Robin Miller's Mailbag for September 16, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Illustration by Paul Laguette

Robin Miller's Mailbag for September 16, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for September 16, presented by Honda Racing / HPD


Q: I’ve come up with an idea to make IndyCar starts safer. Most problems occur because the drivers have too narrow a window to anticipate the green flag, knowing only that it will come between Turn 4 and the start-finish line. Why not have a two-lap window where the green can be dropped at the starter’s discretion while the cars are anywhere on the track? If someone attempts to jump the gun, after 10 laps or so to get the race sorted they have to do drive-through penalty. This would prevent too much premature acceleration (which is an issue most drivers are reluctant to talk about) and give a much larger safety window to prevent a St. Louis style start.

W. Thompson

RM: First of all, how many first-lap crashes on ovals has IndyCar had in the past few years? Not many I can recall, and part of the excitement is the flying start, so I think it’s fine the way it is. Let’s not complicate it.

Q: This is a minor complaint, but IndyCar needs to get its website together. If you try to look at the championship order, it’s a disjointed mess. I know this is nitpicky, but this work does not belong on the CV of the premier North American racing series.

Max Camposano, Bethlehem, PA

RM: Give new PR boss Dave Furst a few months in the off-season to get a lot of things straightened out – including the website.

Q: In regard to my letter published in your September 9 Mailbag about fuel. First, I went searching through my library and found a book entitled “Technology of the Champ Car” by Nigel McKnight. On page 94 is found the following: “CART regulations promulgated at the start of the 1997 season stipulate that cars must achieve a minimum of 1.85 miles per U.S. gallon. A formula which takes into account such factors as the inside and outside circumferences of the circuit, and the number of laps of warm-up and race laps, determines a precise quantity of fuel which CART allocates to each team at the start of the race.”

Next, I went online and searched “IndyCar rulebook” and was able to download the 2020 rulebook. (Anyone can easily do that.) Section 14.20.5 on page 79 is about fuel allotments. There are different (MPG based) allotments listed for different tracks, but the bottom line is that each team is allowed only a certain amount of fuel for that race’s distance. Extending the race distance for overtime laps would require additional fuel to be delivered to each (still running) car’s pit. This is not at all feasible. This should end the discussion regarding adding laps for a G-W-C finish.

Rick in Lisle, IL

RM: I think I wrote that finishing under green after a red flag would likely require an extra pit stop to make sure everyone had enough fuel to try G-W-C one time, but what about the teams that chose the correct mileage and could run full rich compared to those conserving fuel to make it to the end? That’s part of racing, and while I detest fuel mileage races, it’s also part of today’s strategy more than ever.

Lots of fuel management going on at Laguna Seca in 1997. Motorsport Images

Q: I’m 100% certain there was a fuel allotment restriction written in the CART rulebook in the 1990s – likely at the USAC-sanctioned 500 during that time as well. It might have varied, but I distinctly recall a formula of 1.8 miles per gallon that was used to determine fuel allotment before the race. I think I recall CART, in the event of the rare “before two laps are complete” red-flag and full restart like the 1996 US 500 and 1997 Australia that CART would add fuel back to the cars or tanks during the red flag to get everyone back to the allotment figured for the originally scheduled race distance. That being said, I don’t ever recall anyone running completely out of fuel (meaning the pit tank and car tank were dry), only running out of fuel in the car.

Dave Hinz, Wattsburg, PA

RM: Champ Car tried mandatory fuel windows once to try and remove that strategy of saving fuel, but I can’t recall why it didn’t work. But IndyCars have always had a set amount of fuel allotted depending on the length of the race and size of the track. And I can’t recall anyone ever running completely dry.

Q: Robin thanks for your coverage of IndyCar. I am a lifelong fan and grew up a huge J.R. fan. I want to put in a positive plug for Anderson Speedway. I attended my 20th Little 500 this past weekend, and really enjoyed it. I’ve missed sprints and midgets, and seemingly the shows are getting fewer and fewer. Is it a lack of tracks that want to run open-wheel cars, or funding that prohibits races? There is nothing better than open-wheel cars running wheel to wheel.

Rod Mattix

RM: I’m not sure there is any less racing this summer – we had Bloomington, Paragon, Putnamville, Gas City, Kokomo, Lawrenceburg and Haubstadt with weekly shows, and USAC has already run 23 sprint shows and 20 midget races so it looks pretty stout to me. But it’s always a tough nut for the promoter except in Indiana Sprint Week, when every track is packed.

Q: I’ve just watched the rather nasty F1 crash during the Tuscan GP. The carbon and shards flying all over the front of cars can be seen from the onboards. Glad our guys are protected with the butt-ugly safety screens. Is there any talk of the folks over at ‘The pinnacle of motorsport’ adopting the same?

Brian Bristo, London, ON

RM: I have no idea, but F1 seems quite happy with its halo.

Q: In the mid-’90s, when the speeds were hitting close to 240mph, IndyCar used the Hanford Device at Michigan to reduce the speed. It was a simple attachment to the rear wing that created enough drag to lower the speed, invented by one of the mechanics and named after him. The side effect was a big tow for the trailing cars. Made for a bunch of passing because of the 15mph difference between the lead and following cars. The result was 63 lead changes and two or three passes per lap. Greatest race we ever saw at Michigan. Why has this type of device been ignored since then? Everybody hates the no-passing cars in all of the top pro series and this simple and cheap device is an easy fix .

Jack DeVience, Valparaiso, IN

RM: Over to Marshall Pruett: “Want to bring outrageous speeds down and create cartoonish passing on big ovals? Just bolt a rectangular carbon fiber plate to the back of the rear wing, punch a monstrous hole in the air that acts like a second, third, and fourth turbo for the trailing car, and boom, we have the Hanford Device era of the CART IndyCar Series. In its first races, the wild slingshots produced by Mark Hanford’s concept made for crazy viewing at home or in person, but it didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off. Once everybody was capable of making big passes – from the worst driver in the field to the defending champion – the value was lost.”