The Mailbag is in!

Photo Credit: 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.

~Robin Miller

Q: It’s obvious the Chipster read your mid-season report and didn’t take kindly to the grade you gave the Target Team! What did he do to turn things around in such a dramatic fashion, especially as regards Dixon? He’s sure on fire and may soon upend Helio for the points lead! And it seems as if Andretti Autosport has suddenly hit a wall…what gives? I continue to be impressed with Justin Wilson’s quiet but consistent season thus far. Ninth in the points ain’t bad given Coyne’s typical shoestring operation. I really wish J-Will could score a top ride, but I know he’s considered long of tooth at this stage in his career. Too bad, a true talent wasted.

Chris Pericak, Charlottesville, VA

RM: Not sure Chip cares what I say or write but as I wrote in that report card the problem wasn’t the drivers and evidently the test they had at Sebring paid big dividends. Andretti is still quick, just having a run of bad luck and JWill isn’t long in the tooth yet but it is too bad he never got to drive one of those red cars.

Q: Suddenly the Honda teams are more than competitive with the Chevys. Did they get a mid-year upgrade? Was there an rule concession for the Hondas? Also, what has happened to Simona? She started out so strong but has really faded, not just on ovals but on road/street courses.

Don Giovanoni

RM: There was an upgrade in June but Honda made good mileage last year so I think it was more that Honda’s A Team finally got its act together. Nothing special granted by IndyCar. Simona finally got untracked at Pocono and Toronto so maybe things are turning.

Q: I have heard the drivers and owners do not want standing starts because the cars cannot handle it and the drivers have not had any practice. I thought the DW12 was built for standing starts? Also, why not at open tests on street and road courses make the drivers practice? Individually and as a group? Also I took my 3 1/2 year old to see Turbo, it is a good kids movie that will also entertain adults. Whenever someone asks my 3 1/2 year old his favorite part of the movie his answer is, “the racing.”

Jamie A. Carr, Lebanon, Ohio

RM: Not sure why some of the proven road racers were so against standing starts but there were a lot of naysayers in 2007 when Champ Car tried and it worked then and it worked in Toronto. Sure, there was concern about some software issues but sophisticated F1 cars sometimes fail to launch so I guess it’s a matter of fine tuning. But I’d much rather see a SS at Long Beach than the scattered mess it usually is.

Q: I took the kids to see Turbo when it came out on the 17th. They both thought it was a good movie but I don’t understand how this was supposed to promote Indy. It all but mocked Indy and showed no love to anyone but Verizon and Sunoco. Sure, it was a decent kid’s movie but I thought this was going to be more of a marketing strategy to get kids excited about IndyCar racing. I’m not sure that message came through. And for that, I was a little disappointed.

Erik Steinbrecher, Montgomery, IL

RM: I’ve heard it started out really slow but the kids came alive when the racing started and I guess any kind of publicity about IndyCar and the Indy 500 to try and raise awareness is good.

Q: In the old days, the drivers and owners usually split prize money 50/50 or 60/40. Does Scott Dixon get to keep all of the Toronto $100K or does he split it with the Chipster?

Chad Larson

RM: Since Dixie is on a retainer I don’t know the answer but I would hope with all Target brass (for the new Canadian store) in attendance, Chip would do the right thing and it give half to Scott and half to the team.

Q: So far this season it seems the double race weekends have for the most part been successful. Do you think double race weekends would also work on the ovals? I know that holding two 500-mile races back to back at places like Pocono and Fontana might not be possible but how about shorter races like Milwaukee, Iowa, or maybe even Texas? This would help to even up the schedule between ovals and road/street courses and give guys like Ed Carpenter a better chance at earning points and race wins. Whatcha’ think?

Yui Takane, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

RM: Back in the 1970s, some of the best races were the twin 150s and 200s at Michigan, Ontario and Trenton so it would be perfect for Iowa and Milwaukee. IndyCar tried it at Texas a couple years ago and it was fine except for drawing for starting spots.

Q: Why doesn’t IndyCar think about racing on off weekends of NASCAR, such as the weekend before the Brickyard or on weekends when NASCAR races on Saturday nights and really promote them for TV viewerships? I think racing fans look to watch any racing and we might show some taxi cab fans some real racing.

Ray Rodda

RM: I think they try but sometimes it’s a matter of what’s best for the promoter in the spacing of events and television. Of course ideally IndyCar would run on Sundays every time NASCAR had a Saturday night show or a weekend off. Except Easter. Champ Car tried that in Las Vegas and it failed miserably.

Q: People continue to wonder how IndyCar can grow the fan base. Like the AT&T commercial says, “It’s not complicated” —- Simply build driver affinity. Put some serious marketing money into developing driver name recognition. That coupled with the already-awesome racing would do wonders. But it needs to be serious money. Your thoughts?

Bob from Cincinnati

RM: You are spot on. There should have been a massive national PR campaign celebrating Ryan Hunter-Reay’s championship but he was pretty much ignored. IndyCar needs to spend money like NASCAR’s clever ad where the drivers are lobbying for the fan’s support. It puts a face with a name and shows some personality, which IndyCar’s drivers have plenty.

Q: I fell in love with ovals in mid-90′s, when Alex Zanardi was a top driver in CART. There were different chassis makers, great drivers and a lot of interest, at the time. Now, with the DW12 open wheel racing in USA seem to be in a better shape than in 2005, but with rookies with a poor career record starting in front row at Indy and with Marco Andretti pole-man on such a tricky tri-oval as Pocono, I feel that the series deserves better drivers. Once upon a time, ovals were considered a high level alternative to Formula 1. Now, it seems like an average GP2 driver can win in IndyCar as a rookie, not only because the car manufacturer is the same. Please, tell me I’m wrong.

Francesco Piccinelli, Italy

RM: Hard to say Carlos Munoz is average since I have no idea what kind of team he drove for in GP3 (and there is a big difference from front to back) and he not only did a great job as a rookie at Indy but also at Toronto in filling in for Ryan Briscoe at the last minute. He’s only 21 so let’s not be in too big a hurry to dismiss him as average. As for Marco, he’s always been quick on ovals and he’s improving on road/street courses this season. And we all loved Zanardi but he wasn’t exactly a household name when he came to CART.

 

Q: Much like I have each of the last 20-something years, I spent this past weekend in Turn 3 at Exhibition Place. You’re right in what you wrote: The Indy is on its way back! It’s not there yet, but it was certainly busier and better set up than it has been in recent memory. What really made it great, among other things, was the jam-packed on-track schedule. Very rarely was there ever more than a 15-minute gap between sessions. It was action from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day. Even during the heyday of CART, we used to have to endure 90-minute sessions of “pace car promotional rides.” If only we could see the car counts in both Indy Lights and Pro Mazda up to healthy levels again, a similar line-up next year could be the best schedule Toronto has ever boasted. And bring back the Stadium Super Trucks!! Never have I heard a Toronto crowd react so enthusiastically! I watched the IndyCar races on YouTube when I got home, and the combination of Diffey, Bell and Matchett in the booth was incredible. Such passion, knowledge and enthusiasm! The polar opposite to the human sleeping pills on ABC. Two quick questions to get your thoughts on: 1) Hinch said in the Toronto Sun that he doesn’t want any more double-headers, because it’s not fair that they are only at certain tracks. He makes a good point (an Iowa double-header would have suited him nicely), but as a paying customer I thought the Toronto double-header was fantastic! 2) Dan Andersen says that in addition to new teams and new cars coming soon to the Indy Lights series, that he would like to see it become more like the Nationwide series, featuring current and/or former IndyCar drivers, even if just for one-offs here and there. Do you think that’s a quality idea to draw more attention to a fledgling series, or should such a feeder series be left for the developing drivers?

Rob Mills

RM: Hinch is the best but totally wrong here. You got twice the eyeballs on television but, more importantly, had more people on Saturday than the Sunday race from 2012. The promoters in Detroit and Toronto love the concept and it sure seemed like the fans enjoyed it as well. IndyCar needs all the fans it can get and this is a good promotion for certain tracks. Watching Kyle Busch beat up on the Nationwide boys gets old and, judging from the pathetic crowd at Chicago, having NASCAR regulars doesn’t do much for attendance either. It’s called a FEEDER SYSTEM for a reason.

Q: I am one of these people who faithfully and eagerly attended every “Indy” race in Toronto up until the year they didn’t come. Since then I’ve never been back for a race weekend. That’s not because I don’t like my open wheel racing, I love it. No, it’s because the organizers won’t allow me to take anything into the racetrack other than an EMPTY water bottle and a seat cushion! If you’re a diabetic you have to phone a special number presumably to receive a waiver on the food bit. This is crap. My big time (as distinct from local) races are now primarily at NASCAR venues or, in Canada, at places like Canadian Tire (Mosport) Park. The organizers may say that this is no different a policy than at a soccer/football/hockey/baseball games. At these sports’ venues I am not there all day, outside in the heat, sun and noise. I suspect I am not alone in saying that I have a tough time when “security” is there to make sure people don’t have food or water with them. Although some of us may be a bit old in the tooth now, I’m sure we’d all be back if the race wasn’t run by a bunch of administratively myopic tight asses.

John, Ottawa

RM: Sorry to hear that and maybe the promoters can address this after I send them the mailbag.

Q: “The only paddock as friendly as IndyCar is NHRA” You’ve said this twice now, and you’re partially wrong. The ALMS paddock is open to everyone and it’s free to get in.

Andy Dinardi

RM: Good call Andy, the sports car paddock in ALMS and Grand Am are both fan friendly.

Q: Robin, you should add ALMS to your list of friendly paddocks. At least at Road Atlanta, paddock access is included in the price of the general admission ticket and I have found drivers–and others–quite accessible. A few years ago, I had unhurried conversations with Roger Penske and Mr. Clark (whose first name now escapes me), when he headed the Acura program. Drivers have also been incredibly gracious. Jon Field even invited me back into their work area one year to show me the changes they had made to their car for the event.

Paul Lewis, Macon, GA

RM: I know, I stand corrected and Tommy Kendall already threatened to un-friend me on Facebook if I didn’t apologize. I’m sorry.

Q: I’ve been following Indy cars since I was a kid (dad had me at IMS at about 5 and I’ll be 38 in September) and I KNOW how punishing it is physically and mentally. On the OTHER hand, we just had three races in 7 days and I watched all three flag-to-flag. A weekend in between races may be nice for the drivers/teams, but if they raced every weekend from March to September I’d be right there to see what happens every time. Super speedways/double-header street races/whatever …this series is interesting enough right now to be a week-to-week show. It’d be even BETTER with dirt race on the schedule, but I digress. My point is: I know it sucks for the participants, but it’s been GREAT for the fans and I suspect most of us would tolerate even more. Oh, and to your comment about Indy Lights needing to get smaller tires and more horsepower…I agree totally, but you forgot the part about the chassis needing to be shaped like a roadster! HAHA! Imagine the fun of watching these children wheel around one of THOSE beasts…learn car control or go home! Anyway, a guy can dream, right?

Todd, Middletown, IN

RM: What we have to remember here is that while every other week sounds great, IndyCar teams can’t afford to run 40-some races like NASCAR. It has to pick and chose its spots and climates and using doubleheaders to get 20 races. I think an IndyCar race on dirt would create the same buzz as NASCAR at Eldora. But we’d have to rent 24 late models because I doubt we’d have many sign up for dirt cars.

Q: The season has been great…unexpected winners…front runners spending time as back markers…former champions looking like rookies one race…then back to form the next race…and some things that never change…Dario vs. Will…Reigning Champions upset at everyone…so…my question…Has Dario always been such a poor sport / bitterman…especially when everything does not go his way? I watched your interview with Will and Dario prior to Race 2 in Toronto…and Dario represented himself as a poor sport…his comments in regard to Will Power were typical…when Will was representing himself as a gentleman. OH I realize Will has his moments…and definitely shows his frustration when he is tired of being the designated bumper car…but I do not think I have every witnessed Will Power behaving as such a poor ambassador of the sport. I think Will finally got his voodoo doll working correctly and transferred his bumper car status to Ryan Hunter-Reay. In addition to that…Dario has never blocked anyone…never caused another racer to crash…and definitely never won a race on just flat out luck…which makes all of his interviews annoying. It is times like these that I wish Paul Tracy was racing…and waving bye bye as he passes Dario on the last lap at the Indy 500…(instead of looking at bogus yellow lights) with Target red paint all over his chrome horn. Is Dario always like this or has he been perfecting it lately because his overwhelming advantage from driving for Ganassi has slipped away?

Peter Canizaro

RM: I think Dario is a lot like champs of the past (Mario and J.R. immediately come to mind) in that they have convenient memories about certain situations (smile). But I’ve heard Franchitti admit mistakes or poke fun at himself for a bad move or race. I think he was miffed at Will because it was a wild maneuver that didn’t seem to have much of a chance and didn’t feel like he was the bad guy. But I’m glad they still have a rivalry, lord knows IndyCar needs a few of those.

Q: I read a description of the plan to “race” the Formula E cars. The plan calls for 10 teams with two cars each to race in 10 city street courses around the globe and LA is one selected city in the mix. The series is supposed to start September and run through June. If they plan to start this September with only three teams signed on now, that spells disaster. The cars can only run about 25 minutes before the batteries are exhausted. The driver has to pull into the pits, get out and run 100 yards (100 meter) to another car with a fully charged battery pack and continue to race. This is absolute nonsense. Seems the idea is to be an extension of the craziness of Wipeout and other silly crap on network TV. Why would anybody sign up for this goat rodeo? No sane person would pay to see such a farce. What advertisement resource is dumb enough to plunk down money to back such a fiasco? I concur with the outgoing president of GM who said the electric car is not here yet, meaning to be a power source for a practical car. He added that he believes based on the best estimates of experts in this field that it will be 20-25 years before the technology is developed to build and sell a practical electric car. Major new developments have to occur. The same applies to an all-electric racer. It is not a developed power plant yet. It might never be. What is your opinion of the Formula E idea?

Thomas Grimes, Waco TX

RM: When something like A1 GP with all its supposed big money and country backing can’t make it, how can anything else? We’ve got way too many series now and this sounds doomed from the start.

Q: Whose decision was it to raise the ticket prices for the Indy 500, Mark Miles or Jeff Belskus? I was under the impression that the goal of the current leader of IMS is to get the Indy 500 back to being a sellout like it was before the split occurred in 1996. I don’t see how raising the cost to attend an event that is currently not a sellout will help that happen. Usually, to get more people to buy a product (in this case Indy 500 tickets) a business will lower the price of the item and then advertise. Otherwise, it does no good to lower the price if you don’t get the word out. I think by doing that they would sell a lot more tickets and any losses that occurred per ticket would be made up for in the increased sales. Give people an incentive to want to either come to the race for the first time or come back to the race for the first time in a long time, and then once they see how good the racing is they will be hooked on it and want to come back again and again (just like I did after I went to my first Indy 500 in 1977). I feel with the price increase that less people will go to the race, not more. What do you think?

Kim L.

RM: It was the Boston Consulting Group’s idea (one of their many bad ones) and unfortunately IMS took their advice. You are correct, it you still have thousands of empty seats in a place that use to be a sellout then maybe you try some special promotions to fill it up. I’ve always applauded Indy as being the most reasonable ticket in sports and a bargain to sit in one of the corners. But this looks like bad business.

 

Q: In regard to a Ft. Lauderdale street race in 2014. Unless they find a big money sponsor like Molson in Toronto or a different promoter besides AMS who is willing to fund it out of his own pocket like the late Ralph Sanchez, it is not going to happen. The city has tied in with a revival of the Air and Sea Show which ran from 1994-2007. The state has turned down the Dolphins’ request for money which means no more Super Bowls for South Florida and they turned down ISC’s request to help with the renovation of Daytona. So no help from the government.

RM: You are spot on. Without a strong title sponsor, any race seems domed nowadays (Baltimore) and Michael Andretti needs one to keep Milwaukee. The city of Fort Lauderdale seemed divided on a race a year ago so it sounds more like 50-50 than a slam dunk for 2014.

Q: I blog a lot on European F1 blogs. I see more and more people saying IndyCar is so much better racing than F1. Europe is catching on to IndyCar.

Lum Ederd

RM: Well CART was big in Europe with Fittipaldi and Mansell back in the ‘90s and while F1 sounds better and looks zoomier, it’s clearly nowhere close to IndyCar in terms of racing, competition and surprises.

Q: I am planning my fall schedule and just realized that the IndyCar finale at Fontana was scheduled for the same weekend as Petite Le Mans! Having went to Fontana last year I was really looking forward to going again. But for the past couple of years, I have taken my nephews to Petite. When faced with the choice between going to the IndyCar finale and sitting in the grandstands and sleeping in a cheap motel, or going to Petite to spend time with my nephews and camp overnight at the track, I will pick Petite every time. Looking to the future, will IndyCar officials prevent such a scheduling conflict?

Kyle Lantz

RM: I know Randy Bernard and Fontana wanted to get away from the 100-degree temps in September so that’s why it was moved to October but that’s not good to have a conflict when you’ve got all that down time like IndyCar. However, it won’t have that conflict in 2014. The season may be over by Labor Day.

Q: Robin, with most of America’s permanent road courses showing their age, under what circumstances do you think new tracks could be built in the coming years/decades in the U.S. specifically for IndyCar/sports car racing? The grand old tracks still in existence today (Road America, Mid-Ohio, Portland, Seca, Sonoma, etc.) were all built in the 50′s/60′ and are really looking dated compared to the government-backed super tracks popping up every year for F1. With the exception of Barber, which is really just a nice bike track, the series has seen no upgrades in that particular piece of the IndyCar diversity pie. Will IndyCar need to look abroad to strengthen that piece of the schedule in the coming years?

Jeff Anderson

RM: Well there’s a new one in New Jersey and Jeff Gordon is building one in upstate New York and Miller Motorsports Park in Utah is relatively new but are any of them attractive to IndyCar? Or vice versa? I’d rather see Mosport, Montreal, Road Atlanta or Elkhart Lake but that’s probably wishful thinking.

Q: Any chance that IndyCar will ever run in Cleveland? I live in Toronto but preferred to watch the race in Cleveland during the CART era. Where else can you see an entire road circuit from one vantage point? It was a highlight of the racing season for me and I think would be a good fit for IndyCar.

Saverio Prato, Ontario, Canada

RM: Not unless Mike Lanigan finds a title sponsor like he’s got in Houston (Shell) or Honda decides it wants to move from Mid-Ohio to Burke Lakefront Airport. It was ALWAYS entertaining racing.

Q: Let me just say, ‘thanks’, for your continued defense and even-handed treatment of the IndyCar Series. I appreciate the fact that you can acknowledge that the series is struggling for fandom – even while making efforts at improving it – while also citing the series’ merits: namely, that it is simply some of the best racing in the world. And its drivers are some of the most accessible and competitive athletes in the racing world. I am a die-hard fan, though I acknowledge that I am hardly a gear-head. I don’t know too much about carbon brakes or the USAC connections from years past. I came to be a fan of IndyCar when I went to my first race in 2001 – the CART event at Nazareth. I was simply blown away by the starts (and re-starts)… and, specifically, by the impressive run of Kenny Brack that day (I think he finished second). I have been a fan since. Besides Nazareth from 2001-2004, I’ve been to Watkins Glen (2009) and, this year, Pocono. Let me just say that I had a great weekend when I was at Watkins Glen, but the race at Pocono was better (even with the limited passing). I got chills again watching the cars take the green flag, and it was great – as PA resident – to be able to once again go to a race in the morning and be home later that evening. Please continue to remind fans that ovals are an intrinsic part of IndyCar and that the balance between road/street and oval must be maintained. No other series has it. As an aside, why in the world does Oriol Servia not have a full-time ride (now that Dreyer & Reinbold has suspended operations)? I know that he is not quite what Panther Racing is looking for in a full-time driver? But at least for this year, he has got to be one of the best available options out there. Along with Sebastien Bourdais, he is one of the most competitive CART holdovers in the series. He needs to be driving.

Jim Cunningham, Pottstown, PA

RM: It’s easy to point out the obvious and that’s pretty much my job so no need to thank me but I appreciate your passion. Pocono has a chance to make it because of the Igdalsky boys and the fact there are a lot of great open wheel fans in Pennsylvania. Servia is cursed. He’s done a good job wherever he’s at and that includes Panther, but they want a younger driver for the future with Briscoe.

Q: I’ve read several stories about drivers who don’t like the double header races that are held over a 2-day span on a weekend because it’s too hard on them. But, some of the same drivers are behind the wheel of a race car at the 24 Hours of Daytona in either a prototype car or a sports car. Now, in that race they may be behind the wheel for up to 6 hours of combined race hours driving through blinding sunlight at sunset or sunrise, they may have to drive through rain, fog and we know the darkness of night with filthy windshields and then there is the high G-Forces of the high banks and the constant battle of traffic where there are some 70 cars on track. How much difference can there be?

Tony Piergallini, Steubenville, Ohio

RM: I don’t think co-driving a sports car compares to running flat out at Toronto or Mid-Ohio in an Indy car with no power steering and no place to rest. No comparison.

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