Miller’s Mailbag, 7.19

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: Spent the weekend up in Toronto and it was everything an Indy weekend should be. Gorgeous women, cold beers and most importantly great racing. It had the same vibe as when i started going to races in the 90′s minus the Tecate Girls. This should be a blueprint for every event stages. All the talk the past few weeks of kids and fans buried in their cell phones was completely void this weekend. I didn’t see it once when the on track product was on. Two questions: In the first race, Bourdais stayed out a couple extra laps while leading before pitting and came out with no advantage, that used to guarantee bigger gaps running on lighter fuel while others were full. What has changed? Do the tires make that big a difference? And my final question or statement is I’ve been attending events for 20 years does Michael Andretti ever smile?

Luke, Canada

RM: It was a great atmosphere all weekend, just like the old days, and Rogers, Honda of Canada and Hinch get kudos for great promotion. Nothing’s changed, Seb played it perfect but those red tires just went off sooooo quick (plus he had no push-to-pass). Michael never looked happy when he was kicking ass in CART but I think he’s happier than we all think.

Q: The Toronto races were pretty good; continued improvement. The only hiccup was the penalty to Dario at the end of race #1 that was made and then rescinded. My knee jerk reaction was that TGBB had celebrated his return as Chief Steward to bring back the ignorant heavy hand that marked his career in that role. Before I do that, however, can you tell us exactly what happened – who did what?? More importantly, was Beaux Barfield’s absence really temporary and for personal reasons? When will he be back? Just as IndyCar seems to be getting it’s organizational house in order, they don’t need to lose or discard this official who is most critical to the quality of their show.

Web Beadle, N. Calif.

RM: I’m told it was pretty unanimous to call the penalty among the four stewards until they saw the different replay angles and then it was an obvious reversal (made by Derrick Walker). Barfield had passport issues and he’ll be back at Mid-Ohio.

Q: I attended all three days of the Toronto Indy and must say it was a great event. There were almost too many things to see and do with the double header going on. I have two concerns/questions as a result of the race. 1) Why all the whining about a standing start? I overheard many drivers/owners complaining to Derrick Walker at length about this on Saturday in the paddock. It was cleaner and more fair than most of the “loosely” formed up rolling starts. I think there is nothing wrong with a rolling start if they actually start them side-by-side. What happened to throwing a yellow flag for doing a bad line up? This used to happen all the time with CART. My opinion is force them to line up correctly for rolling starts or implement a standing start for all events.

Derek, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

RM: Because drivers love to bitch? Everybody moaned in 2007 when Tony Cotman went to standing starts in Champ Car and they worked perfectly. Just like last Sunday. The fans want to see all the cars on the same patch of road, not three rows in fifth gear while four rows are still going 30 mph around a hairpin. SS is perfect for Long Beach, Baltimore and Toronto. The starter should have thrown the yellow on that Saturday restart.

Q: I guessed Bourdais didn’t forget how to drive an Indy car based on how he drove in the Toronto races. Never really been a Bourdais fan, but always respected his driving abilities. I knew that there’s gotta be something wrong with his car or team in the first half of the season. Good thing for other drivers that he’s not driving for one of the Big 3. Too bad he was on red tires at the end of race one in TO otherwise I think he might have won. Do you think that one of the Big 3 will take Seabass next year?

Wa Vang

RM: Those were the results we expected all season but it took changing engineers to turn things around and I’m happy for Tom Brown and Jay Penske. Seabass is damn good but not sure there’s anyplace for him to go in the Big 3.

Q: What a season! Best season I can remember in the 29 years of my
existence! Toronto had me on the edge of my seat all weekend! The standing start was freaking awesome! I hope the drivers liked it because we want more! Took my girlfriend to Indy this year for the first time, and she is officially a die-hard now. We are going to see Turbo tomorrow and Mid-Ohio in two weeks. She is pumped! It seems as though IndyCar is actually on the turnaround.

Bryan Shutts

RM: Not sure the drivers liked it but I don’t care because the fans LOVED it! The racing in IndyCar the past two years is as good as it gets but we need more eyeballs watching.

Q: I can’t believe the difference between the two Toronto races. The first one was action packed with passes constantly through the whole race, and the second one Dixon pretty much ran away with it, while the rest of the field stayed relatively in line. Either way it was a good weekend of racing. I wonder if the teams feel the same way, they must be exhausted from the action and the heat. And by the way – it’s funny how Barnhart is back in charge for one race and still manages to screw it up! I’m glad they reversed that idiotic penalty.

Mark Suska, Lexington, OH

RM: Sunday’s race was a typical Toronto affair back in the ‘90s when one guy kicked butt but Saturday was excellent – start to finish. The teams are burned out so the schedule needs some spacing for 2014 and more money needs to be paid for doubleheaders.

Q: We live near Niagara Falls, Canada and I’ve been an IndyCar fan most of my life. My heroes as a kid were Emmo, Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan, Rahal, Unsers and on and on. I have raised my two boys and brainwashed my wife to follow suit and we watch every race and attend at least three every year. Although, I have to admit that I am usually the most excited to be so close to the drivers, the teams and the cars. In Toronto (in addition to the thrill of meeting you) my oldest son who is 10 met his hero Scott Dixon and was absolutely over the moon. Scott signed his hat and we got some great pictures. My youngest son is 7 and his love of Indy car came from meeting Dan Wheldon at Watkins Glen. At our house, Wheldon lives forever! It always amazes me how accessible Indy Car is to the fans. The interactions and the closeness that fans have to the drivers and the teams. It’s absolutely the best. I admire the drivers and their teams who are so patient with the crowds in the paddock while they are trying to do their job moving cars and tools. Even though they might be under huge pressure to qualify or in rush to a meeting, so often they will take the time to stop and say hi, sign a hero card or pose for a quick picture. As we left the track on Sunday, I mentioned to my family how nice it was of the drivers that we met to have taken a few minutes for us. It’s interesting how that kind of stuff comes back too, like Dixon winning both races? Maybe we brought him luck? Maybe it’s karma for being so nice? Who knows? I often remind my kids to be more like some of the great people that we meet at these Indy car races and how you can always take an extra minute to be nice to someone and that it always comes back to you in some way IndyCar has the right idea to grow the sport, in the way that they deal with the fans both young and old.

Marty, Janice, Parker and Merek Triano

RM: Your experience is why kids get hooked on racing (Jim Hurtubise and Parnelli Jones were nice to me when I was 15 and that was it) and the only paddock as friendly as IndyCar is NHRA. Your karma may have helped Dixie although he didn’t need much help did he?

Q: I just wanna say that I’m tired of ‘fans’ saying that CART era was so much better and nowadays races are all boring. I watched old Cleveland, Indy, Mid-Ohio and Long Beach races and even the Toronto’s Sunday race was better. Just love the doubleheader at Toronto. Great races, great passing… And standing starts don’t bother me at all those Standing Starts. Even the Saturday’s one that goes way wrong. Same for race control (in)decisions, single file re-start at last lap, one lap using red tires, lapped cars on re-start… I like all of that! Drama is PART of the sport. IndyCar fans and haters are so annoying. I really QUIT reading forums and ‘articles’ (except you, Pruett and Cavin). People just want to complain. I don’t have time for that **** anymore. Wanna ENJOY IndyCar series before it dies hahaha. Hope this message get into the selfish fans heads.

Giu Canbera

RM: I’ve watched many a parade at Long Beach or Toronto back in the day and the street races have become some of the most exciting stuff the past two years with this Dallara. Fans, drivers and owners like to bitch, it’s the nature of auto racing. Thanks for staying positive.

Q: I still consider my family “newcomers” to IndyCar. We started watching back in 2008, with the Indy 500 being the first race we watched. We were hooked. My wife had originally wanted to watch because of the lure of Danica racing but over the next few years we grew to despise her. My wife liked Sarah Fisher but she only drove part-time and Milka Duno seemed more like an obstacle on the track. Then came Simona. My whole family…my wife, my two boys and myself became fans very quickly. We loved her attitude, and the way she carried herself on and off the track. While we had a few “favorite drivers”, she was the one we had grown to really cheer for week in and week out. Her skills on the track were good, and she seemed at times to show flashes of brilliance. After the Lotus debacle in 2012, we were so excited when she signed with KV and loved that she would be teammates with one of our other favorite drivers in Tony Kanaan. She finally had a car that was fast, and the knowledge of a very experienced teammate and we hoped to see her really take a big leap forward. The first race this year, was great for her and even the media seemed to have a sense that she was going to really have a “coming out party” this year and really shine…maybe not win a bunch of races, but be competitive every week, and challenge for a podium finish. However, after that first race at St. Pete, she seemed to completely fall off the map. The networks seem to never mention her or any problems she is having, and there have been no articles or stories online to indicate what has been going on with her. Can you offer any insight into what she seems to be lacking this year when by all accounts she should really be excelling? All the drivers seem to respect her talent, and she’s proved she can drive…why isn’t in translating onto the track this season?

Phil Parker, Sevierville, TN.

RM: It’s been puzzling because she had a great rapport with engineer Gerald Tyler in Atlantics. They made big strides the past two races and she charged from 22nd to 10th and then started 10th at Toronto. So don’t give up yet.

Q: Compare and contrast the last three oval races with the two Toronto races, or any other non-oval coarse, and the only questions is “why race ovals? Toronto was exciting and the ovals were BORING! I used the ovals to catch up on my sleep and I’m a diehard IndyCar fan! On ovals the cars look slow, the race is boring and the oval attendance is dismal. Worst of all the lack of attendance is very pronounced on TV and does nothing but reinforce the fact that IndyCar is a struggling series. If I had to build market share I would focus on my strengths not mimicking NASCAR and past glory. That battle for oval viewership is over and IndyCar lost. Plain and simple. If I was new to IndyCar racing and watched any of the last three ovals I would never tune in again. If I tuned into Toronto (or any of the non-oval race) I would watch Mid-Ohio. Being a diehard fan I might be biased but there’s no comparison. Even Steve Matchett was excited about the racing, and you could tell it was genuine by his comments and reactions. Both races were awesome and they made me proud to be an IndyCar fan. After all didn’t Tony George try an all-oval series? How did that work out? How much more proof does IndyCar need? The only oval should be Indy and all other races should be street or natural terrain courses with a standing start. Once you have market share then try an oval or two, but not now. Let NASCAR do what they do best – run around in in circles. IndyCar should focus on what it does best – street and road courses. It’s called product differentiation. Remind me again why Randy B was fired?

Vincent S. Valencia, Calif.

RM: Well I have to disagree up front. Iowa was damn good racing except for the lead and Milwaukee had it moments. The Toronto opener was excellent but Sunday was a snoozer. IndyCar needs that mix to be the most versatile series in motorsports and stay unique. Randy understood that.

Q: Just watched the second Toronto race and I’m left scratching my head about the controversy over Dario Franchitti not running the alternate “red” tires for the required two laps. After the race Jon Beekhuis said IndyCar clarified there was a “double-header only” exception to the rule that exempts drivers from running two laps in the event of a tire issue. But when you check the 2013 IndyCar Rule book under tires there is no rule exemption. What gives? Did I miss something or is there something else in the rule book that gives IndyCar officials leeway in deciding what is pretty close to rule compliance so it’s good enough? I’m tempted to point my finger at Brian Barnhart as messing this one up, but it seems too obvious.

Joe LoVecchio, New York

RM: Walker says when you crash/incur damage on Lap 1 and there’s no deliberate attempt to cheat the rule, it was deemed legal.

Q: I got a chance to see the Delta Wing in person at Lime Rock and it is really amazing to experience in person, both close up in the paddock and running on the track. It easily generated the most interest of any car there, both from serious and casual fans. I’d think that a field of Delta Wings (or something similar) would be a big draw and a great way boost an existing series or be the basis of a new one. I know there is lots of money and politics involved in these things and they are never easy to work out, but it seems like it should be a no-brainer to take advantage of a car that excites so much interest so easily. What do you think the realistic chances of its future are either alongside IndyCar or elsewhere?

Ed Osborn

RM: It’s a marvelous design and concept and perfect for Le Mans and ALMS – but not an Indy car on an oval.

Q: Pocono was my first IndyCar race since 2009 and the new cars look and sound amazing. All 24 drivers are world class drivers and it’s awesome to see. I live right down the road from Nazareth and it felt good having IndyCar back in the Lehigh Valley. I got all 24 drivers autographs because of the awesome fan village and hospitality, not to mention every driver took the time to either take a picture or just have a conversation with me. It was also awesome seeing the speed of the cars considering I have never seen an IndyCar go over 180 (only been to Nazareth, Richmond, and The Glen). It was my first time at Pocono as well and it seeing the these cars around the circuit just looked right. I cannot wait to see them next year. IndyCar right now is the best racing in world and they continue to prove it.

Chad Frankenfield

RM: The speed dazzled the PA announcer (“Forty mile per hour faster than a stock car”) and, as noted above, IndyCar is the most accommodating for the paying customer.

Q: The doubleheader up north was some event: great racing in both races. The standing start was a great idea. It’s interesting to see drivers that can push a car over 220 mph being worried about a standing start. I’m slowly getting back on the Indy bandwagon. I wanted to point out that NBC’s production team is doing a terrific job covering these races. I always complained that the cars looked slow on TV due to poor camera shots. F1 cars look and sound faster on TV not just because they’re faster cars but also due to the camera angles and those long winding European race tracks. Without counting the ovals, this year you get a sense of the amazing speeds these cars can produce and the immense talent these drivers have. Look back at the helicopter shots from Detroit and you can sense all that speed. That’s an easily overlooked detail that can win new fans. I am happy the series is moving forward. We need a couple races in Europe to raise awareness from more manufacturers. Now that Fiat owns Chrysler, they should consider Indy car racing if they’re planning to bring back Alfa Romeo to the States. I only hope the race in downtown Ft. Lauderdale goes trough.

Returning Fan, Ernesto J Ortiz, Boynton Beach, FL

RM: Mike Wells, Gary Clem and Terry Lingner are the best at following the race and keeping up with the action, that’s why NBC rocks. Standing starts should be mandatory at every street race. Randy Bernard talked to Fiat but not sure how much interest there is right now.

Q: What a wonderful weekend of IndyCar racing at Toronto. A great crowd, plenty of passing, fights for the lead, etc. But there was one significant area that went wrong: Race control. There were four calls from race control on Saturday, and they were all wrong. First, changing the limits of the track in the middle of the race by allowing cars to put four wheels off the track on turn 5, which eventually resulted in two crashes, and one driver with a broken wrist. Then the penalty for Vautier, who was simply going side by side into the corner and was squeezed out by Rahal… where did they expect him to go? He can’t just disappear. That was just a racing incident. Then it was a ridiculous restart where Bourdais was clearly ahead of the leader. Finally, the insane blocking penalty for Franchitti. Even Mario Andretti tweeted that the call was wrong. At least that one got overturned. On Sunday inconsistencies surfaced again after changing the rules for Turn 5 (no four wheels off the track), and to end the weekend, they allowed Dario to change from red to black tires without completing the mandatory 2 laps. The sport has made significant progress in the last year and a half, as demonstrated by the crowds this weekend. A huge part of that is due to a decent race control (it hasn’t been perfect, but close enough). We can’t have this guy in race control ever again if IndyCar wants to be taken seriously.

Victor, Miami

RM: TGBB should have been shown the door years ago.

Q: Overall a great weekend for IndyCar in Toronto and a greater one for Dixon, dude is so fast that Helio has to be quaking in his driver shoes. Maybe not so great for Race Control. Good for Derrick Walker for falling on the sword for rescinding the penalty to Dario and making sure the standing starts did happen (though I bet race fans that only went on Sat are bummed).

Jake Murray

RM: The Saturday crowd was LIVID there was no attempt to do another standing start and they should have been. Fortunately, Walker understood this and got together with the promoters and worked it out.

Q: I’m watching the Indy Lights race in Toronto right now and they are introducing the new owner. Watching six cars on the track… and I’ve always wondered this—- In NASCAR, there are quite a few Cup drivers who race in the Nationwide Series (which I don’t like per say — Cup drivers should not qualify and simply start in the rear of the field) – anyways… WHY don’t IndyCar drivers race Indy Lights car? – I understand the significant difference between the cars, so settings won’t translate well, but track condition, tire wear. So not a lot of technical things to gain, but how about for NOTHING else but to support a struggling series?

John Montoya

RM: IndyCar treats its feeder series accordingly and there’s also no money or benefit to run a Lights car.

Q: That was hands downs the best broadcast and booth crew of the year. You guys all did a great job but the Leigh, Townsend and Steve were simply unbelievable and spot on all weekend. Not sure how you can keep this crew together but man it was awesome! Please tell me there is a chance these guys can do the rest of the events together in the booth?

Eric Jordan, Dunmore, Pa.

RM: A lot of energy in that NBC booth and it sounds like they’re having fun because they are. But they also know how to follow the race and keep you informed. Matchett could be back one more time but Wally does a good job.

Q: Great race this weekend, I really enjoy the two-race format. Did Honda so something different with their engine? I watched the Indy Lights this weekend and the CEO was talking about possible combining feeder series, are these plans for next year? Is the Indy Lights setup to be removed again? Are there any thoughts on using the Pro Mazda chassis and adding carbon brakes and a turbo and slapping an Indy Lights sticker on it?

Paul Hirsch, Erie, Pa.

RM: Honda had a new spec for Pocono and, obviously, it’s pretty good. Dan Anderson is leasing Lights and I think it’s got a chance with his leadership and passion but it will eventually be a new car (hopefully less tire and more power).

Q: Any idea what JR Hildebrand is doing these days to pass time and earn a living? What are your thoughts on his future – or lack thereof – in IndyCar? Secondly, after the season that Alex Tagliani has had, do you expect him to be released by Bryan Herta at the end of the year?

Cody, Indianapolis

RM: J.R. is looking for sponsorship for 2014 and he’s been at a few races since Indianapolis. Can’t imagine Herta and Tag being together next season.

Q: While flipping through the channels on Saturday, I came across the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series race from New Hampshire. Oh my gosh…I have never seen such great racing in any series in my entire life! There was great racing all the way through the field all race long. How is it that none of these guys ever make it to IndyCar? I would put these guys up against anyone in any series…period.

Jay Matheny, Mayfield, KY

RM: Not sure but Oswego gave us Bentley Warren, Doug Hevron, Joe Gosek and they have similar cars.

Q: Haven’t written to the mailbag in a while, but like everyone else I am excited about how great the racing has been this year. Every race, even the notorious street courses, have been worth watching. However, it’s a shame that the rest of the season will be filled with long breaks in the schedule (three weeks in August, four in September). Have you heard of any new dates that could fill these voids in the schedule? It really sucks to have that killing the momentum of the series, and another race at an oval like Chicago or another road course would be a welcome fit.

Tyler

RM: I think Chicago is a possibility and a street show in Fort Lauderdale but I’m sure the 2014 will be tightened up.

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