The RACER Mailbag, June 8

The RACER Mailbag, June 8

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, June 8

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Q: In a Mailbag a couple of months ago, you commented on the existence of a couple of relatively poorly-attended IndyCar races of late, with the series growing or holding steady in most venues. One of these was probably Portland.

I attended all of the IndyCar races at PIR from 2000 to 2007, and I made the last GPP in 2007 before the merger of CCWS and the IRL. (This race featured the first-ever standing start for IndyCars anywhere, and no usual pile-up in the first corner made for a great start for the race. Seabass won, driving a Panoz DP-01 for Newman Haas.) So I’ve seen the fans dwindle over the years. It may have been tied to the split, given the timing. I’ve also made all of the GPPs since the reboot in 2018. I have tickets for this year as well.

One thing that I noticed last year is that the race as an event has not seemed very engaged with the community of Portland. Watching the GMR GP at Indy this year and last, I noticed that the Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana was featured, this year on Romain Grosjean’s fire suit, and, I presume, on other promotions during the event. The Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana is the Feeding America (the nation’s largest hunger relief organization) affiliated agency that provides food banking services to a 21-county service area that includes Indianapolis.

If the Portland race promoters wanted to reach out to a well-known and well-loved charity that is involved in hunger relief, they could reach out to the Oregon Food Bank (OFB) in Portland. (Full disclosure: I worked for OFB for 15 years, retiring in 2012.) OFB’s service area is the entire state of Oregon, and Clark County, Washington, just across the river from PIR, and where Vancouver, Washington is located. Oregonians tend to support events that show some kind of interest in local charities and culture. Any due diligence on OFB will show that this is a very influential and beloved charity in Portland, SW Washington State, and the rest of the state Oregon.

In my view, having worked in the Portland area charitable agency world, such a partnership could really help the promoters get the GPP more firmly re-established for an ongoing IndyCar presence in the Pacific Northwest. It could even lead to a local title or presenting sponsor, that would appreciate the local, through the promoter, and national IndyCar interest in our community. I hope someone will try!

Tom and Bev Finlay

MP: All great info and thoughts, Finlay family. Only point I’d raise is IMS is a central beacon in the Midwest and a very powerful organization that works with a number of charities. I wouldn’t attach the same amount of power or reach or embedded community ties to an external event promoter — Green Savoree Race Promotions — at a city-owned venue inside of a park. That’s not me making excuses for GSRP, but they aren’t IMS by a longshot, so I understand why they might not be a hub for all things PNW.

That said, I’d hope to hear they’re planning on doing lots with local charities, and maybe they already are and I/we just don’t know about them. On the attendance side, I’d heard from some fans that after the positive return in 2018, ticket prices were jacked up and that led to a downturn in sales.

A charitable angle to Portland would be cool, but sensible ticket prices would also be a good step. Barry Cantrell/Motorsport Images

Q: This came to me while watching the Detroit GP at Belle Isle. Primaries were obviously proven to be the preferred compound. So you had teams playing with strategy — getting the alternates out of the way earlier vs. running primaries twice to let the track rubber in and running alternates late. My question is, if rain suddenly began to the extent teams had to go to wets, would teams be penalized if they never get to the reds for safety reasons? Seems unfair (and unsafe) to force someone on a wet track on slicks. Thoughts?

Jason M., Indianapolis, IN

MP: They would not. Rain erases the need to spend time on whichever dry compound was not used.

Q: Great piece on the DW2. That thing looked as wild as they come. When was the last time we really saw a team build a one-off car built just for the Indy 500? It feels like the past 25 years or so have been all Dallara and Panoz chassis.

Michael in Brownsburg

MP: Thanks, Michael. I love writing about old weird or cool Indy cars. Penske brought its own cars to the Speedway through 1995, but I’d lean towards the real boutique constructors like Galmer in 1992, TrueSports in 1991 and 1992, and then Riley & Scott from 1997-2000 as the last true super low-volume independent builders.

Former Ford Racing boss Michael Kranefuss almost added to the funky Indy 500 chassis history books with his stillborn Falcon IRL chassis designed by Ken Anderson for the 2003 season. My former driver Greg Ray, who was running his own team at the time — Access Motorsports or something like that — tried to put a deal together to run it, but it never turned a wheel in competition. That’s the last of the non-Dallara/GForce/Panoz cars I can think of that were built for the 500.

Years later, a full-scale concept of the DeltaWing was created and shown at the base of the pagoda, but it wasn’t a functional car like the Falcon.

Q: Why have the starts on road and street courses been so sloppy this year? Other than the first few rows, no one has been packed up. It looked especially bad last weekend and I was disappointed that race control didn’t force them to try it again like they did at Barber. Ultimately, this isn’t the biggest issue IndyCar has, it’s just been bugging me a bit this season.

Josh E., Waterloo, IL

MP: We’re on the same page here, Josh. I’m reminded of A.J.’s old line about “It ain’t cheatin’ until you get caught.” IndyCar keeps seeing its starts look like s***, but they apparently refuse to do anything about it. If the series doesn’t care that it’s gaining a reputation for disorderly race administration, and they aren’t willing to solve the problem, it ain’t cheatin’, I guess.