Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-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: I’m not one of those fans that threaten every week to never watch another IndyCar race because of the latest dumb thing IndyCar has done. However, do they realize what a big problem they have on the event side of things? Adding Phoenix, Boston, and Mexico City is great news, but losing 25 percent of your races and four of your 14 venues is a HUGE problem. Even when NASCAR was building their empire they have always had consistency in events. I’ve always said build strong events first, then TV ratings and sponsorship dollars will follow. Why does IndyCar struggle to build successful events?
Matt Converset, Decatur, IN
RM: Can’t disagree. But Milwaukee is a good example of how to ruin a great event. For 50 years it was always packed the week following the Indy 500 and then, after The Split, CART was still running there and doing pretty well attendance-wise despite not competing at Indianapolis – until Penske, Ganassi, Rahal, etc. defected to the IRL.
Champ Car continued to run Milwaukee but couldn’t attract anybody, and neither did the IRL from 2004-2007. We figured the merger might bring back the crowds,but it was no better in 2008, and it’s never re-connected with the fan base. Maybe that’s because it’s been June, July and August the past three years and starts in the late afternoon. If it still ran the week after Indy it might have a chance, but IndyCar loses all its momentum from a great oval race and goes to Detroit. Fontana kept moving around and was doomed with a June date on a Saturday, while NOLA is just another chapter in the Verizon Gypsy Series. I’m not real optimistic that Boston will be around very long either, if it even happens.
Q: You said in last week’s Mailbag that if Milwaukee or Pocono can’t make the schedule, Gateway has the best chance to be on it because the owner is gung-ho about having an IndyCar race. Why does it matter if Milwaukee and Pocono are on the schedule? Can Indycar not have seven ovals? I think most fans want more races. Is IndyCar not even trying to have 20 events or are we stuck with 16-18 races at 14 venues?
RM: It’s not a matter of what IndyCar wants as much as it is which tracks desire an IndyCar race. And ovals are a tough sell, but I’ll always maintain we need seven ovals, seven road courses and seven street races spread out over nine months. It’s finding a willing promoter that’s the tough part.
Q: In your comments about Gateway in St. Louis, you said this: “I think Gateway outside St. Louis has the best chance of being added if Milwaukee and/or Pocono goes away because track owner Curtis Francois is gung-ho about having an IndyCar race.” We’ve all been saying for the past few years that the season is too short and needs to have more events on the calendar. If the track owner is gung-ho about adding IndyCar to his offerings, why are we only considering adding them if Milwaukee and or Pocono goes away? Seems like a no-brainer to add Gateway, regardless of what happens with the other two races.
Brad Clasgens, Huntsville, Ala.
RM: Good point Brad, we should welcome any oval that wants to promote IndyCar and try to make a go of it. Curtis has evidently made a lot of upgrades and the racing was decent as I recall so St. Louis needs to get another chance. It’s not like people are knocking down the doors to have an IndyCar oval race.
Q: IndyCar test day at Road America was surreal for us fans. First, absolutely perfect weather. It was like we were in a candy store! With unfettered access we didn’t know where to start! We could park anywhere, wow; when was the last time you saw fans parking in the paddock, at RA?
The atmosphere was almost celebratory. The tension, intensity, and anxiety you normally sense on a competition weekend, amongst the teams, was much more relaxed, more of a “focused, tend to business” feeling. Everyone seemed more accessible, fans and drivers chatting; autographs everywhere. The fan mix was interesting, a noticeable group of younger fans, one has to assume there was some ‘hooky’ from work and school on a beautiful Tuesday!
It was great to see the guys fighting for grip in Turns 5 and 14, looked like there was a lot of suspension massaging during the lunch break! On a personal note I want to thank the Firestone guy for teaching my wife how to mount and balance a tire. From a PR standpoint this should be a “teachable moment” for IndyCar, if a last minute test session like this can be so successful with fans, future test sessions should be run the same way! We were all thinking about Justin Wilson.
Jim Scott, Wisconsin Rapids, WI
RM: Good to hear and tests should always be open to the fans so they can get up close and personal like you did for a bargain price that also went to a great cause.
Q: It perfect (sunny and mid-70s) for the IndyCar test at Road America and the action was wonderful to watch. I’m so glad that IndyCar will be back to race again here in 2016. I arrived at 9:15 a.m. and teams were already on the track. They charged $20 for a ticket but $10 went directly to the Justin Wilson Children’s Fund so that was good to see.
It was nice to wander the track and the paddock with no crowds and take in all of the sights and various views of the action. For a test session they had a lot of people attend. The test laps were put in from early morning till 5 p.m. and I was lucky enough to get lots of photos to share on my Facebook page. I was surprised and a little disappointed that the Andretti teams were a no-show and not part of the action. It was fun and interesting to watch all the teams trying various setups and shock and spring combinations. I got to see most of the drivers close up and also got to see how the team’s personnel worked with each other.
All the teams are very professional and quite dedicated. The RLL team seemed to have a pit crew that not only were professional but truly seemed to enjoy working with each other, with some humor displayed between the crew members. Maybe that is the secret to how/why Graham Rahal did so well in 2015. Graham was also kind of chatty after the test session and is really looking forward to 2016. If anyone can attend a test session in their area in the future I would highly recommend it. Impatiently waiting for the 2016 IndyCar season to start!
RM: Andretti, SPM, Coyne and KVSH tested Monday (two days ago) because there’s a 10-car limit for a test at Road America. But your experience is exactly what IndyCar needs to do more of to win over more people and create fans. RLL’s publicist Kathi Lauterbach came up with a fabulous idea 10 years ago that IndyCar should have a winter open house with all the teams and drivers participating, but nobody has been smart enough to take the initiative. When you don’t have races for six months, you better have public test sessions and some kind of NASCAR open house to keep the fans you have engaged – and maybe make some new ones.
Q: No mention has been made yet on the length of the Indy Car Race next year at Road America. Who determines this – the series, the track, or the TV people?
Pat Kleibor, Franklin Wisconsin
RM: IndyCar usually makes the call and figures in a minimum of two pit stops in determining the distance, but at a big place like Road America it’s likely to be at least three stops. So I’m guessing something in the neighborhood of 220 miles.
Q: Earlier this year there was a lot of talk about Cleveland (ABOVE) coming back and that it was highly likely for 2016. What happened, as it clearly is not on the radar anymore? Secondly, help me understand the surge for racing in Mexico. Years ago they had sports cars, IndyCars and NASCAR. The last five or so years there’s been absolutely nothing, and now they are going to have F1, IndyCar (maybe), and sports cars. I think it is great, but why the sudden change to go all in on major motorsports again?
RM: The big company interested in being the Cleveland title sponsor deciding to spend its money elsewhere (the 100th Indianapolis 500) is what I’m told, so that’s a shame because Mike Lanigan would bring it back with a sponsor. Mexico City was great in CART/Champ Car because Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain and Mario Dominguez were heroes and now Sergio Perez is running F1 and Esteban Gutierrez is a Ferrari test driver, so it’s a natural. I think Carlos Slim is also a major factor in why it’s making a comeback. But IndyCar will still need Memo Rojas in a car to ensure a decent crowd.
Q: I’d like to float an idea to see what you think of it. It’s a little bit outside the box thinking, but I think it has merit. The Indy 500 is the biggest race of the year in North America. Why isn’t it the finale for its series? A fundamental change might be the best thing.
Start the season on July 4th, run all year long and end the season at the Indy 500 on Memorial Day with a double-points race. No other races should be worth double points, but you could give points at the Indy 500 for qualifying on the first day. Based on this idea the current points standings would be: Dixon 294 (2 wins), Rahal 274 (2 wins), Hunter-Reay 266 (2 wins), Andretti 259, Montoya 256, Kanaan 252, Newgarden 249 (1 win), Bourdais 235 (2 wins), Pagenaud 228, Castro-Neves 227, Power 220 and Munoz 219 (1 win).
You’d probably have to take a one month break during Christmas and New Year, but a one month break at some point during the season isn’t that much different than the way things have been for years. Of course you would have to get Mark Miles on board with the idea of racing during the NFL season. What do you think?
RM: Sadly, in some people’s minds, it’s already the finale (Charlie Kimball had some friends at Indy once and asked him what he was doing the rest of the summer because they had no idea there were other races besides Indy). But you want to end the season at Indy, take a month off (June) and restart in July? I don’t think you could find enough races/promoters in November, January and February, so I can’t see it working. The IRL tried that when it started and it didn’t work. But, if there has to be double points, it should only be Indianapolis.
Q: With the Indianapolis Motor Speedway losing MotoGP, have you heard any thoughts or whispers of what IMS’ 2016 schedule might look like? What direction do you think they are going?
Justin, Carmel, IN
RM: Not a whisper, except I hear the Angie’s List Grand Prix in 2016 will be held on Sunday instead of Saturday to try and get better television ratings.
Q: Has IMS/USAC/CART/IRL/IndyCar ever considered racing at IMS over Labor Day weekend (in addition to Memorial Day weekend)? Or did Tony Hulman shake someone’s hand at the NHRA and promise never to race that weekend? The number of party-goers in Indiana alone would bring in 100,000. Do a combined Saturday-Sunday lineup of all-points paying events including a road course, a 200-mile oval sprint, pit-challenge, and a 400-miler to make the weekend a points bonanza that then sets up the final weeks in California or wherever.
It has always bothered me (a Warren Central grad) that we let that glorious, last-of-summer, three-day weekend and that facility go to no open-wheel use after May and have no effect on points down the stretch. I’d go both in May and September.
RM: I don’t think Mr. Hulman ever considered another race at IMS (his line was “we’re like the circus, we come to town once a year, don’t miss us”) but I do know the Boston Consulting Group suggested the season end on Labor Day on the road course. I hate the idea of any other oval race at the Speedway except 500 miles in May. It’s our last bastion of tradition, and we need to honor it.
Q: I think it’s a complete joke that the first time the Honda aero kit is in a windtunnel is when it is paid for by IndyCar. Bernie and the rest of the F1 circus must have bust a gut laughing when they heard Honda hired Nick Wirth to design the aero kit with CFD. Hey, he fooled [Richard] Branson, but you think the folks at Honda would have at least Googled Wirth? Maybe if they suck up, Honda can use McLaren’s windtunnel?
Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, BC Canada
RM: Actually, Honda Performance Development started doing its own windtunnel testing last June after it became obvious the Honda aero kit needed help. A lot of people were surprised Honda went with Wirth, but I think Bernie and co have enough problems of their own to worry about.
Q: We wanted to share with you about how much IndyCar fun we had last weekend! We heard Hinchcliffe and Josef Newgarden talking about the Dan Wheldon Memorial Pro Am Karting Race and Robopong (on 1070 the Fan last week), and we convinced our parents to make the 500-mile road trip this weekend to New Castle Motorsports Park. We loved the idea of seeing IndyCar drivers having fun in go karts, and supporting the Wheldon and Wilson family charities.
It was great that it was free to get in both days and many people came out Saturday morning for the autograph session. For $13 you could get a paddock/pit pass which gave you access to the cars and drivers everywhere around the track. However, you didn’t need a pass to see and talk with drivers, who were often in the common areas getting food, walking through the parking lot or just hanging out. During the weekend we spoke with Will Power, Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, and saw many other drivers like Sarah Fisher, Ed Carpenter, Sage Karam and Spencer Pigot stopping to take photos and chat with fans.
It was great watching the Robopong 200 and the three competitive support races on Sunday. It must have been a thrill for karters, Jake Donald and Brandon Jones, to win Robopong by beating two pro drivers. Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden, who had won five IndyCar races and the Championship between them this year, finished in second place, 47s behind the winners. There were tons of neat experiences like seeing little Sebastian Wheldon, ABOVE WITH SUSIE AND OLIVER WHELDON, pace the field and watching his little brother Oliver wave the green and checkered flags for the race. We watched as the boys helped Tilly and Poppy Dixon hand out the trophies to all the winners and we even got sprayed with champagne.
During Robopong there were tons of fantastic locations to watch the race and you could even stand just a few feet away to see all the pit stop action and driver changes. We would tell anyone who is an IndyCar fan to try to get to this event in the future, it’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else. Former IndyCar driver Mark Dismore has a fantastic facility, and they put on a super fun weekend and helped raise a lot of money for very worthy causes.
The 3-2-1 Indycar Kids,
Jarod, Makenna, and Alexandra
RM: It is a great event and your parents need some free Indy 500 tickets for driving all that way but it’s cool your passion for IndyCar was further fueled by going to New Castle. Diz’ track is first class, just like Mark, and that weekend keeps growing. Keep in touch and we’ll try and get you some RACER swag.
Q: The fans want more speed. The drivers want better power. The owners want better margins. Most of us will suffer through the look of these hybrid open wheel sports cars if we can get some compromise of these desires. So I’ll keep it simple, what the easiest, most cost effective way to add speed and power?
Dan Wagner, Burleson, TX
RM: I don’t have that answer, but I defer to Rick Mears, who wants to see less downforce and more horsepower to put more of the driver back in the equation. Of course it’s hard to argue with the last three Indy 500s in terms of damn good racing, so I don’t think speed is that important as long as it’s over 200mph a lap at IMS.
Q: Now that Volkswagen has passed Toyota as the world’s largest auto manufacturer, and because of their increased efforts push more and more sales in North America, wouldn’t it be a good time for IndyCar to approach them? It seems like a good opportunity for a win/win, with VW perhaps accessing a new demographic (who currently associates VW with high level racing?), and IndyCar picking up another supplier/sponsor and badly needed $$$$. Do you know if anyone has even approached VW? Or is that too logical to have even been considered? I know that working on that 2016 schedule that should have been completed six months ago can take up a lot of time.
RM: Randy Bernard had two meetings with the Volkswagen CEO in 2011 (about the Audi brand coming to IndyCar) but nothing ever materialized so not sure how much interest there would be today. But I imagine after last week’s scandal, they’re looking for some good publicity so maybe they’d consider it.
Q: On CBS This Morning, it was reported that ‘Smoke’ intends to retire from NASCAR at the end of the 2016 season. Do you think he’d like to re-up with IndyCar in some capacity?
RM: I think Tony might field an Indy 500 entry some day but he has no desire to compete as a driver again. At least, he didn’t the last time we talked about it. He doesn’t think it’s possible just to show up once a year and be competitive, so I imagine our best chance at seeing him again in May would be as a car owner.
Q: I saw over the weekend that Juan Pablo Montoya was a guest of Porsche at the FIA WEC race. I would love to see JPM get a chance to drive a LMP1 car in the WEC or at Le Mans and complete the triple crown of motorsports. If Montoya were to add an overall Le Mans victory onto his current resume (two Indy 500 wins, Monaco, seven Formula 1 wins, a CART championship, 14 IndyCar/CART wins, three Rolex 24 wins, two NASCAR wins) where is his place among the all-time greats? Do you prefer to see dominance over a longer period of time in one series or do you prefer a diverse resume?
RM: I don’t think there’s any denying he is one of the greatest and most diverse of the past 25 years in an era of specialized racers. Does he belong in the same conversation as A.J., Parnelli, Mario and Dan Gurney? Not sure about that, but I always loved JPM’s spirit of competition and willingness to try anything (Prelude dirt race at Eldora) because he had unflappable confidence in his ability. If contracts weren’t so ironclad today, I have no doubt JPM would have already tried a sprinter and maybe Baja as well.
As for preferences, my heroes were Mount Rushmore (listed above) along with Herk (Jim Hurtubise) and I think the fact they drove everything and anything was most appealing. Nobody was better at Indy than Vuky or in stock cars than Petty yet they’re not ranked alongside the four legends because their bodies of work aren’t as diverse or worldly. Of course Vuky was also great in midgets and ran the Mexican road race but didn’t have the opportunity of running Trans Am, Can-Am, F1, Formula 5000, sports cars, Baja or NASCAR.
Q: I was personally quite shocked when I heard that Fontana’s not coming back next year. Any chance we can have it back in 2017? ACS is my personal favorite oval track and this year’s edition was by far the most exciting race of the season! Mr. Miles should be ashamed of himself for having scheduled this race in June knowing that maybe people wouldn’t want to show up because of the potential high temperatures.
Speaking of Fontana, I re-watched both this year’s race and CARTs 1999 season finale on YouTube a few days ago. Although some said the former was pack racing, I still think it had nothing to do with the IRL-like pack racing. When you watch the onboard cameras, you can definitely hear these guys were lifting in the corners (although it wasn’t so much the case at the end of the race). Then I watched the latter and noticed how quickly the field was spreading out, kind of like what we had on the three last editions. Then Parker Johnstone said on the booth something that caught my attention: before this particular race, the cars used to generate 4,000 pounds of downforce at 230 mph. In this race however, they were generating only half of it.
This leads me to the following questions:
-Do you have any idea how much downforce this year’s cars generated at these same speeds?
-I remember reading an article on RACER.com saying that despite the two holes in the DW12’s floor and the removing of the sidewalls, the speedway configuration with the new aero kits still represented an increase in downforce. If the author of this article (possibly your buddy Marshall Pruett) was aware of this, then so was IndyCar, am I right? Then why haven’t they done anything about it? And why did they choose to go for the huge DW12 stock rear wing main plate instead if the small one used at Indy? But most of all, why haven’t they done any on-track testing, just to make sure the cars wouldn’t race easy-flat (just like they did in 2012)?
-What about mandating a maximum downforce level on the superspeedway aero kits so Honda and Chevy can focus more on drag reduction when designing their aero kits?
Anyway, I can’t wait to watch next year’s season: having Road America back on the schedule is fantastic! I also look forward to see the track layout of this new street race in Boston and cross my fingers for Mexico and PIR to come back as well.
Cheers from France, Xavier
RM: Auto Club president Dave Allen already said he’s still open to hosting IndyCar if he’s given the right date and time so I imagine it will depend on what happens to Milwaukee and Pocono and the schedule moving forward.
IndyCar tried to regulate downforce levels at superspeedways and they are similar to last year without aero kits. The big difference is drag reduction and Chevy made their biggest gains at Indy because their aero kit reduced so much more drag. It’s impossible to police maximum downforce numbers, so the easiest thing for IndyCar to continue doing is to set a range of minimums and maximums for teams to play within.
For example, at Fontana and again at Pocono, IndyCar set the minimum downforce levels to try and improve the racing but it turned out to be high enough to prevent Chevrolet from exploiting their low drag advantage and that’s why Honda was in the fight.
Thank you Marshall (you didn’t think those were my words did you?).
Q: Over the years you’ve shared off-beat stories concerning racers like Rufus, J.R., A.J., Uncle Bobby, ABOVE, The Rocket, Dario, just to name a few. And your ‘Tough Guy’ series was really informative and moving. Especially the episodes with Lee Kunzman, Jan Opperman, Mel Kenyon and Herk.
I was wondering if you could do a series on what I’d call ‘The Forgotten Ones’? These are racers who were killed, or never had luck on their side at Indy, or were under budget, or never got the car right to win or sometimes even qualify for Indy. (Ziggy and Jigger Sirois come to mind) If you don’t want to do such a series for the off-season, can you list some of the racers who you think need to be
rediscovered by serious IndyCar fans? I think it would be great addition for the upcoming 100th Anniversary.
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA
RM: I’m definitely going to continue the winter video series and we’ll have some special things in store for the 100th Indy 500 in terms of stories and videos on RACER.com and RACER magazine. But I like your suggestions about George Snider and Jigger – it’s the guys like them and Jerry Sneva that always made Indianapolis so fascinating.
Q: Concerning the letter from Paul Hirsch of Erie, Pennsylvania, that appeared in the September 23, 2015, issue of Robin Miller’s Mailbag, perhaps the unidentified gentleman was Mathias Moller who resided in Erie and then later settled in Hagerstown, Maryland. While a resident of Hagerstown, his three Chapman Specials competed in the 1916 Indianapolis 500. (Source: http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/m/moller_mp/moller_mp.htm)
RM: Thanks Fred, I forwarded this info to Donald Davidson and I’m going to try and find a photo.
Q: Miller, saw you in the pits at Eldora last Saturday night talking to Bryan Clauson before he threw away a sure win in the USAC sprint race but it got me to thinking. I’ve always been a Clauson fan and I was so impressed with Chris Bell but got depressed when I saw your RACER video that he’s headed to NASCAR. I also heard Rico Abreu passed up the Knoxville Nationals to run a stock car race. Clauson gets to run Indy every couple years but nothing else. How can we stop this madness and get these open wheel stars to Indianapolis in May?
K. Knight, Cleveland
RM: Hit the lottery and buy them a ride. Thankfully, Clauson has the Byrd family in his corner and that made it possible for him to run Indy this year and again next year (Randy Bernard made it happen in 2012), and Chip might run Kyle Larson some day, but IndyCar cannot compete with NASCAR for the services of Bell and Abreu.
Kyle Busch had Bell in a stock car last year and Toyota has snatched him up so he’s headed south because it’s an opportunity and steady work in the richest series in North America. And Rico is getting acclimated to tin tops and is going to be a popular hero in NASCAR. I asked Bell after his second victory Saturday night where he wanted to be in a year or two and he said wherever he’s wanted – and that’s NASCAR. It’s a vicious cycle – Larson, Bell and Rico learned how to race in open wheel and then headed south where they have a future in stock cars. And it’s not going to change.
Q: In regards to the 23 September Mailbag and your comments to Keith, Maple Ridge, BC on the point about supply and demand. When it comes to racing, worldwide, there only seems to be a few series that are succeeding and I feel a lot of that has to do with culture.
Central Europe, Great Britain and Germany as top examples, as well as Australia and Brazil, as racing cultures where the drivers are the stars and are marketed as such. Would it not be most beneficial to have the major US racing series join into a central marketing group to promote all race series during prime time network television as well as on the major media platforms such as Amazon Prim, Hulu, Netflix and such?
By having PWC, IMSA, ACO, IndyCar, and all auto manufacturers who have cars in these series putting advertising dollars into the pot, and with a proper marketing firm behind them to present commercials and promotion videos, people who are not familiar with the series, or may not be interested in the series, can get a feeling of the power and energy in these types of racing. Show and allow the sounds on the paddock. The action on the circuits. The driver conflicts, the technology involved.
This would be an all-out, multi-organization effort to not just blitz the US/Canadian market, but to get open wheel and sports car racing into the heads of the public, where the public wants to spend their dollars to attend a race, or watch on TV or the web. This campaign can also push its marketing worldwide with reuse of the existing ads directed to the individual cultures. You have to build interest and the experience to the general public. Most people I speak to get excited when they hear a loud exhaust, or an exotic sports car. I believe this can be capitalized upon and build the North American racing fan base.
Brent Logero, Denver
RM: In theory it sounds great to have a media melting pot for North American road racing but who would pay for it? And the only way to get the kind of exposure you suggest would be very costly. It might take a special channel like Velocity or MavTV to host it and that’s not what IndyCar needs. FOX Sports 1 hosts the big sports car races and IndyCar is trying to make in-roads with NBC because sponsors want network television. I understand your point but the interest just doesn’t seem to be out there among corporate America to make something like this a reality.