Miller’s Mailbag, 7.10

Photo: Marshall Pruett

Hello open-wheel types and thanks for all your questions. I intend to answer your questions every week during the season, so just email me at openwheelmailbag@gmail.com. Don’t feel left out if I didn’t directly respond. I appreciate your interest and passion.

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Q: It was a great show all the way around Sunday at Pocono, nice weather, a very good crowd, and a very interesting race. I feel really bad for Marco, he had everyone covered. The ill-timed pass by TK on Dixie that broke his wing and RHR/Sato misfortune on pit lane were equally as disappointing for those drivers with fast cars I’m sure. There wasn’t a lead change every two laps, but the racing was good all day; my gal Simona showed fine form and I feel would of had a top six finish with a bit of better racing fortune that would have kept her in the lead pack. The Ganassi 1-2-3 was pretty impressive, and I don’t think you can say it was just a fuel mileage advantage, their pit stops were sharp and Dixon had the second fastest lap of the race. All and all a classic super speedway race and it makes me wonder how the series could stay away from a great place like Pocono for so long? Hoping they make this race a Fourth of July event regularly on the schedule!

Alan in Louisville

RM: When Marco pitted three laps earlier than any of the Hondas we wondered if that was a bad omen and it turned out fuel mileage did dictate the outcome. Dixie, Kimball and Dario were trimmed out compared to most of the Chevy drivers but it still took mileage and no cautions to insure the sweep. Pocono got too rough for Indy cars but the Igdalsky brothers repaved it and wanted to bring back and the Triple Crown. Their contract runs two more years on the July 4th weekend.

Q: What the heck has happened to all the passing for the lead? After 55 Laps this race is turning into a snooze fest. I expected a ton of passing on a big track and I doubt it’s a fluke. Texas was terrible and now Pocono? Sounds like tinkering with rules has cost the FANS great racing. Oddly enough right after Derrick took over. It’s just plain stupid to fix something that’s not broken. Suddenly we are back to a few years ago. Nice job IndyCar for screwing the pooch once again.
Gary McDonald

RM: Well there were 17 lead changes at Pocono (and most of them came on the track) so I don’t think it was a snoozer. The Top 10 cars were within two seconds of each other the last 25 laps and the biggest problem was that more cars are needed to create more traffic. Thirty-three instead of 24 (22 after one lap) would make things more entertaining. But trying to balance the aero with the tires is challenging and it was tougher to overtake last Sunday than in May, no doubt. But to say we’re back to a few years ago is wrong. The drivers have to drive the cars again and Indy was about as good as it gets. Iowa had plenty of racing as well. Trust me, Walker is going to make a difference in the right way.

Q: I’ve been a fan of open wheel racing since 1988. Pocono was my very first race I ever attended and it was great. The cars look fantastic live & the engines sound great. I will be back next year and I hope the race is 500 miles.

Amon from Philly

RM: Pocono president Brandon Igdalsky says in my story on SPEED.com that he’s open to 500 miles and prefers it but it was only 400 because ABC didn’t think it could get 500 miles in three hours. Turns out the race only lasted a little over two.

Q: I was at the Pocono race and it was a bit of a letdown given all the pre-race predictions on lead changes on the order of Indy. Not a bad race – some interesting passes when the leaders caught traffic, but not the great race that was expected that would have been a good show to hook the large number of NASCAR fans there attending their first IndyCar race. The first stint was basically a parade. Did the series blow it with the wing and tire specs, or is there something inherent with the current car that they did not anticipate? An observation – the engineer on the #25 car seems to be on the same page with Marco on race setup on the big ovals, but their race strategy leaves a lot to be desired. They didn’t seem to even recognize that they had a serious fuel mileage problem on the radio until it was too late. Were they betting on (praying for) a caution? Is there a chemistry problem on that side of the team? Also, after Sato’s kamikaze move on Hunter-Reay on the pit lane, isn’t it long past time that AJ calmly sat him down and kicked his ass?

Frank, New Jersey

RM: Tony Kanaan predicted there would be very little passing BEFORE the race because of the aero package. But, in all fairness, Firestone had to reload after the test and bring a harder compound and there was no way to test it until last weekend. It still had more passing than any NASCAR race at Pocono. It was surprising that Marco’s crew didn’t react sooner and have him back off and quit leading. A.J. can’t kick anybody’s butt right now because he’s recovering from hip surgery but Sato has calmed down a lot under Larry Foyt and Don Halliday.

Q: I had a great time at Pocono and I brought a few friends and they were totally flabbergasted by the accessibility of the garage, pits, and the grid on race day. Whether we were “supposed” to be on the grid with just a paddock pass or not, I certainly hope that’s the case next year. You CANNOT do anything like that with NASCAR, or gasp, Formula 1. As someone who cannot sit through even a 400-mile NASCAR race at Pocono, this race blew by (thankfully given the brutal sun). Ironically Jeff Gordon was on the grid 20 feet in front of us! I could handle 500 miles, but given the holiday traffic we get leaving, they simply cannot start the race any later than 1 p.m. I heard estimates of 30K on Sunday, but I swore there were more people. Really proud of the Mid-Atlantic fans who after such a long drought have returned in force to Baltimore and now Pocono. Maybe gives hope for Phoenix?

Greg (Belleville, NJ)

RM: Glad to hear that report, IndyCar has always been the most accessible (along with NHRA) and the promoters would like 500 miles next year. I estimated 30,000 in my SPEED story and I think it was pretty accurate. There were always a lot of fans at Trenton, Nazareth and Pocono not to mention all the great sprint-car devotees in Pennsylvania through the years and I think I talked to most of them over the weekend. I’m glad IndyCar is back at the cool track that was built for the Triple Crown. Phoenix? I’d say 50/50 at best.

Q: Long time reader first time writing in. I have been an avid fan since the 1983 CART days and loved having the Indy cars back at Pocono. I have attended other races but none of them get my juices flowing like the tricky triangle. I was rather shocked at how low the attendance appeared to be when I watched the race when I got home. We were sitting in the lower level stands across from Dario’s pit and it appeared to be packed around us, has Pocono released an attendance figure? My son and I enjoyed talking to you in the pits, which leads to why I’m writing. My son is 16 years old (youth that this series needs) and we bought the pit/paddock pass under the assumption we would have full access to the pits and we did for an hour. Shortly after we talked to you we were asked to leave the pit area because he was under the age of 18. This policy is a huge mistake especially for a series trying to get new fans. If a 16-year-old is permitted to hold a drivers license and drive to the racetrack they should be considered responsible enough to enter the pit area. We go to NHRA events at Maple Grove and 5-year-olds are allowed in the pit area. I can see having an age restriction of maybe 12 but not 18. Could you please forward this email to the people who make these decisions and hopefully they will rethink the age cutoff. Other than not being allowed back into the pits we both had a great time and are looking forward to next year’s race.

Howard, Bellefonte, PA

RM: I think the promoters were hoping for 25,000 and got 30,000 and for being away 24 years that’s encouraging. As for your son, I don’t know if it’s a Pocono policy or IndyCar’s but I’ll try and find out and write you back.

Q: Why was there so little passing at Pocono? I was expecting similar passes for the lead like Indianapolis but obviously this did not happen. Still a great race but ABC failed to address this, what a surprise!

Chuck Ney

RM: It was a combo of the aero package and new tire so that made it tougher to overtake. Having said that, 17 passes for the lead (most on the track) isn’t bad and we just need 33 cars to ramp up the traffic.

Q: It was an awesome race in Pocono yesterday, though a bit frustrating because I think Kimball was told not to pass Dixon, but oh well I still got a RACE. Looked like somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 in attendance, which is good for an area starved of Indy Car for 24 years (nine if you go off Nazareth). Any chance Pocono will be extended to 500 miles for next year so that we would have 200 laps, eliminating the fuel mileage game because everybody would HAVE to make six stops with the last being around 20 to go? I’d also guess that there were higher ratings because I saw ads for the IndyCar race on a day-to-day basis for the last two weeks. Here’s hoping Hinch sweeps in Hinchtown!

Alex in Florida

RM: Trust me, there were no team orders and I think Charlie got balked by a lapped car after closing in on Dixon. I guessed 30,000 and I do think it will be a 500-miler in 2014. The Igdalsky brothers and their people did a GREAT job of promoting the race, which got a 1.1 overnight. Indy cars went 40 mph faster than a stock car, that’s why Jeff Gordon brought his son – he wanted to see a car go into Turn 1 at 225 mph and NOT LIFT.

Q: The Good-Bad-Ugly of Pocono. Great View! We were about 100 yards from the finish line towards Turn 1 in the top row. We could easily see the entire track, only missing the entrance to Turn 1 when the crowd stood. It appeared was packed in the terrace, in fact we had a few “episodes” requiring the authorities because Pocono apparently hasn’t heard the news that the race fan’s posterior has grown significantly since 1971. When TK took the lead and when Marco re-took the lead around mid race the crowd went wild. A great place to watch a race from for a reasonable price, and those extra restrooms at the top make it much easier to enjoy a few adult beverages and not miss the action. The Bad- There wasn’t much action to miss. I regret even thinking that the 68 lead changes at Indy seemed a little too “restrictor-platey” for my taste. I knew we were in for a dull day when I caught RHR on the scanner after about 20 laps stating “nobody can pass anyone.” If there ever was a race that needed a mysterious debris caution, this was it. Folks complained that the Texas Aero set up produced dull racing this year, but I enjoyed the Texas event more than this, and I recall the 2012 Texas race as being great. Is reduced downforce and the PTP button the answer? Was the last-minute change to the hard right tire the problem? Or was it just a case of the dreaded “dirty-air”? Marco’s early domination reminded me of the old-school days, but that kind of racing is a bit of a bore without the constant threat of mechanical failure and untimely spins. I hate to say it but unless they try to put a better product on the track next year I probably won’t go again.

Hayes Lewis

RM: Only two cautions for 12 laps meant no restarts, which is where much of the Indy 500 action took place, so I thought 17 lead changes was decent. Yes, it was much tougher to pass at Pocono but I think Will Phillips & Co. will find a happy medium. The blistering tires threw a little curveball so it’s not an exact science without something like that. Just be patient, it’s still the best racing you’ll see that isn’t on dirt.

Q: I thoroughly enjoyed the Pocono race. I thought the cars looked very slick and fast on that track. Two questions regarding the race. I didn’t hear as much talk about tire degradation during the broadcast, did Firestone bring a stronger compound to the track? Also, why does Turn 2 at Pocono have rumble strips? That seems unnecessary, even for stock cars, but especially Indy cars. I hope Pocono stays on the schedule, very good addition.

Tony, Atlanta, GA

RM: The tires didn’t blister last weekend and, yes, they were harder than the ones tested a couple weeks ago. The drivers were concerned about getting airborne on those rumble strips so I imagine they’ll ask for some relief in 2014. Pocono has a 3-year deal.

Q: Race strategy played a huge factor at Pocono. I know the teams calculate fuel consumption throughout the race, but which drivers’ styles today lends itself to better mileage? Who were the all time best at running longer on a tank of fuel?

Gerry Courtney

RM: Scott Dixon and Dario are the kings of making mileage but Will Power is getting better and better at it. The all-time best? Good question but I doubt if it was Rube, Gordy, Mario or Uncle Bobby since they wanted to lead every lap. I’ll ask Steve Stapp at lunch next week.

Q: I was at Sunday’s race and had a great time. Love seeing the cars in person for once, and rooting for Marco and Sato (boy did I come up snake-eyes). Couldn’t believe Marco got bitten by strategy and mileage like Texas. The less I say about Sato’s race the better. Still bought one of his team shirts though.

Kirk Riley

RM: It would have been great for Pocono if Marco wins because they sell a lot more tickets for 2014 but, obviously, they have some issues with mileage. Of course leading takes more fuel so a lot of guys went out of their way NOT to lead until 50 laps to go.

Q: Which do you think race fans want to see: watching racers race hard for 400 to 500 miles of non-stop green flag racing which may not produce a close finish? Or pack racing with 75% of the race being a boring parade, but a close, “exciting” wreck-filled finish with numerous yellow flags in the closing laps? If I’m going to spend three hours of my time watching a race, I’d like to see the racers race hard for the duration of the time and not drive half-heartedly with the virtual guarantee that there will be a caution flag “for debris” at some point to bunch them up.

Marc, Orange County, CA

RM: Good question. I think IndyCar fans appreciate hard racing like Brazil and Iowa but they also like the slingshot passing at Indianapolis. I think NASCAR fans like big packs and big crashes.

Q: On Sunday’s broadcast, Goodyear and Cheever went on at length about dialing down the fuel mixture. I thought that they removed that control from these cars. Please tell us what you know about any controls for fuel mixture.

Ron B., Rolling Meadows, Illinois

RM: Oh no, drivers are always being told what mixture to turn to during the race.

Q: People continue say that Milwaukee should be the week after Indianapolis, as it once was. The state of Indy car isn’t what it used to be and the market likely doesn’t support that timing. While convenient for the teams, it is a terrible idea to put two races back-to-back in the same territory. Indy will draw fans away from Milwaukee, as most fans can’t attend two races in the course of a month, let alone, a week. Most fans 1) Can’t afford it. 2) Don’t have the time for it. 3) Don’t have the interest. ICS needs people in the seats, make it as conducive as possible. Indy, Detroit and Milwaukee all in the course of a month is terrible. Spread it out. I managed Indy and Milwaukee this year, but typically Indy and Milwaukee is a tough swing because of the small time frame. The same concern can be raised about Belle Isle. Spread the schedule so it isn’t so clustered geographically in May and June.

Chris, Louisville, KY

RM: I’m not saying your logic is wrong but Milwaukee thrived always being the week after Indy and the current promoters would LOVE to go back to that date. I agree there needs to be more spacing (every other week is perfect) and hopefully that helps string out the season.

Q: Please tell me the rumor is not true, No Milwaukee next year, but Elkhart Lake instead. Why not both? Elkhart Lake had no issues accommodating both races, he had said he would take a fall date, to not interfere with Milwaukee. That’s the type of race track owners/promoters and IndyCar needs.

Edgar Arnold

RM: I asked Michael Andretti if he’d made a decision for 2014 and he said they were working on a title sponsor so I imagine the future hinges on that. I know Derrick Walker and George Bruggenthies of Road America have been talking so that’s a good sign because IndyCar needs to be at there. With sports cars in a doubleheader.

Q: OK Jay Penske and Dragon Racing, it is obvious you got bad karma from hosing Katherine Legge with the True Car/Sebastian Saavedra switcheroo. Put Katherine back in the car, at least that will attract the attention on my 9-year-old daughter, who worships Katherine as many have worshiped Danica. The series need viewers, no matter how young.

Michael Gruber

RM: It would appear some bad karma has infested Dragon Racing since showing Katherine the door and Saavedra has really been cursed of late.

Q: When the debate centers on who’s the greatest driver of all time, it usually defers to the open-wheel guys: Clark, Senna, Foyt, Andretti, Stewart. But seeing what Sebastien Loeb has accomplished in WRC — 9 championships — and how he obliterated the Pikes Peak record, I think his name is worth throwing into the mix. I’ve driven Pikes Peak and found myself white-knuckling driving 30 MPH. What Loeb did on that mountain was absolutely incredible.

Steve, Aurora, Colo.

RM: No question Loeb has great car control but you never know if that translates into being a good racer with other cars around you. And the fact Pikes Peak is paved really takes away the thrill, although I’m sure his run was plenty impressive.

Q: It seems that everyone has an opinion about how to fix IndyCar these days, ranging from technology, tracks, drivers, etc. But it seems like the growth of NASCAR since the infamous open wheel split has really hurt IndyCar in more ways than one. During the dark IRL days, NASCAR and it’s mega-TV contracts went from competitor to becoming “America’s race series”, (As evident by the simple fact that you have dig around most sports news websites anymore to find the ‘IndyCar’ section) So much so that I think IndyCar lost not only a huge market share of race fans to NASCAR but a generation of talented young American drivers who could have thrived in IndyCar, yet chose NASCAR for the steady work and bigger paycheck. I’m not one of those NASCAR-hating open wheel fans as I appreciate all forms of motor racing and look back on the NASCAR of the 80′s quite fondly. However, one has to wonder if it would take a major collapse by NASCAR for another major racing series to thrive in America again.

Jeff Anderson

RM: The timing of the Split couldn’t have been worse. CART was toe-to-toe with NASCAR for sponsors, attendance, TV numbers and media penetration in the mid-90s. Now IndyCar doesn’t exist in most major newspapers or ESPN (unless there’s a big accident) or USA Today (try finding anything but NASCAR on Fridays and Mondays). Gordon, Stewart, Kahne and Larson all belong in an Indy car but there’s no future and no comparison to what they earn in NASCAR.

Q: I’m heading to Toronto for the Honda Indy (best seat in the house in Turn 3) and I haven’t heard much of anything about the standing starts for the Saturday race. I hope it doesn’t happen because I find it takes away from what IndyCar is about. If I wanted to watch a standing start I’ll go watch F1. What’s the latest?

Nathan Gagne

RM: Standing start on Saturday and a flying start on Sunday. But when Champ Car used standing starts in 2007 they were awesome at Toronto, Cleveland and Portland (no accidents in Turn 1) and some great moves on top of that. At places like Toronto and Long Beach where the first four rows are in fifth gear while the rest of the field is creeping around the last corner, standing starts are PERFECT.

Q: I always felt Montoya was one of open wheels very best drivers. Is he truly happy running around in a “Top 20″ taxicab for the Chipster? I’d love to see what JPM could do in a DW12, any chance we’d ever see him back in IndyCar if Dixon or Franchitti decided to call it a day?

David Black

RM: I guess he’s happy but it’s depressing to see a guy who was such a badass in CART and F1 who LIVED to lead and win just be another Top 20 guy in tin tops. Can’t see him coming back to open wheel.

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