Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD .
Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.
Q: After all the griping and complaining that we’ve been hearing since the races at St. Pete and NOLA, it’s hard to find anything to complain about when you’re talking about Long Beach! Only one, full-course caution, seriously? A hard-fought race, some great stories and a long over due win by Scott Dixon. Is the Conor Daly story the feelgood story of the year? Hated it for Rocky Moran Jr. but Daly did everything that could be expected of him and more. Any chance Dale Coyne puts Daly in that car again? Thanks for the great coverage!
Richard, Flower Mound, TX
RM: IndyCar needed a clean show and got one with lots of aggressive driving but not an abundance of passing – at least up front. With only one caution, impressive the first six cars finished a couple seconds apart. But Daly was the most impressive. To jump in a car with no testing, no seat and miss all of Friday practice is daunting enough but to make your road racing debut at one of the most unforgiving tracks just compounds that. Really proud of Conor and how he attacked (second fastest Honda lap of the race) and Coyne’s crew loved his feedback, attitude and aggression. Only 23, I hope R.P. and Chip took notice.
Q: The race at the beach was pretty much as expected; what did Paul Tracy call it? The parade at the beach. At least it was clean and there was a couple of relevant passes on the track. Throw out the five laps of full-course yellow for a piece of wing and it was a pretty good show.
Since this is the marquee event (apologies to those who like ovals and the Indy 500), I think it should be made more entertaining by providing the drivers with two legitimate passing zones. While there may not be much room to modify the apex of Turn 1 (I think it could be), there is certainly room at Turn 9 to change the corner to give drivers a legitimate chance; think Turn 1 in Bahrain.
Also, I presume that the run to Turn 11 was shortened to prevent drivers from sticking their noses in and causing blockage but why not extend the run further up Shoreline and give them another chance? Right now it’s blip the throttle out of Turn 9 and coast all the way through 11. To those who have not been around Long Beach since the beginning, look up the historical track maps, it’s pretty interesting.
Mark, San Diego
RM: It’s always been a parade but Sunday was a lot racier up and down the grid than some of those past romps by Mario and Little Al. All you ever hope for is a close race and they got one. Not sure much can be done with Turn 1 because of the fountain but there were quite a few passes made there – just none for the race lead. And it could have been more about the cars’ equivalence than the track.
Q: Long Beach was, in my opinion, the worst race of the season. The St. Pete Penske Parade GP gets a pass since it was entertaining in person. When green, there were a ton of passes made throughout the field (TV coverage by ABC was garbage and showed none of this). NOLA was a joke, but the chaos was fun to watch. Plus, I’m biased as a huge Hinch fan. Long Beach, however, was anything but exciting.
I’m still scratching my head at how either the start or restart were allowed to stand, as both were highly questionable. Helio blatantly cheated the acceleration zone and the field immediately became strung out. The only enjoyable parts of the race involved the Coyne cars (ironically). It was nice to see Conor do well in a unfamiliar ride with no time to adjust. Dracone was the gift that kept on giving, not allowing traffic through and being his usual dangerous self. PT was right in calling him a “nightmare.”
I love PT and the NBCSN broadcast team, but they made more than a few errors. Inevitable while calling a live event? Yes. Noticeable? Yes. The P3-6 fight looked to be interesting but nothing happened. It was nice that the concrete jungle didn’t generate a ton of yellows, but the lack of action was beyond dull. Racing isn’t racing if there’s no passing. In the end, I give the race a 3/10. And that’s being generous. Better luck next time.
George, Gainesville, FL
RM: Like I said earlier, I’ve been to 40 consecutive LBGPs and this one was a long way from even being close to the worst one. Yeah, Dixon took the lead on a pit stop but that’s standard operating procedure in most series anymore. We’ve been spoiled by the good street races of the past three years and I’d rank this one as a 7.
However, the start gets a minus-2. It was a joke and should have been waved off. The most exciting moment of the race and it dissolves into that crap. Ryan Hunter-Reay was right to be angry. If I were Jim Michaelian, I’d demand a standing start from now on. Not sure what NBCSN erred on, but it sounded like they were on top of things in my headset.
Q: Just a few observations from my day in Long Beach. First, the good – what a crowd! I can’t remember it being any more packed with fans than last weekend! And, they were very enthusiastic too. The TGPLB is by far the greatest overall spectacle in racing, besides Indy, of course. The racing was non-stop. My wife liked Robby Gordon’s Stadium SuperTruck series a lot. I hope the promoters at the other racing venues were taking notes. That’s how you put on a good show. Especially at ovals where almost nothing is going on all day leading up to the race. And, NO, I’m not talking CONCERTS. People want RACING.
Now, the bad. What kind of a start to a race was that? Castroneves just decided to leave everyone at the hairpin and punched it. And where was Race Control? Probably still in line at the King Taco lunch truck! That was pathetic.
Please bring back STANDING STARTS! Attention Mr. Miles, give the fans that pay your salaries and buy your t-shirts what they want.
The jury is still out with me on the aero kits. I can’t tell if they really make a noticeable difference or not to the naked eye. Plus, it’s hard to identify the car and driver with all the winglets on it.
Doug in Murrieta, Ca.
RM: Kevin Kalkhoven, who co-owns the rights of the race with Gerry Forsythe, said it was the best crowd in 15 years and it looked like it. (But it wasn’t 90,000 like somebody guessed in the Long Beach paper).
I love going to Long Beach because the fans are knowledgeable and passionate and enthusiastic. They get it. Gordon’s truck series is wildly popular wherever it goes because it’s noisy, fast and furious. And there’s always something going on at the LBGP (the Expo is amazing) for everyone. As for the start, Race Control should have been fined and put on probation. And Helio took off because he knew he could get away with it and nothing would happen.
Q: I see a lot of fans enjoyed watching the talent on display on Long Beach, but am I the only one worried that the aero kits are killing the series? There seemed to be no way any of the top cars could get by one another, and Dixon basically won because Helio had to wait for TK in the pits. And the Honda cars are now totally removed from the equation.
RM: I’d say that’s kinda harsh since GM dominated in 2014 without the aero kits and we’re talking a few tenths here. It has strength in numbers for one and, yes, it appears Chevrolet has a little better handle on the kits than Honda. All those Chevys up front looked pretty even, hence, they were stacked on top of each other. But I think Honda will bounce back at the Indy 500.
Q: All of the cars in the IndyCar series have GPS and telemetry. It would not be difficult at all to mandate that at the start of the race (for Long Beach) the front row cannot accelerate before a certain spot on the track. If they do it is an automatic drive-through penalty and something very easy for Race Control to monitor. Have this certain spot far enough down Shoreline that it would be reasonable to have all or most of the cars on the front straight.
Also, move the start line closer to Turn 1. They can still finish the race in the normal position but if Mid-Ohio can start races on the back straight, there is no reason they can’t start the race at Long Beach closer to Turn 1. Of course continuing to have a standing start would be ideal for Long Beach but since that would be logical, IndyCar won’t do it.
RM: Oh there was a mandated starting zone on Sunday but it was ignored. The start/finish line is fine, it’s policing of the drivers that needs work and a standing start takes care of everything.
Q: Is it me, or are the sponsors extremely hard to see this year on the sidepods? It could be the fact that the camera angle location is odd because of the street courses, but I cannot imagine the few sponsors in this series are happy.
Mac, Toledo, Ohio
RM: Yep, smaller area to display and the numbers are hard to read as well.
Q: Great race at Long Beach. NBCSN’s coverage was excellent, especially staying with the multi-car battle between the Penske boys, TK and Bourdais, rather than watching Dixie lap (very impressively) alone. The Till/Bell/Tracy/Miller commentary lineup is the best they’ve had to date, and ALMOST as good as Diffey/Hobbs/Matchett/Buxton.
My question is, where did the Saavedra/Ganassi deal come from? Did he bring dollars? And if not, is this a worrisome sign for the commitment of the team to the development of Sage Karam? Saavedra’s shining performance, as opposed to Sage’s struggles, makes me worry a bit. Sage has proven he has the talent in other cars, but will Chip have the patience to allow him to settle in? Ditto kudos for Conor Daly for a solid last-second drive. Any whispers on plans for the rest of the season?
Scott B., Gainesville, FL
RM: Gary Peterson is Saavedra’s longtime backer/booster and the only reason Seb had that ride at Long Beach and will be at Indy. He also seems to be the only guy who believes in the 24-year-old Colombian and he got a nice payback over the weekend with a consistent performance from a kid who’s hard to figure out. But Sage is only 20 years old and has made three starts and rookies all struggle at certain times (although he sure didn’t at Indy last year) so he’ll be fine. I told him on our flight last night that rookies in the old days got four or five years to make it and now everybody thinks it’s got to happen instantly. I think Chip listens to Dario and knows this kid is going to be a keeper. I said on NBCSN that Conor had SPM’s third car at the Indy 500 and I’d certainly hope Dale Coyne hires him for the IMS road race.
Q: I was very disappointed to see that Ganassi is putting Saavedra in a car, instead of Sage Karam (this isn’t to say that I think that Saavedra doesn’t deserve to be out there – just not at the cost of Sage). However, I’m stunned by the number of people that are commenting about how awful Sage is. Don’t they realize that he has virtually no experience in these cars yet? He’s two races into his rookie season – CALM DOWN folks! Second, is Chip really that hard up for money to fund the fourth car? That’s worrisome.
Sean, Scarsdale, NY
RM: Amen (read my answer above to the last question). Ask Johnny Rutherford and Bobby Unser how much they struggled in USAC champ cars before things came together. I’m sure Ganassi is challenged to fund four cars so every chunk helps and Gary Peterson has always been a solid supporter of open-wheel racing so it’s a good combo.
Q: I got to thinking while watching yesterday’s race: what keeps Toyota as the title sponsor of the Long Beach race so many years after they withdrew from supplying engines? In this day of few opportunities for sponsorship, why is Toyota still around to bring people to an event to watch Mazdas (Indy Lights), Hondas and Chevrolets? Do you ever see them being an engine supplier again, especially since so many of their engines are now made in the U.S.?
Brian Clasgens, Huntsville, Ala.
RM: Because of all the people that come to Long Beach and visit the fan experience and Toyota displays inside the convention center. It shows just how effective the TGPLB must be when a manufacturer that’s not even involved in any of the races (aside from the Pro/Celebrity race) isn’t letting go of the title sponsorship. BTW, it’s the Toyota dealers of Southern California that play a huge role in IndyCar’s showcase event outside IMS.
Q: I was happy there were so few cautions and the drivers seem to be driving with some restraint at Long Beach. These guys have got to put on a better show if they want to call themselves among the best drivers in the world. Were you in the driver’s meeting or know what was said? I think they all should be aware that they are putting on a show for the fans and Long Beach being the premier event after Indy, they had better use their heads. Was Power so far behind that he could not make up any time? I guess he got screwed because there were no full-course cautions but it seemed odd that he loses so much speed. Do you have any more details on what happened to him? A good day for IndyCar and a good day for the fans.
RM: I think seven months between races and a track that was half wet and half dry with two small rivers led to the first two races being so ragged. But on one of the toughest, tightest tracks like Long Beach the drivers ran hard and clean. I don’t think television can ever do justice to how narrow the margin for error is at LB. And all that green running gave Power no chance to recover from stalling his engine when Luca Fillipi’s car suddenly stopped in front of him entering the pits, plus they didn’t let him come close to catching the back of the pack under that yellow before they threw the green.
Q: How great is it that Conor Daly got a shot at Long Beach? I can’t imagine how tough it must have been to jump into a strange car, do 45 minutes of practice on reds for the first time, qualify, and then race so competitively and never put a wheel wrong. Watched your post-race interview a couple times – it must be hard to stay objective.
Conor’s situation reminds me a lot of Ryan Hunter-Reay a few years back. Remember how it seemed like he drove for every team in the paddock? How one deal would fall apart and he would line up another? The racing gods are cruel, but ultimately talent and drive have to win out. It sounds like Conor is going to bounce around some more this year; hopefully someone will sign him for a season. Look what happened with Hunter-Reay.
Lee Robie, Cincinnati
RM: What’s great is how CD responded to such challenging conditions. In a situation like that, a driver can either continue to plod along like that team or he can grab the thing by the throat like Daly did and impress the hell out of people. And he didn’t run the optional Firestones until qualifying. But the key is whether other owners were paying attention to this 23-year-old kid’s coming-out party. Coyne has Rodolfo Gonzalez in that car this weekend at Barber and it’s up for the highest bidder in the road race at IMS. Conor’s got a ride with SPM for the Indy 500 but he needs to be on the IMS road course, too – and I imagine for $50,000 he could be back in No. 18.
Q: I was surprised to hear that Conor Daly was racing with Rocky Moran’s seat. Isn’t a custom-fitted seat safer for the driver? For some reason, I thought IndyCar required every driver to have their own molded seat for that very reason. Was it once required and no longer required, or has it never been a rule at all?
Jeff Olney, Sweetwater, TX
RM: Never been a rule to my knowledge but, obviously, this was a unique situation and a last-minute deal. It’s about comfort and safety and Daly looked pretty comfortable didn’t he?
Q: Read your Scott Dixon piece and it’s a shame that the sports biggest stars (past and present) go unrecognized. I see it happen all the time at Long Beach. As much as there are plenty of diehards that attend Long Beach (myself included) the vast majority just goes for the party/spring break atmosphere and get more excited when the Formula Drift and SuperTrucks are out on the track than they do the actual IndyCar race.
Which begs the question, as much as street courses bring in large crowds, how many of these attendees are actually turning into followers of IndyCar? How much of them actually know or attempt to learn the history or its current star drivers? I’m not saying to get rid of historic Long Beach, heck this year was my 23rd year of attending. But are these large attendance numbers at street course events really a true gauge of who true IndyCar fans are?
RM: I said to longtime announcer Bruce Flanders on the track feed that I thought there were more hardcore open-wheel fans at Long Beach than anywhere else but Indianapolis. Yes, there’s a huge faction of young people that enjoy a few brews, the scenery, weather and Gordon’s sailing trucks but that’s not a bad thing, and I spend a lot of time talking to diehards from Riverside, Ontario, Ascot Park and Indy. It’s a nice mix and typical for a street race. But the fact Scott Dixon can walk down ANY street in the USA and not be recognized is a problem of promoting, marketing and IndyCar’s lack of visibility. If IndyCar was relying on only diehards attending its events, it would be running a six-race schedule. It needs the walk-ups who are there for a big event, not just racing, and Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach provides that.
Q: Long Beach was great – lots of sun and overall good racing! Maybe a bit more passing but it was Long Beach! Big-time Scott Dixon fan and I always get a little pissed he doesn’t get more credit. I know part of it is due to him being a laid-back, calm guy but I wish IndyCar would push him more: I don’t believe I have seen him in any of those Indy Rivals ads. All around great guy, always very friendly at the races and a great family guy with Emma (great interview!) and his little girls. The sky’s the limit and he’s only 34!
Second thing, when these guys break the new wings are the teams allowed to fix them or do they have to get a new one from the manufacturer? Looking forward to the rest of the year and hope to run into you at Indy quals and Newton!
Todd Dostal, Ely, IA
RM: Like Mario and Dario said, it’s a travesty that Dixon is such an unknown but it illustrates one of IndyCar’s biggest problems. Ryan Hunter-Reay is another faceless star (I had dinner with him a few weeks ago in Indianapolis and not one person approached him, said good luck or seemed to know what he did) and without TV ratings, TV commercials and better marketing, I don’t see that changing. On the flip side, Parnelli, A.J., Mario, Uncle Bobby and Dan are still recognized everywhere because of their stature in an era where a lot more of us cared and a great Indy driver was king. Teams can fix their own wings.
Q: First I want to say I am so happy the IndyCar season is back under way. I was so intrigued by aero kits but I also feared that Penske, Ganassi and Andretti would get the jump on everyone and the racing would suffer. For the most part this has come true as Penske and Ganassi have dominated. Andretti is a huge disappointment and that’s probably hurt Honda teams in general.
It’s great to have the intrigue like the past when Reynard and Lola and Penske and Swift had new cars and there were updated engines. My question is do the Honda teams have a chance to develop over the season and close the gap or is the Honda kit so inferior that it’s going to be impossible?
Graham Rahal seems to be the only consistent Honda runner, but even at Long Beach he looked like his car was evil and he could not pass. Also kudos to Conor Daly; what a great performance. He needs to be in a car full time.
In the spirit of competitive fairness, IndyCar should have allowed more testing and all the teams to get equal testing time with the new aero kits. Also they could have sorted out some of the issues before it is found in races.
Alan, Columbus, Ohio
RM: Nothing surprising about Penske and Ganassi getting the jump on everyone when development enters the arena. The previous three seasons were so competitive and unpredictable because teams weren’t allowed much testing or to do much, if anything, to the identical DW12s. But GM has the two strongest teams and it appears a nice edge in the aero kits so far. Maybe things will be different when the oval season begins (IMS test on May 3) but testing is limited. And its not like GM is miles ahead of Honda – it’s only a few tenths, but it seems like a larger spread at a road race. The aero kits were late in arriving (GM and Honda got a big curve ball when IndyCar mandated a hole in the floor AFTER the aero kit process was well underway) so there was no time for additional testing.
Graham has run better than his results show, for sure, and Marco Andretti had his best street course race in memory last Sunday.
Q: This week I’ll be taking my nephews (ages 6 and 7) to their first IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park. They went to last fall’s Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta and absolutely loved it. The boys really enjoyed walking through the Petit paddock and almost peed themselves when the Corvette C7.Rs drove past. This will be the first time I buy paddock passes for an IndyCar event (a bit ridiculous that they charge, but that’s a separate conversation); since we plan on getting to the track early in the morning, what do you recommend we look for, and/or which teams excel at publicly displaying their work (Mazda’s P2 team actually has a fan-walk into their garage tents)? Also, where would you recommend we stand for the race? No matter how enthralled the boys will be with the race, at their age they still need to be able to run around every so often. Thanks for the advice and looking forward to Barber!
RM: First off, spend at least an hour in the Barber museum, since it’s one of the best and take your camera. And the boys should enjoy the IndyCar Fan Zone (usually over by the museum) as well. But I think you’ll find the IndyCar paddock very accessible and friendly in general. Have the boys stop Hinch for a photo. The great thing about Barber is the spectator viewing – grassy hills with excellent vantage points everywhere, but walk around and see which ones you favor. Weather allowing, it’s a nice walk and honestly, you’re spoilt for choice for views – slower corners for passing zones (especially good for the support races), or faster corners to show your boys just how quick the Indy cars go.
Q: Is there some grudge, or situation, that causes SeaBass to always be on the “short” end of decisions on rulings? Is there still some anti-Champ Car attitude against him? A pattern seems pretty consistent over the last couple of years.
RM: I don’t think so, although it certainly seemed like it with that pathetic call in New Orleans qualifying.
Q: Good race when IndyCar needed to step up. I don’t know if you were able to catch Paul Tracy’s “I don’t know what to say” comment about Dracone’s “driving” at Long Beach. I was in tears laughing. What are the other driver’s impressions of Dracone? Not to single him out but it would be fun to discuss the Top 10 “Jam Cars” in CART/IRL/ChampCar/IndyCar history.
Mike, Avon, IN
RM: Oh yeah, I hear everything P.T. says and that was funny. Most of the drivers don’t think Dracone belongs in an Indy car (and certainly not in the Indy 500) but how can you stop him when Milk & Doughnuts was an Indy vet? My question is why would anyone want to be out there when you know nobody trusts you? I did the worst 20 drivers in Indy car history about a decade ago so maybe it’s time for an update. [Uh-oh…- Ed.]
Q: Running a season from x to y away from football sounds like people who don’t believe in their product. Problem I see is outside racing circles they have not worked hard to make races other than the Indy 500 irresistible. I like Long Beach and Sonoma but the casual fans usually know the “500” and watch it (sometimes) but not much else. They need to build interest in the other races as being important and must see. I don’t see that sentiment in running scared. That’s more like, ‘Let’s admit major sports defeat off the bat and run low-key races during baseball season.’ Needs to be more of a pride factor transmitted through marketing and such. Long Beach has been around 40 years and is a big deal. Pimp the product like it is.
RM: Good observation and exactly what Dan Gurney said in 1978 when he penned the White Paper. Sadly, it’s true today other than Long Beach and a couple others. And your premise about running scared is spot on. IndyCar is scared of the NFL but not The Masters or NBA Playoffs? Of course one of the main problems is the moving target, also known as the schedule, and there’s no date equity and no stability because of the inane length of the season. Fontana’s president, Dave Allen, was at Long Beach and he likes IndyCar racing but he’s had October, August and now June as a date. How in the hell can he make that work in L.A.?
Q: Recently on Australian TV they showed highlights of the 1964 and 1973 Indy 500s. it was interesting to see all the names you often mention in your articles for the first time. My question is did you get to have any of mother Unser’s chili?
Mark Scriven, Brisbane, Australia
RM: Oh yeah. They rushed me to the Hanna infield medical facility with third degree burns.
[ABOVE: 1973 Indy 500 fourth row (right to left) Peter Revson, eventual winner Gordon Johncock and NASCAR ace Bobby Allison on his Indy debut].
Q: Would IndyCar ever consider paying points only to the top 12? I chose that number because that’s how many cars make the second round of qualifying. It would put a premium on some of the places in the race other than the podium. That can add excitement to other places in the championship fight as well. If they’re willing to take a swing that drastic at things then I can see leaving cars parked on the side of the road so to speak.
Ryan, Western Michigan
RM: I imagine it’s something that could be considered since the points have been all over the board the past 50 years. I always liked just paying the top 10 in the race and maybe a couple for the pole. Why should anybody get points for finishing 20th?
Q: Another May approaching and I have race tickets, Bronze badge, and Glamping plans sealed for the Indy 500. Should be a great month away from Alaska. Still have my issues with the lack of TV coverage up here, but I did get the Long Beach qualification coverage. I signed on to watch T/S and there it was. Don’t get me wrong, I like Paul Page and Davey Hamilton, but they seriously need to take lessons from the F1 crew. Why don’t they keep track of what is going on in detail? They keep going off into discussions about racing in general when they should be reporting the times and speeds of the cars on track. I got much more info just following the T/S, but it was out of sync with the video. Is the F1 broadcast team just that much better, or is it the feed that the IndyCar booth gets that much worse.
RM: Not sure what kind of feed Paul and Davey get during the streaming so that could determine what they’re talking about. And you indicated the lack of being in synch with the picture, whereas the NBCSN group is much more of a polished product, as you would expect.
Q: Just finished watching your video on The RACER Channel with Dan Gurney and his gorgeously restored ’67 Indy Eagle! OMG! Can we please go back to that body style instead of what we have today? No wings, just gorgeous-shaped body, that awesome motor out back! Thanks for the near five-minute interview, wish it could have been 10 times as long! Was so cool listening to Dan talk about that car, his dad helping with the overall design! I’m a little concerned though, as Dan was joking about his “pump” not starting as well! Know he’s turned 84 – the 80s are the ages when our bodies start crapping out on us!
Tony Mezzacca, Madison, N.J.
RM: It was a cool day because Parnelli showed up along with Dario and we spent an hour looking at the car and discussing its heritage. Justin Gurney gave his dad the greatest birthday present and Dan was really moved. As for The Big Eagle’s health, he looked and sounded great so I think he was just making a joke about oil pressure. He’s a national treasure. I think he said his dad helped with the Eagle’s nose design. Thanks for watching.
Q: Loved your video with Dan Gurney and his 1967 Eagle. Do you have any update on the status of his autobiography?
Rick Johnson, Lynnwood, WA
RM: I asked Evi Gurney and she’s got all the text finished so now it sounds like a matter of deciding how many books. Gurney the racer and Gurney the car builder are both great stories so I’m hoping we get one of them by 2016.
Q: It totally amazes me how Simona is the best Andretti driver so far this year and she can’t get a full-time ride. What’s wrong with this picture? This is disgusting and IndyCar will be dead in five years. There should be several companies willing to sponsor her. I could see a shampoo company doing a commercial with her saying, “My hair gets so dirty after the Indy 500 and only this shampoo can make my hair look good.” You get the picture, imagine what other female product advertising could come up with. She’s a marketing bonanza just waiting to happen.
RM: I’m just glad Michael and his people found the funding to get her in a car this season but it says a lot about the series’ challenges when the person who is fourth in points after two races doesn’t have a ride for the second-biggest race of the year. I understand she’s not an American but she’s become very popular, so you would hope some international company would align with the Swiss Miss. But it’s all about TV ratings, exposure, marketing, attendance and right now IndyCar isn’t that appealing.
Q: I will adopt a completely different approach from what I anticipate will be most readers’ take on the New Orleans race and, as Dr. John sings, “accentuate the positive,” so here it is: During Friday’s afternoon rain about 20 spectators, including a mother with a baby in a stroller, just went under the Target/Ganassi tent to seek shelter. While the crew appeared initially apprehensive, everyone behaved, and 25 minutes later, one of Chip’s crewmen was pointing out features on the racecars! Very classy and appreciated. Many drivers were crowd friendly, and I could tell brand-new race fans by their looks of absolute joy when they were able to get photos and autographs from their heroes. Praise particularly to Juan Montoya & Helio (who constantly went to the front of Penske’s paddock area to mingle with fans), Simona de Silvestro, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato and Simon Pagenaud in this regard.
MEMO TO CORPORATE SPONSORS: Please re-read paragraphs 1 & 2 (above) when you are contemplating your 2016 advertising budgets! The food near the Family Fun Village was superb, with 4 different kinds of crawfish, 2 different kinds of shrimp, catfish, cafe au lait with beignets, etc. The bands constantly playing were very good & included numerous Grammy award nominees/winners. This was more important given the numerous cancellations of on-track activities. The racing, or at least the little bit that was under green, was exciting, and the sightlines, as previously reported, were vast.
David Lind, Alexandria, LA
RM: Good to hear all those things, David, it’s what makes fans want to come back (in the sun, of course). I’ve always known IndyCar drivers (and NHRA) were a lot more fan friendly and available than NASCAR and, of course, F1.
Q: What is the deal with Global Rallycross and IndyCar teams? I mean, I can see Andretti and Ganassi in it as they field multi racing programs usually with a factory-backed deal (VW & Ford resp.) and maybe “Sulli” from KV because he is a born hustler. But come on, Herta and Dreyer & Reinbold? On the IndyCar side, one can barely field one car with a pay driver (and no funds/pay driver for a second Indy entry) and other is now (maybe) an Indy 500-only team. But both have press releases of new GRC teams, fully sponsored with drivers and cars to be announced (and with Buddy Rice for D&R!).
Is this what it has come to – sponsors throwing money at GRC and shunning IndyCar? Are these teams planning to fund their IndyCar team with GRC money? Are they going to do a Penske/Ganassi value-added sponsor tactic that you get double exposure with two race series (as they do with the NASCAR and IndyCar teams) or are they covering their collective asses by having their foot in the door of a growing series, with a good TV package and a demographic that sponsors can’t ignore so that when the powers-that-be at IndyCar (who should take lessons from whomever is running GRC) run that series in the ground they still have a viable/valuable race program?
Victor Martino, San Jose, CA
RM: Well, Gabby Chaves brought some money from winning the Indy Lights title but Bryan found the rest of the funding so it’s not like a Coyne situation. As for GRC, here’s what Hertamania has to say: “They’ve got a great TV package and some great things going so we were able to get Kobalt Tools and Castrol as sponsors.” It would be nice to see a GRC round inside Pocono or Fontana in 2016 to entertain the fans during the down time. And good to see Buddy Rice has a ride because he’s still a youngster.
Q: Does IndyCar have a cut-off qualifying percentage to keep drivers that are too slow from starting the race? At this level there should be no moving chicanes to alter the outcome of the race.
My second question has nothing to do with the race but who decides which no-talent teen heartthrob of the moment gets to attempt to sing the National Anthem? The bozos who sing at the majority of sporting events all think they must add their own inimitable styling to the way the music was originally written. To an old geezer like me, this shows a lack of respect for our country, our flag and the men and women who have served and are serving our country. Please, just have a recorded version of a good band playing the correct notes and at the correct tempo would suffice, like they do for the F1 podium ceremonies. Maybe IndyCar could establish a trend. End of rant.
Thanks for helping to keep the IndyCar flame going. In spite of all of the bungling at the top, the racing product is second to none.
RM: Yep, there’s the 107 percent rule and even Dracone managed to stay inside of it at Long Beach. As for your rant, there’s only one Steven Tyler and he wasn’t available for Long Beach.
Q: I read your piece in the aftermath of that NOLA disaster of a race and agree with what you said wholeheartedly. I was watching the race and turned it off after what must have been the fifth caution. While conditions were deplorable, the driving by the so-called best in the business was amateurish and embarrassing to say the least. The moves that they were attempting in the rain were difficult in the dry and the kind of thing I would see when I ran Pro Mazda in 2004 when they had 16-year-old kids driving in the series.
IndyCar did no favors for itself. I was initially enthusiastic about them going to New Orleans, but the date they chose was, again the product of poor thinking by those in charge at IndyCar. It RAINS a lot in New Orleans in the spring people! DUH. Further, as nice as NOLA is for SCCA, et al, it has no business being a host of an IndyCar weekend. The facility is not developed for professional racing at the highest level and trying to make it so is futile unless you are going to spend millions. Further, the location and featureless track are not becoming of a top-flight facility.
That said, I blame the teams/drivers for this as they did not exercise good judgment in how they approached green flag driving after those yellows. It was amateur hour out there and a black eye for IndyCar.
Emmett M. Murphy, Dallas, Texas
RM: When you piecemeal a schedule together because everything has to be crammed into five months, you get what happened at NOLA. Maybe in time it could be built into a first-class facility and catch on with the general public and be run at an optimum time. But it needs more money spent for sand traps, etc. Not sure track owner Laney Chouest ever wanted to do more than drive his sports cars on the track so he’ll likely need more incentive to make upgrades. But it’s not his fault it was a last-minute mess run in the rain.
Q: I am a fan of racing. I grew up thinking an open-wheel car was a dirt modified. I love full-bodied cars. Notice I do not call them stock cars. I wish NASCAR was still stock cars. But to get to my point, us fans that like watching cars chase each other in circles need to bite our lips for a while. We all have grievances of our chosen form of racing. However the sport as a whole is struggling because one simple fact…there is no money. We need to just be glad that cars are making it to the track.
One day the sun will be shining and owners will be placing talented drivers in seats instead of letting daddies buy them for their kids. One day there will be money for innovation and the sanctioning bodies will allow it. One day race fans will be able to drive 30 minutes to a local track and see more than 12 cars. Race fans, we must unite and show appreciation for racing in general or it is going to die.
I am not saying put a supercross jump in the backstretch at Indy but just don’t bash other forms of legitimate racing. Us guys that like watching sleds race in circles can say something about a series racing in parking lots to counter your cries of taxi racing but it needs to quit until the money starts rolling again. NOLA was disastrous, just the same as the tire fiasco at the Brickyard for NASCAR was but there were still cars on the track. Let’s just be fans of racing for a while and when all our neighbors have jobs, let’s start complaining again.
Robin, I always read your Mailbag and hate reading long posts, therefore I just gave you one.
Dennis, Bristol, VA
RM: Not that long and spot on. All of racing seems to be struggling so we probably should be thankful we’ve got 24 Indy cars, a gaggle of sports cars, late models everywhere and midgets and sprints scattered across the country.
You also nailed it: without money there isn’t going to be innovation and until more manufacturers get back involved, nothing is going to change. If Ford had come back to IndyCar instead of going to Le Mans, who knows what changes might await?
Q: After reading the deluge of emails after the NOLA race a lot of recurring, and predictable, issues were identified. Specifically:
– Another scheduled date chosen by the series that is at odds with all local common wisdom; result: impossible weather and low turnout by the locals.
– New track; good intentions; some possibility of a good outcome; poor promotion by the series; result: embarrassingly small crowds for a “major” event.
– We are three races into the shortened 16-race schedule and several teams still don’t have a set lineup: result: this greatly impacts credibility for the series and impacts promotion.
As long as IndyCar maintains the current model with Mark Miles in control, this is going to be a situation of ever-decreasing returns. So you have to wonder, as a businessman, what is the defined end game that they are pursuing if they are doing so little to promote their product and make it successful? Will they simply continue unabated to eventual bankruptcy? Or are they trying to diminish the value of the series prior to selling it to a third party? Admittedly neither option makes any sense from an external observer’s viewpoint but the actions of the IndyCar management team show no indication of any plan other than a reduction in the presence of the series, playing at smaller venues to ever-smaller crowds.
The “IndyCar 2018” series of articles were interesting and informative, offering many intriguing ideas on how this series can evolve, and thrive, in the future. They have demonstrated that there are many potential opportunities and that there are many people (from fans, to drivers, to team-owners, to academics) with viable solutions for the current downturn. (Not to mention input from the number of intelligent, engaged fans writing to you each week.)
The disheartening thing is that these articles were initiated by RACER and not by the management of IndyCar/IMS. That, and the fact that we have to witness the regime of Mr. Miles in their current “do-nothing” mode as the series diminishes year over year when there are obvious solutions to many of these issues.
Royal M. Richardson, Chester, NH
RM: You raise good points and a very logical question: the end game? Trying to get a couple of races in Europe or Asia or wherever might help IndyCar’s bottom line, but it does nothing for the series’ profile or television ratings or awareness over here. I can’t imagine selling it because it has little value outside the Indy 500. Bankruptcy can’t be an option either (not when you borrow $100 million). A short season and a gypsy schedule is killing the series and I worry that many of you fans have more passion and knowledge than the decision makers (although Miles did have one of the IndyCar 2018 authors in tow at Long Beach). My other concern is that Miles doesn’t seem to listen to anyone outside his inner circle.