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: Last Sunday is why I am an IndyCar fan! Loved all of the 500. The car is very racy and the race was terrific. The best racing is found here at IndyCar. That race had everything – drama, passing, dumb moves, bad wrecks, and a great finish. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Dale Coyne pit guys and to Saavedra. Hope they all come out OK. Robin I know we usually complain a lot here …but not today. Formula 1 and NASCAR can not touch the actual racing in the IndyCar series. The talent pool in IndyCar is strong and the racing is great.
Dr. T, Desoto, Texas
RM: I was standing on the track after the race talking to a General Motors employee and I wondered how anyone that’s a fan of racing could watch Charlotte that night and stay awake compared to what we witnessed at IMS. Saavedra has a dislocated right foot and crewman Daniel Jang had injuries to his foot and ankle but will be out of Methodist Hospital today.
Q: Wow! From a disappointing start to close racing all day to an incredible finish, this year’s “500” had it all. Great races like these used to be the exception but they’ve now become the rule. I was rooting for Will Power, but once the race started it looked like Dixon and Simon Pagenaud had the best cars. I thought the trouble that found Montoya had ruined his race, but then he just drove through the field – pretty impressive. How many other owners would have hired a 40-ish driver who had washed out of NASCAR? Hats off to Roger Penske for working the “unfair advantage.”
I was crushed for Conor Daly and also for Sage Karam. Given his past racing and testing with Schmidt Peterson, as well as his Long Beach performance, Conor seems like the obvious choice to sub for Hinchcliffe. Briscoe did a great job, but he’s the past, and Daly’s the future. Any word from SPM? As you said, Chevy put a “butt-kickin’” on Honda. Is their advantage power, fuel mileage, low drag, downforce, or all of the above? Is there any chance IndyCar will screw around with the rules and try to even out and fix what ain’t broke?
RM: You have to tip your hat to Penske, he saw there was still plenty of fire in JPM and he hired Al & Bobby Unser rides after their supposed expiration date and they won Indy 500s and championships. And Montoya is still a kid compared to them. Daly was named by SPM for Detroit on Tuesday morning. Don’t think IndyCar will try to even things up, I think Honda is working hard to try and catch up, though.
Q: The two most important open-wheel races on the calendar were held within hours of each other on Sunday-and oh, what a difference! The Monaco Grand Prix was only saved from being another boring snooze-fest by the Mercedes team pit strategy blunder. Prior to the Monaco race, the previous 10 dry races were all won by the polesitter. How exciting is that? Contrast that to the 500, a nail-biter right to the end, with Dixon and Power contesting former F1 driver JP Montoya right to the last second. Has F1 now become a feeder series to IndyCar? IndyCar has now proved the best driver can win a race.
Doug Caldwell, Ocean Park, Wash.
RM: My response is that if people weren’t entertained by Sunday’s Indy 500, then they obviously don’t enjoy auto racing. And a driver has always had a better chance to prove his/her worth in IndyCar compared to F1. But I wouldn’t say F1 is a feeder system to anything, it’s just that guys like Justin Wilson, Sebastien Bourdais, Luca Fillipi, Jack Hawksworth and Stefano Coletti seem to understand IndyCar is their best opportunity.
Q: My NASCAR-loving uncle always calls our house during the Indy 500 to ask various questions about the race. This year he called at the beginning to ask why the crowd booed JPM at the driver introductions. After the race, he said, “I hate Montoya, I wanted Power or Dixon to win.” The Indy fans at my house felt mostly the same way? I am not sure the exact reason for the dislike from all of us, although Montoya’s personality wore out his welcome in F1 and again in NASCAR. Maybe his winning big this year will finally give IndyCar the ‘villain’ driver it has long desired?
Nick H, Dixon, Ill.
RM: That’s interesting. I was inside the media center so I couldn’t hear the crowd during introductions but when he was booed in 2000, I got it since he was the evil CART champion in the IRL 500. Not sure he wore out his welcome in either F1 or NASCAR because I wasn’t around but I think Ron Dennis had a lot to do with his decision to move on. JPM would be the perfect guy in the black driver’s suit (Penske prefers those colors) and he’d have embraced being the villain, trust me. He doesn’t care what anybody thinks of him, he just wants to kick ass and that’s how he’s always been. Thankfully.
Q: I am sooooo glad I did not put my 500 tickets on eBay. No matter how much IndyCar management pisses me off, the drivers, crews and teams never disappoint and KEEP ME COMING BACK! The 500 was incredible and I’m thrilled that Juan Pablo Montoya won the race. Talk about a helluva drive. Rear wing change, missing his mark on pit road, but hammer down is what everybody respects about the guy. Give him the car and he’ll get it to the front. Passing Power AND Dixon going into Turn 1 was vintage Montoya.
Juan is the type of driver that IndyCar can sell and his reach and appeal is something they have to capitalize on to help move the series forward. I wonder if Ganassi is second guessing himself for not keeping JPM in his organization? When Dario’s stock car effort didn’t go so well he brought him back to open-wheel so I’m wondering why the Chipster didn’t do the same thing with JPM? Chip’s loss is Roger’s gain and JPM is going to be tough to beat for the championship. He’s got the mental toughness to match the ability and he seems to thrive on pressure. Can’t wait for next year’s 100th. I’ve already given my boss my vacation request!
Scott St. Clair, Erie, Pa.
RM: The pass you spoke of illustrates what Sunday was all about – non-stop overtaking all through the field but especially at the front. Montoya has always been a force of nature behind the wheel and one of those drivers who makes you watch at all times. Not sure if Chip has any regrets, but he wouldn’t admit it if he did.
Q: That was the single BEST IndyCar race I’ve ever been to! The last 13 laps were incredible. We were also able to go to Carb Day, which is a good party. My kids really loved the parade on Saturday and the race was epic! For as much as the series gets wrong, they still manage to get this race right.
My only two gripes, and they are from a “fan experience” point of view, are these: 1) Why no Wi-Fi at the track when you have a cellular company as your title sponsor? 2) There isn’t much to do in the fan zone for kids (aged 8 and 11). Why not throw some rides in the infield? Not roller coasters, but a Ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl…stuff a “midway” should have. They do it in Milwaukee with nowhere near the room they have at IMS.
One other thought: why not throw some go-karts on the infield track? They do that at Road America, and it gives people a place to play around.
RM: Other than the start (and it was pathetic, way too strung out), it was as good as it gets for most of the green flag running. It does seem odd that Verizon wouldn’t have service and the go-kart track would be well received.
Q: A great race, just too bad the first 10 laps were so screwed up. I really don’t understand the idea behind closing the pits. Can you please enlighten us about why this happens? In this particular case, the result was Montoya couldn’t get in and get the bumper removed from the back of the car, which then subsequently fell off on track requiring more caution laps. This sounds pretty stupid to me, unless of course their intention is to create as much caution time as possible. In my mind the only reason for closing the pits should be for pit crew safety. Of course if they do that then Coyne cars will never be allowed to pit!
Doug Mayer, Revelstoke, B.C., Canada
RM: You answered your own question. If you left the pits open, there would effectively be a race back to the pits. On road courses, under some some circumstances, that is acceptable. NEVER on ovals. The drivers need to have NO incentive to continue at speed. Therefore the pits are closed and safety is dispatched immediately due to the common severity of oval crashes. Juan could have removed the bumper in a closed pit and restarted last, which is where he ended up anyway.
Q: Another great Indy 500 and another great run by Marco but he just didn’t have the power to get to the front. With that said, I am a little concerned about Honda being underpowered and was wondering what the detailed story is behind the scenes in why Michael switched to Honda? Was he forced in any way to make the switch or did Honda make him an offer he could not refuse? Did he have a choice to stay with Chevy? Is Michael regretting the decision?
I do remember reading when the deal went through that Michael didn’t want to be the third wheel behind Penske and Ganassi and was also wondering what exactly that meant? What would Penske and Ganassi get that Michael wouldn’t?
Rob, in southeast Michigan
RM: When Ganassi left Honda for Chevy, I think Michael felt like he’d be third in the pecking order, whatever that means. He immediately became Honda’s #1 team and he might have some regrets as to the balance of power today but he did win Indy with RHR in 2014 and Honda is pretty good about bouncing back.
Q: My question is about Honda getting their butt kicked by Chevy at Indy: what are your thoughts about the program? Will they quit at the end of the season or fix the problems? What are Honda guys saying?
P.S. Great coverage of the Indy 500 from RACER.com.
RM: The word a few weeks ago was that Honda was close to re-upping for 2016 but that was before Sunday’s massacre. HPD is trying to improve performance but not sure any difference maker can be produced in the last 10 races. IndyCar better hope and pray Honda stays because GM didn’t get in this to be the sole supplier. Thanks for reading RACER.com.
Q: I’ve been attending the Indy 500 since 1978, with the exception of the Civil War years in 1996-1999. We all know how devastating those Civil War years were to the sport and the 2007-’08 financial collapse and painfully slow economic “recovery” (if that’s what we can call this today) still hurts attendance in all forms of motor racing, for sure. I know what a joke last week’s qualifying was, too, because I was there. But, yesterday, I was sitting in Turn 2, looking at more empty seats, wondering if those glory days of 20+ years ago were gone forever. Then, I saw the replay last night and my jaw dropped when I saw the emptiness up north in Turns 3 and 4. I have never seen so many empty seats. This thing is going to collapse if we don’t get a Bernie Ecclestone-type czar to save the 500. If this czar were named Robin Miller, what would he do?
Tim from Zionsville, Ind.
RM: Believe it or not, there were even more empty seats a few years ago but Sunday looked about like 2014 – estimate 210,000 at most. Raising ticket prices, charging to park, gouging people for concessions, all those things add up to empty seats. I don’t have enough time to tell you what’s wrong with IndyCar but in terms of the Indy 500 my suggestion would be to LOWER ticket prices to try and get more people to attend and make it easier for people to get into the track. But that’s not what the Boston Consulting Group preached. And I think you’re going to see a lot more empty seats after the 100th Indy 500.
Q: Hulman & Company might want to take some of that IMS 100 money and rebuild those demolished grandstands in Turn 3. I could never figure out why the hell anyone would want to sit in Turn 3, but with the way the DW12 is running down the backstretch, that is becoming prime passing real estate. If you can’t afford tickets in Turn 1, then Turn 3 is great racing value for the money!
Chris, Oak Forest, Ill.
RM: You are correct about Turn 3’s action, but those seats weren’t selling so they were removed and with all the empty seats at the north end, I think we’ll see more grandstands come down than go up – a la NASCAR tracks.
Q: Since Always B******* Coverage (oh dear God, when will they go away?) didn’t mention it, what happened to Justin Wilson? And any details about Marco and Graham’s race?
RM: Justin ran strong early, staying in the lead pack, until he felt a vibration and pitted early. Then the yellow came out while he was in the pits and he was screwed the rest of the day. To counteract, Andretti Autosport put him (and Carlos Munoz) onto an alternate strategy that got them up near the front and would have worked with a couple more laps under caution following that last crash. But when no more cautions came, they had to pit with two laps to go, which dropped them to 20th and 21st.
Graham (fifth) and Marco (sixth) got all they could out of their Honda is how it looked to me. Their cars handled well, and they drove well, but like all Honda drivers, they were getting killed on restarts.
Q: Haven’t written in in a long time, but I felt the need too after Qualifying, but not for the reason you might think. My thoughts on this whole qualifying thing is that while it was handled in the most knee-jerk, amateurish way possible, what IndyCar did was rectify a mistake they made well before Sunday. That mistake? Allowing different bodywork for qualifying in the first place! Since when have teams been allowed to present one car in qualifying and another in the race? (I know it’s only the aero bodywork that changes, not the car underneath, but still!)
When constructors made a car in the past, they never made one configuration of bodywork that worked well on its own and one that worked well in traffic, and the concept that the teams could this year was asinine. If Chevy wanted to build a car that would win them a pole and be great on its own, fine. If Honda wanted to bring a car that will work better in traffic, let them, but those should (and now will) be the choice the manufactures make, and those choices should be final. Even if you give the individual teams the choice, so that some go for low-downforce and some for drivability in the race that would be better then what we had going into the weekend.
The only thing you should be able to change between qualifying and race are settings – aero, gearing, boost, suspension and whatever other little settings engineers have to play with. Period. End of story. The minute you get to swap out whole pieces of bodywork so that the cars don’t even look the same anymore, you’ve lost me. If it took Carpenter’s accident to return some sense to IndyCar, then fine by me.
That being said, IndyCar then goes back into full stupid mode by reducing the boost. If you introduce that much more downforce, what is the point of also reducing the boost? One of the two choices was appropriate in the circumstances. Doing both was just stupid. Even when they make good choices, IndyCar can’t help but screw things up. How can an organization like IndyCar step on its own toes so much?
Andrew Kinsella, Ontario, Canada
RM: I don’t have much more to say than what I wrote in my “send in the clowns” column and it made IndyCar look like it was lost, confused and panicked. The drivers and teams and manufacturers didn’t agree – nor did the fans that showed up at IMS.
Q: Here’s the obligatory rant from a cranky old man, along with some suggestions for the powers that be. For the first time EVER, I couldn’t find the race on the AM/FM radio (what does that tell you?), had to use my phone to stream audio of the Paul Page and Davey Hamilton ESPN radio adfest. Former driver Hamilton referred to Montoya’s early “fender” damage, if a former driver see’s “fenders” on an open-wheel car, something is horribly wrong…with the car, not the driver/announcer. Bring back a recording of Jim Nabors, hell it’s the 21st century, couldn’t we have a CyberJim sing every year instead of having to opt for NSTNK? If Natalie Cole could sing a duet with her dead father way back in ’92…why not keep Jim for us traditionalists?
Stream live video of the race for free (c’mon now, the provider is making money off the ads). If the cars fly through the air backwards, go back to flat-bottom cars and watch that issue disappear. If starts and restarts are such an issue, install a second (high speed) limiter button in the cars that all drivers would have to actuate before a green light/flag could come out, or opt for an old style diagonal Le Mans standing start against the pit wall for the road race. End of rant.
Napalm Nick, Locust Grove, Va.
RM: Good to hear from you Nick, it’s been a while. ABC isn’t about to let you stream the race (nor would any other network) but that’s too bad about the radio network being unavailable. As poor as the starts have been this season, I’m all for a Le Mans start.
Q: As a first-time attendee to the 500, I doubt if I could have asked for better: the weather was pleasant, the fans were great, and the on-track product was some of the best I’ve seen in a long time. About the only thing this Ryan Hunter-Reay fan could have asked for was for Honda to be more competitive. Should I have any reason to get my hopes up for the other two legs of the Triple Crown, or would I be better off waiting until next season? Also, do you personally think JPM will take Fontana and Pocono this season?
Garrett from San Diego
RM: The Indy engine was Honda’s latest and greatest so that should be cause for concern since Rahal said Chevy clearly had more power on race day. JPM won Pocono last year and maybe Big Al is nervous about his record as the lone Triple Crown winner. Too bad it doesn’t pay anything like it did in his day.
Q: The GOOD – Juan Pablo Montoya raced as fast, as close, and as determined as any champion would to win the race. No fuel strategy, no slower traffic creating an opening, just ‘get out of the way I want to win more than you’- driving. The racing through the last half for that matter was seemingly clean, fast, professional stuff. While the non-winners aren’t happy about not winning they have got to be happy with the good hard racing.
The BAD- Who is this woman “reporter” from ESPN who ruined the Indy 500 pre-race coverage? God Almighty is every single sentence and comment about the DANGER the FEAR the CONCERN ON FAMILIES FACES etc…Give it a rest! These competitors already have their season underway, have run other races, and had been at Indy all month. The aero package should have been better vetted-but this isn’t new in the tech world of racing. I turned off the whole damn pre-race after two attempts to watch this nonsense.
The REALLY UGLY-Let’s start with the singing group from the old MAD Magazine movie “Up The Academy” version of Back Home Again in Indiana. It wasn’t butchered this bad by drunk Confederate soldiers in the 1860s! And the back echo from the PA made it worse! Please find a younger Hulman family member to say “Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines.” Six simple words…but noooo “please start your engines.” Sort of like please Mr. Ecclestone find a mere half a billion dollars and buy Indy from the Hulmans before it’s too late! That nice old bomber three-abreast starting grid stuff is a great photo shoot but unless the pace car is going to be going about 100mph in the short stretch between Turns 3 and 4 to bunch up the field then it’s a joke from Row 3 back.
Mo Wynn, MT Pleasant S.C.
RM: Yep, Montoya grabbed that race away and it was a classic. ESPN was hyping up the danger factor to get people to watch and I imagine Lindsey Czarniak was told to play it that way. I think let Mari and her daughters give the command next year. But I can’t see IMS being put up for sale. Mari always said it was for her grandchildren. The flying start was disgraceful, agreed.
Q: Who snuck in behind Mari Hulman George and ‘finished’ the ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines’? It seemed extremely rude and it appeared Mari was not too pleased and I don’t blame her. Even if she has gotten rather frail the last couple of years. And this is about a week too late, but can you tell me why Qualifications cannot go into Monday if the situation like this year happens? Is it just tradition, or is there a real reason that qualifying ends Sunday no matter what?
Debbie Biere, St. Louis, Mo.
RM: It was one of Mari’s daughters, Nancy. Monday is the rain date for qualifying but Sunday’s two hours are on ABC which is why it ends then. But with only 33-34 cars, only one day of qualifying is needed.
Q: A great 500! But my question is about the couple of weeks leading up to the big event and the rules changes, indecision, and (arguably) over-reactions that we saw from the series prior to qualifying. One of the most iconic scenes from the epic film Senna was of the driver’s meeting where the drivers themselves participated in a majority rules vote on whether or not to race when safety was in question. Simple. It seems after the crashes this month there were meetings between the series, the team owners and the manufacturers, but it appeared (from the outside at least) that the drivers had relatively little input. And further, it seemed through their comments in the media that many of the drivers were not in agreement with many of the series decisions. What kind of voice did the drivers actually have in the decision-making process? Shouldn’t they be the ones with the biggest say?
Rob, London, Ontario
P.S. Next time you see The Captain, you should strike a deal with him that every time he uses the terms “The IRL,” “The Indy Racing League,” or “The League” to describe the current sanctioning body that he has to donate $1,000 to charity. A lot of money will go to a good cause!
RM: Unless there was a clear-cut problem with the cars that had been identified (and there wasn’t), the drivers should always be consulted. I don’t know what happened behind closed doors but I do know all of the drivers I talked to were mad about taking away the boost and being told to change car configurations. Considering how switched on he is, it’s amazing R.P. continues to use IRL.
Q: You clean up well and looked sharp (and a little uncomfortable) in your jacket and tie on Carb Day on NBCSN. When was the last time you wore a jacket? How long after the camera was off you did the jacket stay on?
David, Waxhaw, N.C.
RM: Thanks, P.T. tied my tie and Danny Sullivan loaned me a sport coat. The last time was my father’s funeral in 2008 and the jacket was off before Tracy could loosen his tie.
Q: The main reason I write is to inquire about Dale Coyne Racing and some of the unique issues faced with the shuffling of drivers over there. Given what happened to them on pit road, this is certainly the least of their worries (hope both mechanics are OK!), but still makes me wonder. Seeing that Tristan Vautier qualified the #19 entry, when it became apparent that Carlos Huertas would not be able to race, why wouldn’t they have moved Davison to the #18 to replace Huertas and rewrapped it with his sponsors and left Vautier in the #19. Maybe there are rules here that I am not familiar with, but my initial thought was that this would mean that only one of their cars would have had to start at the rear of the field instead of both. Any insight?
Justin Smith, Birmingham, Ala.
RM: Davison practiced in #19 on Monday and was quick. Vautier didn’t get the call to replace Huertas until the night before Carb Day so it was only sensible to keep James in #19 and let Tristan take over #18. And it should be said he did a helluva job qualifying the #19 car.
Q: James Hinchcliffe’s recent accident at Indianapolis is bad timing when it comes to the Honda Indy Toronto. The event is two weeks away. His health and well being of course is by far paramount forget anything about racing. That said, there is no question that his participation in the Honda Indy Toronto race since 2011 drew people in and affects the turnout. The diehard fans will definitely show up at the racetrack knowing it’s always a great show. However, those who mainly wanted to see Hinch and solely wanted to attend for that reason may be disappointed and now may reconsider. Hinchcliffe was the only Canadian in the field and is from Oakville near to Toronto. I’m wondering if you have heard if that situation will change with another Canadian such as Tagliani entered?
Geoff Roberts, Unionville, Canada
RM: Hinch certainly brought people in and also provided invaluable contributions to promoting the event with his personality, TV presence and social media following. He can’t be replaced but there is talk of Canada’s Ric Peterson lobbying for Tag in the #5 car because Toronto needs someone to cheer for and always supports its countrymen.
Q: I was thinking back about Indy history, and the thought occurred to me that if all of the CART teams had shown up in Indy in May of ’96, they would have crushed the IRL regulars and the 25/8 rule. Seems like the PR nightmare this would have created for Tony George would have been a much better way to fight back than staging a race on the same day in Michigan. I know the people running CART made a lot of blunders, but this just seems too easy. Why didn’t they think of it?
RM: Well, they were too busy selling their old cars to IRL teams and I think most CART owners weren’t worried about Tony George’s series. In hindsight, most agree the war would have ended after Orlando and Phoenix in 1996 had CART showed up because without the Indy 500, most of those IRL teams couldn’t have continued.
Q: From the qualifying debacle to a race that featured nothing more than a duel between the two wealthiest owners in racing, this year’s race seemed like a return to the 2008-2010 years, where only Ganassi and Penske had a chance to win. I find that incredibly boring, and probably won’t watch another race this season. I do, however, have some questions for you: What happened with Honda? Which drivers made bone-headed moves resulting in crashes (Sato)? What was Helio’s problem? He’s not the happy-go-lucky guy he wants us to believe he is, right? Why does Andretti Autosport run five cars when they can’t put one in the top five? Wouldn’t they be better off concentrating their talent and efforts on two really good cars? What needs to be done to fix this race and this sport?
Mike Crimbly, Lititz, Pa.
RM: Well, I don’t know how anyone could have been bored by those last 13 laps, regardless of which driver or team you favor. Yes, it was a Penske/Ganassi Show all day but with Chevrolet having an advantage (in addition to numbers), it’s not a surprise and it’s the first time in a long time you felt like the winning team was preordained. Honda has been behind GM all season. Sato was pretty optimistic. Andretti might just need all the sponsors he gathered for Indy to keep his huge payroll going. The Indy 500 doesn’t need to be fixed but we don’t have enough time to discuss what IndyCar needs.
Q: Why did you attribute the low-downforce/high-power configuration to Brickyard legend Rick Mears? Now IndyCar will never allow it. You should have said “According to some anonymous jackass in Boston who never raced a car in his life…..” we’d have had 1000hp inside of a week.
John Masden, Georgetown Ind.
RM: Good point John, I temporarily lost my mind last Friday night listening to Dan Gurney and Rick discussing what Indy cars need. I mean, what have those two ever done at IMS?
Q: I remember watching Texas in 2010 when the Holmatro Safety Team embarrassed themselves trying to extract Simona de Silvestro from her burning car. While I was relieved she escaped serious injury, I was horrified at how low the safety team had apparently sunk. It truly appeared as if they had become complacent over the years of post-SAFER barrier racing, and when a genuinely urgent situation presented itself, it caught them with their pants down. I made a mental note to myself – something along the lines of “an IndyCar driver is going to die someday because of insufficient medical response.” Robin, I can’t tell you how happy I am to be proven wrong. You are right in putting James Hinchcliffe’s rescue right up there with Zanardi’s. Not only did they save Hinchcliffe’s life, they saved his legs too! Too bad David Letterman hung it up before he could bring those guys on his show.
Jimmy, Roseville, Calif.
RM: There was a hose malfunction that night in Texas and it looked pretty clumsy as I recall. but as frantic as it appeared I think Simona was still out of the car in 23 seconds. Give Mike Yates and the Holmatro crew a standing ovation because they saved Hinch on the track before the doctors, nurses and surgeons saved him at Methodist Hospital. I’m not sure why IndyCar has put a gag order on everyone about this rescue effort because it’s a great story of people performing perfectly under extreme duress.
Q: If Hinch’s accident isn’t a wake-up call to NASCAR (and by extension TUDOR Sports Cars) about a traveling safety and medical crew, I don’t know what is. First Zanardi, now Hinch. Those guys are just amazing.
RM: It should be and I know Dr. Olvey and Lon Bromley of CART 1 Safety were open to helping NASCAR but it chooses to go with track workers. Wally Dallenbach, Terry Trammell and Olvey should all be in the Racing Hall of Fame.
Q: Far as I’m concerned that was one of the best 500s ever. I noticed in the post-wreck interview that TK made a statement to the effect that “see, we had wrecks and no one went airborne” almost seemed like a poke at IndyCar for over-reacting during qualifying. Was he one of the more disgruntled drivers over the last-minute changes?
Pete, Arnold, MD.
RM: I think almost every driver thought it was an over-reaction and none of the ones I talked to wanted to cut the boost. But the race saved IndyCar’s butt, as usual.
Q: My family were at the track this weekend and saw Helio run the fastest lap at the Speedway since 1996. We saw excitement brewing that hadn’t been in the air for a long time. We also saw Newgarden lose a car in spectacular fashion. We were there for what could have been one of the fastest qualifying days in years, only to see it get rained out on Saturday, and then Sunday, well, that’s history now. None of it really seems to matter at this point.
On Saturday morning, before the rains came, my 8-year-old daughter caught Hinchcliffe’s eye. He smiled and gave her a big wave before jumping into his car for some practice laps. It was tough to tell her on Monday afternoon that her new favorite driver was in a bad way. Turns out, it was even worse than I could have imagined at the time. I was at the track again last Sunday, as always, but one of the greatest personalities the sport has ever known will not. I read a quote attributed to Hinch on RACER.com, and I hope he is in good enough shape to have taken the time to say those words. Robin, you’re closer to this stuff than most, so really, how’s James doing? It’ll make the week go a lot better if I hear it straight from someone who won’t spin it.
John Skalka, Ind.
RM: Hinch is doing real well and he texted me Tuesday morning that he might be going home within 24 hours (he now has -Ed.). He’s as good with the fans as any driver I’ve ever seen because he remembers how friendly Greg Moore was to him as a teenager.
Q: Sure I’m one of many writing about qualifying but need to say my bit! I sat through the rain Saturday with the girlfriend and arrived at the track on Sunday just as Ed was turning on his lid. I am 29 and have been going to the Speedway for just about my whole life and have spent a lot of hours at that place watching pavement dry, but Sunday was the first time I felt like I was wasting my time there. If the series and Chevy were concerned about the airborne issue, how was there no contingency in place or even considered until the matter was staring them (“leadership”) right in the face? Were they just banking on that not happening again in a big roll of the dice?
The girlfriend and I sat there from 8:15 until noon waiting for them to figure their s*** out without much clue as to what was going on. Finally I got wise and checked RACER.com on my phone for updates because you guys do have your s*** together. But I digress…Once the decision came down and was formally announced, we put the coozies back in the cooler and headed back to Cincy. With there still being a threat of rain (we felt a couple sprinkles walking back to car), we figured there was no point in waiting until 3 p.m. for a slipshod qualifying format that may or may not get rained out.
I will never begrudge anyone making a decision in the name of safety, but I am not sure what turning the boost down had to do with anything. Ed was the first and only person to have an incident with the boost up. And kudos to the Honda teams that took one for the series without much of a public outcry. I guess the lack of public knowledge about IndyCar might have been a blessing Sunday because no one else in society at-large seems to have noticed the series embarrass itself.
The final point I will make is that I made a fan of my girlfriend, who knew nothing about racing, last year by taking her to qualifying weekend. She told me on the way home if this had been her first experience with it, she would never go back. I am sure she is not the only one who felt that way leaving the track this weekend. The series can’t afford to have days like Sunday. But I think everyone here on RACER already knew that. Sorry for the rant, but thank you for the forum to do so! Here’s to The Mayor’s recovery (the only thing that REALLY matters to me right now).
RM: All the silence followed by the knee-jerk and shelving of the Fast Nine competition added up to a PR nightmare for IndyCar and they lost more than your girlfriend. The drivers were as pissed off as you were and we still don’t have any kind of explanation from IndyCar more than a week later. I guess it figured the race made everyone forget. But Marshall Pruett has a commentary coming later this week that I think you will enjoy.
Q: Thought you’d be interested in this survey running on FOXSports.com to determine “the greatest motor race on earth” It shocks (and sorrows) me to see that the Indy 500 is currently losing to Le Mans by a 60-40 margin the week of the race. Had this been a European-based site, I probably wouldn’t be surprised but I’ve gotta believe the vast majority of visitors to that site are Americans so this really doesn’t bode well for IndyCar in general and the 500 in particular.
Bob in Peoria, Ill.
RM: It saddens me as well, Bob, but it doesn’t surprise me because Le Mans is where the innovators and manufacturers want to be. Ford isn’t coming back to IMS, it’s going to France so that tells me all I need to know. Thanks for sharing the bad news (smile).
Q: I’m a five-time Fontana IndyCar attendee who is on the fence about this year’s race. While I’m sure NBCSN is part of the answer, why is the MAVTV 500 scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. West Coast time? The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim start at 4:15 p.m. and the L.A. Dodgers are out of town that night. Why not start the race after sunset as in previous years? Like others, I might stay home and watch on my computer instead of paying $35 to bake in 95 degree heat for three hours. I love IndyCar racing – my dad took me to Laguna Seca in 1988 for my first race – but why won’t IndyCar and the other entities involved help me to help them?
Dr. Tran, Los Angeles, Calif.
RM: The starting times are usually determined by IndyCar and the television network, be it NBCSN or ABC. Auto Club Speedway’s preference would be a night race in October but since IndyCar insists on ending the year by Labor Day, the MAVTV 500 was moved again. It will be a tough sell on a Saturday afternoon but Dave Allen and his people do their best against impossible odds and they want IndyCar to succeed. But they can’t keep bailing water with revolving dates and bad starting times.
[ABOVE, Fontana 2000].
Q: The Indy 500 started out as a test of strength, willpower, and technology. Over the years the race has lost some of the mystique, due to the technology making the cars easier to drive, as well as the race is significantly shorter in terms of time due to the technology making the cars so much faster. With all that said, why has there never been any discussion of making the race longer? The Indy 1000! Obviously it would make the purists upset, but I think it would make the race even more interesting than it currently is! Your thoughts? I’m probably crazy.
RM: I think the tradition of 500 miles is the last sacred thing we have so I can’t imagine that ever changing. Of course I also couldn’t imagine having only 33 cars, two days of time trials, $9 tenderloins and paying $75 to park either.
Q: I almost wrote this prior to the opening of the season but decided to wait until after the season started in case there might be some unexpected improvement. But after all that’s happened this month I think I have to say it: IMS and IndyCar need to be bought out by the France family.
If they can market such an inferior product as stock cars, think what they could do with as great a product, (or potentially great product), as IndyCar. They take on all comers including the NFL. They have huge sponsorship commitments; much larger than needed to field an IndyCar as opposed to their series where you have to practically build a new car for every track. Big TV numbers. And if NASCAR/the France family ran IndyCar and owned IMS, open-wheel racing would no longer be a competitor but part of “The Family” and there could be lots of cross-promotion. There would end up being far more teams, more races, and more ovals.
NASCAR proves that oval racing is still the most popular type of racing in the U.S. if it’s marketed correctly. Just to be completely honest, I admit I am an oval fan and find street/road course races boring and would never attend one. I tried it once and grew quickly tired of having to wait more than a minute to see my favorites come by for a just few seconds. Nonetheless, as I said, oval racing still appears to be the most popular with fans if we go by the attendance numbers when NASCAR promotes it. I know there will be lots of folks wanting my head on a stick for this letter but I just don’t see IndyCar surviving past the 100th Indy 500 unless somebody who understands and has the necessary passion for racing, and the wherewithal to do what needs to be done takes control. Who would have ever thought anybody would suggest NASCAR as the savior of IndyCar and IMS? Not me!
Jim Patton, Lindale, Texas
RM: I think your concerns about Indy after 2016 are well founded and very real but I don’t think NASCAR/ISC/Brian France are the answer. They’ve got their own challenges of trying to sell tickets and right now IndyCar isn’t much competition except in May so why throw your rival/enemy a lifeline? Tony George thought the Frances were his ally in 1996 and we saw how little they lifted during the late ‘90s.
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