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 email@example.com 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: While I typically agree with you and Marshall 99% of the time, I respectfully disagree with your assessment of Saturday’s race. Yes, on track passing for the lead wasn’t what we wanted, but watching Rossi slash through the field was amazing. I think he is really coming into his own. Yes the stands weren’t as full as we wanted, but it seemed after last year’s parade it was a decent showing.
Watching from home, it was a great race from a strategic standpoint. Rossi and Bourdais both should have been left for dead, but both rallied late. Do we stop for tires or not? Is a yellow coming out? That final restart was amazing with that new guy Wickens and Newgarden battling. Above all though, that race reminded of how much we need to make ovals work. Ovals are what started IndyCar, as much as I love road courses. It seems in Bryan Sperber we have someone who is willing to look long-term and do what it takes to make IndyCar work. We aren’t going back to Michigan or Fontana any time soon (or opening up the rulebook at Indy), so I hope that Saturday was enough to keep Phoenix going – because we it need to.
JP in Denver
RM: First off, if you always agreed with Marshall and I then we would have you committed. But it’s always good to hear when fans are entertained, and I was in the pits all night so I didn’t see a lot of what held your interest. I just knew when Seb got to lapped traffic it was a struggle and that usually makes for a procession, so that’s what I saw. No doubt Rossi was on a tear, and JoNew’s last tire change gave the race a flourish at the finish as Wickens did a helluva job trying to hold him off. But I think Phoenix will only be back if IndyCar pays for it.
Q: So, what did you think about Phoenix? Looked like a much bigger crowd from where I sat, and holy stink, there was passing. And Rossi was on a different planet. I was wearing one of YOUR shirts, but couldn’t find you for an autograph. Maybe Long Beach?
Mike Talarico, Riverside, Ca
RM: I thought it was the smallest crowd of the three years, and RHR and Rossi seemed to be able to maneuver better than most. See you this weekend.
Q: It was really good to see you at the race, glad you are doing better. It was disappointing, however, to see that nobody showed up for the parade. Nobody can pass up front except for Rossi, who passed the entire field twice, which we really can appreciate, they should have just kept the camera on his car for the first 240 laps.
I was also disappointed to see the NASCAR wave-around, which allowed Newgarden to get right up behind third. Those leaders earned those spots and that’s the risk you should take when you go into the pits for tires – I would like to get your opinion on that. Like you said in your recap, I hate to lose another oval, but it really seems like that track is not big enough for these cars, and having empty stands is prophetic on TV.
CAM in LA
RM: There’s been the wave-around rule in the final few laps for lapped cars on ovals and it’s done just to make the show better, although to your point, why should you benefit even further when taking on fresh tires? Had JoNew been forced to deal with a few lapped cars it might have taken him to the white flag to make his winning pass. Like I wrote Monday, ovals are an endangered species for IndyCar and I don’t know how to save them.
Q: So what essentially makes Phoenix raceway not very racy? Is it the NASCAR redo, or the car that IndyCar runs, or some combination of the above? Or has it always been that way and we have become spoiled by excessive passing at other tracks? I can remember some pretty monotonous races at places like Milwaukee and of course Phoenix.
RM: Good question, Greg. Phoenix and Milwaukee never featured side-by-side action like Texas or Fontana or Michigan or insane six-wide restarts like Indy or Pocono. It was always about how the leaders dealt with traffic, and there was usually such a disparity from front to back we always had jammed cars and lots of action. Nowadays, a second covers 23 cars and traffic isn’t nearly as frequent. And with Goodyear and Firestone both competing you always had tires going off and lots of shuffling through the pack.
Q: I watched the Phoenix race broadcast and the next morning awoke to your and Marshall’s recap video. It may be the difference of being there versus watching the broadcast, but to me, it was a very entertaining race throughout. This was not the case with me on the previous Phoenix races. I thought you and Marshall labeled it as a snoozer with a great finish, but for those of us watching on TV, it was not that way at all. Kudos to NBC if indeed they made a boring race entertaining, but I really believe there was more going on in terms of strategy, passing, and mishaps than you post-race recap seemed to imply.
Justin, Park City, UT
RM: Excellent, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this week’s letters are pretty divided in opinion so that’s good. Marshall and I were talking to JoNew about an hour after the race and he wondered what it had been like and I said it reminded me of the 1992 Indy 500: not much of a race but a helluva of a finish, so that’s what most people remember.
Q: This year’s Phoenix race was way more entertaining then last year’s. I don’t know what they can do to make the track race better, but either way I think it was a good race. Looks like we have a new set of drivers about ready to take over the series and push some of the old guys out. Also was the attendance up this year? It looked like there were a lot more fans this year, and lastly this new aero kit looks amazing on these cars!
RM: A couple drivers said a different tire was needed, others want more power and one of the problems is that the straightaways are so short and the power is so even, it’s tough to get by people. Our NBCSN cameras must have been positioned nicely because I think it was the smallest turnout of the three years. But the cars looked good and wait until you see the Indy configuration.
Q: “It wasn’t much of a race but Saturday night’s Desert Diamond Phoenix Grand Prix did provide an exciting finish as Josef Newgarden charged from fourth to first in the closing six laps to steal a victory for Team Penske.” What was it that didn’t meet your expectations? Phoenix on Saturday was about as good as it gets. It had everything you could ask for and more from a spec series running on a short oval that has been reconfigured to death.
Passing is hard as hell at Phoenix in just about any car, but Rossi seemed to have it pretty well figured out. RHR was going to the outside coming out of two from the drop of the flag and on every restart, Ed seemed like he moved up pretty well. And yeah, fresh tires helped but passing was very possible. Maybe some guys didn’t have the guts to try it. A passing attempt that comes with a certain amount of risk and reward? Sounds good to me. Pit stops and pit stop errors were on full display, and truly showed what a team effort racing is. You yourself are a huge advocate for the pit guys, and two of them basically got hit by their cars, bounced up and completed the stops like true professionals. I thought you would be all about the job they did. Not a mention.
The strategy calls to pit guys early to gain time on faster tires showed how the engineers work and have it figured to the last second and how, when they get it right, you can go from four seconds back to ahead of a guy based on short-pitting. This was all because the tires were degrading. Wasn’t that what everyone was asking for? A car with less downforce, tires that go away and cars that get progressively harder to drive?
Come on, this is what racing on short tracks are all about. Wickens. A series rookie doing what he did with the help from his crew. That alone was worth watching. Rossi coming through the field, after he unlapped himself! Dear Lord, what more do we want? The job the NBCSN staff did was second to none, and is the reason you need to watch the whole thing from a TV fan’s perspective. Townsend Bell is the best in the booth. Please explain to me what it was that made you sound like you disliked the race. Is your dislike based on the fact that only a handful of people were there? That’s not the passing line’s fault, not Firestone’s fault, not the drivers or the racing itself. I was really shocked when you were talking to Dixie after the race and you both seemed to be down on the thing, and then to see the first line of your article about just kinda took me back.
David Hinshaw, Asheboro, NC
RM: Again, it’s just my opinion and obviously a lot of you fans felt like it was a good show to watch, so that’s great. I guess I was hoping that with drivers having to lift in the corners there were would be more overtaking and, aside from Rossi, RHR and Newgarden’s last fling, it didn’t seem like there was very much. And Wickens is simply the story of the season so far. But I do think the NBCSN coverage kept things lively as possible and the booth is always on top of things, so I’ll look forward to watching the replay.
Q: I attended the first two Phoenix races in 2016 and 2017 but decided to sit this one out because of the way the first two races went. From what I saw on TV, this year’s race was maybe a little bit better than the first two, but not by enough to make me feel like I made a bad decision in not going out to the track. I’m not a race car engineer or a track expert so I won’t offer my two cents on what could make this race better, but I think that ISM and IndyCar need to make some hard decisions about what to do with this event. No matter what IndyCar does to the current cars or what ISM does to the track, this event does not lend itself to a great show, and perhaps it never will.
I am a lifelong open-wheel racing fan and have been around about as long as you have, but sometimes, no matter how hard all the parties try, you just can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I would really like to see this race stay on the schedule and succeed, but there needs to be a reality check on the part of both ISM and IndyCar. Perhaps the racing would be closer and better if the race was run during the afternoon when the track is slicker, but the race would probably have to be scheduled for an earlier date so that the fans, drivers and crews do not suffer from heat stroke. In the old days when I would go out to PIR for the race it was scheduled for early April in the afternoon, and boy was it hot. Do you think there are any other solutions besides a dramatic change to the cars for just this one race?
Paul in AZ
RM: I don’t have a clue about what kind of changes could help make a difference. Firestone always tries to come up with a racy tire and IndyCar tried to adjust downforce levels to put the driver more back in he seat but it just seemed like the other two races until the end. PIR ran IndyCar in March and November but that’s for NASCAR now, so it’s got to be a night race.
Q: Regarding the Phoenix race and in particular Alexander Rossi, his performance reminded me of Juan Pablo Montoya at the Malaysian GP back in 2002 (above). In that race Montoya tangled with Michael Schumacher on the first corner of the first lap, and JPM got a penalty for avoidable contact. What happened next was pure controlled anger. JPM drove as pissed off as he can get, and from dead last he ended up in the podium. Rossi’s performance after he got penalized in the early stages of the race was very similar to me in that regard. To drive that angry and to keep the focus to not do something stupid is an amazing talent. Though I would personally prefer Rahal to win the championship this year, I think Rossi has the hunger, the fire and the focus to get it done.
Ernesto J Ortiz
RM: Not sure how much anger had to do with Rossi’s performance last Saturday night, other than he might have been mad at himself for hitting a crewman. It was all about handing, aggression and confidence. He said afterwards that you have to have a car under you to do what he did, and that’s the best explanation.
Q: The IndyCar race at Phoenix was easily the best of the three held since the return, but that isn’t saying much at all. The fantastic Newgarden/Wickens battle in the final laps really made the race, and thank God the finish is all anyone remembers. However, I still think Phoenix should return for next year’s schedule. The crowd wasn’t great, but it didn’t look too empty, and I think if IndyCar goes with the throwback idea it could drive interest in the race and possibly help attendance like what NASCAR has done at Darlington. If it does return, would it be feasible to run road course boost to try to allow for more off-throttle time and hopefully allow for more passes?
RM: Don’t think the throwback look is going to sell many tickets, and today’s IndyCar teams can’t afford to alienate a sponsor that has no context with the old days. But I did hear some drivers say they would love to have road course boost at Phoenix because it’s so hard to get a run on the short straightaways.
Q: I was at ISM this weekend for the third straight year, and the crowd seemed substantially bigger, with a lot of kids with their parents. It was the best race of the last three years, and reminded me of some of the races I attended there in the 90’s. Silver Crown was also a great race. Heard that the track president wants IndyCar for years to come. Thoughts?
Jeff from California
RM: I thought it was the smallest yet, but they said the suites were pretty full so maybe there were more people overall. Bobby Santos put on a helluva drive to win the Silver Crown race and it was another good show with Hamilton, Swanson, Grant, Byrd and Windom. I think Phoenix will stay on the schedule if IndyCar pays for it, so to speak.
Q: I’m not sure what Rossi figured out, but I don’t think it was all down to their setup that was designed to help with tire wear (that was from his post-race interview). The leaders were 2-3 seconds a lap faster than the backmarkers and couldn’t get by. Tire fall-off was only 2-3 seconds, and it isn’t like Rossi had no fall-off. Yet he unlapped himself and passed everyone twice. I was ready to throw Phoenix in a dumpster fire after I saw how difficult it was to put cars a lap down, but Rossi made it work. The late yellow salvaged an otherwise difficult to watch race. I wouldn’t blame anyone if IndyCar didn’t go back.
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: I’m not sure either, but Rossi was fast in the test and the fastest car on the track last Saturday night from halfway on, so engineer Jeremy Milless and the 2016 Indy 500 winner are clicking again. Not only did Jeremy mesh well with JoNew at SFH and ECR, obviously he’s helped Rossi get comfortable on ovals as well, but he’s been strong at Indy, Pocono and now Phoenix. He will win an oval race this season.
Q: I just got back from Phoenix and I have got to say what an absolute blast it was. I met Newgarden at the autograph session, watched the Silver Crown race from Turn 1, and chilled out until the IndyCar race started. I got to talk to a guy in the autograph line that has been to every Indy 500 since 1965! We got to talk about the good ol’ days. The race itself turned out a lot more exiting than I thought it would. With all the new expanded and innovated stands their putting at the track I really hope IndyCar will return for years to come because what a blast it was.
Austin Blayney, Lakewood, CA
RM: Good to hear. The fans who showed up early got a good show from USAC and I just wish that race could run a little later so more people could watch it. With Phoenix cutting back to 42,000 seats, if a good title sponsor could be obtained then maybe the IndyCar race could get a bump and fill half the place and stick around. But it’s a hard sell right now: ovals and IndyCars.
Q: This year has continued the recent phenomenon of low budget teams not only becoming competitive, but are regular contenders for victory. How have Schmidt Peterson and DCR become the giant slayers? I would think that the fact that we have a spec formula renders many of the resources that the “Big Three” have a moot point. Is it the drivers, more talented engineers or the fact that the playing field is as level as can be made? I love turning on a race knowing that it isn’t a foregone conclusion as to who will win. There even seems to be some momentum with the series right now.
P. Worth Thompson
RM: You’ve got spec cars, common aero kits and two engines that appear to be very close, so it comes down to driver/engineer/pit stops. Coyne has two of the best in Craig Hampson and Michael Cannon but he’s also got a secret weapon in Olivier Boisson and his expertise with shocks/dampers. SPM added Leena Gade to go with Blair Perschbacher and Todd Malloy oversees engineering, so that’s another strong trio. But like I said on our post-race video, I love it when I have no idea who is going to win, and that’s been the case the past few years. I think the fans enjoy that as well.
Q: Yes, the Phoenix race was kind of boring until the end as there were very few passes on track and all the lead changes happened in the pits and some due to mistakes/issues by the drivers. While we all have high hopes for the new aero kit, why is it so difficult to pass there? It’s quite dramatic to see the cars going so fast under the lights, but we need wheel-to-wheel racing. Also, the attendance was poor and as you and Marshall commented if it does not improve, the race at Phoenix’s days are numbered. And it’s pretty tough to watch a race on the east coast where the green flag drops after 9:30pm!
Jim Doyle, Hoboken, NJ
RM: I think I said in an earlier answer, Phoenix and Milwaukee always seemed to be about one or two guys running away from the field and then threading their way through traffic and that determined the winner. There’s no banking on side-by-side action and there won’t be, so lapping cars needs to be the source of entertainment.
Q: Ed Jones’s “touch” of the wall on lap 229 ends up lasting 14 laps. Really! 14 laps to move him out of the way? Then we have to sweep the track for a few laps. The marbles are part of the race. Leave ’em be. Now, how strategic was it of Cindric to bring in Newgarden for tires, knowing the 15 lap remaining rule of lapped cars going to the back was to kick in on lap 235. Newgarden picked up about eight positions before it went green. So now Joseph is in fourth position with eight laps to go and new tires. Game over. I dislike Race Control’s manipulation to create some drama. Don’t like the rule of lapped cars going to the back. If that rule wasn’t there I think Penske would have left Newgarden out and the outcome would have been different. Your thoughts?
RM: Let’s ask the new IndyCar Race Director Kyle Novak:
“There are many circumstances that contribute to the length of a yellow condition. When the yellow is declared, the pace car picks up the leader, order is verified, then the pits are opened to all cars. Sometimes the order is correct so we can open the first time by, while in other instances, we may need to wait additional laps to make sure the order is proper, which can include rearranging positions, before opening the pits. The decision to open the pits must be made in advance of the cars arriving at T4 so that teams may properly prepare for the stop. When cars have completed stops, we have cars racing to the blend line at pit exit and sometimes they arrive there almost simultaneously without the ability to conclusively know their order. Again, requiring order verification and correction as needed.
“After the pits have been opened, we can get into our wave-by procedure, where cars between the leader and the pace car are waved around in an attempt to gain track position or get a lap back. The pits are again closed during this process, so that cars eligible and taking the wave-by are not racing through incidents and around the pace car to get into an open pit. We again open the pits to those cars before restarting the race. Maybe most importantly for the fans to know, is the added step within 15 laps remaining in the race of driving cars that are a lap down through the pits to get them to the back of the restart order and out of the way of lead lap cars. So as you can see, any extra lap required at each stage of the procedure can add multiple laps to the entire process. At a short oval such as Phoenix, the laps under yellow can add up much quicker, as each lap under yellow takes only 40-45 seconds, compared to say a short road course like St. Petersburg which is almost 120 seconds. Ultimately, the incident clean-up, and sweeping didn’t add any laps to the yellow, and was concurrent with the other processes already mentioned.”
Q: Miller, pretty good race I thought. No dumb wrecks despite fast and close racing. Rossi was amazing coming through the field, as was Wickens. Excitement at the end over JNew’s tire stop. Good show. Looked pretty thin in the stands? I don’t get it. Also, it seems like the loss of Franchitti, Castroneves, JPM, hasn’t hurt the racing. The new guys look good and race well. Just very little name recognition outside of fans.
Jon Jones, Oologah, OK
RM: From Matt Leist to Pietro Fittipaldi to Jordan King to Kyle Kaiser to Zach Veach to Zach DeMelo to wunderkind Wickens, this rookie crop has been impressive as hell the first couple races. Wickens could be unbeaten with a little luck, while King’s performance at St. Pete opened a lot of eyes, and Leist and Fittipaldi are young and fast. Kaiser also impressed me at Phoenix in his oval-track debut and just looked a lot racier than we saw him in Lights. Veach and DeMelo also have some speed and just need laps.
Q: The new IndyCar looked great under the lights at Phoenix. After the race I Googled all Indy 500 winners. I decided Wilbur Shaw’s 1939- and 1940-winning Maserati was prettiest. What do you say, Miller? Which car gets the Spirit of Emma Dixon award for all time best-looking Indy winner?
RM: First off, good choice of the name of our award. Ms Emma is as witty and friendly as she is gorgeous, so let’s start with Vuky’s Fuel Injection Special, then the Belond laydowns of Hanks and Bryan (1957-58) before going to Parnelli’s old Calhoun in 1963, Foyt’s modified Watson in 1964, Clark’s 1965 Lotus, Gurney’s Eagle in 1968, the 1972 McLaren of Donohue, AJ’s 1977 Coyote, Unser’s 1981 Penske, Johncock’s Wildcat in 1982 and Sneva’s March in 1983. And I still think Penske’s PC10 and Mario’s 1987 Lola (above) were in that cool class. How’s that for narrowing things down?
Q: I am writing this at lap 110 to express my frustration with the NBCSN broadcast. It is so hard to hear the guys in the booth when the director is showing long shots, and near impossible when they are talking during an in-car shot. Please get them this message. Is Phoenix just that loud? Also, can you shed any light on how the commercial breaks are scheduled? Will they cut back to the broadcast if something exciting happens or will we get to watch five or six more commercials before they go back to full screen? Final complaint: the broadcast needs more Miller.
Tom Patrick, Lake Arrowhead, CA
RM: From our NBC producer Terry Lingner:
“Judgment calls on commercials, it’s live TV. Of course we study the pit windows to try our best to go in with a plan. Not having yellows is always my worst nightmare. Sponsors want “in-action” commercials. For Pietro we were in the last spot in that pod. For Ed Jones we came out early and moved two spots to the post race. We can’t get in the habit of that. Note: the “full” commercial positions are local breaks and cannot be two-boxed in our NBC non-stop format. I’ve dreamt of the day we could sell racing like soccer, but we’ll never see it unless we go completely to NBC Gold or a streaming service gets the TV deal in ’22. Lastly, we WILL fully address the audio levels.”
Q: Your quote last week: “But without innovation, the close racing in spec cars has become Indy’s mantra, and that’s OK too. I just don’t understand why the TV ratings keep going down with such good racing.” Maybe you should ponder that statement some more. “Such good racing” every week? Same cars, same drivers, same strategy, same old lack of innovation or individualized technology. The only time there is any controversy is when the so-called “race officials” screw up the rule interpretation or give their buddies a favorable call. I don’t think people tune in to see “good close racing” any more than they tune in to see your grid walks. If they did, we could start the “National Association of Slot Car Racing” with spec cars and spec engines. That would cut done on the need for expensive sponsorship, save money for the already rich owners and still provide a tired product for the disinterested TV networks.
Controversy creates interest. If you want really close but safe racing, put a Hanford device on the slot cars.
Vince from Akron
RM: The strategy isn’t always the same (look at last Saturday night) and I do think the people that travel to the races appreciate close competition. But I don’t know that innovation would necessarily send people flocking to the tracks or tuning in on television. If the rulebook was thrown open and Roger Penske’s team won every race by two laps would that be better than the past few years of so many different winners? As far as controversy, I’d rather have a rivalry that fans embraced.
Q: A gentleman wrote in your last Mailbag about whether IndyCar will return to a V8. I agree with you that a V6 makes marketing sense (perhaps 2.4 liters), but do you think IndyCar will consider a “Hot V” configuration similar to the current Formula 2 engine?
Jonathan and Cleide Morris , Ventura, CA
RM: I’m doing to defer to Marshall Pruett and suggest you please read his next story on this very subject.
Q: Two hundred and fifty laps of one-groove racing, but an exciting last seven with old and new tire strategies to shake things up! How long have “marbles” occurred as tires degraded over the course of a race stint? Used rubber particles weren’t always on the outside of each major corner, were they? Seems to me if Firestone made a harder compound, or a tire construction that didn’t create marbles over time, it would be welcomed by the drivers and team owners alike. The speeds may be lower, but if no marbles means better and ultimately safer racing, I’d call Firestone and ask them to work the problem.
RM: I asked A.J. and my pal Bobby Grim Jr. who worked for Goodyear Racing’s division for three decades. They both agreed that more marbles are simply the result of softer and softer tires throughout the years, and they’ve been around a long time. I imagine IndyCar could request a rock-hard compound, but Firestone is in the business of performance, and going faster has always been the end game for Indy cars.
Grim pointed out that Al Unser won the Triple Crown in 1978 (Indy, Pocono, Ontario) and only changed tires once in those three races because they were so hard. Nobody tries harder to accommodate IndyCar and its drivers more than Firestone, and they get lobbied to build tires that only have so much life before they drop off to promote passing and strategy. But there’s never a compromise on safety with Firestone. Its track record is impressive as hell in that area.
Q: I stood up from my couch and gave you and SeaBass a heartfelt standing ovation as the broadcast went to a commercial break after your feature on the career of Sebastien Bourdais. Great job making that very memorable tribute.
Mark, Altus, Oklahoma
RM: Well thanks but it was my boss Rich O’Connor’s idea to feature Seb and Taylor Rollins worked his video magic, so all I had to do was scribble a few paragraphs and then speak without sounding like a monotone. But I may substitute Dave Despain’s voice for mine this week for Long Beach.
Q: Definitely excited to have NBC Sports taking over in 2019. The quality and amount of coverage can only benefit the IndyCar Series in the future. After watching Phoenix, my one fear is that IndyCar will just become a cross-promotion platform for NASCRAP coverage. We saw some of this with multiple plugs for NASCAR America, Dale Jr. Wednesdays and Diffey mentioning the fall race at ISM Raceway. Townsend did a great job of poo-pooing his required lines, and someone was smart enough not to ask Paul to attempt a cross-promote – although granted, that would have been the most hilarious part of the broadcast.
Cross-promote IndyCar with the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Cross-promote IndyCar with the NHL Playoffs. Cross-promote IndyCar with the Premier League. NBC owns the month of May with the horses and hockey, add in the Indy 500 and its a three-way slam dunk. Find some new fans who have never watched any racing, and direct them to the exciting cars, races and drivers, not NASCAR. Its happening slowly, but IndyCar is gaining some ground. No need to ruin it by having it latched on to NASCAR.
Chris, Oak Forest, IL
RM: NBC will do a great job of promoting the Indy 500 and month of May and series as time goes on, but you have to remember that NBC and NBCSN’s coverage of NASCAR have helped IndyCar’s ratings. When we have a show that leads into or follows a NASCAR practice, qualifying session or race, we keep some of the audience and that’s a big plus. The NASCAR guys are good about giving some love to upcoming IndyCar races (Jeff Burton and Rick Allen both did it a couple times last season) and now that everything is going to be on NBC and NBCSN, you will be impressed with the promotions. Heck there might even be an IndyCar show to follow NASCAR America sometime down the road. Hell, I hope NBC’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives the pace car in 2019 at Indianapolis. But I will promise you the Indy 500 ratings will not continue their slide in 2019 – NBC won’t let that happen.
Q: Nice to hear that as part IndyCar’s NBCSN coverage that you will continue to play a major role and deliver features on the drivers or the event – pretty cool! Also great to hear Rich O’Connor talking enthusiastically about ways they plan to improve the coverage.
Now that NBC and NBCSN will take over as IndyCar’s sole broadcast home in 2019 with a three-year deal will they have any influence or say in the IndyCar schedule going forward? In particular, addressing the current gaps in the existing spring schedule? Or even extending the length of the season further into the fall? It would seem that a full-time broadcast partner would want to have a more consistent broadcast schedule that they can promote to both prospective viewers and corporate advertisers. (Especially if they are also partnering with IndyCar on finding a title sponsor.) Have you heard any speculation on this aspect of the agreement? Credit is due as Mr. Miles seems at last on the cusp of righting the ship. One can only hope that this potential to fix the schedule has also occurred to the folks at Hulman & Company as an opportunity that they can take advantage of.
Royal Richardson, Chester, N.H.
RM: One of the best things about NBC’s team is that they’re always thinking of ways to improve our IndyCar coverage and not just during the season but all year. Rich and Terry Lingner care about the people and the product and it shows. As for the schedule, I’m sure NBC is involved in the discussions, I just don’t know to what extent but obviously Miles & Company want to get the best races/venues on network if possible. But the NBC brass (Sam Flood and John Miller) made a strong commitment and Miles seems quite happy.
Q: Robin, by your figures, the Indy 500 requires a non-series team to invest north of $100,000 (IF it can secure an engine to even run whatever leased equipment it can arrange) for a one-off run. Sponsors are paying for TV exposure, and sponsorship money is the lifeblood of the game. That’s why expanding the field to include all “qualified” entries makes eminent sense today. Sadly, the days of Caves Buick Specials and a Navarro Injection AMC in the IMS garages are over.
Brian B. Columbia, MD
RM: Oh it’s a lot more than $100,000 (add three more zeroes) when you add engine lease, tires, aero kit, expenses, crew, etc. and I have no qualms about bumping four or five cars, but to just send one or two home if they have any aspirations of becoming full-time doesn’t make much sense.
Q: No bumping = participation trophy. We’re not talking about Little League baseball, junior-rec basketball or even K1 Speed junior karting. You don’t get to play simply by showing up. I don’t ever recall hearing of Roger Penske, Al Jr or Emmo crying and calling for 35 cars to make the show in 1995 – they took their shot, failed and came-back next year. Life’s tough. Make the show or go home – and come back next year prepared to send someone else home. It’s the Indy 500, a race for heroes.
“Bubba” in Georgia
RM: I got ya Bubba and you’re right – I railed against just showing up and being automatically included, so I’m conflicted and hypocritical. But in today’s economic climate I worry about losing anybody.
Q: Since 33 is the number of the beast, what would have to happen in 2018 to get Miles to change his mind for next time? Thanks for your insight on just about everything IndyCar.
Jo in LA
RM: Don’t believe he’ll ever change his mind about 33 unless some big title sponsor offers $10 million to the purse if he’ll start more.
Q: Since IMS has opened up its Hall of Fame to NASCAR, do you think Tony George should be a first ballot NASCAR HOFer for his contributions in growing NASCAR in the 1990s? (Sarcasm font on).
Mark in Cincinnati
RM: Yep. He gave NASCAR a platform on the world’s greatest track and they owe him.
Q: Suppose they allowed more than 33 starters this year, say 35? Now suppose 37 show up next year. How many do you start? Thirty three or thirty seven? How would you tell they 36th and 37th cars they can’t race when you allowed 35 the previous year? How would you go back to 33 after allowing more than that in previous races? Staying at 33 seems an easy way to prevent future controversies. Please no participation trophies for this race.
John Fulton, Akron, Ohio
RM: They had no trouble doing it in 1979 or 1997, but to your point, if you have 36 or 37 cars going for 33 spots, that’s a throwback to the old days when it actually mattered and a driver had to hang it out to make the show. But it’s been insulting when they talk about “bumping” on Saturdays the past few Mays. That’s not bumping, it’s positioning and re-arranging. Then again, sending one or two teams home is hardly a show of strength either, but if it makes the paying customers happy then do it.
Q: You mentioned a couple of weeks ago that all cars that show up for qualifying in 2018 should get to start the Indianapolis 500 due to a lack of sponsors on the circuit. I’m glad to see Mark Miles and crew have a longer-term view on the situation! In my opinion making the 500 exclusive versus allowing anyone who shows up to qualify adds to its credibility and will likely be a benefit in the future. Are there any teams that are hurting for sponsors that could possibly be helped once the field is down to 33 by seeing bumped sponsors move to qualified cars?
RM: I sat with Mark on the flight to Phoenix and he admitted that starting more than 33 never crossed his mind, and I explained that I started talking about it a few weeks ago and received a lot of pros and cons from the fans. Thirty-three is about the last bastion of tradition and it should never go under that, but 34 or 35 wouldn’t bother me if it has any impact on the future for those teams. But, yes, many times in the past if somebody got bumped they would transfer their sponsor to a qualified car.
Q: It’s Saturday morning after Friday night’s IndyCar qualifying and realizing after doing a little easy research that Bourdais’ pole speed was 51mph faster than Martin Truex’s pole speed at Phoenix last month. Yet, no IndyCar PR piece states that comparison. Ya wanna get some extra tickets sold before the race? STATE THAT FACT. Ya wanna get extra eyeballs watching TV – STATE THAT FACT in every PR piece going out to TV and news papers across the country. How easy is that? What a missed opportunity to show how much more exciting the IndyCar series is.
David Miltenberger, Marshall, Michigan
RM: I agree. I’d pound that fact home, but it has to come from IndyCar because a place like Phoenix hosts NASCAR twice a year and draws good crowds, so they’re not going to run down their bread and butter to try and promote IndyCar’s speed. But it’s the kind of disparity that would make a good TV promo or graphic, except it’s a little tricky since NBC has NASCAR and IndyCar. But I think we can say it on air without any malice, it’s just a fact and it’s pretty impressive when you consider the cornering speeds.
Q: A pet peeve of mine is the constant, season-long practice of so many INDYCAR teams changing their paint schemes to match the current (sometimes one race only) sponsor. I don’t need to tell you of the iconic colors one could count on seeing on race day of generations past. In a sport struggling to gain a foothold in attendance and interest, I, a hard-core racing fanatic (and short time SCCA driver) can’t fathom the fact that I have trouble remembering what color, say Marco, is driving today. In the good old days a driver’s helmet never changed, ie Graham Hill, Clark, Stewart, Amon. Today a few drivers’ helmets even change with sponsorship. How can someone sell a model car, or action figure, to the public if that color is outdated in a week or so?
Dan Moore, Placerville CA
RM: No doubt it’s challenging to keep track of who is in what car, but because many teams are using multiple sponsors during the season, the paint schemes keep changing because it’s simply business. But it’s not like there’s a big demand for die-cast IndyCars right now, either. I wish everyone had a big sponsor and the colors stayed the same, but you know that’s not going to happen any time soon.
Q: For the record, I’m happy Danica chose Indy as her final race and, am pleased for whom she’s with. ECR is as good as they come at IMS. Too bad her first practice round was postponed due to weather. My question is what type of team involvement does she, or others doing a one-off have prior to May? In the shop, simulator or PR? Is Sarah still in the pace car?
RM: Not sure if she’s been in the Dallara simulator, but she’ll get her refresher test later this month at IMS. Hasn’t done much PR yet but it’s coming. Sarah and Oriol Servia will be splitting the pace car duties the rest of 2018.
Q: Why do they do this? RACE FANS – “ARRRE YOUUU READDDY?” This is one of the last remaining reminders of the bad old IRL days. IndyCar needs to get rid of it. Makes me cringe. This stupid screed is used before all the races. It is all phony enthusiasm/excitement. It brings to attention how few people are actually there – which is embarrassing anyway. It draws attention to how pathetic it really is. Of course, we’re ready. We’re there, aren’t we? Just start the damned race.
Yes, more attend these races than in the glory days of the IRL when the empty grandstands made the event look more like a tire test. It is a constant reminder to me of the delusion of King Tony George where he believed that people actually cared. Even Gene Simmons, apparently. They smartly ditched the audio of each IRL official stating their row was “Hot” meaning that all the cars started. Jeez. This was equally stupid. IndyCar is on the long road to recovery – a good thing, finally. They need to dump this idiotic… ahem… “tradition.”
RM: I usually have my NBCSN headsets on during pre-race so I wasn’t sure it was still being done, but I think it’s a staple at most race tracks. Of course it would be nice to introduce the drivers in front of the most people available instead of the 100 or so last Saturday night (move them back into Turn 1 where there were a few thousand).