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: Ah, once again your wisdom outshines my patience. Having commented about watching the first half of the IndyCar season, you cautioned me that the green flag racing was pretty good and that more time was needed to form an opinion. Since then, I attended the race in Texas and watched the Toronto event. Both were impressive for different reasons and I formally beg your forgiveness. Texas was fun for no wrecks, some great side-by-side action (Castroneves and JPM), and a stout drive by Dixon. My wife watches “Dancing With the Stars,” so of course she was rooting for Helio, but even she agreed it was a satisfying event. Toronto was fun because I love seeing CFH take it to the big teams. On a drying track with plenty of action, it was an exciting race to watch. I believe you have sung Newgarden’s praises for a while now, and he is a refreshing twist to the usual suspects. He did have a fortuitous yellow, but he had to be there to capitalize – and he did.
Jon Jones, Oologah, OK
RM: Don’t ever apologize for having an opinion and you and your wife get bonus points for driving to a race and supporting IndyCar. Texas was intense racing (TK & Helio come to mind), just not a close finish while Toronto had everything (except a real start) fans like – changing conditions, lots of overtaking, strategy and the uncertainty of who was going to win. It amazes me that Penske or Ganassi could watch JoNew the past couple seasons and not snap him up, so good for Sarah, Andy and Wink for believing in him.
Q: I’ve decided not to complain about the single-file start this weekend. I’m sure many are doing so in this week’s mailbag. I’m glad they didn’t decide to make it a timed race. It was a great race and shows they have a great product, IndyCar just needs to stop shooting itself in the foot all the time. I’m a fan of the double-headers. It seems that Long Beach, Mid-Ohio and Toronto always have good crowds, why no double-headers at those tracks?
I go back to the CART days. I remember a lot of bad starts and fuel connection problems back then. With a button for pit road speed and a push to pass button (stupid) why can’t they have a button for the starts? The driver must hold the button until the starter waves the flag. If race control can tell when they use push to pass then you would think they can monitor drivers releasing the “start” button to soon.
Final question. After watching a lot of the 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend and seeing four manufacturers in LMP1 and Nissan and Honda supplying most of the field in LMP2. They must be doing something right. LMP2 alone has both V8 engines and turbo V6. Has IndyCar ever thought of setting engine similar to the WEC? To me IndyCar engine rules should be “Build anything you want as long as its 800hp and fits in the car.” Would be great to see the kind of interest the WEC is getting these days from the manufacturers.
Chris, Ft Lauderdale FL
RM: I’ll do the bitching about the single file start. Long Beach likes its sports car/IndyCar double-header and Toronto didn’t have one this year but will likely in 2016. Mid-Ohio always enjoyed the ALMS/IndyCar weekend but now it’s got the Pirelli World Challenge to go with the Mazda Road To Indy so it’s booked. If drivers need buttons to control a flying start, then we either need new drivers or new people in Race Control. Not sure about what kind of engine formula is in the cards for IndyCar but, to your point, it needs to be something appetizing to many manufacturers.
Q: It took 54 races for Josef Newgarden to earn his first win at Barber and now a second at Toronto in front of teammate Luca Filippi. What they had in common was that both drivers had the ambitions of Formula 1 but wound up in IndyCar thanks to Sarah Fisher, Wink Hartman and Ed Carpenter. If not for the merger of these two teams, we would never know what would happen. Back four years ago, Josef turned down his FIA Institute application in the Young Driver Academy for a drive with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports en route to win the Indy Lights title. Of course, the funding was the reason he has to put his European plans on hold. For Filippi it was a rollercoaster after having runner-up finishes in a number of series, including GP2. So I give Carpenter-Fisher-Hartman a thumbs-up for their miracle performance.
As far as Penske and Ganassi, how long will it take for Sage Karam to mature? And is there a possiblility to see another American driver with The Captain in the future?
JLS, Chicago, IL.
RM: It’s not to say that Josef or Luca would have turned down a ride with Marussia, Caterham or Manor but they have a much better opportunity of being race drivers that can shine or make a difference over here. Justin Wilson led that charge. Newgarden’s Lights title money got his foot in the door but Sarah, Andy O’Gara and Wink were smart enough to figure out a way to keep him. I hope someone has the foresight to do the same with Conor Daly. Rahal, JoNew or Daly would all be Penske Perfect in my mind. But Sage is only 20 and not running all the races so let’s give the kid a couple years to develop. I know Dario likes him so that’s a good endorsement and he’s already shown flashes of brilliance (Indy in 2014 and Detroit this year in the rain).
Q: I wanted to give a shout-out and thank you to everyone in the IndyCar circus who works so hard so that we can enjoy the world’s best racing. You know better than we do who they all are, but I’m especially thinking of mechanics/over the wall gang, Firestone tire wranglers, and transporter drivers. Given the track surface and the rain, I thought the drivers did an outstanding job minimizing damage at Toronto – maybe their teams made a special request.
You’ve said that we need young American badasses, and we have ‘em: Newgarden, Rahal, Andretti and Daly are all driving so well, as are others. Josef looked like Franchitti (or maybe Power) in the lead and was so calm afterwards, praising Filippi and the team. Rahal has had so many great drives, and Marco has been impressive on slicks the way he stayed ahead of Power. And Daly passed a couple of cars early, gave it back, and still finished third in class (Honda). So why can’t more teams sell sponsorship packages around these guys? At a time when an average major league baseball player makes $5m+ a year, this is a fabulous deal – IndyCar needs better marketing and sales. Is Conor going to get a shot on the ovals? Why isn’t SPM willing to commit to him for the rest of the year?
RM: The Daly situation mirrors what is wrong with IndyCar. I totally get why SPM likes Ryan Briscoe on ovals with his track record. Hell, he still belongs in the series full time. But let’s look at the flip side. Briscoe is 33 and a full-time Chevy driver in sports cars. Daly is 23, hungry and obviously talented if you’ve been watching. Honda needs some young guns to build on if its going to stay in IndyCar and you would think SPM sees the same potential in Daly as Sarah and Wink did with Newgarden. And, if Sam does have plans for Conor, wouldn’t you want him to start getting as much oval-track experience as possible? It’s maddening. And how can you market drivers if their future is so uncertain?
Q: I would be interested in understanding the dynamic behind Bobby Rahal no longer on the pit box and Graham’s resurgence.
Chad R. Larson, Phoenix
RM: Nothing sinister, I think Bob just wanted a clean slate for his kid so he stepped back and it’s working quite well. But it should be noted that before Graham began driving for his dad, the 1986 Indy 500 winner was pretty hands-off and let his son learn the ropes. He didn’t micro-manage his career and he was also a good race strategist.
Q: Interesting story on RACER.com IndyCar’s helping hands deserve a break as few know the details of what it means to be a mechanic in IndyCar. Thank you for thinking about the situation and developing a very interesting article. The organizers of IndyCar have their head up their butt just like their counterparts in F1. These potentates are ruining our beloved series.
I wonder if you get a chance to talk to Steve Matchett, what does F1 do now and in the past regarding relief for the traveling support members of the team, the guys who make it all happen? I know the teams have a travel set of personnel who are responsible for race readiness of the cars and testing locally or elsewhere. They have a separate team that is responsible for factory design, development and assembly. F1 usually has a two-week separation of races although in different countries. To my knowledge they do not change out road team members for a rest with factory personnel capable of doing the same job. They have about a three-week rest period midway into the season which is long, but that was only introduced in the past 4-5 years.
I have to disagree with you regarding the single-file start. I think that was a wise decision to start the Toronto race single file. I hate street races. Vision even for the fans is nil. They are dangerous enough when dry, they are too twisty, narrow, and have no run off buffer at all except for a few hairpin turns. Conditions Sunday when the race was started I think by the video shown was not safe enough to start two abreast. Race Control made the right call and they were there. Street races especially when wet can wipe out 6-8 cars in one accident. Eliminating a large chunk of the field ruins a race, especially when very competitive drivers are not given a chance to compete due to no fault of their own. That is stupid. The spray blinds drivers following the leader. You cannot get off line to get away from the spray because all the way around the damn track there is just one narrow racing line.
RM: Glad you enjoyed the mechanic story but it was written solely for Mr. Miles’ benefit. What I forgot to include in that commentary is that when a mechanic signs a contract for a year (say it’s $50,000) and then gets cut loose in September, the team doesn’t have to pay insurance, nor does he or she get the remaining balance of their salary. So they busted their ass for six months at a bargain price and then find themselves unemployed for Christmas. As for Sunday’s start, the track conditions weren’t bad (Marco came in on lap 8 for slicks) but that’s not the point. I’ve seen multi-car crashes at Cleveland, Portland, Detroit and Toronto in the dry and what this says to the fans is that we have no faith in our drivers. BTW, the drivers put on a helluva show Sunday despite the single-file start. But don’t bill yourself as the alternative to F1 when you can’t start side by side.
Q: With all the negativity surrounding some of the off-track decisions this year, I felt after attending Toronto, that IndyCar deserves some praise! Firstly the Holmatro Safety Team. Once again they proved why they are the best in the business with their response to the RC Enerson crash in the Lights race. I don’t think that car stopped rolling before they were there. As always an amazing response and they, along with safety in general, really put IndyCar ahead of other racing series in that regard. Second was the show IndyCar put on Saturday. There wasn’t more than five or 10 minutes tops where there wasn’t racing on the track, which kept fans thoroughly entertained. Finally, what a difference in terms of fan treatment since last year! While we were left cold, wet and confused in 2014, this year in addition to the great action, there were all kinds of activities and the driver autograph session was a great touch! It was a great weekend.
Ben from Toronto
RM: Glad to hear it Ben, thanks for sharing. IndyCar is second to none in terms of accident response and reaction and the Holmatro boys are the gold standard. I think the promoters and IndyCar both knew they treated the paying customers poorly in 2014 so it’s good know you felt good about the 2015 experience.
Q: What a great race at Toronto!! Can you explain the decision to not publicize the number of Push-to-Pass for the drivers? Who made the decision? Did the teams want to keep it secret thinking it more important to not let their competitors know what they had, than to know what their competitors have? Is there a more nefarious reason? If it’s all a secret, why have it at all? At any rate, it’s a disservice to us fans. Wasn’t that the reason it was instituted, for the fans?
Bob Hengen, Columbus
RM: I believe the teams told IndyCar they didn’t like the information being public because it allowed drivers to defend too easily. To your point, it was instituted for the fans to make the racing better (which it probably has) and give the television commentators another talking point and the viewers some intrigue.
Q: OK, I’ll be the one to ask it – how long before we have NASCAR-esque conspiracy theories that a team allegedly “gets the call” and wins a race by being allowed extra pushes to pass, now that the numbers can’t be independently monitored by fans or other teams?
RM: Good one Brian. Wish we still had “Wind Tunnel.” Dave Despain loved to shoot down NASCAR conspiracy theories and this is definitely food for thought. But highly doubtful.
Q: What are the main reasons that Ford made the decision to enter Le Mans but has no interest with IndyCar racing? Investment, technical development (learning), and brand awareness (marketing) are a few reasons that come to mind. Does IndyCar lack this? We also know that the mismanagement has plagued American open-wheel racing for decades. The latest cluster with Indy qualifying that rewarded Chevy for their aero kit incompetence at Honda’s expense doesn’t bode well for other new auto manufactures interested in coming to Indy which is a shame. It wouldn’t surprise me if Honda told IndyCar to go jump in a lake after this year.
Jerry, Royal Oak, MI
RM: In May of 2014, here’s what Edsel Ford II said when asked why Ford wasn’t involved in IndyCar racing: “There’s no value in it.” Ford is going to Le Mans because it’s become the biggest race in the world and a chance for manufacturers to get creative and battle for worldwide recognition. IndyCar lacks just about everything, compared to Le Mans, except good racing. Honda will be back in 2016 but, after that, it’s anybody’s guess.
Q: Now that Ford and Ganassi have officially teamed up for Le Mans 2016, do you think there’s any chance Chip could talk Ford into returning to IndyCar like Penske did with GM? I know you’ve said before that Ford has no interest in IndyCar but maybe this partnership with Ganassi can change that. Doesn’t Cosworth have an engine waiting to be badged by a manufacturer? Maybe I’m dreaming but with Ford and Cosworth’s history together, that seems like a no brainer.
Blake, Flower Mound, TX
RM: Based on what Edsel Ford II thinks and the money being spent on the Le Mans project, I don’t think Chip or anyone else could persuade Ford to come back. Not aware of any Cosworth engine waiting in the wings either, except for its old V8 turbo Champ Car motor.
Q: How does Ganassi get away with the conflict of running Chevy in IndyCar and Ford in sports cars? I’m sure both manufacturers aren’t thrilled with this. Granted they’re not competing against each other race wise, but it has to be an odd situation to be in.
Pat Kleibor, Franklin, WI
RM: The same way Roger Penske could run a Chevy in IndyCar, a Dodge in NASCAR and a Porsche in sports cars – performance. If you deliver, there are no boundaries.
Q: I am writing to plead with the leadership of IndyCar to return Fontana to mid/late September or early October. The date in October a couple of years back was perfect and a night race is extra special. I brought lots of family members to the fall race and all had a great time. Last year, they suffered through the heat. I can’t get many to go this year since a mid-day race in Fontana can be really uncomfortable and really smoggy. Personally, I am not sure if I will go. A night race gives me the day to get something accomplished but 1:30 on a Saturday takes an entire day away.
Most of us in California need an event in early fall. We have had our brains fried since May and would enjoy a race with a bit of chill in the air. California is beautiful in October. We don’t have an NFL team and I doubt the Dodgers will be in the World Series. Create a party like Long Beach – Octoberfest in L.A. And keep the same date year after year. We all know Long Beach is in early April. Always has been. Long Beach has crowds. BTW, PT and TB seem to be having fun during the broadcasts. Let them loose. Nice atmosphere.
John P., Glendora CA
RM: A date that would accommodate the promoter, the teams and IndyCar fans in southern California? Have you lost your mind? Of course October would be the ideal date and the poor Auto Club Speedway folks knew they were doomed when they got this asinine day and time. Having said that, Dave Allen and company are offering a great $99 ticket/pit pass package in hopes of getting some people like yourself that might be on the fence. Tracy and Townsend are a delight to the ears.
Q: Now that the annual triple crown of motorsports (Monaco, Indianapolis and Le Mans) has concluded, I have been reflecting on each series – its past and where it is going. Le Mans is entering into a golden age of sports car racing not seen since the Group C era. Formula 1 is set to introduce a more exciting technical package in 2017 focused around quicker cars, more RPM, more noise and more aggressive looks. I really like the current state of the FIA WEC and welcome the changes that will be made in Formula 1. In between the golden eras of Group C and the FIA WEC we still had the Porsche 911 GT1-98, Toyota GT-One, Audi R8, Bentley Speed 8, Peugeot 908 or Aston Martin DBR1-2 to fawn over. They were beautiful then (both in looks & sound) and still are today. The current generation LMP and GTE cars are absolutely fantastic.
As I was thinking about the iconic racecars of the last 20 years (which is also about when IndyCar last experienced a golden era), not a single one of them has been or currently is an Indy car. The G-Force-Aurora or Dallara-Honda raced in IndyCar the past 20 years do not evoke that special romantic connection to the sport of auto racing. The diversity of looks and sounds have been missing the past 20 years in IndyCar. It is troubling that IndyCar cannot field cars that are iconic (pun intended).
Also equally troubling was myself pondering does IndyCar consider itself a sport or entertainment? The leadership in IndyCar has made two serious strategic mistakes above all others the past 20 years which have cost it the opportunity to experience another golden era. The first is that racing should be a single spec in order to equalize outcomes rather than open to competition. The second is that racing should be treated more as of a form of entertainment rather than as a sport. I believe that IndyCar has largely chosen wrongly on the two issues of spec/open and entertainment/sport the past 20 years which have prevented it from being in a golden age. The results of those simultaneous strategic mistakes have resulted in the thousands of empty bleachers and low television ratings despite the repeated close finishes the past decade in the 500 and participation by some of its greatest champions (Montoya, Franchitti and Castroneves).
Consider this also: a fan that is in the millennial generation (birth years early 1980s to early 2000s) likely cannot remember or has never heard “It’s a new track record” at Indianapolis. It has now been 20 years since the last golden age of Indy cars. Do you think that we will we ever see another golden age at Indianapolis? Can IndyCar get race fans or the general public to have that special romantic connection to its cars or run itself like a sport rather than as entertainment again? Is it just me?
RM: Spec racing was a product of The Split and almost a necessity nowadays because of the lack of funding and interest. You are right: no car in the past 20 years will ever be a collector’s item and, without some sort of drastic rule change, I don’t see that changing.
Q: First time Mailbag writer here. What are your thoughts on Le Mans this past weekend? In my opinion, the 24 Hours of Le Mans has now become the world’s greatest auto race. Huge buzz. Open rules. Fast cars. Exotic cars. World’s top manufactures. Bleeding edge technology. Flat-out racing. I was hooked.
I have read your previous mailbags and hundreds of people have made suggestions on how to better market and garner interest in the Indianapolis 500. Better TV deal, more exotic wings, no wings at all, less downforce, more horsepower, IndyCar reality shows, video game simulated races, more marketing, more giveaways, longer season, more ovals, dirt tracks, more Americans, more track records (artificially announced by the series ahead of time by the way), etc.
In my eyes, these suggestions are all Band-Aids. There is only one thing in my mind that can resurrect the public’s appetite of the Indianapolis 500. Showcase the best teams in the world by bringing over the world’s top car manufactures and have them duke out the Indianapolis 500 under open rules. Scrap the series and have the Indianapolis 500 as a standalone race run under WEC rules. I GUARANTEE you there would be monstrous buzz if the Porsche, Audi, Toyota, and Nissan LMP1s were contesting the Indy 500. Could you imagine the Porsche vs. Audi LMP1 battle around Indy? There were 14 LMP1s and 19 LMP2s entered at Le Mans, which conveniently adds up to a 33-car prototype grid. The Freedom 100 could be contested with GTE Pro and GTE Am cars.
RM: Le Mans is the biggest race in the world in many ways but just changing to WEC rules wouldn’t guarantee any of those big dogs would come over here to hunt. Not unless you made Indianapolis an endurance race or doubled the current Indy 500 purse. Big money and IMS prestige might bring Toyota back or entice Audi but why would they make a huge investment for one race over here unless it paid obscene money? They wouldn’t. They seem quite happy with what Le Mans offers.
Q: After being an open-wheel fan and Indy area resident for many years, I can’t help but notice the interest in the Indy 500 (vs. the entire rest of the IndyCar season) seems to be driven by the party atmosphere of the Month of May. Safe to say a great deal of these fans simply don’t care about the “stars and cars” beyond May and, IndyCar as we all know, does little beyond the 500 to promote either.
My question is, do the cars really even matter anymore? All the aero controversy this season, the thought of Honda maybe out after 2016, having a “bump day” with 34 measly cars, do you think that the 500 would be as well attended – or perhaps even more attended – if the cars and teams adopted a LMP1-type chassis and we called it the Indy 500? What if the series ran the same cars as Le Mans, for example? Sure all the open-wheel loyalists would complain to eternity, but looking at the cars and fenders of 2015, and I don’t think anyone can argue the DeltaWing is THAT different than the oval DW12 package. What say you?
Ed K, Indianapolis
RM: My old pal David Cassidy was Tony Hulman’s lieutenant for 40 years and he always said if there were 300,000 people on Race Day, only 50,000 of them were die-hard Indy car fans. The rest came because it was a party, an event, part of the family routine, etc. I guess it’s a not a stretch to say today’s Indy car looks more and more like a sports car but the expense involved to changing cars or enticing the cream of Le Mans to come here would likely be the #1 reason it wouldn’t happen. Not without a huge purse. On top of that, I can’t see any cars putting on a better show on a big, high-speed oval than IndyCar has the past three Mays.
Q: Why did Honda and Chevrolet agree to the aero freeze for 2015? This is boneheaded for two reasons.
1) It freezes the pecking order. If it weren’t for some bad luck, Penske and Ganassi would have won every race this year. Hell, if Roger Penske could find his lucky rabbit’s foot, I’m sure his cars would have won EVERY race in 2015. So the best are still the best and the rest don’t have much means of catching them, outside of development, which they aren’t allowed to do, outside of adjusting and removing or adding bits they’ve been handed.
2) By my count, half the races this year have had forced changes by IndyCar, which, last time I checked, isn’t a freeze! I highly doubt all of these new wheel pod fillers and flapless front wings were free from Honda and Chevy. If the freeze was done to help the teams out financially, I don’t see how changing the body parts from one race to the next is doing anybody’s wallets any good! I have yet to hear any rumor that IndyCar is planning to drop the freeze. Is this a possibility? It’s fair to all involved and could help close the gap.
Or maybe it’s time to acknowledge that when you only have two choices, there’s always going to be a defined winner and loser. And also that our perceptions are a bit warped. Yes, Honda is getting beaten regularly. But then you remember the “good old days” of racing when the winner was the only car on the lead lap and everyone else was either a DNF or three-plus laps down. Success and failure are both transient. I hope Honda remembers that and sticks around long enough to see Chevrolet falter and Honda shine.
Dave Zipf, Lexington, KY
RM: There is no “freeze” so to speak because if either one was hopelessly outclassed it could have petitioned IndyCar to be allowed to make changes this season in a couple specific areas. Honda chose not to do that and concentrate on 2016 upgrades instead. And, as you point out, it’s not some monstrous discrepancy between Chevrolet and Honda but nowadays a few tenths of a second is an eternity. Honda has a good track record of fighting back so hopefully it will rally and stick around.
Q: I was never a big fan of PT when he was racing, but I do like his commentary on the NBCSN broadcast. Given his past race history with Bourdais and Castroneves, I’m surprised that he has shown remarkable restraint in his remarks about those two. they’re just two other drivers. Was he told to cool it?
David, Waxhaw, NC
RM: There is no filter on Paul Tracy and he’s refreshingly candid as many of us knew he would be. But he always respected Helio and Seabass as racers and praising their driving when merited is his honest reaction. Does he still think he got hosed in the 2002 Indy 500? Hell yes, but it wasn’t Castroneves’ call.
[ABOVE: PT and Helio after their clash in Toronto 2009].
Q: After 30 years in the auto industry (engineering/design) with the deuce letter company; what was behind the “hurry up and come up with something” for an aero kit? For the general public’s use, it sometimes would take up to five years to develop new technology. This requires design, prototypes, testing, re-designs, additional testing and so forth so when you have finished developing it, you know it works. This process is apparently acceptable for production vehicles for the general public but not for high-speed Indy cars. It appears to me that at least one manufacturer needs to go back and do additional testing and developmental work to totally understand what is happening with their aero kits. Caution and safety first, please.
RM: Chevy and Honda both spent a couple years in development after the 2011 announcement of aero kits and GM got the jump in on-track testing. But I don’t know if it was rushed, especially considering new Indy cars used to be designed and built in the winter, tested in January and February and raced in March. I do know that Honda Performance Development is already in the wind tunnel working on 2016 because that’s the key area that Wirth Engineering omitted.
Q: Say Honda leaves, and Chevy jumps, too. So what. Do we really need these ultra-small engines? How expensive would a 5-liter basic turbo engine be? I’m sure many suppliers could be found. And if everyone has the same basic motor, who cares what bulk they are? More room for the sponsor.
Too bad they let engine manufacturers hijack the series. Go back to American cubic power! Even if they have to use a smaller version(?) of whatever NASCAR uses. And what’s my favorite sound in racing? The F1 Safety Car, growling around the track! Same with wings. I’d be happy with no wings, or tiny wings. But limit it to a main plane and a small flap up front, with maybe an endplate and the vortex-inducer, if needed. And have them six inches inboard of the wheels. Keep it simple, clean, and sorta cheap.
We can’t really tell the speed on TV. So they don’t need to look like slot cars, on the turns. And keep the wing wash at a minimum. Passing shouldn’t be this difficult. Isn’t that what people want to see – the superior car passing the prey? Not stuck in the turbulence, ruining their tires even more quickly.
RM: From our technical guru Marshall Pruett: “I’ve never found the word “need” applies to anything we do in motor racing. In this instance, the Dallara DW12 was designed around a small engine package, so that’s what fits, and from a performance – aero and mechanical – standpoint, a big lump at the back is going to ruin handling. NASCAR engines weigh a ton, so that isn’t an option, and we already have enough blaring V8s. If IndyCar found itself needing a quick engine solution, Cosworth has dozens of 2.65-liter turbo V8s left over from Champ Car that would be a popular, powerful, and great-sounding solution.”
Q: Just was wondering what is up with Sage not being in the #8 that much this year. In my honest opinion I feel like Chip is screwing this kid over. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Kent Mueller, WI
RM: No, I think Chip needed a help from Gary Peterson (who runs Saavedra and who has done a nice job) to go with Big Machine Records and Comfort Revolution to make sure Sage got some opportunities (six out of 10 races so far). He’s only 20 so he’s got plenty of time and this was way better than just running the Indy 500 and then sitting around.
Q: I saw where the Toronto race will move back to its traditional July spot on the 2016 schedule (and I plan to finally make the trek up there): Eddie Gossage has already talked about IndyCar’s return next year as well, and we know about the Labor Day weekend finale in Boston. But any word on what the schedule might look like on the run-up to the month of May? The Easter holiday weekend falls on what has been the traditional weekend for St. Pete – how will that event move to accommodate it? With Long Beach already having announced its 2016 dates, I think it might be a little tricky working in Barber, NOLA and/or a potential international event prior to the Indy GP. Any other current races on thin ice or any soundings from the pipeline on other potential future venues?
Scott Cooper, Bargersville, IN
RM: IndyCar and Elkhart Lake are trying to finalize a date for 2016 so that’s the latest but it would be post-Indy so other than racing outside North America, not sure of anything new before May.
Q: Watching and waiting for the NASCAR event from Michigan (taped the IndyCar race to watch the entire event at my leisure) I recalled that NASCAR’s best TV rating came a few years back when rain forced the rescheduling of the Daytona 500 to prime time on Monday evening. If we want to save ovals but now realize that nobody shows up to attend these events live, perhaps now is the time for the series to consider running ovals under the lights in prime time on weekday evenings. Since nobody shows up now, like the ghost town we witnessed last Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, running oval events on weeknights may just draw a better TV number and increase interest in the series, especially during summer week nights when all we have is live baseball while we wait around for football season. What say you?
Come to think of it, maybe now is the time to run the Indy 500 under the lights, say on Saturday night, to allow NASCAR regulars to run the race and not avoid a conflict with the Sunday night event at Charlotte. TV is king, as the NBA Finals ratings are proving and IndyCar should rethink its approach.
Neil Rubin, Miami
RM: The IRL was offered a Thursday night date at Phoenix once in conjunction with the NASCAR weekend but declined and I’m with you, run an oval race in prime time when baseball is the only other alternative. Naturally, it wouldn’t be well attended but few ovals are anymore and the tradeoff could be a decent number for your sponsors. But let’s leave Indy at noon for now while it can still stand alone.
Q: I always wonder if we’re gonna have the traditional tracks back on the schedule, like Cleveland, Elkhart Lake, Vancouver, Surfers Paradise, Portland and Laguna Seca. Is it possible that we see some of these tracks back on the schedule in a near future? I read something about they’re getting Cleveland and Laguna Seca maybe next year. Anyway, it would be awesome to drop Sonoma and finish the season at Laguna Seca. Or work out something with IMSA like they do on the Detroit and Long Beach races.
Talking about the ovals, I just don’t like those races at the D-shaped ovals, like Texas. This one is over for me. It’s not a full house anymore. Lots of empty seats. Bring back Phoenix and Michigan!
Here’s my idea: make a 20-race season and include some of those races, if it’s viable. And start the season earlier, if they want to end the season in August. By the way, what happened to the St. Louis oval?
Thiago Viana, Sao Paulo, Brazil
RM: Elkhart Lake has the best chance and Cleveland seemed to have some hope a few months ago but that’s faded away. Calgary is a possibility with James Hinchcliffe and Ric Peterson leading the charge. The Gateway oval ran NASCAR trucks last weekend.
Q: The IndyCar series is once again struggling in the Chief Steward department seeing what’s going on with the four-man Clown Car operating in race control. Not since Wally Dallenbach Sr. and Beaux Barfield have we had straightforward consistency making decisions. So that brings me to the suggestion for a Chief Steward, someone whom like Wally would battle with drivers, team managers and owners alike. Has anyone ever suggested 2002 Indy 500 winner Paul Tracy? After all, we do recall his memorable battles with Chris Kneifel and would think PT would stand up to the owners until they would impeach him.
John Mylenek, Smethport, PA
RM: P.T. has informed me several times in the past year he would be a worthy Chief Steward and I told him he’s too good a TV analyst to go into that hornet’s nest. My worry is that he would take a swing at somebody when they started bitching in the driver’s meeting.
Q: Robin, just read your last mailbag where you mention that you would like to see less officiating. I would too. I believe one thing that needs to happen for officiating to be taken out of the racing, is to have the drivers quit their freaking bitching during the races. I don’t listen to all the radio communications, but I feel like if they aren’t talking about the next pit stop, they are complaining about a slower car blocking them, etc. I’m in the military, and we have ZERO people to bitch to. Life sucks at times and when you’re in a crappy situation, you figure out a way around it, not complain to mommy to fix the problem. If they want the race control issues to go away, like you said, do less officiating. For that to happen, don’t you think the drivers need to shut up then and drive?
Tom Blackburn, Cheyenne, WY
RM: I don’t know if A.J., Parnelli, Mario, Dan and the Unsers screamed and bitched during a race because they weren’t wired for sound. I can tell you that none of them would have tolerated a spotter talking in their ear but I don’t mind drivers venting – we all do it.
[ABOVE, Al Unser in the Chaparral-run Lola at Brands Hatch in ’78.]
Q: You are probably old enough to remember that Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day and apparently it is now IndyCar Post-Race Penalty Day. Why do they spend a couple days going over race video to find this stuff? One good thing that comes from it though is that IndyCar is generating some income.
RM: It’s kind of a combo NASCAR/F1 review but I don’t see how many drivers or teams can afford fines in these challenging times. If that fine money went in the purse, great. If not, stop it.
Q: Mr. Miller, first let me say I have been a race fan for every one of my 59 years and an attendee of the Indy 500 for 40 years. You have been a wonderful example of what racing exemplifies and with your writing and TV shows I have followed you for years. Each year at the end of the race I write The Star and pray my words find the minds that will somehow return the greatest track in the world to its previous splendor. I park my motorhome for the month within a wedge of the track for the month every year at the Legion 500. Hard to miss – it’s an Airstream motorhome so automatically you know I am a real fan.
I beg them each year to remove the grass strips in the corners and bring back an area for passing in the turns and also a place to avoid moving chicanes like some female drivers I won’t mention. With the SAFER barriers in place and the grass in the corners we have reduced the track to front stretch and back stretch passing only and a race where it pays to not be in first place.
Anyway, could you tell me why this grass has to remain and I will bow to your opinion which I respect more than anyone at The Star or out of the IMS.
Greg Lupo, Indianapolis
RM: I believe it was after the 1992 Indy 500 that IMS got rid of the aprons because supposedly they created the severe angles of the crashes into the walls. So did the early IRL gearboxes but they weren’t banned. Anyway, I had a couple of smart people tell me that theory was crap and the aprons had nothing to do with how or where the car hit. The Speedway talked about bringing them back for the Brickyard 400 last year but it got tabled and I haven’t heard anything since (except that Kevin Forbes no longer works at IMS. He did away with the aprons). It would make Indy and the Brickyard better and the aprons were part of the groove for Mario and Rube.
Q: I watched the RC Enerson Indy Lights crash Indy Lights crash after the Toronto race – thank God nobody was hurt. I was at the race in 1996 and scary how that was the spot where Jeff Krosnoff lost his life. Thank God they improved the track safety since then.
What I find strange is no mention of a penalty/fine and no bumpers in Indy Lights. Shouldn’t it be the other way around and more fines/penalties and safety devices (bumpers) in the junior series and less in the “pro” series? You would think that by the time a driver gets to IndyCar that we would have learned what he can and cannot do…of course, that’s provided that he went through the feeder series.
RM: The new Lights car held up nicely in that crash but Enerson was lucky in that he didn’t go into the fence cockpit first, he just missed that bridge and he impacted the tires at a good angle. Some people felt like maybe Piquet short-braked him and that’s why he misjudged the closing speed but I never heard R.C. say anything about it. Fair question about bumpers for Lights but I thought it was always nice to learn respect and race craft with open wheels. Unless the fines were 25 cents none of the Mazda Road to Indy drivers could afford them.
Q: Of course I love your body of work and your always honest opinions. Well, you have been in our sport for sometime now so who are your top five all-time drivers for Roger S. Penske? If you list Will Power I will be saddened.
Mark McKinley, Floyds Knobs, IN
RM: Mark Donohue [ABOVE], Rick Mears, all three Unsers (that counts as one vote), Tom Sneva and Emmo. I’m basing this on results because Mario and Gary B. were cursed.
Q: I couldn’t believe my ears at Texas Motor Speedway. A fan being interviewed on the big screen TV said he was cheering for Mario Andretti to win. Then the track emcee introduced racing legend Mario Andretti, about to step into the two-seater, as Marco Andretti. And then the driver introductions welcomed Marco Andretti as Michael Andretti. I decided that I was an IndyCar fan among NASCAR fans. Then again, a few years ago I saw a 16th Street local news team interview a fan that predicted “Heathcliff” would win.
Mark Synovitz, OK
RM: They were probably confused since Mario was climbing in the Honda two-seater. But at least they got the last name right.
Q: The current Honda situation reminds me of the 1990s when Penske stuck with Goodyear at the cost of any chance of winning. I was and am a huge Little Al fan (despite his issues) and it broke my heart to see him not competitive. Any chance he’ll get a one-off ride and win another 500 like his old man?
RM: Good analogy and it makes the wins of Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy and Gil de Ferran on Goodyears back then even more impressive considering their grip deficit. But Little Al isn’t coming back to IMS except like he did last weekend in an exhibition race.
Q: With Graham Rahal’s and Courtney Force’s love blooming all over these pages, one thing that’s not been mentioned is if either driver has attempted a run in the other’s racecars. Maybe they’ll spend their honeymoon this way?
Chris Pericak, Charlottesville, VA
RM: I think Graham is a lot more likely to give Courtney’s Top Fueler a run before she straps on an Indy car. But Mexico sounds like a better idea than either of those options.
Q: Do you think today’s USAC drivers are as good or better then the group we had back in the 1980s and ’90s? Without USAC offering pavement midget or sprint cars, it for sure puts them at a disadvantage. After watching Bryan Clauson in two Indy 500s, he may be a good dirt sprint car driver, but Indy cars are out of his league. At least when the old IRL was formed, the majority of those drivers had asphalt experience. After Vogler, Fox and Vuky III that chain connecting the two was separated for good. The days of USAC seeing another Rich Vogler or second coming of A.J. Foyt are gone forever.
RM: Clauson has won pavement races at IRP and did just fine in his rookie year at IMS before crashing on his fourth lap of qualifying (he would have started in Row 4). He struggled a little last month but got spooked by a loose wheel and a couple other gremlins. The Byrd family says they have a long-range plan for B.C. and Indy is on the menu so I think he just needs miles. It’s impossible to compare eras because of safety, equipment, etc. but with USAC losing its pavement identity, today’s drivers lose that versatility.
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