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 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 was really looking forward to Alonso doing a full season and would have rooted him on. Frankly, I’ve changed my mind. Alonso said he knew back in August that he had no intention of running IndyCar full-time. If this is the case, why would he waste time and resources to test an IndyCar on a road course in September? He said if McLaren was going to run the full season, it would have been with someone else because again, he wasn’t interested in doing it in 2019. These statements sound like someone who’s not interested in building bridges. If anything, he’s burning bridges. I’m sure things happened behind the scenes, but he sounds like it was all his decision. I don’t buy it. I think if he does another one-off Indy 500 next year, it could hurt IndyCar in the long run. Yes, it would create short-term buzz for the sport. But, if he finishes in the top five, it will give F1 drivers more excuses to say IndyCar is a sub-par series. A full season would truly test Alonso and show the rest of the world that IndyCar is one of the most competitive and challenging series out there.
Mark from Bethlehem, PA
RM: I think I said this a few weeks ago, but I don’t think Alonso knows what he wants to do. He told Michael Andretti he wasn’t interested in cherry-picking Indy and a couple other races – he wanted to run the full season. The mechanics on his test at Barber said he was enthusiastic, so I have no idea why he either changed his mind or was just playing people. He seems like a stand-up guy. But how he runs at Indianapolis didn’t diminish the series any more than when Nigel Mansell won the title in 1993. And Rubens Barrichello would be a good sounding board if anybody thinks IndyCar is sub-par.
Q: So let me get this straight. Fernando gushes about IndyCar and the Indy 500 for the last year and a half. Announces he’s done with F1, and then promptly tests an IndyCar on a road course, leading everyone and their brother to basically guarantee he’s coming full time next year. And now, “it was never in my plans to race full time IndyCar next year.” Seriously dude? If that’s the case, then why didn’t you say that months and months ago? What’s the deal, Robin? Is this a case of ego where he just loved to stir the pot and get all this attention? Because he really lost me, and probably a lot of other IndyCar fans. Does he ever plan on coming full-time? I think he’s making a mistake. He could have revitalized his career and shown his true talent in IndyCar.
Ryan, Dayton, Ohio
RM: A friend of mine at McLaren said that Fernando is an attention junky and nobody was paying any attention to him in F1 anymore, so this was a good way to get back in the headlines. I don’t know if I believe that, but as much fun as he had at Indy in 2017, I was convinced he was serious about running here full-time some day. He could have revitalized his career, but his true talent was shown years ago when he won two F1 championships.
Q: Just read Chris Medland’s article about Alonso “opening the crossover door.” Sounds like an opportunity for IndyCar to organize an open test at Indy for F1 drivers (and maybe select others) in the near future, presumably scheduled around one of the F1 visits to North America. What do you think?
Kirby K., Indianapolis
RM: I love the idea of F1 and IndyCar drivers swapping rides for a televised test – let Lewis, Max and Sebastian run Texas on the oval and put Dixie, Power and RHR in an F1 car at COTA. But I think the IndyCar guys would be more receptive. The JPM/Jeff Gordon trade-off at IMS was a hit, and so was Hamilton and Tony Stewart at The Glen. But throwing in an oval might scare off some of the big names, not sure. But I would like to see it.
Q: Hi Robin, I think we need an update. With Ed Jones taking the half seat with ECR, does that mean we half three seats to fill with approximately 11 known drivers interested? A few weeks ago it was looking like 28 cars on the high end and 26 on the low end, but now 26 on the high end and 24 on the low end from my calculations. Any word on what type of rehab Wickens needs in Colorado that Indianapolis does not have?
RM: You’ve got the second seat at Carlin (still not convinced Charlie might have it for at least half the season) and SPM (I think there’s a mob after that one) plus Ricardo Juncos, so your math is correct. Robby went to Denver because Craig Hospital specializes in spinal cord injuries.
Q: Enjoy reading your Mailbag each week for insight and history, keep it coming! It has been just over a month since the season finale at Sonoma, and since then we have seen a number of the driver announcements (Coyne, ECR, Harding) already for 2019. Thought I remember reading back a couple of weeks ago in your Mailbag to stay tuned for another big announcement?
Curious as to what your outlook would be on the following teasers that we have heard over the last couple of months from teams as far as car counts for 2019, and who might be driving. Schmidt opening? Carlin Racing opening? Also, third car at Carlin Racing? Juncos Racing (partial season) opening? Dreyer & Reinbold fielding a car for the 500 or a partial season? DragonSpeed partial season? Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan fielding a third car?
Rod, San Jose, Calif
RM: I would think Jordan King and Conor Daly are pursuing SPM’s open seat, while we’ve heard Marcus Ericsson is interested in Carlin. Juncos is open to as many races as can be funded, while Dennis Reinbold told me a few weeks ago they were interested in going full-time but only if the budget could be found, so that’s 50-50. RLL sounds optimistic about a third car, and DragonSpeed may have hit the brakes due to IndyCar’s new driver qualification parameters.
Q: It’s IndyCar’s off-season and a boy dreams of a longer season. But first, man, Alexander Rossi is fast becoming my favorite driver. The Baja 1000? Totally cool. Rossi is a throwback for sure. I can see him succeeding in everything with wheels. Will IndyCar ever expand its season deeper into fall or start earlier – like in winter, when there is no auto racing anywhere? To that end, here’s an idea: Break the IndyCar season into pieces; e.g. a winter series of six races: three in Australia and New Zealand and Asia (since there are drivers in IndyCar who hail from these countries, it’s a natural connection), a sort of three-track shootout a la the Tasman Series to be held in early to mid-February, and three races in South America (Brazil and Argentina come to mind, since many drivers also come from our southern neighbors) as a fall series.
Then, compress the North American season to run from March to mid September for a total of 22-24 races. Package the fall and winter series for TV – shorter races over a three-week time span each – and run it on TV often as an alternative (sort of what ESPN used to do in its beginnings, when we all craved some sort of sports to watch) to traditional sports, and it might get more eyes to the regular IndyCar season and increase fan support. And yes, money is an issue, but just as an idea, what do you think?
Jake, Pasadena, CA
RM: I think it would take millions of dollars and some interested foreign promoters, and I don’t see either at these locations. And NBC and NBCSN have slotted and budgeted IndyCar in for seven months in between NHL, golf and horse racing, so I can’t see how that would work, either. It sounds great, but IndyCar needs to fix all the races it’s got over here before worrying about going somewhere else. If there was a big race Down Under that paid everyone’s expenses and a whopping purse so everyone made money, hell yes, let’s go. But I’m afraid those days are long gone. It is very cool that Rossi is taking on Baja and he was gung-ho to hot lap a midget at IMS back in September, so he’s definitely got that old-school mindset.
Q: I wanted to let you know that Alexander Rossi and Liza Markle [ED: Rossi’s P.A.] hooked my son up with some gear, which was really unbelievably cool. I have been so blown away that you took my rant and cared enough to forward it on. I never expected anything, and I’m such a quiet person I hardly ever say a peep. So this whole thing has been amazing. I am so excited for my son. It’s really cool.
You totally melted my frustration with the Sonoma broadcast, and I’ll give NBC Gold a chance for next season. I wish NBC would give you a bonus for keeping me, and potentially gaining more fans. I’ve told family, friends and co-workers because it has really touched me. My wife got really excited when Liza sent the email about sending the package for my son. The kindness has really been remarkable to us. I have honestly been consuming your articles, videos, TV, and podcasts along with Marshall Pruett’s and Dave Despain’s for years. I really enjoy the passion you have. I check RACER multiple times a day for any new IndyCar news. Hopefully the hits help with advertising dollars. Thanks again for turning me and my kids around from our Sonoma disappointment.
RM: Glad to hear it, but thanks go to Liza and Alex. He’s always pretty accommodating with the fans at the track, and it’s nice to know his right-hand person came through with some swag for your son.
Q: I’m more and more impressed with Rossi, and learning that he will compete in the famed Baja 1000 just adds to that. I saw in Racer’s story that P.T. and Seabass both raced. I do recall Seabass doing the race with his wife in a buggy, but I also recall hearing that Paul Newman had P.T. and Sebastien and himself all race together back in the Newman/Haas days as a way to get Paul and Sebastian to stop running into each other on track. Any truth to that? How did the Indy stars mentioned do in their outings? Readers should watch the 2005 Dana Brown film: Dust to Glory. Great cameos with Vasser and Mario. plus Robby Gordon is heavily profiled. I can’t believe Tony Stewart hasn’t done this race… or maybe he has?
RM: From P.T.: “That may be an exaggerated story. Never heard that one before. I think Seb did run it once and I’d love to some day while I can still see. Rossi’s deal looks pretty cool.” Don’t know how any IndyCar drivers fared except Parnelli and Gordon – they kicked ass.
Q: Is it a safe bet to say that we will not see Sage Karam in a full-time ride for 2019? That kid has so much talent, and it is so hard to see some of his Twitter posts talking about how he is competing in video games instead of IndyCar or any other series. His father has such a positive outlook on life, and I know he is trying his best to continue Sage’s career, but I have a feeling that is it. Am I wrong? Also, my 9-year-old son met you at Indy this year in Gasoline Alley and you signed his shirt. First words out of your mouth were, “That’s what we need, more kids coming to the track” which has stuck in our heads and is so very true.
Jason Guralnick, Chicago
RM: It’s not looking very promising, because Jody always keeps me informed on anything new or positive going on and it’s been real quiet the past few months. Dario was a big Sage fan and that means a lot in my mind, because the three-time Indy winner doesn’t throw praise around. I wish Dennis Reinbold could field a car full-time because I think he’d hire Sage, and all he needs is a chance. One year with Ganassi doesn’t classify as a chance, and it’s too bad he couldn’t have been a three-year deal so he could develop with the same team and engineer.
Q: It’s been reported by many that A.J. Allmendinger is not going to IndyCar. Is a part-time Cup ride or sports cars more lucrative? Or are there no seats available? He can’t get an Indy 500 ride? Or is IndyCar just not an interest to him?
RM: I don’t know that A.J. wants an IndyCar ride, or that anyone in IndyCar wants him. He’s been gone for 12 years (except his cameo with Penske in 2013, where he ran seventh at Indy) and unless he’s got some money I doubt he’s on anyone’s radar in the IndyCar paddock. It’s a shame he went to stock cars because he was an open-wheeler star and just hitting his stride in 2006 when he opted to head south. It probably was smart financially but not career-wise, because he could have won a lot of IndyCar races.
Q: I’m a huge IndyCar fan and Indianapolis native living in San Francisco. I’m looking up tickets for the Laguna Seca Grand Prix, and right now general admission/paddock prices are $100 per ticket. Have you heard if that’s going to change? I’m hoping it’s just a pre-sale thing tied to paddock access, otherwise I’m shocked at the cost. I go to multiple IndyCar races a year, including the Indy 500, and haven’t seen prices that high for general admission – especially for a race that needs to draw fans. Hell, I went to Phoenix, Indy, Detroit, and Sonoma last year, and am still shocked at the cost.
Living in SF and going to Sonoma every year I know how the SF Bay Area doesn’t draw the crowds we’d like, so prices that high is absurd. I’m planning to go to Austin, Indy, Long Beach, and Monterey next year, but if the prices aren’t lowered for Monterey, I’ll have to rethink the viability of the race. I may also just be jumping the gun in assuming they add more ticket options, but if you have any insights I’d appreciate it. Can’t wait for next year’s season to begin!
RM: Talked to the ticket person at Laguna, and here’s the deal. It’s $160 for three days of general admission and grandstand seating with limited paddock access. You can also buy a ticket for the IMSA race the week before and get a discount on your IndyCar ticket. Camping is $500 or $600, depending on the location. There will also be single day GA ticket for $100. As I recall there aren’t a lot of grandstand seats and walking around the track or camping is by far the best vantage point, but $100 on race day is a little pricey. Even for California.
Q: So a while back you wrote that something big was going to happen in IndyCar but you couldn’t say anything until it was announced. That, you admitted, was the Harding/Steinbrenner deal. But at the same time you indicated that another something big was brewing, but again, you couldn’t say anything because nothing had been finalized. Is that other something that was brewing still on the table? Any hints? Also, have you heard anything at all about a title sponsor?
Jim Staller, Indy
RM: No hints, it would give it away, but it’s still percolating. Mark Miles says they are very close to a title sponsor, so we may know something in a couple weeks.
Q: If IndyCar ever goes to New Zealand, where do you think they would race? Street race? Pukekohe Park? Same question for Australia. Would they team up with Supercars for a double header?
RM: For New Zealand maybe the old F1 track (Circuit Chris Amon) or Hampton Downs or Pukekohe, while Phillip Island in Australia looks first-class. I would think the Supercars would be part of any IndyCar program.
Q: It is time to modernize the championship and institute a playoff system. I am not advocating copying the NASCAR system, but IndyCar should implement a playoff that fits its history and culture. I propose a three-race playoff, one on each surface; street, oval and road course, to maintain the diversity of IndyCar. I know the many reasons why the season ends when it does; mainly to avoid competition with football, MLB playoffs and NASCAR over warm-weather tracks. However, IndyCar could take advantage of the many Federal holidays in the fall and hold races in the middle of the week. With 24-hour sports stations, the idea that you have to hold your sport on the weekend to draw viewership has long past. I know what you are going to say, “you still need people to come.” Well other sports attract attendance in the middle of the week in the non-summer months – just look at basketball and hockey. An average team, not playing Lebron or Sidney Crosby, barely pulls in 10,000 spectators, but honestly, IndyCar would kill for those numbers at most tracks anyways.
The first race could be on the Monday of Columbus Day. This would be a great street race event Saturday to Monday. Most cities have festivities and parades on Columbus Day, and having a race in a downtown metropolis would get the same attention at the gates on Monday as a Sunday. For the second race, a road course, pick a Sunday in late October and have the green flag at 11 a.m. There is precedent with early races – look at the 500 – and most road course races are completed in around two hours so viewers will not miss their kickoff at one o’clock. For the finale, have the oval race on Veterans Day, prime time. It would give a great conclusion to the IndyCar year that traces it roots back to Memorial Day.
Having the season end at a track like Fontana in LA gives you the celebrity spotlight and sponsorship parties the owners want, which is why the season ends in the Napa Valley now. For a playoff point system, keep it simple and do not try to emulate NASCAR’s ridiculous system that no one can understand. IndyCar is moving in the right direction to bring itself to where it was before the split. The reality is it will never be there again – but it is on an upswing. Even though IndyCar can survive today without a playoff, can it in five years or 10 years? My answer would be no. And rather than hastily put one in and have to tweak it every year like NASCAR seems to do, IndyCar can institute a version to be eased into, say, three years from now, which will allow time to negotiate playoff sponsorship, an accepted point system, and get current tracks and promoters on-board. There is potential here. I might be the only one who sees it now, but double-points for a final race that is traditionally just an expensive parade of cars is not the answer either.
RM: I like your creative thinking and totally agree that double-points in a parade does nothing for IndyCar, and some kind of playoff makes more sense. Obviously you’d have to figure out eligibility (do the top 10 after 14 races qualify? Or only race winners?) But the real problem as I see it would be timing. You need all three races within a month to keep up the interest, and not sure how that could work. I do like Columbus Day in Columbus (they had a sports car race there once in the streets) with the Rahals helping promote it, and I know my pal Dave Allen at Fontana (Auto Club Speedway) would be up for a fall race at night. It’s certainly something worth kicking around, and I’ve sent your suggestion to Mark Miles and Jay Frye.
Q: I noticed that Phillip Morris is back in racing with its new venture Mission Winnow as a sponsor of Ferrari in Formula 1. Is there any chance this sponsor could find its way into IndyCar? I know many miss the Penske Marlboro livery of the 1990s and 2000s.
Louis, New Orleans, LA
RM: Let’s put it this way: if there’s any chance, then The Captain has already had a meeting.
Q: Suppose Tony George actually agrees to an interview with you but only allows you to ask 10 questions. What would you ask him?
Ron, Denver, CO
RM: Tony and I did a radio show together (The Drive with JMV) a few years ago, and it was pretty informative and revealing. I guess my questions would be, did he feel slighted by the CART owners in the early ‘90s? Did he feel used by Bill France and Bernie Ecclestone? Was he surprised CART didn’t show up in the first two IRL races and clean house? Could the IRL have flourished in 1988 when CART was the haves and have-nots instead of 1995 when CART was at the peak of its popularity? Did he wish he’d tried to qualify for the Indy 500 when he was running Indy Lights? Are there any car owners he trusts besides his stepson? Does he wish he’d had a smart, unbiased lieutenant when he started the IRL? Did he really think CART would boycott Indy, before and after The Split? Does he miss calling the shots?
Q: I read Hulman Motorsports CMO C.J. O’Donnell is leaving at the end of the year. What letter grade would you give him for his tenure? I’m thrilled that IndyCar is going to NBC, but I think the drivers are still anonymous on the American sports scene, and that’s just bad marketing if you ask me. So many easy opportunities are passed up (like your annual plea for visibility at the Chili Bowl) in favor of chasing stuff like reality TV. Any sense of who is coming in next, and what advice would you give him/her? Or is it all just talk until the wallets are opened up for a decent national marketing campaign?
RM: I wasn’t a fan, but he may have been strapped for the kind of budget needed to get the word out. But billboards in Indianapolis for the Indy 500 were a waste of money (if that was his idea), and when he told me the Chili Bowl wasn’t IndyCar’s demographic, that lost me. I think there are a couple of great candidates to come in, but Miles may be trying to decide if one person needs to do IndyCar and IMS, or how to restructure things.
Q: Found myself in Philadelphia on business. My wife has never seen an autumn before, so we headed to the Poconos. We went to a little mountain town and had a great time. I then noticed how close we were to the speedway. Even though it was nearly dark when we arrived, it was still very cool to see circuit for first time. Decided right then I need to see a race at Pocono. I know it is on the calendar for next year, but is it’s long-term future secure, and what was the best IndyCar race held there?
Jonathan and Cleide Morris, Ventura, CA
RM: I think as long as ABC Supply is the title sponsor there will be a race at Pocono, and the people who do show up are die-hard fans from what I’ve seen. I suppose Mark Donohue’s win in the inaugural Schaefer 500, the doubleheader in 1972 (500 miles for Indy cars and USAC stock cars on the same weekend because of rain) won by Joe Leonard and Roger McCluskey), A.J. Foyt’s last win in 1981 when USAC dirt cars comprised the back of the field, and Rick Mears’ victory in 1985 after his severe injuries in 1984.
Q: I was watching some of the IMSA race at Road Atlanta over the weekend, and it looks like a fairly entertaining track with some high speed sections, twisties, and hard braking zones. I believe I’ve heard you say that the track would need some major improvements to run IndyCar. What would those improvements include? With Michelin’s announced sponsorship/investment announcement, perhaps there is an opportunity. IndyCar could certainly use another warm weather location for early-season scheduling.
Brad C., Normal, IL
RM: Run-off areas and fencing is what I’ve been told, but not sure Road Atlanta needs to spend any money to get IndyCar when it draws a massive crowd each year for the Petite Le Mans sports car show. But it is a fabulous road course.
Q: I noticed your reply to a reader in the Mailbag regarding Dixon, saying it would be wrong to call Scott the best ever and a disservice to A.J. Mario, Parnelli, the Unsers… don’t forget Jim Clark, and to a lesser extent, Gurney. They did it on both sides of the ocean, and both drove many different types of cars…
Mark Kidson, Toronto
RM: Point taken, but those guys I mentioned won on dirt and pavement, ovals and road courses, and roadsters and rear-engine (A.J. and Rufus) cars. Gurney was as versatile as anyone with F1, IndyCar, NASCAR and sports cars, and Clark could have probably driven anything but it was pretty much F1, Indy and saloon cars.
Q: I agree with the idea that F1 needs two or more races in the USA. But if that is to happen, the ticket prices have to be in line with other prominent U.S. race series like IndyCar and NASCAR. Prices at Indy when the races were there were good, but I wonder if the track made money? Liberty cannot be like Bernie Ecclestone, extracting blood from a rock (the track). If they want a big U.S. audience for F1, they need to give the tracks a break on the fee they charge to host a race so the track can make decent return. When F1 has a decent U.S. audience, then they can make the big bucks. Bernie somehow never was bright enough to understand this. I hope Liberty is.
RM: IMS spent millions to accommodate Bernie with pit suites, the Pagoda and an FIA-approved road course, so it was well in the hole before it wrote Ecclestone a sanctioning-fee check ($15 million in 2000?), and then Bernie found the title sponsor and got all the money for his paddock club. IMS got concessions and ticket sales and had a helluva crowd (150,000?) for the inaugural race, but still lost money. Liberty doesn’t care what Bernie has to say these days, and that’s probably a big mistake. Austin had a nice crowd, but could America support two more F1 races?
Q: I’m an old racing fan like you, and my reason for writing is frustration with the coverage of IndyCar racing. Because of the location of where I live and the newspaper that “serves” the area, perhaps it would not be a good idea of putting this letter in your column on RACER.com on Wednesdays. I live in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton is, and always has been, a big racing town. Yes, we had the Dayton Speedway at one time. (“Uncle” Bobby Unser asked me about that when I met him this past June at the Vintage Grand Prix!). We have Eldora nearby, along with our little dragstrip, Kil-Kare. So we are not far from Indianapolis or Kentucky Speedway or Mid- Ohio, for that matter. (This past July I took a buddy there to Mid-Ohio for the first time. He loved it and got to meet our best ambassador, Mario Andretti!). Our “newspaper” here is Dayton Daily News. In 1968, a gentleman named Hal McCoy was their man at Indy during the month of May. His articles were so informative, and were printed daily. I know because I would cut them out and save them in my scrapbook. Now Mr. McCoy writes only of the Cincinnati Reds, but I asked him about those Indy days and he fondly remembered them.
Last year, when the last IndyCar race was held to determine the champion for 2017, there was not one article about that race in the following days. Exact same thing happened recently for this year’s race as well! Earlier this year when Dan Gurney died, nothing of his passing was mentioned in the pages of DDN. Well, I was furious, so I wrote a nasty letter to them. The attitude I got from them was they thought my rant was funny. (Mr. Gurney died on Sunday – they finally put an article in on Thursday!) So, a couple of days after Scott Dixon won his fifth championship (again, not one mention of this or the race itself) there was an article about NASCAR in Europe! I must tell you that every time a Reds, Bengals or Browns player farts sideways, it’s front page news in this sorry excuse for a “newspaper”! I am sick of this, and a lot of my fellow racing fans here think it’s a joke.
How does it work that there is coverage of mostly NAPCAR and hardly anything of IndyCar (or sports cars or anything!) in the papers. DDN had a very small mention of the Mid-Ohio IndyCar race. Does NASCAR have a bigger, more reaching news outlet that they can put articles in about the various drivers and their soap operas? I would think that if Dayton is such a racing town, with its history, that the powers that be would have more coverage in the media. Hope you have a book inside of you waiting to get out. But thanks for taking the time to read my rant.
RM: First off, Hal did a great job of covering racing, and was one of the first guys I met when I started at The Indianapolis Star in 1968. He covered USAC as well as anyone. But here’s what usually happens. Associated Press sometimes sends its motorsport editor, Jenna Fryer, to an IndyCar race, and her story goes all over the country to every paper that subscribes to AP. But even if she’s not at the race, AP sends somebody, so there is always an IndyCar story available for Dayton or American cities everywhere. It’s the newspaper editor’s (or person laying out the paper) whether to run a separate story on the race, put it in sports briefs, or not use it at all. NASCAR gets preferential treatment because it’s much more popular than IndyCar and there’s also an AP story for all its races, but it’s crazy to think an Ohio paper with Dayton’s racing history wouldn’t use anything on Gurney or the IndyCar title clincher. That’s simply poor news judgment. But Indy used to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and now it’s hardly mentioned.
Q: Please explain. I assume ABC is operating under the current contract and NBC will broadcast the USGP next year. However, this USGP is being advertised as broadcast “Live” at 2 pm CST.
However, the track schedule states it starts at 13:10 CST. We are watching it live on a local Spanish network while ABC is showing “Vacation Creation.” How do networks knowingly deceive the public like thi?. Can’t wait for NBC to be in the driver’ seat next year!
Mark, Michigan City
RM: NBC doesn’t have the rights to F1 next year, and ESPN is grooming it for paid streaming. Local networks can show whatever they want in certain time slots, and IndyCar is often preceded by infomercials.
Q: I was always a fan of the former Porsche IndyCar program and of Teo Fabi. Was the Porsche team the first to use carbon fiber in our series?
Mark M., Floyds Knobs, IN
RM: Let’s ask the man who ran that Porsche program, Mr. Derrick Walker:
Regarding your question asking if Porsche was the first team/manufacture to use a carbon chassis in IndyCar, or CART as it was called then. The answer was no, but they would have been had the team owners not gotten wind of it coming in 1990 and voted to ban it till a year later (gave ‘em time to catch up) even though CART had approved it as legal by the rule book. If there was anything that was more responsible for driving Porsche out of IndyCar racing, it was sadly that decision in my opinion. Derrick.”
Q: Liberty should immediately nullify the old, ridiculous rules made up before they bought the organization. The grid penalties for engine upgrades is insane. This is one of the factors that turns people away from watching. Every weekend it is the same ending. Boring! It should be a simple announcement – this is our business and this is what will happen forthwith – no grid penalties for engine updates, and work out how Mercedes and Ferrari won’t take advantage of the balance of parity this change is intended to protect. Several ways to do this. Allow a few changes – say two, for Mercedes and Ferrari per season – and none after the mid-point in the season. Renault would not be restricted till parity is reached. They are not even close to Mercedes and Ferrari. Reliability correction updates would be allowed if batch records demonstrate faulty components. It is ridiculous to forbid replacing faulty parts.
Tom G., Indianapolis
RM: It is rather absurd to not let teams with budgets of $300-500 million change an engine without being penalized. Of course, then people would say Mercedes and Ferrari would have an advantage. Hmmm, more than they have now? Kevin Harvick lost a race at Kansas for speeding in the pits, speaking of stupid rules. I worked on pit crews in the ‘70s when there was no speed limit, and nobody got run over or killed or maimed. It’s a race. Speeding in the pits. What a crock.
Q: Having watched Sunday’s F1 race and also previous F1 races from COTA, I feel that when IndyCar race there in 2019 they need to move the pole position to the left-hand side from the drivers’ view. Second-fastest in qualifying gives that driver a clear advantage over the driver who goes fastest and gets pole.
RM: Possibly, but I doubt if the IndyCar pole-sitter cuts right across his front-row mate like Lewis Hamilton did – even with a flying start.
Q: Since we’ll never get back to the days of the late 60’s with ovals, road courses and dirt races in one championship again, how about this as a feeder to series to Indy and NASCAR? Midgets (dirt) and an open-wheel car along the lines of FF2000. All of the cars using a sealed four-cylinder from Mazda/ Honda/Chevy/ whatever. An equivalency formula for the midgets to race on the paved ovals if a team should choose to do so, or hell, the road courses, too, if they’re bold. Guys that run well in all three disciplines are sure to get some attention from the higher levels. Could be a support series for USAC/WoO and IndyCar weekends. National coverage on NBC Sports. Million dollar bonus to the champion to secure a ride in a higher-tier series. Cool way to reunite (or recreate, really) the old Championship Trail fan base. Am I nuts?
Ryan, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ
RM: No Ryan, you’re not nuts – just a little delusional. None of today’s IndyCar owners outside Ed Carpenter know what a midget is, and the Road to Indy feeder system is fine in terms of steps and horsepower. Owners would only notice if said driver had money, and a new series isn’t going to guarantee anything. Your proposal would cost a fortune, and who would pay for it? USAC? No chance. IndyCar? Negative. Chevy or Honda? No, they’re already made a huge investment. Sadly, the old Championship Trail fan base is either dead or too old to care. Just got buy some Dick Wallen videos, and enjoy whose good old days.
Q: While attending the U.S. Nationals, I struck up a conversation with a local about the IRP oval. I told him the best racing I’ve ever seen was on the oval. He told me they don’t run much out there anymore. I was so disappointed, as I loved Thursday Night Thunder and attending The Night Before the 500 back in the day. Has USAC abandoned IRP? BTW, your comparison of Scott Dixon with Rick Mears and Big Al was spot-on, as well as high praise.
RM: There were two USAC Silver Crown races at Lucas Oil in 2018, but pavement racing in USAC midgets and sprints is pretty much dead. The first time I took my midget to the Night Before The 500 at IRP in 1976, there were 62 entries and it was a big deal. But dirt racing is king of most short tracks nowadays. Davey Hamilton’s King of Wings pavement series has some good racing, as does the Bumper to Bumper winged series in Michigan that Brian Gerster won this year.