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: Nice to see Phoenix and Elkhart Lake back, but the schedule overall is an embarrassment. Not exactly major league, IMO. Sixteen races? Again, fewer races – out of sight, out of mind. Boston may come off in 2016, maybe, but how long will it be around (a la Baltimore)? So when does someone, anyone, start to put together 2017? Halfway through the 2016 season, if that early?
For the next few years, IndyCar should just waive sanctioning fees and use that as an incentive for track owners to schedule races. Aren’t they around one million dollars on average? Cut them a deal. Until they can build up the venues on the schedule and the attendance, IndyCar should partner with these owner/promoters and instead take a cut of ticket sales, after expenses, instead. If there is no profit, so be it. Got to bite the bullet in the short-term for long-term growth. But go hire a real promotional firm to go out and market and promote races in their local markets. Not the family or Miles or Boston Consulting. A joint effort by IndyCar and the track owner. Got to start somewhere.
Does IndyCar help try to find race sponsors, or is that up to the track? And why the hell don’t they cross-promote races? Buy a ticket here, get one free/discounted ticket over there. It’s not like they don’t have room in the stands. So much could and should be done to help the series grow, yet it is just more status quo. I’m sure Mark Miles is real proud of his efforts and the 2016 schedule. Really sad, too. You’d think they could have capitalized somewhat on the year of the 100th running of the Indy 500. Sadly, it’s just another scrambling-at-the-last-minute lame effort. Seen it before. Another year wasted, and one that potentially could have been positively exploited.
RM: I know 16 doesn’t sound like much, especially compared to NASCAR or Formula 1, but you might be surprised to know that was the average number of races from 1992-95 when CART reached new heights in attendance, revenue and sponsorship. The schedule was spread out over eight months back then and remained pretty uniform all through the 1990s, until expanding to 19 and 20 races at the end of that decade despite not running the Indianapolis 500.
But there was a demand for races back then when CART was still popular and could command a nice sanction fee because the promoter was making money. Obviously, that’s not the case anymore – especially on ovals. And the other part of this equation is how many races can today’s teams truly afford to run? It’s more about quality than quantity at this point and trying to establish some equity in the schedule. A promoter must have a title sponsor to have a chance, but that’s not IndyCar’s responsibility. I do think IndyCar has worked with tracks to reduce sanction fees but Mark Miles said they really didn’t want to get in the business of being co-promoters and that’s understandable, but it may come to that on ovals before too long. The bottom line is that there are 14 tracks on the 2016 schedule, and at least five of them will struggle to draw enough people to make things work.
Q: The 2016 schedule is out and now it is time for people to give feedback on it. Five ovals, six street shows and five natural road courses – I really like that! It shows that Mark Miles is at least evenly spreading out among different tracks. Of course we all want Fontana, Gateway, and Watkins Glen on this schedule, but I really think this is a good fit for IndyCar. The season is nicely spread out and IndyCar goes to every type of track (street, road course, one-mile oval, high-speed 1.5- mile oval, and 2.5-mile superspeedway)! I really have to say as fan, I have kept cool throughout the past few years and I really hope IndyCar continues the make positive decisions like this schedule. I went to Talladega this year for NASCAR and had a blast, but looks like I am locking in my tickets for Mid-Ohio and the wife and I are getting airplane tickets and heading to Phoenix in April. Can’t wait! Any word if USAC will be at Phoenix, as well? Love Silver Crown on one-mile asphalt ovals!
Andy, St. Marys, Ohio
RM: Whether it was USAC, CART or the tail end of the IRL, the one common denominator for IndyCars has always been diversity. And that’s what sets the IndyCar champion apart from any other form of motorsport and what should be promoted ad nauseam. As for restoring the Copper Classic to PIR, haven’t heard any talk of it, but it got lost in the shuffle with the IRL before finally dying and I can’t see ISC really wanting it.
Q: Why is IndyCar waiting till 2017 to race in Mexico? The facility looked ready, and the crowd was huge. F1 playing games again? Also, outside of the obvious, why shouldn’t IndyCar adapt the NASCAR ‘boys have at it’ attitude? What it lacks in integrity, it makes up for in PR. I followed the Kenseth/Logano dustup for the soap opera and sheer morbid curiosity, but at least I followed. More than I can say for IndyCar this time of year.
Mike, Avon, Ind.
RM: Mark Miles said there was interest from Mexico City but they ran out of time for 2016 and you have to remember there were massive crowds last weekend because of Sergio Perez. Sure, it was F1’s return after a 23-year absence but without a Mexican driver I doubt if the place would have been half-full. When CART (ABOVE) drew a legit 150,000 it had Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain and Mario Dominguez and IndyCar must have a local or national hero it won’t work. As for your NASCAR question, IndyCar has that mentality at street courses for the most part.
Q: I am looking at the schedule and there are 16 races at 14 venues. In all fairness, there isn’t much growth, if any. The NOLA exclusion pisses me off, to hell with the weather and such, there should have been a compromise to return in 2016 at a reduced cost. That would be the way to handle that. NOLA spent a lot of money to bring it up to IndyCar safety standards and it can’t control the weather. For three years, Mr. Hot Air has been talking international races and there are none. Last time I checked, Canada is pretty damn big with a lot of permanent road courses and lots of IndyCar fans, so why isn’t Mr. Hot Air staging more races up there?
Steamed in Scottsdale
RM: NOLA was up against seasonal weather, two major events in New Orleans and a major lack of awareness. Michael Andretti’s group is suing to be paid so while some people may have wanted IndyCar in Louisiana, it seemed doomed. As for Canada, I think Hinch and Ric Peterson are trying to get something going in Calgary for 2017 but I’ve always said IndyCar should race at least three times a year in Canada.
Q: I’m not too disappointed with the 2016 schedule. I think it’s a good foundation for continuity going forward. The schedule does need Mexico in February and another couple races in August to be solid though. Is this something that Mark Miles is aware of? And what are the prospects of Mexico, Gateway, Richmond, or any other races being added in 2017? What are your thoughts on the schedule?
Brian, Joliet, Illinois
RM: I think Miles very much wanted to open 2016 in February at Mexico City and it could have a shot in 2017, but he knows the season needs to be longer. And, yes, one race in August is unacceptable but there are some extenuating circumstances that month involving television, so I’m hopeful a Gateway or a Calgary or the Glen might be added by 2017. I think the spacing for next year is better for the teams, and at least we’re going until mid-September.
Q: It seems like it’s been a couple of years since we last had IndyCar racing. Well, maybe not years, but it’s been a long time already. I don’t know if the powers at IndyCar read your mailbag, but they should. They need to hear the voice of the paying customers. I would like to point out something for them.
I am 68 years old, and I’ve been a Dodger fan for 61 of those years. In the past few years we have had an ownership(s) who’s only concern is the almighty dollars. I have not been able to see any Dodger games on TV in two years because of their greed. And you know what I found out? Something I would never have believed – there is more to life than baseball. I have become a big hockey fan. So to IndyCar moguls, I say keep the long off-season and don’t listen to the paying fans. If I, like many others, want to see racing, I will watch F1 or NASCAR or whatever racing is on TV. Someone once said, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Mike Latino, Fontana, CA
RM: Point delivered, Mike. My argument is that it’s a lot worse to vanish for six months than it is to go up against college or NFL football games. NASCAR has way too many races but being on stage for 10 months is perfect and necessary to stay relevant. But if IndyCar maintains this long off-season, it had damn sure better find some ways to try and stay in front of the public.
Q: The 2016 Indy Car schedule looks good and is about what we expected except we were hoping for a return to Gateway Raceway near St. Louis. Any word that it might be added at a later date? An August race weekend sure makes sense with only one date that month for Pocono, which is scheduled three long weeks after Mid Ohio.
Mike Hickman, Beech Grove, IN
RM: Here’s a direct quote from Gateway Motorsports owner Curtis Francois: “From where we started two years ago to now, we’ve made a lot of progress in discussions. IndyCar likes our facility and I don’t see any reason we won’t come to some sort of agreement down the road. Ed Carpenter tested here and it was really impressive watching him run through the corners so I think the racing will be fantastic.”
Q: Why no race at Gateway in 2016? I know the track was interested. Was there not enough time to put it together? I would love to see a race there in 2017 since the track is 25 minutes from our house. Also, we are going to Road America since Milwaukee is off the schedule. Any advice on the best place to sit at the track?
Karla, Bethalto, IL
RM: I think because NBC & NBCSN is so swamped with Summer Olympics and NASCAR next August there just wasn’t anywhere to put a race at Gateway or anywhere else except Pocono. But I do think there will be a date there in 2017, because Curtis and his people want it to happen. As for Elkhart Lake, my advice is rent a golf cart and just drive around during the weekend because you can see so much. If you want to buy a grandstand seat, inside Turns 5 & 6 always features plenty of action.
Q: A number of tracks are said to be unacceptable for IndyCars due to a lack of run-off. How can street circuits with virtually no run-off be safe, but existing road courses with at least as much run-off be unsafe?
RM: That’s a good question, but it seems to be more about speed. I’ve always hoped Road Atlanta or Mosport could be added to IndyCar’s schedule, but everyone says a few of the corners are way too fast for Indy cars without major run-off improvements. And, as far as street circuits go, other than Shoreline at Long Beach and the backstretch at Toronto, there are not a lot of those situations.
Q: So we have the 2016 calendar for IndyCar. Dropping Milwaukee and Fontana kind of says it all, and closing at Sonoma kind of wraps it all up as continued mediocrity. So, for me, the season starts and stops at the Indy 500. There is no reason to attend or watch most of the calendar. Okay, we do have Long Beach where we can hope to get a glimpse of a Kardashian.
But we did have racing this past weekend. The F1 race from Mexico City was boring to no end, but they were competing against the NFL and college games. MotoGP was great as always and we even got to see the season opener for Formula E (is there a more ridiculous series than this?). ARCA just wrapped up with a bang and then we have the IndyCar nemesis, NASCAR. IndyCar could only dream of attendance like the Chase pulls in. Love it or hate it, NASCAR owns the American market. Nothing in the 2016 calendar will change that with the exception of the 100th Indy 500. At least we have the Chili Bowl to still look forward to.
RM: As hard as Sonoma works at promoting the IndyCar finale (and it does an exceptional job), that weekend lacks any kind of big-time atmosphere – certainly not enough to crown a champion. The attendance was the best it’s ever been this year but still a sliver compared to the Cup crowd, and it’s not an exciting race because the track is just too tight. Fontana wasn’t much better, in terms of paying customers even in October, but it damn sure featured more drama and nail-biting action.
Q: Still a long way to go here in the off-season, but hey, at least it’s shorter than last year and we’re going to some new or old tracks! Couple weeks ago there was a question about JR [Hildebrand] and I know he got a shot with Panther but, like most everyone, I think he still deserves another shot. It got me thinking about another young driver – Conor Daly.
I still am totally flabbergasted why he’s never even got a shot. I know he’s got a couple 500s and a few fill-ins but this is a kid who’s run well across the pond, his dad is well respected and, most importantly, he’s a great kid. He’s so easy to talk to and very humble. Got the chance to chat with him at Newton this year, and he took a good 15 minutes or so of his time to chat about Indy and his quest for a ride. Not that it would ever happen, but if I would hit the lotto, I am pretty sure I would invest in backing him to get him a seat because he definitely deserves it. Are there any other drivers who come to mind that had the talent but just never got a chance like Conor?
RM: I told Conor after his impressive relief drive at Long Beach that 40 years ago it would have probably earned him a full-time job right on the spot. But the reality is that most owners need money and talent/potential is a distant second. Having said that, Smithfield showed big interest in young Daly and it’s the kind of sponsor IndyCar needed to personally embrace and try to place in the series. A major NASCAR sponsor looking into IndyCar must be wined and dined – not sent to the Mug ‘N Bun.
As it stands today, I don’t think Conor has any leads despite Smithfield’s support and that’s a crime because it’s the kind of sponsorship that could grow into a major player. I don’t care if Smithfield only has one to two million dollars. If IndyCar matched it, then Daly might have a full-time drive, and he’s exactly the kind of racer that IndyCar needs to promote as well. As for others like him in the past, the list is too long to name here. But some of recent ones would be Jon Fogarty, Alex Gurney, David Empringham, Lee Bentham, Joey Hand, Tracy Hines, Dave Darland, Dave Steele, Eric Gordon, Levi Jones and Jonathan Bomarito to name a few. In the ’70s and ’80s there were guys like Chuck Gurney, Ronnie Shuman, Billy Cassella, Sleepy Tripp, Sammy Swindell and Dana Carter. Some of those guys, like Sammy and Steele, got a taste but nothing substantial, while pavement aces like Gurney barely got a sniff.
Q: Lots of good news about the schedule. I watched the video that went though the entire schedule and it seemed like Paul Page was doing a lot of the commentary. Any chance he might be back for ABC? Also, I bet you have seen that quick commercial for Johnny Walker where nothing is said but Jenson Button gets into what looks like Honda 600 drop-top, does doughnuts, and walks away with Mika Hakkinen. Hardly anyone in the US would recognize these guys but if they can be in an ad in the US, couldn’t some sponsor in IndyCar do the same with our drivers?
Tom in Waco
RM: For the record, it wasn’t Page doing the voicing on that video but Paul said he’ll be back for the 100th Indianapolis 500 and that’s all in 2016. Target had great commercials with Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi and Juan Montoya in the late ’90s while Honda paid for the only FedEx commercial back in the CART days and also had a clever spot with Zanardi. But that’s when money was flowing freely. Honda did have an ad with Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car and Shell shot one with Helio making a cameo, but the bottom line is that there’s not much money out there for IndyCar.
Q: I realize Honda is holding their renewal over IndyCar’s head to force them to accept the aero-kit adjustments. Any progress?
Dino from New Hanover, Pa.
RM: We’ve been told that IndyCar will have some sort of decision and release it in the near future. I’ve heard that Honda got some extra relief on its road racing package but not the oval kits. But it’s just a rumor for now.
Q: A lot of people think that Indy would be more popular if local dirt-track stars had a way in. But most of the dirt series are front-engine vehicles right? What was the logic of the feeder sanctioning bodies in not allowing rear-engine cars and giving the drivers coming up a chance at IndyCar?
RM: Most dirt tracks and accompanying series are fighting for survival, so they’re not real concerned about changing specs on the lark one driver in 5,000 might get a shot in an IndyCar. Now USAC is another story. It was the pipeline to the Indy 500 in 1971 when it mindlessly took the dirt cars out of the National Championship and then banned rear-engine sprinters. Those two moves effectively removed USAC drivers from IndyCar racing.
Q: Contacted PIR today and they sent me their link for purchasing tickets to the IndyCar race. Thought I would pass it along for all the oval track fans out there so they can help support the return of open wheel racing to the Valley of the Sun.
Paul in AZ
RM: Thanks, Paul. Glad to see PIR is being smart about pricing. The most expensive seat is $75, with most $40-$60. Kids can get in for $10, while camping is $125 and limited suite seats, $169. They’re also offering discounts for buying early and it’s only $20 for Friday’s practice and qualifying.
Q: I have a bad cold and was having trouble sleeping, so I turned on the NAPCAR race. Before I had the chance to doze off, I saw Matt Kenseth wreck Joey Logano. The crowd at Martinsville went wild with cheers. The announcers were clearly embarrassed for the “sport”. What other “sport” allows retaliation during a competition aside from pro-wrestling? I don’t care what they do to each other after the race – have at it. If it were up to me, Carl Edwards should have been banned after nearly killing Brad Keselowski a few years ago and Kenseth should have a lengthy suspension. A bump between two guys going for the win? No problem, go for it. On-track retaliation by a lapped car? That wouldn’t be allowed in a local amateur kart race.
The problem is that it seems most NASCAR fans want to see this rather than good racing. I find it hard to believe many of these fans would have any appreciation for this year’s Fontana or Indy 500. My fear is that IndyCar will fail to gain a stronger fan base in the future since an appreciating audience no longer exists. Not to change the subject, but I heard the F1 cars were hitting 226mph in Mexico. What and where is the fastest top speed for a current IndyCar at a road course?
Bary, somewhere in Nascarland, VA
RM: All you needed to see was the crowd’s reaction to Kenseth stuffing Logano – they were going wild. And NASCAR loved it because we’re still talking about it on Wednesday. It’s their bread-and-butter and what a lot of their ‘fans’ come to see – or expect. But it’s not racing and if NASCAR doesn’t suspend Kenseth for at least one race it’s more spineless than unprofessional. [ED: It has since been announced that Kenseth is banned for two races]. The fastest speed for an IndyCar will likely be approaching 190 mph at Road America.
Q: I know you don’t talk NASCAR much, but do you think the incident between Kenseth/Logano could finally make them step away from the Chase? The playoff system seems to have made it even worse.
RM: Not at all. Texas’ Eddie Gossage said ticket sales for his race this weekend are spiking because of that incident and the grandstands have looked damn good at all the Chase races. When you watch the replay of the last-lap pileup at Daytona this year and see all the yahoos cheering as cars are flipping and crashing before anyone knows if anyone is injured. It’s really telling.
Q: This is actually a comment, but I loved the mention of RPM2Night in one of your replies in last week’s mailbag. RPM2Night was a truly great show, and I loved the coverage of CART and Formula One. Open Wheel Wednesdays were a day I looked forward to. I really miss that show, and I know you do also. I also miss Wind Tunnel, and I still wish that someone would have picked up that show after SPEED Channel went away. Those were the two greatest auto racing shows in my humble opinion, and I wish they would come back. Thank you for mentioning RPM2Night.
RM: I was lucky enough to work at ESPN on RPM2Night and then Wind Tunnel and Speed Report at SPEED and I’m always hoping somebody comes along (like NBCSN hint, hint) and delivers a weekly show for all walks of motorsports life. I think there’s an audience.