Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD .
Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.
Q: Watching Graham Rahal win at Mid-Ohio felt like IndyCar finally turned a page and took a step closer to the ’90’s magic we all remember so well. Despite all the things this series does to shoot itself in the foot, even IndyCar can’t slow down the momentum that a championship form Rahal or Andretti brings to this series. For all those who dismiss the importance to IndyCar of having popular American drivers competing against the worlds best, if you didn’t see it at Mid-Ohio, if you still don’t get it, you never will.
Secondly, I have to gripe about the scheduling. Why on earth does IndyCar schedule races at tracks where other major series are scheduled to run within weeks of each other? NASCAR running Iowa and Pocono within a couple of weeks of IndyCar, or St. Pete running within a week of Sebring each year? Race fans only have so much money to spend and time to spend it. IndyCar isn’t doing itself any favors with such sloppy scheduling.
Jeff in Florida
RM: The crowd was a pleasant surprise and up considerably from the past couple years so it makes me think that Rahal’s resurgence (along with three great oval races in a row) contributed mightily. And to listen to the fans in the closing laps, during Graham’s victory lap and podium ceremony, it was cool to see Ohio crowd respond to its American driver like Toronto always did to Paul Tracy. The melting pot of talent and diversity of tracks have always been CART’s/IndyCar’s calling card but having Rahal and Newgarden running up front is exactly what IndyCar needs. Not much can be done for the scheduling when everything in compressed into five months and it sounds like it will be longer with better spacing in 2016.
Q: Can I say I hate IndyCar Monday through Saturday, but come Sunday with races like Mid-Ohio it just reminds me why I love American open wheel racing. Hate the schedule, hate how they constantly chase good leadership away, but racing like that they cannot ruin. Graham was gifted that restart from Wilson, but earned that result by pulling away almost three seconds. One more thing, when is IndyCar going to start promoting its own races? Need to see something back in NW. Portland had been re-paved and reconfigured onto back straight and would be perfect part of Rose Festival again.
Tristan, Portland, OR
RM: Agreed. Of all the inner turmoil with leadership and controversies with aero kits and Race Control there is some solace in that the racing has never been better or more competitive. And Mid-Ohio was more dramatic than it was a classic race, but it certainly held our attention to the end. Mark Miles said IndyCar will not be a co-promoter anywhere but would work to help the promoter with sanction fees, etc. Interesting to hear about Portland.
Q: I have been a Team Penske fan since the late 80’s, and every year I want to see the team dominate IndyCar (ah, the memories of 1994). But I have to admit that each week, I find myself rooting more and more for Graham Rahal and seeing this one-car RLL team play myth buster against the powerhouses. It has been proven that teams with more cars can pull more data, and find what they need each week to be competitive, but this team has been defying that logic.
Let’s not ignore the fact that they have landed some talented engineers and found the right chemistry, and a little luck, to make this happen. This is great for the American fans, and most importantly, it is great for any potential teams looking to IndyCar – like Carlin possibly next year. It shows them that you can be small, or start small, and with the right people, find success and be competitive.
My question is, with the silly season upon us it seems that the hottest name on the market is Josef Newgarden. I was just reading Marshall’s story on CFH trying to retain Newgarden, and with the rumors flying around that Ganassi is a potential home for him, I have to ask if you heard anything in the sponsorship loop? It seems that Kanaan is close to signing, and who knows with Karam’s deal now. But if the current lineup remains intact and they are entertaining Newgarden, could Target be in the mix to add a second car again, and luring Newgarden in as an American face on the car?
As much as I would love to see Newgarden in a Penske car, I think it would be fitting, and boosting for IndyCar, to see a young talented American in a Target car if it is with Ganassi. Just wanted to hear your thoughts, and if you have heard anything behind the scenes.
RM: As I wrote yesterday on RACER.com, surrounding Graham with Eddie Jones, Martin Pare and Mike Talbot has given him good cars and reinforced his confidence, and props to Bobby Rahal for stepping back and putting this group together. Considering Chevrolet’s dominance and Team Penske’s depth, it’s an amazing story that RLL is pressing them for the championship. As for JoNew, he’s the Penske perfect driver in every way but apparently he’s not wanted (more on that after the season) and if Chip finally woke up about this kid then good for him. But Target cut back this year in IndyCar and NASCAR so not sure there will ever be two Target cars again.
Q: It seems everything we hope for in the IndyCar series happened at Mid-Ohio. First, the crowd. Had to be the biggest all year, and shows the Ohio fans still remember the history of the series at this track. Also thought it was great how the announcers kept praising the track. Next, the cars. Though I really don’t like spec cars, they ran on rails setting a new track record. Third the race, with Graham Rahal coming home and winning in a storybook ending. And finally, the bigwigs were there from Honda seeing their best driver from a single car team spank the Chevy guys.
My hope is that this is a huge springboard forward to 2016. Even the Mark Miles interview you did was positive, with the likelihood that Road America will be back next year, and maybe Phoenix? And I have to believe that crowd will rival Mid-Ohio’s. Now its up to the series management to keep moving forward. But lately that has been impossible for them to do.
Rick Schneider, Charlotte
RM: I was sitting next to Mike Lanigan on the pit wall just as the podium celebration was starting and he said: “Graham told me after testing he thought we could win some races and be competitive this season but this is just beyond imagination. And today was incredible with this crowd, winning for the Honda people and I’m so proud of this team.” As for 2016, Road America in late June is done and IndyCar is working on Phoenix and possibly Mexico City and at least one another old favorite so that’s all good.
Q: So this one is about Josef Newgarden. He should have about four wins this year and I’d like to think he’ll get one more before the year is out, but there’s always this “hopefully Penske, Andretti or Ganassi will scoop him up…” talk. But other than a bigger weekly check, I’m not so sure it’s a good move. Marco? No wins this season, last season, or the one prior at Andretti. Pagenaud? No wins this season at Penske. Kanaan? Josef has more wins than Kanaan has this year at Ganassi.
I think it’s better for Josef to have his bespoke team built around him, they just need a real sponsor on his car. If he leaves Sarah Fisher’s team, it better be for Formula One.
Todd. Orlando, FL
RM: Good point Todd, and one not lost on Newgarden. He should have at least three wins, he’s led the most laps in 2015 and has great chemistry with engineer Jeremy Milless. I don’t think he wants to leave but I do think he deserves a big raise and good pit stops because that is CFH’s Achilles heel. But the kid also has to think about his future and unless Wink Hartman keeps stepping up, who knows about that team’s longevity? But he did tell me last weekend he’d much rather stay in IndyCar and win races than go to F1 and run 16th with a new team.
Q: Hey Miller, today’s race looked great on TV when it came to the size of the crowd. Was it as big as it looked? I know the one hill looked like it had more people on it then all the oval fans of the year put together. Also there were a lot of seats with butts in them. I really hope that IndyCar is starting to build the sport. Ratings are up and attendance, I hope, is going up also. If IndyCar is growing they will be the only racing series right now that’s not getting smaller.
It’s a shame the season will soon be ending, with the boost in ratings and the interest in IndyCar. It would never happen, but I say add a non-points race somewhere after the season to give the fans a little extra. What would be better then a non-points winner-take-all race after the season’s over? That would be an amazing thank-you to the fans and to make up for this silly short season.
RM: No question it was easily the largest turnout since the Indy 500 and second to only Long Beach in attendance this season (besides IMS). If it was 30,000 then that’s a good crowd nowadays for any IndyCar race but tough to ever come up with an accurate number at a road course. If you could have some kind of a big money race for all the winners after the season on national television, of course it would be worth it.
Q: You better talk to Mark Miles and tell him not to get in the way of himself. Wasn’t Sunday wonderful? Mark and IndyCar got everything they could have hoped for. Here is hoping they realize it. 1) The handsome American kid with the hot girlfriend wins in his hometown. Yeah he was a little lucky, but it was mostly because he was badass fast. 2) The Hatfields (Ganassi) and McCoys (Penske) will be angry with each other 3) Every story needs a villain and we have one (Sage) even though I don’t think he is really trying to be. 4) JPM is ticked off, but more so that his car was not right all weekend and the handsome American kid’s car was a badass (see point #1). What’s up with that Roger? 5) We have a points’ race down the stretch that matters instead of watching races that only have the field with bowties could win. Too bad it was all on CNBC. Any idea what ratings were? And Justin Wilson should get the best supporting actor award.
Jeff Smith, State College, PA
RM: The CNBC number was a sorry 0.15 but the re-air at 6 p.m. on NBCSN following the NASCAR race was a stout 0.42 – same as Milwaukee and a tad less than Iowa and Fontana. Don’t forget JPM was in position for the victory last Sunday before that untimely caution. But you know we love a little hate and all Wilson should get is a full-time ride because, of course, he deserves it.
Q: Taking nothing away from Graham, he drove a great race, any comment on the fact that Bobby Rahal could be heard on the team radio asking for somebody to ask Honda to institute “manufacturers orders” on the last restart? He wanted Honda to ask Wilson to back off after learning that he had two push-to-passes left compared to their 0. The team responded that they could not do that, and you could tell they were freaked that he was saying this on open air. He then could be heard telling someone to check their texts.
RM: Considering Graham is Honda’s only bullet in the title fight and since many believe Wilson’s ride is being partially funded by Honda, it was a sensible request from Bob, if not an emotional one. Justin ran him hard on that final restart and nosed ahead briefly before they broke for the corner. If a different situation maybe he forces the issue but JWill is smart besides being damn good. And clean.
Q: Wow, what a drive by young Rahal. He is just on fire and if the Penske team cannot find the speed they need, he could very well steal the championship. Is that conspiracy theory about Sage bringing out a yellow on purpose real? Mike Hull has too much class to let something like that happen and Sage was all over the place throughout the race so it just seems odd. How can Dixon, with such a fast car, not get past his slower competitors?
RM: If you read my “Sage Gate” story on RACER.com then you know IndyCar is investigating Karam’s spin, and most of the paddock thinks it was on purpose. But unless there is conclusive proof, it’s going to be hard to prove. Being out in front or behind a pack of cars is night and day with these aero kits according to the drivers, not to mention everyone runs almost the same speed.
Q: I love a good conspiracy, and manipulating the outcome of a race should be met with the harshest of penalties. NASCAR brought the hammer down on Michael Waltrip Racing a few years ago, and rightfully so. However, I don’t think there were any shenanigans at Mid Ohio. If Ganassi was going to order someone to spin, why not have it be Kimball? He was two laps down on Lap 65-66.
Karam was running in the Top 15 on the lead laps so I see no reason to ruin his race when Kimball’s was already toast. Given Karam’s season, he needs as many lead lap finishes as possible to keep his sponsors happy and convince others that he’s a capable driver. Also, what are the chances Sage actually spins on purpose? With his attitude, I’d expect him to cuss out his pit and complain to you about it afterward.
RM: Only a couple people know exactly what happened but I can promise you that if Karam spun on purpose he was being a good soldier and following team orders. I guess it would have made more sense to let Charlie be the sacrificial lamb but maybe he was in the middle of traffic at that time and Sage had more of an open track. You know, if it was staged (wink, wink).
Q: I admit straight out that I would like to see JPM win the championship. So that affects what I have to say. But as a race official myself, SCCA National F&C, I can not figure out what the officials are looking at when Sage Karam is out destroying people’s races and qualifying. Over the last several races this kid has been a joke. He is in the way, overly aggressive, and downright dangerous. Now it’s possible he is cheating. The guys on TV for qualifying were right, if the officials don’t get this guy’s attention the drivers will, and probably out back of the haulers. Before his spin JPM was looking at a 58-point lead, instead it’s nine. Thanks, Karam.
Lawrence, Ellensburg WA
RM: Sage is fast, aggressive, cocky and 20 years old trying to impress Ganassi and find a permanent home in IndyCar. Sure he’s taken some chances, drove like a fool at Detroit and made a few crazy moves on the ovals but who doesn’t? Maybe he needs to be tempered a bit but I certainly don’t think this kid is a joke. He’s a talented rookie in one of the most competitive environments of IndyCar’s history with very little testing so it’s a tough learning curve. His attitude probably needs a little adjustment because he doesn’t want to make a lot of enemies on the track but if he did spin intentionally on Sunday he was only obeying orders.
Q: Sunday’s race illustrated a really big problem with post-race penalties. If there was foul play in Sage Karam’s spin, all IndyCar can do now is penalize Karam or Ganassi. There is no way to compensate all the racers who were victimized by the resulting yellow flag. If a call was made immediately during the race, IndyCar could have reshuffled the order on the restart to minimize the disadvantage given to several of the teams. How do you think IndyCar should handle Karam if it is proved that his spin was intentional? Regardless of his guilt, what can IndyCar do to improve yellow flag procedures? It seemed like Beaux Barfield tried to
handle yellow flags in a equitable way.
Charles Alto, New Mexico
RM: There is no way to call an on-the-spot penalty in that situation. IndyCar had to try and find radio communications, look at telemetry, interview Karam, talk to the team and gather information that could prove any skullduggery took place. That can only be done after the race, so we’ll see today if a penalty is handed down – but I doubt there’s enough evidence to convict. And I wouldn’t do anything to Sage, he’s just the hired gun. There were four caution periods Sunday and they were all for legitimate reasons, so I don’t know how IndyCar could have “improved” the situation.
Q: So a fantastic race and a heck of a drive my Rahal, but all the talk is about Sage Karam. All the tin foil hat crowd on the message boards are making it sound like there has been a conspiracy on par with the second shooter on the grassy knoll. You are in the know. What do you think? I think it was way clumsy and rather rookie-like. So what’s the truth? (As you see it at least).
Pete Arnold, MD
RM: We all love controversy and there is no doubt that Sage’s spin helped Rahal win instead of Scott Dixon, but I’ve heard from a couple drivers that I trust and they’re convinced it was intentional. I was in the pits and didn’t even see the replay, but I did hear Townsend Bell in my ear on the broadcast and he cried foul instantly. However, it’s going to be a very difficult thing to prove, and I rather doubt if any action will be taken.
Q: Great track where qualifying is critical because it’s so hard to passm but the race distance turned the race into a major joke! The large pit window results in the team with the most luck getting great results and those that deserved it through qualifying and race pace get the shaft. Rahal wouldn’t have been close to the front without a timely yellow. I am not a Ganassi fan but it should have been a big gain for Dixon. Add 20 laps to the race and get rid of this nonsense.
Mark, San Diego
RM: The length of the race doesn’t have anything to do with when a yellow falls and what that does to the outcome. IndyCar has added laps in the past to certain races to make sure it’s a three stop race, but Mid-Ohio is usually some kind of fuel strategy/lucky caution race. Dixie won from last in 2014 because he caught a timely yellow so it evens out. Graham moved up a few spots in the first segment and got a break in the first caution that kept him in the top five until Sage’s spin, so it wasn’t like he just idled around and it fell into his lap. He also had the fastest lead lap of the race. Sure, Dixon would have won easily had it stayed green the whole race, but it didn’t.
Q: Any chance that RLL Racing could lure Justin Wilson away from Andretti? I think a team if Graham and Justin could be helluva thing but I’m sure JW would like the stability of a large team.
RM: Graham said afterwards they want to expand if possible in 2016 and he and JWill teamed well at Newman/Haas so I’m sure he’d be all for it. Not sure about Andretti’s contractual rights to Justin going forward but somebody needs to hire him full-time.
Q: Frankly, Mid-Ohio was a terrible race because no one could pass anyone. Even front-runners could not get around Gonzales. I know they always say ‘tough to pass’, but at Mid-Ohio it was clearly impossible. Even when someone had push to pass and the other did not, they still could not get it done. Dixon was going almost two seconds faster than anyone towards the beginning but he could not get around people for the rest of the race. A complete IndyCar lottery based solely on when you pit or when you can organize for your teammate to spin.
Justin, Park City, UT
RM: Other than Justin’s awesome, outside, two-car pass on a restart, passing was at a premium and Dixon never seriously challenged Pagenaud for third the final 20 laps so running in traffic was definitely challenging. But, as I said above, MO is usually a runaway, fuel mileage derby or luck of the caution flag.
Q: I watched the Mid-Ohio race and was cheering Graham all the way. Imagine if Wendy’s was Graham’s sponsor for that race. That would’ve been epic since Wendy’s is Ohio-based just the Rahals were. Anyway, I definitely hope his victorious momentum is enough to bring many people to the next round in Pocono. I will be there all right and in VIP seating for the third year in a row.
As for the 2016, the return of Elkhart Lake seems promising and exciting. Who knows what courses will be added and lost? And with word that Alex Zanardi wishing to race at Indy, if that were to happen, I’ll be pleased because I’ll be there. Here’s hoping.
Aaron, Media, PA
RM: Well Steak & Shake has plenty of Ohio locations (the team victory dinner was held in one Sunday night) and was well represented by the front office in Victory Lane (with milkshakes no less) so I think it was good timing for the sponsor. NOLA is gone, Milwaukee is 50/50 and Road America is back with Phoenix looking promising. In think Zanardi’s wife would divorce him on the spot if he tried to run Indianapolis, unless it was the road course.
Q: As usual my race gripes are related to yellows and the way IndyCar throws cautions. It manufactures artificial drama puts every driver off-strategy, creating a lotto situation and not pure racing. As you might have thought, I am talking about the yellow on lap four for debris that wasn’t even needed. But why not let the drivers come back to the pit lane to either cover themselves for a possible caution? Or if there is no yellow all, the drivers who pitted at the time of an incident will still be on the same fuel strategy as the ones that stopped already?
Any F1 fan watching this will throw a fit if this happens in F1 and by the way, I think that every time I am watching IndyCar. As much as I love Graham Rahal, (he was fast he would have still made it close to the top five), it really blew Dixon, Bourdais, Power, Castroneves, Newgarden and Fillippi’s strategies away. This is purely absurd. A driver shouldn’t get lucked into getting a track position because of a caution. As much as it creates drama, this closed pits and alternate strategies created by an artificial event has got to stop. This is just putting me off from watching IndyCar racing.
Another gripe of mine is the terrible alignment of cars during the rolling starts. Look what it did to Power’s race (for a front row starter) – he got clobbered by other cars, dropped to fifth, and then along with the caution, his race was a total downhill from there. Does IndyCar believe in rewarding the best drivers for their efforts or not? These guys bust their butts on Friday and Saturday to earn that track position only to be marred by stupid yellows and strung-out rolling starts.
What is so bad about standing starts? As a parting comment, I think if IndyCar care about pleasing the fans they have to straighten the race idiosyncrasies (timing of yellows, open pits and standing starts), get transparent with fans, communicate regularly and take feedback that only fans can provide to take it to the next growth phase, otherwise the aforementioned issues are a put-off for a racing purist.
RM: As long as they’ve been closing the pits, races have been decided sometimes more by fate or luck than outright speed or performance and that’s not going to change. I liked F1 when it didn’t have pit stops and IndyCar when the pits were always open. But I do agree the start was a joke (again) and that’s a rip-off for the fans as well as the drivers. I think a standing start at all street courses and most road courses would be much more fair and just as exciting.
Q: First off, the qualification coverage makes for a great lead-in to the race, so thank you NBC Sports. If someone had written a script at the beginning of the year playing out the season and the rush to the championship, it would have been laughed to death and tossed in the garbage can. No way, no how. But here we are with two races left and Rahal has a real chance to win it all.
It was great to see Graham’s mom, Debi in the coverage. She was always there to cheer Bobby on. No ragging from me on the race excitement. Can it get any better than ‘legend in his own mind’ Sage does a whimsical spinout to shuffle the deck? Never have liked playing with a stacked deck. Isn’t he the phenom that you like to brag about? NASCAR has more very young and brilliant new stars on the rise than IndyCar.
I’m looking forward to the final oval, if you consider Pocono an oval. However as great as the story line is about GR it leaves me still bummed about the free pass he got with the no immediate penalty for the fuel hose fiasco at Fontana. Everything would be different today had he been brought back in and served a penalty for that violation. However it kind of highlights the problems of IndyCar management. There is none.
Not so Grumpy Gary
RM: A positive letter from Grumpy Gary means he still cares, hooray. I don’t think there would have been any odds high enough on Rahal winning the title before the season started or after we saw Chevrolet’s upper hand.
But like I wrote yesterday, this is what we expected from him after his quick start with Newman/Haas and it’s given IndyCar a great storyline in the process. And don’t be too sure he couldn’t have come back to win at Fontana with a penalty. As for young talent, Newgarden, Karam, Chaves, Hawksworth and Daly all have lots of it and Rayhall, Brabham, Pigot, Harvey and Jones and are waiting in the wings. Just got to get Daly a full-time seat.
Q: So, if Boston is to be run Labor Day weekend next year, does that mean that there will be a later September trip to Sonoma and Fontana? How do the folks at Sonoma feel about having their race in September? (It sure would make sense for IndyCar to make one trip out west.) Also, has anyone pointed out to Miles that a late September Fontana finale would still avoid about 75 percent of the NFL season? Finally, how about de Silvestro to the No.14 Foyt car for next year? At Sato’s age, I just can’t see any significant performance improvement in the future.
Marc, Orange County, CA
RM: Those would seem to be the only September candidates at the moment and one trip would be perfect but IndyCar says it wants the finale to have a “big event” atmosphere and that might be a stretch at either place. However, Fontana at night in cooler temps might be able to pull 25,000-30,000 so that would be good by today’s standards.
Q: We have a group here in Philly that intends on attending the race at Pocono. We’ve gone the past two years to support the series even though the races have been less than exciting. About a month ago I contacted Pocono asking for a day/time schedule of events to see if our group might want to attend more than just the race itself. I was told a full schedule would be out shortly. I asked because two years ago we went to watch practice on Saturday and there was a four-hour lull with nothing to do or watch until qualifying, so last year we ditched the Saturday events.
The race is three weeks away and there is no defined schedule for each day – specific times – for Thursday through Saturday. So our group has decided that we’ll probably only attend the race. I got no response to my email (via contact us on their website) requesting info on specific event times. Their calendar says there are no events listed on the dates selected. And they wonder why people don’t attend?
Denny in Philly
RM: That’s one of the drawbacks on ovals – down time. Here’s the schedule for Pocono: rookie practice from 8:30-9:30 am on Saturday followed by practice for everyone from 9:30 to 11. Qualifying is from 2-3 p.m. with a final half hour practice starting at 5:30. The only thing running besides the two-seater will be the vintage oval cars both days. The race starts at 2:30 on Sunday so it would nice to have some kind of a preliminary race at 11 a.m. But thanks for being a loyal fan.
Q: With all of these talks of some tracks from the past possibly be returning for the 2016 schedule (so far I’ve heard Homestead, Phoenix and Road America), it is making me more excited than ever for IndyCar, but one track that I’ve never heard about and it seems to be forgotten is Portland Intl Raceway. Used to be a June classic in CART/Champ Car back in the mid 80’s right up to the end in 2007. It would be nice to have that track come back too some day. From their website, it looks like the only host SCCA Club racing events now. Do you think that track would ever be considered, if it hasn’t been already, come back on the IndyCar schedule?
Also, with Pocono coming up in less than two weeks and with the craziness of Fontana in June, has IndyCar decided on wing configurations or are they gonna place the drivers under the same risks? Don’t get me wrong, I loved Fontana. Like everyone said, it was a disaster waiting to happen but everyone walked away from the track unhurt, thankfully, and we moved on. Pocono is wider, longer, but it does have slower corners so that could spread the cars out, but sling shot passing is gonna be fun to watch if they use the same aero as Fontana. I just don’t want something like drivers boycotting the event due to safety concerns or anything
Andrew Hayes, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada
RM: Don’t think Homestead is in the picture for 2016, or Richmond, but Mexico City’s awesome road course could be an early-season player. Portland has been re-sold and re-furbished and it was a great event for a long time but it would need a good title sponsor and the city’s support like it had in the ’80s and ’90s.
Q: ‘Race Fans, come and watch the fastest racing machines ever seen at Road America as Indycar returns in 2016. Dario Franchitti’s 16-year-old lap record may finally be beaten. Franchitti himself will be the Grand Marshall.’ (Picture Dario taking a parade lap in the Kool-sponsored Reynard he set the lap record in 2000).
I’m just dreaming Robin. But seriously, it sure seems to me that there would be many exciting and effective ways to advertise and hype this race. After all it’s been nine years since IndyCars (Champ Car) have been to Road America and there has been a lot of talk about their return. It could be a great weekend.
RM: You’re not dreaming because the track record could certainly fall next June (Mid-Ohio fell after standing for 15 years) when IndyCar joins the Pirelli World Challenge.
Q: I haven’t paid as much attention to the palace intrigue at IndyCar as I use to before Randy Bernard was canned but, looking at things from a greater distance, it looks to me like Mark Miles isn’t doing such a bad job. The two things which are the foundation for everything else – TV ratings and profitability – are trending up. As with any entertainment industry company, more people watching the product and more profitability allow new things to be tried and inevitably some of them work. Miles appears to learning and optimizing things slowly but surely. Given the way Hulman & Co. works, it looks to me that having a good business guy and some stability at the top is better than more change. All that aside, my question is, do you think that there is a Bernie Ecclestone-type out there interested in buying IndyCar with the goal of making a lot of money? Is that even possible anymore? Chip Ganassi has the skill set and personality to make a dandy candidate; do you think he has ever thought about it?
Pete in Tucson
RM: Unlike Randy, Miles is in charge of the whole shebang and has his pals on the board so I imagine they’re happy because the Stones concert brought in extra revenue along with the vintage cars again. He says IndyCar nor IMS is for sale and there was a rumor a couple weeks ago that Ganassi had a group interested in buying IndyCar but I haven’t asked him about it yet. I don’t see IndyCar as a big moneymaker in its current configuration (Leader’s Circle payouts) and I don’t see Chip having the time to run it.
Q: Do any of the teams ever look at what their paint schemes look like on TV? This year in particular the cars seem to all be painted alike. Even at the track it is hard to tell who is in the car that just went past; on television it is almost impossible. I was at Barber and both Indy races, and it is way difficult to tell if the silver car that went by was Jakes or Coletti. The blue and white car: was that a Coyne car, Marco (when not in the Snapple car), Helio in the AAA car or one of AJs cars?
What happened to the old Menard schemes, the STP orange cars, the Coyote orange, even the old Sugaripe Prune cars? I have been an IndyCar fan my entire life (60+ years). I hate worthless rules but should they limit the number of non-team cars that can be painted alike?
RM: Good question Kent, because it’s very difficult to identify and I go to all the races. Obviously, your sponsor is likely going to pick your colors or make a strong suggestion and Chip’s Target cars change almost every race. If the numbers were easier to read it would help, but not much anyone can do about paint schemes.
Q: Watching you interview Mr. Miles was the highlight of the Mid-Ohio telecast and I am still at a loss why this man, whose title indicates that he has far more important responsibilities to the Hulman companies than leading little ol’ IndyCar, chooses to run the series himself instead of appointing some lackey like TGBB or another company yes-man – if nothing more than to at least to deflect the increasing criticism directed to him for the series’ shortcomings, exacerbated, in my opinion by yesterday’s questionable results.
RM: IndyCar needs a face and a spokesperson and I thought Derrick served quite well in that capacity, because Mark’s racing knowledge is limited. Now he’s looking for a new director of competition and, hopefully, a chief steward with driving credentials. Miles does fine when announcing a new venue or television package or the schedule, he just needs somebody else to explain the racing side.
Q: First thanks for all your good work and being a sane voice in the IndyCar asylum. I too am an old, open-wheel racer, I never was very good but loved every minute of it. I am from the great Northwest, used to run modified stock cars with Jerry Sneva and others at the old Spokane Fairgrounds track, and East Wenatchee and Ephrata Washington way back in the late 60’s and early 70’s…good times.
I know a favorite son of the Northwest, Davey Hamilton, has sort of given this a go, but what about a short-track asphalt IndyCar series to run concurrently with the big car series? I am thinking essentially a supermodified series, low tech (e.g. no composites, tube frame, stock block, no turbos, put the engine on either end of the car, RWD, unlimited wing size etc.) that run on tracks less than a mile in length.
This would get the IndyCar brand in front of race fans, like real race fans … the kind that actually go to races, get some of the big car drivers in front of the racing public and give people other than Ganassi/Penske/Andretti a chance to compete on a larger stage. I know we would never see JPM or TK run at Bosie Idaho, but Sage and Gabby Chaves might. I know, just an old man’s musings.
Bubba Ray, Planet Earth
RM: I think a series like that would play well in Iowa and Milwaukee, but it’s all about money and there’s not much of it out there. Hamilton’s series would be a good prelim and it’s already intact so the trick would be getting a few IndyCar stars to drive those in a Friday or Saturday show. Not likely, but I know Gabby would give it a go. And thanks for considering me sane, you are in the minority.
Q: There was mention in a recent F1 column about perhaps returning to a ground effect chassis, as was used in the 1980s or so. The thought being that the racing would be more competitive, (closer with more passing opportunities) less wings and such. Do you know if there has been any similar discussion within IndyCar? Weren’t IndyCar ground effect back then as well? In fact wasn’t Jim Hall’s Chaparral chassis a ground effect design? Was the racing better, then? I can’t remember. What are the real differences between the two designs and what is your opinion?
RM: The one thing IndyCar has right now is great racing so I wouldn’t touch the cars unless it was to give more power and less downforce at the three 500-milers like Rick Mears suggests. But Indy has been awesome three years in a row so why rock the boat?
As for ground effects vs today’s F1 and IndyCars, it’s all about the bottom of the car, tunnels, wings, and as stuck to the ground as we thought those cars were in the ’80s and ’90s, they’re making a lot more downforce today. The racing wasn’t better, but there was a lot more interest because of innovation and different-looking and -sounding cars making 1,000 horsepower.
Q: It’s a shame that Derrick Walker became the ‘goat’ for Miles. Although, I was one that jumped on the non-decision on Rahal at Fontana (and you corrected me that DW is a Scot and not an Aussie). The process of ‘Wednesday Reviews’ was a killer. You need to call them as you see them. The main thing is to see them. I find it very difficult [to believe] that no one in the Race Control booth saw the fuel hose incident as it was happening during Fontana. I along with you thought that DW would be a bright light in the booth. Possibly, he was overshadowed by those that lack knowledge and a desire for only ‘their way’.
Skip Ranfone, Summerfield, FL
RM: Not sure DW was a goat, I just don’t think he got much support from Miles with the owners and that’s IndyCar’s constant tumor. Until the owners stop conducting witch hunts, it’s never going to change and I don’t see that ever happening.
Q: I have enjoyed your work through the years and tears of open wheel racing. What do Mark Miles, TGBB, and the Hulman family have in common? None of them could manage a one-car funeral procession!!!
Crist “Zorba” Blassaras, Scottsdale, AZ
RM: Not true. The IRL ran from 1996-2007.
Q: Nice read from you on the loss of DW — but I think he saw the light and
left the sinking ship that is now IndyCar. I thought he was ready to
move on after reading his responses to the IndyCar 2018 survey, they
were all company line and seemed to be almost teleprompter-ready.
After reading his explanation of the ‘Fontana event’ (nobody saw
nuttin”) it was self evident that is pure horse hokey – there was a full-course yellow, was there not? Was there not a fuel hose end lying on the track? Was
there not fuel spilled on pit lane? I think DW just got sick and tired of taking bullets for such sh***y race control and decided it was much better to go back to racing. So – again I must ask – just what value does the sanctioning body bring
to the table?
RM: Derrick admits he made some mistakes but it gets old when everything you do is second-guessed or sniped at constantly by the owners. He changed Race Control to a committee so that’s on him, but he also wanted to hire some real drivers to make the calls and was denied permission because of budget. In the current culture, nobody will ever succeed in IndyCar. What does the sanctioning body bring to the table? Knives so the owners can stick them in the Randy Bernards and Derrick Walkers.
Q: Too bad about Derrick Walker, although I was very surprised when he took the position, only because he had to know it was a thankless job. I also hope he returns as a car owner, but knowing what he knows about the political/business environment, why would he? Mike Hull? He could be the guy, but he also knows what the job entails and I think he’s to smart to give up what he has now. Truth be told, I can’t think of anyone that’s qualified enough to do the job wanting to do it. Even while the racing improves we still suffer from the administrative problems caused by the split. It seems the sport we love continues to devour itself from within.
John Fulton, Akron, Ohio
RM: DW wants to stay in sports cars but he’d come back to IndyCar if he found funding. Hull isn’t going to take the job and somebody said at Mid-Ohio that anyone that could do the job wouldn’t want to because of the politics and anybody that wanted it probably wasn’t qualified.
Kyle Moyer, Tony Cotman and Rob Edwards were the three guys some of the mechanics thought might be good and I agree. But not unless they get more power and less resistance.
Q: When I was on Racer Magazine’s website today, I noticed a poll on the side asking about the best way for the Verizon IndyCar Series to attract fans, restore its structure, and appeal to commercial partners. Apparently I am one of the very few that want to return to the Championship Trail, which I think is funny since I’m only 20.
I get it, a lot of people remember the awesome power of CART. But, in my head, having a mix of dirt tracks, paved ovals, and road courses make sense – it proved the best American open-wheel racer. I consider IndyCar today to be an illegitimate child of Formula 1 – but what does a 20-year-old know?
Also, I’m really glad that Gabby Chaves enjoyed his USAC debut. It reminded me of Markus Niemela. Someone should put him in an Indy car. He has great formula and dirt racing experience.
Jonathan Green, Baldwin, New York
RM: I think a lot of us would welcome a return to 1968 when there were 28 races (seven ovals, six road courses, five dirt tracks and Pikes Peak) but those days are over. Too expensive to go IndyCar racing, let alone add dirt cars but I wish guys like Dario, Dixie, T.K., Power had a chance to run all kinds of different cars like A.J., Mario, Parnelli and Gurney did. But my goal is to get Gabby, Graham and Newgarden in the Chili Bowl.
Q: I think Ryan Briscoe did a very good job filling in for Hinchcliff while he is on the mend. It would be great to see him back in IndyCar next year with a full time ride but from your Silly Season update it sounds like sports cars will have his services. That would be their gain. Is sports cars a definite or is there a possibility he could still land a ride with an IndyCar team? Are you able to shed any light on his status?
Steve, Millville, N.J.
RM: Briscoe is a damn good racer but Marshall Pruett believes he’s headed for Chip Ganassi’s Ford GT sports car team and Ryan has no offers to stay in IndyCar to my knowledge. Obviously he’d be a good choice for the 100th Indy 500 for somebody if enough entries materialize.
Q: So there’s been a rumor going around that HPD wanted IndyCar to remove Derrick Walker as part of its deal to re-sign with the series. This make sense to me since HPD and Walker did not get a long during the season: rumors had it that the two sides were in disagreement with the direction of the cars (mostly the new plans in 2018), and HPD wanted a two-year deal (right before 2018, hmmm) while Walker wanted five-year deal.
Supposedly if IndyCar could get rid of Walker they would re-sign with IndyCar in September, thus why Walker would stay at his job until the end of August. HPD didn’t blink though and said Walker had nothing to do with it. So what you do you think or know? Did Honda play a role in Walker’s resignation? Thank you and I love your mailbag! Blessings to Racer and its staff!
RM: I don’t think Honda had anything to do with DW’s decision and HPD president Art St. Cyr commented during the press conference on Friday at Mid-Ohio that he had a very good relationship with Walker and would miss him. Now sometimes that’s pure politically correct talking but I think Derrick tried to help Honda, even though Pole Day got them sideways.
Q: I have regarded Derrick Walker as a class act and true racer for a long time, and wish him well in what is likely to be his retirement. He took on a lot or responsibilities with IndyCar and probably did as well as anyone could under the current environment and restrictions.
Even so, he recognized that he wasn’t getting the job done to his own level of satisfaction and that perhaps all the criticism heaped upon IndyCar and himself just meant that the situation was unlikely to improve. I’m sure stepping down was a very difficult decision, and for it he has garnered a lot of respect. Which makes me now turn to Mark Miles. How about it? Want to earn some respect?
Rick in Toronto
RM: I guess the most distressing thing is that despite how hard Walker worked and how much he cared, neither IndyCar nor the owners tried to change his mind into staying. Oh they all day how sad it is on the record but I know the weasels that were out to get him and it’s pretty sad. Was he perfect? Of course not. Did he screw up? Yep. Was he too secretive about what happened on Pole Day? Check. But they’ll pay hell to find his replacement.
Q: Looking forward to 2016 but without Mr. Walker, will they get it right? The most important adjustment will be the schedule for next year. It needs to run through to November. Most definitely an oval before Indy would be great. Homestead in place of St. Pete’s would certainly work, but won’t happen. Phoenix is pretty warm in April. With interest waning in most motorsports categories, none more so than NASCAR, it would be a smart move in my opinion to attack that series and draw some of those fans over.
A race at St Louis in June or early July would be good before that summer heat settles in. It’s an area rich in open-wheel supporters and a perfect facility to host an IndyCar race. If you must have a street circuit race before the 500 it would be cool to see a return to Vegas. They pulled an over-capacity crowd (although most were give away by local hotels) and the track layout left a couple good passing zones and it was the widest street circuit I have ever seen. With the ever-changing landscape I doubt they could run the same course as they did in 2007. After all the buzz about Fontana and the close action, MIS and Chicagoland should be two main goals for the series in the future. ISC owns the tracks and blah blah blah… If IndyCar can show an increase in attendance then I’d think ISC would welcome the extra income.
New Hampshire would be another great track to hit as again, you’re back in the open wheel fan zone. If anyone ever revives ‘The Rock’, do not hesitate. Jump on that and take a date. Just another track cast aside by NASCAR and a good track which would put on a great show with these cars and steal away some more fans in the process. In any case this year’s successes (primarily on ovals) should help gain some traction for the series and now it’s in the hands of Derrick Walker….. er…. someone in corporate to take that ball and run with it. Let’s hope that Miles hands the ball to Marshawn Lynch rather than try to throw it.
RM: It might go to mid-to-late September but that’s it, and it might start in February if Mexico City happens. But Homestead was always a ghost town except when CART’s manufacturers and sponsors gave away tickets. Gateway is interested in hosting IndyCar and I think Richmond would be a good fall location as well. But whatever ovals are chosen there must be a three or five-year plan because it’s going to take a while, if at all, to regain an audience.