Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: 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: As a St. Pete resident and long-time fan of Sebastien Bourdais, having watched him grab pole position here in his first ever Champ Car race in 2003, I have to say that was AWESOME. I hadn’t even planned on going to the race on Sunday but got offered a free ticket about an hour before the start of the race, and that turned out to be the best decision I’ve made in a while. When he cycled up to second after the caution, he was immediately all over Simon Pagenaud’s gearbox and I just ‘felt’ that same electricity that used to flow around a dominating Bourdais/Craig Hampson car back in the good old days. I saw it coming and loved every second of it. When he is on, he is SO on and MAJOR kudos to Dale Coyne for making that happen. I still don’t understand why Bourdais never seems to get considered when seats at the big teams become available? That emotional reaction from him in Victory Lane was so genuine and deserved. It wasn’t the first time he’s won since returning from F1, but it clearly meant the most to him. They sure did “get the band back together,” donuts and all. Amazing.
Justin, St. Pete
RM: Well, he started out with one of the best in the business at Newman/Haas and then went to Formula 1 and was a Peugeot factory driver after that before coming back to America with Coyne in 2011. I imagine if he’d stayed in IndyCar that Penske or Ganassi would have made a run at him but Seb wanted to pursue F1 and that was certainly understandable. And give Honda credit as well because they helped make it happen.
Q: In one of the radio messages after Seabass won there was something about getting 2003 off his back (or something like that?)? What’s that about? I also overheard one of the people talk to him after he was getting out of the car saying it was “like the good ol’ days.” Is he referring his success during Champ Car? How much of his current crew hails from that era?
RM: As a Champ Car rookie he won the pole at St. Pete and led the first 31 laps when it was time for the first round of pit stops. He missed the call to come in so everybody pitted but Seb, and that put him in the back and he wound up slapping the wall and finishing 11th. In his four straight Champ Car titles with Newman/Haas he had Craig Hampson as his engineer and Todd Phillips as his chief mechanic – just like now.
Q: I agree with your assessment of the St. Pete race. Yes, Bourdais did get a lucky yellow a third of the way through the race, but he still had to pass Pagenaud and dominated two thirds of the race after that. I think having Craig Hampson back as his engineer will make Bourdais the dark horse for this year’s championship since 11 of the 17 races are road/street. Bourdais doesn’t need to win any ovals, just collect some points by finishing in the top 10. Do you agree?
RM: I predicted Seb would win either Toronto or one of the Detroit races but now that we’ve seen Honda’s rejuvenated performance at St. Pete it’s entirely possible given the schedule and his ability.
Q: I’m ecstatic that Bourdais pulled that result off – probably the hardest “worst to first” that’s actually possible. I loved him since he came into Champ Car and produced one of the best motorsport rivalries ever with his rivalry with Tracy. To break a tie with Bobby Unser in the all-time win list says something about how talented he really is (even if he won’t admit it). Is that the best last-to-first ever?
That Damn Millennial C.W., Chicago
RM: It could be since Mike Mosley, Tom Sneva and Helio Castroneves all did the same thing but on an oval, which is much easier to overtake. I guess Scott Dixon’s last-to-first charge at Mid-Ohio in 2014 would be tied with Bourdais since they both got fortunate yellows to get to the front and then kicked ass.
Q: I just don’t understand the thinking: Let’s put curb in the middle of what is already tight Turn 1-2-3 combo at St. Pete. Thank God we don’t have competition yellows.
RM: They paved that area and a crown developed and it was pretty sketchy for the smaller formula cars so that’s why Turn 3 got re-worked. But the IndyCars wouldn’t have had a problem, according to the drivers.
Q: For a number of reasons, this past week has been a fantastic week for AOW fans! First, there was a very good, positive piece about IndyCar written by the NY Times. Second, an interested third engine manufacturer seems to be gaining momentum. Third, Colton Herta, at 16 years old, won an Indy Lights race, which is also a big benefit for new team owner GM Steinbrenner IV. Do you think they’re in it for the long haul?
James Jackson, Brownstown, MI
RM: The Steinbrenners were enthused about open-wheel racing BEFORE Colton Herta’s dazzling debut and dad Hank says this isn’t a one-shot deal while his son made it very clear his aspirations are to own an IndyCar team. So, yes, I think they’re going to be players.
Q: Is it just me or was it odd for ABC to be promoting a caution probability graphic on multiple occasions? When the first accident happened, they got all excited that some calculation had some 60% chance for a caution. Then later keeping on the graphic to show some ridiculous 90%+ chance for a caution was ridiculous. Since when does IndyCar promote possible accidents? I’ve heard announcers for NASCAR races talk about that stuff, but I don’t recall IndyCar every doing that. And then to show a graphic. How many road/street races are there with only one caution? I would say a lot have only one. I hope NBC is smart enough to stay away from that and not follow anything ABC does in relation to IndyCar.
Chris, Livonia, MI
RM: I didn’t see the telecast or the graphic you are talking about but that does sound kind of NASCAR like (“Gee, I wonder when the Big One is gonna happen?”) and obviously a tight, street course is pretty susceptible to contact. But it was a pretty clean race except for Lap 1.
Q: I want to hop off one old bandwagon and onto another older one! ABC commentary has improved. I think Scott and Eddie must have gone on vacation together in the off-season. They spent less time bickering and racing to correct one another and more time informing the viewer. Jon Beekhuis was great as always. I really like knowing the pit windows so I can follow along with my pencil and pad of paper. Did you get any feedback about the broadcast?
Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, BC Canada
RM: Yep, quite a few emails and yours is the only one that was positive about the booth, but I’m glad to hear your critique.
Q: ABC seems worse than last year, which I didn’t know was possible. They seem to be intentionally missing any pass that happens. Could not be worse coverage and commentary. Jon Beekius is the only one that knows what is happening or he anything to say. I love IndyCar and I am struggling to keep this channel on.
Geoff (not Brabham)
RM: Well keep it on during April because the next three IndyCar races are on NBCSN and I promise Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell will keep you entertained.
Q: I am watching the streaming coverage of the St Pete qualifying. I am surprised by the Honda dominance. Last year the Top 5 were all Chevy, this year Chevys were outqualified 9 to 3 in the initial rounds. I was under the impression that all specifications were frozen from 2016. Is this another case where Chevy was frozen, because it was so far ahead, but IndyCar let Honda make upgrades? I know they did that before (on the engine side, I believe). If not, how did Honda improve so much?
Bruce Kerr, Philadephia
RM: The aero kits are frozen this year but certainly not engine development or trying to make your current aero package better. Honda didn’t get any special dispensation but it did get Chip Ganassi’s team and Sebastien Bourdais’ savvy so those could be two of the big reasons that Honda appears to have closed the gap or caught up.
Q: Is it time for the drivers to quit saying that you have to qualify near the front on a road or street race? Bourdais started last and Pagenaud started 14th and they finished first and second. Also Dixon had some strong words for the yellow that was called for the wreck of Kanaan and Aleshin, saying that the piece was out of the groove and they should have taken into account the fact that the leaders were about to pit. Should it have been called and if not, who made the decision and why? Why do pits have to be closed after a yellow? It makes no sense to me.
RM: Race Control makes that call and there certainly have been instances in the past where IndyCar waited on the leaders to cycle through their stops before going yellow if it was something like debris. I was in the pits and didn’t see any replay of the incident so I don’t know how much debris was on the track. The pits are closed after a yellow to give the Holmatro Safety Team a safe chance to clean the track, tow in a car or remove a crashed car.
Q: I just happened to be reading Quick-Change Artists about Dale Coyne Racing in the RACER IndyCar special issue on Sunday morning. It gave me a much better appreciation of what it means to have a limited budget, and how hard these guys have to work to compete. So it’s totally understandable why Bourdais was so emotional after their win. Great to see, and let’s hope it leads to more sponsorship. During your post-race video report, you said Honda had caught up, and is just about on equal footing with Chevy now. Marshall Pruett reported that Dixon had a higher trap speed than the Penskes. How are they doing that? Did they take some downforce off or did they really find a way to jack up the power? Are the Honda guys just smiling when you ask them?
Lee Robie, Cincinnati, Oh
RM: I think everyone agreed at Indy last May that Honda’s engine was a little more powerful but Chevy’s aero kit/engine combo was simply much more effective on short ovals, road courses and street circuits. So maybe the real strides are Honda’s aero kit combined with the same horsepower. The Honda boys were smiling all weekend and when you only win two races out of 16 the season before it’s certainly merited. But never, ever count Chevy, Ilmor & Paul Ray out.
Q: I think I just saw one of the greatest IndyCar drivers of all time. I hope he wins this year’s Indy 500 because if he does I think he should be up there with the likes of A.J. Foyt, Mario, Al Sr. and Jr. and Scott Dixon. Where does Sebastien Bourdais rank among the all-time great IndyCar drivers?
RM: Let’s not get too carried away. Is Seb one of the best road/street racers to ever wheel an IndyCar? Absolutely. And his oval-track skills have greatly improved from when he started. And I know he broke the tie with Bobby Unser for sixth all time with his 36th victory but don’t forget he racked up 31 of them when open wheel was divided, he was with Newman/Haas and Champ Car didn’t have a lot of competition. But he’s definitely one of the best in the past two decades.
Q: Watched St. Pete today. Not sure you can attract younger fans with these long races, attention spans are way to short. How about two heats for starting positions and a feature? No pit stops, just racing. Robin, you talk to the drivers, owners, mechanics etc. Is anybody having fun? The whole show just looks a little dull on TV.
Craig, Beer Hill, Pa.
RM: I always loved the twin 125s on ovals because it made it more about speed and less about pit stops and caution flags. I’d love to see a couple of heat races with no pit stops but today’s IndyCar needs a larger fuel capacity so you could at least make them about 45-60 minutes apiece. But something like that could really energize a street race. Last Sunday reminded me of the ‘80s and ‘90s when Mario and Little Al made things pretty monotonous at Long Beach by lapping the field. Dale Coyne Racing and the Herta family had fun.
Q: Where has Craig Hampson been the past 10 years? Why did it take 10 years to get these two guys back together? It seems with all the success they had in Champ Car that they should have been reunited prior to this season. I know there’s still 16 races left but could this team contend for the championship?
Ben Rabourn, Wyoming, MI
RM: I think he did some sports cars and then worked for Andretti Autosport before Coyne reunited him with Seabass. Also, I think Craig wanted to get off the road so he was more of the engineering boss from his home in Chicago until the offer came to get back together with old Champ Car buddy. Craig is a very, very smart fellow. And, with Honda’s apparent resurgence and 11 of 17 races on street or road courses, hell yes Bourdais could contend.
Q: Dale Coyne seems to almost always get the strategy right. Why do so many other teams get it wrong? What is the advantage to staying out once the earliest part of a pit window has arrived? Seven cars pushed it yesterday and got burned. I’m not sure what they hope to gain by tempting fate on a yellow. Please enlighten me.
RM: That strategy started because, in all honestly, Dale had some people who usually started near the back so they had nothing to lose by jumping in at the earliest window and praying for a timely caution flag. The danger of running your predetermined, three-stop strategy from the front is exactly what happened to Hinch, Dixon, etc. On the flip side, you want to stay out and run as long as possible to try and extend your lead as other front-runners pit so it’s risky but it’s not necessarily wrong. But when that final window opens up and you’re leading, it might be the right play. At least the safe one.
Q: It was great to see Honda and the little team that could start the season with a win. However, it was bittersweet for me when all was said and done. Why didn’t Dale dump all this money into the program when Justin Wilson was with them? Sorry, but Justin deserved a big money dump a hell of a lot more than Bourdais. Sorry, I just miss Justin and it blows that he never got the full opportunity he deserved. Explain the performance jump with regards to Honda. Quick recap, Honda has Andretti do all of the testing for their new aero kit in 2015 and 2016 (which I stated before was a huge mistake on Honda’s part) and we know the results. Honda now has Chip and the car is far more competitive already at the first race. Honda was nowhere last year at St. Pete. Is this just a perfect example of how superior Chip is to Andretti?
Josh R., Salem, OR
RM: We all thought after JWil won Dale’s first-ever race at The Glen in 2009 that he’d step up and make sure engineer Bill Pappas and Justin stayed together. It didn’t happen because I think Dale wanted to sign JWil to a longer-term contract than he wanted. Ganassi and Penske are pretty evenly matched in terms of depth and resources but it could be as simple as Dixon and Kanaan providing more feedback together than RHR could by himself.
Q: What really happened to Will Power? His engineer can’t be so daft as to request a fuel number 25s a lap off the pace. A pit stop for a splash would take approximately 25s so every lap thereafter. Sorry Monday rage against Always Bad Coverage. Holy crap Spencer Pigot was amazing. Too bad IndyCar botched the transition from Brembo brake parts. Here’s my concern: What happens if we get a failure at the 500 under green flag conditions. A brake failure at those speeds with a car out of control on a hot pit lane could kill someone or multiple someones. Hopefully all we can say about this later this year is “too bad” instead of what a tragedy.
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: Will had a pit road penalty for running over an air hose and then some kind of an engine/electronics issue. Pigot drove a helluva race and made some good passes so it’s a shame he had that mechanical problem. The concern with the brakes was cooling them but they don’t get used at Indy like they do on a street circuit so I think the only immediate concern is getting through Long Beach.
Q: With New Hampshire Motor Speedway dropping the second NASCAR event and do you think there’s any possibility that Loudon could host the IndyCar finale in 2018?
Austin Blayney, Lakewood CA
RM: I think Jay Frye has made tremendous strides in working with NASCAR tracks but I’m not sure Loudon would ever be interested after the last disaster.
Q: Is there any way IndyCar could get rid of the dumb pit-closing-under-yellow rule? It really turns races into lotteries. Is there an actual legitimate safety concern that hatched this rule? Or is it just a lame attempt to “improve the show?”
Dean in Raymond, Maine
RM: They could get rid of it and open the pits like they did a few years ago but then teams complained about what that did to strategy. I wish they were always open but closing the pits is done to get the safety team safely to the accident scene or retrieving parts or cars.
Q: Will IndyCar ever go back to Fontana for the finale? I know the track president said he’d run the race but only if it was the finale and late in the year (Sept/Oct). Is Mark Miles so terrified of competing with football that he’ll pass up what has always been a phenomenal race? Hell, throw the guy a bone and tell him we’ll all stop bitching about double points for the finale if he makes it happen! I’d have no problem with double points for essentially double distance. Any word on Portland or Cleveland? It seemed like Portland was getting close to striking a deal last year, and my understanding is that Cleveland would welcome open wheelers back to Burke Lakefront Airport with open arms. These could be two great events to fill that awful mid-summer gap in the schedule.
Grayson, Broken Arrow, OK
RM: IndyCar doesn’t want to end the season on the East Coast at midnight and Fontana isn’t about to host an IndyCar race unless it’s at night in October. So, no, it’s got no chance of being the finale. Portland is still a work in progress but nothing going in Cleveland (sadly).
Q: Announcement made yesterday that NASCAR moving a second race to Las Vegas and New Hampshire and Kentucky losing races. Why not make Kentucky the IndyCar finale in September of 2018?
James, Campbellsville, KY
RM: I do think Jay Frye wants to end the season on an oval if possible because obviously it’s so much more dramatic and racy so I’ll ask him if it’s being explored.
Q: I saw Dixon had GE as his sponsor for St. Pete. I feel like the past couple Mailbags have had some comments that view having a different sponsor at each race as a bad thing. Do you agree? If so, why? It got me thinking…I wondered why teams don’t seek more regional sponsors for each area on the schedule. For example, Wawa is a VERY successful convenience store in PA (they expanded to Florida as well). They sponsor all type of things in the Philadelphia area. They seem like a perfect fit for the Pocono race, but it wouldn’t make sense for them to be on a car in Sonoma. I’m sure there are plenty of other successful regional companies in US that could afford to sponsor one or two races. Are teams already doing this and I’m just unaware?
RM: That was the foundation on which Target sponsored Ganassi for 27 years – getting its clients to pony up and participate in IndyCar. All kinds of different products and paint jobs adorned Dixon, Franchitti, Kanaan and Co. Before that it was routine in the old USAC/CART/IRL days to get a local sponsor because it’s better than having an empty sidepod. And it’s been happening in NASCAR for many years as well. It makes perfect sense in today’s sponsor-strapped world so you need to get Wawa to sponsor Sage Karam at Pocono and take 15 percent as a finder’s fee. Q: To me Power and Dixon have been the top two for years. How do you think they would have fared in F1, given a chance in their prime? Bosco McNab, Canada RM: They would only have been as good as their car and, obviously, there are such discrepancies that a champion like Fernando Alonzo has been reduced to a field-filler. If the car is designed around their style, it’s got Adrian Newey drawing it and Mercedes powering it, they could be very successful. But, other than Mario, no IndyCar driver has ever been given that kind of status.
Q: I know we often see complaints about low car counts in the Mazda road to Indy feeder series and today I noticed something very interesting in the qualifying times for USF2000 and Pro Mazda. Isn’t Pro Mazda supposed to be a step up from USF2000? The pole time for Pro Mazda is a 113.67mph and for USF200 it was 115.37mph but sixth place through 17th place in USF2000 were all faster than 11th through 14th place (only 14 cars on the grid) in Pro Mazda. Basically you have to be faster to qualify ninth in USF2000 than you do in Pro Mazda which is supposed to be a step up. I know the Pro Mazda cars are obviously capable of faster times but clearly not all the drivers in the series are. So my point is, why do we have both Pro Mazda and USF2000? Why not have one series with cars similar to F3 specs, or even run F3 spec cars. The Pro Mazda car has more horsepower than F3 cars but F3 cars have more horsepower than USF2000 cars but look very similar to a USF2000 car. Running US-F3 would boost the grid #’s considerably with combining USF2000 and Pro Mazda into one series and it would give the US teams a chance to go run the Macau grand prix or other one of F3 races.
RM: From Marshall Pruett – “St. Pete saw the debut of the brand-new USF2000 chassis built by Tatuus and it’s a faster and definitely higher-tech version of the car it replaced. Fast enough to warrant the well-deserved question here. The new chassis was rolled out for 2017 in USF2000 and in 2018, the same chassis will be used in Pro Mazda where the lap time gap should be restored. I first engineered one of the Pro Mazdas in 2004, to give you an idea of how old the dang things have become…”
Q: I’ve got tickets to Long Beach, Phoenix, and Indianapolis all waiting for me, perhaps Sonoma as well. I want to add another oval race to the mix, but I can’t decide between Texas, Iowa, or Pocono. Considering things like travel time, budget, accommodation, and quality of racing: if I can only pick one, which one would you suggest?
Garrett from San Diego
RM: Texas is easier to get to and if the race is anything like last year’s, you won’t sit down the last 25 laps. Plus it’s Saturday night. Iowa is always entertaining, but it’s a Sunday night show so that won’t be easy if you have to work on Monday. And Pocono was pretty entertaining in 2016 with only 22 cars and flying into Philly is pretty easy. It depends on your work schedule but I think Texas-Iowa-Pocono in the pecking order.
Q: I’m sorry, but what is wrong with implementing green-white-checker finishes in IndyCar? I think NASCAR’s idea of the “official restart” is ridiculous, but there’s nothing more anti-climactic than two hours of frantic action ending with a parade at 50 mph. Adding that and standing starts on all street circuits would add some more thrill to an already outstanding show.
Desmond, Oak Lawn IL
RM: I understand it’s pretty deflating to have a kick-ass race end behind the pace car but when Emmo and Little Al tangled going for it all in 1989, nobody seemed to mind the race ended under caution. I know I’m archaic but if a driver spent two hours building a 10-second lead then it seems kind of fraudulent to give the guy in third or fourth a chance to win with extra laps.
Q: Why has no one looked to put Kody Swanson in an IndyCar at the 500? I would have thought he would be a perfect fit for the Byrd’s Indy effort. Anyone that has seen him drive knows he has crazy car control. I’ve even watched him the last three years in a go-kart do things others couldn’t. We call him the Freak of Nature. I know he had a bad crash in 2011. Is that why? He and his wife are wonderful people. Would love to see him get a shot.
Tom Harleman, Carmel, IN
RM: I can’t speak for the Byrd family but I can assure you that other than Ed Carpenter, nobody in the IndyCar paddock has ever heard of Kody Swanson because they don’t pay attention to USAC racers. But all he needs is a $1 million and I’m sure somebody would suddenly pay attention and find him a ride for May. And, in the rare chance an IndyCar owner reads this, Swanson is a badass in USAC’s Silver Crown series.
Q: I’m watching the St. Pete race as I write. The commentators just breathlessly announced that the two leaders are on “completely different fuel strategies.” I’m a hard-core open wheel fan and will watch regardless, but how does IndyCar expect the much sought after “casual fan” to be attracted and held by a battle of strategies? Don’t you think an actual Mano-a-mano-contest between the fastest drivers unhampered by thoughts of fuel saving would do that better and that the rules should be re-drafted to enable that?
Anthony Jenkins, Mono, Canada
RM: I was sitting next to Owen Snyder of Dallara on the plane ride home from St. Pete and we were discussing the good old days of CART when he was Al Jr.’s chief mechanic and Unser would turn Long Beach into a yawn-fest. But that’s the nature of street races. IndyCar has just been fortunate the past couple years because the DW-12 is racy and sturdy and there have been some damn good street shows. You are spot on (check the solution in the question above yours) about wanting to see action, not fuel mileage, not pit stops and not lucky yellows. But good luck on getting that in a street race.
Q: Glad Indycars are back in action. Really appreciate all of the YouTube practice and qualifying coverage on ABC weekends. And I like the fact you can get the race on the WatchESPN app (only auto sports on the app are IndyCar and IHRA). I know predicting cautions is part of racing but Alan Bestwick’s “yellow flag percentage chance” just screamed NASCAR to me. Everyone but Jon Beekhius seemed to be pretty lost for most of the race. Looking forward to NBCSN, Tracy and Townsend. Oh and of course Miller. We’ll be at Indy, RA, Iowa and maybe Mid-Ohio and Detroit. Any seating suggestions for Belle Isle or Mid-Ohio?
Patrick, Milwaukee, Wis.
RM: Jon does a great job of figuring out strategies and scenarios and I wish ABC used him more. I know NBCSN is smart enough. The best seat for Belle Isle is in front of your television. OK, sorry, I guess the grandstand as they funnel into Turn 1 is probably the best in terms of action but check and make sure you can sit where there’s a big screen TV. Just walking around Mid-Ohio is the best so buy a pit/paddock/GA, drink plenty of water and enjoy a staid old road course.
Q: Sorry for my English but after St. Pete I had to write this. With F1 changing course under Ross Brawn, I think IndyCar has lost a wonderful opportunity to become the purest form of racing in the world. First of all double points. I don’t know what concept of sport Mark Miles has, but I don’t think that during the Federer domination he wanted Roger to play with a ping pong racket just to have an unpredictable result at the end of the tournament. Why? Because it’s sport and the best should win, even if it gets boring sometimes. Nobody probably explained to him that yes racing costs a lot, yes it involves cars, but it’s still a sport and I want the IndyCar champion to be the best driver of the year. Maybe he should study a little bit of history to realize that under this points system the championship has been decided at the final race almost every year. Second thing, the closed pits under yellow rule. This is getting ridiculous, it’s not acceptable that a guy like Dixon, who goes fast and saves tons of fuel, gets penalized for being too good. Again, this doesn’t have anything to do with sport, but I understand that leaving the pits open under yellow would force drivers to rush into the pits to get closer to the guy in front. My fix is pretty simple: When the yellow comes out, engage the pit speed limiter until everybody has completed their stops, then the cars should align behind the pace car. In this way the disadvantage would be on the drivers who stop earlier. Yes they would be saving fuel all the time, something nobody likes, but they are doing it already.
Francesco Satta, Italy
RM: Well even with double points at a couple races (which I hate too), IndyCar remains pretty pure in terms of competition (except for push-to-pass) and it certainly puts on a better show than F1 most of the time. I’ll run your rev limiter idea by IndyCar and I think we all hate that the outcomes of races can be decided by an untimely yellow flag but it helped Dixon at Mid-Ohio a couple of years ago so it usually evens out. And the fastest driver or the driver leading the most laps doesn’t always win, but he does more often than say NASCAR!
Q: If Mark Miles insists on a double points finale, then they should NOT be racing that finale at Sonoma. The only changes for position usually take place in the pits, and regardless if you’re having a good or bad day, you can perhaps get lucky enough to pit just before a yellow and be catapulted to the lead by merely being lucky and that should not be how a Championship is possibly decided. Is there a reason a Michigan 500 couldn’t fill that slot? Michigan in the fall is beautiful, and a lot of fans especially those Midwestern fans would most likely put a pretty good dent in the grandstands that time of year. Give ‘em enough boost to run CART-day speeds as that used to be some great racing, and promote the hell out of it. We need a Michigan 500 finale Mark. Please listen.
Best Regards, A1A
RM: I’m fairly certain he’s tired of hearing that plea from me and there seems to be more concern about entertaining sponsors than how good the racing is, which is all messed up. I think Gateway or Kentucky or MIS would be good because they’re in the Midwest, where IndyCar’s fan base resides, and it’s a friggin’ oval where anything can happen.
Q: Last week you said Honda and Chevy have put in a lot for IndyCar (in response to Joe from Twinsburg). I believe several months ago you mentioned at least one team who couldn’t get an engine for IMS and therefore didn’t run. Would this not be shooting themselves in the feet (taken from the same response)? Why wouldn’t they give people cost breaks for one-off or limited entries more so (unless they do but it would also conflict with denying people powerplants)? The 500 is the only thing right now that can save the viewership with the current costs and limited promotion as they are. The series doesn’t want to compete with football, and that is a reasonable stance even though I couldn’t care any less about football. However, why not start the series in early February, hitting the warmer climates first? The Phoenix race could occur in this window (because it’s probably the same duration between NASCAR’s event and the current date), just in a flipped order, have Texas in this window as well. Put away three events before Long Beach and expand the schedule by at least two races.
Cody from Hillsboro, OR
RM: Mike Shank couldn’t get an engine after the season started in 2011 and it was a black eye for IndyCar, but both Chevy and Honda have May-only programs for the one-off efforts. Mark Miles wants to start the season earlier but Phoenix hosts a NASCAR race in March (this weekend) so IndyCar isn’t going to get a February date. But it would be nice to see Long Beach and Phoenix back-to-back like the old days – just not sure there are any viable options right now in U.S. for February.
Q: In the mailbag for February 15, Yannik from Brunswick, Germany asks about IndyCar races online. Please let Yannik (and others) know that you possibly don’t have to go online to watch IndyCars in Germany/Austria/Switzerland! There’s this channel called Sport 1 US, which broadcasts IndyCars live (last year *all* races were live!) or delayed, and repeats each race several times during the week(s) until the next race. They even made a ‘single’ race out of Texas last year by re-broadcasting the first part before the live continuation that night! I noticed they are broadcasting “IndyCar Chronicles” this weekend as well. Anyway, I am not sure if Sport 1US is available from all broadcasters, but for me in Austria it is in my standard package — and ‘Sport 1’ is actually run in Germany! More info on ‘Sport 1’ here.
Roland, Vienna, Austria
RM: Thanks for the information Roland.
Q: I have been an IndyCar fan since 1989. Like many of us, I am concerned about the future of the sport. There really are not enough fans/viewers which contribute to a lack of manufacturers and sponsors, which hurts car counts. I think Frye and Miles understand the issues and are doing the best that they can, but will it be enough? Last week a fan suggested a possible switch to electric like Formula E. It does seem like Formula E is attracting manufacturer interest, however, the whine of the electric motor does not come close to the sound produced by modern IndyCars. The excitement of hearing those engines and the smell of the ethanol in the air really are an indispensable part of the sport. Do you think hybrid technology would attract more manufacturer interest? Formula 1 has already moved in this direction, and HyperCars are using this technology.
RM: I can’t imagine IndyCar fans liking anything about Formula E except maybe how the cars look because, as you pointed out, the sound of an IndyCar is part of the appeal. But I was talking with Rick Rinaman (longtime chief mechanic at Team Penske) at St. Pete and he’s working for Jay Penske in Formula E and we were discussing the global schedule and big money in this series. It’s obviously got some serious players so could it happen some day to IndyCar? I imagine. I just hope they play the audio from the Novi, Cosworth and 4-cam Ford over the PA system.
Q: In last week’s mailbag a person from Chicago asked you the best way to introduce a child to IndyCar. Here is my first hand experience with this. I took my daughter when she was seven to see Indy qualifications. After about an hour she got bored of seeing one car go around. We walked around another hour or so before leaving. I also took her to Carb day last year. Once again she got pretty bored with the cars. However, the last two years we have went to the Indy GP and had a great time. We walk through the infield during Indy Lights and ate a packed lunch before the race. Just about the time when she gets bored there is only about 10 laps left. I think the she likes this better because it is a real race, it is not as loud, and it is under two hours. She now has an interest in IndyCar and watches some of the racing with me. We are looking forward to going to the Indy GP, Indy 500, and Gateway this year. Best of luck to the man trying to bond with his kids. My dad and I have been to every 500 since 1992.
RM: Good work Clay, I think there’s also some kind of pit pass for kids so look me up in Gasoline Alley and we’ll go into somebody’s garage, meet a driver and put her in their car and take a picture and she’ll be hooked for life – and borrowing money from you to go to more races.
Q: I was wondering whatever happened to Roger Penske’s son, Jay. I remember a few years ago he had an average IndyCar team with Katherine Legge and Bourdias that eventually flopped. You would think with a father like Roger he would be heir apparent to the Penske empire. Also don’t you think IndyCar needs to upgrade their logo? Whenever I see it I still think of the old crapwagon days.
Doug Ferguson, Port Orange Florida
RM: Jay fields a team in Formula E and has a business in L.A. but I have no idea what his relationship is with R.P. compared to other sons Greg and Roger Jr. Anything that reminds any fan of Crapwagons needs to go away, except you wouldn’t want to use anything resembling these atrocities being run today. Wait until 2018 and design a new one around that look.
Q: Moving to Iowa has made me a sprint car fanatic and reading this past week’s mailbag sparked my imagination. There are two major sprint car events and one major midget event that don’t get nearly enough media coverage. The Knoxville Nationals, The Kings Royal weekend and the Chili Bowl all need a better TV deal. What if IndyCar required that their drivers enter a 410 sprint for Knoxville & Eldora and a midget for the Chili Bowl and televised the event under the IndyCar contract? The cars could have the IndyCar paint scheme. I’m not saying these need to be points races, you could pay out the IndyCar teams’ costs for running these events through the TV deal. Either way, wouldn’t it pressure the IndyCar owners to take a deeper look at rising sprint car stars? And honestly Robin, if the 2016 Knoxville Nationals were on a major network, how would it have done?
Justin Einerson, Des Moines, IA
RM: Brother we can’t even get these owners to let their drivers hot lap a midget at the Chili Bowl, so getting in a sprint car has zero chance. But I’d like to promote a 15-lap feature with only IndyCar drivers at the Chili Bowl and have NBCSN televise it. And throw Danica in the mix because she’s there every year with Ricky Stenhouse. I promise you it would make IndyCar a bunch of new fans. I think the drivers would love it but that’s the only possible way to get this group on the dirt and it’s a million-to-one. If Knoxville or the Chili Bowl were on a network on a Saturday night it might surprise people how many people would tune in. But that’s not going to happen either. I read a stat the other day that said more people attend auto races around the country than the NFL, NBA and major league baseball combined but dirt racing isn’t ever going to be prime time.
Q: I was glad Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500, however, he always speaks highly of IndyCar and he actually said in an interview before the race when asked what his goals were, he said one was to win an IndyCar race. You mentioned that 12 million viewers watch Daytona, and the reason why is because THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE ON!! I know it’s their Indy 500 but there is absolutely nothing on TV right now, if IndyCar is going to stop before football it needs to start right after the Super Bowl!! Move Sonoma to February when it’s 75 degrees instead of September when it felt like it was 120 last year. One more thing, is there any chance Ganassi switched to Honda to have a better chance at Indy?
CAM in LA
RM: Good point and an IndyCar opener in February on NBC might be a hit but it can’t be at Sonoma, it’s got to be an oval so you can at least keep people engaged. Chip switched to Honda for big money, period, but Indy was certainly a perk.
Q: I have a hard time understanding Tony Stewart’s choice of Jay Howard as his driver. Nothing personal, the guy got the shaft a few times and I’m glad for him to get this opportunity, but somebody who hasn’t been in the series for five years? Aren’t there quite a few other younger drivers with more recent experience who he could have gotten? Is Howard bringing money? One Indy 500, 30th place? I mean why bother if you’re not in it to win it? I, myself, was happy to hear about Steve Miller for Carb Day, but my 17 year-old-daughter who goes to the race with me every year was like,”Who’s that?” I thought IMS wanted to go for a younger crowd these day. I’m happy, I hope my daughter enjoys him, and doesn’t make a “Joker” out of me ;) Can’t wait for May!
RM: It is unusual to come back at 36 after five years out of a car but it’s all tied to Team One Cure, an animal cancer philanthropy funded by the Tony Stewart Foundation, which I believe Jay’s wife is heavily involved in. Howard was a good shoe and a former Lights champion and he’ll have adequate practice time to shake off the rust.