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: First of all, my honest reaction to the race is that it was edge of the seat thrilling! I mean, this was don’t look away racing! Seeing them go three and four wide around the track on a track that can support that type of racing was, I thought, tremendous and if we saw that consistently on oval racing, would draw a lot of fans. I was a little perplexed at the time by some of the comments during the race from Tim Cindric and Michael Andretti who were decidedly negative about the “pack racing.” Then after the race, of course, I heard Will Power’s comments. At the time, I honestly didn’t understand what the problem was. The racing was absolutely epic. Having now read your “Danger” article I feel like a ghoul or something for having enjoyed watching the competition.
I certainly didn’t want anyone to get hurt, ever. And if I were a top tier driver (e.g., Penske, Andretti, Ganassi teams) I would certainly have reservations about going three or four wide with Takuma Sato or a rookie next to me. Nevertheless, the compelling nature of the race, including its elements of danger, were a sight to behold. If Super Tex and the other USAC types liked it, and especially if that’s how open wheel used to be in the ‘60’s, then I think that’s a pretty strong endorsement. I’ll tell you this, I would MUCH rather watch a race like Saturday’s than anything like the race in Ft. Worth a few weeks ago where, what, five people finished on the lead lap. THAT type of racing is, in my view ridiculous, not what happened in Fontana last weekend. Am I wrong to have loved the race Saturday?
Grant Gregory, Oklahoma City
RM: Of course you’re not wrong to have loved it and you’re not a ghoul. The point of my story was that danger has always gone hand-in-hand with Indy car racing and that scary, hairy race still has people talking about it five days later. The biggest difference between Foyt’s generation and this one is that safety seldom entered the conversation in the 1960s. And, for the record, I don’t care what Tim Cindric thinks of the racing, he’s not out there hanging his ass out. And if one of his cars wins, what’s he going to say then?
Q: Thank you to the men and women who just put on the best display of pure racing I can imagine. If people write in and bitch about that – we can’t help them. There is not another series in the world that can put on that kind of a show with that many competitive cars over 500 miles. IndyCar owners, sponsors, drivers, media – you have the “on track product” now you just have to figure out how to package it and sell it. IndyCar Fans – we have to get out there and support it. AMAZING!
RM: Can you imagine if Fontana had been shown on NBC this Sunday night like Daytona is going to be? Instead of 400,000 viewers there would have been four million.
Q: I know many of the drivers were understandably jumpy that the new aero kits turned Fontana into the type of pack racing the series has been trying to avoid. But I think the race was actually safer than is being reported. The only reason Briscoe got airborne was digging into the grass. Otherwise, the cars that crashed stayed on the ground and out of the fence and bled off speed and parts as they were supposed to. The crash of Aleshin last year was much more serious, and there was no pack racing involved. There were several racing lines making the three and four wide more natural.
The only thing I would question was allowing tire changes after the red flag. Of the drivers that ducked into the pits, only Sage got close to a podium. The disparity of speeds perhaps led to a more dangerous situation. RHR [new tires] and Briscoe [old tires] was an example. What also struck me were the contrast in comments between the younger drivers and the older drivers who are now fathers. There were a couple challenges that maybe if you’re that fearful, it’s time to think about retiring. Isn’t that the question every driver has to face sooner or later? Isn’t that a necessary part of racing? I know, there are some popular series where older drivers don’t have to face that question. Historically, isn’t that what has always separated IndyCar from all the others? Hope Fontana stays because the wife and I are planning to drive down next year.
Paul, Carmel, CA
RM: I agree because Fontana is two miles instead of 1.5, its corners are much more open and, as you saw, accessible for some amazing three, four and five wide racing. I think the 40-year-old Montoya and Kanaan take calculated risks more than just going for any hole they see but, having said that, T.K. drove like he was 20 all afternoon despite admitting it was nerve wracking. And Marco bolted on new tires and damn near won the race.
Q: I found Saturday’s race both exciting and dangerous. It seems we have two options on ovals 1) Low downforce, exciting for the fans but dangerous for the drivers 2) High downforce and a Sunday afternoon nap. As much as I hate to say this is it time to stop racing on ovals? Has aero finally killed open-wheel oval racing? On another note, why was JPM griping so much? Didn’t he used to pack race at Daytona and Talladega?
John, Dayton, OH
RM: That does seem to be the unhappy balance right now and the fallout is the lack of attendance even if it’s a great show like Saturday. Ovals are IndyCar’s heritage but it could be down to just IMS sooner than later. When he was 24 and about to mop up the field at Indy, Montoya said he drove deeper into the corners than those married guys with families and now he’s one of them. Except he’s still aggressive, just more selective. As I wrote in that column Monday, he didn’t like the risky conditions but it didn’t stop him from mixing it up all day. Ditto for T.K. and Helio. They’re professionals.
Q: WOW!!! That was the greatest race no one ever saw! My son and I loved every lap. Too bad only a few thousand fellow race fans were there to witness one of the best oval races ever!
Vincent Martinez, Arcadia, CA
RM: It can be classified as one of the “greatest or most exciting or scariest or wildest” but whatever you term it, it was memorable wasn’t it?
Q: Yesterday’s race was as exciting as it gets, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time…because I have seen enough IRL races similar to this one and I was terrified for the drivers, we have seen this dance go horribly bad so many times before. Exciting, absolutely, but let me be crystal clear: I don’t ever want to see another race like what we saw at Fontana Saturday afternoon – ever again. Thank GOD Ryan Briscoe is alive, much less was able to walk away from that violent wreck.
If I feel I have seen enough drivers die over the last 35 years, I can only imagine what you have witnessed and how you feel. I loved the package of two years ago, cars with very little down-force, super loose, sliding all over the track, drivers having to lift in the corners, tire wear causing the speeds to fluctuate about 12 miles per hour from the start to the end of the wear cycle. WTF was this BS pack racing? Are the people that run IndyCar really this careless and inept? Just say no to pack racing in IndyCar.
John Cassis, Houston, Texas
RM: I guess I’m too old school but, for instance, when Danny Ongais and Pancho Carter flipped at Michigan one year it wasn’t pack racing and there was no outcry to stop it. I understand it was close, crazy, dangerous racing at Fontana and that’s exactly what Salem and Winchester have always been so there’s a fine line between racing that puts you to sleep and racing that keeps you awake because it drained your senses.
Q: If that is pack racing then by God give me more! I couldn’t sit down in my own living room! I know you said the older drivers cried danger and the young guys said it was fun. But even Super Tex said it was just racing when Sato crashed out, then on TV, when asked what he thought of it, said he loved it back when he was driving. I noticed that the drivers crying were mostly from Chevy teams. The drivers happy were Honda teams. Honda brought their A game to Fontana and I for one was glad to see it. Sure if the Chevys had been running away with it like the rest of the season so far, it wouldn’t have been so full at the front of the field. And I loved reading in one of the RACER.com articles where Ed Carpenter practically said if they didn’t want to race then stay home. I for one love the ovals, and oval racing like that is what could put IndyCar back on the map. Your thoughts?
John in Arkansas
RM: My thoughts are what I wrote Monday – a fast, dangerous arena is what put IndyCar on the map many decades ago and it still captivates people today – just not as many. It did seem like the Honda drivers had more fun – here’s Marshall’s explanation for Honda’s improved form – but Tony Kanaan ran hard all day in his Chevy and said it best: “It was nerve wracking for us but probably great for the people watching.”
Q: What a weekend for motorsports fans! IndyCar’s Mad Max Death Dance at 220MPH, NASCAR’s bad boy brothers proving they can race anything, Valentino Rossi defying his age, banging “doors” on two wheels, Tudor proving you can put on a show when its raining, Piquet Jr. can do a lot more than crash, and a sign of the times an electric car overall win at Pikes Peak. Now I will be happy to never see a pack race again in IndyCar, having said that, I watched the race at my local Tiki bar (like always) and for the first time, half the bar was truly excited and interested in the outcome of the race. I was asked questions and heard comments such as “Are these the Indy 500 cars? Where else do they race? This is more exciting than NASCAR. How come no one watches this”?
I felt very torn like Jekyll and Hyde. I couldn’t have been more excited about IndyCar generating interest and also being genuinely nervous about that race. Obviously Fontana produced an “edge of your seat” race for even non-fans so is this the answer for new fans? If IndyCar ran promotions highlighting this race for upcoming ovals in the future I believe interest would increase. I know the IRL oval experiment didn’t work out but it’s been a long time and new generations haven’t experienced this style of racing. Nobody else in the motorsports world can produce this style of racing! Did you notice how much national press this race got? It was nationwide. Is driver safety worth compromising for growth? Well I’m glad I don’t have to decide that answer!
RM: It’s interesting that several readers have expressed the same guilty pleasure for being entertained and scared at the same time. I’d say the reaction from the bar crowd says a lot about IndyCar’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s the best show nobody knows about, watches or attends. If I was IndyCar, I’d have bought an hour on ABC, condensed the race and re-shown it in prime time some time this week.
But people staying engaged for a couple hours in a bar doesn’t mean they’ll ever watch another race so the message has to be delivered and hammered into the public’s conscience. It got a lot of press because a car flipped but how many people will follow Graham or Marco the rest of 2015?
Q: Which sanctioning body is the lamest, USAC or IndyCar? It only took Davey Hamilton a few weeks to figure out the problems at USAC are not fixable while IndyCar just seems to be perpetually incompetent.
RM: I’ve got to cast my vote with USAC because they lost Marlboro, ruined the future for midget and sprint drivers by taking the dirt tracks out of the Champ Car schedule and then had the Indy 500 taken away because of more incompetence. But IndyCar is catching them in stupidity.
Q: In your message to Miles, you wondered if anyone was watching the race at home since only 3,000 attended the race. I watched it, but I had intended to record it. My wife and I were up on the scaffold painting our house when I left to record the race. I wasn’t expecting much from 23 cars on a big oval for 500 miles. I pressed record and heard Dave Despain’s golden voice give the command to start engines. I thought, that’ a good start. I’ll just watch the first 10 laps live until the field gets strung out, just like Dixie predicted, then I’ll go back painting. A half an hour later my wife came in yelling at me for leaving her on the scaffold. She calmed down and for the next four hours we watched the greatest Indy car race I had ever seen, not including Indy 500s. We wasted some expensive paint and brushes, but it was worth it because as much as I was spellbound, there was a little voice in my head that said, “When this race is over, IndyCar will make sure we’ll never see this racing again.” Will we see that kind of racing again? And you mentioned in your message to Miles that you thought Fontana was one of the top five races you’ve ever seen. What are your top five?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA
RM: So, in other words, it wasn’t like watching paint dry? It was a can’t-look-away race that nobody saw (at least in person) and that was the real tragedy. I guess 1982 Indy 500, 1995 Michigan 500, 1960 Indy 500 [ABOVE: Rodger Ward battles Jim Rathmann, IMS photo], 2000 Michigan 500 and 2014 and 2015 Indy 500s.
Q: Hell of a race on Saturday. My wife, who usually equates all racing with NASCAR, was glued to the TV with me the last 25 laps or so, and now knows (and understands why) I watch IndyCar on TV and drive eight hours up from Atlanta every May to watch the Indy 500 with my folks/friends. The drivers who came out and openly criticized (some for the second or third time) IndyCar should be silenced. While the racing was tight and intense, I don’t think it was the same type of pack racing as Las Vegas was. Like Briscoe said, as long as people don’t drive like *#%holes this makes for the best type of racing money can buy or watch on TV.” That being said, what are your thoughts on the drivers coming out and openly criticizing the series? To me it’s the last thing they should be doing. IndyCar nailed the aerodynamic package, and lo and behold we just get the drivers complaining and undermining any momentum this race garnered.
RM: I understand the heat of the moment reaction like Power but I also understand Ed Carpenter’s stance. The drivers are taking the chances and risking their lives so I always welcome the freedom of speech we have in IndyCar. Power’s comments generated some fan support and a lot of bitching about his complaining but like T.K. said, nobody knows what it was like except the drivers so I’ve got no problem with Willy P’s opinion being heard. It didn’t take away from the fact most people couldn’t quit watching or talking about it. Would he have said the same thing if he’d won instead of crashed? We’ll never know but I doubt it because he’s a brave racer.
Q: Well Robin, count me in with Power, Kanaan, Montoya, Jakes, Dario and others who were not pleased with the return of pack racing. IndyCar needs to decide whether it is spectacle or sport, because flat-out pack racing isn’t racing in my books. It’s terrifying.
On another note, IndyCar officiating leaves me stumped (again). I have always had great confidence in Derrick Walker, but that is waning quickly. In the past, Graham Rahal would have served a drive through penalty for his pit infraction immediately after it happened. Simple. But Walker likes the F1-style of officiating. Yet, even if this were F1, Rahal would have had a time penalty added to his next pit stop (likely five seconds) or a similar time penalty added immediately after the race, taking away his win. Somehow IndyCar has created a third tier of officiating that’s even more confusing and arbitrary. The rules should be written in ink, not pencil. No professional sport, including the likes of NASCAR, IMSA, etc., call penalties after their race/game/match is over. You do it right after the infraction or not at all. This type of officiating greatly damages IndyCar’s credibility. Why even have stewards at the races? And who knows, maybe Graham gets a drive through right away and still storms back to win? As happy as I was to see Honda and Graham take a straight up victory, it will have an asterisk beside it in my books because race control has no clue what they’re doing. A points’ penalty or fine on Wednesday doesn’t cut it. Big props to Jon Beekhuis for calling out IndyCar on the air over this! I hate to say it Robin, but you’re right, the owners need to take back the series, because those currently in charge are running it into the ground. Heartbreaking.
Rob M, London, ON
RM: I’ve always been one of Derrick’s biggest supporters but I gave Race Control an F in the midseason report card and they keep getting worse. Any penalty should be a bang-bang decision and I have no idea how one wasn’t called immediately on Graham but Walker and Race Control have lost the paddock over this one. But the way Rahal came back up through the pack after it tells me he would still have been a factor in the end. The owners certainly aren’t a good argument for clear thinking but, considering the alternative, they would be an improvement.
Q: Long time reader, lifetime Indycar fan and in the demographic “not” watching IndyCar (I’m 28). Saturday’s race at Fontana was amazing. I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat, like I have never been before. There was side-by-side, five-wide RACING at 200+ MPH and it was anybody’s race. I do not know how anybody could not find that exciting. I could not help myself but write in after Tim Cindric’s and Will Power’s comments. If it is crazy, stupid and so dangerous…. DO NOT DO IT! There are plenty of drivers who are afraid… and plenty who are not. No one criticizes Niki Lauda for stopping his car and saying it was too dangerous. Or Mike Conway. A.J. Foyt had the best response. And I have never seen Marco Andretti smile like that before. Why isn’t this sport more popular?
JT3 from Pittsburgh
RM: As I wrote earlier, we asked for Cindric’s opinion on NBCSN but I don’t care what he thought because he wasn’t driving and I respect the opinion of Power [ABOVE] because he was in the heat of the action and led more laps than anybody. And Ed’s position of shut up, drive or find something else to do is equally valid. The dichotomy is that your champion is saying it’s insane and deadly yet people are still raving about the race on Tuesday. Kanaan was more measured because he looked frazzled afterwards and I know he wasn’t a fan of what happened but he raced hard and then said it had to be a great show for people watching and that nobody made him drive a racecar. IndyCar needs races on NBC, better PR and marketing. That’s a good start for answering why it isn’t more popular because unlike ABC, NBC would get behind promoting IndyCar and being on network television is a must.
Q: To quote Will Power “What are we doing”? I generally try to give IndyCar the benefit of the doubt. It’s a tough job where you can never please everyone, and the racing over the past few years has been phenomenal. That said, Fontana was a circus. Some people may have enjoyed the return of pack racing, but Will Power is right on the money. It’s downright insane. I wanted to watch the race through my fingers like a child. Kudos to the drivers for making it through 500 miles of near-disaster with just a few mistakes and luckily everyone made it through in one piece.
On top of that, it isn’t even a good show. It’s non-racing. If I wanted the winner chosen by lottery I’d watch the Daytona 500. And after all the insanity we end up with a winner who shouldn’t have been on the lead lap. When something as minor as driving over an air hose gets you an automatic drive through, Rahal tears the fuel hose apart and gets nothing? Well, probably a fine for the fuel man on Wednesday… Rahal’s team needed a severe punishment. The genuine mistake that led to the fuel hose getting ripped apart could happen to anyone, but knowingly sending a car onto the racing surface with a big chunk of aluminum you KNOW is coming off is reckless. They should have parked him on the warm-up lane. Instead, they endangered every other driver out there at full race speed. When that hose coupling inevitably falls out you have no way to know where it is going, if that goes into a driver’s head like the aero piece that hit Hinch at the Indy GP in 2014, that’s probably instant death. Insane.
RM: Kanaan said afterward he didn’t blame IndyCar because the cars ran in a pack at Texas in practice but not during the race so nobody knew what to expect. Of course Montoya predicted a pack race on Friday while Dixon said he expected things to sort out after 10 laps or so. Bottom line, it’s racing and racers deal with situations. I guess if it bothered people they shouldn’t watch but the non-call on Rahal shouldn’t out-weigh one of the fiercest races ever.
Q: IndyCar fans finally got the race they’ve been wanting. It was a close, exhilarating, exciting, and intense 500 miles at Fontana. There was very little pack racing. The track and downforce allowed for multiple racing lines to be used. This gave us the amazing three and four wide racing. I have no issues with this type of racing. It’s exciting as hell. Too bad nobody was there to watch it.
I take bigger issue with the drivers suggesting it was too “Las Vegas” like. What they do is dangerous. With many of the racers questioning this type of racing, do you feel that this could ultimately lead to the demise of open wheel racing on high-banked ovals? I can recall many CART/IRL races going back to 2000 that had this style of racing at MIS and it never seemed to be an issue with the drivers. Is it possible to expect this series to turn into a non-oval series except for Indianapolis? If it goes non-oval, where would IndyCar race? Would they try to bank a bunch of overseas dates with a huge paycheck?
Rich, South Lyon, MI
RM: I texted Dario that I recall a couple of Michigan CART races that bordered on insanity at 220mph and I agree with you and Rahal, it wasn’t pack racing like Vegas because you had places to escape. But I can see only Indy surviving because the ovals don’t draw and promoters are losing fistfuls of money and they will simply stop. I’m not sure anybody is going to pay IndyCar to go to Europe or Asia or South America, I know that’s what Mark Miles has been saying for a couple years but the only place that might work is Australia because of Power, Dixon and its history.
Q: What if the IndyCar owners went to someone – say Dan Andersen – and said, ‘You set up the series and we will race in it and IndyCar (and the Indy 500) were left out in the cold. How long would the 500 last? BTW, way to lay it on the line – we all needed that!
RM: Most of the owners, if not all, are way too dependent on IndyCar’s Leader’s Circle and the Indianapolis 500 to break away but I think they could exert pressure on Miles to get smart about the schedule.
Q: I was at Fontana, and that may well have been the best race I’ve seen this year. (And I attended Indianapolis!) Great job for Graham, and it was nice to see RHR run well for the first time this season (until his accident). My question is: whatever did Honda do to finally get things dialed in? I know they’ve had the power but the Honda teams’ struggle with their aero kits has been so visible that their competitiveness came as a pleasant shock. Whatever it is they did, they need to keep doing it.
Garrett from San Diego
RM: Good question. Honda thought it had something for Chevrolet at Indianapolis but obviously didn’t, so be sure and read Marshall Pruett’s column about this because he’s got it nailed.
Q: It’s too late to float this idea for Fontana, but I have an idea to help fill the stands in Pocono in August and anywhere else in between. The question for promoters is how to get more butts in seats in these super speedways? My idea is to fill sections of stands with kids for free.
Currently, Auto Club Speedway allows kids 12 and under in for free. My idea would be to bump that age to 14 or 15 and offer free tickets to any children’s group within a 3-hour drive. Every Boy Scout, Girl Scout, Boys and Girls Club, church group, summer school or similar group gets free tickets for every kid. The requirement would be that for every 10 kids, there has to be an adult chaperone. Put all the kids in certain sections and let them have the time of their lives. What would it cost the track? A few more security guards for certain sections. With some management oversight, each kid coming in gets a Verizon backpack (the ones they give away) loaded with all the giveaway stuff that a kid can get at an IndyCar race anyway. Verizon and other sponsors will load those packs because THAT is their target market! Kids 8 to 15 years old are Verizon’s market!
Put in there a one-page guide on what IndyCar IS, how it is not F1 and not NASCAR, put in a spotters guide, and anything else sponsors want to cram in there. Is it going to be hot? Put a bottle of water (or 2) in each bag with a logo on it. I bet you that you could get a food vendor to give each kid a burger and a coke or a taco and a coke. Or someone could sponsor that. In that section of the stands, bring in a couple of the IndyCar drivers to shoot T-shirts to the kids for a few minutes before the race. The PR benefit would be huge if it got out among the masses that at-risk kids in these large city areas get to see IndyCar races for free, get fed, are safe and get free gifts.
Is this easy to do? No. But with some planning in conjuntion with a bunch of kids groups, camps and schools looking for activities for kids in the summer, imagine what 50 to 100 school buses packed with kids would do to help fill the stands. And by the way, in exchange for what is honestly a minimal expense to both the promoter and a few sponsors, everyone gets fans-for-life from the most important target market everyone wants: The next generation of fans.
Gary Nelson, Flagstaff, AZ
RM: Well it sounds great but it would be a massive undertaking and somebody has to pay for it and organize it and I don’t see the tracks or Verizon or IndyCar in that role. They all might pitch in but something of this magnitude requires a long-range strategy and a sponsor. I agree with your premise but making it a reality would be challenging six months out – let alone a few weeks.
Q: I have to admit, when I heard the theory of closing shop by Labor Day, I thought it was a smart move. Oh, how wrong I was! You said in the video you posted after Fontana that the team owners have leverage over the series, but I wonder, how much can a fan reasonably expect the teams to do about it? You mentioned the people who run Auto Club Speedway would only invite IndyCar back for a September date, but why would they not want the season opener in, say, February or early March? It looks like it’s in the middle of a desert, so I don’t think weather would be an issue.
Nathan in Terre Haute, IN
RM: The supposed logic was to be done before the NFL season but as we saw at Toronto (which was a damn fine street show), fewer than 200,000 watched on NBCSN so don’t tell me how it’s working. Sure, there were 200,000 more watching Fontana this year than in 2014 but that’s because last year’s race didn’t start until after 9 p.m. on the east coast. Track prez Dave Allen said the only way he’d have IndyCar back is in September as the season finale and some owners want it in October so I’m sure Fontana would be fine with that too. But I’m not sure how much steam the owners could have because I’m not sure it’s possible to get them all to agree on anything.
Q: I loved the race at Fontana. Isn’t the danger and fear what attracted us all to OWR in the first place? Thank God no injuries. If there was a fatality on Saturday it was Fontana. We all knew it would have dismal attendance but I was shocked at what I saw. What was the actual attendance for the race?
RM: Exactly, that’s what I wrote about on Monday. The element of danger is the reason we watched and cared so much. A friend of mine and I counted the crowd 20 minutes before start your engines and it was 1,840 in the grandstand and I imagine another couple hundred came in just before the start. Counting the suites, I guessed 3,000 and that was in the ballpark but I can assure you there was not 10,000 like our local newspaper speculated.
Q: I’m sure your mailbag will be filled with passionate cries from both sides of pack racing. As an ex-Wheldon fan who was drawn to IndyCar by the pack races (Jeff Ward’s Texas victory in 2002 got me hooked) I was very conflicted, as you can imagine. Personally, I think most in IndyCar can agree (a) yesterday was slightly over the line, but (b) most other non-Indy ovals the past four years have been processional snoozers. I think what IndyCar needs is to find a balance between what we had at Texas the past few years (tires degrading so fast the field got single file and processional after five laps) and Fontana (so close you can’t look away, but fearful the worst will happen).
Ideally, the product would be an aerodynamic package that allows for close, side-by-side racing and a tire package that allows enough falloff for the field to spread out some. I think you achieve that through more testing and in-weekend aero-adjustments, two things IndyCar has resisted over the years (Example: teams asked for more downforce at Texas in 2013 and IndyCar ignored them, leading to an ABC-primetime snoozer; yesterday they wanted less and got ignored again). Do you see IndyCar being more proactive about this in the future through testing and adjusting aero regulations more or will this problem simply solve itself by Fontana being dropped from the schedule? Those stands looked barren.
Also, aren’t the drivers hypocritical for complaining about the dangers yesterday when there was one bad wreck, but not so much over the flips, Hinch’s accident, and Saavedra’s injury at Indy? Heck, at Indy the same drivers that were upset about qualifying having the danger removed were upset about the danger!
RM: I think most drivers would prefer a little more separation because nobody could break away but your point is well taken because too far the other way is boring. More testing would obviously be smart but Fontana needs to stay providing it’s got a fall date. I think half the drivers feel more in control at Indy than they did last Saturday but I can’t keep track of bitching – not enough time or paper.
Q: Man, that video after the race calling out Mark Miles was why I look to you for the unvarnished truth, but also as someone who loves the sport so much he is willing to put his livelihood on the line for it. I hope IMS doesn’t come after you and get you tossed off the NBCSN broadcast team for telling the emperor he has no clothes (or brains). There is no one who can (or has the cojones) to take your place! As much as I like and respect Tony Kanaan, his interview at the end implied that the fans like a good show, but don’t appreciate how difficult it is to race like that. I hope someone reminds him that we watch because we know we are seeing something amazing. If he is getting tired of doing it, Sage or a bunch of other young guys are happy to take over his ride. Please keep (and doing) your job!
Bary, Harrisonburg, VA
RM: I don’t think Miles would ask to have me fired (maybe next year) but there’s nothing I can do about it if he does. My job is to report and analyze for you folks – you are my audience – and taking a stand or telling the truth cost me three jobs in Indianapolis so it wouldn’t be the first time. But don’t be too tough on T.K., I thought his explanation of Saturday’s racing was very honest.
Q: Just wanted to say thanks for your commentary yesterday after the race at Fontana with the empty stands behind you. Granted the race was over, but the visual was poignant. You, in my mind eloquently, forcefully voiced my frustrations as a fan by publicly “sticking it to the man” yesterday. I was not at all surprised by the empty stands, but who could have expected such a good race? This is the magic of IndyCar racing. Hopefully with modern technology people will be able to at least watch this race on YouTube, or somewhere to witness what they missed. The pack racing debate however will continue, but that is for another day. I am curious to hear your thoughts on that topic. Again thank you for addressing yesterday everything that is wrong with IndyCar.
Dan Loken, Louisville, KY
RM: I’ll start at the end of your email: I didn’t address everything that was wrong with IndyCar, just its most pressing problem and one that could prove irreparable unless addressed ASAP. But thanks for watching RACER.com. As for the race, it was scary, good, breathtaking, 135 laps of 220mph Dodge ball and three hours of why IndyCar is the best product on four wheels. I liked it.
Q: I just listened to your rant on RACER.com and agree 100 percent. I recorded the race as I was out all day, and will look at it tomorrow, even though I know the results. Meanwhile do these jokers that run IndyCar refuse to listen to anyone? Since the start of last season everyone has been railing on them about the schedule ending in August, and what a stupid idea that is. Since this year’s schedule was announced, everyone has said what a stupid idea it would be to race at Fontana in late June, but again nobody listened.
In spite of those who claim to love oval races, nobody comes, and IndyCar is so bereft of ideas they can’t attract even the fans to oval weekends. I frequently get messages from sites that solicit signatures for petitions, on different topics, the Confederate flag issue being one example. What would it take to get a petition going to have Miles fired and replaced with someone who has enough knowledge and interest in the series to actually do the job right? I’d sign it, and so would a lot of IndyCar fans. I know we’ve been down the owner-run series road before, and it wouldn’t work unless all or most agreed, but maybe it is time for IndyCar to either be sold or to die and be replaced with a new series. Could any of the problems of the past be as bad as the current mismanagement of IndyCar?
Keith, Pitt Meadows, BC
RM: I’ve had two dinners with Mark Miles and I send him everything I write, positive or negative, because he doesn’t know anything about auto racing or its inner workings or problems or realities and he needs educated. I don’t dislike Miles and I don’t want to hang with him either, I just want him to listen to the sponsors, promoters and teams because he’s killing them. But he won’t listen to Mario so I don’t waste my time trying to talk to him. Instead, he listened to a consulting group that had no understanding of IndyCar. But Mark isn’t going anywhere so don’t waste your efforts with a petition. He’s entrenched in the Hulman & Company board and surrounded by buddies. But it would be wrong to single him out as worst ever because there have been so many before him of the same ilk.
Q: Loved your video to Mark Miles and the fact a few thousand fans were at that race is a shame. Next year’s 100th Indy 500 will be a great party and a nice look back at the history of INDY. Then everyone will wake up from that party and realize there is no leadership, plan or vision to get people’s attention. The Speedway has been so focused on looking at its past, it has neglected to be a forward-thinking organization. It has simply wanted to squeeze out every dime and I am disgusted by their stupidity. Show some leadership, Miles. Where is the face and voice of IndyCar? It is Robin Miller and those at RACER.com and RACER Magazine. They are the ones beating your drum and the diehards like me who LOVE this series. Race the Indy 500 at night, do a primetime race on a Thursday night, get gaming allowed at IMS, start the season in Mexico closer to the team’s sponsors markets and then move north — not the Middle East or somewhere in Europe. Get some professionals in there as race director because the lack of judgment is laughable.
Mike Nicholas, Fishers, IN
RM: That’s the main concern from a lot of smart people: what happens after 2016? I know a lot of longtime ticket and suite holders that are done after next May because they’re tired of getting raped and pillaged by IMS. But I believe the Boston Insulting Group told IMS to not worry about making new fans, just gouge the ones you’ve got because they’ll keep coming back. I wouldn’t be too sure of that. Raising ticket prices every year, charging $75 to park in the infield and a case of water is $42 plus a $20 service charge for delivery, a case of Budweiser is $66 plus a $20 service charge, a bottle of Fuzzy’s Vodka is $98 and demanding $9 for a tenderloin is hardly fan friendly. Tony Hulman would not be pleased with IMS management or the Levy Brothers.
Q: I just watched your video on Mark Miles. Good for you. I’ve wanted to ask this question for some time and now seems to be the time. Given that Penske [ABOVE], Andretti, and Ganassi have the resources to race in any series they choose, what keeps them in IndyCar? It seems if they wanted to they could go elsewhere and enter the 500 as a one off and still dominate the month of May. Does this sound familiar?
John Fulton, Akron, Ohio
RM: Well, RP is obviously in NASCAR, while Chip runs NASCAR and TUDOR and Michael has cars in Rallycross, Formula E and Mazda Road To Indy so I’m not real sure where else they branch out. And they’re all open wheel guys first and foremost who live for the Indy 500.
Q: Your rant against Mark Miles is so right on. I’ve been around Indy cars since age six in 1954 and no one has made such a mess like Mark Miles. Who the heck admits in any business he can’t compete? California has been such a good ally and he treats them like dirt.
RM: It’s ludicrous and arrogant to think the NFL is your competition when you are aren’t even a pimple on their butt. Your competition is sports cars, NASCAR and Formula 1 and you should be bragging about the fastest, wildest, most diverse series on four wheels. If you knew how disrespectful IndyCar has been to Auto Club Speedway, you would be seething and I may share that sooner rather than later depending on what happens with the 2016 schedule.
Q: Was I hallucinating or did I see/hear/read this week, that given your druthers, you’d take Tony George running IndyCar over Mark Miles?
RM: You weren’t: I would absolutely do it in a New York second. Look, nobody was tougher on TG during The Split than I was but he did eventually put open-wheel racing back together and he’s still got passion for Indy cars – it’s in his DNA. He cares a lot more about it than Miles and has a lot more knowledge so if he had a couple of good lieutenants (and not some of the clowns he had in the IRL), I believe IndyCar would be better off.
Q: I always enjoy your Mailbag and viewpoints on racing. I am in my mid 30s now but my granddad started taking me to the races when I was about 3 to our local tracks in NJ, East Windsor, Flemington and New Egypt. He goes back to the old Reading and Langhorne days. He doesn’t get to many races anymore at 91 years old but still goes when the sprint cars or TQ midgets are racing.
For me being a life-long fan and a driver who has raced karts and street stocks we have seen so many changes over the years. My grandad brought up a good point after the Fontana race. He said truthfully Indy cars were never designed even with today’s cars to race on high-banked ovals. He said tracks like Nazareth, Trenton, Pocono, Phoenix, Milwaukee, and of course Indy all share one common trait – they are mostly flat. While the race was exciting and we both agree the racing is fantastic in IndyCar right now we think they need to shift the attention to the type of tracks they are running. Of course it becomes an issue of if the promoters and track owners want to gamble on the series coming in, that could be a huge hurdle to clear. But I think for the series, the drivers, the fans, and for overall safety it’s something that does need to be looked at.
RM: He’s right, the flat ovals of Phoenix, Milwaukee, Trenton and Langhorne were the staple but then Atlanta, MIS and Texas came along so that was the start of running the high banks for Indy cars (unless you count the tragic Daytona one-and-done in 1959) before Fontana, Chicago, Kansas, Homestead, etc. were added. There have been some classic races at all of these tracks through the years but right now the key is finding an oval that can sustain itself with IndyCar. Iowa would seem to be the lone wolf and Pocono could stay or go depending on next month’s turnout. In terms of safety, IMS was built in 1909 and it’s the same size (width wise) so it wasn’t built for 230mph either but the racing continues to wow us every May.
Q: I am so glad I saw your Danger commentary before commenting on the race. I have been accused before of being bloodthirsty (or maybe more of “why does a nice girl like you like violent, dangerous sports?”). I appreciate good, tight racing and no, I have no wish for anyone to get hurt. I held my breath until I knew Briscoe was alive and well. You said it all, Mr. M. It was a damn exciting race and I enjoyed the close racing and the multitude of passing and lead changes. Many of the drivers could have won the race. Even at the end there was no guarantee. The action kept your interest and there was not time to be bored, even going 135 laps w/o a yellow flag. And I was there with 2,999 of my fellow race fans. I met some interesting, diehard racing aficionados. I cannot imagine staying home and not seeing this great race live. This track is very special and not only because it is our only oval race west of the Rockies!
Please don’t let up on Miles. He and his gang are ruining our sport with their hair-brained decisions. Fontana at night is still a thrill and I am truly sorry that Dave Allen and his crew lost a mint on an afternoon race this weekend. I hope he can secure the final race in 2016 and it is a night race to boot. Being the finale again would be heaven. I will be there!
Deb Schaeffer, Los Angeles
RM: I’m thinking that a day race finale in late September or early October might be a good call because then the east coast wouldn’t be going to bed at the halfway point.
Q: You have got to be kidding me! $30,000 is all a winner’s check is for an IndyCar event? What the hell is wrong with Mark Miles? You have the greatest spectacle in motorsports in the Indy 500 and for the rest of the season you cant pay more than $30,000 to win an IndyCar race? NASCAR drivers make $60,000 to just start one of their events!! Fontana was the first time I had sat down and watched an entire IndyCar race since last May. I really liked what A.J. and Marco had to say about the racing, especially A.J. making comments about the “old days”. I understand 100 percent what the drivers mean about Las Vegas a years ago, and the loss of Dan Wheldon was a huge hurt to IndyCar. But, if IndyCar goes back to follow the leader, spread out racing, I am sorry, but IndyCar will not be around much longer.
A lot of people on your posts make fun of NASCAR, and as a fan of both series, I’d have to say NASCAR is in a way better situation than IndyCar. They have solid events year to year. They have great-looking racecars, and they fill an infield and most of a grandstand at every event. I really hope Miles and the Boston idiots listening to you, because you are our only hope to getting IndyCar back. Any chance for IndyCar at Gateway or Phoenix? Went to Gateway for the NASCAR Trucks and it was an awesome weekend. Little rain, but great racing. Was kind of bad to notice the Gateway NASCAR Truck Race had a bigger crowd than the IndyCar race at Fontana.
Andy St. Mary’s, Ohio
RM: The paltry purse at IndyCar races is not Mark Miles’ fault, he inherited the Leader’s Circle system that puts money in the owner’s pockets and takes it away from drivers and mechanics. But to think they race as hard and close and crazy as they do for such a small amount is insulting and disgraceful. But that’s the major difference between NASCAR and IndyCar. Just about every, full-time Sprint Cup driver will make more purse money this year than the IndyCar champion. Risk vs. reward? Not in IndyCar. And if you don’t have a nice retainer (about 10 drivers do), then you race for almost nothing.
Q: I don’t get it, I love ovals. Fontana is, in my opinion, the closing crown jewel of the IndyCar season. It’s a big race and a big deal…or at least it used to be. Totally disrespected by Mark Miles & the assclown consultants they hired. The racing product has never been better. The racing management has now sunk as low as the Tony George era. Team owners deserve some of this as well: they wanted Randy Bernard out and look where that’s gotten them. I completely agree with your plea for a call to arms for these team owners. There needs to be a Vatican II-esque meeting and immediate reforms.? Rise up. Fire Mark Miles. Return the schedule and stability to the season.
Do some TESTING at the tracks. Figure out the damn aero kits and downforce packages appropriate for each track.? No one seems to “get it” that this is a crisis.? Never has the racing and talent mix been better.? But, the lack of audience and response necessitates the need for major changes…and quick.? This is a management and marketing problem, not a racing problem.?
Jim in Santa Fe
RM: Well stated Jim. There is nothing wrong with the racing and hasn’t been since the new car was introduced in 2012 but it’s not nearly enough because sponsors and tracks are losing interest. An owner was bitching to me the other day about Miles and I reminded him that he’d helped run Randy out of town and he said: “I regret that more every day.”
Q: First off, I really enjoyed your message to Mark Miles. It was spot on as usual and I enjoyed watching it. Somebody needs to speak up about the direction, or lack of direction, of the series. Do you see any possibility that any form of common sense will prevail in constructing the 2016 schedule? With regards to Saturday’s race, please tell me that the pack racing we saw at Fontana isn’t what we can expect to see more of in the future? Pack racing goes against all of the basic principles of actual racing, and this fan will certainly find other viewing options if this is what the norm will be for future ovals.
Brian, Joliet, Illinois
RM: Mario has been speaking up for the past year along with some of us at RACER.com but Miles emailed me on Sunday and said he’s open to letting the season run longer than Labor Day in 2016 if things fall into place so that’s encouraging.
Q: I just finished reading David Malsher’s interview with Derrick Walker. I like the fact that he asked very direct questions, and for the most part, Walker finally gave him straight answers. Unfortunately, Walker confirmed what we have all suspected for years. IndyCar can’t do anything recommended in the IndyCar 2018 series because of costs. Any idea that would bring needed change and might improve the series cost money, which none of the teams have.
So here is a question that is rarely asked in the Mailbag; Why are the owners racing in the IndyCar Series? Except for Penske who always wants to win another Indy 500, what do the other teams get out of racing Indy cars? As you wrote in your article, the mechanics are beat down with a brutal non-stop schedule, then are out of work for six months of the year. The condensed schedule makes it difficult if not impossible for the teams to gain or retain sponsors. And the only people watching or reading about the series are the diehard fans that have an understanding of its great history, especially the Indy 500.
Rick Schneider, Charlotte
RM: Well Penske and Ganassi have made their reputation in IndyCar (and good money in the CART days) and I guess everyone else ekes out an existence. But Michael, Sam Schmidt, Jimmy Vasser and Bryan Herta are all open-wheelers with a passion for IndyCar and it’s their life. They aren’t big enough for NASCAR and sports cars pay worse than IndyCar.
Q: I’d like to know your thoughts on the attendance and future scheduling for Fontana. The stands looked pretty empty on TV. After the complaints from previous years about how miserably hot it was at Fontana in September and then finding out the series had moved the race to June, I expected Fontana to have very poor attendance. It really seems to me that Fontana is getting the same treatment that the Houston Grand Prix got. Take a race that was reasonably well attended at a fall date in a hot climate and move it to the end of June. After the June race has poor attendance and the track asks for a better date, the series is unable to accommodate a date that works for the track because of the condensed schedule. Will Fontana be on the schedule next year or will it be dropped because the track and series can’t agree on a date like Houston was?
Brian in Houston
RM: Nobody was surprised by the lack of people last Saturday (I predicted 5,000 before the race but was way too optimistic) and Dave Allen of Auto Club Speedway is adamant that unless he gets the season finale in the fall, he’s done with IndyCar. And, the way he’s been treated, it’s amazing he’d be receptive to keep working with IndyCar.
Q: Your video on Miles was spot on. I have a prediction: Boston Insulting Group will kill the sport we love. Owners have you got the stones to change this travesty?
RM: Individually, 90 percent of them want a change at the top or at least to bring in somebody with racing savvy but, collectively, they can’t agree on the time of day so I’m not confident.
Q: IndyCar: are you trying to piss off the few fans that are left? Briscoe [ABOVE] gets a penalty for avoidable contact? How can you avoid a car that’s dropping like a rock through the field? Then they take 14 laps to clean up a one-car accident? What a joke!!! Rahal leaves the pits with the fuel hose attached and no penalty for that? Seems to be since the dawn of time in any race series that’s a penalty during the race, not next month when they get around to it. Then how many laps did they allow cars to stay under green while those fuel hose pieces sat on the track? It seems these days they use a system of a monkey throwing a dart on a board to determine a penalty and when to throw yellow flags. What’s next? Hinch gets fined for being hurt? Michael Andretti gets a fine because he needs a haircut?
No one was in the stands! I don’t know how many watched on TV but we all know it’s not the numbers needed to survive. Tony George may have killed IndyCar racing but current management is throwing the dirt on the grave. Would the last IndyCar fan please turn the lights off when you leave!
Chris, Ft Lauderdale, FL
RM: When you have people in race control that have never driven a racecar making decisions about blocking or contact or whatever at 200mph, it’s so wrong. Briscoe didn’t do anything that wasn’t done to him 20 times in three hours. It was absurd. Michael got a warning and seven days to get a haircut.
Q: Saturday’s race was the most conflicting thing I ever witnessed. I should be ecstatic over a victory for Graham Rahal (albeit a tarnished one) and a fantastic race, albeit with a bit of a frightening finish. With regards to the style of racing, I think Ryan Briscoe is the best person to ask. He had one of the most horrific accidents in the modern era at Chicagoland in 2005 and another frightening one yesterday.
But alas, will it matter? That crowd, Robin. The death of IndyCar is upon us. It’s a shame the owners booted out Randy Bernard. He actually had a vision and was making progress. Perhaps when IndyCar dies, he and Dan Andersen from MRTI can get together and get some of the owners in on starting a new one. I could realistically see Penske, Ganassi, Andretti coming along, with I’m sure a couple of the other teams in some regard. Get Carlin on board and we could have a weird CART v2.0-type deal.
RM: Other than the IRL race at Dover, it was the worst crowd in the history of IndyCar racing. But there’s not enough money, owners or energy to start another series and Randy is still a big fan but quite happy to be out of the shark tank.
Q: There are signs that IndyCar can grow and become popular again – great races, different winners and young American racers saying the ladder system is working. However IndyCar doesn’t seem to care. I used to think the “leaders” were incompetent, I now think it is pure and simple planned stupidity. They are fat, lazy and don’t want to work more than six months a year. Very sad. For the first time, I’m sitting here hoping the owners will get together and organize their own races.
Mike, Northern California
RM: One of the IndyCar brain trust smirked when I was leaving the press room Saturday night at Fontana and said: “How did we do?” I laughed and said, “You don’t want to know.” How did they do? They staged one of the most exciting races in history in front of a tire-test gathering. But their arrogance matches their incompetence. And even Champ Car and the IRL weren’t this screwed up.
Q: Amen to your rant on Miles! It is time not only for the owners but the drivers, sponsors and former drivers like Rick, Mario, AJ, Chevy and Honda to ask for a meeting not only with Miles but with the board who he answers to! They need to take into account EVERYTHING THAT IS INVOLVED!
Yes maybe a Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. is not the best start time for a race at Fontana and thank you to the fans that did show up! But I went to Michigan from 1982-1995 for all of the 500-milers there in the middle of July with heat and humidity, so shame on the LA people who did not show up at Fontana.
Race Control just plain sucks! They need one person and one person only!
I would like to know how the witch hunters who got rid of Randy B what they think now? Randy had IndyCar moving in the right direction but it’s now in a worse position than before Randy took over.
Terry Gobble, Urbana IL
RM: Big difference between a Saturday and Sunday afternoon race as history has shown us and don’t tempt fate when it’s always in the 90s at that time of the year. Race control will not ever be able to explain its non-calls to anyone’s satisfaction. There is remorse over Randy but it’s way too late and, yes, it’s worse.
Q: Can IndyCar survive? I’m having visions of Champ Car in its final days. Declining attendance, declining TV viewership, declining sponsorship, new “leaders” on an almost yearly basis, new events disappearing within one to three years of inception, and no true direction. Just a general malaise surrounding the sport. Would it help to bunch races together geographically such as running Long Beach, Fontana, and Sonoma together over a month time frame allowing for some regional interest to develop? St. Pete could run as a support race at the 24 Hours of Daytona and/or 12 Hours of Sebring, TMS with COTA, Alabama with Road Atlanta and New Orleans, Milwaukee with Road America, Pocono with Boston and Watkins Glen are all theoretical examples. This would stretch the season from January/February and in October. Would it help to adopt Le Mans/TUDOR or NASCAR engine specs to widen possible manufacturer involvement? Anything producing up to 900hp could be allowed. I’ve watched for the past 25 years having gone to multiple races, and I just don’t see how things can get better. Please tell me I’m wrong.
RM: I like the California grouping but I don’t think the tracks welcome it because they feel like it’s too much. Marshall can give a better answer about what engine formula might attract more manufacturers (BELOW) but it seems like Le Mans is the worldwide focus so not sure IndyCar has anything to combat that. No, you are right.
Marshall Pruett writes: “Most of the engines in sports car racing are either too big or too heavy – and often too big and too heavy – to drop into an open-wheel car. Some of them could work – the smaller the better, and certainly the most exotic engines from LMP1 would be candidates. If this was the old IRL formula where stock-block V8s were the engines of choice, IMSA and IndyCar could look at some crossover, but it would take an intentional move by IndyCar to craft its next car around a bigger/heavier engine formula to bring both series into alignment.”
Q: Before I start my rant would like to say I sure miss my Sunday evening Wind Tunnel with Despain and you. Good to see Mr. Despain do the engine start at Fontana. Wish I owned a network would be a regular show. Now for Fontana. I decided to go in support of California Speedway and the promoter, hoping not one dime of my money goes to the IndyCar organization. I am sitting here looking at my model of the Chaparral 2K [ABOVE, in 1979 with Al Unser. IMS photo] and wondering what happened to IndyCar racing and why can they not put a formula together that can both improve the car count and keep cost down (relative term).
I gave the organization until June and now I have determined they have no idea what they are doing to promote their product and find it hard to believe that smart guys like Penske, Ganassi and Rahal put up with this. If IndyCar management worked directly for Mr. Penske they would have been fired long ago. You have to have a love and know the history of Indy racing and the current management has neither.
Time to start for the third time and have Gurney write a White Paper and CART II. Go back to basics with a simple engine formula that would attract manufactures and get three or four chassis manufactures involved. I am sure there are plenty of old Chevy, Ford, Toyota and Honda from the 90s that could be updated or at least the molds are still around. Improve the purses to draw entrants. Maybe they can get the rodeo promoter back to run things – at least he was trying and improve the racing and fans appeal. Expand the season from February to late October. Expand the racing to 14-17 events and bring back the popular events such as Cleveland, Road America and Laguna Seca. In today’s economy maybe more of the double events with TUDOR sports cars, which seems to have a better product for the fans than Indy car right now.
All this is from a guy who bought stock in CART back in the day. Fontana was a great show with four lines and anyone of 15 cars could have won the race. The weather was not that bad (lucky) and actually I did like the 1:30 start since I was home by 6:30 and Sunday was free to write this email. Not sure what else you could ask for. I here a couple of drivers bitching about the “pack racing” but thought the racing was for the most part clean. Those that are bitching were the first to stick their car into a questionable spot, they are racers and not sure what you can do about that. Great show!!!!!
Richard Glass, Camarillo, CA
RM: The great disconnect started with The Split and spec racing became the norm but not sure it’s ever going to change in this racing economy. Double-headers with sports cars should be standard operating procedure because it’s worked quite well at Long Beach, Detroit and Mid-Ohio. I miss WIND TUNNEL also because there’s nothing like it out there and it offered something for everyone.
Q: I can tell you it’s great to see Rahal and Andretti on that MAVTV 500 podium. Following on the heels of the Josef Newgarden win, I can’t help but root for the American drivers as they beat a deep and tough field of competitors. I’d still like to see some grass roots drivers make it to the big time. I couldn’t take my eyes off the TV for a minute. Thank God Briscoe wasn’t hurt. When the nose caught the grass and pitch poled, I held my breath. It was great to see Ryan moving in the cockpit. What an awful flip! Nice message to Mark Miles too. Hopefully the owners can get together and expand the season like it should. If not, maybe he can call Randy when he gets off the course!
East Coast curmudgeon, Curt Cyliax
RM: Graham was on the Rich Eisen Show which usually deals with stick & ball sports so that’s why it’s imperative he and Marco are players in the championship and winners. Their names resonate with mainstream media.
Q: I don’t want to take anything away from Rahal’s effort at Fontana – but how does he NOT get a drive-through for leaving the pit box with the end of the fuel hose? And to make things worse, Walker is interviewed saying they are going to review it and maybe give him a penalty later – because they didn’t want to do anything to affect the outcome of the race…Isn’t NOT doing anything affecting the outcome of the race? I’m guessing that getting Honda the win with an American driver was what was important…
Briscoe got hosed too! Everything’s starting to have that NASCAR “staged” feeling. IndyCar needs to step stepping on their crank, second guessing, and making calls rolling a pair of dice! They’re looking more and more like nobody knows what’s going on and/or are in control…
RM: I really don’t think there’s any predetermined ruling or any of thought of taking care of a certain driver, team or engine. And nobody could have predicted who was going to win in the final lap, let alone 40 to go.
Q: Do you think that not giving a penalty to Rahal during the race was because he is an American? Sure feels that way.
Todd, Calgary, Canada
RM: No Todd, I think Graham got a free pass because he gave Race Control a bunch of free Steak & Shake gift cards.
Q: I was one of the four people who actually watched the race live on TV on Saturday (seriously, what an awful scheduled time!), and I thought it was fantastic. For those who think it was too much, think back to the old Texas or Charlotte or Atlanta IRL days. That was pack racing where I watched in dread – this was “pack-ish” racing, and not nearly as bad, and very entertaining. That said, I am very happy that Graham Rahal got his first win in forever. However, how did his team not get a penalty during the race for an unsafe release? Hello? Race control? Were you paying attention at all? They were very fortunate that a huge fire didn’t break out. Even the booth calling the race wondered out loud about a penalty.
Sean, Scarsdale, NY
RM: I didn’t feel the same trepidation last Saturday as I did at IRL races at Texas and I think pack-ish is a good term for what we saw.
Q: It was not until the start of the 500-mile race this weekend that I realized, SOMEHOW, we ended up with both a NASCAR and IndyCar race on the same weekend just less than 500 miles apart (Fontana and Sonoma). For starters, how was that even possible? With roughly 3,000 fans in attendance at ACS, and a not-so-impressive turnout at Sonoma, this should be an immediate lesson learned for both credited Series. For the sake of racing (in general), you cannot have this, and there should be an agreement between both sanctioning bodies to build jurisdictional boundaries during race weekends (maybe including NHRA and other racing organizations).
Now granted, it is unknown whether this would have made a huge difference on the attendance, but it’s a factor that needs to be considered any time of the year. With Dave Allen (President of ACS) wanting IndyCar back on a much reasonable date, and the overall opinion that the teams, owners and sponsors want a longer season, could a track like Auto Club Speedway schedule an invitational event outside of the IndyCar sanctioning body?
RM: I don’t think that had any affect on the IndyCar crowd (see answer above) and there was a big crowd at Sonoma. Don’t think Dave would take a flyer on an outlaw open-wheel race unless somebody paid the purse for him (like Penske or Mike Lanigan).
Q: So, we all knew the attendance was doomed because of the 1:30 start time, and that was proven with maybe 2,000 people in the stands. But, what was the actual reason given for having the race start on 1:30 p.m. in June and who made the call? At the end of the day, I didn’t go because of that. I was there in 2002 or 2003 when it was stupid hot, and really didn’t want to do that again. I watched the race in peace at home and enjoyed every minute of it. If it was a night race like last year, I would have gone for sure and I live an hour a half from the speedway!
Alex, Calabasas, CA
RM: They couldn’t wait until dark because that would have been 11 p.m. on the East Coast but an afternoon start in October would be bearable.
Q: Regarding the Fontana date debacle, I have a question/idea. IndyCar wants to start the season earlier, and Fontana needs a cooler date. Why can’t Fontana be run in Feb or March or April? The excuse usually used is it’s too close to the NASCAR date. I don’t understand this idea. Seems one could be used to promote the other. “Hey race fans, don’t forget we have another major series coming in three weeks. Tickets on sale now.” And I can’t get my head around the idea that people wont go to races a few weeks apart. Can you help me understand what I’m missing?
Kyle in Shiloh, IL
RM: Tracks like to have two or three major events a year and they like them to be spaced out. Fontana starts promoting NASCAR after New Year’s and its crowds have made a nice comeback in the past couple years so they are not about to fool with another race. And there is very little crossover between NASCAR and IndyCar fans.
Q: Living in Florida, I wasn’t really in a position to go to Fontana after traveling to Indianapolis but I watched it on TV and was amazed at what a great race it was and was also disappointed at the lack of fans in the stands. Can’t figure that one out. I hope somehow they can get a good promoter on board to save this race. The next day I look at a packed house for the taxicabs at Sonoma for a race not nearly as exciting and for the life of me I can’t understand. At least the two most highly attended races in the world aren’t NASCAR. That gives me a little bit of hope.
RM: The lack of people at Fontana wasn’t the promoter’s fault. Dave Allen’s staff had a $99 package for four tickets and four pit passes, promotions with Ralphs and Coke and deals on suites and pit passes. Louis Brewster of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin wrote stories every day in the run-up to the race, and there were non-stop radio ads. Nobody is going to sit outside in 90-plus degree heat for three hours on a Saturday in June. Not in L.A. anyway.
Q: I’m sure your inbox is flooded with other more heated stuff, but for a change of pace, I was wondering after the NOLA incident if Coyne had trouble finding mechanics to bust their ass 12 weeks in a row for marginally qualified drivers? We all complain when a buyer gets a ride over a real driver, how do the guys who bust their ass feel to not only to work for a driver they probably don’t believe should be there, but now to have had so may mistakes put them in danger? I know its Coyne’s team and he can hire whoever he wants to drive, but how can he find qualified mechanics for this? Glad to hear Mr. Trower is alright.
Steve, Pittsburgh, PA
RM: Actually Dale has quite a few good mechanics and engineers and Vautier and Daly gave them something to cheer about earlier this season. Mistakes happen on pit stops but it’s just unlucky that three Coyne workers have been injured.
Q: I know drivers are awarded one point for a lap led and two points for most laps led, but what if we took that a little further? Instead of a point for one lap led, how about we award a point for EVERY lap led? The win would have to pay out enough points to make it important (maybe the number of race laps x2), but I feel like this could really ramp up the action you see up front for the entire race, as every lap becomes a championship moment. It could also give rise to many different and interesting strategies used by teams. Maybe this idea has been tossed around before or it just sounds too gimmicky, but what are your thoughts?
Alex, Lansing, MI
RM: I’d rather see them get $1,000 a lap than a point but neither is going to happen and we’ve already got double points for Indy and Sonoma so no more gimmicks, please.
Q: Johnny Carson once said: “If they buy the premise they’ll buy the bit.” I want to present a very unlikely premise, and I ask you to suspend disbelief and go with it. The management at Red Bull, increasingly frustrated with the poor performance of their Formula 1 team and able to read the financial handwriting on the pit wall, announces they are leaving F1 at the end of this season. Someone at 16th and Georgetown drinks out of the wrong bottle or something and has a good idea. They manage to persuade the other powers that be to give it a try, and a delegation heads off to Europe to meet with Red Bull management. They emerge with a contract for Red Bull to be the title sponsor for the Indy 500 for five years, beginning with the 100th running. Red Bull announces that for those five years the winner’s purse will be 10 million dollars. Prize money for all top finishers will increase dramatically.
There follows an announcement from IMS management that they will shortly announce a new rules package for the 500. That’s the premise. What happens next?
RM: I’m hoping the title sponsor goes for at least $5 million and it goes directly into the purse and Red Bull would be a natural. But dream on.
Q: There are strong possibilities that neither Fontana, Pocono [ABOVE], or Milwaukee will be on the schedule next season. With not much talk of adding another oval are we really looking at Indy and Iowa as the only two oval races? Just sad.
Nick, Denver, CO
RM: It’s a distinct possibility, it all depends on what date Fontana is offered and how Pocono draws next month.
Q: With all the talk of the demise of the ovals, I’ve got to ask, something has got to change, so what is it? Oval promoters and IndyCar must work together to turn the oval races into “events” like the street races are. I had a blast at St. Pete. Plenty to do and see, Stadium trucks, fun for the kids, lots of on track action. At least Milwaukee used to be a State Fair party. I went to Texas for years, show up for one race and then sit in your car in the lot for four hours waiting for the traffic to clear. There needs to be multiple on track events and stuff to do outside when the kids can’t stand sitting anymore in the stadium seats.
And finally, you’ve shot me down on it before, Miller, but I’ll try again. How about oval/road course double-headers? Pocono, Michigan, Daytona, New Hampshire, almost all ovals have road courses. And it doesn’t have to be the Indy cars themselves. If the ovals are “too fast” for the support series, how about Pro Mazda and F2000 on the road course in the mornings and the IndyCar on the oval in the afternoon. Or even better, a joint weekend with IMSA/TUDOR sports cars or Pirelli World Challenge? The TUDOR six hours of Fontana on Saturday, and a PWC sprint race and MAVTV 500 on Sunday. With the crowds nowadays you surely don’t need the infields for parking and spectators…Think outside the box, people. (P.S. scrapping IndyCar altogether for IMSA/WEC prototypes at Indy is the best idea I’ve heard yet.)
Scott B., Gainesville, FL
RM: IndyCar may have to be the co-promoter to keep ovals on the schedule but your oval/road course idea just wouldn’t be embraced by those tracks. It’s tough enough to get ovals to try one IndyCar race nowadays. But I always liked the idea of Cleveland being an oval on Saturday and a road course on Sunday.
Q: I’ve been meaning to write in for several weeks now, so pardon me if I throw a few disjointed, unrelated questions and comments into the blender. Firstly, heck of a race at Fontana! For all the critics out there (drivers among them) going on about insane pack racing, keep in mind there were zero cautions for the first half of the race. Zero. If anything, that proves to me the vast amount of skill these guys possess. This wasn’t your dad’s (or even granddad’s) pack racing like the IRL used to run at Texas where you couldn’t pass the leader unless he made a mistake. This was great, entertaining, use-every-groove-possible, competitive racing. Does the downforce need a slight adjustment? Possibly (especially on the upcoming small ovals), but what do the drivers like more, this kind of big oval racing or the kind like we had at Indy 3-4 years ago where slingshot passes are happening all over the place and you actually don’t want to be the one in the lead?
Secondly, Ed Carpenter’s had a rough year behind the wheel. This past Saturday kind of capped it for me that maybe it’s time for the old Bulldog to just focus on running the business end of the team. Any thoughts on a potential (if only hypothetical) replacement? Hopefully he would opt for a full season guy, rather than a ride-share.
Lastly, can anyone catch Montoya in the championship?? The guy seems to have recovered his old fire, but lost the stupidity that made him the win-or-wreck beast he was in CART. Deadly combination right there.
Keep fighting the good fight,
Pete, Hoosier Exile in Oregon
RM: Some believe the downforce needs to be dialed back but Ed is just having one of those years, he hasn’t lost anything except a couple cars. He’ll be fine. Montoya is going to be tough to derail because he’s driving with pace and patience – that’s a good combination.
Q: So, Hinch is on the mend (thank goodness) and we know the cause of his crash. How awkward is the first team meeting after something like this? Not pointing fingers but asking for insight. The car failed because the team was using a very old part (suspension rocker) that had been updated and strengthened by Dallara some time ago. I recognize that mistakes happen but this one seems entirely avoidable. Does Hinch look at his team and ask, “How did you NOT make that change?” Is there going to be a breakdown in the relationship? I can’t imagine how Sam Schmidt feels, especially after the heavy price he paid in these cars.
Rob Roten, Spring Hill, TN
RM: I don’t think it will be awkward and, in fact, Hinch has been at the shop several times since his accident. It’s part of racing, the unfortunate part, but it’s like a loose wheel, stuck throttle, etc. – those things happen. Not sure Sam’s team was the only one with USED suspension but Hinch’s accident served as a wake-up call to everyone in Gasoline Alley.
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