Robin Miller's Mailbag for April 29, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for April 29, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for April 29, 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, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

Q: By far best race of the year. Fighting for position all over the place. Joseph and Sarah Fisher are a great feel-good story. When was the last time two Americans finished 1-2 on a road course? What was Power thinking? Graham showing us what we had been hoping for a long time.
Joe Mullins

RM: A year ago at Barber, Ryan Hunter-Reay won and Marco Andretti ran second, while it was RHR and Newgarden 1-2 at Iowa last year. Not sure if Will’s spotter told him to go for it or he acted on his own.

Q: I just have to say, what a great race we had at Barber. I’m obviously delighted for Josef Newgarden to win his first Indy Car race, as I’m sure a lot of people are, but he could have ran out of fuel on the last lap and we’d still have come away with a feel-good factor. For all the concerns about passing ability in these new high-downforce cars, Barber gave us one hell of a race.

I think the racing quality could vary a lot from track to track. Perhaps Barber shows the new aero kits are better in terms of passing at the higher speed tracks? The tight twisty stuff at the likes of St. Pete might be where the new aero kits limit passing most? Time will tell, of course.

As a person who’s always been skeptical of having a race in stereotypical NASCAR-land, I have to say I’ve been proven 100% wrong. It’s arguably the best non-oval course on the schedule and should be cherished, and there should be more events like Barber.

Back to Newgarden’s win, he has got me thinking. Who do you think will be the next American IndyCar champion? (Excluding if RHR won it again, which he won’t do until Honda are truly equal of Chevy again).
Dan Bruce

RM: The storyline Sunday seemed to be the fact it was more of a tire race than anything else and that evened things up for Honda. I’m with you on racing in Alabama. When they announced IndyCar was heading south to race 40 miles from Talladega, I predicted a box office disaster and, thankfully, I was wrong. Behind Indy and Long Beach, Barber is probably #3 on the schedule in terms of attendance (depending on whether Mid-Ohio has a double-header with sports cars). It’s also a first-class facility and I wish the folks at ZOOM promoted the whole IndyCar season. The drivers and teams love going there and the racing has been superb the past three years. If Josef keeps improving his oval craft and Graham keeps reverting back to form, one of them.

Q: In my last letter to the Mailbag after the NOLA race, I mentioned that IndyCar owes me a Sunday afternoon. And now I would like to personally thank Josef and Graham for delivering that afternoon to me. That was one of THE best races I have ever seen! I invited a gal over to my house to watch and prior to the race she said she was just going to do some work from the couch. That work was not very productive because she couldn’t keep her eyes off the TV and I think she was more excited than me! The commentary from the booth was energizing and really added a lot of value and insight to me and my new IndyCar fan. Congratulations to Josef on his first win and Graham for showing us his true racing potential!
T.J. Spitzmiller

RM: I think anybody that’s an IndyCar fan appreciated the intensity of the race almost as much as the result. After a couple of turkeys, IndyCar needed it and hopefully May features more of the same.

Q: What a race! Probably the best that I have seen in two years. Kudos to architect Alan Wilson and owner George Barber for putting together one of the best events on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar. Barber was already one of my favorite races of the season but it jumped up a couple of spots after Sunday. The track beats the hell out of tires, which promotes great racing and passing opportunities. It had it all – wheel-to-wheel white-knuckle racing, great driving, tons of passing and guess what? Race Control got every call right in my opinion. They got the Coletti call right after he punted Jakes, and called Power after he crossed over the apex on Sato exiting the pits. (Hilarious Power said “What is the drive-through for?” and, “Typical.”) They let Montoya race Kimball and Karam race Hunter-Reay hard and did not call penalties in both of those instances where they were definitely racing incidents. I’ve been very critical of TGBB but they got this race right…finally.

Great to see two Americans 1-2, and finally Newgarden gets his long overdue win. After two lackluster events to start the season, the last two have made up for it and then some. Can’t wait for the GP of Indy.
Josh, Cabot, Pa.

RM: Barber was built for motorcycles and is the perfect size for Pro Mazda cars but it’s become a showcase for Indy cars. If we could just get them to lengthen that run down to Turn 5 and add a wide hairpin like Brazil, it could be even better. Don’t give TGBB too much blame or credit for Race Control these days, it’s a committee and Sunday they let everyone race. For the record, Power went down and apologized to Sato after the race.

 


 

Q: First, a comment: an surprisingly excellent race at ‘Bama, as well as NBC’s telecast. The unexpected addition of Matchett really helped the gearheads. Your interviews weren’t too bad, either – what’s happened to your Grid Run? Please, IMS, violate your Indy 500 ABC contract and give it to NBC.

Secondly, why wasn’t Helio penalized for that wheel nut clanging across pit road? At least a drive-through. That was a tort trying to happen. Imagine a car hitting and flinging that into the audience. Worse than running over an air hose. Perhaps it isn’t a violation?

Finally, the money issue. Casino slots at racetracks! It saved horse racing, providing larger purses for entrants. Imagine a casino in the infield at IMS. Beats some silly rock concert idea, attracts fans year-round, raises purses, increases monies for improvements, pay for that ABC contract, etc. I’d allow betting on the cars. Has anyone entertained this idea? Your thoughts?

BTW, does anyone care to bet on cars in Vegas?
O. Hibbard

RM: A penalty of that nature wouldn’t be until Wednesday after the race and right now IndyCar is looking into a possible problem with the nuts (god, is that ironic). Randy Bernard looked into pari-mutual wagering but was dissuaded by the H-G camp. When Indy cars (and F1) ran at Caesar’s Palace, there wasn’t much betting action but, to your point, if there were betting windows at Iowa, Fontana, Barber, Detroit, etc., I think it would be popular. And you could take a rake off the total handle and throw it in the purse. Remember this: the NFL wouldn’t be nearly as big if you couldn’t bet on the games. Pre-race shows are tighter this year so Grid Run is in mothballs.

Q: Finally a great IndyCar race. After watching the “Broken Wings Grand Prix” at St. Pete, I was disappointed. But Barber was like the old days. Which begs the question: Did it really take ’till the fourth race of the season to shake the off-season rust? No matter because we got to see wheel-to-wheel racing return, including some banging and even running guys off the track. It seemed like everything we wanted came into play. Tires, fuel, but more importantly the drivers deciding the outcome.

How about the Graham Rahal doing his Ayrton Senna impression and almost catching the Newgarden at the end? To see the American little guys finish one-two ahead of the mega-teams is just what IndyCar needed. And let’s not forget the NBCSN broadcast team who did their usual outstanding job. Diffey is the best play-by-play man, while Townsend Bell never misses a beat and Steve Matchett has a genuine excitement covering IndyCar.
Rick Schneider, Charlotte

RM: I think when you only have 16 races and a couple of tests combined with seven months off, there is quite a bit of rust (especially when you consider A.J., Parnelli and Mario ran 50-60 USAC races a year). And some people misinterpret what I mean when I say how important it is to have American winners and stars. Having Josef, Graham, Marco, Charlie and Sage up front is what it’s going to take to get IndyCar back on sports pages and television shows. IndyCar fans embrace Kanaan, Dixon, Helio, Power, JPM, Hinch and Pagenaud but Americans also need to be passionate about American drivers and that can only happen if they’re winning.

Q: Barber was a most enjoyable race to watch. It is moving up my list of must-see races. The Barber race has grown into, (what looks like on TV) a well-attended, top-shelf event with lots of action and multiple strategies. Do the drivers enjoy this event? They seem pretty racy. Would it be possible to start a season at Barber? If NOLA is able to evolve into a weekend like Barber, then IndyCar maybe has found a recipe for success. I was disappointed that NBCSN was not able to interview Sarah or Ed after the race.
Mike, Avon, Ind.

RM: The drivers LOVE driving Barber because it’s fast and flowing and they also seem to like the Barber management as well as the fans. Not sure you could start the season in Alabama and I know they like their April date but I damn sure hope IndyCar can figure out how to package New Orleans (if it stays) and Barber without running to California in between. That’s hell for the teams. NBCSN tries to get as many of the main players as possible, it just depends on the window and we were up against the NHL playoffs.

Q: Short and sweet – Barber was a FANTASTIC and exciting race. NASCAR does not even begin to come close to IndyCar.
Fred Kurtz

RM: No it doesn’t but, unfortunately, that’s not what the TV numbers say.


 

Q: After Round 4 at Barber, it seems that most people still believe that Chevy’s aero kit is still the one to beat, with maybe the Honda kit being easier on the rear tires. My question is why did Honda not leverage its relationship with McLaren and have them design their aero kit, or at least consult on it? I know Honda had a prior relationship with Wirth, but I can’t believe that reliance on just CFD, as I have read Wirth relies on exclusively, is wise when McLaren has a state-of-the-art wind tunnel and some of the best engineers, designers, and aerodynamicists in the world. Would cost have been an issue? I can’t imagine that it would have been that much more since McLaren has entire divisions that rely on consulting, so their costs have to be at least somewhat comparable.

I think the moral of this saga is that while great strides have been made with computers and CFD, wind tunnel work is still necessary when developing aero on chassis. Like the recent proposal by Christian Horner at Red Bull to ban wind tunnels and rely on CFD which was met with universal dissent – if Formula 1 can’t make CFD work unassisted, then I doubt it would be wise to rely on it for IndyCar.

Too early to say that Honda’s kit is not competitive, especially when the oval kit has yet to be seen, but for now it’s not looking good for Wirth’s open-wheel, CFD-only design reputation.
Ryan in Dallas

RM: That’s a good question, Ryan, and I imagine cost could have been a factor (although each manufacturer spent roughly $5 million apiece) but here’s all I know: When it was announced Nick Wirth was going to be in charge of the Honda aero kits, I got several emails from F1 folks wondering why Honda would go with him, considering his aero track record. (his 2015 Honda LMP2 car had to go back to the drawing board). Honda drivers are hoping the oval-track kit closes the gap, which is only a few tenths on road and street circuits, so it’s not insurmountable.

Q: I hardly imagine that I’m the only one saying this for this week’s Mailbag, but this past Sunday was a race that IndyCar and the IndyCar community desperately needed. It was damned good to see two of the most highly touted American drivers take to the top two steps of the podium (especially with Graham driving his ass off old-school style), Captain America cracking into the top 5, and Honda finally not looking so desperately behind Chevrolet. I doubt if I’ve been this excited watching a race on TV since last year’s Indy 500.

The question for me is: I suspect that Chevrolet will probably continue to ride roughshod over Honda on the road and street courses, so A) can you make any guess as to how well Honda might close the gap by season’s end, and B) do you think Honda might be hiding an ace up its sleeve with the superspeedway aero package? Also, any further word on this rumored street race in Boston, or has it gone quiet?
Garrett in San Diego

RM: Judging by the Mailbag, personal emails, texts and phone calls, I’d say this was the most popular IndyCar race since T.K. won Indy. My understanding is that Honda has three areas in the aero kits it can explore but has to be given permission by IndyCar. I think Marshall Pruett will have all this information in greater detail later this week and Honda supposedly has an upgraded engine for Indianapolis. Honda’s a proud bunch and never stays down for long. Boston is still on, from what I’ve heard.

Q: We finally got to see a proper race with the aero kits. I may have overreacted a little from St. Pete, but I think the racing at Barber did suffer a bit because of the aero kits. The reason I think we still saw an outstanding race was due to the tire fall-off. That said, it was different for different teams and manufacturers, so I’m totally OK with that.

But the big thing I want to talk about isn’t Newgarden’s win (it was awesome and a long time coming), but the best Sunday driver in the field right now. How about some huge props to Graham Rahal? I haven’t seen the stats yet, but I’d hazard a guess that he has more on-track overtakes than any other driver this year and it isn’t even close. Now if only he didn’t stink on Saturday.
Ryan in West Michigan

RM: It was a tire race and a strategy race (Rahal opted to go off sequence so he could run flat out at the end while Josef stayed the course as the race leader and it made for a dramatic finish) but a couple of the Hondas (Graham and Hinch) also seemed to deal better with the heat. You are spot on about Rahal – he passed five cars in two laps at the start of St. Pete and was heading for a top 5 when he tapped Kimball and got a penalty. He was headed for another top 5 at New Orleans before all the cautions and he’s definitely the leader in passing points so far in 2015. But he qualified eighth last weekend (the fastest Honda) so that’s not stinking.


 

Q: “Wow, Wow, Wow,” to quote Steve Matchett (great to have him onboard for this race), but now THIS was a PROPER IndyCar race at Barber! THIS kind of race is what the series has been lacking of late, is capable of putting on! Very racy from the git-go, there was a lot of skill at the wheels through the field being shown throughout the race (some bonehead maneuvers too)! How could this not keep your attention the entire race? I know it did mine!

Congrats to Josef Newgarden on his first series victory! And props to Graham Rahal as well, for putting on quite the show in the closing laps of the race, I was kind of hoping there’d have been a few more laps left when Graham took second, then we’d really have seen an showdown between the two young Americans!

Hopefully, the general media will take notice of this race – have to see if the tie-in to USA Today does some good in spreading the word! Props as well to the people at Barber for a gorgeous facility, one of the best natural terrain road courses in this country!

Do you feel Honda has now closed the gap to the Chevy boys ahead of the month of May and the most important race of the year for the teams, the Indy 500?
Tony Mezzacca, Madison, N.J.

RM: Buying space in USA Today has been IndyCar’s best PR move in a long time and that’s what sponsors want to see. Based on Barber qualifying, Chevy still has a nice advantage but, with the temps climbing on Sunday, it obviously played into Honda’s strengths (more on that from Marshall Pruett soon). We’ll hopefully know more about the ovals after this Sunday’s IMS test.

Q: Did you see the tweet from David Ragan on how he thought IndyCar is uncompetitive and not exciting? How insecure are the guys in the fender series? Has he seen the last four years of IndyCar races and the Indy 500? It’s been some of the best racing on the planet. I’m a fan of all racing but these cheap shots make me want to turn the stock car series off.
Roland Newrones

RM: I heard about it but I can promise you that Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch don’t feel that way about IndyCar. Who cares what David Ragan thinks about anything?

Q: Why do IndyCar officials continue issuing rules and penalties that take away from the racing? The race was exciting with some wheel rubbing, banzai moves and good aggressive driving. I am fed up with these penalties for avoidable contact, lifting your visor in the pits, blocking, etc. (I’m not talking about moves like Power’s.) They are doing everything they can to make it a weekend parade.
Justin, Denver, Colo.

RM: I thought IndyCar let the boys play last Sunday but I guess street races require more policing. I’d prefer the drivers police themselves but I suppose that’s too 1960s.

Q: It’s always a thrill to watch a driver get their first win. Super happy for Josef, Sarah, Andy, Ed, Wink and the rest of that team. Josef was so locked in; amazing that he passed Dixon, Pagenaud, and Power on the first lap, and Castroneves and numerous others during the race. He’s driving with so much confidence, and this will only make him stronger.

Overall, I thought Barber was a very interesting race. Besides a new American winner, there was passing all over, different strategies, Honda and Chevy evenly matched in the top 10, and off course Graham Rahal’s stirring drive. Super entertaining.

But I’m trying to understand the criteria for penalties for contact. It appeared that Power never saw Sato, but he took him out and therefore was penalized. Rahal hit Power from behind: wasn’t that avoidable? What about Montoya slamming into Kimball twice? Is it that you can hit a car and even knock parts off of it, as long as you don’t spin him out?
Lee Robie, Cincinnati

RM: What I loved was the way Josef grabbed the race by the throat from the first lap on and never let go. And he was adamant in victory lane that’s how he wanted to win his first race. No harm and no foul on those calls, just hope there’s consistency down the road in the same circumstances.

Q: WOW! That…was…AWESOME! Newgarden’s first win. Rahal driving like a madman past the biggest names in the series. Power starting up front, dropping to the back and charging back to the front. Hunter-Reay scratching and clawing his way to fifth. That was as good as it gets in any form of racing. Anyone who didn’t enjoy that race should just start watching figure skating.

But of course Race “Control” gives us something to complain about. How could they penalize Hunter-Reay at NOLA and not penalize Karam at Barber for almost exactly the same incident? How could they penalize Power for slamming into Sato (which was the right call) and not penalize some of the other drivers playing bumper cars? I realize “avoidable contact” is a judgment call but where is the consistency? I thought the committee setup of Race Control would bring more consistency but apparently not.
Blake in Flower Mound, Texas

RM: I’d like to think that Barber’s narrow confines were taken into consideration on those contacts because only Will’s was race-changing.


 

Q: After this weeks huge win by “Joey” Newgarden & the runner-up finish of Graham Rahal, I am sure the crack PR staff of IndyCar will at least flood cities around the Midwest featuring all six of the American starters in Sunday’s race with a billboard campaign to stir interest in these Young Guns. Make JPM & Will the Bad Guys; should not be hard in Power’s case, and create a friendly rivalry. Young females will respond to the young faces of all six and maybe it will bring “fence hangers” back to the tracks! Certainly will create more interest than Glamping and other promotions of the recent past.

Could you picture a handlebar mustache and black hat on JPM and the six smiley faces that are our young American bad assets! Jordan Speith has helped the PGA Tour bring car loads of young beautiful girls to his gallery of hopefuls to events he plays, and IndyCar needs to show the faces of our young American stars. Since Conor & Bryan Clauson should make the show at Indy, include them, now we have eight young stars (sorry Ed, but a wife and beautiful young children just are not right for this promotion!) Well I digress, and guess what? Since the same-o-same old is working so well, why try something new!
Just Another Old Know-It-All

RM: IndyCar does need a couple of Tracy/Bourdais-type rivalries and JPM is a natural as Black Bart but Andretti-Rahal plays better. As for promoting the drivers, IndyCar needs to follow NASCAR’s lead with national TV spots that show the personalities.

Q: We just watched the best IndyCar race of the year from Barber. So much for the “you can’t pass there” naysayers. Wow. Also, while I missed PT, it was great to hear Matchett in the booth. The NBC crew is deep!

My question has to do with broadcast choices. What is the fascination with pit stops? I get it when the leaders come in or when a key position is being decided in the pits. But so often we watch someone completely out of contention (I decided to write this during Hawksworth’s last pit stop at Barber) pit while there is incredible action on the track. Do you guys ever talk about “picking your spots” when it comes to showing stops?
Tom Hinshaw

RM: I believe one of the reasons to try and show at least one pit stop from everyone is to try and get their sponsors some airtime but it seems like we only mention pit stops near the end, unless it involves leaders or a problem.

Q: That was a cracking race, as Matchett might say! As someone who also watches F1, I enjoy seeing Indy cars on road courses – that was an entertaining race. Throw in standing starts next year and we’d have it all.

It was a thing of beauty to see Graham Rahal channel his inner P.T., Zanardi and Hamilton and barge his way past his competitors. I think he raced Hinch hard but fair and their relative finishing positions after the last round of stops showed what controlled aggression can do for you!

Honestly, with a well-deserved first W for Newgarden (who I have in my RPM racing pool) coupled with Rahal’s exciting drive and Honda’s resurgence, the race was great. It was nice to see the smaller teams fight it out with The Captain and the Chipster. Just not sure where Juan (el Gordo) was? Townsend was recalling some stats about Juan’s abysmal road race finishes, but forgot one thing – Juan won a lot of races in F1 and it was the only time has competitive in tin-tops, so you can’t say he is not a road racer. Game on, Indy!
Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, B.C., Canada

RM: That’s been the beauty of IndyCar the past couple years – it hasn’t just been a Ganassi & Penske benefit but rather an unpredictable mix. Two small teams merging and a one-car team running 1-2 with two AMERICAN drivers is exactly what IndyCar needed. Especially since it was looking like a Penske runaway a couple weeks ago. As for JPM, he struggled most of the Barber weekend and in practice at NOLA but we all know what he can do on a road course and I think Townsend was just pointing out how disappointed Montoya was with his road racing performance in 2014.

Q: After last week I realized I shouldn’t send in comments or criticisms until coffee has been ingested. But onto Barber. What a race! Was afraid a track not known for passing would lead to a processional race. Glad to have been completely wrong. Great racing from the outset and through the final laps. Really happy to see all around nice guy Josef Newgarden finally get that first W. Coyne’s drivers were still a menace to the field all weekend. Who do you think he has in the #18 & #19 for Indy? Biggest surprise of the race to me was Rahal. Do you think Honda is back in the picture competitively or was it just the rear tire wear being less of an issue than on the Chevys?
George the Grump, Gainesville, Fla.

RM: I wrote that James Davison will be in one of those Coyne cars for the Indy 500 and the team is hoping Conor Daly gets to run the road course race, but I think Katherine Legge is also in the picture for May 24. I think it was the higher temps, Honda’s downforce in the rear and Graham and Hinch nailing the setup.

Q: What a great race Barber was. Any chance that Road America and COTA gets on the 2016 schedule?
Brian Lautzenhiser, Wooster, Ohio

RM: I think they’ve both got a better chance than Cleveland.

Q: Not too impressed with the racing so far but the body kits, as weird as they look, got my attention. Barber has done it again, great racing as a build-up to Indy.

A question/request you pass to IndyCar: when a car radio plays, I would like to know who it is, and when showing two/three cars going at, show times! But I was a fan saying IndyCar is dead, not watching Dixon at Long Beach, and the racing at Barber! Can’t wait for Indy road and 500! By the way, IndyCar is not dead, thank you, gentlemen.
Paul A.

RM: NBCSN gets the random transmissions and then tries to turn them around (they have a four-second delay for obvious reasons) as smoothly as possible but it’s tricky.

Q: I attended both the NOLA and Barber races. Like many of your readers, I was not pleased with the race at NOLA. This past weekend at Barber I asked some of the participants what their opinion was of the NOLA facility. The response was uniformly positive. Are these insiders toeing the party line or I am missing something? Is NOLA one and done like the street race in LV?
David, Waxhaw, N.C.

RM: I think they all loved driving at NOLA (in the dry) but unless NOLA makes the improvements IndyCar wants, I doubt it returns.

 


 

Q: Respecting your opinion and comments, I have paid attention to Sage Karam a bit. His style reminds me of an early David Coulthard who attacked the corners while braking at the absolute latest he thought his skill could muster. Caused a slow exit compared to his peers at the highest level. Do you think Sage could benefit from the same advice the wise ‘ol Scot Jackie Stewart told David after observing him for a spell that helped him have the success he had? Brake a wee bit earlier, set the car up for the apex and carry the speed? I think he has the skill set to do it… but he may be on muscle memory this late in his already long career as a driver. Entertaining to watch, though.

Can you please ask JPM to cinch up the championship at Pocono, (where he won last year), so he can let loose and let us see the dazzling JPM of F1 or qualifying days at Sonoma… a track where he won in a 3400-pound car (how hard can it be in a 1575lbs)? It would be such a treat to see him race without any pressure what so all except safety to the fans and fellow competitors.
Brett Fischer

RM: Interesting observation. Dario (who as you know is a protégé of JYS) is a big fan of Sage and his driver coach. The kid is still plenty young enough (20) to learn new tricks, if needed. He qualified well at Barber and just needs laps because he’s got all the tools. I told him flying back from Long Beach that rookies in the old days got four or five years to settle in but now everyone wants instant results. Let’s give him a couple years to learn his craft. As for JPM, not sure we’ll ever see the same swashbuckler we did in 1999 and 2000 but he’s still plenty racy and not bashful about feeding someone a wheel.

Q: Hey Miller, I was playing golf last Sunday afternoon at the Speedway and whom did I spot across the fairway? IndyCar boss Mark Miles. Wasn’t there a race in Alabama? Seems like the guy who reduced the season to six months could actually show up for 16 races.
Snap Hook (don’t want to lose my Indy tickets), Speedway

RM: I didn’t see him all weekend so I hope he broke 90. Maybe he was closing a title sponsor deal for the 100th Indianapolis 500. Or needed some rest after three straight races.

Q: What a race! I don’t know what was more exciting, watching Josef run up front all day to the win or hearing hard core F1 aficionado Steve Matchett lose his cool yelling at Graham “GO SON GO!!” with five laps to go. If a race can get that kind of response from Matchett what else can you ask for? With everything the drivers were saying about the quick corners at NOLA during testing I can’t help but wonder what that race would have been like minus the rain.
John in Arkansas

RM: I think Steve is a fan of good racing and he got plenty of it last Sunday (plus, how often does he get to see that kind of overtaking in F1?) and he was genuinely excited. I think NOLA might have been a damn good race in the dry or even if it stayed wet the whole time.

Q: After seeing an overflow crowd at Long Beach and another empty grandstand race at a place you didn’t use to be able to get a ticket (Bristol), I think things at IndyCar aren’t a dismal as people think. I noticed you called their schedule a gypsy schedule. Aren’t the races at St. Pete, Long Beach and Indy pretty good money makers? I know certain ones that aren’t but they have a good nucleus, don’t they?

Also, what happened to the race that was supposed to Ft. Lauderdale? I thought it was in the works and then we get stuck with a Formula E race in Miami. I think we just need a good schedule maker and promoter with a longer schedule and IndyCar will be fine!
Doug Ferguson

RM: I didn’t see the Bristol race but if it was half full it still had 75,000-80,000 people and while Long Beach was the best it’s been in 15 years (according to co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven), it was probably closer to 70,000 than 90,000 on race day. And NASCAR still commands a big TV audience. The gypsy schedule was a reference to the constantly changing dates and venues – promoters must have date equity. Long Beach makes money but it’s got Toyota as a title sponsor and that’s key. Ft. Lauderdale balked at the money that was asked, according to the newspaper down there. Yes, IndyCar needs a smart schedule maker.

Q: Thanks for the great coverage of the LBGP on NBCSN. It was the best coverage ever (my mother, who is 87, and watches at least some of each IndyCar race, agreed). The L.A. Times appeared to be a sponsor, but in name only, not in coverage. There was a short article, and no photos, in the Sunday sports section on the next-to-last page. I quickly flipped through the Monday edition and didn’t see anything. I rode down on the city bus on Saturday and talked with a very knowledgeable reporter for a paper from Victorville, at least 100 miles away, who said he knew you. I expect his reports were more extensive than the Times.

The info on the Fontana race was buried in the AAA booth. Laguna Seca and Sonoma each had their own booth with enthusiastic staff. Not a promising start for AAA Speedway and the June race. Used to enjoy sprints, midgets and Turkey Night at Irwindale. Very sad to see such a fine facility become an outlet mall.
Erik, Long Beach, Calif.

RM: First off, tell your mom thanks for watching IndyCar on NBCSN. Jim Peltz, the L.A. Times‘ motorsports writer, was re-assigned so the coverage definitely suffered (not a word Thursday or Friday morning). But considering it was the largest sporting event in Los Angeles that weekend, it merited better coverage than it received. Fontana has an impossible date (June 27) and time (Saturday afternoon) so all the PR in the world isn’t going to make any difference. They could open the gates and let people in free and not get 10,000. Very sad about Irwindale – another racetrack bites the dust.

Q: Great race at Barber and this was a 180-degree difference for the better from the disaster that was the NOLA debacle…Robin, I have attended every New Orleans Mardi Gras (last weekend leading into Fat Tuesday) since 1990 and can tell you that the weather is unpredictable in the Big Easy, especially in the winter. However, most if not all of my Mardi Gras, which fall between early February and the first week of March, generally involved cool days with sunshine, excellent weather for racing if only the braintrust at 16th and Georgetown bothered to start the series earlier, say the week after the Super Bowl, whether here in Florida, at NOLA or somewhere in Texas or even Phoenix.

Getting to the heart of this inquiry, we need to know how many of the current drivers are getting paid, and the estimated amounts paid to these drivers, and how many of the drivers are paying to ride, and the estimated amounts that these pay drivers bring to the table to secure their rides. Now, let’s contrast IndyCar’s pay-versus-paid division to that found in F1 – I bet it’s not much different other than the amounts involved…. if Marshall Pruett can chime in with respect to the TUDOR and Pirelli series, I bet that most if not all of the drivers on all major grids, save NASCAR Sprint Cup, are paying for the right to take the green flag.
Neil Rubin, Miami Beach

RM: Curt Cavin and I were discussing last weekend how many drivers paid for their rides and it’s about half the IndyCar field. But some drivers bring a sponsor (or sponsors) and take a cut of that money to pay their salary. The highest-paid IndyCar drivers only make a fraction of what their F1 counterparts do but I imagine Dixie, T.K., JPM, RHR, Power and Castroneves are in the $2-3 million salary range.

 


Q: What is the friggin deal with DCR? The only decent driver he has had so far is Conor Daly and that’s only because some joker broke his thumb. It’s his team and he can run it the way he wants but it really is a joke. Dracone almost got arrested for vehicular homicide and I can’t even imagine how the rest of the paddock feels about DCR. Does IndyCar have the right to deny his entries? Shouldn’t there be some sort of license these guys have to hold?

I only hope nothing really bad happens, as the last thing IndyCar needs is devastating news because they allowed DCR to put a person in the car that has no clue on what he is doing. Dracone is full of it about the water in pit lane – how come no one else took out a crew member?
Jake Murray

RM: Dale has almost always had pay-for-play drivers and I imagine it’s kept him in business. We all thought when Justin Wilson broke through and gave him his first win that he’d keep that group together and grow but it didn’t happen. Rocky Moran Jr. was a good Atlantic shoe early in the last decade and did a respectable job considering he’d been out of open-wheel for nine years until a test with SPM a few months ago. But IndyCar can refuse entries if they don’t deem the driver competent enough. Last Sunday, Dracone was on the lead lap longer than he’s ever been and racing people, albeit scary at times, and his teammate (Rodolfo Gonzalez) got bashed by a lot of drivers for blocking like he was in GP2. The bottom line is that IndyCar/CART/IRL/Champ Car rely on ride buyers but the caliber is much higher today than it’s ever been.

Q: I was surprised upon finding out Rocky Moran Jr. would be in one of Coyne’s cars for Long Beach. Did his previous test with Schmidt-Peterson fulfill some kind of licensing requirement to compete? I’m wondering if Rocky was just overwhelmed by everything when he didn’t see Carlos Munoz. At least Conor picked up some experience. Now I hear someone else will be in that seat. So what’s going on with Carlos Huertas? Is he still with the team? Did he leave on his own? Was he released by Coyne?
Reginald, San Diego, Calif.

RM: I think his SPM test helped but I know IndyCar didn’t like being surprised the night before practice began. As I said above, Rocky made his debut on the toughest possible track and did much better than I thought (until he tangled with Munoz). Coyne said Huertas’ departure was “business” but he could be back if his money returns. Conor did a helluva job and the #18 team wants him to drive the Indy GP but it will likely go to the highest bidder.

Q: I know that Scott Dixon has 35 IndyCar wins and has passed Uncle Bobby on the all-time win list. He’s won three IndyCar championships and the Indy 500. And of course his wife is pretty. But there is no driver in the history of AOWR that has accomplished so much and has such a bland public personality.

Scott is a nice, polite man but that’s the problem. He never rants at other drivers, he’s never flipped the bird or cussed on camera. Fans like passion, not passiveness. They like to see a fire inside the belly; not an ice man behind the wheel. I saw John Force at Long Beach last weekend. I would wager that as many spectators asked for Force’s autograph as they did Dixon’s. And how can a series grow if their active win leader is a mere shadow of a driver?
Don, Chardon Ohio

RM: Well, Dixon isn’t outwardly emotional like Helio or Willy P. but he’s actually one of the best quotes on the circuit, great with fans, has a wicked sense of humor and can get riled up, too. He and Jimmie Johnson are a lot alike, but JJ has NASCAR’s PR machine and national TV commercials pushing his persona.

Q: It’s a Robin Miller night! It’s a Robin Miller night! I still miss hearing that on “Wind Tunnel.” Anyway, everyone complains about ride buyers in the IndyCar series and about who is in a car and who isn’t. You can’t blame the owners for taking the money but my question is, who are the people and/or companies that are paying for people like Dracone and Moran Jr. to fulfill their racing fantasies? It is beyond me how anyone wanting to be involved in IndyCar racing would give money to such drivers as these when there are so many really good options sitting on the sidelines. Good on these drivers for raising the money to get a ride, maybe Mr. Miles should look into hiring them and putting their fund-raising skills to use for the good of the series. Can you enlighten us as to how a driver gets his money?
Randy Holbrook, Resaca, Ga.

RM: I talk to 20 people at every race that miss SPEED and “Wind Tunnel” and I wish we had some kind of a weekly show on all things open-wheel/sports cars. Sometimes drivers are funded by their family or friends and for a lot of the Euro drivers it was easy to raise a few million compared to what it takes in F1. But, remember Dick Simon? He never won a race but he was a master of finding and keeping sponsors and I always thought CART should have hired him to be its marketing boss.

Q: For years the starts of IndyCar races have been a concern of mine. I watch how NASCAR manages to line up 43 cars in two neat rows, correctly in position with the correct one on each row slightly ahead of the other, and wonder why IndyCar drivers can’t do the same. During Beaux Barfield’s tenure at Race Control, things were noticeably better, but now that TGBB is back, so are straggly starts. If I ran IndyCar, I would very much slow down the pace car so that the racecars had to bunch up behind it. I would keep the pace car in front until the last moment and then pull off to the side as the cars go by. No car can put the hammer down until it passes the pace car. I would move the start line to allow all cars to be on the start straight before the green flag flies. I would wave off any start that didn’t stay in order. If a particular driver jumps the start (crosses the start line ahead of their qualifying position) I would give that car a drive-through penalty.

I would restore standing starts to road and street races. (Even when someone stalls at the start, it looks better than these straggly starts). Nothing would thrill me more than seeing 11 rows of three cars neatly arrayed with a slight angle on each row crossing the line of bricks at Indy. The racing should not start until the start, and the start is at the start LINE.
Keith Pitt, Meadows, BC

RM: I get that IndyCar can’t start oval races at 40-50mph like NASCAR but you are spot on about standing starts: they should be mandatory at all street races. Think how cool it was at Long Beach a couple years ago with EVERYONE on the same straightaway instead of the last eight rows creeping through the hairpin when the leader was already in Turn 1. I don’t want to hear about danger or congestion or flying car pieces – the fans deserve to see an exciting start. Long Beach was disgraceful.


Q: Having been able to broaden my race attendances over the past three years, I have really come to notice the fact that oval race weekends themselves (with the exception of Indy) are very boring compared to the road and street courses. A perfect example is Pocono. I love the racing that and excitement that happens there, but for the price of the ticket, plus travel and lodging just to watch the two-seaters go around the track, the Lights race and the IndyCar race, it’s nowhere near the value as Mid-Ohio where for $150 you can get weekend race/paddock passes and a camping pass. On top of that, at races such as St. Pete and Mid-Ohio, you have the entire Road to Indy series to watch, plus PWC and, in the case of Long Beach, the IMSA race.

I feel this is the greatest problem with oval race weekends despite how much I enjoy the racing. I think IndyCar desperately needs to consider making most oval weekends single-day events if they’re only going to run two series, or try to find another support series or two to fill in the gap when the Lights and IndyCar practices/qualifying/races are not taking place. We the dedicated fans will still go regardless, but it’s hard to put/keep new folks in the seats when there is nothing to watch but two-seater rides.
Alan Bandi, Butler, Pa.

RM: You are spot on, Alan. Every oval except Indy needs to be one day so you can ramp up the energy and activity. Fontana would be perfect for practice in the morning, qualify in the afternoon and race at night. Nobody shows up for practice or qualifying anyway. There is no Lights race at Fontana or Pocono this year.

Q: Two topics a buddy and I were discussing while watching racing this weekend. First – with all the discussion (criticism) in the Mailbag and elsewhere about IndyCar ownership going back to CART & IRL, we were wondering about back in the day when AAA was in control and then Mr. Hulman started USAC when AAA bailed after the Le Mans tragedy, we couldn’t recall any discussion of “ownership” relative to either AAA or USAC, just that they were “sanctioning bodies.” So did anyone actually “own” USAC and if not, how was/is it funded?

Secondly, we argued about who were the best drivers that never won a championship. We settled easily on Stirling Moss for F1, debated Junior Johnson and Mark Martin for NASCAR and settled on Martin due to depth of field in his era. For IndyCar, Helio immediately came up based mainly on his Indy 500 wins plus his overall record but while we’re both about your age and have followed IndyCar since grade school, neither of us paid much attention to who was series champ…only interest being who got to use the #1. So anyone you can think of from back in the day that could top Helio as best to not win the championship?
Bob in Peoria

RM: I imagine Hulman & Company technically owned USAC but a cut of the Indy 500 was thought to keep USAC afloat. When the IRL threw USAC out as its sanctioning body in 1997, I’m not sure what that did to the relationship. As for the best Indy driver to never win the title, Bill Vukovich, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Lloyd Ruby and Johnny Thomson immediately come to mind along with Castroneves.

Q: What is the situation regarding the official entry list for the 2015 Indy 500? I could not find an entry list for the 2015 Indy 500 anywhere – not even the IMS website nor the Indy Star. I don’t know and could not find the date for the entry deadline. I thought it was April 15. Wikipedia published the attached list for 2015 for drivers and teams. It is not the official entry list rather a compilation of teams and drivers entered. The Indy 500 is the biggest event for IMS and the Indy Star and the dummies never considered posting the list or even mentioning the deadline.

I don’t know how the entry rules are written today, but it used to be teams listed unassigned cars as reserve cars in case a car is damaged and cannot be repaired. The reserve car had a number and it could be one of the team car numbers with a T added to a number. The official entry list, unless the rules have changed, are for the car not the driver. If the T car is driven instead of the prime car number, I am not sure in the official records for the race results regarding the car number. Cars qualified for the race have been re-assigned a driver when either the re-assigned driver failed to qualify or had no back-up car to use, e.g. Ryan Hunter Rey took over Bruno Junquera’s ride. Poor Bruno, that was the second time be was ousted from the race.
Thomas Grimes

RM: You have to remember what a big deal it used to be when the Speedway would release a couple entries each day and The Star would publish a story about them. But, when you only have 34 driver/car combinations, there’s not exactly a buzz about who is driving which spec car. I’m sure IMS will put something out soon.

Q: I used to subscribe (in the mid-1980s) to that great magazine, Grand Prix International. I still have half a dozen copies. In the April 1984 edition, the magazine mentions that the 1984 Indy 500 had received 114 entries for the race. Today, IndyCar struggles to get 33. My how the mighty have fallen.
Jerry Wilt, Houston

RM: I’ll leave you with this quote from Anthony Joseph Foyt. I asked him once what the most surprising thing he’d seen in his 57 years at Indianapolis. “I never thought I’d see the day when it only took four laps to make the Indy 500 and there would barely be enough cars.”

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