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: Man, that Chevy aero kit looks bad-fast! The Honda doesn’t look bad either and in contrast to the road and street kits, you don’t get an aneurism from trying to process the look of all the winglets, vanes and protuberances. Back in the day, the easiest way to tell the Lola from the Reynard was that the Lola had a vertical upright holding the rear wing, while on the Reynard it was angled. These speedway kits are different enough for the newbie to tell them apart and feel knowledgeable without the cars being too goofy-looking.
I recall reading on the Honda press release that there was a lot of opportunity for teams to tweak the aero for Indy. Will we see the Honda rear wing main plane trimmed out even more? It looks like Honda still has a lot of opportunity to reduce drag at Indy, which bodes well for them as they seem in the thick of the top times as is, even on Day 1. Also nice to see Meira possibly get a chance with DCR. Smart move.
Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, BC, Canada
RM: They look much better than the road racing kits, at least that’s the majority of opinions I’ve heard. Marco Andretti said they had a lot of things left to try with the Honda while Montoya didn’t offer much about the Chevy but that rear wing is soooo low. We should know today if Vitor got that ride.
Q: Hey Robin, I’ve read your column for years and this is the first time I felt compelled to write. I find myself at the beginning of the month of May. Yes, the state of IndyCar is not as we’d like it. The schedule is a mess, sponsorship is not where it should be and the decision makers at 16th and Georgetown as usual need a psychiatric exam. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see another Buick V6, another Mercedes, I’d love to see an open rulebook.
That aside, we are running at the Speedway! We have aero kits to be excited about. We’ve got manufacturers competing. We’ve got great drivers that put on a great show, granted some ride buyers shouldn’t be here. Either way, we’re at Indy! There’s an old Christmas carol, “The Most Wonderful Time of Year.” This is the most wonderful time of year for me and for those of us who love IndyCar. Let’s set all aside what we don’t like and be thankful that we are yet again back at Indy. This month, this race, is why we’re even here. Argue, disagree as we will. Indy is special and what’s truly important! Enjoy it!
Jack from Denver
RM: It’s like a tire test most days in May, not much atmosphere until Race Day, and they keep raising the prices on everything. But looking at all those people and seeing the flying start still ranks as good as it gets in sports.
Q: I would like to add my take on the pressing issue of the day. That being the ragged starts to this year’s races. This also leads into other issues. I concur wholeheartedly and without equivocation that standing starts for road and street course races must be made mandatory for 2016. I am cognizant of the mess that was made at the start of last year’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis. And an accurate assessment of that episode must be made and remedial action taken.
There were three factors that contributed to that mishap. Here they are as I see them in ascending order of significance. 1) Mikail Aleshin did not account for the possibility of a stopped/stalled car ahead of him. This is a direct result of a team owner “hiring” a driver with a light or incomplete resume because he brought a sack of money with him. Are you reading this, Dale Coyne?
The IndyCar Competition Committee needs to tighten up on its regulations and procedures regarding what drivers it will certify to race even if it means telling some powerful owners “NO !” 2) Carlos Munoz demonstrated very poor judgment when he elected to leave a path that would have safely cleared the stalled car ahead of him to cross behind that car in order to overtake a car that was in front of Munoz. As it turned out Munoz could not successfully complete the maneuver without clipping the stalled car (that of Sebastian Saveedra). As it turned out Munoz wound up screening the vision of Aleshin which lead to the second and more powerful collision. 3) Chevrolet’s inability to design a proper and functioning anti-stall system. This factor is the KEY FACTOR that led to the crash at the start of last year’s GP of Indianapolis when Sebastian Saavedra dropped the clutch only to have his engine stall. Formula 1 has possessed this technology for over 15 years;why is it so difficult for a dominant car manufacturer in the U.S. to develop it? Which brings me to my final point. An article written by Marshall Pruett was published on RACER.com talking about the perfect record boasted by both engine manufacturers for the 2015 season. While that may be true it nonetheless rings very hollow for those of us fans that appreciate the thunder of 24 850hp engines simultaneously revving up to 11,000 rpm.
So the next time that either you or Marshall engage Chris Berube, do me a favor: ask him about when we can expect a working anti-stall system to be developed by GM. Tell him “the fans want to know.”
Bob, Fremont, Calif.
RM: I don’t blame the drivers for what happened, it’s happened a few times in F1 as well, but standing starts are a must for a place like Long Beach or Toronto. Unfortunately, only the fans are pushing for them because the teams, drivers and officials have turned a deaf ear. Anti-stall was optional in 2013 but became mandatory in 2014 and GM did have a couple issues but all I know is that Champ Car had standing starts in 2007 and they worked just fine so it can be done.
Q: Just saw the pictures from the IMS test on RACER. Never thought I would say this, but the speedway aero kits – esp. the Chevys – really look racy! I’m sure this is a stretch but I see some elements of Mike Mosley’s 1981 Eagle [ABOVE, winning at Milwaukee. Photo from Robin Miller] that ran the stock block Chevy in Pepsi colors (I loved the looks of that car – of course I love any car Dan/AAR built!).
The prospect of possibly coming close to the track record also is interesting – although I agree with you I’d rather see lower speeds in cars that you really had to drive. After an excellent race at Barber, things sure look promising for a great 500!
John Weaver, Camp Hill, Pa.
RM: Agreed and it’s easy to tell them apart. It was pretty windy Sunday, so the conditions weren’t close to being optimum and I imagine we’ll have a much better idea of speeds by the time we get to Fast Friday.
Q: Do we know yet if the Indy Grand Prix is going to be a standing or rolling start? Despite last year’s fiasco, I’m really hoping for a standing start!
RM: A rolling start but at least IMS has enough room that it can be relatively fair – providing the polesitter isn’t allowed to jump like Long Beach.
Q: Cool to see part 2 of the aero kits as Honda and Chevy revealed their designs. They clearly have different ideas about how to cheat the wind.
Conflict and competition is what makes great drama in sports, and draws attention. It was impossible to escape the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight this past week. In IndyCar we have two top automotive companies going head to head at the world’s greatest race and does anybody know? Hopefully IndyCar will crank up the marketing and PR this month to attract more fans, dollars and especially sponsors to IndyCar.
Really enjoyed the RRDC video featuring you with the two Bobbys.
RM: If ESPN hyped Indy like it did that fight, it might attract more interest but ABC has been running some promos so that’s all the extent of any national, pre-race exposure. I know what you are saying but promoting drivers and their battle is better than trying to get people interested in an engine war. The Unser interview could still be going on. It was a hoot.
Q: It seems IndyCar will have a nice grid for the Grand Prix of Indy and 34 for the Indy 500. How will the car count be for the rest of the year? Twenty one cars or less at Pocono, Fontana, Iowa, Milwaukee would be hugely disappointing. Anybody we should cheer for to win the 500 that would help add a car for the year?
Jeff Loveland, Chilton Wisconsin
RM: I don’t envision more than 22-23 anywhere else and that’s why I’d rather see a pair of twin 150s instead of 500-milers at Fontana and Pocono. As we saw last year, there’s not enough traffic with 21 cars on a big oval and that’s always the beauty of Indianapolis with 33. Cheer for SPM, CFH and KVSH-Byrd (so maybe Daly, Hildebrand and Clauson could get more races).
Q: So, I gotta ask, is there any connection between Conor Daly’s Indy car and The King Richard Petty? The car is numbered 43, its painted Petty Blue and it has Smithfield Foods on the side-pods.
Tony Piergallini, Steubenville, Ohio
RM: Oh yeah. Smithfield sponsors Aric Almirola in NASCAR and marketing chief Bob Weber is a big racing fan who loves Indy and has been following Conor’s career. Here’s a link to a video interview I did with him. It’s a big boon for IndyCar to get a NASCAR sponsor and Smithfield is a HUGE company. Daly is powered by bacon this month.
Q: Please help me understand “Sale” Coyne Racing. First, let me admit I’m glad he is there. IndyCar needs his team and the two cars he puts on the grid, however it is a safe bet that his two cars will be at the bottom of the grid every week. He has a high turnover of drivers who never seem to have enough time to learn the car or the series. It is also a safe bet that the TV announcers will be talking about his team as much as they talk about the leading teams, but not in positive terms. Perhaps he should seek sponsorship from Google, since that’s what you have to use almost every time he announces a new driver. Is his budget so tight that he depends on Dracone, Moran and Gonzalez to make budget? What does he get from fielding a team like this?
John in Charleston
RM: It’s a bit of a mystifying situation. For more than 30 years, DC has gone with ride buyers and then started mixing in good racers in the 2000s. When Justin Wilson won Watkins Glen in 2009 [ABOVE] and DC had sold his share of the Chicagoland racing complex, we figured it would be a game changer. But he couldn’t work out a deal to keep JWil and, despite hiring Sebastien Bourdais in 2011 and bringing Justin back in 2012, it’s now morphed into a revolving door again. Dale has never had a big-time sponsor so his plan is more out of necessity, but he’s also spent his own money to keep things alive. He’s a survivor who’s had more than 68 drivers since 1984 but I think an out-of-the-blue win with Mike Conway at Detroit in 2013 and Carlos Huertas’ fuel victory at Houston last year keeps DC amused and engaged.
Q: Miller, you can have my idea. A win-win for IndyCar, Danica’s future, the Indy 500 and GoDaddy want worldwide coverage. Since the Indy 500 TV feed is seen around the world, put GoDaddy’s marketing director on making a one-time ride at next year’s 100th running with Danica and a top team. She commented she wants another shot and always ran good at the Speedway. All parties would like all the coverage and media hype they get plus the TV time during the race. Everyone knows GoDaddy’s colors! To me it would really jazz up the 100th running even more, plus IndyCar gets much needed publicity. It would put some more butts in the seats for the 2016 race. If you can sell it, don’t forget me down here in Lawrenceville, Ga. Enjoyed talking to you at Barber. There is a future for IndyCar in the south.
Bob “The Old Man” Lauman
RM: It’s certainly a possibility but I imagine it’s contingent on what happens to her NASCAR career without GoDaddy. My southern spies tell me Miss Danica is headed to Roush Racing to join boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse in 2016, so who knows if Jack Roush is open to her running an Indy car. Like I said last week, I hear Clint Bowyer and 5-Hour Energy drink are headed to Stewart-Haas to take DP’s place so that eliminates Stew from bringing her to Indy. But I’ll try and get you 15 percent if she runs here again.
Q: This might turn into a rant, so bear with me…. I have been a huge open-wheel fan for the last 25 years. My dad and I went to races at Portland from 1993 until they left. It started with Nigel Mansell and then when Honda entered CART in 1994 with Rahal, I fell in love with them. When Andre Ribiero won the first race for Honda at Loudon, it was amazing. Then when Jimmy Vasser won the title the next year it was just icing on the cake.
The thing that I really enjoyed about Honda is that they always seemed to be loyal to their drivers. That is why I hope Simon Pagenaud never wins another race or scores another podium. Honda pulled him out of the darkness, saved his career, and he repays them by jumping to Penske. You will say it was the chance of a lifetime; I will say, what about loyalty?
Having said all that, I am growing a little frustrated with Honda and their decision-making. How much is Japan involved or is it strictly American Honda? I am guessing Japan can’t be very happy with the results these past three years. Losing to General Motors can’t be sitting very well.
Now, with the new aero kit, why in the hell would Honda go with an engineer with a poor track record? There have to be plenty of others out there who would love to work with Honda and their rich history. And, why would they put all of the testing for it on one team? Especially a team with only one proven winner who is consistently up front while the rest of the team is inconsistent. Yes, they don’t have the same caliber of choices that Chevy does, but what about James Hinchcliffe or Justin Wilson? How can Honda make such poor decisions? In the end, how close is Japan to pulling the plug on the entire IndyCar program?
RM: I could never fault Pagenaud for taking one of the best rides in North American motorsports and he delivered wins for Honda in sports cars and Indy cars so it’s business. A driver has to look out for No. 1 at all times and while Honda certainly didn’t want to lose him, it understands. A lot of people raised their eyebrows when they heard Nick Wirth was in charge of Honda’s aero kits but it’s still early and it’s not like Honda is two seconds off the pace. Plus, it doesn’t have the depth of talent of the Chevy teams. Japan keeps its eye on IndyCar but American Honda foots the bills.
Q: The testing on May 3 was a good idea and I’m sure the teams needed the time with the new kits. I think it’s a good idea to have a day or two of early practice, give us an Indy fix then shut it down and get ready for the GP. Then, Sunday after the GP, KATY BAR THE DOOR! I just think it’s a good thing. My two cents from a 50-year fan.
Scott Chandler, Ellettsville, Ind.
RM: It worked out OK but there seemed to be a lot of confusion on whether it was open to the public until IMS took out a full-page ad in The Star. And don’t forget this weekend’s GP of Indy is Thursday through Saturday. The track will be dark on Sunday (Mother’s Day): Indy 500 practice will open Monday.
Q: I know it’s probably late for this but with Pole Day coming up, anyone else think it’s a good idea to take the pole speed into account for the Pole Day payout? I’m reminded when speed records were broken back in the day, the polesitter would get that amount in silver dollars. Why not go further? Take the pole speed and multiply it by 1000? (I.E. 235 MPH = $235,000) and throw in a $250,000 bonus for breaking the four-lap record? It’s a gimmick, but at least it would be a gimmick that pays. Fuzzy’s sponsors the Triple Crown, and nobody’s winning that thing likely, why not throw the money instead into Pole Day?
RM: I like the idea but I think the pole for the 100th Indy 500 should pay $1 million and get a title sponsor for it.
[ABOVE: Tom Sneva after becoming the first driver to set one- and four-lap records of 210mph-plus at Indy in ’84].
Q: Anybody that complained about the race at Barber didn’t watch it. The only thing I could fault was the utterly ridiculous Dracone not being asked to park his rolling chicane. So now for the questions: someone in the broadcast crew mentioned Newgarden with regards to the Haas F1 team – is that going through the rumor mill? Or was it something made up at that moment? Also, what was the cause of the sudden surge among the Hondas? They were nowhere in qualifying then did quite well in the race.
Pete, Arnold, Md.
RM: I can’t remember what Leigh Diffey said but I think it was more of a speculative suggestion. Josef spent time in Europe and F1 was his dream but I’m not sure he’s on Haas’ radar. I’d hate for IndyCar to lose him to a start-up F1 operation. The Hondas were easier on the rear tires and the heat also helped.
Q: In one of your answers you mentioned how important it was for the series to have American winners and stars. You then rattle off several names of American drivers, leaving out RHR. Right now he is THE American winner in the series (already dubbed Capt. America by Eddie Cheever) with a championship and an Indy 500 win under his belt, yet IndyCar has done absolutely nothing to promote him after either. His son Ryden Hunter-Reay got more airtime than RHR. What makes any other American winning in the series make you think IndyCar will promote them?
Bill, West Palm Beach
RM: I was just naming all the 20-something Americans. You’re right, Ryan got less recognition and exposure for winning Indy than anyone since Kenny Brack. I know IndyCar sent Newgarden on a Big Apple blitz this week so I guess that’s a start. But a 60-second national television commercial in prime time featuring the drivers and their personalities (like NASCAR did) is the only sure way to get in front of America.
Q: I talked to you after the IndyCar practice on Sunday in ‘Bama and noted that you had a long talk with Sarah Fisher and asked you if she thought they had a shot at the win. You said Josef was P6 in morning practice, but that these guys (you were sitting across from the Penske paddock and pointed to them) were tough to beat along with Ganassi. But you also said we need to get him (Josef) a win and he was overdue. And that is just what happened. I was glad my wife and I were present for Josef’s first IndyCar victory.
Thanks for your article about his win and your long-term support of this young driver. He grew up about 20 miles from my home in Tennessee and I have been following him since his days in Indy Lights. I have met and talked to him many times at the tracks and he is a great guy and very good for the sport. We will be at both Indy races in May and hope to see you around the track.
Don Dixon, Indy fan from Tennessee
RM: Thanks for supporting Josef but all you had to do was watch him the past year and see his progress, so it was only a matter of time. At least you hoped that was the case. He was right in the hunt at some of the toughest places driving for a little, one-car operation and good for Sarah, Wink and now Ed for being smart enough to hire him.
Q: Now is the time. That was a phenomenal race in Alabama. The aero kits have made the cars super quick and the course is just wide enough for some real green-flag passing. I enjoyed every minute of it. Now is the time.
The season needs to be longer, we all know that. The traditional European races are getting dumped by Bernie for tracks in the Middle East. Now is the time. IndyCar needs a European swing to get the fans of F1 on board with IndyCar. The F1 ratings on NBCSN have never been better and NBCSN knows how to broadcast a race. A European swing could pay big dollars but still not cost the venues anywhere near what an F1 race costs. IndyCar has the mix of drivers needed to attract fans from all over the world.
Now is the time. Put an international TV package together and get the product out there. F1 fans in the U.S. are even getting up at ridiculous hours of the morning to watch the races. IndyCar needs to be in Italy, Germany, France and wherever they’re feeling unappreciated. IndyCar needs a European swing. And for God’s sake get these cars back to Road America and racing at COTA! What say you?
BTW…they need to lose the bumper in the ass end but keep the wing as is. Then these cars would look badass!!! Just sayin’. Love the mailbag!
Michael J. Ultimo, Naperville, Ill.
RM: Easier said than done, Mike. There were good crowds at England and Germany for Champ Car but evidently not enough for the promoters to make money. Brazil had a sizeable turnout but lost millions and Japan finally got packed when Sato arrived before the tsunami. I’d rather see a mini-tour of New Zealand and Australia before the U.S. season opens. But Road America is a must.
Q: I’ve been a devoted fan of Indy racing for over 40 years now. I really enjoy the current series but I wish there were at least a few young sprint car drivers that could make it into the series. I’m a huge Bryan Clauson fan and I’m thrilled to see him get a chance at Indy this year. I truly believe the series needs more of the drivers from the sprint car ranks to attract more fans. I’m tired of losing these guys to NASCAR. I know sponsorship is the key but doesn’t Honda and USAC have a program of trying to get these drivers into IndyCar?
Also, I would like to know where last year’s Indy 500 ranks on your all-time list. It was the best race at Indy start to finish I have ever seen and that includes the races I watched on TV for the 10 years before I ever attended the race.
Mike Jacobs, Omaha, Nebraska
RM: I’m also a big Clauson fan and it’s great the Byrd family and KVSH brought him back to Indianapolis. But, other than the Mazda Road to Indy program (Lights’ champ Gabby Chaves got $750,000 to take to Bryan Herta), there’s nothing in place right now to get a driver some funding for the Speedway. After watching Clauson in a USAC sprint race at Kokomo, Randy Bernard decided to give the overall USAC champion X amount of dollars to come to Indy and that’s how BC got to IMS in 2012. But that deal went away with Randy. Last year’s race was one of the Top 5 I’ve seen in my 55 years of watching.
Q: Couldn’t help feeling like I was watching a modern day version of the movie “Le Mans” at the end of the Barber race. Steve McQueen (aka: Michael Delaney) is asked to drive the Porsche because “Porsche must win Le Mans.” Of course, Steve gives it his all, but comes up just short of the ultimate victory. Well, on Sunday, it was like someone got in Graham’s ear and said “RLL Racing must win Barber,” and he drove like a man possessed to get that win. Yes, we have been waiting to see that for years now. Sure, like Delaney, he came up just short of the ultimate victory at the end, but what a thrilling ride it was to watch. Let’s hope that little voice continues in his ear.
Also, congrats to Newgarden on his maiden victory in Indy Car. Let’s hope both he and Graham (and Marco) can carry the American flag to greater heights in the future.
Paul H, Lancaster, NY
RM: That voice was actually Graham’s – he opted to stay out and go off-sequence so he wouldn’t have to save fuel and he could run flat out at the end of the race. People have given me a lot of grief for either predicting great things or defending him but he showed loads of talent just a few years ago and then regressed the past couple seasons. But he’s as good at overtaking as anybody on a road or street course and I think working with Eddie Jones and Martin Pare has been good for him. He’s driving this year like we expect.
Q: It was very refreshing to finally see so many positive letters to the Mailbag after the Barber race. I hope we can keep up the positive momentum. My brother-in-law, who is a NASCAR fan, stopped over at my nephew’s house and happened to catch the race on TV. Afterwards he was texting me and asking me all kinds of questions about the IndyCar Series. He asked for the websites for info, and even signed up for the IndyCar newsletter! That is the kind of race that wins new fans, and I hope they can keep that track on the schedule. I’ve decided to go to Indy 500 Fast Friday and Pole Day instead of the race this year, and can’t wait to see how the new aero kits do there. Hopefully we’ll hear “a new track record” again, but it won’t be the same without Tom Carnegie saying it.
Mark Suska, Lexington, Ohio
RM: That’s excellent that Barber converted your friend, but it sounds like a NTR may be a year or two away.
Q: I have to say, that was the best race (Alabama) of the year so far. It was great to see Newgarden win and do it in grand style. Seeing him take down Castroneves and Power in the opening laps was great to see. And Rahal! That might be one of, if not the best, races he has ever driven.
However, what I would really like to know is what is going on with Foyt’s team? Hawksworth has shown well at times, but I’m stumped by Taku’s performance. He’s one of my favorites, and I was hoping with the addition of a talented teammate to bounce ideas off of the whole organization would improve. Has the team just not adapted to the aero kits well? Also how is Hawksworth’s ride funded? I know ABC is on both cars, but did they really increase their commitment that much in spite of the lack of visibility? Are the Foyts spending their own money? Does Hawksworth bring backing that doesn’t mind not being on the livery?
RM: First off, ABC is paying for both cars (Sato usually brings Panasonic as an associate sponsor and Jack only brings his helmet bag) and it’s been a frustrating start for both drivers. Taku was quick at St. Pete (qualified fifth) as was Jack at New Orleans before being taken out. Both got caught out in qualifying at Long Beach and Sato got nailed by Power at Barber. Their racing luck has sucked so far but Hawksworth was a bullet at IMS road course a year ago so maybe he can turns things around Saturday.
Q: I’m not impressed in the least at how Mark Miles is handling his IndyCar responsibilities. Has he made a positive difference in any meaningful way? He made a big mistake listening to the Boston Group’s recommendations yet is indifferent to listening to team owners, track owners, sponsors, media or fans with any other ideas, and that is even worse. Now, I read that he was observed golfing on the Speedway golf course while the series was racing in ‘Bama and that he’s implicated as being involved in an illegal bid to supply vehicles to the City of Indianapolis which are hardly positive statements about his work or business ethics. He has one last shot as far as I’m concerned and that is by taking advantage of the gift that Formula 1 is presenting the series by not starting next year until April 3. That leaves January thru March to gain the attention of fans and media alike, world-wide who are starved for racing in the middle of winter. Can you imagine how Randy would have salivated at the very opportunity?
Rick M., Toronto
RM: The only big, positive thing I’ve seen Miles do is get both Indy races and qualifying on ABC. But the shortened season and erratic schedule neutralizes that. I think all he truly cares about is the 100th Indy 500 and making as much money as possible at IMS but I do believe he’ll open the 2016 season earlier. We’d still have standing starts and double-headers if Randy hadn’t left – and a proper racing season.
Q: First off, thank you for everything you do for IndyCar. You and Marshall Pruett are my go-to guys for all things Indy. What would you say the attendance was in Alabama for race day? It seemed like another good crowd in an area that has really seemed to embrace IndyCar.
This leads to my next question. Would IndyCar or Barber ever consider a second race at that track? Since IndyCar has a shortage of good tracks where they draw fans, might it be a win-win for the series and the track to have two races? The only hold-up I can think of is Mark Miles’ ridiculous schedule ending before Labor Day. Having a second race at Barber in September or October seems logical to me. Heck ending the season there makes more sense than Sonoma or a goofy Boston street race.
Brian, Joliet, Ill.
RM: Well thanks for reading RACER.com. If ovals continue to be a hard sell, it’s possible a place like Barber could bookend the season but they don’t want to go against college football and I think they’re happy with the April date. Hard crowd to judge, but having only two days with the IndyCars running instead of three hurt them this year and it wasn’t as well attended as 2014. Having said that, I’d guess 25,000-30,000 – which still puts it third or fourth behind Indy, Long Beach and maybe Mid-Ohio. It’s a great event and one of the pleasant surprises of the past decade.
Q: If Mario Andretti had not crashed testing at Indianapolis in 2003, what are the chances that he would’ve come back and raced that May? Was there any comeback in the works?
Jimmy, Roseville, Calif.
RM: Slim and none, although I’m sure Mario would have been up for it. It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing.
Q: On Indy Carb Day 2014, my wife and I were strolling in/near the Fan Zone east of the Museum when we came across a stage with Ed Carpenter and J.R. Hildebrand being interviewed. A crowd was gathering as Ed spoke about how J.R. deserved a ride (despite his Indy 500 Turn 4 catastrophe in 2011). The interviewer said he would bring the microphone to the audience for questions, so I tried to think of what Robin Miller might ask. (You always seem to ask the perfect questions and make the best parting comments to the drivers and owners.)
I was the second fan to have the mic in his face. “What is your relationship with Sarah Fisher Racing?” I asked Ed. He and Sarah had yet to announce (or even hint) of the merger with SFHR. Ed seemed taken aback. To paraphrase, he stammered: “Well, uh, I don’t think you mean personally,” he said, “but we’re good friends. But we don’t share data or anything.” I felt proud that I had asked a Robin Miller-type question…you know, an intelligent timely question based upon knowledge of recent or distant history that other fans want to hear.
I think it was somewhere in midsummer when the Ed Carpenter/SFHR merger was announced in the media. Only then did I realize how awesome my question was. So now I wonder when the merger was initiated and what was the inspiration. Do you have any knowledge or insight on this? Do you suppose my question freaked Ed out a little because the merger was underway but still a secret? Keep doing the Grid Run.
Mark Synovitz, Okla.
RM: I’m not sure when Ed and Sarah began talking about merging but I broke the story at Milwaukee in August (and they made it official the next day) so you might have startled him with your wisdom. But I didn’t hear about it until that week leading up to Milwaukee.
Q: In your April 29 Mailbag you wrote that Jim Peltz of the L.A. Times was re-assigned so the Long Beach coverage was almost non-existent. Was he fired, quit, or just reassigned for the day or what? I’ve e-mailed Jim about having to work with editors who don’t care for auto racing. Since Shav Glick left there has been very poor and dismal racing coverage. The editors seem to like only sports that involve sticks, balls or horse manure. One year they didn’t cover the Turkey Night Grand Prix. I’m not a real sports fan. Never been to a major league football game, a major league basketball game and only one major league baseball game. I spent all my money on midget and sprint car races. Let’s hope the Indy 500 is a winner.
Don Betsworth, Torrance, Calif.
RM: My understanding is that he was sent to the business/financial section but he did have stories in Saturday/Sunday/Monday. Of course the Long Beach race used to draw Jim Murray, a sidebar writer and Shav for the Times and had coverage starting on Wednesday. But, despite being the largest sporting event in L.A. that weekend, it was pretty much ignored.
Q: What’s the guy who ruined AOWR doing these days? Is he associated with a race team, IndyCar, IMS or any Hulman business at all?
Jeff B., Joliet, Il.
RM: TG is the president of the IMS museum, still a board member of Hulman & Company and goes to most of the races to hang out in Ed Carpenter’s pit.
Q: Pitiful. Disgraceful. Sad. The morons at 16th and Georgetown pick someone who has nothing to do with the Indianapolis 500 to drive the pace car. And this is the 99th running, the centennial era. I wonder what you think about this and what other fans are saying? IMS will never get it. This just plays into the perception of IndyCar’s inferiority to NASCAR. They think we don’t have anyone big enough? Are you kidding me? Ask Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, Danny Sullivan, Mario, Uncle Bobby, Little Al, A.J., on and on. You know, someone who actually drove Indy cars and the 500! Or Roger Penske, Michael, or Sarah. I know some of these drivers have before, but who cares?
How does Mari feel about all this? Gordon grew up in Pittsboro so we’ll have him drive? I’m from Hendricks County and I don’t give a %$#^ about him. He could have driven in the Indy 500 all these years but he doesn’t have the balls. Please let these clowns know how this makes me feel and I know I’m not alone. Why do they piss off us real fans then wonder why we bitch all the time?
RM: I didn’t really have any reaction but I received quite a few who feel like you. Make no mistake, Jeff would have been an Indy driver and a damn good one if any of the owners would have given him a chance but he went south to make a career. And his natural ties to USAC and IMS make him a reasonable choice. But I’d have rather seen Sully on the 30-year anniversary of his Spin ’n’ Win and I hope for the 100th we have Rick Mears or Big Al. But there are a lot more things to get pissed off about than who drives the pace car. At least it wasn’t John Mellencamp’s wife. Not sure Mari had a vote.
Q: I’d like to take a minute to thank everyone from Barber Motorsports Park, the IndyCar & ladder series and the World Challenge group – what a great event! Beautiful venue, friendly staff and three days of on-track action with 11 races was all anyone could ask for.
The best part was free tickets and pit passes for children, which made bringing my 12-year-old son a no-brainer. We had free rein of the paddock and met more than half the IndyCar field. We crammed alongside of Newgarden’s car in tech to get out of the thunderstorm and watched Helio get his pole award just feet away – unforgettable. Even got to say Hi to you and chat a bit about Smokey Yunick, which was really cool. Alabama Power sponsored the kid’s tickets and it was just a terrific bonus that should help yield a bunch of new grassroots fans. I was floored by the number of elementary and middle school kids hanging out with their parents that otherwise surely would not have been there. I am extremely thankful that I had the chance to bring my son for some great bonding and appreciation of the most positive aspects of motorsport.
RM: Very cool. I thought there were more kids than I ever remember seeing there and that’s great Alabama Power made it happen. The Honda Indy GP at Barber has become one of the teams’ and drivers’ favorite events.
Q: I am so pumped about Newgarden’s first victory. He didn’t back into it, he earned it! I also loved Graham’s charge to the front, well done indeed!
I’m not sure you can have an impartial opinion here since you are a part of the broadcast team, but the one thing that didn’t sit well with me the past week were the announcers. Not because Leigh Diffey was bad or that I didn’t enjoy Steve Matchett, I did (BTW, Townsend is a really good analyst). My problem is this; IndyCar should have their own announce team…for EVERY race! When you bring in different announcers all the time, you lose consistency, and it makes it more difficult for viewers to connect with them, but more importantly, it sends a really bad message. IndyCar is a second-class citizen when compared to F1. If there’s a conflict, Diffey is going to do F1. That really needs to get fixed – I have no problem with Brian Till, either. Bringing in an ADDITIONAL analyst on occasion, that’s cool, but the core team should be there every week. Play by play, PT and Townsend. Why can’t that happen?
Paul Zajdel, Park Ridge, IL
RM: NASCAR has two sets of voices (FOX and NBC) so I don’t think it’s any big deal that Brian does a few when Leigh is with F1. P.T. and T. Bell are at most races but NBCSN likes to do some cross-promoting with Matchett and David Hobbs and it’s been well received for the most part. Regardless of whom we have in the booth, it’s a better option than ABC.
Q: Let me first say that I thoroughly enjoyed the race at Barber, and I thought NBCSN did a great job of capturing all the action. You couldn’t have asked for anything better: great battles up and down the field, alternative tire strategies, and two very different pit groups who see-sawed the lead back and forth. Even a longtime fan like me needed to have the live scoring up to keep track of who was where, and on what pit stop cycle.
And that’s when it dawned on me… maybe the crazy complexities of various race strategies make watching one of these street or road course races too difficult for the first-time or casual fan. You’ll have to admit that watching stockers go around in a circle might be an easier intellectual exercise than keeping track of tire choice and pit timing to understand who is in the actual lead. For me, that’s what makes it wonderful. But if I was watching the Barber race as a first-timer, I would have been lost. Perhaps this limits the number of new fans who really learn to love and appreciate the sport.
If this theory has even the slightest bit of merit, I’m not sure what to do. I guess its the responsibility of the announce team to talk more about the strategy and ensure that TV graphics display more info like number of pits stops, fuel window, etc. How do we educate new viewers about the craziness that really makes for great racing?
Brad C., Lindenhurst, IL
RM: Interesting question and I guess the best answer is that you need to have announcers – in the booth and in the pits – who stay on top of the pit strategies and can explain to the casual observer what is taking place and what to look for. It can be confusing and complicated, even to longtime fans, and I think our people do a great job of telling the story.
Q: Finally, the Month of May has arrived! This is a bit of an off-the-wall question but do you know who the last driver to compete in the 500 using an open-face helmet was? And when did that happen? I imagine it would have been in the early ’70s.
Zach in Florida
RM: Donald Davidson believes it was Lloyd Ruby in 1974. I worked for Rube’s team the rest of ’74 after Indy and he always had his trusty bandana and open-face Bell helmet.
Q: While it was great to see Josef Newgarden get a win in Alabama, I don’t think that a crop of American drivers is going to wholly revive IndyCar. What made previous generations of AOWR great was how drivers like Andretti, Foyt, Jim Clark, and others could be great in different types of cars and mix it up on an international level. I don’t see the need for a plethora of American drivers (which was the idea of some guy named Tony George), but it needs a crop of quality drivers, international or otherwise and more teams.
RM: No argument that the versatility of those ‘60s legends fueled our passion and interest but that’s never going to happen again. And a melting pot of talent served CART well in its heyday but it still had American heroes like the Andrettis, Little Al, Rahal, Sullivan and Mears. For IndyCar to get back in the headlines and sponsors to take notice, it needs Andretti, Rahal, Newgarden, Karam and Daly up front dueling with Dixon, Power, Pagenaud, Hinchcliffe, T.K., Helio and JPM. It’s the only hope.
Q: In a nutshell …. IndyCar TV team. A Steve Matchett replica (must be someone who has his engineering knowledge and style), Paul Tracy, and YOU! Let some youngster (Peter Windsor gets my vote) do the pits and grid walk. BAM…greatest team in racing.
Mike Talarico, Riverside, Calif.
RM: That’s kind of you Mike but Townsend is still an active driver and P.T. isn’t too far removed and I think they explain the technical side of the car in a way that’s easy to understand (even for mechanical morons like myself). They also have a nice chemistry with Leigh and the three of them don’t miss a thing on the track. I’d be happy just sitting in a chair next to them chiming in every now and then like we did in the Brazilian races. BTW, I’m younger than Windsor. And in better shape.
Q: I imagine you have read Max Mosley’s proposal for a budget cap in F1 and a corresponding “open rule book” that would allow teams to basically do what they want after safety issues are taken care of. To my knowledge there is not a budget cap in IndyCar and I do remember the letter to this forum that suggested that only the tub needs to be carbon fiber for safety and the rest of the car could be aluminum. Given the costs of racing, the lack of sponsors, and the dwindling fan base, it would seem as if this idea might be something that would work in IndyCar. You and I and many others have wailed about the lack of innovation and the lack of cars for bumping at Indy. If you let some smart people figure out ways to do things we might get another Jim Hall, Smokey Yunick, etc. that could breathe some life back in the sport and some drivers that didn’t have to “pay to play.” What do you think?
Tom in Waco
RM: I think the only thing that could ever bring Indy back to 50-60 entries, worldwide interest from other series, manufacturers and media is a formula that allows and promotes innovation and offers $10 million to win. But I just don’t see it happening.
Q: Given the talk in F1 about having a voluntary cost cap, but then allowing the teams to have almost no restrictions on what they make got me thinking. Why couldn’t this be done in IndyCar? Sure, the cost cap would be WAY lower, but wouldn’t that make for some interesting designs? What is the current reasonable operating/development budget of an IndyCar team? If we took that budget and slashed it by 30%, what kind of cars would we see?
RM: It sounds so good and romantic but the bottom line is that it’s tough enough for IndyCar teams to find enough funding to run spec cars with leased engines. So, even with some kind of cap, it would still cost a fortune to design and build cars and engines – even around the safety cell. And, maybe besides Penske, who could do it? We always heard Marlboro and Target paid Roger and Chip $10 million per car in the heydays but I imagine a top-dollar sponsor today is closer to $5-7 million.