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: Saw your video on supporting Saturday’s MAVTV 500. It reminded me – since my wife is also going – that I should thank you and Adam Friedman for convincing me to go. I want to do this before I get to the race and pass out from heat stroke in what will surely be 280-degree temps with no shade, plus I want to bitch a little bit. Fontana in summer. In SUMMER! In the heat of the day. The effing HEAT of the DAY! Is IndyCar insane? Who is the idiot who can be kidnapped and then waterboarded until they finally decide that this insane short schedule has got to end? See ya in Fontana; have the paramedics ready.
JJ in Los Angeles
RM: People are quick to blame television for bad starting times (I was usually one of them) but the truth is the date dictated the time. The sun is wicked going into Turn 3 (so much so the race was delayed the past couple years) so, unless the race began after the sunset at 8:15pm (which would mean an 11:15pm EST green flag and that’s not acceptable), that glare would be a factor in a 6pm. green flag. There’s also the major expense of turning on the lights for a small crowd for the final hour and Auto Club Speedway loses enough money the way it is with an afternoon start. IndyCar is the biggest culprit with this insane date but it’s only supposed to be 89 on Saturday afternoon so that might help a little.
Q: My wife and I are driving 400 miles from Northern California to see the MAVTV 500. This will be our first visit to Fontana and we want to know what to expect (we like hot weather!). Auto Club Speedway is working hard to promote this race and deserves fan support. We prefer a race where the drivers/teams that get their car setup right are able to pull away from those that don’t, as opposed to everyone remaining on the lead lap because the cars are too easy to drive. Will the aero package and tire combination create separation in the field like Texas? What impact will the heat have on the race?
David Abel, Danville, CA
RM: I would imagine we’ll see something similar to Texas, the only difference being the conditions won’t cool off like they did a few weeks ago. Keeping your tires under you seems to be the big key and hot weather makes it tougher. Will we have low and high downforce packages that could determine the outcome? Not sure if everyone won’t go the way the Ganassi boys did in Fort Worth.
Q: I grew up a few miles from Fontana and have lived in Long Beach for almost a decade now so I’ve had the opportunity to see how the Long Beach GP and the Fontana Speedway promote their races year in and year out. The differences are frustrating to observe because I feel that Fontana’s IndyCar race can be far more successful with a few tweaks. Long Beach has the support of a city and all of its businesses. Posters up in shops, banners hanging from every other light post within a five-mile radius of downtown. Newspaper ads and promotions, Tecate goes to every restaurant from DT to second street and even some locations in Seal Beach and San Pedro with “Welcome race fans” banners and race propaganda.
They are promoting an already successful event, despite the main series being not very popular. Now, Auto Club Speedway has a much larger task. They need to promote a race by a series that no one has heard of, and has no popular personalities in it. Currently they promote it just as they do the NASCAR race. The problem is that everyone knows what NASCAR is and a few drivers are household names. People know that the NASCAR culture of tailgating, car number flags, cheap beer, and music will be present, so they go. This is because NASCAR as a series promotes itself like crazy and the speedway simply announces its arrival. Their promotion of their NASCAR race is much like Long Beach’s promotion of their race in a sense. Fontana must deal with promoting it with a new date, potential heat, and almost zero to do other than the race itself. Long Beach has an Expo plus a large number of car displays, a sports car race and the Mazda Road to Indy races. What does Fontana offer? Very little because sponsors and manufactures bring virtually nothing to see. So Auto Club Speedway needs to change its game plan.
I walked through Victoria Gardens and Ontario Mills this weekend. Those are the two largest shopping centers in the Inland Empire and are less than a 5-10 minute drive from the Speedway. What a convenient opportunity! Thousands and thousands of people pass through here over a weekend, and there was not one sign up. Not one bar had even a bit of anything to indicate there was anything going on next weekend. I know the speedway owns a display Indy car. Why is it not parked right smack in the middle of the outdoor shopping mall? Why are there no banners on light poles, or bars with promotions to bring race fans before and after the event? A friggin kiosk with a TV screen on a loop showing highlights of the Indy500 and announcing the stars and drivers are coming HERE, would be more effective than a few billboards. Promoting a race in June is hard, promoting an IndyCar race is hard, promoting an IndyCar race in June needs a new strategy.
Jonathan from Long Beach
RM: Interesting observations but entirely different circumstances. The Long Beach Grand Prix resurrected a city that wasn’t much to look at in 1976. The city council and merchants got behind the race and, like you said, it became a community affair that attracted new hotels, restaurants and a loyal following. It was good business to support the race and everyone got behind it. It’s also three days of non-stop racing action with great promotional help from the Toyota dealers of southern California. It’s THE PLACE to be in the spring on a weekend in April and has been for 40 years. On the flip side is Fontana, hardly a garden spot to hang out in unless you’re a dump truck. The track itself is first class but again, as you mentioned, a moving target for a date and stifling weather is not a formula for success. I know Auto Club Speedway has promotions with Coca-Cola and Ralph’s Foods the past few weeks in addition to plastering the air waves with radio commercials and also offered a $99 family package. But it’s not enough. The new strategy needed is that IndyCar either gives Fontana a night race in October or gives up.
Q: OK, I emailed you a few weeks ago praising Mark Miles IndyCar scheduling before Labor Day. I might now see the error of my ways with him. Auto Club Speedway this Saturday at 1 p.m. Stupid. I will still be there and thank you for all you are doing to help promote. Milwaukee (my home race) starting at 4 p.m. CDT? Seems a little late on Sunday. I get it is all about TV but I am questioning these start times he negotiated with the TV partners. I remember Milwaukee and Chicago running from 3-5 p.m. in the old CART days and that was OK but 4 p.m. start? Is this the latest Milwaukee has ever started during the day? Are we trying to kill the ovals? I don’t need more than five or six oval races a year, and right now we have six solid ones I would like to see stay of the schedule. (Maybe add Phoenix;) All the great work Randy Bernard has done is getting destroyed by this man.
RM: Sticking your promoter with a date that has no hope of succeeding is not good business. Changing the date of the race every year is not good business. It’s obvious to me that IndyCar could care less about racing in Fontana and they likely won’t have to worry after this weekend. IRL tried late starts at Milwaukee and nobody showed and I’ve written for years that Milwaukee needs to start at 1 or 2 p.m. to try and get the Chicago crowd. CART tape-delayed races in its heyday and I’d like to see that again but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Ovals have been dying for several years and Phoenix isn’t interested.
[ABOVE: Michael Andretti about to lose the lead at Milwaukee to Kenny Brack, in 2001. LAT photo]
Q: Watched your video on the Fontana race and sooo wish I could get out there (alas, round-trip airfare is $700). I’m guessing without a big walk-up crowd that race will fall off the schedule. If it is any consolation, I attended Texas this year and met Sage Karam! It sounds like this is a make-or-break year for Milwaukee and Pocono as well. What are the odds Indy, Texas, and Iowa are the only ovals that survive to next year? It seems like IndyCar is going to have a series of black eyes and lots of explaining to do to its sponsors if it loses three races (four if you include the jazz going down in NOLA). I guess we’ll still have 16 races with Boston, Road America, Dubai and South Africa, but at what cost? Heck, if COTA ever butts out Texas we might be heading for just Indy and Iowa! I’m curious, if Randy Bernard was not an option, who would you rather have in charge of IndyCar right now: Mark Miles or Tony George? Also, is the Cleveland race dead again?
RM: I think Fontana and Milwaukee are real shaky and Pocono’s future may depend on next month’s turnout. But don’t assume Dubai and South Africa or even Road America. Cleveland is a long story I’ll share at the end of the season. I’d take T.G. in a heartbeat in that matchup.
Q: Longtime fan and I look forward to your Mailbag each and every week. Just saw your video about Fontana and had to post my comment as one who could simply hop in the car and be there in a mere 20 minutes. Please convey to Fontana that June, July, and August is a frying pan that I will never endure again.
I posted a comment on this subject a month ago about the timing and was GRILLED about it being a night race. It’s a 1:30 p.m. start and I live 15 minutes away. Weather.com says it’s a 96-degree day and that’s eight days out. I will not attend, even if they GIVE away tickets to fill the stands (hey, that’s a GREAT idea!) in this heat! It needs to start after 6 p.m. local when temps are under 80 degrees to get U.S. out to the track. Disagree? Come to Fontana in late June and sit on metal seats in a facility that blocks the hot winds and enjoy. I’d rather grill and eat watching on a big screen in HD. Oh, and I have been attending the Long Beach Grand Prix for two days per weekend since 1985.
Kenny Ramirez, Corona, Calif.
RM: The forecast is back to 89 degrees but your point is well taken. When I was 18, nothing would have stopped me from going to an Indy car race two or three hours away and it got plenty hot and humid at DuQuoin, Milwaukee and Springfield in the 1960s. But, unless you can afford a suite ticket, it’s a tough sell for the over-50 crowd. Hell, let’s be honest, a Saturday afternoon race is a tough sell period, even for a true fan like yourself.
Q: The infinite wisdom of IndyCar never fails to amaze me. Fontana this weekend, you know, the hottest ticket in town. Are we seeing the death of another racing venue in LA? Irwindale was the latest casualty in a long long list of places to go for racing.
My history takes me back to the good old days. Western Speedway, where I became a life long fan of this new kid in his jalopy, Parnelli. There was always Ascot Park, the best dirt track on the planet and also Saugus, my personal favorite as I got to know most of the drivers. Riverside hosted Indy car, NASCAR, Can-Am and the Times Grand Prix and we got to see every major star in the racing world. Then there was always Ontario, great memories there too and then it disappeared in the night. So is Fontana next?
It would seem that no one has a clue or is paying attention to history. The villain, NFL? LA can’t even keep a team and the only race in LA that gets any attention is Long Beach, and let’s face it, how many attendees are race fans?
Are any of the powers that be absorbing what is going on with racing in America? Every track with every sanctioning body has no attendance. Yes, NASCAR is still the leader with Sprint getting all the attention but have you noticed that the Trucks and Xnfinity series are playing to almost empty houses now? My question is, how do they survive? Who is paying to keep the races going? TV contracts? It’s becoming oh so obvious that racing as we once knew it in the USA is a dying sport. Is anyone listening?
RM: It’s very sad to think about all the great tracks we’ve lost in California through the years and, yes, Fontana is about to be next unless IndyCar gives them a fighting chance. As for Long Beach, a lot more diehards attend than you think and I’m always talking to old fans from Riverside, Ontario and Ascot Park. NASCAR’s television money keeps its Cup promoters happy (at least it keeps them in the black) but I have no idea how much of that is shared by Trucks or Xfinity.
Q: As we get to the next leg of the Triple Crown this weekend in Fontana, I was just thinking about how Juan Pablo Montoya has become sort of a 500-mile master. I believe he very well could pull off the Triple Crown this year. His time away from INDYCAR kind of makes one forget, but if you look at all of his 500-mile results, it’s pretty stellar. In 1999, he ran second at Michigan and fourth at Fontana. In 2000, he dominated the Indy 500 and edged Michael Andretti to win Michigan [ABOVE, LAT photo]. He was fifth at Indy in 2014 before winning Pocono and finishing fourth at Fontana. His second W at Indy last month gives him four wins and eight Top 5s in nine starts! Do you think his stats put him up there as one of the best 500-mile racers of all time?
John Baadilla, Norwalk, CA
RM: Absolutely one of the best. Not sure anybody ever caught on to IMS quicker and you wonder how many more wins he could have scored in the 15 years he was in F1 and NASCAR.
Q: The biggest racing news for me in 2015 is your story from last week that IndyCar might race at Elkhart Lake in 2016. Do you remember when Mario Andretti went on a personal mission to get Champ Car to stay at Road America? Robin you are my guest to a brat, a roasted cob of corn, and a beer on me if Elkhart Lake happens in 2016. Do you have an idea where it would fit in the calendar?
Tim Shaughnessy, Tennessee
RM: I spoke with Road America president George Bruggenthies again today and he said his meeting with Derrick Walker went well but it’s still not a done deal and could likely hinge on a schedule meeting this week. I do remember Mario helping save the race in 2003. Thanks for the offer, I’ll buy the fried potatoes.
Q: As a longtime IndyCar fan I can’t help but wonder what would happen if Fontana would offer its own non-series race in October. Save the series fee money and use it for the winner’s purse. Make the specs match the IndyCar specs and see if the money and the date draw the IndyCar teams and other competitors to race. Would be quite a spectacle which is what we need in this series. Indy no longer serves as much of draw. Don’t know if the teams can use the cars and engines like this or not or if licensing precludes trying anything different.
James Wright, Columbus, Ohio
RM: You are proposing an outlaw race with Indy cars and you might be able to get 30-33 cars if you paid a big enough purse and Fontana got a big enough title sponsor. Of course you would have to clear it with the engine manufacturers and pay for an extra race so it might be too costly. But, in terms of attracting any other competitors, don’t see how it could work.
Q: I just read your story about IndyCar dropping Milwaukee but adding Road America. Am I supposed to be happy or pissed? Both? While I would love seeing IndyCar back at Road America it makes me want to vomit that IndyCar is going to allow the Mile to disappear. Isn’t oval racing and the Milwaukee Mile part of IndyCar series lore? My prediction is that if it happens, IndyCar is at Road America for two years and is gone. Nobody will show there either.
20 minutes from Road America
RM: As Derrick Walker said, neither Elkhart Lake returning or Milwaukee disappearing are set in stone and there’s a chance they could both be on the 2016 schedule. I think an IndyCar/TUDOR Championship doubleheader at Road America would be a big success but I think the only chance we ever have to bring Milwaukee back to prominence is have it at 1 p.m. on the Sunday the week after the Indy 500.
Q: First, let me say that I have been a fan of the sport for over 25 years, and during that time, I have always appreciated your insight. I always have had respect for Derrick Walker, and I looked forward to his involvement with Race Control. I guess that I was wrong! I do not understand the penalties. Why do the assign so many penalties after the race? When they do make a decision, why can’t they stick
with it? So many rules are applied inconsistently, and the decision to abandon qualifying for Detroit #2 was absurd! Starting on points gave a huge advantage to the point leaders. Do you think Walker will ever admit that what he is trying is not working? Also, I see that the return of Road America to the schedule is looking likely! This is great news! Laguna Seca is now known as Mazda Raceway, and the Mazda Road To Indy is the development program for IndyCar, so what do you think of the chance of seeing it return to the
schedule in the near future?
Lance from Oakdale, California
RM: In a series that struggles to raise sponsorship, I hate seeing a bunch of fines – especially three or four days after the race – but DW liked the F1 system of Race Control so he’s adopted it. It’s not real popular with the competitors or the fans so maybe he’ll re-think it in the offseason. I think Laguna Seca would only come back if Sonoma went away but now that ISC is trying to buy The Corkscrew it may be a moot point.
Q: It’s good to hear that IndyCar is considering returning to Road America, but hopefully not at the cost of the Milwaukee Mile. I was reading an ESPN debate (yes, yes, ESPN doesn’t cover IndyCar well) on the schedule, and while all agreed that it was bad that the series could only offer part time employment (as cited in your recent essay on IndyCar mechanics), someone made the suggestion to have an oval before Indy. Since you’ve been advocating for Milwaukee to go right after Indy, could there be a chance of sticking it before the Month of May and retaining RA for 2016?
RM: Milwaukee before Indy might be worth a try. I think it could have a chance if it was held in May but that’s not going to happen with the road course race in place.
[ABOVE: Sebastien Bourdais leads the field at Road America in 2007.]
Q: The powers that be at IndyCar prove again they have no clue what real race fans want. I just answered survey sent to IndyCar Nation members. One of the questions was, “Which three things are most important to you when attending INDYCAR races? (Select exactly three).” You would think one of the choices would be IndyCar RACE START TIME, but it wasn’t even one of the choices. One of the reasons I drove to Pocono (nine hours) the first year is because it started at NOON so I could drive home after the race and still be home by midnight. I almost didn’t renew my Milwaukee tickets because of the ridiculously late start time and my four-hour drive after the race. All races should start no later then 1:00 local time during the day or 7:00 for night races. These late start times are killing attendance and not helping with TV ratings. Build STRONG EVENTS and TV ratings will follow.
Matt Converset, Decatur, IN
RM: Unfortunately, that’s not surprising Matt but of course it should probably be the first question you ask a paying customer. But you are preaching to the choir about starting times and I’ve been bitching about Milwaukee for the last several years. I know my pals in Chicago never missed a CART race in the 1990s at The Mile but now they NEVER even consider going because of the late green flag. Ditto for a lot of Indy residents.
Q: Just a quick note……I just received the Milwaukee IndyFest tentative schedule today via email and I have come to the conclusion that this will be the last race at the famed Mile. It is woefully apparent that Mikey’s crew has been told to pack it in and just get a race done. With the little to no returning sponsorships or support…..as I know one local sponsor is no longer providing tickets/give-aways, and with this crazy schedule for a crammed Sunday…it will be a sad last stand indeed. Little to no on-track activity both Friday and Saturday? Wow. I remember the old glory days of all day practice on Fridays followed by Saturday’s practices and qualifications, with big events and the Midway at the Fair being packed. But then again that was the week after the 500 race, where the race should have stayed. Now after years of weird CART Thursday night practices, and Saturday night races……to IRL odd Sunday races to now switching the race weekend to a different weekend and month every year, it will be sad to see it go. But I guess it needs to happen. Despite the racers loving the track and all these “oval-racing” purists NOT showing up to the race no matter when it is, it will be sad to see it go away. To all the IndyCar race fans left in the Midwest you all get an ‘F’ for effort. Despite all the crying and complaining throughout the Mailbag, you still decide not to show up for the last true racers’ oval for IndyCar and now we are witnessing the end of a wonderful track. This isn’t Mikey’s fault: he and his crew did the best they could. Constant moving dates and bad times have hurt them. Really 4:35 pm local green this year? Good luck selling that to anyone south or north of the border. Robin: us true fans appreciate the love and respect you show the sport, and my dad and I will see you at the Mile’s last stand this year. We will be the only people in Turn 1-2 stands, relaxing in our 50 rows of empty seats, just like last year, and the year before. Swing by: we will buy you a beer since we have our own beer guy to ourselves over there. But beware- Mikey’s crew only rents five port-o-potties for the whole place, so be prepared to hold it too. Thanks and see you around, hopefully at RA for years to come.
RM: All the ovals but Indy are two-day shows Andy (and most should probably be one day considering nobody ever comes to qualifying) and the old State Fair race was in August following the week-after-Indy show in June. But if this turns out to be the swansong for Milwaukee it’s sad for a number of reasons – good racing, heritage, long-time fan base. Milwaukee was the last place that drew a good crowd for Saturday qualifying in USAC’s and CART’s heydays (probably 10,000) and it was a bastion of Indy car racing for 90 years. RIP. But thanks for your support.
Q: I’m excited by the possibility of Road America returning to the IndyCar schedule but I’m hoping it’s not at the expense of Milwaukee. If Milwaukee doesn’t see an increase in attendance this year it sounds like it may disappear altogether and if that happens I fear IndyCar will never return. What they need to make it work is to return to the traditional weekend after INDY or in lieu of that run the race during the State Fair (also traditional since Indy cars once raced in Milwaukee twice a year, once being during the Fair). Or…if Andretti somehow continues to promote, move the race to a noon start on whatever Sunday it’s run on. That will allow for 5,000-7,000 Chicago race fans to come up for the race and still get home at a decent hour. On another note, I’m very excited for Josef Newgarden. I hope IndyCar doesn’t drop the ball on promoting him like they’ve done with Ryan Hunter-Reay all of these years. The future of the sport depends on kids like Newgarden, Karam, Daly, Munoz, Hawksworth and I just hope management sees they need to promote drivers much more than they have.
Dan Hanke, Milwaukee
RM: The two aren’t related because Michael Andretti has said that if there wasn’t a significant increase in attendance he was likely done as the promoter but that doesn’t mean IndyCar couldn’t lease the track and be its own promoter (not likely but always possible). Road America’s return isn’t hinging on whether Milwaukee stays and we should know something soon. I think with IndyCar’s push for social media, Josef will get a lot more promotion than RHR.
Q: The Toronto race is dying a slow and painful death. There is very little advertising about the race from the current promoters (thus attendance was way off for 2015) even if we had a Canadian in the IndyCar race such as Tags or even JV, I do not think it would have made a difference. I have been to every one of the Toronto races since 1986 and volunteered with CART in tech since 1996 and attended well over 100 race weekends. Toronto still does produce great racing and the support series are great to watch. The Stadium trucks create a buzz every time they are on the track. The issue is price gouging, like $10.25 a beer and crazy food prices. You cannot even bring in your own water (you can bring in an empty bottle and fill it up at the water stations ). If the NASCAR Truck race can get over 70,000 for a weekend at Mosport, then I know IndyCar would do very well there. You can camp and bring your own food and beverage. The racetrack is one of the best in North America. The egress and ingress is easy. And it is only 45 minutes from downtown Toronto. How do we let IndyCar know that Toronto has to move? I feel if the move is not made soon, a race in the Toronto area will be lost forever.
Michael Daly, Toronto
RM: I’ve heard those same complaints from several fans but I guess the best way to voice your displeasure is to not show up like this year. Jeff Pappone, the respected Globe & Mail motorsports writer, estimated 10,000 on Race Day and nobody downtown seemed to know the race was happening. Mosport supposedly needs more runoff area for IndyCar but I understand Ron Fellows has done a magnificent job with the facility. I was there in the late ’60s with USAC and it was a badass circuit. I’d love to see IndyCar go to three or four more places in Canada because the fans are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We just need to get Scott Hargrove into IndyCar with Hinch.
[ABOVE: Derek Daly, Kevin Cogan and Tom Sneva go three-wide into Turn 1 at Toronto in 1987. LAT photo]
Q: I make it to Milwaukee and Iowa annually and I’ll continue to do so but with the rise in popularity of sports car racing recently in this country, count me in as one of the guys who is curious about the potential growth of the Indy 500 if IndyCar ultimately fails. The WEC prototypes have very “Indy-like” tubs and with a small change, they could be configured to run ovals with open wheels. To be honest, I wouldn’t be upset if they didn’t change a thing about their current look. Having prototypes at the Indy 500 would get us right back where we need to be. Multiple manufacturers battling it out with an open rule book at Indy. IndyCar racing would cease to exist but the popularity of American teams in IMSA trying to challenge WEC powerhouses for Indy 500 spots could eventually bring the drama back to qualifying. I think sports car racing is the future. Indy should try to take advantage.
Justin Einerson, Madison, Wisconsin
RM: The WEC paddock is damn impressive and, when you consider three men own almost half the IndyCar field, alternative owners and series are certainly worthy of consideration. Today’s Indy car looks more and more like a sports car so I guess it’s not that big a stretch.
Q: Thanks for the great mailbag and feature articles on Racer.com. I look forward to reading Racer.com every day. My questions relates to the WEC and IMS. I think it was reported late last year that IMS and the WEC had initial conversations about holding an event. Have you heard anything further on this? I think it would be a great event. High technology sports cars and IMS seems to go hand in hand.
Jason, Indianapolis, IN
RM: I think there was talk of WEC running with NASCAR if the Xfinity series ran the road course but I don’t recall any specifics.
Q: Why didn’t the Boston Consulting group notify IndyCar they are missing a major promotional opportunity? Attendance at several tracks is not an issue…TV viewing is. I bet more people will attend IndyCar races outside of the 500 than an average viewing. You have tens of thousands of fans at the street races. Many of them are not diehards. Shouldn’t someone walk away from the Detroit GP knowing next week they are in Texas and what time and channel they’re on, or in Toronto know in two weeks they can see these drivers in California on NBCSN? I see advantages to a condensed schedule but IndyCar is blowing a major marketing opportunity with all the large TV sets around the track failing to hype the next race on TV. There are a lot of casual fans at the track. Help them gain knowledge on the product and let them know the product they are viewing can be found on TV next week or in two weeks. Don’t force them to hunt for it.
Bob in Detroit Consulting Group
RM: You make a good point. One of the biggest complaints I hear from fans are that they didn’t know where or when a race was being televised so providing that information for the next race on the big screens is certainly logical.
Q: It seems pretty obvious that Will Power is at minimum the first or second-best talent on the IndyCar grid today (I’m not particularly a fan but his talent is undeniable) in terms of getting the most pure speed out of the car. Sure he drives for the all-time best IndyCar team which helps, but the evidence is in his qualifying dominance. Seeing that in the last two races he has tied and passed Rick Mears (my childhood racing hero) on the all-time pole position list, how would you compare the two? I’m only 40 and my interest in IndyCar racing began at my first Indy 500 in 1987 as a 12-year-old. Rick was my hero, but he only raced a few years after I began to follow the sport. As I remember it though I only remember seeing Rick do well on ovals and being a bit of a backmarker on the twisties. I vaguely remember this being due to mangling his feet in a significant crash which affected his ability to pedal a car around the road and street courses. How good was Rick on those circuits before that crash? Were the vast majority of his poles ovals? Just curious your perspective on Rick’s oval vs. road course skills and how they compare to Willy P.
RM: Tough to make comparisons but here’s some stats to help put Rick’s career into perspective. Before shattering his feet at Sanair in 1984, Mears was an exceptional road racer – winning six times in his first 28 road/street course starts with Team Penske. Bernie Ecclestone flew him to Paul Ricard in the spring of 1980 to test the Brabham F1 car and he got within a half second of soon-to-be world champ Nelson Piquet. Then, he tested for Brabham again at Riverside and was quicker than Piquet. Ecclestone offered him a contract but The Rocket opted to stay in CART because he liked running ovals as well as road racing. Following his injury, Mears only scored one more RC victory at Laguna Seca in 1989 and obviously wasn’t able to road race with the same prowess because he found he couldn’t brake hard enough and also he had a “lag” on his right foot where he literally couldn’t mash it to the floor as quickly as he wanted. But he did win nine more oval races – including two more at Indianapolis. Power doesn’t have Rick’s oval-track savvy but he’s getting better and better with Mears’ tutoring and nobody has been quicker on road and street circuits than Willy P. the past six seasons.
[ABOVE: Mears at Riverside in 1981, the year he won all three road courses on the schedule. RIGHT: Same venue a year earlier, driving the Brabham-Ford. Would-be teammate Nelson Piquet can be seen behind him. Bob Tronolone photos, courtesy of Steve Shunck]
Q: Has IndyCar ever reached out to all the auto makers in the world and asked this one question?…”What would it take for your company to compete in the Indy 500?”
RM: Randy Bernard met with Ferrari, Audi, Ford and Dodge to gauge their interest in 2010 and 2011 but I don’t know if this regime has done any scouting.
Q: In the last Mailbag one of your answers included this quote, “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.” How could HPD spend millions with Wirth Engineering and yet not do sufficient wind tunnel testing before now? Sounds like someone has some “splainin'” to do.
John Fulton, Akron, Ohio
RM: That’s what the Honda drivers and teams would like to know but Wirth is famous (or infamous) for using CFD – Computational Fluid Dynamics – instead of wind tunnels.
Q: Women have come a long way in entering the world of motorsports. But when it comes to becoming the owner, it is a different story. Just as I thought that Sarah Fisher became the first winning owner, we have to go back to 1929 when Ray Keech won the Indianapolis 500 with the first female and sole owner Maude Yagle. That was a barrier-breaking moment. Then we have current Sauber F1 principal Monisha Kaltenborn – an F1 first. And coming soon in 2016, Grace Motorsport will have an all female team led by owner Beth Paretta and driver Katherine Legge. Women like those and the ones before them along with Maude did more than just compete. They have earned it with hard work with patience and lots of homework. Hopefully when Grace MP enters the grid, it will not only be for the Indy 500 but also a full season?
JLS, Chicago, ILL
RM: I think Grace’s plan is to hook up with an established team for Indianapolis in 2016 and then pursue a full-time program. Beth helped run the SRT Dodge Viper team in ALMS and then the TUDOR Championship, and they made a lot of progress in just two-and-a-bit seasons. She’s well respected around the paddock so I’m sure the wheels are already in motion.
Q: I just thought of something regarding the hiding of the Push-To-Pass information. I like that they’ve done this because I agree that the teams knowing when someone was on it and how much they had left made it a lot less useful than it should’ve been. There was zero element of surprise and overtaking ability became negligible because you could easily defend. So without the info, you now have a quandary where fans can’t tell what’s up… aka who is on it and when. So how do you fix that? GIVE THEM MORE HORSEPOWER WHEN THEY PUSH IT! One thing that sports car racing has right now is the hybrid power that Porsche kicks in and suddenly that car looks like a rocket. I mean, seriously, have you seen that thing in a straight line on TV? It just LOOKS fast! IndyCar needs to give them at least 100hp when they push the button! With a serious power boost, you’d see it with the naked eye, even on television. That would be damn exciting. It also would make defending less viable because by the time you realized the guy is on it, it would probably be too late to defend. On top of that, you’d get the potential for a pass back on the next lap by the passed driver if he can stay close after the corner he was passed at! Give them more horsepower with the button! It’s a win for everyone. Drivers, fans, teams, the whole shooting match. It’s also less goofy than F1’s DRS because you could use it anywhere on the track and with the horsepower higher, you also take that chance of grenading an engine, right? Racing should always be about calculated risk. This adds more of that. Run it by Derrick Walker! Please!
RM: Derrick Walker responds: “Good point Dave, taking away the information able when P2P is activated and the total of P2P is an experiment to change the situation as was demonstrated by Power and Pagenaud at Toronto when they raced to the end of the straight both using P2P (boring!) no changes in positions. So you are right: what if Pagenaud could and Power could not activate? We would have had a pass and then I suspect a re-pass, so the car being passed needs to be unable to activate when he is being challenged from behind – that’s one fix we are looking at for the future but for now we are keeping the info to see the results. Down the road it needs a change in the way it works and you’re right, it needs a bit more power to go with it and we will see for next year if we can do that. In 2018, if the team owners agree to the big investment required to do so, there will be an all new car that we can make lighter, more power and damn exciting-looking with a look that gets our heads turning. Thanks Dave, keep watching and keep those ideas coming.”
Q: Any chance the Month of May (first weekend) could have two heat races at Lucas Oil Raceway – a pair of 12-car sprints? Seems like another short oval and could really give the month of May more love. Do you see the CFH Racing merger as something other smaller teams will do? Seems like a good business model. Any chance of more double-header race weekends? Seems like it would be cool if IndyCar could go and compete, in some way, at Le Mans on that weekend? For $ 70,000, could university engineering programs come up with multiple aero concepts and sell them to IndyCar for manufacture? Seems like R and D through education programs could be a cool way to sell the series to young people. Seems like Milwaukee and Road America could do a double weekend so fans could double dip. Both want a business model they can rely on and some sort of shared ticket sales revenue stream would create stability. Moreover, more fans with the double weekend. Finding some way to have both in one weekend would be a cool twist to IndyCar. Even a rainout day could allow for the Sunday race and still shared funding. Big picture seems like a winner for both.
Tim Gleason, Chicago
RM: Lucas Oil Raceway (IRP) is too small for Indy cars and there’s that pesky little IMS road race to consider. [ABOVE: Pro Mazda in action at LOR in May this year. IMS photo]. Ed, Sarah and Wink merged more out of survival than anything and it’s working but Bryan Herta and Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan are the only single-car efforts left so not sure there can be another one. I think Toronto would like to go back to a doubleheader in 2016. Le Mans doesn’t need a support show. Not many colleges would be willing to spend millions to develop a $70,000 aero kit. Just keeping one race is Wisconsin seems to be the realistic goal.
Q: I love the history of IndyCar. Can you remember back to 1990 when Porsche Motorsport had an IndyCar team? I loved those cars and the efforts of Teo Fabi. To this day it remains a sore spot for me in that Porsche decided to create the first Indy car made completely of carbon fiber and just prior to the start of the season and the car was banned by a vote of its competitors. I once read that Roger Penske was the main reason for the protest and then the following year the Penske team was using a carbon fiber monolithic tub. And that these issues placed the Porsche at a disadvantage in 1990 and may have lead to them leaving the series. Any insights?
Mark McKinley, Floyds Knobs, IN
RM: My recollection is that it was an all-skate witch hunt because Porsche had a fine engine and then took the CART rules makers to school (much like RP did with USAC in 1994) on the subject of carbon fiber. It was banned and then, amazingly, a year later it was legal. That was the beginning of the end for Porsche and certainly not one of CART’s prouder moments. Porsche was forced into a honeycomb car, which proved to be heavier and not very good. Teo Fabi did score Porsche’s lone win at Mid-Ohio in 1989 but it was kind of a fluke since a fueling mistake created an extra pit stop for Fabi but it also gave him a quick, light car that nobody could catch. But to think Porsche gave up sports car racing to come to CART and then got that kind of treatment wasn’t good business, or manners.
Q: The Old Man has had it with the continued complaining of our sport. I know there is enough blame to go around over the years. Tony George is an easy target. After I look back over my 60 years of being a fan I blame a bunch of people. It always comes back to who controls or wants to control the dollars. If you doubt me check out Bernie. I think the biggest threat to all forms of racing is NASCAR’s control over tracks, different series, the constant propaganda they put out, their insane rules, and their conditioning of the fan to want the big one, pack racing, fake yellow to bunch up so as to have a 3 to 5-lap shoot out at the end. The days of the Elliott brothers running the field down from two laps down on pure horsepower are far behind them. Sure they got a fan base but the question is do they know real racin’ or what they been told? The younger people’s interest level is short and they want to see wreckin’-is-racing, NASCAR provides that. Sad but true! Until someone comes up with a better plan for IndyCar, sports car, and yes, even sprinters, this is not going change. What should be the biggest race in the World will run for the 100th time next year. The Indy hype needs to start now. Why not extra money for anyone who can beat the all time record for qualifying? A giant purse to win? Incentives to any well-known drivers from any racing series around the world to run next year’s race? Some type of program to encourage new one-off Indy 500 teams, either corporate or individuals. There has to be some hotshot ad agency that could put a 100th running program together somewhere. Someone has to come up with new thinking to catch the attention of the new young fans. Only NASCAR’s stuff is working somewhat. IndyCar fans – stop complaining about Tony George. He ain’t the problem; it’s a new world out there!
Bob “the Old Man” Lauman, Lawrenceville, Ga.
RM: It always hurts to read that 196,000 people watched a kick-ass race in Toronto on NBCSN and 3.5 million viewed Michigan on FOX Sports 1. But I’ve said for a couple years that the 100th Indy 500 needs a title sponsor, needs to pay $10 million to win and $1 million to start with $1 million going to the polesitter. It’s IndyCar’s last chance to make a big splash before calling for the life preservers.
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