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 email@example.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: Is it me, or was the race at Texas kind of painful to keep watching? Call me ignorant for not having seen a DW12 race at Texas before Saturday (I’ve been overseas the last three years), but the cars seemed awfully slow, and the lack of competition (i.e. passing) seemed slim to none, unless you counted pit sequences and such. I think IndyCar completely went overboard with their mandated aero fixes, especially the increased downforce. We can’t blame Firestone…they produced the tires the series specified, but they just didn’t suit the increased downforce that was mandated at the last minute.
But there is a positive to come out of that parade on Saturday night – the cars aren’t racing wheel to wheel anymore, so we certainly don’t need those dog-ugly rear bumpers anymore (not that they’ve proven to be strong enough to prevent a launch anyways)! Take them off! Call me ‘old school’, but I always looked forward to the TMS race every year, because the racing was always fun to watch. Not so much this year. What say you?
Brian from Clarksville, Tenn.
RM: An oval race that has a long green-flag run, only one caution and only 23 cars is going to get strung out and, let’s be honest, restarts keep things exciting – especially at Indianapolis. Having said that, there was a lot of good, hard racing (Dixon & Kanaan, T.K. & Helio, Briscoe & Kimball come to mind) and plenty of overtaking as new tires went on and old ones wore out. That’s what the drivers wanted and Firestone delivered. It wasn’t a classic race but it was better than the past two years. And I’ve covered oval races where only ONE car was on the lead lap.
Q: OK plain and simple Texas has been an awesome race fast wheel-to-wheel action! Oh yeah, Townsend and Paul are freaking awesome they say what they think and are easy to listen too! NBCSN does a great job!
RM: Obviously, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and Saturday night’s race was a mixed bag from you fans. It got praised and it got hazed but most agree P.T. and T. Bell always make it entertaining.
Q: I keep holding my breath, hoping some will get a grip on the Wirth Aero kit (Honda should start distancing themself) but with so many parts, I guess adjusting one presents a cascading effect with the rest. How did RLL miss so badly at Texas? He was quick in the practice, did they make adjustments for the race? I should have DVR’d the race, I missed how Briscoe got a lap down. That man should have a full time ride. See you at Pocono in seven weeks where we sit in the Anyone But Power group.
Dino from New Hanover, Pa.
RM: Graham qualified sixth but the car got loose early and they never got a handle on it in their first truly bad outing of the year in terms of performance. Briscoe did a helluva job and charged from 19th to the lead pack, where he stayed all evening until the end.
Q: What is the logic behind IndyCar telling Honda and Chevy that they can’t make any changes to the aero kits or engines once the season starts? So they have to determine the final design before they’ve actually raced the car? Does this make any sense? It’s not competition if you can’t try to improve your product.
Bill G, St. Pete
RM: Actually, if either was thought to have a substantial competitive disadvantage it could ask IndyCar for relief and Honda could have made the request during May but didn’t. It’s not like its a couple seconds, it’s just a few tenths but that’s big these days. And Honda is currently testing in the wind tunnel to try and make improvements to what it’s got on the fly. But both manufacturers tested the kits before the final designs were set.
Q: I have a beef with Marshall Pruett and some of your followers. And that is the criticism of the Aero Kit introduction, and how Chevy has managed to come out with a superior design over Honda. We all wanted some more innovation and differences in between the looks of the cars, or least have differences in between the manufacturers, and now we have it. Marshall now wants to invoke a 9.3 clause to allow Honda to come up with a different bodywork scheme. Come on, the Honda boys are only three tenths away from the Chevy’s, so why throw out the baby with the bathwater?
Honda has won two races, albeit in the rain when the playing field is leveled out more, but racing in the rain does count. Give Honda a chance to catch up, and don’t hinder them when they are showing an advantage, like they did during qualifying at Indy. We all know that if Roger Penske should drop Chevy today and pick up the Honda, he would be winning in them before the end of the season. Give the Honda teams a chance to catch up, and that would add to the excitement. I feel that Graham Rahal (the most improved driver in the field), brings a lot of excitement to the races, even though we know he can’t beat all of the Chevy’s outright, but he can beat some of them. Finding out which ones he does beat has been one of the compelling stories of the season.
Paul Sturmey, Ottawa, Canada
RM: That’s the healthy argument today. Why should Chevrolet be punished for doing a better job? It’s competition, right? On the flip side, why was Honda punished at Indy for a problem it didn’t have? But the underlying storyline is what happens to Honda teams and sponsors if this beat-down continues? Does IndyCar understand the ramifications of losing on of its most valuable partners? Or a couple of teams? Is the best thing for the series to try and get Honda some relief? Your point is well taken. People wanted something different and they got it – but at what cost?
Q: After reading Marshall Pruett’s article “It’s Time for Rule 9.3,” some of the comments about the quality of the Honda drivers and their teams were brought up. Andretti and Foyt are the main teams for Honda but they’re going up against Penske and Ganassi’s drivers that have loads of career wins, championships and Indy 500 titles under their belts. Then look at the drivers for Honda. Ryan Hunter-Reay is the only driver that has checked off boxes in career wins, championships and Indy 500 victories. Hinch is out for the remainder of the season (we miss you) and, largely due to strategy dictated by weather, the only other Honda winner is…Carlos Munoz? The talent pool for Honda and the teams providing the talent might need to be considered.
Rob Peterson, Rochester, NY
RM: I would say SPM is a major Honda team as well and there is no doubt Chevy teams own the edge in experience, resources and performance. GM had the same edge a year ago but RHR (three wins) and Pagenaud (two) were almost as formidable as Penske (five) and Ganassi (three) because it was still a spec series. Obviously, Penske and Ganassi did most of the testing for GM and they’ve got these aero kits figured out. The fact they’ve got an advantage and are cleaning up shouldn’t be a surprise, but I think we got spoiled last year when you had no idea who was going to win any given race.
Q: The Indianapolis Star quoted Graham Rahal as saying that Chevy engines had a lot more horsepower than Honda (http://www.indystar.com/story/sports/motor/2015/05/24/honda-drivers-frustrating-miles/27895675/). Marshall Pruett’s ‘Rule 9.3’ article quoted Rahal as saying that the engine was fine and the problem was the aero kit. Can you explain this complete 180 from Rahal? I doubt he was misquoted. He’s undoubtedly looked at tons of 2015 data and spent his entire life around racing, so I doubt he was mistaken. Is someone trying to throw Wirth under the bus?
Kyle in Raleigh
RM: I can’t explain that but Rahal told me for a story on RACER.com at Detroit that it was a Wirth problem, not a Honda Performance Development problem and thought the engine was competitive. And the Honda teams don’t want to throw Wirth under the bus, they want to throw him off the bus. Then run over him.
Q: With the situation of Honda on the fence for re-upping their contract with IndyCar, why wouldn’t they look into having Cosworth build their engines? Wouldn’t it free up a lot of resources for HPD? I believe this could also work in IndyCar’s favor if Honda ever pulled out they would just need to have another OEM step in and rebrand it. I know it’s more complicated than that but it could be somewhat of a safety net.
Nick from San Diego
RM: Honda has a proud heritage and a big investment in IndyCar and that’s totally against its mantra (although pairing with Ilmor to start in the IRL in 2003 was an exception because of such a late start). If Cosworth designed a better aero kit then Honda might want a partner but the engine evidently isn’t the problem.
Q: How concerned are you and IndyCar management about the possible departure of Honda? Is there a plan in the works to keep Honda in the series, or is there a plan B, C, D, E, F ………?
RM: From everything we’ve been told, Honda will be coming back in 2016 for the 100th Indianapolis 500 but beyond that nothing is decided. IndyCar with a back-up plan? Now that’s funny.
Q: It seems to me that the best aero package for a street race would be no aero package at all. At a minimum, no front wing. As an alternative, a simple monoplane made with the strongest iron alloy known to man – maraging steel. Top that off with a chrome horn. Yes, the Chevy and Honda aero packages provide the extra down force required to increase cornering speeds. However, that speed advantage is negated by the debris field and ensuing full-course yellow that occurs every time a front wing makes contact with something. Not to mention the nose changes. Am I overthinking this?
Michael McGill, San Diego, Calif.
RM: I don’t know if you are over-thinking but the cars are designed around wings and engineers get paid handsomely to make all that aero mumbo jumbo work so I can’t imagine the wings (front or rear) ever disappearing.
Q: I think I’ve gotten to the nucleus of the aero kit problem. Before I explain my recommendations, I think it’s important look at how the sport has handled uncompetitive car designs in the past.
Lola built a dog of a car in CART in the late ’90s (I believe it was 1997), and the following year they were left with only Payton/Coyne as their team as everyone had jumped ship to Swift or Reynard. Lost faith in Lola? Go get a different car. Reynard had their back against the wall in 2002, and when it wasn’t working for Team Green, they phased Paul Tracy, Dario Franchitti, and Michael Andretti into Lolas (ABOVE: Tracy at Mexico City in 2002 -Ed.). Contrary to popular belief, the only official spec year for CART/Champ Car from 2003 to 2007, was in fact, 2007. Teams were permitted to run either the Lola or Reynard.
Remember Riley & Scott’s IRL chassis? Sure Buddy Lazier won Phoneix in 2000 with it, but after it tested poorly at Indy, Hemelgarn dumped it in favor of a Dallara (which carried them to second in the 500, and the IRL championship that year). So here is how I would fix the current situation. Based on the aforementioned cases, let economics and performance – NOT rules, sort out the situation.
Yes there isn’t as much money flowing around open-wheel racing as the past, but it’s much cheaper to buy a new aero kit over a new car. Let anyone who wants to make an aero kit do so – but make it mandatory that they have to make them available for sale to all teams. Keep the same rules in place that only allow for development within certain boxes in place. If the aero kit flounders, then it’s up to the team to buy the one working best. Hell, let them mix and match. If they want to run the engine cover from one company, the rear wing from another, then why not? But before any of the above can be implemented – ban engine manufacturers from making aero kits. Overall, that’s what’s hurting the sport right now. The Honda teams do not have the freedom to buy what’s making the Chevy teams competitive.
RM: First off, thanks for the history lesson, very informative. And you agree with A.J. – he says let the manufacturers build engines and the car companies build the components. But the reason your theory won’t work is because Chevy and Honda wanted their own identity and that’s what the aero kits gave them, so they’re not about to let anybody mix and match. And anyone can build a kit but nobody else is interested, or can afford it anyway.
Q: IndyCar can’t possibly be stupid enough to let Honda walk away, can they?
Matt, Dallas, TX
RM: After consulting RACER‘s legal team, I’ve been advised not to respond to your question. But thanks for writing.
Q: While the talk all season has been about how disadvantaged the Honda teams are to those with Chevy, I’ve wondered all season how true this really is. With Penske and Ganassi both Chevy (and arguably four of the top 5 if you count KV and CFH), you would expect them to have a bit of an advantage. Then you take the case of Graham Rahal, who is having a career year in an “uncompetitive” car. It makes me wonder…unless he is the best driver in the series now, how can he do it? (That’s not meant to be a shot on Rahal, but I find it hard to believe he is that much better than Montoya, Power, and Dixon now).
I’ve been saying for over a month it was more about the number of quality teams Chevy has coupled with the major Honda teams being unprepared, but it seemed like I was the only one with this belief. Now the past couple days, I’ve seen some interesting quotes supporting my argument. First I read where Josef Newgarden said he think Penske/Ganassi have more of an advantage on the rest of the field than Chevy has on Honda. Then I read in your midseason report card that Andretti Autosport attributed their focus on developing the aero kit for Honda during the offseason (instead of internal development of the chassis) as being what put them behind this year. When your lead team is down, a downturn in performance should be expected. I’m not going to say they are even, but how much of problem is really the aero kit and how much is the teams?
RM: It would seem like Penske and Ganassi have a much better handle on the ovals than anyone – including CFH Racing. Ed Carpenter is always one of the favorites on a super-speedway but he was nowhere at Indy and even worse at Texas – admitting they were lost. On the flip side, Josef Newgarden has been competitive at most of the street and road courses (earning his first win at Barber). Ryan Hunter-Reay, who got lapped seven times at Texas and has yet to lead a lap in 2015, also admits his team has not done a good job of figuring out all of Honda’s aero options. Rahal has been quick and aggressive and his one-car team has been over-achieving if you consider the reality of the Penske and Ganassi armadas. So it’s both – aero kits and teams – that are creating the separation but so far it’s more evident on ovals than road/street races.
Q: Why were the rear wheel cowlings sealed at TMS? They were open at Indy.
Joe Z in Naperville
RM: A preventive measure from IndyCar to try and prevent the cars from flying if they got backwards.
Q: I’m probably NOT an IndyCar “purist”, but, AGAIN, I thought the Texas race was boring. Not really any drama or suspense. Five cars finished on the lead lap. FIVE! The crowd was nearly non-existent from the looks on TV, but given the last two races, I can understand why. If it wasn’t for PT & TB in the booth, it would’ve been virtually unwatchable. If the Honda cars can’t make fuel, or save tires, they’ve got no shot. I hope I’m wrong, but for the first time in my life, I have to believe the series is in worse trouble than I care to admit. No attendance, boring races, (except for Barber & Indy), and no direction.
I was reading on Twitter, some guys are saying that the series should get rid of the aero kits the rest of the year. Right now, I AGREE. Test them more in the SEVEN-MONTH offseason and get them right & competitive. Just my two cents.
RM: Sam Schmidt thinks sacking the aero kits needs to happen ASAP but I doubt if Chevrolet and Honda agree since they spent millions of dollars developing them. Spec racing had great competition and unpredictable results. But any kind of innovation usually produces haves and have nots and that’s that we’ve got.
Q: I hope this isn’t beating a dead horse, but can we ever expect these useless flight-inducing hideous parts to exit stage right? I know they were part of the design of the DW12 PRIOR to Dan Wheldon’s unfortunate accident, But they DO NOT prevent cars from climbing one another. If they did, I wouldn’t be writing this. I wouldn’t be constantly arguing with people online about it. If they made things safer and the cars look ridiculous, I’d be OK with it. Then we fast foward to May 2015 when we had a DEFINITE issue with them. Fast foward to Texas, why do they keep bolting s*%t on, when they could simply REMOVE THE PROBLEM? I cannot possibly be the only one that sees this. I’ve asked a few drivers their opinions on this, but we all know they won’t criticize to me. But the simple fact that the pods do not do what they were intended to do, and have actually cause a major issue that RUINED qualifying this year. Just makes me question why they seem so hell bent on keeping them?
John K, Indianapolis
RM: Nobody has ever officially identified the problem from May and qualifying was ruined because IndyCar (and its lawyers?) made a knee-jerk reaction to what appeared to be a Chevrolet issue. Did those wheel pod openings help induce lift or was it because the cars were going backwards before climbing or crumpling into the wall?
Q: Why are the aero packages linked to the engine suppliers and not the race teams ?
Tony, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
RM: Because Chevy and Honda were the only two companies willing to build aero kits and because they spent millions creating their own identity.
Q: I am really beginning to think a more draconian Formula 1-style driving penalty system should be put in place. It’s the only way to get the drivers attention – penalize the hell out of them.
These guys are supposed to be professional drivers, and granted I am still pissed off these wimpy drivers bitched and whined and got double-file restarts taken away, so go cry me a river about the rain in Detroit. So many drivers should have been handed 10-spot grid penalties for driving infractions. Hell, I love Sage Karam, but the young lion should have served a 10-spot grid penalty for that race and the following one. Hell for grins he should have to go apologize in person to A.J. for hitting his car twice – now that would be worth getting on video.
The drivers need to pull their heads out of their butts and drive with some level of respect for their competitors and the owners who are footing the bill for the way too many stupid mistakes we saw at Detroit. The driving at Texas was a contrast. I mean really, if we were in Vegas I would have put money on Coletti and a few others ending that race in the wall, but instead what we got was a driving clinic by IndyCar drivers of all skill levels and oval experience levels, I don’t ever remember so few cautions at Texas, and Brisco’s save was epic – show that save to Dixie and see what he says about it (that was how he bought the wall two years ago). The racing duel between Kimball and Briscoe, and Dixie and Kannan, and Montoya and Helio, and the early duel between Pagenaud/Power/Montoya/Castronevez….great race – that’s how these guys should be driving every weekend. And they should be penalized any time they cause a wreck – and the penalty should screw up their race. That’s racing, it ain’t nice – it’s cutthroat, always has been.
John Cassis, Houston, Texas
RM: Personally, I think there is way too much officiating and we need less penalties – let the drivers police themselves. Calling off Detroit qualifying was on IndyCar for listening to a couple of complaining drivers that benefited from going with points. But, considering the conditions, there was some good, hard racing in Motown mixed in with some accidents – certainly to be expected because it’s always been like that. As for Karam, I sure don’t see how you can blame him from what happened at Indy.
Q: I just read an article from the 4-letter network, stating that Honda is losing trust in the IndyCar series – reference the Indy 500 debacle. The article seemed to make it sound that Honda was on the verge of leaving the series if IndyCar didn’t make things right. I guess my questions are: Does Honda really want to leave the series? What can IndyCar do to fix the relationship? Is there any inkling of rumors that Toyota, Ford or any other manufacturer wants to join the series?
Kyle “FL” Good
RM: John Oreovicz’s story on ESPN.com was a good one that documented the last time Honda felt violated by a sanctioning body (CART) and changed its allegiance to the Indy Racing League. It was a warning that Honda didn’t care for its treatment on Pole Day at Indy (there was talk among teams of a boycott). Honda doesn’t want to leave and IndyCar is lucky that Tom Elliott and Robert Clarke aren’t still around or we might have had a war at IMS. Toyota and Ford aren’t interested in IndyCar and nobody else is in the bullpen.
Q: I’ve been thinking about the disparity between Honda and Chevy and, despite some good running by Briscoe and Andretti, it was evidenced by the fact that Foyt was completely lost trying to come up with an aero package that a brave guy like Hawksworth could safely pedal around the track. I think the luster may finally be coming off of the Wirth sales pitch.
However, former CART fans like me have to realize we can’t have it both ways. We can’t have the thrilling unpredictable season finales we’ve had the last few years with the myriad of different winners we have enjoyed and still have diversity in the package. The former is the result of a spec series which allows underdogs to win and drivers to shine. The latter breeds haves and have-nots. Just like F1 now, which is barely watchable.
Think back to CART. You had the Penske/Ilmor. Then the Honda/Reynard package dominated, then tires became a story, and the first year of Toyota was brutal. Maybe Wirth’s time is done, but if HPD can simplify the aero choices, they can bounce back. The fans can’t have it both ways.
I for one am OK with the short-term disparity. I enjoyed trying to figure out which package would pay off in Texas as did Townsend and PT. If IndyCar chooses to allow HPD to change the package now to help the always tenuous financial health of all race teams (let’s not kid ourselves, everyone but Roger needs money), then that is fine, too. Probably a good idea.
Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, BC, Canada
RM: Let’s be clear here, Honda hasn’t asked for help and won’t but it’s the Honda teams that want some relief. Part of IndyCar’s charm the past two years was all the different winners and there’s been seven different winners this year already but it’s just not as unpredictable.
Q: Great interview with A.J. – he’s looking better and sounding pretty good too and it was a great return of a (shortened) grid run but glad to have it back for at least one race. I thought it was a pretty good race on TV and can imagine it was better live. How did Gossage feel about it? Dixie is still the best all around driver in this league, great win for him.
RM: Super Tex looks good, especially considering what he went through over the winter. The quotes I read from Gossage in the local papers indicated he was satisfied enough to keep going.
Q: NBCSN’s coverage saved this event at Texas on TV. I loved T. Bell and P.T.’s banter on downforce configurations. It gave the audience a different perspective on racing as a whole and we need more of it to make the sport more interesting to the common public. Can you imagine if we had Bell, P.T., Diffey and Hobbs in the booth for the Indy 500? It would be spectacular television.
Matt, Columbus, Ind.
RM: I like the fact we have a current driver in the booth along with one of the best from the past 25 years and neither are afraid to share opinions or disagree with each other. That makes good television.
Q: Looking forward to Toronto. IndyCar has actually been advertising in the main Toronto newspaper (The Star) every day for about a month with full- or half-page ads – all the same and featuring a big picture of Hinch looking cool. After his accident it took them two weeks to change the photo to Graham Rahal. Nothing ever seems to go right for IndyCar! Toronto guy hurt
before the Toronto race.
Nice article on the Hinch extraction. I also really enjoyed your pal Marshall’s tech articles at Indy, especially the one illustrating the rocker arm failure and the technical details surrounding that.
Terry, Newmarket, Ontario
RM: Glad to hear that because without Hinch I’m wondering what the fallout will be in attendance.
Q: I wrote before saying that I enjoy reading your columns more than I enjoyed watching IndyCar racing. I also wrote last year that I was giving up on following IndyCar. Unfortunately that turned out to be true, although I did tune into the races where Simona was entered, but I didn’t stick around ’til the end. I was just reading Joe Saward’s blog re comments by Sebastian Bourdais on F1 and how off base he (Seabass) is and how it sounds like sour grapes coming from someone who failed to make it in F1. I must say I agree. But what I found more interesting were the comments following the article. A lot of comments echoing why IndyCar is irrelevant. Though I hope it makes a recovery, I see IndyCar dying out within a few years at the rate it’s going.
If this does comet pass, what will happen to the 500? Can it survive a standalone race? Can another OW series rise like a phoenix from the ashes? Right now the series hold no interest for me. Where would you rather be last weekend? Texas or Montreal? I know where I am.
P.S. Among the turnoffs for me are the ugly cars and the stupidity and inconsistency in the way the rules are enforced.
RM: I tried to watch Montreal but, compared to Texas, I’m glad I was in Fort Worth. Good lord, the only drama left in F1 is whether the Mercedes twins will take each other out or get a bad strategy call from their pits. There was some close, hard racing last Saturday night with an average speed of 191mph! I realize it wasn’t as riveting as Indy (few races ever will be) but it had its moments.
From F3000 to Champ Car to Le Mans to IndyCar, Seabass has been an elite driver but he told the Red Bull people he couldn’t drive the car they designed after testing it. Indy could probably standalone and a lot of people believe that will be the only way it ever becomes a world class (manufacturers) event again. But as far as starting another open-wheel series? Not unless I hit the lottery.
Q: I attend NOLA and have a blast. I go to the double-header in Detroit and have a blast. I read Robin Miller and am very depressed. Why are you so depressing? Why are you so negative? IndyCar is freaking awesome these days! Then sometimes there are things to legitimately complain about, like a kid who clearly should still be in Indy Lights (Sage Karam) and you praise him. What gives? You do a great job for NBC Sports, but off the air you seem to be public enemy number one for IndyCar. Why cover something you seem to hate? Cheer up!
RM: You say negative, I say honest. NOLA was run like a bad SCCA Regional and Pole Day was a fiasco on every level, so they got bad reviews. The Holmatro Safety team saved Hinch and I wrote a couple of positive stories about the rescue. Indy was one of the greatest battles ever and I said so. Sunday’s qualifying at Detroit reeked of favoritism and I mentioned here in the Mailbag but I wrote a positive story about Conor Daly and Tristan Vautier.
Karam should go back to the series he won three years ago? Really? He got hosed out of the pole at Detroit and had to start 22nd so he got a little frustrated. He’s 20 years old and he’s going to make mistakes, just like Mario, Rutherford and P.T. all did on their way up. In the 47 years I’ve covered USAC/CART/IRL/Champ Car/IndyCar, 85 percent of the thousands of stories I’ve written have been positive. But I think fans appreciate reading the truth, even if it’s less than flattering. I’ve hated the way open-wheel racing has been run in the past five decades but I’ve never hated covering the drivers, characters and races.
Q: I can’t take it anymore! Your June 2 Mailbag just posted and I’ve got to stop reading and set the record straight. I’m tired of people like Darrell Waltrip, Chris Meyers and writers to your Mailbag stating things like “Montoya didn’t shine in NASCAR” or “Montoya struggled in NASCAR.”
These are the facts: Montoya drove for Ganassi for seven full season and produced two wins. He also dominated the Brickyard 400 until he received a pit road speeding penalty. He was also leading the field at least three other times and had an oval race in hand until a late race caution came out and shuffled the order after pit stops. So he clearly with a little luck would have had a few more wins.
Jamie McMurray was Montoya’s teammate for four of those seven years and produced four wins. The fact that McMurray, who has ALWAYS been a NASCAR driver, has produced only two more wins during the time period shows us one simple thing. Montoya “struggled” in NASCAR because Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is on its very best day an almost-doesn’t-suck team. How do people like Waltrip think Montoya would have done if he drove for Hendrick or Penske in NASCAR? I’d be willing to bet he’d have a lot more than just two wins. I can’t believe I’m defending a driver I’m not a fan of at all!
Chris, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
RM: You are spot on Chris because while Montoya, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti, Jim Hurtubise, Johnny Rutherford and Paul Goldsmith all scored NASCAR wins, no stock car driver has ever come close to winning an Indy car race. And if you’ve got time to listen to the Waltrip brothers, you’ve got too much time on your hands.
Q: After going to a great Indy 500 this year, and watching two crazy races in Detroit on ABC, my viewing is already done for the year. I listened to the Texas race on 1070 the Fan, but I’m sick of not being able to watch the races. The move to NBCSN has ruined my racing up here in Alaska. IndyCar’s failure to provide some kind of outlet online for viewers like me just doesn’t make any sense. I will never understand why they can’t come up with some kind of on-line package that many people would be happy to pay for to keep loyal fans watching.
Like last year I’ll probably listen to a few more races, but by the end of the season barely care who wins the championship. Here is to hope that the powers that be finally think about this segment of fans and come up with a remedy.
RM: This is from IndyCar’s C.J. O’Donnell: “Not sure if you have access to cable Tim so, if not, you may seek an OTT package. This is a TV package that would allow viewership via an internet connection rather than cable or satellite. NBCSN has not offered this to date. But NBCSN does live stream IndyCar races – it just requires viewer authentication and this requires a cable subscription.”
Q: I was really impressed by your article on the Holmatro Team’s extrication of Hinch. Their work was definitely on the level of Zanardi’s rescue in Germany, and those guys (in both instances) deserved major kudos. I was glad you specifically mentioned the two Mikes, Yates and Carey. I worked with Mike Carey for a few years back in the ’90s, and was really glad that he moved over to the Holmatro team when Champ Car’s team went away. Keep up the great work. See you at Barber next year!
Jay Phelan, MD
(Former CART/ChampCar Safety Team member)
RM: I was impressed with how quickly and efficiently they realized this was far from an ordinary situation and how the teamwork (across the board) clicked when Hinch needed it most.
Q: I was just watching F1 practice this afternoon in Montreal and was amazed to see that of the grandstands shown on the broadcast, all were nearly full…for PRACTICE! I know you’ve commented on Canada’s passionate fans, but this level of attendance clearly shows Canada does indeed have an inordinate amount of open-wheel fans when many F1 locales have had dismal crowds for the races. Don’t know if IndyCar could run in Montreal since F1 already does and Bernie likely has some deal to prevent it, but it sure seems they should be working toward more races north of the border.
Bob in Peoria
RM: And that was without any Canadian drivers. When Champ Car ran Montreal in 2003-’06, it had big crowds with Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani and Sebastian Bourdais – especially the first two years with Carpentier (who needed a police escort to negotiate the paddock). Not sure Bernie would raise a hand nowadays because he didn’t consider Champ Car and doesn’t consider IndyCar a threat like he did CART.
Q: I was aghast reading your response to the second part of CJ Shoemakers question about IndyCar teaming up with TUDOR United SportsCar in last week’s Mailbag. “A No-Brainer” Really? TUDOR is the former Grand-Am series, a wholy-owned and exclusive subsidiary of the France family empire. And they run it that way. The ACO found out the hard way when the Frances bought up ALMS from Donald Panoz. They (the ACO) thought that having the American racing empire in the fold would treble their numbers. What it has turned into is one headache after another.
Specifically I’m referring to the never-ending-saga of how LMP2 and Daytona Prototype regulations will be harmonized. The France family ethos of “my way or the highway” is creating no end of indigestion for the ACO brass. Robin, as you correctly pointed out two weeks ago it was Bill France who whispered “Great Idea” into Tony George’s ear when he had the idea to split up open-wheel. Do you think Jim France, TUDOR Championship CEO, has intentions any more benevolent? From what I’ve heard the apple of his eye is to bring DTM across the pond with the intention of setting up a sprint racing series. How long can we expect IndyCar to last under that threat?
Yep, the Frances are the same old piranhas they have always been, engaging in their trademark predatory practices. Fortunately for IndyCar the European touring car manufacturers are not all that interested in the idea but that doesn’t mean that Jim and brother Brian are going to give up.
Robin, my words, not only for CJ but for every other open-wheel fan that possesses a casual interest in sports car racing is to check out Pirelli World Challenge. This series puts on quite a show and they are not afraid to do a standing start. In one of the smartest moves I have seen in years Sonoma Raceway president and general manager Steve Page replaced Grand-Am with PWC as part of the Grand Prix of Sonoma weekend race card a few years ago, and PWC has turned many heads with the impressive show they put on. PWC teams up with IndyCar at most race venues and Scott Bove, the PWC CEO, is not afraid to take risks that have paid off handsomely. I’m talking about adopting GT3 regulations that TUDOR wanted no part of. Now that PWC has some very big fields suddenly TUDOR’s perspective on the matter have changed. But what hasn’t changed is the France family arrogance. Something that the newer open-wheel fans need to be appraised.
Bob Fremont, California
RM: Point taken and well presented but I think Jim France understands that TUDOR gets a lot more paying customers and attention when it partners with IndyCar. It’s good for his teams and the promoters and he seems more reasonable than his brother or nephew but I may be naïve. I wouldn’t care if IndyCar and TUDOR swapped Saturdays and Sundays on occasion if that got IndyCar back to Elkhart Lake and Watkins Glen. But you are so right about the Pirelli World Challenge – lots of cars, good racing and an excellent support show.
Q: When Champ Car and the IRL first merged, why didn’t Indy Car consider using the Panoz DP01 (ABOVE: Graham Rahal’s DP01 in 2007) for the road courses and the normal current IRL cars for the ovals?
Sanford Santacroce, New York City
RM: Since Tony George gave the Champ Car teams their IRL equipment I don’t think the DP01 was ever an option.
Q: How much does a driver get from a race besides the Indianapolis 500? I got into a discussion with some friends and they felt less than $5,000 per race. Any thoughts on way they just air Indy commercials during races and not on prime time? The commercials are getting much better in showcasing the IndyCar series. Enjoy your mailbag.
Terry Elkhart, Indiana
RM: It varies and there is no way to give you an accurate number. Scott Dixon or Juan Montoya are likely the highest paid drivers (I’m guessing $3 million dollar salary) plus incentives for wins, championship and poles on top of whatever percentage they receives from the total purse. Somebody like Jack Hawksworth might be making a little more than $5,000 a race while Charlie Kimball could receive a cut of his great sponsorship from Novo Nordisk plus percentages and bonuses. I’ve seen a couple Verizon IndyCar commercials on Prime Time show during the past year so it’s not just on racing coverage.
Q: Usually my letters are because of aggravation as to what IndyCar has been doing, but not this time, although merited, and this is before the race in Texas.
I usually attend the race in St. Pete, and in the last few years noticed something. The PWC is a support series at that race and other races as well. My point is Cadillac, which races in the PWC, has a tent where you fill out a questionnaire and at the end they give away Cadillac Racing T-shirts. In fact, I noticed someone wearing a Cadillac Racing shirt in a pic with Helio at Detroit. Not only that, but Chevy does the same thing. People wear these all over the place all weekend long and I’ve noticed people wearing shirts that are a few years old. Why doesn’t IndyCar do this? Why can’t you fill out a questionnaire from Verizon, or IndyCar for that matter, and they hand out free IndyCar T-shirts? Talk about free publicity, and it doesn’t cost the fans $30 in the souvenir booth. The REAL fans will buy those anyway, I do, but I’d wear that free shirt as well.
Just a suggestion really. Please pass on to IndyCar and hopefully they will decide to listen to their fans soon. Oh and getting ready to move back home to Kokomo in a few weeks so I’ll be sure to say “Hi’ to you at the Kokomo Speedway.
Kris Branch, Ocala, Fla.
RM: Lots of IndyCar’s partners give away free stuff according to IndyCar marketing chief Jay Frye. But IndyCar needs a winter (hell, it could be the fall considering the schedule) fan tour in Indianapolis to give away hats, shirts and schedules with two days of autograph signing from all the drivers and tours of the shops. You can’t buy the kind of advertising free hats get your series. You’ll love the new and improved Kokomo Speedway.
Q: I am sure you remember how many times fans of the Milwaukee Mile have been kicked in the stomach. All the way back to the Go Racing promoters. But most recently, the 16-car, 11 a.m. Saturday race on Spike TV. To multiple date changes. To not being on the schedule at all.
Having said all that, I challenge IndyCar Nation to get off the couch, fill the gas tank and cooler. The old girl needs us. If we don’t buy some darn tickets the Mile WILL be destroyed. So come on OVAL fans. Put your money where your mouth is. Thanks.
Jeff Loveland, Chilton, Wis.
RM: Truer words were never spoken Jeff, because this could be it for Milwaukee if it doesn’t have a decent crowd on July 12. Randy Bernard gave Michael Andretti a sweetheart deal to try it back in 2011 but the clock is ticking.
Q: We all heralded Derrick Walker’s hiring by IndyCar a few years ago, but what on earth is he doing with Race Control? Besides red-flagging Detroit II to get a finish, I can’t name anything I’ve agreed with this year. The calls are bizarre, adjusting penalties weeks later, and worst of all is the “nanny-state” approach. I really hope Honda isn’t driven away by Walker and friends insulting them at Indy.
Greg, Belleville, N.J.
RM: Derrick fell in love with F1’s system so he’s trying to implement it, but officiating by committee never sees to work and it’s obviously not been very popular, or successful, this season. I think he’s a smart guy about a lot of things but I’ve never thought he belonged in Race Control.
Q: Nine races in and we have a clear picture of the new Brian Barnhart as race director assisted by his team of three and overseen by Derrick Walker. Despite his assurances the problem with Mr. Walker’s theory for Race Control is that Mr. Barnhart is the leader of the panel, and as such, the other three must react to the minute management of racing activities of Mr. Barnhart. These decisions, must be made quickly therefore omitting and or delaying the oversight by Mr. Walker.
As a result American open-wheel racing is once again the victim of Brian Barnhart’s obsession to control IndyCar racing thereby depriving race fans the fulfillment of open competition while simultaneously punishing drivers their due process. Robin, you were spot on: “Indycar Race Control is making drivers, teams, owners, manufacturers and fans question its motives and judgment. Throw in the inconsistency of penalties and punishments and it appears to be a zoo with no keeper.” Sadly we all knew this was going to happen, did we not?
Daniel Bonham, Indianapolis, Ind.
RM: I don’t know that Barnhart has any more clout than Derrick but I do know that Race Control needs one decision-maker, preferably a former driver who makes the call on the spot – not delayed 24 hours or three days. The big complaint about Walker is that he micro-manages everybody.
Q: On-track penalties should model short track racing – If you didn’t cause a yellow flag there’s no penalty (for blocking, etc.). If there is a yellow flag, there is time to determine who caused the yellow. Whoever caused the yellow goes to the rear of the field. If you blocked somebody and got spun out, the blocker goes to the rear. If you spun somebody out but kept going, or knocked off a piece of bodywork you go to the rear of the field. If there is a multi-car crash, whoever started it goes to the rear.
If it’s too close to call, both involved cars go to the rear. If you cause more than two cautions, you go to the trailer. Doesn’t matter if your sponsor is upset. You’re supposed to be pros now. It’s extremely rare in any other sport that penalties are called after the event. (i.e. Deflate-gate)
RM: Well I like your system better than what Scott Dixon was told – there are now three forms of blocking penalties. OMG. Bring back Harlan Fengler.
Q: Is the best open wheel pass ever Alex Zanardi’s pass of Bryan Herta on the last lap during the 1996 CART PPG Indy Car World Series race at Laguna Seca?
RM: If it’s not, I can’t think of too many to rival it. Maybe Scott Pruett passing Al Unser Jr. on the last corner at MIS in 1995, or Gil de Ferran overtaking Kenny Brack at Rockingham on the final lap in 2001, or Sam Hornish overhauling Marco Andretti at Indy in 2006.
Q: People often talk about the importance of presenting IndyCar drivers as personalities. The need to help people connect to the drivers. When watching RACER videos and other interviews, few drivers have their names among the sponsor patches on their fire suits. Dixon is the exception (I like his Target employee name tag). A casual fan watching videos should be able to identify the driver they are watching. Most casual fans are not going to know the difference between Rahal and Kimball. It’s simple: Every driver has their name printed clearly on the chest of their suit. It helps people identify and connect with the drivers. It’s mind-numbing that this is not already IndyCar policy.
Second, I live with listening distance of the track. There are days when I can hear cars running. Probably testing, or practice. But I go to the IMS website to see what is going on. There is nothing on the schedule that identifies what the track activity is for today. Even if the track is closed to the public, they should let people know what is happening. If a fan cares enough to look it it up, then the information should be there.
RM: I hear you but the new fashion of driver’s suits appears to be your name across your belt line. But I also think drivers should have to remove their sunglasses for interviews so people can see what they look like. Of course if they don’t know their name….. As for the noise you hear, it’s likely the IndyCar 2-seater most days – not an IndyCar test.
Q: I have had Indy 500 tickets for 45 years with my current seats being in the Pit Road Terrace Section 29; 1 Section north of Gasoline Alley. With this view you get a good prospective of the race through the actions of the pit crews. What I noticed and miss is the pit crewman with the pit board informing the driver when to pit, speed and position. Also the communication between the pits and the crewmember along the edge of the track. I understand the need for safety and being high tech with the radios, but the possible issues and interactions between the pits, driver and pit board man adds another element to the excitement of the race which I think most viewers miss. Is there any way that maybe IndyCar could bring this back and maybe use the radios only for safety-related issues?
RM: Not likely, Ted. It was decided three or four years ago to remove the board men because radio communication was faster, easier and safer. As a former board man before radios (ABOVE: RM boarding for JP in 1974) it was an important job, if not a crazy one, but now it’s part of Indy history.
Q: So I noticed that the Indy 500 ratings were up this year and the city of Louisville, Kentucky scored third highest with an 8.7. My question is, if we’ve got that many people watching why don’t we have a race? It seems like a no-brainer to me. IndyCar needs to look into either returning to the Kentucky Speedway oval or possibly setting up a temporary street course somewhere in or around downtown Louisville.
Another suggestion would be to possibly build something up at the fairgrounds which lies just a few miles south of Louisville and close to historic Churchill Downs. I feel like they could put on a successful event in or around Louisville and we’ve got some big-name corporations based here like Yum, Papa John’s and UPS. Also a couple of big production facilities are here like Ford and G.E. Surely one of them would be at least interested in being a title sponsor if approached. What do you think, Robin? Is this a good idea? If so, maybe you could help spread the message to the IndyCar brass.
Rob, Louisville, Ky.
RM: Kentucky Speedway started out with good crowds that gradually dwindled away. You would think it might be able to be revived but that’s what I thought about Milwaukee too. I think it would take a major title sponsor before Kentucky officials would consider it.
Q: In my utopia mind a “healthy” IndyCar should be able to race past Labor Day, but I have to agree with Mark Miles that the season should end on Labor Day or the Saturday after. I consider myself a diehard fan but after the NFL and college football season start, I am focused on the Green Bay Packers and with normal life find it hard to make time to watch an IndyCar race. Until the ratings rise or this becomes a “pull” product again, Miles is right on this one.
I know the current schedule is a grind on the teams but tough luck – this is summer and it is racing season. That being said, I am all for starting the season in February in U.S. warm weather cities or having international points events elsewhere. I also think early in February and March IndyCar should consider scheduling weeknight races at Phoenix or Homestead or wherever. The crowd size doesn’t matter anyway, it all about TV interest. Plus, the crowd won’t get much bigger on the weekend anyway at ovals. Or, see what kind of audience you could draw up being a support event at an early NASCAR (Saturday at Phoenix) event.
I think Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Time to try some unique scheduling before the Month of May.
RM: I disagree. The IRL tried stopping on Labor Day years ago and it made absolutely no difference in TV ratings. IndyCar’s competition is NASCAR, F1 and TUDOR sports cars – not the NFL. And the fact the numbers showed an increase last year wasn’t because the season ended sooner, it was because the number was so low in 2013. But forget what you or I or Miles thinks, if the sponsors don’t like a short season (and most don’t) then it’s a terrible idea.
Q: I don’t wish to add to the numerous, and for the most part, justifiable complaints with regard to the state of IndyCar, its management, and its strategic direction. However, it does appear to me that the clouds may finally be dark enough to where we can see what the future may hold and therefore should perhaps begin to consider what IndyCar could look like after its demise in its current form.
There seem to be lessons in the past that can be drawn from. Mistakes CART made with Honda and Toyota, mistakes TG made to start his own league right at the wrong time with a shifting demographic, and mistakes IndyCar has made with leadership (CART as well here pre-bankruptcy). Yet everyone seems to be surprised when the sanctioning body treats a major sponsor and supplier to the sport poorly. Surprised when no one under 30 is watching on TV or in person. Surprised when people are put in charge who know little of racing, and then make decisions which seem to baffle even the casual observer of the sport. It has all been done before and it adds up to the end as we know it.
This might be a good thing. I have been saying lately that things probably need to get worse before they get better and it seems that things are getting worse – with the ironic exception of the racing, which has never been better! So let’s say Honda goes away, Chevy does not want to be alone, car owners continue to lose sponsorship, and ovals are done except Indy. None of these are a far stretch of the imagination over the next few years. What is left is the opportunity to approach the sport with a clean sheet of paper. A CEO who understands racing and how to market it to the younger generation. Venues that build on a similar date year after year. Cars that may be a bit dated but are low cost enough to be in line with the current interest level in the sport. A TV package that might not be big time but you’ll know where to find it. Finally, suppliers and sponsors that like the energy of the new beginning (a rebirth if you will) that grow in their participation as the sport reinvents itself to be in line with the times we live.
For people like me, it will be painful to watch because we will remember when it was better. Yet for my children, it will be an exciting new thing to watch and enjoy blissfully unaware of how awesome the whole thing used to be.
Justin, Park City
RM: A thoughtful, well-written essay to end The Mailbag and gve us pause for thought – and concern for the future.
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