Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag 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: I have waited a long time for this new full-time TV partnership to happen. Do you feel this is the biggest news for IndyCar in the last 20 years? Maybe now we can grow the sport even bigger, with a real [broadcasting] home for it, and a network that will push the product. I dream of the day when IndyCar will be as big as NASCAR, or even go past it. NASCAR is hemorrhaging ratings and attendance, while IndyCar is slowing getting better on both fronts. I haven’t seen this many good things happen to IndyCar since I became a fan in the early 2000s. We have a growing field with new teams, we have cars that look right, we have a great TV partner,and I’m hoping they will have a great new title sponsor soon. Things are looking good!
RM: It’s right up there, because you have a network presence again (eight races) and NBC excels in big events, so it will promote the hell out of the Indianapolis 500 and possibly offer some other in-season programming. IndyCar isn’t going to overtake NASCAR anytime soon, but it should see the gap closed with NBC’s reach.
Q: As an IndyCar fan, I can definitely feel that momentum is on our side. The new car is great looking, and seems to be difficult to drive. That should make the on-track product very entertaining, and now we have a new TV deal to look forward to, including broadcast TV. It’s my understanding in the “stick and ball” sports that the majority of the revenue comes from the TV contracts. Will the new deal that was just signed do anything to help grow the purses at the races through the season? It would certainly help fill the fields race-to-race, and my hope is that there could end up being a purse large enough at Indy to have 40 cars show up in May and have a true, compelling, Bump Day again.
Jeremy in Arlington Heights
RM: I don’t see it affecting the purses, but I do think that NBC’s clout and reach could help IndyCar in finding a new title sponsor and that could enhance the Leader’s Circle Program.
Q: I saw your RACER article “IndyCar’s prayers are answered”, and despite a hellish day here at my office, feel compelled to write you a fan letter. The article was outstanding, a wonderful synopsis of IndyCar coverage over the years, and in my view, absolutely bang-on correct in every comment. Thankfully, I watched St Pete at home by myself as I was swearing (I don’t use profane language often) for two hours at the TV watching the “Always Bad Coverage” of the race. One thought came to my mind this week with the NBC announcement was that IndyCar racing is coming back to its best days (in recent times ,CART during the 90’s) and NBC are without question the right people to help this along.
Mark Kidson, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
RM: First, thanks for the kind words. I just thought it was important to remember that ABC did make a significant contribution to growing Indy’s legacy in the ’70s and ’80s, and you could tell it cared by the star power it sent to the race every May. But there is no argument to which group has clearly taken the lead in the past decade, and NBC seems to treat its properties like one of the family.
Q: After listening to Marshall Pruett’s interview with NBC honcho Jon Miller, I can only think of three words: Christmas in March!
Vincent Martinez, San Gabriel, CA
RM: When you think the NASCAR contract is up after 2020 and IndyCar on NBC goes through 2021, it bodes well that Mr. Miller is so positive about the future.
Q: Great news on the IndyCar television deal! Fans can now look forward to a full season of professional and very knowledgeable broadcasts without listening to the mundane bickering of the other network crew. You guys do an excellent job. Congratulations! I only wish it started this season.
Steve, Millville, N.J.
RM: I didn’t run every letter [about NBC] because there was such a volume, but your sentiment is the common theme among IndyCar fans. They know the sport and they want to be informed and entertained – not bored to death.
Q: After 54 years, ABC coverage the Indianapolis 500 is such an institution, but it’s time for a change. Lest we forget that they gave us that iconic trio of Paul Page, Bobby Unser, and Sam Posey, but I recall Bobby Rahal saying of ABC/ESPN in 2001, “…I don’t think they care (about helping IndyCar racing grow).” We know NBC Sports will give the 500 and IndyCar more priority. Three years is great; stable, yet short-term to allow opportunity to assess the changing broadcast market. How much will NBC be paying IndyCar for this contract? Do you have the full list of injuries (on and off track) endured by A.J.? How many times he should have died? He could survive the electric chair.
Steve in Redding, CA
RM: In CART’s heyday, when attendance, interest and sponsorship were at an all-time high, ABC and ESPN did nothing extra and thought nothing of tape-delayed races. Rahal was spot-on. No terms of the contract, and I have no idea on a guess. My records show A.J. has dodged death 10 times in a race car and eight more between his ranch, the bulldozer, hospitals and killer bees.
Q: IndyCar should be in great shape TV-wise now that ABC will not broadcasting any races after Detroit. And after watching ESPN’s abysmal coverage of the Australian Grand Prix (it actually made ABC’s coverage of St. Pete look good!), IndyCar and NBC should gain even more open-wheel fans. Liberty made a huge mistake dumping NBC’s superb F1 coverage for ESPN’s world feed coverage. Thank goodness IndyCar saw the light and went with a broadcast team that actually cares about the racing and the fans. I’m looking forward to the Phoenix race on NBCSN.
Dale, Cincinnati, OH
RM: The F1 race was such a train wreck I couldn’t stop watching, but Liberty got what they paid for, didn’t they? Other than Monaco and COTA, NBC covered the rest of the world championship from Connecticut, but they always made you feel like they were sitting in Turn 1.
Q: ABC out of IndyCar after 2018? Be still my heart. Dare to dream!
Bill Phypers, Brewster, NY
RM: We’re calling it Christmas in March.
Q: Thank you very much for decades of great motorsport journalism and insight, your grid walks, which are the best, for Miller’s Mailbag which is great, and especially for the article about IndyCar’s prayers being answered by dropping Always Bad Coverage. The St. Pete opener was a very good race hampered by poor coverage, and its nice to know there will only be a few more.
RM: I understand there’s a web site with a countdown clock to the second race at Detroit. Cruel, but funny.
Q: I am beyond excited about the new TV deal for IndyCar on NBC! Based on the train wreck that was F1 on ESPN, I think the mouse has officially given up on racing. I swear Liberty gave ESPN the F1 rights knowing how bad it would be, thus making the new OTT service more appealing. There was talk that NBC was somehow involved… maybe an F1/IndyCar combo on NBC Gold? If these new services are going to be anything like the streams available during the Olympics where you could watch pretty much any event whenever you want, I’m in. I will be patiently waiting with debit card in hand.
Paul in Bradenton, FL
RM: ABC gave up on racing when it got out of its NASCAR contract, and only took F1 because it was free and possibly a way to make money (although I can’t imagine anyone paying for streaming to watch what we saw last weekend). I never heard anything about an NBC Gold combo, but I know NBC spent a lot of money putting on a first-class show for F1.
Q: I must admit that I was really scared that IndyCar would stay with ESPN because I truly believed it would have been the final nail for the series. Were you concerned? For a historical perspective, on March 11, 1979 NBC hosted the first-ever CART-sanctioned race at Phoenix International Raceway, which was won by Gordon Johncock. Hopefully Phoenix will be on the schedule next year to commemorate that event.
RM: The longer it went on, the more I was convinced Mark Miles was telling the truth and there was some serious competition from ABC. When we heard it offered 10 network races, that made a lot of us swallow hard. But I think Mark knew which network would be committed, and eight good races on NBC are better than 10 bad ones on ABC.
Q: You will never know how happy I am that NBC will be doing more races including the 500. You are correct that the team working the races for NBC is the best. One problem: you left yourself out. So my question is, will this be your first time on-air for a live Indy 500 broadcast?
Tom Patrick, Lake Arrowhead, CA
RM: If I make the team next year, yes it would be. I’m almost 70 and have a face for radio, so NBC has been quite kind to keep me around, but if I got to do Indy one time that would be very cool. Regardless of who is in front of the camera, I can assure you that between Terry Lingner, Taylor Rollins and Rich O’Connor, NBC will have some amazing features come next May.
Q: Such monumental news for the Indy Car series and the Indy 500 that NBC gets the nod to take over full rights to showcase the series and the crown jewel, the Indy 500 starting in 2019! Kudos to Mark Miles and NBC! Now, not to temper the giddiness and good feelings, but there are a few things that I’d hope you’ll be able to clarify. I know the negotiations were pretty intense – how close did ABC come to getting the renewal, and what sealed it for NBC that pushed it over the edge to win the rights? Why only a three-year deal? Is IndyCar hedging its bets that the landscape of sports broadcasting will eventually shift over to total online streaming in a few years and might we again see an division of platforms that will carry all or parts of the broadcasts?
Tony Mezzacca, Madison, NJ
RM: I can’t say how close it was or what tipped the deal in favor of NBC, but I think watching the season opener at St. Pete surely convinced a lot of people at IndyCar it was time for a change. I have no idea which side dictated terms, but three years sounds about right – the days of 10-year deals are likely over everywhere in motorsports.
Q: Reading the news about the fresh multi-year contract with NBC/NBCSN on the IndyCar website, this part caught my attention:
“In a first for INDYCAR, an extensive amount of Verizon IndyCar Series content will be provided through NBC Sports Gold, a leading direct-to-consumer product. Subscribers will be able to choose the content they view and how and when they access it. Either at home or at the track, the service will provide feeds not available on any other platform, including practice and qualifying sessions not televised live.”
So, when they say that practice/qualifying sessions will not be available on any other platform, this means the death of the live and free YouTube, Facebook and Twitter streaming? If it is true, that’s a huge step backwards for the series in their relationship with the non-U.S. fans like me. This app isn’t even available here in Brazil, not to mention the cost if it was operational here. Two million people watched Fernando Alonso turn his first laps at IMS via YouTube. The coverage of Saturday’s practice and qualifying at St. Pete had more than 100,000 viewers. If IndyCar wants to enter in the on-demand market like Formula 1 and NASCAR, it’s fine, the series can work to provide some quality, exclusive content for it. But I don’t think it’s a smart move to put price in a thing that people have watched for free for the last three or four years.
Paulo from Recife, Brazil
Q: The NBC deal with IndyCar seems like the best deal they could possibly get, and is in almost all respects overwhelmingly positive. There is one concern I have: the IndyCar YouTube channel. This channel, which is approaching 200,000 subscribers, looks like it will be losing most of its features to NBC Gold. Does Indycar have any content planned for the channel for its fans around the world? It would be very sad if this severely undervalued asset to IndyCar is forgotten.
Victor, New Haven, CT
Q: It is great to hear of the IndyCar/NBC deal. It needed to happen for ages. Just curious, though. What do you make of the “Gold” issue, and does that mean we are going to have to subscribe to see the typical practice and qualifying that we use to stream live either on IndyCar.com or Facebook?
Forrester L. Morgan, Myrtle Beach, SC.
Q: Great news on the NBC TV contract for IndyCar. I was wondering about the online streaming. I enjoy watching practices during the month of May online. Will there still be streaming of practices at IMS and other tracks?
RM: From IndyCar’s Stephen Starks: “The subscription-based NBC Sports Gold app will be a one-stop-shop for programming that used to be presented on a variety of different platforms, and will feature all qualifying sessions (including those airing on TV), all practices, all Indy Lights races, event replays, and other programming. The cost of this product will be determined much closer to the start of the 2019 season, but we believe it will be a fair price in relation to the value that it will provide. In addition, everything that airs on TV – all INDYCAR races and most live qualifying – will be live streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app at no additional charge to authenticated cable/satellite/telco customers.”
Q: No one is happier than me! I found ABC’s booth commentary useless. What amazed me is Goodyear ad Cheever’s conversation off the air 100 percent more insightful and entertaining than their on-the-air broadcast. I heard this twice: at St. Pete, and during Carb Day at the Speedway over the live feed with my headset.
John Sedlak, Venice, Florida
RM: Eddie did a really good job as an F1 analyst for ESPN a few years ago, and he’s a bright, articulate guy. Scott is also fun to b.s. with, but for whatever reason they have zero chemistry in the booth.
Q: I was quite cheered to see that NBC has picked up IndyCar’s full broadcast rights. This sentiment was reinforced by my attempts to tune in to the Australian Grand Prix pre-race show on ESPN. Between the ugly cars (F1 cars of late weren’t all that good-looking to begin with, even before that eyesore known as the Halo) and the fact that ESPN couldn’t be bothered to put together their own broadcast team, I wasn’t expecting much.
But the pre-race program that was supposed to air in the preceding half-hour was a new low: in a 10-minute span, there was perhaps two minutes at most of live footage from Melbourne, with no commentary, interspersed with more than twice that amount of time in advertisements before inexplicably cutting away to another unrelated program for 10 minutes, before they finally delivered what was advertised. If this sort of carelessness in production at the ESPN end is what’s to be expected for the coming year, American fans are going to get shafted.
All this is a roundabout way of asking: is Always Bad Coverage going to be this ham-handed on their 500 swansong? Please tell me NBC isn’t going to drop the ball on this…
Garrett from San Diego
RM: I would think ABC is going to try and leave Indy with a big splash. My pal Steve Shunck suggested letting Bobby Unser drive the pace car with Sam Posey riding shotgun and have them miked before bringing them up to the ABC booth for 30-40 laps. That would be soooooo cool. I would think they might use a lot of old footage of Jim McKay, Jackie Stewart and Bill Fleming. The David Letterman/Mario Andretti clip. The excitement of 1982, when McKay and Posey realize Mears is catching Johncock by a second a lap, and you can hear the crowd roaring above the engine noise.
Q: I watched the first 15 minutes of the first F1 ESPN qualifying session and turned it off. While the announcers were speaking English, I could not understand what they were saying. Do you know if the F1 OTT offering is any different?
RM: I have no clue but that was some sorry commentary early Sunday morning, except for Martin Brundle.
Q: So F1’s broadcast was marred by ESPN’s technical difficulties (and I doubt this is the high watermark on that front) and Mercedes’ day was ruined by software failure. What happened to broadcasting your own race and letting drivers drive that race? F1 may be too well-financed to fail, but they’ll leave the door open to other types of motorsport to succeed if they can’t get back to something relatable.
Anyone who has ever had a flat tire on the way home from work can relate to Emmo cutting a tire in 1994 with 10 laps to go. Or had to stop for gas and missed the start of their kid’s recital or big game, like Robby Gordon in 1999. Or even Guerrero’s spin in 1992… because 69% of all car accidents in the U.S. happen within ten miles of the home. When was the last time someone said their car was in the shop, in part, because of “the way the algorithms are set up” like Toto Wolff after the race? You’d sound like a tool. That’s the kind of language that makes race fans like me cringe, turn the channel and make sure to not waste my weekend sleep again.
Oh, and the ESPN thing? F1 were properly informed. They knew they’d be getting a subpar broadcasting partner, and they took the dollars anyway. Just another reason F1 truly doesn’t care about fans that aren’t shelling out thousands to sit in the grandstands and hundreds to sit in the grass. Two more intolerable weeks until Phoenix. Until then…
Dan W., Prague, CZ
RM: I couldn’t agree more. F1 is about as far away from pure racing as it gets, and listening to engineers tell drivers what to do during the race is comical. Can you imagine somebody telling A.J. or Parnelli how to drive? The Aussie fans all cheered when somebody drove off the course and was passed because it was the only time it happened in the first hour. Max Verstappen said he would have turned the TV off rather than watching a “worthless” race. It was a godawful race. So, good luck selling streaming for that product.
Q: I was super bummed when Randy Bernard was canned, but have slowly come to think that Mark Miles is doing a really good job. Getting all the various factions moving forward looks like trying to herd cats, but he seems to be doing it. What do you think about the job he is doing, and why?
Pete in Tucson
RM: Like Randy, Mark didn’t know much about IndyCar racing when he took the job, but he’s learning on the fly and seems to have embraced it. A lot of us didn’t like a road race in May, but Miles got IndyCar another weekend of network television and more people than Pole Day had been drawing. He’s given Jay Frye the keys to the racing division, and Frye and his staff have done a great job of listening to the competitors and making rules or car changes that also please the fans. And after securing NBC for three years, now Mark can run for Governor and probably win in a landslide. From a personal standpoint, he’s never lied to me (and neither did Randy) about any major topic, and that means a lot. I was skeptical at first but I think Miles is pretty streetsmart, and that’s a good quality to have in auto racing.
Q: If you did not see the F1 broadcast by ESPN, you missed the worst race broadcast ever. ESPN has been going down the tubes for several years and believes their social and political views are more important than our sports viewing. Thank you IndyCar for going to NBC, where there are professionals behind and in front of the camera. Oh not to forget that the data and track conditions were in metric – for some of us that is not a problem, but many probably find it frustrating. F1 is not close to IndyCar for competition and good racing, so I won’t be too disappointed if I don’t see many F1 races.
Harold, Dayton, OH
RM: Actually, as much as I’ve come to despise ESPN with all its firings of talent and b.s. programming, it didn’t have anything to do with the announcers or the production. That was all on Liberty, which farmed out the coverage to the Sky Sports telecast of the race from the UK. Sky produced it and used its own announcers, ESPN just aired it. But at least Martin Brundle added some expertise.
Q: I would like to take this time to apologize to ABC for my comments about their open-wheel coverage after watching ESPN not caring one iota about the F1 Australian GP. From switching to a recorded stick and ball talk show in the middle of the pre-race coverage, to going to commercials while the race announcers were in mid-sentence. If F1 wants to increase its fan base in the US, this was the wrong move. ABC’s open-wheel coverage might be bad, but ESPN didn’t even make an attempt.
John in Arkansas
RM: As I said in the question before yours, this wasn’t an ESPN production, it was Liberty giving the Sky Sports feed to ESPN, which merely provided the outlet to watch it.
Q: “Formula 1 is a global sport that we are actively repositioning from a motorsport company to a media and entertainment brand,” managing director of commercial operations Bratches said. This quote is lifted directly from the RACER site from an article about a Netflix/F1 collaboration. IndyCar calls its engine suppliers “marketing partners.” It won’t accept a pure racing engine company. It wants another OEM marketing partner for its entertainment brand. All the passionate ranting and raving in the Mailbag every week about the racing that us old guys care so much about is wasted energy. It’s all about entertainment value. Bratches is the first guy I’m aware of to say it clearly and explicitly. Entertainment, not racing. RIP motorsports. It was a good run. But as my favorite motorsports writer often says, “those days are gone”.
Bill Carsey, North Olmsted, OH
RM: But Bill what’s entertaining about F1 compared to an IndyCar race? Lots of passing, close finishes, different winners? The fact F1 has a global audience and still commands big money from sponsors and manufacturers is amazing to me, but its international TV exposure is second to none, so that’s probably still the hook. And IndyCar would accept Cosworth or anyone else that wanted to follow its formula, but it doesn’t seem that popular compared to Formula E. I realize IndyCar is a spec series with little innovation, but I think racing everywhere is in trouble, so at least IndyCar has a formula that’s producing some good racing.
Q: First of all I can’t wait to see you do a grid run (or fast walk) from Indy next year. Second, we now have Foyt with Team Brazil and SPM with Team Canada. It seems like there is serious untapped potential there, especially with some of the talk regarding Brazilian TV. What are the odds we see a second Canadian race plus some kind of event in Brazil?
RM: I think Calgary could still have an outside shot down the road, and I always say IndyCar needs to be in Montreal or Mosport. The Canadian fans are some of IndyCar’s best and now they’ve got Hinch and Wickens [above] to cheer for, so it really makes sense. Brazil would be a long shot, based on the past.
Q: Like every IndyCar fan, I’m excited that the 2018 season is finally underway. The race at St. Petersburg has given me some optimism for the season ahead, and I find that I’m even looking forward to the race a Phoenix, a track that has put on a pair of snoozers for the last couple of years. However, my excitement is somewhat tempered by the fact that we’re in the middle of a four week break between the first and second races of the season. What gives?
All of the momentum from IndyCar’s great start to the year could be lost before the series even gets to its second race. If some new fans tuned into the race at St. Petersburg and liked what they saw, how do you think they’d react to the news that they have to wait a month before the next race? NASCAR figured this out a few years ago. They realized that their early-season momentum was being broken by an off-week after their second race each year, so they wisely eliminated it starting in 2008.
Now, I know that IndyCar is quite different and the series can’t afford to race every weekend like NASCAR, but a month-long break this early in the season feels like a real momentum-killer. Realistically, is there anything that IndyCar can do to fix this? Maybe close the scheduling gap between St. Petersburg and Phoenix, or insert a new race between the two? Or am I seeing a problem where there is none?
Garrick, Mobile, AL
RM: No, you raise a valid point. When you’re off for six months, then start up and take another month off, it’s easy to see why people have trouble following you. Ideally, I think St. Pete in late March would be a perfect way to feed into three races in April, but there are always reasons the promoters chose certain dates (weather, other big events, etc.) so it’s not as easy as just re-doing the schedule. I know Mark Miles wants to open the season earlier if possible, but finding tracks and dates that work for everyone is a tough sell.
Q: I wonder if you noticed from the St. Petersburg race what I think are new statistics on the IndyCar box score. Interested to see the impact of the new aero kit on fastest lap time compared to previous years’ races, I was examining the box score and the “Event Summary” reports. On the Event Summary Report I noticed two data points: Total Passes and Position Passes. Personally, I find this information quite interesting. It helps to quantify the competitiveness and action of a good IndyCar race.
I think IndyCar is smart to track it and, frankly, I hope race broadcasters and other media members will use such information during and after races. I think the number of passes from St. Pete compares extremely favorably to our friends in Formula 1. BTW, as I mentioned I’ll be tracking fastest lap of each race to compare it to 2017 results. I’m hoping to see faster laps overall thanks to lower downforce. (St. Pete’s fastest lap was about 0.4 seconds faster than 2017’s fastest.) I’m also excited to see what top speed in qualifying for the Indy 500 will be. Might records fall?
Grant I. Gregory, Oklahoma City
RM: Those are very interesting stats and help tell the story. In the old days of the Hanford Device, total passes didn’t mean much because it was so easy to draft past and a lot of guys didn’t want to lead (kinda like Indy on the last restart). But positions gained and actual passes on a street or road course tend to mean more since it’s tougher to overtake. I heard some people say they thought St. Pete was boring but it sure looked like a lot of action (366 total passes), even though ABC missed a lot of it. Can’t see the IMS record being in any jeopardy.
Q: I was watching TMZ (stop laughing) and they did a bit with Alexander Rossi; I am surprised anyone recognized him. Of course, the first question they asked him was what was Danica going to do now, and he said he didn’t know. Then they asked him who gets more women, NASCAR or IndyCar drivers, and he said probably NASCAR. And, of course, what do you do about the bathroom during the race, and he said he concentrates on other things like not hitting the wall.
A couple of the kids in the studio seemed to know a bit about racing, and one said she had been to the 500 and the IndyCar parties were top rate. When someone mentioned badass, one kid said ‘he is a race car driver, he has to be a badass’. Is this a sign of progress? I am not sure I would have recognized him.
Tom in Waco
RM: That’s good news. I’m shocked they recognized him so maybe there’s hope for the youth of America. And it appears Hinch and their radio show has loosened him up.
Q: I just finished listening to Pruett & Seabass on the podcast, and it was great stuff. However, they hit a hot button issue for me that you have also dismissed out of hand in the past. Namely, why don’t IndyCars have onboard starters? The answer given was the usual crap about “packaging, weight, tradition, blah blah blah. they tried it in Champ Car and it didn’t work.”
How does a series trying to attract new, young, tech-savvy fans justify cars that can’t start themselves? It can’t. We put a man on the moon over 40 years ago. I think the engineering challenge of IndyCar onboard starters can be met. If the rules said “you stall and you can’t restart your car without outside aid, you’re disqualified” the so-called problem would be solved overnight.
It’s time you told the truth. TV loves cautions. More time to sell commercials. Stalled cars means more cautions. Who cares about the integrity of the race? We need to sell ads. Which unfortunately, covers most of the ills affecting all forms of motorsports today.
Bill Carsey, North Olmsted, OH
RM: Not sure an on-board starter is the key to making any new fans, but it does seem like something could have been figured out by now. There’s nothing worse than a good race being interrupted to give somebody a start, but I’m always told the same thing Marshall and Seb were saying. But IndyCar understands that long cautions piss off viewers and, trust me, there’s no collusion between television and IndyCar to drag out yellows.
Q: I hate to say it, but it strikes me that bumping for this year’s 500 is not only pointless, but potentially hazardous for the series. In reality we’re talking about the “suspense” of whether some one-offs for a new team makes the 500 in whatever watered-down bumping format they put out there. Nobody is going to understand, appreciate or probably even watch except us die-hards, and that doesn’t move the needle. Worst case is Danica or Graham or Marco have trouble getting up to speed or have a late accident and get bumped. That’s a compelling story that maybe gets on SportsCenter for a day, but we all know what will happen after that.
Any big name or big team that gets bumped will buy back into the show, and the prize money for any one-off is so ridiculous that it won’t be a big price. Or worst-case scenario, someone like that gets bumped and can’t get back in. So why are we even talking about bumping? No upside. If two or three extra cars show up and they can make a minimum speed, then just let them start and expand the field. If we can get to the point in coming years where real bumping can come back then great, but let’s stop kidding ourselves.
RM: I’ve been saying for a few months that if there’s 34 or 35 cars, then start ’em all, because you don’t want to turn anybody away in this economy. Having said that, you shouldn’t be able to make the Indy 500 by just showing up and running four laps like has been the case in recent history. Real bumping used to start on Saturday but we’ll never see that again, so maybe this is as close as it will ever be to having some kind of drama around qualifying. But I also don’t have a problem with your suggestion of running a minimum speed. These people are only running for $200,000 so it’s amazing to me that anybody like Buddy Lazier even shows up anymore, because it’s such a financial loser.
Q: My question is about former IndyCar driver Mike Conway, who was on the podium at both the Rolex 24 and Sebring this year (racing against a bunch of current and former IndyCar racers and the world’s best sports car drivers). Not long ago, in just 67 races in IndyCar, he won four races, had three additional podiums, and finished in the top 10 28 percent of the time. He is also a former F3 champ. My question is, why aren’t IndyCar teams scrambling to put him in a seat? I know that he said he doesn’t like to race on ovals so that rules him out for a full-time ride, but there are always a few open seats that are road-course only, like on Ed Carpenter’s team.
William T, Los Angeles, California
RM: You answered your own question. Not many teams are in the position or want to split the season unless drivers bring them big bucks or they’ve got a willing sponsor or it’s a situation like Ed, where he only runs ovals. Dale Coyne is doing that this season with Pietro Fittipaldi and Zachary Claman De Melo but Conway has a great sports car ride so I’m not sure how keen he is to go back and forth. But he’s a helluva road racer.
Q: A couple weeks ago there was a story about how Ferrari was complaining about upcoming changes implemented by the new Formula 1 ownership group. The response was something to the effect that Ferrari was welcome to leave F1 if they didn’t like it. With the upswing resurgence of IndyCar that has been happening over the last couple years, coupled with the McLaren/Alonso foray at the 500 last year, do you feel like there would ever be incentive or opportunity for F1 manufacturers to move to IndyCar again?
Brad Haskin, Seattle, WA
RM: I just don’t see the incentive. There’s no money in IndyCar or the Indy 500, and for a company like Ferrari, worldwide marketing is the key – not the USA. Mercedes was also mentioned as not being happy, so what would it take to get either one or both to build an IndyCar engine? A loophole in the rulebook like 1994? Five million to win?
Q: Bucket list trip to Indy coming up, and our flight gets in on Wednesday before the excitement. Any other racing action (short track, etc.) action taking place ahead of Indy? Looking to maximize the experience, so any other recommendations appreciated.
Dad’s probably going to outlive me so this might be the one time I get to use his heirloom tickets unless I get them in the will, so I want to make the most of it. He still charged me full price…
RM: You can watch USAC sprints at Terre Haute on May 23, USAC Silver Crown at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on May 24 and a rare Silver Crown show on pavement May 25 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont. There are also races at Bloomington, Paragon and Putnamville that weekend.
Q: So, I see this crop up every once in a while: people asking about Richmond. I used to go every year. Loved it. Was a blast to watch. Got promoted all the way up to DC even. The problem is the attendance figures. 30,000-50,000 seems reasonable, but what most people miss is the fact that Marlboro gave away probably between 10-20,000 tickets every year. That’s how I started going, they sent me two passes. (Even snuck into an event downtown at a major hotel that Marlboro hosted). After that ended I continued to purchase tickets, because I loved the racing. So while on the surface attendance looked great, looking deeper shows many people may not have gone at all if not for the free tickets. So maybe attendance wasn’t really that good after all?
RM: I always thought it was in the 35,000 neighborhood, and the first few races were damn entertaining before something changed and they became parades. But even though there might have been a lot of paper tickets, the people who showed up seemed to enjoy it, so it worked. And don’t forget that in CART’s heyday there were all kinds of freebies from Marlboro, Toyota and Honda at Homestead and Fontana, for sure.
Q: I was reading about the SugaRipe Prune Special and came across something I didn’t know. The article said that both Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney had to shutter their racing teams in July of 1975 for lack of money. Didn’t Parnelli lose Viceroy at the end of 1975? What is the story behind this?
Kris, Peru, Ind.
RM: Yep, the year Uncle Bobby and The Big Eagle won Indy they ran out of money so Unser ran the final couple races for Jerry O’Connell and the SugaRipe team. Viceroy bailed after four years. No backstory, just the way it was.
Q: When Angie’s List pulled out of the GP, Doug Boles made it sound like getting a new sponsor would be no problem. But here we are almost two years later, and it is still the “IndyCar Grand Prix.” I’m surprised an Indianapolis event on national television doesn’t have a sponsor when most of the other races are sponsored. What’s the issue? Is the asking price too steep? Is IndyCar content to not have a sponsor for this race?
Justin in Indy
RM: From Boles: “I would never characterize motorsport sales as “no problem.” I did and still believe that we will find the right partner, not just any partner, for this race. Our sales team has been close on a title sponsor for the IGP on a few occasions. Unfortunately, none of them have gotten to the point where we have closed them for the IGP (a couple have chosen other spots in the month of May). I do not think it is overpriced. Don’t get me wrong, we could have closed some deals for less than what we are asking. However, I think it is important to make sure that we are getting the right sponsor at the right level. All that said, if there was a partner who was willing to activate as much as write a check, that would be just as important in a relationship to help grow the event. We will keep working on securing a partner. I often tell people the toughest job in motorsport is selling sponsorship. Our sales group is working every day and continues to have conversations about all of our races.”
Q: Wow, the St. Pete race was so fun to watch! The car has been proven to be a great success, at least on street courses. Since IndyCar now has new race director Kyle Novak, how do you rate his performance? I agree on the no-call for Rossi’s last restart slide job into Wickens. It was for the win and as Tracy said, the door was left open. Dixon also deserved a drive-through for his banzai move on Sato. However, the no-call on Rahal’s divebomb into Pigot was a terrible decision. It put Pigot a lap down and it was only Lap 7, so Rahal had time to recover with no drive-through penalty like Dixon did. Why penalize Dixon and not Rahal?
Mark Z, Long Beach, CA
RM: They appeared identical to me, avoidable contact, but the two race stewards (Max Papis and Arie Luyendyk) obviously didn’t see it that way.
Q: I don’t understand all the fuss about the Rossi/Wickens contact in St. Pete. Of course it was a bummer for Wickens, and I wish he would have won. But it was the last lap of the race. Why wouldn’t Rossi go for it? I have no doubt that A.J., Parnelli, Gurney or any of the other heroes from my youth would do the same thing. And why should Rossi be penalized? Does anyone think Fittipaldi should have been penalized for spinning Unser, Jr., into the wall in the ’89 500? It was a racing accident between two drivers trying to win the race; and winning is the whole point of racing.
Peter, Gainesville, Va
RM: I don’t think anybody with any racing savvy faulted Rossi for going for it, but blaming Wickens immediately afterwards certainly didn’t win him any fans. And the fact he survived to finish third and Wickens would up against the wall pissed a lot of people off. He took out the leader and suffered no consequences so I would have penalized him a couple spots.
Q: Why do budget caps never seem popular in professional racing? I have heard many new owners and IndyCar expert say there is no room for any profit for owners, and most owners are spending their own money to keep afloat, which makes it a hard sell to new owners. F1 has talked about budget caps several times, but they never seem to be able to agree upon it.
What would you think about a series that partnered with IndyCar as a Master Series with a budget cap (under $100k per year including purchase price of car), everybody uses the previous generation IndyCars, unlimited design, but cost of materials and labor would be agreed upon and be budgeted within the cap?
Eligible drivers are those who are holding their helmets in the pits waiting for an IndyCar ride, part-time IndyCar drivers, Indy Lights drivers, retired IndyCar and NASCAR drivers, and USAC drivers. It would not have the pressure of being the feature race or worry about corporate partners, but at least could be used as a prototype for the future of IndyCar. Eventually there has to be a payoff for this IndyCar owners; perhaps this might be the payoff, with a low cost, but high ceiling for gaining new and old fans.
Paul Hirsch, Erie. Pa.
RM: I don’t see how you could ever police a salary cap in auto racing, and right now it’s about as cap friendly as it’s ever been because of the engine lease and common aero kits and spec cars.