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: Out of sight, out of mind. If there was ever a season that made you want the racing continue through September and early October, it was this year. Sadly, we are currently witnessing first-hand some of the significant reasons why IndyCar can get no traction. Shortened calendar, one-off venues, moving event dates and apparently some fairly rigid inflexibility on sanctioning fees is not a way to instill stability and confidence.
And it’s sad, because the racing is so good and the drivers are intelligent, great talents who are marketable. What does it tell you if, for the past couple of years, Gateway has interested in hosting IndyCar and Miles hasn’t even been over to visit them? Marshall Pruett hit the nail on the head when he wrote that IndyCar is starving for a promotional cash infusion, yet Mark Miles’s orders are to deliver a profit. As difficult as it is in that environment, and with the goal of both turning a profit and growing the series (I hope growth is a goal), you can still be successful – but that takes some creativity and an effective CEO to make it work.
Here’s what we get with Miles and his decision-making. Out of sight, out of mind. Shortened calendar, one-off venues, moving event dates, not working with promoters on convenient dates for them, and not even reaching out to one of the few venues interested in hosted IndyCar. As ineffective as Tony George was as a CEO, he at least had a real passion for IndyCar. Sadly, I don’t see that with anyone today: management, board or family member. Just from the comments of the family over the past months, it appears that they want to hold on to IndyCar to secure the futures of the younger generations. I have no problem with that. But maybe it is time for them to partner with some other entity that wants to invest in and grow the series.
I understand, after TG’s dumping so much of the family fortune into racing, that they are reticent to spend what is probably required. Instead of operating status quo, it just makes business sense to partner (it doesn’t have to be 50/50) with someone who can bring a cash infusion. The product is saleable. Unfortunately, so few know about it. Out of sight, out of mind.
RM: Well you are preaching to the choir about a short season. IndyCar should run until at least October, but mid-September in 2016 is at least a start. As for Gateway, Miles may not have visited yet, but IndyCar recently ran a test there with Ed Carpenter, so I think there’s some serious interest in going back. Stay tuned. Unfortunately, the big challenge for the schedule is finding willing ovals and building some date equity. But having six or seven months off remains a slow death.
Q: I see the big rumor is IndyCar going back to Phoenix in 2016, and I’m all for it. I went there from 1990-2005 – it’s a great racetrack, and a great city to visit. We had it made back then: go to PIR for IndyCar practice and quals, then Manzanita at night for sprint car racing. Didn’t get any better than that, and our group will be there in 2016. I just hope we have lots of people to join us. There is only one small problem with the April 2nd date: That happens to be the Men’s NCAA Final Four weekend in Houston. That normally draws a huge viewing audience.
I don’t know how IndyCar expects any kind of TV ratings, or any kind of crowd at the track. Why not run the race on Sunday April 3rd? They used to always run the race on Sunday afternoon, and there won’t be as much competition for viewers on Sunday. The way it is set up now, it will be doomed to fail.
Owen Scott, Indianapolis
RM: I think if it’s a day race there won’t be any conflict with NCAA basketball because the first game doesn’t usually start until after 6 p.m.. Love to see a night race at PIR down the road though. Sadly, Manzanita is gone, but glad you’re going back to Phoenix.
Q: I know you’re always getting bombarded with questions about the 2016 schedule, but I’m going to throw a few more at you that I don’t think have been asked. First and foremost, is there still any talks about having an international race in Dubai, or has that been shut down completely? Secondly, what was the reason New Hampshire was one and done after the 2011 season? I thought it was a very enjoyable race despite all the cautions; and I sure hope that the restarting in the rain crisis wasn’t the reason the race was abandoned just because it put a taint on the place.
Jeremy, Palo, IA
RM: I think Miles still has his sights on a couple of international races but not sure Dubai is one of them. As for Loudon, it was a mutual decision not to come back, but probably more New Hampshire than IndyCar.
Q: It’s Indy slotcar racing tonight. One of the things we will be discussing is what, if anything, can a handful of hardcore IndyCar fans do to help keep the Milwaukee Mile (ABOVE)? My question for you is how do we reach out to those in power to offer our help whatever that may be? IndyCar, potential sponsors, etc. You had tried to hook us up with [IndyCar communications director] Mike Kitchel before this year’s race but that ran out of steam about a week before the race when Mike went missing in action. Several years back we reached out to Andretti Sports Marketing, again with your introduction, but that turned out to be like talking to a wall. One idea we had was to supply bodies to help promote the race at the many events held throughout the year in Milwaukee, or even as far as Chicago. Free labor! We are open to ideas.
RM: It’s great you and your friends have so much passion and enthusiasm but, unless a promoter can be located in the next couple weeks, I don’t think Milwaukee has a prayer so don’t waste all your energy. If something changes, I’ll let you know but, sadly, the longtime bastion of IndyCar racing just can’t generate enough interest all the way around.
Q: I am one who hopes that Gateway comes back on the schedule. I know it is not the most serene place to watch a race, but I didn’t go there twice to watch the scenery, I went there to watch the racing and enjoyed myself. Vividly remember shaking Al Sr.’s hand as he came down the stairs when Al Jr. won one of the races at Gateway! Just make damn sure that the race is on a weekend when the St. Louis Cardinals are on the road!
Phil Berg, Homecroft
RM: With Milwaukee going away, Gateway is getting serious consideration for August – just a matter of finding the right date to suit both parties. CART had decent turnouts running the Saturday before Indy from 1997-’99 but dropped off when it changed dates, as I recall.
Q: How disappointing will IndyCar fans be when the new 2016 schedule comes out? You know the TBAs and the races that get canceled down the road after the confirmed schedule comes out? Reno and Las Vegas ought to have odds in the sportsbooks on the canceled races next year!
RM: I don’t think there will be a schedule put out with any TBAs – at least, that’s what Miles said a few weeks ago, and I believe him. Trying to get some races in August, that’s the priority right now. Of course the opening Vegas line is 8-to-5 Boston doesn’t turn a wheel (smile).
Q: Could you provide any news on Ryan Briscoe’s future in 2016 with IndyCar? Any rumors?
RM: Larry Foyt was supposedly looking at Ryan, but now I’m hearing it’s going to be Hawksworth and Sato again in 2016. I imagine Briscoe will be coveted for the 100th Indy 500 in somebody’s second or third car, even though he should be a full-timer.
Q: I watched Dave Despain’s interview with Tanner Foust, and Tanner said he thought the reason rallycross is getting so popular, especially with the millennials, is the fact the races are short and there are a lot of them. Given that it seems that many, if not most, if the hardcore open-wheel fans are older, and the millennials seem to have short attention spans as they have grown up with everything happening and changing so fast, what would you think of having a race that is several short heats with the grid inverted each time? I seem to remember those types of things being suggested over the years. Do you think it has any promise in attracting the age group that sponsors are looking for? Certainly sponsors are the lifeblood of getting cars on the grid, and selling to us old farts is not what they are looking for.
Tom in Waco
RM: Rallycross is perfect for television for the reasons you’ve stated, and I’ve always favored the old twin 100 or 150-milers at Langhorne, Trenton, Michigan, Atlanta, IRP, Mosport, Brainerd and St. Jovite because they were more sprint races and gave the fans more bang for their buck. There were three heats at Monza in 1957-’58 in the Race of Two Worlds. Maybe if you had a race, a concert during intermission followed by another race it could make inroads with some younger fans but, other than Indy, it seems real challenging to expect anyone to spend three or four hours sitting in place. That’s why places like Mid-Ohio, Barber, Sonoma and Road America are good because kids or families can wander around and break up the day.
Q: Saw on your Facebook page that Jochen Rindt died 45 years ago at Monza. Never saw him race, but understand he was fearless. Did he like running at Indianapolis?
D. Williamson, U.K.
RM: Jochen didn’t like the fact Indy lasted a full month back then, and I’m not real sure he was ever enamored with oval-track racing. But he was plenty ballsy and skilled. In 1967 (when the above photo of Rindt with Masten Gregory was taken), he qualified Dan Gurney’s Eagle at Indy after his original ride suffered a stuck throttle and he hit the wall. My pal EP ‘Chalkie’ Fullalove worked with him in 1968 and said Rindt qualified while it was misting in the Repco-Brabham, so that’s fairly impressive. In 1969 he practice in the Lotus 64 and spun but didn’t qualify. That was the final fling for Team Lotus at Indy and for the soon-to-be 1970 world champion.
Q: If you’ll forgive my asking a stupid question: if we’re going to have prolonged periods during which our drivers and their cars are otherwise sitting idle and we have a publicity problem, why not have the series make the best of its situation and try the air show circuit? Perhaps half a dozen cars and drivers — preferably the American heroes among them — and one of the two-seaters come to a place like MCAS Miramar or some other military airstrip hosting a show during the off-season, sign autographs, give rides and, during idle moments between aerial displays, they run demonstration laps and heat races out on the tarmac? Perhaps you have one or two drag race against a military jet? Seeing something like the bastardized big-rig known as Shockwave sharing the spotlight with the Blue Angels in front of a captive, enthusiastic audience leads me to think this wouldn’t be too daft an idea.
Garrett from San Diego
RM: That’s actually a great suggestion because those people appreciate speed and there’s plenty of room for an IndyCar to stretch its legs. Don’t think races would be prudent because that would be a big production and too expensive. But having your stars hand out schedules, T-shirts and hats during an autograph session is the best possible PR, and a great way to make some new fans. Let the pilots drive the cars. And there also should be an IndyCar trailer at the Chili Bowl with your big names signing autographs and giving away swag.
Q: Need some advice and can’t think of anyone else that would have an answer I could rely on. I’m planning on attending my first Indy 500. Indy is on my bucket list and the 100th anniversary sounds like a good time – that, and at 64, I’m not getting younger.
I’m looking at one of the travel packages offered on the IMS site. It includes a seat in either stand C, H or J (no guarantees which one though, I guess). I was leaning towards C because it appears to be covered and out of the sun and has a view of the pits. After that I’m thinking stand J – looks good to see them coming out of that corner and down the front straight. I don’t know how accurate the 3D seat view is on their web site, so don’t know how much you could actually see from Stand C, i.e. is the view to Turn 4 blocked? I could also get an upgrade to Tower Terrace or Southwest Vista for a small fee. Tower Terrace looks interesting, but again not sure how much you can see up and down the track.
I would really appreciate your comments. I’m a bit cautious about track layout diagrams. Did a return trip to the Canadian GP in June and decided to fork for the front straight seats. Looked good from the diagram, but actually couldn’t see anything except straight ahead. The view down to corner 1 & 2 that I expected didn’t exist. So, spent more and had the worst seat I’ve ever had there. Trying not to repeat.
Nick Hamilton, Halifax, Nova Scotia
RM: My preference would be to sit in a corner because you can see the racing and Southwest Vista (as high up as you can get) would be better than C, H or J, but J would be my choice of those three if it was high enough. Tower Terrace is a tough sell because you can’t see anything but the pits, and some people prefer that. I think if you sit in any of the corners you’ll have a big screen to see the pit stops and other action around the track. The vistas are the best bargains in racing. Good luck.
Q: I have a suggestion for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Let’s honor the history of The Greatest Spectacle of Racing by asking the crowd to dress in period clothing. It could be early 1900s or ’40s or ’50s, much like The Goodwood Revival where they dress in period clothing. I think it would be a huge success and add a lot of character to the event. Maybe you could forward this to the IMS brass as you have more clout than a regular fan.
C.J. Eisman, Terre Haute.
RM: I will send it to the IMS folks and I imagine it could catch on with some of the old-timers or people in suites (where it’s air-conditioned in case it’s hot, because the old photos I have [like the above image from 1928], all the men wore suits and hats).
Q: I hope the IndyCar off-season has been treating you well. I went to Petite Le Mans this weekend, and am glad to say that nearly every group of fans I came across had a great time (rain and mud doesn’t get racing fans down)! NASCAR’s pit rules/procedures during safety car periods are ridiculous, but thankfully the GTEs and their advanced Michelin/Falken tyres were able to triumph over the NASCAR ‘prototypes’.
But I digress… I was really impressed by the game plan executed by Beaux Barfield et al. Prior to the race they established guidelines for what to do in different situations, and clearly communicated their plans to the fans/media. During a few of the safety car periods, Barfield actually drove the circuit by himself in a Porsche used for pre-race hot laps, meaning that no safety vehicles had to be taken away from their normal duties. What’s more, corner marshalls and safety workers dug trenches and used sand bags to attempt to redirect the flow of water. With this in mind, I’ve got two questions. Does IndyCar have a formally established “Best Practices” program? If they do, will this weekend’s actions be used as an example of how Race Control can manage a rain race?
RM: I imagine there is some kind of emergency protocol but sometimes (like a new place like NOLA) you get caught out and are at the mercy of the gods because you are basically racing in a swamp. I remember one year at Elkhart Lake, when there was a river running across the track and Wally Dallenbach found sand bags and saved the day following an aborted start and some major hydroplaning. Beaux thinks like a racer, and that’s why I always liked him as chief steward.
Q: Thank you for giving the fans a place to share stories about Justin Wilson for the past month. The stories have been wonderful, and helped the healing process for our racing family.
I’d like to address a few concerns I had from the past season. 1) Poor starts and restarts. There were too many events in which the leader jumped the start/restart. Perhaps they need to be more like a Saturday night short track. First time, you get a warning. Second time, you go to the rear. When possible, the start/finish should be the point of restart. Do away with the acceleration zone. 2) Closing pit road under caution. I understand closing pit road if its blocked by an incident. Otherwise, leave it open. Do not race back to the flag, and I’m OK with a pit road speed limit, it’s a safety measure. 3) Weather events. IndyCar did not do a good job in Detroit conveying that hazardous weather was on the way during Saturday’s race. There was no indication of the potential for lightning.
One change I absolutely enjoyed this year happened at Mid-Ohio. For years I’ve wondered why the long straight after the Keyhole was not used for restarts. I was very happy when it was announced that restarts would take place on the back straight. It made this first-time Mid-Ohio visitor very happy. I had a grandstand seat. It was an absolute treat to see the cars barrel into Madness on restarts. The view from the grandstands outside of Madness was amazing. I could see the cars climb the hill after Turn 1, run through the Keyhole, come down the back straight, run through Madness, and head into the Esses under the Honda bridge. There was also a video screen nearby to assist in following the race. The driver access, the fan friendly venue, and an opportunity to chat with you made for one hell of a weekend. All this for a very affordable $113 race ticket.
Rich, South Lyon, MI
RM: The volume of letters about Justin only confirms his immense popularity with IndyCar fans. As for your suggestion about starts, absolutely. You get one chance as the polesitter to do it right, and then you go to the back. I think that would stop it immediately. Long Beach this year was the worst, with Pocono a close second. The pits aren’t ever going to be left open because the drivers will always race without a full-course yellow and that puts the Holmatro Safety crew in harm’s way more times than not. Even NASCAR finally figured that out, even though by the time its safety crews respond, the driver is already walking back to the pits. Starts and restarts at Mid-Ohio should always be on the backstretch. Glad you had a good experience.
Q: With Fontana now off the schedule and failing to draw anything resembling a crowd the past couple years, it appears ovals in California are gone forever. I wasn’t born yet when Ontario Motor Speedway opened in 1970 but I’m sure you were there so did it ever draw?
M. Mullins, Pomona
RM: Did it ever. The “Indy of the West” was a replicate of IMS except it had suites, valet parking and nice, flat concrete floors in its garages. It also had massive crowds the first few years – for qualifying and the race. Look at this shot of Peter Revson (ABOVE), after qualifying in 1970 – maybe 60,000 in the grandstands with more than 125,000 turning out for the inaugural 500-mile race on Labor Day weekend. But some people got greedy, the date got moved to March (big mistake) in 1974 and the attendance began to plummet even after the race went back to Labor Day. The final IndyCar show was in 1980, OMS was closed in 1981 and today it’s where the Ontario Mills shopping mall sits – a couple miles from Auto Club Speedway. But Ontario was way ahead of its time and still ranks as one of the finest facilities to ever host any race.
Q: Saw Chip Ganassi tweeting photos some old race wins the other day, including the famous underpowered Toyota win at Watkins Glen (Scott’s only win in two years from memory, and potentially saved his career). My question: if you can recall how bad was the Toyota during the struggling years, was it as bad as Lotus? Do you ever think Toyota would consider coming back to IndyCar?
Grant, New Zealand
RM: Toyota struggled more in CART than in the IRL, but only resembled Lotus briefly in 1997 and ’98. I recall Juan Fangio II’s car burning on the backstretch at Fontana on the parade lap while all the Toyota executives from Japan watched in horror from the suite. Then it lined Chip’s pockets with millions, and he dumped Honda and Montoya managed three wins in 2000 (Milwaukee, Gateway and MIS in a great battle with Michael Andretti). In 2001, Cristiano da Matta scored three wins for Toyota and dominated (seven wins) in 2002 when he won the CART title. Dixie captured 10 out 16 races in 2003 with Toyota after moving to the Indy Racing League.
Q: My son and I attended the IndyCar race at Pocono this year and thanks to Tony Kanaan we had pit passes. While watching the crews set up for the weekend we encountered a crewman from the SFH team working on the refueling rig. He proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes or so answering questions and explaining the operation of the fueling system. I now understand why Graham Rahal could pull away from his pit with the fuel nozzle still attached, and how the refueller inadvertently defeated the safety system designed to prevent this from happening.
I never realized the complexity of the equipment in what looks like a simple operation on TV. It got me to thinking (something dangerous at my age), why aren’t any of these technical aspects explained to the TV audience? With today’s computer graphics you could do an excellent job explaining and simplifying some very interesting aspects of racing. For example, the commentators are always referring to the driver’s tools in the cockpit. Why not do a more in-depth segment on what they are and how they work?
Aerodynamics are another area that lends itself to computer graphics. I know this type of thing has been done before, but generally some producer allows the pit reporter to stand by a set of tires and spend all of 20 seconds rushing through an explanation which usually tells us next to nothing. In my opinion, if done right, this could enhance the broadcasts. As a long-time racer I was always fascinated by the technical aspects, so maybe I’m alone in thinking this would be interesting to the average viewer. But it seems to me the more you know about the sport, the more likely you are to become a real fan.
Ralph Kemmerer, Schnecksville, PA
RM: It’s a fine line because you don’t want to get too bogged down in technical terms and analysis, but I think Jon Beekhuis, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy do a good job of explaining mechanical and technical things without talking over my head (and that’s easy, trust me). The average fan might like to know what a driver can do in the cockpit to help change an ill-handling car and just saying he’s softening the rollbars probably isn’t enough, so I know NBCSN tries to explain in terms that are educational but also understandable to the layman.
Q: Have you had a chance to sit down with Dietrich Mateschitz and a couple of cold Red Bulls to discuss the relatively affordable option of running four cars in the IndyCar series for 2016 yet? At least he still has two engine options over here remaining. Red Bull could field four cars in every Road to Indy ladder series, IndyCar, USAC sprints, USAC midgets, and WoO for less than half of what they spend in F1.
Travis R, Noblesville, IN
RM: Haven’t done that yet and your math is probably spot on, but I imagine Red Bull enjoys the exposure from millions of television viewers. And Red Bull went with Eddie Cheever and Tomas Scheckter in the IRL (ABOVE), so that was probably its IndyCar fix.
Q: Dear Robin, New York State is closing the track at the fairgrounds in Syracuse! This is the next-oldest track in the USA after Milwaukee and Indy. The last Silver Crown race will be Columbus Day weekend. Please attend and tell us some Pat Abold and Bentley Warren stories.
JD from Oswego
RM: I know, I’ll have a story about Syracuse tomorrow on RACER.com, but most of the stories I have about Bentley can’t be printed here. I know he was a badass at Oswego, but never got the best equipment at Indianapolis and had the misfortune of me being on his pit crew a few times.
He was leading the IndyCar race in Argentina in 1971 when something broke and he crashed and got badly burned on his hands and arms. Then he had to sit in coach because none of the USAC officials would give up their seat in first class. I guess my best story is the night we went out in College Station, Texas in his rental car, and he figured out how to make it backfire real loud! So he pulls up to the stoplight and acts like he’s got a gun, and the couple in the car next to us runs the light when they hear the noise. We got stopped by the police, but not arrested because Bentley was a good BSer, too. And he gave them free tickets to the IndyCar race the next day. But he was brave and as talented on pavement as anybody. Bones Bourcier’s book, Wicked Fast, is a delightful look at this wild man, who was also a helluva good guy. Don’t know much about Pat except he was 1992 Oswego champion.
Q: I don’t know what recognitions you guys are eligible for, but I would like to nominate Marshall Pruett for Motorsports Story of the Year for The Bewildering Battle For Laguna Seca. Once this was circulated around here, it became an absolute game changer to the controversy. Many for the first time learned of how the motorsports world has changed, and how it has affected Laguna. How so much revenue from club racing is lost to Thunderhill Raceway near Sacramento because of noise restrictions and limited days of operations. To think how car owners have to pay for specific exhaust systems just for Monterey.
There is a 10-member county parks commission under the Board of Supervisors, and I know the story was forwarded to them. Last week they voted unanimously to recommend that SCRAMP be given a concession agreement through the end of 2016 instead of the month-to-month they are currently saddled with. ISC has graciously bowed out and SCRAMP could certainly use an overhaul of how they operate, but the consensus around here is what has worked for close to 60 years needs to be maintained. Marshall shows a wealth of knowledge of motorsports that few have. BTW, the Indy Lights Dallara looked great on the Corkscrew. It broke TK’s long-standing official track record. Spencer Pigot showed true patience getting through Andretti Hairpin on the opening lap, while the others overshot their braking zones.
Paul, Carmel, CA
RM: Not sure if Marshall belongs to ARUBA but he’s the MVP for us at RACER.com. He’s a good reporter, writer, photographer and videographer and works his big butt off whether it’s IndyCar or sports car races. He’s got talent, knowledge and enthusiasm but, most importantly, passion.