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Last year, Daniil Kvyat spent his birthday at the top of a toboggan run at the Sanki Sliding Centre in the mountains to the north of Sochi. He was finding his way at a big team, part of a big media event as a Red Bull driver at his home race and facing questions about Sebastian Vettel's reaction to his driving in China a fortnight earlier.

At the time there was plenty of backing for the Russian. Vettel's accusatory comments did not receive a huge amount of support, and Kvyat's third place had allowed him the opportunity to respond to praise from team principal Christian Horner with a radio message stating he hoped his trip to the podium would be the first of many that season.

When I asked Kvyat about his reply to Horner, he admitted that they were words he had chosen carefully, as he had felt a little bit of pressure growing around him after a difficult start to the season. It had hardly been a spectacular drive, but a solid one that achieved a good result, and the impression at the time was it could be the catalyst for Kvyat's campaign.

This year, Kvyat turned 23 while trying his hand at curling, but in team clothing I would not have expected to see him in 12 months ago. It has been a hugely testing year, and one that leaves the Russian's F1 career in a very strange position.

Perhaps eager to build on that China result, or perhaps still aware of uncertainty over his seat, Russia did not prove to be a happy home race for Kvyat last year. Vettel's complaints about Kvyat's driving on the opening lap were much more acceptable this time around, with contact at Turn 2 causing damage to both the Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull.

Of course Ricciardo wasn't happy to have his race compromised by his teammate – he demanded an apology - but there was a strong reaction to the error. It should be noted, Esteban Gutierrez caused a similar incident involving Nico Hulkenberg and Rio Haryanto, but by racing closer to the front, Kvyat ensured that it was he who was the talking point.

While waiting for Horner to emerge and reveal what he had discussed with Vettel on the Red Bull pit wall mid-race, I remember Jos Verstappen casually leaning against the hospitality unit and stirring the pot. "Is something going on?" he mischievously asked, fully aware of the likelihood his son would soon be in Kvyat's seat.

Once the shock driver switch was made, Kvyat appeared to have regressed in Barcelona. Not as a driver - he took the fastest lap and scored a point - but he looked less sure of himself. As he struggled mid season, it became almost impossible to envisage a situation where Kvyat would keep his seat at Toro Rosso. At times he bore the resemblance of a guilty man awaiting sentencing.

A strong finish to the season, allied to a lack of top quality options knocking on the door - Pierre Gasly only just edged out rookie team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi for the GP2 title, and behind him was an uncharacteristic gap on the Red Bull conveyor belt of talent - Kvyat retained the drive. But that doesn't really answer the questions surrounding him.


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As pointed out by Will Buxton recently in his RACER column, Ricciardo and Max Verstappen are not going anywhere at Red Bull if the team has anything to do with it. The team believes it has the strongest pairing in F1, and wants to keep both long-term. Doing so would be much easier if they were in a race-winning car this year, but Verstappen is young enough to be patient and Ricciardo is unlikely to be allowed to join Mercedes or Ferrari next season.

At Toro Rosso, Carlos Sainz is so highly rated that he has also been linked with moves to the likes of Ferrari and Renault. Again, Red Bull isn't going to be fond of the idea of supporting a driver all the way to F1 and having him prove his potential, only for him to then go and fulfill it elsewhere. As a result, there's a slight chance he may become an exception, and remain for a fourth year at Toro Rosso. So where does that leave Kvyat?

This year, there have been encouraging early signs that Kvyat has put the troubles of last season behind him. Don't underestimate how difficult that is to do: one experienced driver on the grid told me in Bahrain he was hugely impressed with the Russian's mental strength to be able to produce strong performances after the setback he suffered in 2016. But the reality remains that Kvyat is fourth out of four in Helmut Marko's eyes when it comes to the current Red Bull pecking order.

As a result, strong performances are not going to be enough. Kvyat needs to do something spectacular this season, and even that might not be sufficient. It feels inevitable that he will be replaced at some stage - Sainz, of course, has yet to have the chance to prove himself in a Red Bull - and his reputation has been damaged by the past 12 months.

A big team will see Kvyat as a gamble because he has failed once in a front-running outfit already, and without backing - the majority having been provided by Red Bull throughout his career - he becomes less attractive to a midfield set-up. Even Renault already has a young Russian in Sergey Sirotkin as part of its driver line-up, and Sirotkin brings SMP support.

Should a major surprise happen and Ricciardo or Verstappen head off to Ferrari or Mercedes at the end of the year, then Sainz would get his chance at the big time. Perhaps the lack of options other than Gasly means Kvyat earns a reprieve for another year, but a driver with four seasons of experience behind him doesn't really fit the Toro Rosso mantra.

And therein lies the problem for Kvyat right now. Drivers dream of winning races and becoming Formula 1 world champion, but despite already being in the sport, there is no clear path for him to chase, no obvious motivation for his future, no carrot on a stick.

Even if he continues to perform well, as he has been, Kvyat appears to be on borrowed time. His F1 career is in limbo, and it would take a shock almost as big as last year's driver switch for him to return to being a Red Bull driver. It's fair to say every other driver on the grid can think of their F1 futures with greater optimism than the 23-year-old.

At least he might be able to make his own birthday plans next year.

lepage 170409 LB 8914Of all the reasonable expectations Scott Dixon held for himself entering 2017, sitting second in the championship after three rounds was never a consideration.

Not with his Chip Ganassi Racing team switching from the dominant Chevy engine and aero package to Honda's equipment and definitely not with an aero kit freeze in place. And then you have the ongoing theme in Dixon's IndyCar career where slow starts usually force the four-time champion to rally from behind for the rest of the year.

With all three factors in play, Dixon should be mired toward the bottom of the standings as the Verizon IndyCar Series heads to Phoenix this weekend. Instead, the New Zealander returns to the one-mile oval – a race he won 12 months ago for CGR – with a palpable sense of frustration. In fact, the season has gone so unexpectedly well for Dixon, the 36-year-old bristles at the thought of being six points behind championship leader Sebastien Bourdais.

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"At St. Pete we definitely had the best car, and strategy could not have gone any worse for us at Long Beach," Dixon told RACER after a runner-up finish at Barber Motorsports Park. "But I think we always expect to go to a race and fight for the win, and when that can happen but doesn't, it's normal to be frustrated. Sure, there were the big changes over the offseason, but it's been a good start for us and we've been pleasantly surprised with the speed we've had."

"Chip Ganassi pointed out two things that I don't think we would have been able to predict," added CGR managing director Mike Hull. "Who would have guessed that [Ganassi's] Kyle Larson would be leading NASCAR's Cup standings at this point and Sebastien Bourdais would be leading in IndyCar? So in terms of Scott Dixon, I think it's the same; I don't know how many people would have predicted our current position. We're just going about our business and trying to get the most of it from day to day."

Continuity among the engineers and mechanics that field Dixon's No. 9 entry has played a significant role in his early surge, and on the technical front, powerful engines from Honda Performance Development have certainly helped the 2008 Indy 500 winner and the other front-running Honda entries. Hull also credits a rededicated effort within CGR's IndyCar program for the recent potential shown by the Kiwi.

levitt ICS phxt 08880"Maybe we're trying harder to explore every aspect of the car to make it as good as it can be than we had to last year," he said. "Frankly, we didn't have to work as hard with the Chevy aero package to match it up to the mechanical package. You could make a mistake on the balance with the Chevy aero package because it's incremental, and if you went a few steps too far, it wouldn't slow you down too much. What we're working with today is more sensitive to those changes, and we've had to work harder to understand the reasons why. That's the difference in our approach."

Honda won two street races on the trot with Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe before Team Penske and Chevy took control at Barber. The shifting tides spoke to Honda's well-known aero limitations, how those shortcomings were masked on the street courses by its strong engines and the vast number of slow corners, and were then exposed on Barber's high-speed road course.


 

lepage 170423 bhm 5359In maximum downforce configuration at St. Pete and Long Beach, Honda's superior acceleration, the lack of quick corners where big downforce comes into play and impressive top-speed figures made the difference between winning and losing. At Barber (above), where the same maximum-downforce setup was needed to fly through its fast and flowing corners, a difference in peak downforce output tilted the advantage in Chevy's favor.

With an estimated 300 pounds of additional downforce available to Chevy drivers, it's easy to understand why race winner Josef Newgarden and the rest of the Penske cars were on rails while Dixon's hands were a blur trying to control his car at the limit.

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"St. Pete and Long Beach are very different types of street courses, and we had the speed at both of them, and then to go to a road course at Barber where the Chevy aero kit favors those cars with its high downforce, to come away with a second was very good," Dixon conceded.

According to Hull, achieving a proper balance with the Honda package isn't a problem, but the time and effort it takes to find the sweet spot is different than what the Bowtie runners enjoy. That said, with a few hundred pounds of peak downforce missing from their arsenal, Honda teams can also expect to surrender fractions of time in each high-speed corner at the short ovals and most road courses.

"You have to match the aero and mechanical grip with the Honda very precisely, and you can do it, but you have to work really hard at it," Hull said. "I think if we went back to working with the Chevy product today, with all we've learned and how our mindset has changed over the last several months, we'd probably be better at it."

Chevy's extra downforce made the difference at Barber and, barring the unforeseen, it should produce a similar result at Phoenix. As much as he'd like to win there for the second time in two years, it sounds like Dixon won't be surprised or frustrated if Chevy takes the win Saturday night in Arizona.

"This weekend might be a little bit of a shock to the system," he said. "But we'll have to see how it goes. If we can have a good result, whatever that ends up being, that's what matters."

LAT levitt ICWG 00239He spent a week in Mexico undergoing stem cell treatments and underwent successful surgery Wednesday on his right foot so they wouldn't have to amputate a toe. But, as you might imagine, A.J. Foyt won't let his latest medical travails alter his 60-year routine.

"I'm feeling a little rough today because I just got home from the hospital but I'll be in Indianapolis next month, so that should make me feel better," said the 82-year-old legend who is fielding three cars for Conor Daly, Carlos Munoz and Zach Veach in the 101st Indy 500. "And we damn sure better run better than we did last weekend."

The original four-time Indianapolis 500 winner's toughness has never been in question as he's defied death on and off the race track for seven decades.

His greatest hits list reads like this:

  • Suffered a broken back and a fractured heel at Riverside stock car race in 1967.
  • Suffered second and third degree burns on his face, neck and hands in a practice crash at Milwaukee in 1966.
  • Suffered burns and a broken ankle at DuQuoin, Ill. in 1972.
  • Fractured his arm in the 1981 Michigan 500 and then survived a blood clot.
  • Broke two vertebrae during practice for the 1983 Firecracker 400.
  • Dislocated his left leg and right heel, fractured his knee and crushed his right heel when his brakes failed at Road America in 1990.
  • Broke his left shoulder while qualifying at Phoenix in 1992.

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And since he retired from driving it's not been any easier. He received an artificial left knee in 2006, was in for heart surgery in 2010, was admitted to the hospital while fighting a staph infection in 2012, had his right knee replaced, left hip replaced, and had back surgery performed in 2013.

In 2014, IndyCar's all-time winner underwent successful triple by-pass surgery, then got infected and spent eight days on a ventilator and 10 days in ICU while he fought off sepsis.

Because of all his injuries and arthritis, A.J. has been in constant pain in his legs, feet, ankles, shoulders and back to he was convinced to try stem cell therapy. He spent April 11-19 in Cancun because Mexico can grow the volume of stem cells in the hundreds of millions whereas it's only hundreds of thousands in the USA.

"They told me I should start feeling better in two-and-half to three months," said the man who came to IMS as a rookie in 1958, drove in 35 consecutive Indy 500s and has never missed a month of May since.
"And yesterday they thought I might lose a toe but they figured out a way to keep it and straighten it out. They're good people – but I'm tired of being cut on.

"They said I needed to be back at the hospital next month to get the stitches out and I told them 'no chance.' I'll get some tweezers and pull 'em out myself because next month I'm booked."

Cooper 0783 RSJ 1The first round of SprintX in Pirelli World Challenge GT will feature a mix of proven and fresh driver pairings, which should add to the dynamic.

After three rounds of sprint competition, the Pirelli World Challenge GT spotlight turns to SprintX, the 60-minute, two-driver format that makes its formal debut as part of the overall GT championship this weekend at Virginia International Raceway.

While World Challenge ran three rounds of SprintX competition for GT and GTS cars in 2016, it was a separate championship that had no bearing on the overall GT title. Now GT teams and drivers are competing for overall, Sprint and SprintX championships, so the SprintX rounds are just as important as the Sprint races to the serious championship contenders.

As a result – and in part due to the driver change rules that say Pro-Pro driver combinations have no minimum pit time – most teams have not taken their choice for second drivers lightly. For example, Cadillac Racing is bringing in Ricky and Jordan Taylor, winners of every IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race so far in 2017 in their WTR Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, to join Johnny O'Connell and Michael Cooper, respectively.

The different World Challenge experience between them highlights a challenge many drivers will face at VIR and beyond – Jordan has done a few PWC races before for Cadillac, but that was pre-GT3 days in the CTS-V.R, while Ricky has done none. And neither have much experience with the current crop of drivers in the series.

lat lepage 160709 mos 2152"We haven't talked about strategy, other than them giving us an idea of who's fast and different drivers' racing styles," says Ricky Taylor. "We haven't driven with a bunch of these guys, so they gave us a heads-up on whom to watch out for and how certain people race."

Many of the drivers coming in for the SprintX rounds are endurance specialists, so driver changes are nothing new to them, just as they aren't for most of the drivers in the series because they've all done some endurance racing at some point in their careers. The mental focus may be a little different, though. The Taylors have had races of 24 hours, 12 hours and 100 minutes so far this season, so being in the car for only half an hour is a fair change.

"It will be the shortest endurance race I've ever done," Ricky laughs. "I think the maximum one of us can drive is 35 minutes, so it will be a different mindset for sure. Our IMSA engineer comes from a World Challenge background, and he says it's just a flat-out sprint; and with the fact that there's a day between races, people just go crazy. I'm excited for more of a sprint environment where we can really attack and have some fun for a short race like that."

The Cadillac pairings are going to be new territory for both the regular drivers and the part-timers. Others, though, will be much more familiar with each other. Alvaro Parente will be teaming up with Englishman Ben Barnicoat in the No. 9 K-PAX McLaren 650S , with whom he also races in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series.

"He's young, talented, super quick," says Parente. "I'm excited to do a SprintX race here. We were testing at VIR and Ben was very fast, the car was doing some good lap times."

Patrick Long will also be turning over his No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 to a familiar face, Jorg Bergmeister, with whom he won three American Le Mans Series championships (below).

Bergmeister Long ALMS RSJ"He pushes himself, he pushes the team, he pushes his teammate," says Long of Bergmeister. "He's a good person, a great spirit, but he's also somebody that since he was three years old, he's been driving. As a sibling of another driver and the son of an ex-driver, he's hard-wired competitive, and that's what you need. But you also need someone you trust that they get it. They've been there – they've won championships, they've lost championships, and they come in as a very part-time aspect of an organization. That takes a certain mindset or philosophy, and Jorg gets it."

Dyer Eversley 5189 RSJ 1Other SprintX second drivers are familiar with the series, such as Kyle Marcelli, who will be joining Alex Riberas in the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 488. Marcelli raced last year in CRP Racing's Audi, so he's raced recently against many of the other World Challenge drivers, but the car and his co-driver will be new. Still others, like Cadillac and the Taylors, will find everything new. Acura is bringing over a couple of its drivers from Michael Shank Racing, its partner in IMSA, to join the RealTime Racing duo of Ryan Eversley and Peter Kox. Tom Dyer joins Eversley, and Mark Wilkins teams with Kox. Dyer hasn't raced in PWC, but Wilkins was part of Kia's GTS team.

While the 2016 season of SprintX featured a mix of professional and amateur drivers – and categories still exist for that and strictly amateur pairings – the combinations of professionals at the top level of the GT category should make for some interesting racing as many of the teams will be figuring out strategy in the first few races.

 R1P0694Aside from the race itself, events leading up Joey Logano's NASCAR Cup Series debut (below) don't readily come to mind. Sept. 14, 2008, had been a long-awaited day for the Middletown, Conn. native, but now that it was here, he couldn't escape the nerves.

latabbottloudon3015"I remember being at driver intros pretty nervous that I'm racing with the big boys; it's kind of cool," Logano told RACER. "But I was pretty nervous about it, and we just ran awful. That's what I remember. Nothing went well. Just slow."

He adds with a laugh, "I'll take full credit for that. It was a mess. I didn't know what to do, and the thing that's weird is Loudon is my first win (June 2009), first start and all that, but to this day, (it's) probably the most challenging racetrack for me to get my head wrapped around.

"And that happened to be my first race that we ran so bad. We couldn't have picked a worse racetrack to have your first race."

Logano finished 32nd. Nine years later, he'll make his 300th career start Sunday at Richmond International Raceway. Ironically, Richmond being where it was supposed to start for Logano (the week before Loudon), but rain washed out qualifying and Logano missed the show.

He remembers Richmond better than he remembers Loudon. Speed often sticks with a driver and Logano had that in Richmond. Off the truck, he was fourth fastest, eventually winding up ninth in practice.

"We were fast," Logano said. "I remember going through my mind saying, 'I got this. Shoot, these cars are not as hard as everyone says they are to drive. We got this figured out. I'm going to be fine. I'm going to win right out of the gate in this thing, just like I did in my Xfinity car when I first jumped into that.'

"Then Loudon was the first slap in the face for me. That was the first wake up call. Oh, man, God brought me right back to reality quick."

'The writing was on the wall'

Logano arrived on the scene as an 18-year-old prodigy, tagged with the nickname "Sliced Bread" – as in, the best thing since. A lot has happened in the 299 starts since then. After Loudon, Logano ran two more races in 2008 before he inherited the No. 20 full-time for Joe Gibbs.


 

latabbottdover5742It was a rocky start, as Logano crashed in his first Daytona 500 and finished last. It wasn't until Talladega in late April he scored his first top-10 finish. His first top 10 on a non-restrictor-plate track was in May. In June, Logano pulled off an upset, at none other than Loudon (below), by scoring his first career win in a rain-shortened event.

Admittedly, Logano wasn't running stellar that day and certainly didn't have a car capable of winning. But a spin from a flat left-rear tire brought out a race-changing caution. Logano pitted while others on the lead lap chose to stay out.

09NHMS2rl2322"It wasn't too long after a restart, and then there's a long green flag run after that and weather was coming, so no one wanted to green flag cycle, but it got to the point that everyone was running out of gas, so they were pitting," Logano recalled. "But I had 15 or so laps in my tank more than they had, so we just stayed out, stayed out, stayed out. It started raining and boom, we won the race."

Some called it a fluke. Others a lucky win. Logano heard it all.

"Since then I've probably lost 10 races that way where I actually had the winning car and it rained at the wrong time, so at this point, I really defend that win because I feel like I've lost enough to deserve that one that I actually got," Logano said. "I'll take it. I don't care what anybody says. We're taking it.

"I remember Jeff Gordon saying, 'How many lucky dogs did he get today?' Because I got like two or three in that race. Jeff finished second, and I remember him saying that on the radio. I'd be pissed too if I was him."

The memory brings a laugh but Logano's time at Gibbs wasn't always joyful. Rumors were constantly swirling he was going to lose his job. Carl Edwards or Matt Kenseth were coming for his ride. It was only smart, Logano admitted, for him to be heads-up, and with interest from Team Penske, things began to fall into place. Or so Logano thought.

"I remember talking to Walt (Czarnecki, Team Penske executive vice president) a few times about it and I talked with Roger (Penske), and Brad (Keselowski) and I had a good relationship," Logano said. "We tried to make it happen the year before my deal was over at Gibbs ... the writing was on the wall. It was going to happen. (But) at that point there was no fit to replace me at Gibbs, so it was, 'OK, we've got to do another year,' and at the time Penske had to make a play and put somebody in the 22, so they put AJ (Allmendinger) in.

"At that point, Penske was not an option because of the terms that they had with AJ. I wasn't going to get to drive the 22 car. Then we all know what happened. That seat opened back up at the right time because I had nothing; I had an Xfinity ride, that was the plan."

Allmendinger lost the ride midway through 2012. Logano joined Team Penske in 2013 and has since won 15 races, including the 2015 Daytona 500 and the 2016 All-Star Race. He's finished no worse than eighth in points in his first four seasons with the team.


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Logano finds it difficult to express what he feels about having the ride open back up and hearing his name in the same sentence as Roger Penske. He believes the writing had been on the wall that he would not only lose his job, but that he would not get another Cup ride elsewhere.

"I don't really know how to put it into words besides it's a God thing," Logano said. "A lot of times when you go back a level, it's three times as hard to come back (to Cup) because you've already made a name for yourself and not in a good way. I got a second chance.

"This is amazing for one; you don't even know what to say about it. You're able to walk in the doors as a 22-year-old, and not 15 like I did at Gibbs. I had experience under my belt, and I was ready for it, and I was ready to attack and make it happen because my back was against the wall. There's no excuses anymore. You can't use age as an excuse; you can't use experience as an excuse – you got three, four years under your belt. You have to produce and knowing Roger Penske, obviously, he told me right off the bat, he expects us to go out there and win. And we did.

"It's been good since then, but I think about going through the struggles to make you who you are. If it weren't for those moments, none of this happens today. I think that's why I'm so grateful for the struggle."

17ATL1mt1093300 and beyond

It feels like Logano has been around forever and he understands why. Some days, it feels like 300 starts have taken a long time; other days Logano looks at things as if they went by in a flash. After start number one came at the age of 18, Logano will make his 300th a month shy of his 27th birthday and in his ninth season.

"You end up not remembering a lot of the races," Logano said. "Reaching 300 starts is a cool stat only because I'm 26 years old. There are plenty of other drivers out there that have over 500 starts. That's an amazing milestone, but I think being able to do it at my age is what makes this neat, and to think, hey, in another nine or 10 years, I'm still not that old, and I'm at 600 (starts). That's when it kind of gets into perspective to me. Like, 'Holy moly, I could be racing a lot of races here.'"

While not every one of his 299 previous starts stand out, Logano can easily recall races and moments he'd like to have back. Moves that, if he hadn't made, he wouldn't have crashed. Or speeding penalties when he had the car to beat.

"The races that stand out in my mind are the races I make the mistake, more than anything," Logano said. "It's a team sport, so all of us make mistakes. But I think when you personally make the mistake, and you feel like you've let your team down, those are the worst ones for me."

There are also certain moments Logano thinks about.

"I immediately think about the beginning of my career and the struggles that I went through and the lost feeling I had a lot of times of not really knowing what to do," Logano said. "Kind of that panic feeling that you're about to lose our job and all that. That's a bad feeling. It's a feeling I don't ever want to have again. It motivates me. To this day, I still think of that.

"I'm grateful for how we run every weekend, because I am who I am because of the struggle we went through. It's made me the man I am on the track and off the track and the decisions I make are because of the experience and the people that I have around me now. So, there's no regrets because I've been able to learn from my mistakes to where I'm actually grateful for the mistakes that I've made."

Part of that process was growing up, and Logano did so in front of a worldwide audience. His mistakes were blasted all over television just as much as his accomplishments were. In December 2014, Logano celebrated a personal milestone by marrying his longtime girlfriend, Brittany Baca. It's given Logano balance both at home and work. Not only do they enjoy doing the same things, Logano calls Brittany his sounding board – the two play off each other.

"I did kind of grow up in front of everybody, which I never really let affect me that much," Logano said. "I've always been myself, kind of a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Be respectful and be who I am and don't be somebody just because it pleases the fans or TV. I'm Joey, and that's it. I hope you like. If not, oh well.

"My wife helps me a lot with that stuff (mistakes), too. That's one of the biggest things when you say how married life and all that changes things. Just having someone to lean on and talk to. She has a great perspective on life and being in tuned with what I do but also being a little removed from the race team. She can help me in how to handle situations with people."

JL Foundation 1024x918Along the way, he and Brittany started the Joey Logano Foundation. Saying she has a bigger heart than he does ("I believe that's why God put her in my life"), Logano said his wife has helped him recognize that the chance to make an impact on people's lives lends more significance to his racing career.

"(Brittany) said God's given me an amazing platform to drive racecars," Logano said. "I can live out my dream. But what good is it if you don't do anything with it? What good is it if you just have trophies at the end of the day? Who cares? It's going to be forgotten about.

"If you can, at the end of the day, say you've touched somebody's life, that's something that can really hold a legacy. It can make you feel like a lot better. It's a bigger win than any race."

It's a responsibility Logano doesn't take lightly. Since 2013, the foundation has invested in $1,470,529 in organizations across the United States, per its website. This year, the focus is on a single cause (kids in crisis, which started at Bristol) after Logano was inspired at the funeral of 5-year-old NASCAR fan, Jake Leatherman.

"It was so touching; I remember sitting there in tears and thought, 'We missed an opportunity, we screwed up,'" Logano said. "It's great that the community is here now, but we screwed this up. It's too late. Now, we're finding these kids, and we're calling them the 'JL Kid's Crew.' We're bringing them to the racetrack, we're giving them the same suits the team has, and we're going to make them a part of the team and make them feel normal."

A lot has happened to Joey Logano since that 2008 September day, then. Personally, professionally, and within.

"Complete 180," Logano said. "When I first came into the sport, after the first three or four starts and getting my butt kicked so much, I had no confidence. I was not strong in what to do; didn't make decisions for myself; didn't know the next step. Now, I've done a complete 180. Confident in the decisions I make, willing to stand up for myself. The game's changed.

"The results on the racetrack have changed because of that. The results didn't change me; I was able to change the results, which is great. And it's because I have a great support group around me, but I learned from all my mistakes. So, if all that same happened in 300 starts, I'm stoked to see what's going to happen in another 300."

 R3I5464Renault is working hard to try and unlock better race pace after failing to convert strong qualifying performances so far this season.

Nico Hulkenberg has qualified seventh at each of the last two races but has only managed to finish in the top 10 once this season, coming home ninth at the last race in Bahrain. The qualifying results highlight the inherent one-lap pace Renault has, but chief technical officer Bob Bell says the lack of point-scoring results are due to the R.S.17 being less competitive in race conditions.

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"It's pretty clear and we're not under any illusion; we are currently qualifying better than we race and that's a symptom of our current car performance," Bell said. "We have a reasonable understanding of why this is and have a number of developments to address this in the realm of aerodynamics and suspension.

"We tested new parts – including a new front wing – in Bahrain designed to add more aero performance to the car and also make it slightly more benign to engender better race pace. It's a positive of testing somewhere where you've just had a grand prix that there is a lot of comparable data for evaluation."

Bell attributes the car's lack of consistency as the reason it cannot replicate its one-lap pace over a race distance, but is encouraged that the raw pace provides a strong base to start from.

"The R.S.17 is not as well balanced as we'd like over a full stint. While you can get away with this over the course of a qualifying lap – where fresh tires can mask the balance issue – the performance is less consistent when you take to the longer runs of race stints.

"The R.S.17 has a somewhat nervous corner entry, followed by mid-turn understeer, followed by a nervous exit making finding traction a challenge. If we can address these areas, our drivers will have a very effective race car at their disposal. We believe the problems are aero related, so we're primarily looking for the solution there. Once we have the entry-phase of the corner sorted, the rest should follow more easily.

"The big positive is that the car has the basic pace to be able to be qualified well. Our current issue is extracting that pace in a race scenario. If you have the pace the key is maintaining it; it's easier to translate qualifying pace to race pace than to find basic performance."

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Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

Q: Enjoyed watching the race this weekend at Barber, and like a lot of people I'm thrilled to see that Fernando Alonso is going to drive at Indy this year. During the broadcast, Fernando appeared genuinely relaxed, even warm and welcoming to fans and NBCSN crew, as well as on your video interview for RACER.com – quite the antithesis of what most people think F1 drivers are like. I got the sense that he was already feeling the lack of F1 pressures in the IndyCar paddock and was enjoying himself. Did you sense any of this in-person, or was my perception just fogged by all of this excitement? For what it's worth, I'm hoping he does well, but does not win... but then gets hooked on IndyCar racing and dumps F1 for "us." Hey, a guy can dream...

Douglas Cole, Portland, OR

RM: I think your observations are spot-on. His press conference was one of the most entertaining since the days of Alex Zanardi, he couldn't have been more obliging to the media and fans (he signed and posed for selfies outside Andretti hospitality), and he genuinely seemed happy to be away from the stodgy F1 environment. I think he's happy not only to be competing at Indy, but with a chance to be competitive, and it was so refreshing to hear a world champion so honest yet so enthusiastic about the challenge ahead of him. I told him Emmo was 38 when he began his "second career" in CART and since he was only 35 he had plenty of time left, and he said that would be difficult to imagine – but let's see how Indy goes.

Q: That was a pretty damn good race at Barber. Not one of the greats, but it was a pretty good show in a fantastic facility when the world is probably watching a bit more. That said, one thing I learned over the weekend in watching videos of press conferences, practices, the race and follow ups is that Fernando Alonso is a pro. He might not be the friendliest guy compared to some in the IndyCar paddock, but that's not what he is there for. What he was, however, respectful, humble, smart and measured. What did you see?

Gary Nelson, Flagstaff, AZ

RM: Nigel Roebuck, the esteemed F1 reporter/columnist and a dear friend, told me last week that Alonso was the class of F1 and he spoke the truth. When The Buck had his near-death experience a couple years ago he got two phone calls – Mario Andretti and Fernando – wishing him a speedy recovery. And he may tire of the autograph sessions and crowds around him next month, but what I saw last Sunday was a consummate pro who people will find easy to cheer for and who respects Indy's tradition and the task at hand.

Q: So excited that Fernando Alonso will be racing in the Indy 500 this year! I didn't think any of those Formula 1 guys had the guts. Can't wait to be there and see how he does all May. Without tire warmers, do you think that Alonso's spotter will be reminding him every time he comes out of the pits, "You're on cold tires, repeat, repeat, repeat"?

Another storyline, and thing I will be watching from Turn 1 is how he adapts his race craft to get cold tires up to temperature. While he has to handle high g-forces in F1, I think Indy requires more frequent loads and for longer periods of time. With no power steering in an IndyCar, how will he acquire the strength and cardio necessary to compete for 500 miles? Has someone from Andretti Autosport contacted Alonso's training staff to suggest a new workout routine?

Mark Z, Discovery Bay, CA

RM: He mentioned flying starts, cold tires, a spotter talking to him all the time and different kind of pit stops as the big challenges, but he seems very calculating and intelligent, so I'm sure he'll adapt nicely. And, according to the drivers, Indy is one of the easier tracks to drive in terms of physicality, and he looked quite fit.


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Q: Alonso was asked a question about the Indy 500 during free practice at Bahrain, and something really stood out to me. In his response, my sick and twisted mind thought "hell, he might be coming to IndyCar at some point." From what I took from this interview, he basically said that to be considered one of the best, you have to win in multiple series. You might think I've drank too many root beers from the Mug-n-Bun, but I honestly think that McLaren and Alonso are coming to IndyCar for good, and that the 500 is just the first of many things with them.

If you are successful, have plenty of money and need to prove to a certain audience that you are indeed one of the best, do you think that this could be a possibility? There might be a seat open in Mercedes and Ferrari this year after all is said and done, but as a two-time world champion, maybe another F1 title is not on his mind?

Hutch, Indycar Dreaming in Cabot, Pa

RM: I posed that thought to him, and he indicated that F1 is his home and his talent is for road racing, so I'm not sure he's thinking about anything full-time. And McLaren's Zak Brown made it clear he wants to field a team over here, but not until McLaren gets its act together over there.

Q: You've spent a lot of time criticizing NASCAR in the past for questionable calls, yellows, and so on to benefit the show or product, and some IndyCar calls too (i.e. Bryan Herta's spin giving Marco his first win).

However, when it comes to Roger Penske, people seem to look the other way. Take Danica's first (and only) win. Helio is suddenly short on fuel and told to dial it back. He appeared very confused and questioned his team before finally conceding – letting Danica pass (getting a ton of publicity for the struggling IRL when it was desperately needed it most).

Roll forward to Barber 2017. Roger has this new partial sponsor on the side of Josef's car along with some NASCAR races that I'm sure he'd like to see take on a larger role with his teams. The last few laps are winding down, and now Power is being told he's losing air in one of his tires. He telling his team he doesn't feel anything, we can't see any signs on the TV from home, Paul Tracy is screaming to stay out because there's no sign of the car bottoming out, and he's not losing pace. However, Josef is not too far behind with that new sponsorship, and Dixon doesn't seem to be gaining.

After finally giving in to Tim Cindric, Power pulls in and Josef put the new sponsor in Victory Lane. NBCSN had its pit reporter check the tires after the race, but suspiciously, they were told Firestone let all the air of the tire after it was removed from the car. Then later, Will is singing a new tune that the car started to go away and began bottoming out, even though viewers heard and saw nothing that alluded to a problem. I think Roger sometimes is a businessman first instead of a racer. What's your take?

Jerry, Williamstown, NJ

RM: I love conspiracy theories as much as anyone, but I just happened to be sitting in the Firestone stand when Power's puncture took place. Firestone's Cara Adams, the chief engineer and manager of race tire development, was monitoring what engineer David Faustino was telling Power, and then she dashed down to their pits to "strongly suggest" stopping because it was a safety issue. She drew a little picture of the puncture for me and explained it was all the way through, so there was no chance of it staying inflated for 16 more laps. Afterwards, Will said he finally felt it start rolling over, told Cara he felt the car starting to bottom out, and agreed there was no way to have finished on it.


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Q: I have to take back the letter I wrote last week about possible F1 drivers in the Indy 500 and IndyCar. After hearing drivers like Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Riccardo and Max Verstappen questioning Alonso going to Indy, as well as Red Bull F1's Christian Horner, i think these drivers and car owners sounded like wimps – especially Riccardo. Now, I get the real dangers of oval racing, but if you go back 40, 50 years or even 100 years, drivers from Europe used to come over to the States and race at Indy, Milwaukee and at the old Texas World Speedway. In fact there use to be oval tracks in Europe and South America, where F1 and IndyCar drivers use to race each other for big prize money. Open-wheel fans would love to see F1 and IndyCar drivers bring their own cars and just race one another, but I imagine that's only a dream nowadays?

Alistair

RM: I think they took it more as a slap in the face that a two-time world champion chose Indy over Monaco, but oval racing isn't for everyone. I remember asking Michael Schumacher at the USGP in 2001 if he would ever consider running the Indy 500 and he smiled, shook his head and said: "Never." Monza held the "Race of Two Worlds" in 1957 and 1958 that matched Indy drivers and cars against F1 cars and drivers but, other than IROC (ABOVE, Johnny Rutherford and Ronnie Peterson at Daytona in 1975), that's all I recall. Today's contracts, schedules and big money almost make it impossible to have much crossover and it's a shame, because Clark, Stewart, Brabham, Hill and Rindt coming to Indy in the mid-60s elevated Indianapolis to new heights, and IROC was a prestigious series.

Q: Alonso to the Spaniards is what Mansell was to the English: a national hero. Our friend in Spain says "I hope he wins" (Andretti is working on it) and "I hope I can watch it" (Horrors! I hope IndyCar is working on that!). The Indy 500 will be live during Sunday evening Prime time in Europe. Let's pray that these millions of race fans have a way of watching the race. We can double the television exposure overnight, and yes, they are interested in our race. Feed them the bait.

John P. Merli, San Diego

RM: IndyCar will be learning which countries and networks will be covering Indy in a few days.

Q: I was wondering if you read the Jenna Fryer article about Alonso doing the Indy 500? It's a good laugh – she argues that no one will care that Alonso is doing to 500 because her 13-year-old daughter doesn't know who he is, and that he'll be frustrated since she thinks the Honda F1 engine and their IndyCar engine are the same thing. I did a literal spit-take when I read that, and now I've got to clean Dr. Pepper off my work desk.

Jake, Dallas, TX

RM: I didn't read it. Best I can figure is she wanted some attention, but her lack of logic (and knowledge) made her look pretty silly. The Jordan brothers instead of Alonso? Obviously, she wasn't around for Mansell Mania, and while Alonso probably won't get quite the coverage because 'ol Nige was the defending world champ and ran the full CART season, his presence already has the phone ringing at IMS for tickets and credentials. He is a very big deal.

Q: What is your prediction for Alonso in the upcoming 500? Personally, I think his participation is a mistake, as it is not a specialist's event (ask Townsend Bell). But I think, if he finishes, it will be Top 10. I'll say sixth.

Anthony Jenkins

RM: Well he doesn't have Kurt Busch's oval-track chops, but he's one of the most talented drivers of the past two decades, so I think he'll get comfortable and I imagine a top 10 is a possibility. But I love the fact he's taking a flyer and coming over to compete in a new discipline – that's a pure racer. And TBell had some great runs the past few Mays.

Q: I'm somewhat surprised by the number of people that have any doubts about Alonso's chances at success at Indy. He's a proven driver, and the cars are seemingly easy to drive. The only challenge he has in my mind is enduring 500 miles of what could be wheel-to-wheel racing - something F1 doesn't offer. On a side note, it's nice to see Mike Shank's name associated with Indy in a positive way.

John Fulton, Akron, Ohio

RM: Tony Kanaan said the last 20 laps will be his biggest challenge because nobody has any friends then and Juan Pablo Montoya said traffic will likely be the toughest thing to deal with for a guy making his oval-track debut. It's great to see Shank finally get his shot at Indy, and everyone hopes it's the beginning of his full-time move to IndyCar.


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Q: I am glad to see that there was no adjustment period for Josef with his move to Penske. Putting him with Tim Cindric was a smart move on The Captain's part. You could see the confidence at Barber with the passes his he made, and he out-drove Dixon as the laps dwindled. I'm sure he will be at the top for quite a while. I am a little surprised at RLL's step backwards - or have the rest of the Honda teams caught up?

Dino from New Hanover, Pa.

RM: Some people were talking about JoNew's "slow start" after St. Pete (he qualified fourth and finished eighth) and I believe I said on the NBCSN qualifying show at Long Beach that everyone needed to channel their inner Aaron Rogers and R-E-L-A-X. A podium in his second start and a win in his third - get used to this kid's success. As for RLL, a one-car team can't perform much better than it did the past two seasons, and now Ganassi's group, Andretti's armada, Coyne's new look and SPM have all caught or passed them. But Graham should be better next month with Oriol Servia in his camp.

Q: I am very excited about Alonso coming to Indy, and am now just a month away from getting on a flight in that direction. Do you know if ticket sales have jumped since the announcement? I know they were strong already. Are you sure you're going to get Alonso to eat at one of the local classics? I'd like to see his reaction to that. 

Tim B.

RM: My understanding is that the IMS ticket office saw a noticeable spike last week after Alonso was announced – and they weren't all from Ohio, if you follow. I'm working on an Alonso lunch and I warned him Sunday that double cheeseburgers and braded tenderloins are usually worth five MPH to rookies.

Q: Have you heard anything regarding the sponsorship/livery of Alonso's 500 ride? I hope it doesn't look like the space age cream-sicle look McLaren's F1 group went with.

Colin K. Knox, IN

RM: I'm told we will all find out together on May 3rd when he makes his IMS debut.

Q: All of the talk about Alonso coming to the Indy 500 with McLaren brought to mind a time back in the early '90s when Penske and McLaren had a close relationship. What insight can you share with regards to this? Was it based upon the mutual Marlboro sponsorship? The fact that they were both chassis constructors? They both had ties to Mercedes? What brought them together? Do they still have any ties, and if not, what drove them apart? Did McLaren and Alonso look to Penske for a possible ride?

Duncan, Port Perry, Ontario, Canada

RM: I think you've got your decades confused, Duncan. Penske and Bruce McLaren were rivals and friends in sports cars in the '60s before McLaren sold R.P. an Indy car in 1971. Penske campaigned McLarens until 1978 and then started building his own cars. Marlboro didn't come along until 1988 and Mercedes in 1994, so there was never a Penske/McLaren/Marlboro connection. Alonso is backed by Honda and R.P. runs Chevys.

Q: Would McLaren/Honda even consider seriously a full-time IndyCar team if they can't build a chassis in house? McLaren as a brand is more about the car than anything. It seems to me they'd want to be a builder.

On that note, I get the budget thing, but I do miss the days of the Penske/Lola/Coyotes/Eagles/Panoz with a dozen different engines. Such a razor's edge - we get great competition in modern IndyCars, but lose the diversity and innovation we once saw. No mystery Mercedes/Benz pushrod hiding in a warehouse waiting for its day in the sun.

How dire is the Scott Dixon sponsorship scenario getting? The four-time champ, I believe the winningest active driver and Chip freaking Ganassi and IndyCar can't find a name for that sidepod? It's getting embarrassing for the series if you ask me, especially when Alonso crosses the pond and the sea parts to make it happen. IndyCar needs that kind of commitment to the drivers and teams that have kept it treading water since the split and reunification. Alonso is huge, but Dixon in a white car going into May is a bigger story if you ask me.

Dan Pantaleo

RM: Way too early to talk about McLaren competing full-time over here or building a car because, as Zak Brown has said, until it gets its F1 house in order it's not doing anything else in open-wheelers except Indy next month. Yes, we all miss innovation, but can't see it returning anytime soon. Dixon will have a sponsor for Indy, and he will have a ride at Ganassi as long as he's driving.


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Q: Great race at Barber. I'm not really a road race fan, but I would rate that race an 8 or 9 out of 10. My question is, why does Barber almost always produce such good races when Sonoma is such a borefest?

Chris Lukens

RM: Good question Chris, and I think between the tires and Dallara's sturdy yet racy chassis you can put on a helluva show at a road course that was built for motorcycles. Some bodacious passes were made at Turns 3-5-16 on Sunday, and IndyCar really needs to run the full straightaway at Sonoma to have at least one, good passing zone. And, to be fair, Sonoma was built a long time ago for sports cars and little formula cars that weren't very wide or fast, so it basically needs a facelift in certain places. But it's a gorgeous layout. It just needs modernizing.

Q: I'm sitting here watching the IndyCar race from Alabama, and the track looks nice, the museum is some place I would like to visit - but who thought it was a good idea to design a road course with no passing corners? Ugh.

Steve Bennett, N Fond du Lac, WI

RM: Please see the answer above your question. There was all kinds of passing in the turns on Sunday at Barber. And the track was originally built for motorcycles, so it's much racier than anyone could have imagined.

Q: Will Ed Carpenter keep Veach for Phoenix in the No.21, or will Pigot get to drive so Ed can drive the No.20 just in case JR has not received any medical clearance? And another thing: will Zach drive the Indy GP road race along with the Indy 500 for Foyt?

JLS, Chicago, Ill

RM: J.R. was given the all-clear on Tuesday. Zach is the Indy 500 only.

Q: I understand if you don't want to answer this question as it is related to your employer. You're mostly unbiased though and reasoned, so I figure you're a decent one to respond. NBC is trying to appeal to a wider audience. They obviously overpaid for the IndyCar and F1 rights if they need to fill 30 percent of their broadcasts with commercials. It has been said that personal interest segments provide breaks for the viewership (so do the commercials, so that argument is a wash), but I could take the point as it provides newbies with something else to pique their interest. The main question is: What is it about returning to coverage only to show panoramic shots of Birmingham, Alabama instead of the race in progress?

Cody from Hillsboro, OR

RM: First off, I know NBC paid a lot for NASCAR and it worked because it put NBCSN on the map, but I'm not sure it overpaid for IndyCar or F1. As for commercials, I listen to the telecast on my headset and it doesn't seem to have nearly as many commercials as a NASCAR race or even an NFL game, but they are a necessary evil in television. And coming back from a break with a 10-second sense of place about Birmingham is pretty much standard operating procedure in any sporting event, and that shouldn't have people changing the channel. I don't hear a lot of complaints about too many ads on the IndyCar telecast, so maybe it was just one of those days.


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Q: I notice a couple of teams are running in conjunction with Andretti Autosport at Indy. How does this work? What does Andretti Autosport contribute for these teams? How come we don't see Ganassi and/or Penske partner up with other teams like Andretti does?

Scott in Portland

RM: Well, Michael provides the car for Mike Shank (and Jack Harvey), and Shank has the engine lease and must come up with a crew. Bryan Herta has combined his resources with Michael for the past two years and is basically part of the family (ABOVE). But Ganassi paid for Sage Karam to run with Dreyer & Reinbold in 2014, and I think Penske farmed out Jason Leffler back in 2000.

Q: The cause of mileage races becoming more common has just dawned on me. USAC, CART, IRL and now VICS have been dropping the fuel capacity on cars from 75 gallons in 1973 to 45 gallons, and reductions have been continuing until we now have, I believe, 18 gallons. It's gone too far. It's the same as trying to run a sprinter which has a tank for 30 laps on a half-mile track doing a hundred miler. There isn't enough fuel in the car!

On the next car, increase the fuel capacity to 30 gallons, and mileage races will become rare again. Going back to 30 gallon tanks won't add any safety problems - the fuel tanks have been pretty safe over the past 20 years. Yeah, we'll cut down on the total number of TV-loving pit stops, but the on-track time will double.

David Sutton

RM: Dave, I hate to ruin your day, but that's exactly what I was thinking before I asked someone who understood the process and shot down our theory. Here's how Mike Hull, the managing director for Ganassi, explained it:

"Today's engine technology for what is called fuel mapping has dramatically improved fuel economy. Perhaps a by-product of street engine development, or vice-versa. In the days of 40 gallon fuel cells, the engines had twice the HP and burned twice the fuel. Guess what, street cars back when cars had the tail lights housed in gigantic fins, got five miles per gallon. As race engine power levels have decreased by 50 percent, fuel mileage has increased two-fold.

"Today in IndyCar, there are just two homologated, and highly regulated engine architectures. Thus, they get very similar mileage. The pit lane has become a part of race craft due to spec car racing on-track. If a driver can save more fuel, it does two things: allows less fuel to be put into the car under yellow, so you leap-frog your competitor, and two, what is done is you race to a pace longer than your nearest competitor.

"If you then go a lap or two longer, you use the fuel saved in a full rich position for last lap or two to gain track position. Watching the ABC and NBC broadcasts, the announcers - including the technical experts - parrot about saving fuel, but seldom quantify how it has become a large part of racecraft. If you just turned to a full lean setting, you would run so slow that the entire field would lap you. What happens is that the better drivers drive through an entire stint at great pace, while working with their drive style to utilize the fuel to their advantage.

"The drive style required today is much different than when there were 1000HP Indy cars with big wings, soft tires, and got a bit more than 1 mpg. Today's better drivers take a shallower entry, and use the brakes in a different manner. If done properly, the style does contribute to better fuel economy. It isn't just about the rich-to-lean mixture that creates the best economizer. You would be surprised at watching a guy like Scott Dixon at Barber during the race turning the fastest laps, while getting extraordinary mileage.

"One small addition: in order to increase the size of the fuel cell for longer runs, Firestone would need to totally retool tires that match a full fuel run. Might seem like a small thing, but probably a two year development program to change the durability of the tire - but it certainly can be done."


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Q: One of the reasons that auto racing - IndyCar in particular - has lost fans is that the cars and engines are so reliable that one of the biggest storylines has been eliminated. When the cars and engines weren't so reliable, it was not just about who was going to win, it was about who was going to finish so they could win.

Did the fastest driver have to most reliable car, could a car that was clearly the quickest make it to the finish. We'll never get a famous line about a driver like "... and Mario slows" with the present cars. There is so much drama that is lost in pre-race and then in the race with this removed from the equation. F1 getting a lot press from the problems of the current Honda F1 car - it's another facet of racing that makes it interesting. The current IndyCars are so reliable that the most exciting thing about them is what color scheme they will have. It would be so much more interesting if a team like Penske with four top drivers had cars that were fast but not always reliable.

Michael Oliver

RM: There is no arguing that removing the element of innovation from Indy has turned people away and expensive cars/engines/tires have made finding 33 starters each May a struggle and ruined the most dramatic day of the month – Bump Day. But if people enjoy close competition and good racing it's never been better than the past few years, so I don't know that unreliable equipment or "run whatcha brung" is going to bring people flocking back to the track or in front of the television. A lot of us miss those days of revolutionary cars and ideas, but right now there doesn't seem to be enough interest or money to bring them back.

Q: Glenn Devery wrote about how IndyCar needs to step up its coverage to make the Long Beach Grand Prix a bigger deal. After attending my first LBGP, I completely agree. When I left the grounds after two days on Sunday, I was beaming. IndyCar felt big at Long Beach, just like it felt at Road America last summer and Indy the time I went there.

There are three cornerstone races in this series: Indy, Long Beach, Road America. Making this the new "Triple Crown" seems like the natural fit. Get the Triple Crown a big-name sponsorship. Get it it's own mid-season champion. Promise an insane purse to anyone who actually wins on all three track disciplines. Televise everything on the biggest media possible, worldwide.

One other way to make Long Beach a bigger deal? Move it to the week before the Super Bowl. I just checked the average temp that week and it's no different than what we experienced last week. High 60s, sunny. Quit waiting around for NASCAR - let's beat them to the punch. I wouldn't mind the Labor Day season cut-off if we started in late January. That could leave you with Long Beach starting the season in January, Indy in May and Road America ending the season Labor Day weekend.

Justin Einerson, Des Moines, Iowa

RM: I suggested that same Triple Crown in a column a few years back but only if it paid big money, which it can't at the present time. But I can assure you that Long Beach will always run in April because it's the optimum time for weather. It ran earlier than ever before this year because of Easter, but Jim Michaelian & co prefer mid-April.

Q: I'm a 26 and will be attending my 12th Indianapolis 500 this May with my father. The wife has never been to an IndyCar race and doesn't totally get my love for the 500 - I'm not sure she ever will. The IndyGP will be her first ever IndyCar race, and first time at the Speedway. We are expecting a child in September as well, so I can proudly say our little one will make his/her Indy debut at a much younger age than I did. I obviously have my list of things I want to show her to give her a taste of why I love Indy, but what are your thoughts on some ideas for later in the afternoon/evening Friday that might add some bang for the buck for the wife who is generally not big racing fan?

Jake from Wisconsin

P.S. To help her learn the drivers, we are doing a small fantasy IndyCar league which she picks her own team based on qualifying results and whether they've won the race in the past... She is crushing the Pops and I after two races. Seems like I've found myself a keeper! Now if only I can convince her to name our kid Wheldon if its a boy.

RM: Well Friday is Carb Day and it's a zoo, so get there early and leave early (unless you want to stay for the concert) and then take her downtown to Mo's Steakhouse for dinner. Go through the IMS Museum on Saturday and check out the cool A.J. Foyt exhibition, and then drag her to the memorabilia show behind the Pagoda. There's also a USAC Silver Crown race at the State Fairgrounds on Thursday evening and at Lucas Oil Raceway on Friday night, plus the Little 500 on Saturday night, but you'd probably be pressing your luck.


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Q: I'll be the millionth writer this week about Alonso, Zak Brown and McLaren. I'm thrilled for all of their involvement and the possibilities for the future, especially with Mansour Ojjeh's and Zak Brown's comments about possible participation in 2018 and beyond.

However, in thinking about the possibility of their becoming an engine badge partner for 2020, I hope they learn from Lotus. They dipped their toes in the IndyCar waters in 2011 and became a manufacturer in 2012 amid too much hope and fanfare. Through bankruptcy and receivership that became a debacle, and should be a cautionary tale. Too many variables exist between this May and February/March of 2020 to count those chickens before they're hatched. Right now I'm happy that a F1 team and top driver are coming over to compete, and hopeful that teams like McLaren, Juncos and even Michael Shank, whose entry into IndyCar is long overdue, get involved on a more extended basis in 2018. Do you see McLaren coming over full-time?

Dan W., Ft. Worth, TX

RM: I imagine anything McLaren does in F1 or over here would be predicated on its relationship with Honda, but it's way too early to consider.

Q: With Honda's on-track success and Alonso announcement, it seems like media momentum is all swinging toward Honda right now. Any chance Chevy brings in its own media rainmaker for Indy? I would stay Tony Stewart, but I'm doubtful he's in driving shape right now. Maybe Kurt/Kyle Busch or Brad K? Kyle Larson would be exciting and does drive for Chevy, but also for the Chipster. I know manufacturers don't line up right with the potential drivers, but with the right interest and incentives it could be done.

Chris, Colorado Springs

RM: No chance of any NASCAR stars this year, but hopefully Larson by 2018.

Q: I have great respect for Alonso and I think he will bring some fans to the Indy 500, but my favorite driver remains Al Unser. Al Sr would never use up the race car, but he was always near the front at the end of the race. He is a good example of "in order to come in first, you must first come in." Another driver I was starting to admire was Simona de Silvestro; I do not understand why no-one has hired her to drive in IndyCar. Is everyone mad because she tried to go to F1? I thought she brought good things to the fans and IndyCar.

AJ "Buddy" Pugliese

RM: Unser was the money driver for the ages but as for Simona, it's simply a case of not having a sponsor or an owner that believed in her, which is a shame because she was a fine road racer and a popular personality.

Q: I'm curious about the Cosworth engine you've mentioned in your previous two Mailbags. Is the engine simply in design form, or have they built and dyno-tested it? I can't imagine why Cosworth would do this as little more than an engineering excercise. If a manufacturer wanted to give it enough of a go to supply three, two- car teams, what would they have to pony up to get a third engine in the game?

P. Worth Thompson

RM: Kevin Kalkhoven, who co-owns Cosworth with Gerald Forsythe, says there is a complete design with computer simulations, but before any metal is cut there has to be an agreement between a third manufacturer and IndyCar. And IndyCar has to do a deal with the manufacturer. But, starting from scratch, I'm told it could be as much as $15-20 million so that would make badging with Cosworth a big economic plus.


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Q: This was picked up from my local newspaper in Rochester, NY - originally from the Elmira Star Gazette. Michael Printup of WGI mentions a few interesting tidbits. WGI is partnering with IndyCar to find a sponsor for the Grand Prix at the Glen. And long-tern negotiations are possibly to start with IndyCar at the end of the summer. Will the upcoming TV negotiations influence WGI or other new tracks to sign long-term deals with IndyCar?

Rob Peterson, Rochester, NY

RM: It's good that The Glen is a partner this year because, if you recall, IndyCar pretty much rented the track a year ago and served as its own promoter. Printup has been a big supporter of making it work, and a title sponsor is a must. But since the TV contracts don't expire until the end of 2018, not sure any tracks can make definitive decisions about extensions based on which network(s) is going to carry the races.

Q: There seems to be a lot of optimism regarding the prospects of new teams joining the IndyCar paddock over the next few years. Considering that the two engine suppliers say they lose money on every engine lease, would Honda and Chevrolet be willing to supply the additional powerplants necessary for an additional six to eight cars on the grid, or would a third OEM be needed to accommodate the potential full-time additions of teams such as Mike Shank Racing, Juncos Racing, Carlin Racing, et al? I know Honda/Chevy do it for Indy, just wondering if they would be up for stretching resources over an entire season.

Justin, Fort Wayne, IN

RM: I'd say that's a potential problem IndyCar would love to have, but if there is no third OEM in the pipeline then I imagine Honda and Chevy would embrace the new teams and everyone's engine bill would increase.

Q: I am 62 years old, and I have been a huge IndyCar fan for the past 10-15 years. However, because I didn't grow up with racing, there still are rules, even basic ones, that I don't totally have a handle on. An example is all of intricacies of the rules regarding yellow/caution racing. Yet when I watch the races on TV (and I never miss one!), they never go over these basic rules. I know that this may be boring for those who know the rules backward and forward, but I can't be the only one who would like a primer every now and then. I would think that this would be a priority for a sport that needs new fans. Your thoughts?

Jim Amerian, Santa Monica, CA

RM: That's an interesting point, and one I don't think I've ever been asked in all these years of doing The Mailbag. I guess we all assume that everyone understands the protocol and it would get pretty redundant to do on television every race, but it's certainly worth discussing.

Some yellow flags are obvious for accidents or picking up debris or towing in a disabled car, and sometimes they're extended while IndyCar cleans the marbles from the tires off the groove. There are full-course yellows where the field slows behind the pace car, and there are local yellows on a street or road course where no pace car is deployed and drivers are supposed to slow in that particular area. And the pits are closed when a full-course yellow appears until the field is packed up. Of course NASCAR has phantom yellows to give a boring race a shootout and a Caution Clock in its Truck series to try and build in some strategy, but thankfully, IndyCar refrains from these practices.


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Q: After reading your Mailbag last week, I wanted to be the small voice of one of the many few younger generation USAC fans left. I do not watch F1 so I don't know Fernando Alonso, but if you told me Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel were entering the Indy 500, I would then say, OK, I've heard of them. Anyway, since USAC is now dead to IndyCar and after the terrible loss of Bryan Clauson, what do us USAC guys have to look forward to for Indy 500? I am already a diehard Ed Carpenter fan, so I have him to root for, but since B.C. was the only entrant the past few years for USAC, will there be any room for Chris Windom, Kody Swanson, Jarrett Andretti or Brady Bacon? I also want to make "He said it" - that Kyle Larson will win the Indianapolis 500 if he's ever entered.

Andy, St. Marys, Ohio

RM: At the beginning of 2014, Alonso had amassed 32 wins, and he's still stuck on that number because of his inferior equipment but he's regarded as one of the best along with Senna and Schumacher. B.C. only got to Indy because of Randy Bernard and then the Byrd family, so I imagine Andretti has the best opportunity of the guys you mentioned because of his obvious connection. Without money, none of USAC's finest will ever get a shot (except Larson), but you could also say that about Tony Kanaan and Spencer Pigot because they had to bring some sponsorship.

Q: I saw that John Oreovicz was laid off from ESPN and the racing link on their website is devoid of any IndyCar articles. At this point, besides RACER, who is really covering IndyCar on a regular basis? With all of ESPN's cost-cutting I don't think they will hold on to the IndyCar TV contract much longer. Thoughts?

Tony, Atlanta

RM: USA Today might send Brant James or Jeff Olson or use the stories from The Indianapolis Star, and there are a handful of other regulars. ABC only wants the Indy 500, so I don't know if ESPN's slaughter will effect any decision-making on events.

Q: I just learned that along with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar itself, Hulman and Company owns the Clabber Girl baking powder brand. How did some random baking powder company grow to own the biggest racetrack in the world?

Argi, Spain

RM: Tony Hulman's father started the baking powder business and Tony grew Clabber Girl with a national ad campaign. When the Speedway was up for sale after WWII, he purchased it for a reported $750,00 and nurtured it into the world's largest, single-day sporting event.

Q: I have an interesting idea. Run three races during a weekend - even on the same day. Race 1 starting grid is determined by qualifying, Race 2 you invert the qualifying results from the first race or from the finish order, Race 3 (worth triple the points of the first two races) starting grid is determined by best results of the previous two races. You could even split the field in two and use the first two races on qualifying day, and then race the next day based on the finishes. This would work at Detroit, since they already run the double there.

Either of these two thoughts would prevent teams that qualify up front from running in race trim and force them to be more balanced because they will eventually have to come from the back to the front. It was exciting to see Pagenaud come through the field passing a car every two laps at Long Beach. What say you about these ideas?

Craig, Muncie, Indiana

RM: It sounds great, except it would cost the teams a lot more money and that would be OK if your tripleheader offered big prize money – which is highly unlikely. It's all about budgets, logistics and purses, and two races in two days is a big enough challenge.

Q: The visor cameras used during Friday practice are outstanding. Any chance we can see this used on the ovals? I know Graham Rahal had one at Phoenix and it was cool watching his adjustments, but the pure speed was insane. Seeing Indy from a driver perspective would be really cool! Same with Texas, Iowa, Pocono and Gateway...

Adam, Fort Worth, TX

RM: From Brian Simpson, manager of digital, social media and photography for IndyCar: "We've done one at Iowa and will again this year. We'll have one at Gateway next week as well. For the big ovals, we haven't done it yet but I think we have a new solution coming that will allow it to happen. So... stay tuned."

Q: Where is Jon Beekhuis this year on NBCSN IndyCar broadcasts? It seemed like last season he worked for both? I definitely miss him.

Paul

RM: He'll be doing the month of May for ABC, and then re-join NBCSN in July.

Dec11 lead.001This is the 21st installment in RACER's ongoing 25th anniversary celebration during which we share the 25 most important issues from our first quarter century.


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A shadow of sadness and doubt fell over the sport and RACER in the last months of 2011. Dan Wheldon's shocking death on October 16, 2011 during the opening laps of the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway defined the issue and hit the RACER team hard on a personal level. Wheldon had been a cheeky but welcome presence in our lives since he came to America, and Robin Miller's moving tribute stirred our emotions but made us grateful we'd been fortunate enough to know him.

Dec11 2

On the day of Wheldon's death, the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series lost Rick Huseman, so there was little to brighten our mood as we rolled onward to 2012. But racers carry on, and there were still champions to be celebrated.

Dec11 3

John Oreovicz profiled Dario Franchitti's impressive IndyCar title conquest for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. RACER editor David Malsher's feature on newly crowned Firestone Indy Lights Champion Josef Newgarden revealed a rising star with a big personality and even bigger potential. Tony Di Zinno's story of Dyson Racing's American Le Mans Series championship-winning effort underscored the fighting spirit of one of the foundational teams in American racing. Little did we know that that Dyson fighting spirit would soon be part of RACER's story of survival and rebirth as we approached our 20th anniversary.

Dec11 6

Edd Straw profiled the unusual path Bruno Senna took to Formula 1 and how he overcame unusual challenges presented by his famous uncle's legacy. Tom Jensen explored the fuel mileage battle that was changing the nature of NASCAR competition. Todd Veney examined Matt Hagan's NHRA Funny Car "déjà vu" championship ambitions for Don Schumacher Racing.

Dec11 5

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On the business side, RACER was also going through a difficult period. The ravages of the 2008 global economic crisis had taken a grave toll on parent company Haymarket Media and by the end of 2011, RACER's hardworking American publisher Greg Gill left the company to seek fresh challenges in motorsport. Thankfully, he would soon find the project of his dreams. With Gill's departure, the future of RACER was very much up in the air as Haymarket's management teams in New York and London grappled with their limited options.

As fate would have it, one of those options had moved into the frame on October 15, 2011, when RACER founder Paul Pfanner joined the RACER staff and Haymarket USA's CEO Lee Maniscalco for dinner in Las Vegas the night before the tragic running of the IndyCar World Championship race. The friendly conversation that began that night between Maniscalco and Pfanner led to a suggestion from editor-in-chief Laurence Foster that saw the Haymarket boss call RACER's founder in early December with an amazing proposition: "Do you want your company back?"

An intense effort began by Pfanner and RACER's founding publisher Bill Sparks to bring RACER's original cornerstone investors, Rob and Chris Dyson, into the plan to save the RACER brand and reboot its potential in print, digital media and agency services. Time was short, but through Foster's heroic and stealthy efforts there was real hope of pulling off the big save as 2011 drew to a close. The RACER story was far from over...

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