems this flying debris is being talked about at length regarding the racing, but what about our safety? We don’t wear helmets. Is IndyCar planning on addressing this? Do they have plans to address spectator safety if this winglet problem persists? Are we safe to go to a race? It seems this may happen at every race now with new aero kits… Help, please.
Bryan, LA

RM: We’ve had several inquiries but the promoters and IndyCar have been muted for legal reasons so all we know is that a female fan walking behind the grandstand was struck by a piece of debris and received a skull fracture. You’d assume she’d receive a financial settlement for her suffering, but the law can be strange. And I’ve been told some car changes will be coming by Long Beach. The worst scenario at a racetrack is a fan being injured and, frankly, the way cars have been exploding the past 30 years, I’m amazed it doesn’t happen more – especially at ovals where speeds are higher and the proximity is closer. Obviously, nobody can guarantee fans will be safe anywhere because freak things like St. Pete can happen. It seems that sitting low at an oval should be riskier than attending a street circuit or road course but a couple fans were hurt at Houston in Dario’s accident in 2013. Sit by the hairpin at Long Beach, that seems to be the safest place, yet I’ve never heard of any spectator injuries at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in 40 years (knock wood). And sitting high at Fontana should be fine, but a man standing on the top row of the grandstands was struck by a flying wheel at Indy in 1987 so paying attention is paramount.      

Q: For appearance and performance, I like aero kits but broken bits not so much. Notwithstanding that I do not care for the DW12’s look, the winglets make the cars look more like formula cars. The higher speed kinda enhances the image, you don’t notice the sidepod and rear guards. No, I don’t want to go back to the smooth Champ Car looks, more toward the contemporary F1 look. Progress right? Deep down inside I dream of… OK champ cars; TK is correct this is open wheel racing, non contact. The young guns will have to back off, less using the nose as a feeler/bumper for passing. The winglets are here to stay, IndyCar won’t be changing this soon. The drivers will have to adapt. I am sure Honda and Chevy know how to develop stronger winglets or ways of attaching them. Let us know what is or will be done with the notorious winglets. Do you believe there could be new IndyCar winglet requirements or rules concerning racing contact?
Wayne Nagata

RM: I believe there is a concern from IndyCar and the manufacturers about making some pieces stronger and I think that’s what you will see by Long Beach. But you’re never going to stop contact at a street race and some of IndyCar’s best racing the past couple years resembled midgets racing indoors because the cars could take a punch.

Q: Well IndyCar you did it. You lost me as a fan and my girlfriend as a possible fan. My GF will watch F1 with me and knows open wheel formula cars. When I turned on the race she asked what “Those cars are?” After I explained that IndyCar just started to use aero kits she asked why they don’t look smooth and attractive as Formula 1. Why the rear wheels are enclosed and with those ugly extensions and not clean and pretty like the other formula series. I said I didn’t know why they would do that.
Next are the yellow flags. After 15 minutes we turned off the race. Maybe this will improve, but I agree I could not watch cars that looked like really ugly P1/P2 cars. Robin, has IndyCar received similar feedback from other spectators?
Brent Logero, Denver
 
RM: Sure, I don’t run every letter I get each week but it’s probably 50/50 in terms of like or disliking the aero kits. Nobody likes long yellows for debris but there’s a letter further down that explains why this race wasn’t much different than most at St. Pete – in terms of caution laps. I understand the cars don’t look as good as they used to but the quality of the racing has been a nice alternative.

 

 


Q: I just read the April 1st mailbag and had to comment. I am neither a young guy nor an old-timer. I am 45 and have been a fan since the late ’70s. The aero kits are fine. The racing was good. Sure bits flew off – people have very short memories if they don’t remember that happening before …. St. Pete has had plenty of cautions and caution laps in the past – nothing new under the sun there. We have been clamoring for diversity for so long and now that it isn’t matching our dreams we are complaining about it? With fans like that, IndyCar doesn’t need enemies. As I said on the forums the other day, we need to open our eyes. These are the fastest Indy cars EVER. This is the best group of drivers EVER. There are two reasonably committed manufacturers. There is a reasonably committed series sponsor. There are two more cars than last year. There are three 500-mile races. There are classic events. There are new events. We are entering a new golden age and if we spend too much time dwelling on the past, we are going to miss it entirely.
Chris Ruske, Millville, NJ

RM: Don’t think it’s the best group of drivers EVER but it’s a deep field and a good product with a divided fan base. But if the racing remains fierce and hard to predict, I don’t care if they hang hay bales off the front of the car. Damn, that might work.

Q: Robin you are making nice with A.J. Foyt. Ten years ago, at the very least, you disliked him. Are you mellowing in your old age or is A.J. (BEST DRIVER EVER!) suffering from the early stages of Old Timers disease and becoming lovable?
Dick Hildebrand, in Beautiful O.B., FL

RM: First of all, I never disliked A.J. – we just had a little difference of opinion in 1981 and a couple times over the IRL/CART war. But I’ve always admired his talents and toughness and he’s one of the reasons I got hooked on racing as a kid. I love sitting in his transporter listening to stories or calling him on the phone to reminisce or watching him tame Langhorne on a Dick Wallen video. I’m so glad he made it through his latest ordeal and is looking good. He’s a national treasure and one tough SOB. And I’m proud to think I’m one of his friends.   

Q: I just saw your video with AJ and it was great. I got to know AJ a bit when he started up a NSACAR team around 2000. I was NASCAR manager for Ford Racing at the time (a very different lifetime, I should write a book) and I tried to get him some support from the money guys at Ford but no luck there. The guys controlling the purse strings didn’t really know who he was! Well I thought he took a small liking to me as we would always chat at the track when we “ran” into each other. Then one day, I think at Charlotte, we were both walking hell bent for leather down pit road, not watching where we were going, and my left shoulder bumped into his left shoulder and we both stopped. Me to apologize and AJ to punch me in the chops. He turned around and raised his fist to throw a punch, then he saw it was me and as nice as can be he said “oh hi Jay, are you OK?” I almost wished he had thrown the punch because the story would have been even more memorable. Anyway just a really fun memory for me of one of the greats of all time! I sure hope he gets a lot more years of fun. A very special person for sure.
Jay Novak

RM: I always enjoyed watching other drivers interact with A.J. If he took time to stop and ask them about a tire or gear or how their car was handling, you could see it made them feel good. The King was asking their opinion. Or maybe testing them. It was even better watching him with the press back in his hell-raising days. I remember once at Pocono he gave the eastern writers about 30 minutes on everything from catalytic converters to foreign policy and they ate it up. Pretty shrewd ‘ol Texan. Anyway, you understand the dynamic and it still exists.   

Q: Just watched the video with AJ and wanted to say thanks and it’s great to see him doing so well. I have a great memory of meeting AJ at Mosport in 1978. It was a USAC doubleheader: stock cars on Saturday and the Indy car feature on Sunday (and possibly a Super Vee support race as well). My recall is a bit fuzzy after 35+ years but I think he demolished the stock car field Saturday afternoon. Afterwards, AJ hung out taking pictures, signing autographs, and just chatting up the fans with that great Texas drawl for quite a while. I was amazed at how friendly and accessible he was, and remain a huge fan to this day. One other thing about that race: I was hoping to see Mario in Roger Penske’s car, but he was away racing F1 that weekend. We met Roger’s reserve driver in the paddock, and although he was very polite and friendly I remember being a bit disappointed because he wasn’t Mario. It turned out that Roger’s ‘other’ guy finished pretty well; I can’t remember if he won the race, but I’ve never forgotten that I passed up the chance to get an autograph from Rick Mears!
Lee Robie, Cincinnati
 
RM: Super Tex had his moments of charming fans but mostly he was all business at the track because he was driving, building engines and running his own team. As he’s aged, I think he secretly appreciates all the people who stand outside his transporter to chat or get an autograph or share a photo. Danny Ongais won that Mosport race and that Mears kid went on to have some moderate success at Indianapolis.  

 


Q: One of my pals is threatening to not renew his great Indy 500 tickets that have been in his family for 31 years because he has yet to see anything from IMS that they don’t support the controversial Religious Freedom/Discrimination Law the Governor just signed. It’s all over the media that many Indiana corporations and the NCAA are outraged by the law, but I haven’t seen a peep from IMS either. I did hear on a forum that Doug Boles had something to say, but I can’t find anything on the internet. IMS should have a press release regarding their stance on USA Today, RACER.com, and all the other big auto racing sites ASAP to assure their fans that they are on the right side of history.
Steve, Eden Prairie, MN

RM: Well, if you were ever in the Snake Pit in its heyday you knew there was no discrimination but here’s what IMS president Doug Boles issued: “For 105 years the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has engaged millions who want to celebrate the true spirit of American racing. IMS will continue to warmly welcome all who share our enthusiasm for motorsports – employees, participants and fans. We can also confirm that this is the position of all Hulman & Company organizations, including INDYCAR. We welcome everyone.”
[ABOVE: The clear message. Photo from IMS Facebook page].

Q: My family and I had a great time in St. Petersburg, despite dodging all the carbon fiber debris flying at us. One large piece even got lodged in the fence five feet in front of us. I think the cars look great on the track, but the aero kits are an artificial method of covering up larger problems with the whole racecar package. My question: If Randy Bernard were offered the CEO job at IndyCar again, do you think he would take it? If so, let’s begin the proceedings to get Mark Miles ousted right away.
Mark Suska, Lexington, OH
 
RM: I talk to Randy all the time and he always calls after a race because he not only watches them, he wants to know what’s going on and he wants IndyCar to succeed. But he has no desire to come back and work in the reptile industry, he’s quite happy helping Garth Brooks try and make it in the music world.

Q: I live in Long Beach and I have attended the race three times, all with General Admission tickets although one time my friend scored us pit passes. That was a cool experience. Do you think it’s worth it to buy the more expensive Club tickets and mingle with the bourgeoisie or just stick with the masses in GA?
Jonathan, Long Beach

RM: Not sure where GA gets you but buying a pit pass seems like the best way to go in Long Beach. The important thing is that you can see a big screen because that’s the only way to watch the whole track.

Q: I kind of agree with Penske on keeping the series in North America. Sure you could do a race or two overseas if someone wants to drop a pile of money in your lap. But why not concentrate on your primary (and your sponsor’s) market? It certainly appears there is a lot of work that needs to be done. Why spread yourself thin? Why not expand to three races in Canada in the summer months? And, in the fall (September), race in Mexico a couple of times (no NFL), or even open the season south of the border? You can always finish the season bringing the last race of the season to California, racing on a late Saturday afternoon, again avoiding the NFL. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Expand the season and race at least 20 times, or more. I understand it’s about sponsorship and promoters. IndyCar probably needs to get more proactive in co-promoting a lot of these events, and/or reducing the sanctioning fees while getting this thing going again. You’re right about taking the owners’ comments with a grain of salt. But when the truth is obvious to everyone – Penske says keep it “local” and Ganassi says he needs an expanded season (exposure) to keep sponsors happy – then DO SOMETHING!!!!!
James Staller

RM: Houston had a great sponsor (Shell) but couldn’t get a suitable date so it went away. Fontana has been moved three times in three years and is stuck with a Saturday in late June this year so it’s got no chance of succeeding. Pocono has gone from July 4th to late August. Date equity is key for promoters but compressing the season makes it tough to find the sweet spot for some tracks. Of course IndyCar should race 20 times and as much in Canada as possible and maybe go back to Mexico City but it better listen to the owners about the sponsors’ unhappiness. It’s not like there’s a big line for IndyCar sponsorship and keeping the current ones happy should be a priority for Miles.  

Q: I read Chip’s comments regarding the long offseason and it was easy to tell he does not like it. Then I saw the Target “cartwheel” printing on Dixon’s rear wing and thought that was great subliminal messaging, even if coincidental (it’s a Target marketing campaign). Is there a consensus among owners regarding ending in August? Is it different from the IRL “originals” (Ed, Sarah, Sam,) versus the former CART teams? Can the team owners run “exhibition” races on their own outside of IndyCar sanctioning? I am not hoping for a split, just bold (and brave) thinking within the Insular Racing Series (maybe shutting down in August is bold, though not best). On the grass is greener side, the aero kits looked better live as I hoped, but their robustness needs attention (along with driver anticipation). The crowd was encouraging and that course layout is great in St. Pete.
PJ

RM: As I’ve written, I don’t know ONE owner that favors this short season format. It’s tough to keep mechanics during the down time so some defect (understandably) after being laid off and it’s tough for sponsors to get their money’s worth in only six months. I saw a letter from one company to an owner that said if the season wasn’t lengthened by 2015, it was gone. And it’s a big sponsor by IndyCar standards.
And I don’t see a big demand for exhibition races.  

 


Q: Fantastic race in St. Pete, what a way to start! I can’t wait for Long Beach, I’ve got 10 people going this year. I’ve tried now twice to watch the rerun from the F1 race in Malaysia and fell asleep both times. It’s more like a car show than a race, not to mention all the empty seats. I think Mark Miles’ idea of starting the season earlier on some of those tracks is a good idea, what do you think? See you in Long Beach!
CAM in LA

RM: If you could find the right markets and start in January or February, that’s fine but it’s got to continue – it can’t have a six-week layoff. NASCAR is all about momentum and presence but it’s got too many races while IndyCar doesn’t have enough.
[Silverstone is an F1 track that doesn’t need an IndyCar race, but it’s a flimsy excuse to run a pic of Al Unser turning into Stowe corner in the Chaparral-run Lola in ’78].

Q: The first thing I noticed this year was the sponsorship from Target cut down to one car, instead of two like it has been for some time. The Chipster seems upset with IndyCar. Do you think he is upset enough to quit the series?
Edgar Arnold

RM: Upset is putting it mildly but it’s not a matter of quitting, it’s more like keeping your sponsors happy so you can keep racing at a high level. I don’t think Target cut back because of the short schedule but I know one of Chip’s other sponsors isn’t happy about only a six-month season.

Q: Suppose the dumb idea of ending the season on Labor Day wasn’t actually implemented and the IndyCar season was able to run from early March to late October-early November, as a proper IndyCar season should. Taking into account the latest grumbling from current and potential sponsors about the season being too short to spend money on, would fitting 28 races in the mentioned time frame make sense? I know CART’s height had 21 races from March-October, but that also had the benefit of having actual marketing muscle behind each round.

What my idea aims for is constant exposure and activity so that mainstream media doesn’t have enough time to forget IndyCar exists. The 28 rounds would also allow for long-desired international races where they would make the most sense in terms of scheduling, rather than depend on a nonsensical “winter series” window. Thanks for being the best IndyCar journalist and I hope to one day follow in your footsteps once I get out of writing about cellphones (unless I win the lottery, in which case I’ll be going straight into IndyCar ownership.)
Humberto Saabedra, Ft. Worth Texas

RM: The time frame makes sense but not many owners could handle 28 races in the current IndyCar economy. I’d much rather see the series invest in Road America, Watkins Glen and another Canadian venue than chase races in Europe that likely won’t last two years. Thanks for reading RACER.com but just lease a car for Indy, don’t buy one.

Q: So I think St. Pete was a classic case of the good, the bad, and the ugly. The Good? A great race in the end between JPM and Will. The Bad? Too many cautions and waiting six months for a race The Ugly? The Honda cars aesthetic qualities and the injury to the poor fan. But overall, there’s a lot to be positive about.

I have to be honest, reading your Mailbag and around forums would always give the impression of severe negativity around everything IndyCar-related. But we must remember not as many people are going to take to the internet to be positive about IndyCar as there are going to be negative. And thus, there are plenty of IndyCar fans who are enjoying what they are seeing, despite what you see on the internet, and I include myself in that.

As an Englishman, Formula 1 has always captured most of my attention, and it wasn’t until 2009 that I watched my first IndyCar race. Since then, I’d happily watch IndyCar races live, but only intermittently and not religiously like F1. The thing is, Indy has never got me totally hooked…until now. As I watch F1 slowly implode on itself and drive itself ever closer to financial disaster because of greed, I have become somewhat disillusioned.

At the same time IndyCar introduced the weird-looking DW12, which was to be honest a bit of a disappointment at first, especially as the new engines didn’t sound as awesome as I had hoped. But I see the aero kits and varied cars in an affordable manner for 2015, and I’m impressed. Chevrolet has done a properly good job. As for the Honda, it’s OK except for that darn fin on the air intake. But it’s distinctly different, and that’s what counts. But I’m really excited to see the superspeedway kits, just hoping they’re low-drag, low-downforce though.

I see a lot of people complaining about the new look, but they look better than the DW12 in my opinion, and I think they’re interesting to the younger generation like myself. (I’m 21 by the way). At the end of the day, it’s appealing to young people which counts most right now, let’s face it. Any idea what the superspeedway kits will look like? How do you rate the chances of the return of Cleveland? Any chance of any more aero-kit manufacturers coming in within the next few years?  
Dan Bruce

RM: Good point, people tend to vent more in writing but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of positive letters the past couple weeks. The drivers are the only ones that have seen the oval kits but evidently they’re pretty wild. I’d say Cleveland is 50-50 at best. The only way for another aero kit would be another engine manufacturer. Thanks for crossing over to IndyCar.


Q: With the talk of IndyCar returning to Cleveland [ABOVE, 2004], and the city now having a casino, are you excited or what? Any ideas on which “major company” approached Gene Haskett? Is this race likely, or just another tease?
Hopeful millennial in North Carolina

RM: I do know the company and it’s a major one that’s involved in IndyCar racing but I can’t breach Gene’s trust (he asked not to divulge). I was excited when he first told me the story but it sounds like things have cooled off so I’m not nearly as optimistic.    

Q: I think IndyCar is wise to copy NASCAR, but they copied the wrong thing. NASCAR is popular in spite of debris cautions, not because of them. Two often repeated items in the Mailbag are that the cars need more power and cost too much. Why not use factory engines? Ford, Chevy and Dodge all offer showroom models with more than 650 horsepower. If we can’t have more American drivers, how about American engines? Fans might like them and they are cheaper.
John Masden

RM: I don’t know how many manufacturers would entertain the IndyCar brand and would any of them spend what Honda and General Motors currently do? Ford is headed for Le Mans and Dodge doesn’t seem interested in motorsports at the moment. I like your logic, just not sure it’s viable right now. Maybe if there had been some kind of new rules for the 100th Indy 500, it could have worked.
 
Q: After reading the April 1 Mailbag, I was astounded that there were no comments about how TGBB ruined the race, the series, and the general state of human life as we know it. After all of the “that’s it, now that TGBB is back I’m leaving…” comments when he was announced, he was pleasantly anonymous for the first race. I’m not a fan of his, but the invisibility of race control in a race where there was noticeable contact was encouraging. Do you think TGBB has changed his approach, or was this just a race in which there weren’t any controversial calls for him to live up to his reputation? BTW – I’m semi-retired and have signed up to be a yellow shirt at IMS in May! Can’t wait!
Darren Keene, Lake Forest, Calif.

RM: It was a pretty easy race to leave alone (sans Graham Rahal’s incident) and while TGBB runs race control, he no longer has any autonomous authority. It’s officiating by committee.

Q: Why was Graham Rahal penalized for hitting the wounded car of Charlie Kimball but Simon Pagenaud was not penalized for hitting Kimball which started the whole mess in the first place? We’re not dealing with a “Return of the TGBB” situation are we?
Harrison Langley

RM: I can’t answer either but I thought Rahal’s was a lame call. He’s trying to get around a disabled car that may be spewing parts in his wake and it was nothing more than a racing accident.

 


Q: Just want to state, I love IndyCar racing. It’s great racing, cool cars, awesome drivers, and by far my favorite series. I love the spectacle and tradition of the Indy 500, I love watching the cars manhandle a tight street circuit like St. Pete or Long Beach, and love seeing them on proper road courses as well. I don’t get at all the complaining that goes on week after week in this Mailbag. Who are these people? Are these fans?

It’s funny to me, they simultaneously say they want high tech innovative cars, then say they want 1960 to reappear, and get rid of paddle shifters, carbon fiber bodywork designed in a wind tunnel, etc… whatever. Bad news for these people, neither 1995 nor their youth is coming back. 

Incidentally, I’ve dragged several (non-race fan) buddies w/ me to pretty much all the races I’ve attended (St. Pete, Mid-Ohio, Indy GP, Barber, the 500, 2007 CCWS at Road America, and and and …), and never once were they not blown away and completely impressed w/ the sights, sounds, and speed. Matter of fact, every single one has come back the following year. So who are these people who write in to complain every week? IndyCars are slow? Compared to what? And again, they’re both too high tech and not high tech enough at the same time. That’s somethin’, ain’t it?

Guess I should throw a question in this email … if the series makes money on foreign races, why does Roger Penske have a problem with it? It may not do wonders for his U.S. sponsors, but if it’s a winner financially for the series, isn’t it a winner financially for the teams?
Scott Tepas

RM: Thanks for spreading the good word about IndyCar and indoctrinating some newbies. Most people who see an IndyCar race in person come away with a much better appreciation than just watching on television. Penske has always said racing outside North America does little for most sponsors and he’s right. If it’s enough money (and the country doesn’t pull the plug on the race and/or actually pays what it agreed to), it can be profitable for IndyCar but it’s hardly a windfall for the teams. (Surfer’s Paradise used to cost teams money by the time they bought the extra airfares and hotels).
[ABOVE: Justin Wilson on his way to victory at Assen, Holland, the second-half of Champ Car’s European tour in 2007.]

Q: I’m an avid reader of RACER & the Mailbag each week, a huge F1/Indy Car/Endurance racing fan and have some first-hand experience in an open-wheel racecar back in the late 1980s/early ’90s so I think that qualifies me as “old guard” (or just plain old).

To everybody being overly critical of the IndyCar opener in St. Pete, put down the pie that you are throwing in IndyCar’s face, take a breath and slowly back away; perspective is a good thing! First, the city and promoters did a great job, the crowd was large & enthusiastic and it was a well-run event; I haven’t seen attendance numbers but heard anecdotally from more than one veteran fan of the race that they had never seen the crowd so large (which really made the beer lines much longer).

Second, the racing was very good and tight with some great overtaking moves, I was sitting at Turn 10 and saw many of them; the reality is that, like many street courses (and I’ve raced on one or two in my time), there aren’t a lot of places to pass so a driver really has to work to get close enough to pull off an outbraking maneuver.

Third, enough about the aero kits already! As with all technology, they will evolve and get stronger & better (though I will admit that stupid-looking bodywork behind the rear wheels still annoys me to no end) and remember that debris on a street course is much more difficult to manage than on a road course as space is tight and the corner workers cannot get to things as easy.

Fourth, my wife was walking about 50 ft. behind the woman who was hit by the debris behind the Turn 10 grandstands and saw it happen; while unfortunate (and thank God she’s going to be OK from what I understand), we all know those things can happen at a race and with any type of debris. I saw all of the contact that occurred at Turn 10 and there would have been debris created from most of the incidents (on an open wheel racecar, ANY front/rear wing is fragile and just waiting to be smashed-just watch a replay of the Pro Mazda race), whether they had the new aero kits or not so to Monday morning quarterback that incident and blame it on the aero kits is akin to blaming a hurricane on a person.

Could there be improvements? Of course, nothing is perfect; if everything was perfect, we wouldn’t have anything to write to you about and complain! Bring back standing starts, get rid of that ridiculous scheduling philosophy, do a better job of making the car numbers more visible, get Road America and The Glen on the schedule…but in end, I’m already planning a road trip to Barber Motorsports Park in April!
Chris, Sarasota, Fla.

RM: It was the biggest crowd I’ve seen there and it had a good duel and a tight finish, which is all you can ever ask for in a street race. I did hear a lot of complaints about not being able to read the car numbers and standing starts would be a popular move.    

Q: I have 21 people who I buy tickets for the “500” and I asked each of them to rate F1, NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR trucks and the IndyCar races over the last weekend in March. Here is how it came out: Sprint (Danica effect?), Truck, F1 and IndyCar a perfect last place. Wasn’t the race a mess? Sure on a couple of restarts Will and Tony got away with a banzai pass, but other than that wasn’t it almost unwatchable? The cars even though faster looked fat and slow… Then yesterday it was announced that the Speedway was having a concert on July 4th…the Rolling Stones, and the ticket prices start at $77.00 and go to $320 except for VIP tickets which will cost $995…and they expect 80,000 to 100,000 people. So now do we call IMS Indianapolis Music Senter.

Since the final numbers are out….on ABC, IndyCar drew a 0.6 (893,000) and Sprint Cup on FS1 drew 4,061,000, (the best sports program on cable for the weekend). Is IndyCar’s TV audience improving as we have been told? (Fact….Danica drew more people on “business channels” than IndyCar to announce Go Daddy’s IPO), and you think IndyCar is viable?

One last thing: I was trying to see Simona and how she was doing and I knew her number was 25, and until she ran into Jakes, I could never find her number. Does anyone at IndyCar give a crap about what race fans really want to see? NUMBERS SHOULD BE READABLE? Why do I continue to support this disaster? I keep hoping someone will finally see that this isn’t racing, and will throw the series in the dumpster and bring the “500” back to life as a standalone race. I’m 84; will I live to see it happen?
Terrible Ted

RM: I didn’t see any of those other races because I was at St. Pete but I’ve seen a lot worse street shows than that one. A couple of awesome overtaking moves, as you mentioned, and a fairly dramatic finish. The car numbers do need help and, of course, nobody likes long cautions but it’s part and parcel of street racing. And remember this: trucks are for towing real racecars.  



Q: I finally got around to watching the Indy Lights race at St. Pete on my DVR. I kinda hate to say it, but I enjoyed it more than the IndyCar race. The Lights cars look a lot better than those cheese graters IndyCar is fielding this year. The Carlin metallic livery [ABOVE, Mazda Road To Indy photo] was the best looking, although the lack of visible sponsorship (on the whole field) might be a worry. And the engines sounded like racing engines, crackling on over-run and all. Plus, the racing was better. Young guns with bigger balls than brains always put on a good show, but paradoxically they did less bumping than the big boys. Maybe the shorter length of the race helped my old-man attention span, but the whole thing was just more fun.
Chad R. Larson, Phoenix

RM: Considering there were only 13 cars and Ed Jones was on another planet both days, it was a good start to a new era in Indy Lights. Jack Harvey is going to keep Carlin Racing honest all season and American Spencer Pigot looked plenty impressive on his Lights debut. The cars look real good, just need a few more of them and I think we’ll have 15 sooner than later.

Q: I don’t understand how you do it. You read so many complaints about the sport you love each and everyday. It just makes no sense why everybody puts down the sport. They say they want more fans but yet they openly complain and say everything they think is wrong or they don’t agree with. That is very hypocritical.

I stopped reading the Mailbag because I couldn’t take it anymore. You want to help IndyCar? Let’s do an experiment. Go out and bring a friend to an IndyCar race or bring them over to watch the race and be sure to tell him all the horrible things or what you think is wrong with the sport. Don’t forget to mention how ugly the new cars are (I’m guessing you think they are ugly). I personally think they are freaking awesome, but hey, I’m a short-attention-spanned teenager, so what the heck do I know? Tell me how that goes and if they want to come back for the next race.

Now for part two, do the same thing except let what you say involve all the cool technologies even if it’s been around for a while (they don’t know that). I told someone about how they raise the car with the air hose and how the car has four pegs that come down and raise the car up into the air and were they amazed. Go ahead and mention the cool intricate parts of the cars and add that the drivers have NO POWER STEERING unlike their road car. They soon might think drivers are actually athletes or maybe be less convinced to say they aren’t. Go ahead and say they lose 6lbs on average every race. Tell me how that goes and if they want to come back for the next race.
Hunter Smith, 19

RM: It’s not all negative and some good ideas are derived through anger on occasion. Like an earlier reader said, it’s easier to bitch than compliment (or at least, it’s more popular) but I don’t know how anybody that enjoys racing could have watched the past three IndyCar seasons and not been entertained. I admire your passion and it’s good to know there are young fans out there that feel the same way. Are you sure you don’t want a job in IndyCar PR?

Q: One thing I hate about the internet is the amount of misinformation that gets put out…..the gnashing of teeth over something that within five seconds you can find info that debunks the stupidity.

Within the general idiocy was the perceived notion that this was an abnormal St. Pete race in the area of cautions. That’s just not the case. The average number of cautions for the race is 4.5 with 19.9 laps of caution on avg. The last 11 races have had five or more cautions. Only four of the events ran there since 2003 have had four or fewer cautions.

When you have a race that already breeds cautions, to say that the aero kits are fully to blame because the last race there only had two is a bit disingenuous, considering the trend tells you that this race will see on average more than twice that number. It’s a track that sees contact and from what I saw it was a case of drivers being overly aggressive and not taking care of their equipment. They are going to have to race much cleaner than they have been or risk greater damage than in the past.  
J.K., Mizzou

RM: Thanks for sharing the St. Pete stats. A couple drivers correctly pointed out that not racing for seven months sometimes leads to rust and or extra aggression.

Q: My least favorite rule in IndyCar is closing the pit lane when a yellow comes out on a street or road course. Can you please explain to me why they continue to do this? With the technology today, there is no reason they need to do this to keep track of positions. All it does it make cautions longer by having to pack up the cars, go around a lap or two once they’re packed up, open the pits, then let them pack up after their stops.

Because of the rule they even have to do this for cautions outside of the pit window when no one is going to come in. Without this rule, a debris caution that’s not a huge mess, or a stalled car in the middle of the track, could be over very quickly. I also hate the strategy implications it has for green flag racing where if you’re in the middle to rear you pit as soon as the window opens up, which forces the lead drivers to pit right then or risk a yellow coming out and losing all the track position when they pit. It also often gives a slow car track position to be a sitting duck or bottleneck the field for the first few laps of green.

Wouldn’t changing this one rule back to the way it was potentially have a really good effect on many races? I know it adds an element of luck to the races (a good thing in my opinion) by giving those close to pit in an advantage when a caution happens, but it’s better than letting mid to rear pack cars dictate the strategy for the leaders. I know that Beaux took it out for a few races, and things seemed to work fine. Why did they reinstate it? 
Jordan Brown

RM: Closing the pits was intended so as not to inadvertently give somebody an advantage or disadvantage based on where they are on the track when a yellow came out. (Although I always thought it was because of USAC’s ineptness). Barfield left the pits open in 2012 and 2013 but got some resistance because the competitors said it was too unpredictable and they couldn’t strategize (of course I file this under real racing). And if there’s a big accident you don’t want people racing back to the pits so shutting things down and closing the pits is a safety consideration in that case.   



Q: I like the decision by WEC to eliminate grid girls. My favorite NFL team got rid of their cheerleaders and it didn’t deter me from going to more games – I’ll still watch racing. Do you know how/when that tradition started in IndyCar? I say replace the grid girls with a contest for the fans so they can win a chance to be on the grid representing their favorite car/driver for the race.
Rob Peterson, Rochester, NY

RM: I only remember grid girls in Australia (and that’s where Alex Tagliani met the lovely Bronte) for the longest time until it caught on at Toronto and Sonoma. The image above comes from F1 in Malaysia last month.

Q: I am a longtime fan of IndyCar racing and you are by far the best reporter to bring us fans the true scoop on all that is IndyCar. Al Unser Jr. was always my favorite driver and since his retirement, I haven’t really had another favorite driver. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a huge and loyal fan and TK, Dario, Dixon, and Helio are great to cheer for, but I miss Little Al in an IndyCar.

I’m turning to you because you know all the drivers past and present. I’ve been thinking, since the first race was dominated by the “older” drivers, how about getting Al Unser Jr. into a car for this year’s (or even better for next year’s) Indy 500? Seeing Al Unser Jr. in the new car at Indy would be awesome. And if it is not too much to ask, perhaps you can see if Michael Andretti wants to give it another shot.
 Ryan Sweeny, Pittsburgh, PA

RM: Al and Michael are too smart to ever get back in an Indy car. It’s not that they couldn’t handle it, it’s the fact they’ve been away too long and wouldn’t have a chance to win. Both were fierce competitors and two of the best but they would have no desire to just be filling the field.

Q: Besides JPM’s ability to get into his teammates’ heads, who else among the current crop of drivers is good at playing mind games with their competitors? In the last 50 years, who was the best at it?
Darrick, Indianapolis, IN

RM: Probably nobody in JPM’s class, although I would think Seabass and Dixie could be candidates. I think Dario was good at it but Uncle Bobby had no peer. Ask Rick Mears. A.J. could do it on or off the track. I wasn’t around but I imagine Bill Vukovich had some people psyched out as well.  

Q: Man, everybody wanted aero kits and now we have them and the first few letters to the Mailbag are complaining about the new kits. Give me a break. I realize race fans love to complain, but, c’mon.

Now for the questions. Can Justin Wilson get more from AA than just the month of May? He’s such a talent yet he never seems to find a break. Conor Daly, my favorite young American driver, can he find a ride somewhere? Derrick Walker once told me, “There are always a lot of drivers, but never enough money.” I know it is true. However, it would be great if these two talents could get into the series full time.
Brian Henris, Fort Mill, SC

RM: Michael Andretti says he’s working on trying to find enough money to run Justin from May on but Andretti Autosport is also doing the same for Simona de Silvestro (she was just confirmed for NOLA on Tuesday). I think Conor may have a shot for the Indy 500 but I want to see him road race – that’s his talent.


Q: I go back to the ’70s as a fan of Indy car racing (thankfully) and I still love it today. I’ve seen comments from oldtimers stating today’s driver wouldn’t have been successful “back in the day.” I don’t agree with that and think Scott Dixon for one seems to have the gunfighter mentality that would have made him a top driver of that era. I feel like you probably agree with that and wanted to ask your opinion on what other drivers of today’s IndyCar have what it took to have been able to hang with Foyt, Mario, JR and the Unsers?
Dave E, Speedway, Indiana

RM: That’s a tough question to answer because the circumstances are so different. With death right around the corner in the 1960s, it took a special breed (don’t forget Parnelli and Dan Gurney on your list) to deal with the realities of that time. And it’s not that today’s drivers aren’t brave because they’re going twice as fast but it’s much safer.

The other factor is that the old guard raced everything all the time and today’s drivers are specialists, other than select sports car races. A.J. said once he thought Kanaan had the moxie to cut it in the ‘60s, and Dario and Will Power came back from substantial injuries and it didn’t slow them down. I think Paul Tracy would have made it big back then, just not for long, and Montoya would have been a badass at Langhorne. Dixon and RHR remind me of Rodger Ward with their approach. Dario was more like Mears, Helio has a little Eddie Sachs in him [ABOVE, Sachs on pole at Indy in ’61. IMS photo] and Willy P. resembles Uncle Bobby at times. But T.K. slept on a garage floor on his climb to the top of the sport, and that’s about as ‘60s as you can get.    

Q: It’s taken me a while to try and find a suitable way to boil down my increased HP and speed desires as IndyCar moves forward, but I think the following should work: As an Indianapolis native who now lives in Austin, in 2018 I would love to see new 900+hp Indy cars come to COTA and take a new track record from Bernie’s series. Add a record at Indy and that would be a helluva year, publicity-wise.
Ryan Tierney

RM: I think the plan is to break the IMS record first and then go after Bernie & Company at COTA. OK, that’s wishful thinking but I’d like to see that much power by 2018 and a race in Austin.

Q: Why was it so shocking that the new more complex wings broke all over the track? I saw that coming a mile away when I saw the first picture. Solution: Make the wings out of aluminum, steel or even titanium. That would be cheaper than carbon fiber and wouldn’t shatter like carbon fiber. Any fiber including fiberglass will shatter (and by the way injuring a fan ain’t great PR).

F1 has now turned into IndyCar racing – every crash is a full-course yellow (safety car). Solution: Advertise more and not just not during a race. Get F1 fans. It makes no sense to advertise the next race to fans that are already watching. And advertising needs to be done during hockey games and other sports etc. or dare I say, prime time, to get NEW young fans.

What is with the Eddie Cheever/Scott Goodyear combo? Can’t we find someone else? Solution: Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, Steve Matchett, Paul Tracy or even Robin Miller. How about Dave Despain?
Tony, Mamaroneck, NY

RM: A lot of people have been saying aluminum and fiberglass is the best way to lower costs and increase interest but I can’t see carbon fiber ever going away. A lot of people would like to see Eddie and Scott go away from ABC but they seem pretty safe.

Q: Do you still consider these cars “open wheel”? My boss, the person who got me into F1/IndyCar by taking me to the Indy 500, hates the cars compared to old days. His email to our fantasy group when the St. Pete race started was “IndyCar has lost it – WAAAAY too many carbon fiber wings/surfaces/tricks/gimmicks/cowlings — damn near FENDERS on the cars. UGH! What happened to open-wheel racing? Guess it’s only in F1 anymore.” My first race was the 2011 Indianapolis 500 so I don’t know any better but I see his point. The wheels are basically covered.
Joe, Northern California

RM: I do, even though they’ve got those rear wheel covers (and I’d love to see those go away for all street and road races) because they still have to be driven with the respect of an open-wheel car. 


Q: I recently read Black Noon and found it incredibly interesting and informative. I never knew there was such controversy around the finish of the 1963 500. It honestly sounds to me like Jim Clark got screwed over worse than PT in ’02. What are your thoughts? Should Clark have won that race and be remembered as a two-time 500 winner?
Zach in FL

RM: Please get a copy of the new RACER magazine and read the Clark story, because it’s a good perspective of all the players. Yes, Parnelli was leaking oil along with a lot of other people that day and, yes, Aggie pleaded with Harlan Fengler not to throw the black flag because he said the leak had subsided. Rufus ran his fastest lap of the race with two to go so you wonder how much fluid was on the track but Sachs and Roger McCluskey both claimed they hit the wall because of it. Parnelli dominated the race and Clark congratulated him afterwards, no whining. And Clark did get screwed – but that was in 1966 [ABOVE]. So, yes, he should be a two-time winner.  

Q: I’m glad that the 2015 IndyCar season has opened, I’m excited that Chevy & Honda have their separate body kits going and I thought the St. Pete race was pretty good.  Sure, Team Penske walked away with qualifying by starting first through fourth and I was happy to see JPM hold Power off for the last 20 some laps for the win.  But, there was a lot of down time due to clean-up for broken front wings. I do have a question regarding that point.

Since Honda & Chevy were to design body parts and those body parts were to show off the difference between makes and they were to add downforce to the cars, would they be allowed to build sidepods, skirts and other body parts that would gain downforce by including tunnels to generate ground affects to suck the car to the ground?  Wouldn’t that do away with some of the multi tray/multi wings, winglets, gizmos, and widgets on the front wings? That in turn may cost less due to lower parts replacement and lower yellow flag track clean up time? OR, am I way off for bringing this up due to some Indy Car rule stating that the No Ground Affects Allowed?
Tony Piergallini, Steubenville, Ohio

RM: Will Phillips, IndyCar’s vice president technology replies: “The manufacturers were given specific areas to work within, but they could not touch the floor or tunnels as IndyCar was introducing the new floor in 2015. It should not be forgotten that the original intent of the aero kit was for brand identity – the performance and competition has really run away with itself as being more important, subsequently.”
 
Q: We asked for years for a unified series, turbochargers, multiple manufacturers and aero kits. What we got were IZOD, low horsepower, Lotus and the Grand Debris of St. Petersburg.

Your Mailbag has become something of an online group therapy session for fans who remember how great things were and want them to be that way again, myself chief among them, and unfortunately I just don’t see it happening. I wish it would, but pragmatically I don’t see it. The IndyCar 2018 op-eds all have great ideas. But 240mph at Indianapolis isn’t going to bring new fans, that’s for us current fans. It could bring new manufacturers, but they need advertisers to get ROI. Advertisers need an audience or what’s the point?

TV needs compelling stories to attract viewers, and without American drivers up front, all we’re left with is compelling racing, and that’s not been enough to turn the needle in years. They could make the cars faster and louder and open up the rulebook more. They could open the coffers and put some real money behind the winning of the 500. They could clear the path for American drivers, spend a fortune on marketing and expand to new and lucrative markets. And darn it, it just might actually work! But they’ll still be the same group that litigated out big turbines in February of 1968 (USAC) and the big pushrod Ilmor in 1995 (CART), they’ll just do it under a different name. They’re the same ones who broke up in the late ’70s and compound fractured in the mid-’90s. When they achieve greatness, they screw it up. It’s in their DNA. They can’t help it. That’s why I don’t see it happening. And if that breaks our hearts then it’s our own fault for not knowing better.
Dan Wagner

RM: In terms of good competition (11 winners in 18 races last year) I’m not sure IndyCar has ever been better than the past couple years. The stories were compelling as well as unpredictable. Has it been more popular? Of course and being a well-kept secret is a problem that needs fixing. You’re right, it’s never been well managed like F1 or NASCAR and The Split crippled it. But, in my opinion, it’s still more entertaining than watching F1 or NASCAR.

Q: Do you know of any movement in bringing Indy Car to the Circuit of The Americas here in Texas? We recently moved from southern Indiana to San Antonio and are having open-wheel racing withdrawals. Recently visited COTA for the first time to watch the Pirelli World Challenge races and was absolutely blown away by the facility. IndyCar would be perfect here!
Ray McAtee

RM: I know Mark Miles talked to them but got scared off by Eddie Gossage’s threats to pull the plug on Texas Motor Speedway’s race. They could co-exist if the schedule length was reasonable and IndyCar would put on the best race of COTA’s lineup.  

 

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