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Honda Racing MailbagWelcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://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, remember that Marshall Pruett tackles them in his Tech Mailbags. Please send tech questions to PruettsTechMailbag@Racer.com.

 

Q: Wow, after reading the 9/10/14 mailbag, all I can think is, with fans like these, who needs enemies?! You would never know that IndyCar tied a record with 11 different winners in 18 races during 2014!  That all of the races but a couple were exciting and full of passing with the winner decided near the end of the race. That the 2014 Indy 500 was one of the greatest in history! That TV rating increased again and that the series made a profit for the year finally. That Verizon will have their first off-season to show off their marketing skills with a new champion. The championship was not decided until the final race of the year with no Chase gimmick. And that aero kits are on their way for 2015, as fans requested!

I’m happy that IndyCar ends before the NFL starts. They are the only two sports I follow closely. I try to watch the Daytona 500, Le Mans, Sebring, Rolex 24 and an occasional F1 race in IndyCar off weeks, but the early end to the season is perfect for me. Hopefully, Dubai & Brazil will come on board to shorten the off-season, but Mark Miles will do his best to sort out the schedule. Relax. 

It is sad to hear that Barfield left, but Walker will find a replacement and we would all rather not have the race director front and center anyway. Take a deep breath. To complain about your cable bill and a shorter season is brain dead. Isn’t it better to pay extra for NBCSN for six months, rather than eight or nine?  Jeez, math is hard! So I for one, will be watching the NFL and continue to look forward to all the positives heading toward the 2015 IndyCar schedule! I will renew my seats to the 2015 Indy 500 and the three California IndyCar races! And as my mother always told me, “If you ain’t got nothing good to say... '”
Mark Z, Discovery Bay, CA

RM: No argument about your take on the season (although double points for 500-milers did ensure the title going down to the finale, so it was a bit of a gimmick) and it’s always fun to go to a race when you don’t know who is going to win. I think most of the complaints are from fans who hate to see things end by Labor Day and you are one of the few who liked it.  There is also an understandable concern about venues, consistency of the schedule and falling off the map for six months.

Q: I swore to myself that I was going to stop writing the mailbag and just sit back and laugh at the insanity that is IndyCar, but I just can't do it. Your September 10th mailbag was six pages of people bitching about the season ending too early and the lack of traditional venues on the schedule. You're writing that no venue wants the season ending Labor Day weekend race, that none of the classic venues are willing to pay IndyCar's (apparently high) sanction fee and the teams are not happy with the workload of the compressed schedule. Then I read the Sports Business Journal interview with Mark Miles and he says TV ratings are up (if you can call 400,000 viewers of anything "up") because they ended the season on Labor Day and had a compressed schedule. And, now that the series is in the black, he hopes to increase revenues by INCREASING THE SANCTION FEE! That same sanction fee that keeps the series away from Road America and who knows how many other venues.

I am stunned that IndyCar has missed the incredible opportunity to have Ernst & Young sponsor the series, since the accountants are obviously in charge. This would be funny if it wasn't so sad. Once the current TV deals are done, so is IndyCar. And Miles and company will be sitting there stunned and amazed that no one cares enough about their series enough to pay them for the broadcast rights, not believing that things are ending on their watch. After all, ratings are up! They're in the black! Wow. Talk about out of touch. Maybe the team owners should get together and take over the series. Oh wait, they already tried that and acted like a bunch of idiots, too!
Bill Carsey

RM: It’s not just the sanction fee that keeps Elkhart Lake, Watkins Glen and Phoenix away. That’s part of it, but it’s also dates and whether a track thinks it can take a chance on an IndyCar event without a big support race like TUDOR Championship or a title sponsor.
 
Q: I think a lot of people's frustrations are forcing them to miss the intent of BCG's recommendations. BCG tells companies how to improve their business operations and become economically viable. To that end, BCG's input was spot-on as Hulman and Company managed to turn a profit on their motorsports division for the first time in five years. IndyCar had a failing business model, and decades of poor decisions/mismanagement cost the family and company hundreds of millions if not billions in lost capital and lost investment opportunities. It took an independent audit to show how right that ship.

Did I like this year's schedule? HELL NO!!! Do today’s Indy cars capture my attention the same way Champ Cars and CART did? Not even close. Is the schedule fair to the men and women behind the scenes who bust their butts only to be given the pink slip? Of course not! But at no point should we kid ourselves about the state of affairs of our beloved pastime. Absent this year's BUSINESS changes, it was only a matter of time before Hulman & Co. would be forced to pull financial support, and IndyCar would have either folded or been sold to NASCAR. If Hulman & Co. wanted the best motorsports experience a fan could get, they would have given control of the series to Mario, A.J., Don Cherry, yourself, and Sebring's Turn 10 club. But until they can achieve year-over-year financial stability, IndyCar cannot afford to look out for anyone but themselves. I wish it wasn't this way, but overcoming two decades of misery is no easy feat. Baby steps, people!
Kyle Lantz

RM: I was always told that IndyCar NEVER had a season in the black and Randy Bernard said he would have come close to breaking even in 2011 or 2012 if the China race had come off. Mark Miles said this was the first time in five years IndyCar made money, so I have to wonder about that declaration. I understand the Indy 500 still makes good money and the TV contract ensures the Brickyard turns a profit and the inaugural Indy GP took in more money than the “500” practice and qualifying have since 1996. Of course, giving $30 million to the Leaders Circle has to figure in the bottom line so it's a tough nut to make profitable. I’d love to see the books, but I imagine Miles couldn’t say it was profitable if it wasn't, because he answers to the board.


TorontoQ: I have an idea for 2016 that has formed from the concern about the Toronto (ABOVE) date in 2015. Fans are always asking for IndyCar to add venues to the schedule. It’s been rumored that in 2015 that the TO date may move to CTMP (Mosport). If the 2015 event is moved to CTMP and successful, why not consider the following? Instead of having a double-header in TO in 2016 return to the single-race format in 2016 at TO. Then the following week have the next round at CTMP. Perhaps find a way to have a two-for-one ticket. This allows the following: (1) TO should get a packed house again with only one race; (2) Adds a new venue to the schedule, which fans have been wanting; (3) Reduces stress on equipment, drivers, crew by eliminating one double-header; (4) Adds a new venue without increasing the number of races; (5) Gives the Canadian fans what they deserve – their support is incredible; (6) Even though TUDOR wants to operate as a standalone series, this would make a great pairing at CTMP. I'm aware that it’s always easy to come up with a resolution. The execution of the resolution is the difficult part.
Rich, South Lyon, MI

RM: Not sure any promoter wants back-to-back races in the same general area and not sure IndyCar and Mosport are compatible. But I would love to see four or five races in Canada (Quebec City, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and maybe Mosport) because the fans are loyal and educated.

Q: Just finished reading the latest Mailbag and it touched on something that I was also curious about: are you aware of the strategies Boston Consulting used to develop their recommendations? Do they or IndyCar staff or tracks/promoters typically do fan polling or identify fans for focus groups? If they paid attention to social media and your Mailbag, they could identify some real-deal fans who could provide some intelligent, well-thought-out opinions and effective recommendations. Granted, they may also want to solicit input from prospective fans but there seems to be as dramatic a disconnect between fans and IndyCar decision-makers as anywhere in sports.

Secondly, a few weeks ago I called The Tampa Bay Times to task for not listing IndyCar activity in all its televised sports summaries. I received a very quick and polite response from the assistant sports editor and was able to have a little dialogue about IndyCar’s loyal fans, increasing television ratings, great racing, and the fact that it is definitely worth more coverage than NASCAR Trucks. Don’t know if I changed any minds but I can tell you that for the remaining races, all qualifying and race broadcast info was published.  Might be an idea for fans during this looong off season – campaign for better coverage from their favorite media outlets.
Brian in Florida

RM: I have no idea what the BCG report said because it’s never been seen my most of us. I do know some tracks used to conduct exit polls and that’s how we learned the average age, income, etc. but I do know BCG called Randy Bernard and spent a whopping 20 minutes asking him a few questions. So my answer would be, no, they had no input from real IndyCar fans.

Good job on making sure IndyCar gets coverage in your local major newspaper. Everyone should do that…and then maybe IndyCar could do the same.
 
Q: IMS back in the black, but at what cost? I realize IMS was bleeding, but was the short-term focus on finances detrimental to the future.

"Miles credited ending the season early with helping IndyCar post its second-most-viewed season."
I cannot understand how ending early was good. So you think the numbers will go down during the Chase and football season. How much more will the numbers go down because you do not have a product for six or seven months? Short sighted and short term goals. I have grave concerns about the future.
Joe Mullins

RM: I can pull out numbers from the 1990s that show CART ratings held steady in September and October against the NFL so I laugh when I see that ending the season early helped increase the TV ratings. Maybe the good racing helped increase the numbers or maybe the uncertainty of who was going to win. Or the fact NBCSN makes it entertaining. And let’s keep the ratings in perspective. From 282,000 per race in 2013 to 378,000 in 2014 is encouraging but it was 400,000 on VERSUS in 2011 and 778,000 on ESPN/ESPN2 in 2008.     

Q: What is the significance of Allison Melangton becoming a vp under Mark Miles at IMS/IndyCar? Her expertise is project management and promotion. With her success at running the Indianapolis Super Bowl in 2012, could this be in preparation for IndyCar taking over as its own promoter at oval races?
Ben, Westfield, IN

RM: She earned a lot of praise for coordinating Indy’s Super Bowl and I would imagine her job will focus more on IMS events than the series itself. But, as I’ve said, co-promoting ovals may become a necessity soon.

Q: Once again you bring up great points about IndyCar’s inconsistent scheduling. I wanted to go a little deeper into it. I think 99 percent of all IndyCar fans agree that the schedule is too short and the off-season too long. That being said, what do you think the best balance is? Is it to spread out the schedule or add more races?

I would like to think the answer is both. I would personally like to see some of the old CART & IRL tracks put back on the schedule. Knowing that some of them are economically impossible and/or a damaged relationship with track owners, would it be possible to have the new leadership repair some of these relationships or is IndyCar in the mindset of being too proud to do so? I also think we need more permanent road courses on the schedule, ie. Road America or even Road Atlanta. Also using the TUDOR series to partner weekends, but maybe IndyCar and NASCAR could help each other as well. The standalone Nationwide races seem to draw dismal crowds at a few tracks and could use an IndyCar race that weekend. Anything to keep the weekend of racing intact and not just one day. Would something like that ever be a possibility or do the two (IndyCar and NASCAR) just not care to help each other? Could the tracks themselves ever push them to do so?
Andrew Hess, Chicago, IL

RM: The ideal schedule was CART’s when it was 7-7-7 road-street-oval and the ideal spacing would be every other weekend. But, of course, the trick is giving a track or city the best possible date to succeed and that’s not always easy. Or tried. Keep Fontana in October for three or four years and I think it could draw 35,000-40,000. Move Milwaukee to the week after Indy and see what happens. Run Texas on the Wednesday night after the baseball All-Star game (that’s NBCSN’s Kevin Lee’s suggestion) because there is NOTHING on television. Give Houston an early race and a fighting chance. The TUDOR/IndyCar doubleheaders work well at Long Beach and Detroit and it was a hit at Mid-Ohio before being dropped, but was that because of the two sanction fees or was it because TUDOR likes running on its own? The sports car guys I talk to enjoy running with IndyCar because there’s always a good crowd for their race. NASCAR Trucks and IndyCar tried working together but it didn’t help in many instances and the ovals would be reluctant to try it again, in my mind.   


PagenaudQ: A few silly season questions...Is Hinch in or out at AA and where would he go if he is out? Is Briscoe in or out at Ganassi? Could Simon Pagenaud [ABOVE] move on and where? What about the young guys Conor Daly (my favorite young American driver), Karam or any of the young guys in Lights? Any additions to car count next year?
Brian Henris, Fort Mill, S.C.

RM: I just posted a story on RACER.com about guessing Pagenaud is headed to Penske, Hinch is being pursued by Sam Schmidt and Briscoe appears to still be in the hunt to keep his ride at Ganassi. Karam and Daly are hopeful, as is Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves. The Byrd brothers are running Bryan Clauson at Indianapolis but haven’t heard of any new fulltimers.

Q: It would seem to me that a few of the reasons Indy Car struggles with popularity is because of the long off-season; people lose interest, and because of a lack of consistency in the schedule. If someone wants a product to grow, it has to be in the public eye at a high rate of frequency. The double-header weekends are nice, but to me that cuts another event from the schedule. Instead of double-headers, have more support races, maybe even pair up with TUDOR sports car series. I used to enjoy seeing the Grand-Am race at the Glen and then the Indy cars the next day. Now that was good bang for the buck.

I also think that the series needs to give tracks time to grow an event. I am sure a lot of time and effort goes into planning and marketing an event. Why waste that time by dropping tracks off the schedule if the first year the attendance is poor? The time and effort should be finding 19-20 of the best venues available, come up with a schedule that runs from March to October, and tell everybody that we are going to support this schedule and venues for three years. By the way, whatever happened to the oval at Disney World?
Bill Ellis, Chambersburg, PA

RM: I think we all agree that there’s a nice crossover between IndyCar and sports car fans so the more double-headers the better. But, as I stated in the answer above, it requires two to tango (tracks and sanctioning bodies) and that’s not always an option without a strong title sponsor. I think IndyCar and Loudon gave up too quickly, to your point, and I think Disney World still runs a Richard Petty Driving School at the old IRL track.

Q: I have been an IndyCar fan all my life, but only recently (as in the last 6-7 years) become a diehard. I did not grow up watching the good ol days. I grew up watching two open wheel series go from greatness to irrelevance. As a kid, I idolized Buddy Lazier, Greg Ray, JPM, and Kenny Brack, not Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Gordon Johncock, and Lone Star JR. However, thankfully, I live in the era of the internet being at my fingertips. If I want to watch a race from the 70's or 80's, it's right there for me. No waiting for May to watch ESPN Classic re-air old 500s anymore.

As of right now, I have attended seven Indianapolis 500s, three IRL races at Michigan, the 2003 Kentucky IRL race, and the GP of Indy, and I'm not even 20 yet. I've lived in Indianapolis all my life and there was once a time when I could plan and afford (well, my dad could afford) to attend two to three IRL races a year. It was cheap and logistical. Kentucky was a day trip and Michigan was a nice two-day weekend. At that time, those dates were consistent. You brought that up in your schedule article and I completely agree. Consistency brings fans. If IndyCar wants to help itself, they would do their absolute best to keep these dates consistent.

Now, there was one point you made that I just took beef with. You said IndyCar should go to COTA and not worry about Eddie Gossage's threats. When it comes to COTA, I don't think it's right for IndyCar. Texas on the other hand, is. It's always held that June date (at least that I can remember) and I firmly believe that's the reason it hasn't seen a sharp decline in attendance. My worry isn't so much that we'll lose Texas, because right now I do honestly think Gossage is all talk, but that the attendance at COTA won't be all that stellar. Most of the F1 crowd at Texas are essentially tourists from around the globe. Plopping IndyCar there as a spring or fall race I feel wouldn't do all that much. The people who want to see an IndyCar race will go, but that will probably be the extent of attendance, as it is with most races outside of Indy. Unless promotion is better, I just don't see it.
Rob Peeters

RM: First off, good to hear IndyCar still has teenaged diehards and I met a couple of them like you this year at Milwaukee. People used to plan their summer trips around races but it gets harder and harder with the revolving door schedule. As for Texas, at one time it was IndyCar’s No. 1 draw behind Indianapolis and drew a legit 75,000-80,000. But that number goes down every June and this year it looked closer to 25,000. Not sure I’d have turned down Toronto (it was offered the same date that Texas wanted for 2015) in favor of TMS because it’s been around since 1986 and it’s a pinch because of the Pan-Am Games. And I’m not saying Austin would double that crowd or even wants an IndyCar race but it’s worth exploring since facility-wise, it’s the nicest road course in North America.

Q: I think the final IndyCar race should end on the IMS road course. I know it seems lackluster but hear me out. One of IndyCar’s problems is that the final race leaves fans somewhat discontent. It doesn't feel like a championship race because it hasn't been held in a world class venue. I love the Fontana race, I've gone the last three years and will definitely continue to go as long as they race there. However, the venue hardly looks the part for a season-ending major championship race. I believe the Indy road course is perfect for a number of reasons.

1. They can control the date. 2. Large fan base established in the region. 3. Most teams are located in the Indianapolis area so they can keep cost down. 4. Hosting the race at the "IndyCar Headquaters" give the series a fantastic opportunity to promote the living hell out of it all season long. i.e.- go after all the race fans that show up to the Indy 500, Brickyard 400, MotoGP, etc. 5. Great opportunity to find a title sponsor since the race is being held at one of the world’s most famous racetracks.

I'm 25 years old and marketing is part of what I do for my career so I may have thought about this more than I should. I care about the series and I want to see it succeed. I do believe that having a season ending race in a world-class venue is the way to go.
Nick from San Diego

RM: Despite the fact the BCG also suggested this, I think your suggestion has a lot of merit and could come true because IMS might have to take the finale since nobody else wants it. The track is greatly improved, as we saw this year, and the inaugural GP of Indy had a decent turnout that could likely improve if the title was resting on it. But I know the IMS/IndyCar brass loved kicking off May with it so it may never come off that date. Would you like a job in IndyCar marketing?


EmmoDallenbachMario

Q: IndyCar season is over so now what do we do?  Ya know I can remember the day when I pretty much knew the schedule every year.  It was simple: you had Long Beach, Phoenix, Indy, Milwaukee, Detroit, Portland, Cleveland, Toronto, Michigan, etc., etc. in that order. I’m often accused of living in the past because I want it the way it used to be. I’m sorry if I want continuity in the schedule or that I don’t want to see the man who heads race control on TV all the time. (I can remember seeing Wally Dallenbach [ABOVE, with Mario and Emmo] maybe twice?). That I want the drivers to quit whining, race in the rain, and police themselves. I just want consistency. I want the Indy of old, and that when I tell people that I love auto racing I’m not asked if I’m a Jeff Gordon fan (no offense Jeff). I’m sorry that I want IndyCar drivers to be a household name, like Mario, AJ, and Parnelli. It’s not that I live in the past, I just remember when IndyCar was relevant, and that’s all that I want it to be today. Cause I don’t remember complaining about the series I love back in the ’80s and ’90s. Am I alone?
Kris, Ocala, FL

RM: I was lucky enough to be around for the ’60s and ’70s and sure there was some justified complaining about USAC’s leadership (or lack thereof) and direction, but racing dominated the headlines – not rules, officiating, penalties or owners. Street racing makes for lots of contact so I understand there are more calls but I also liked it when drivers policed themselves, as you pointed out. Can it ever return to relevancy? No chance it’ll reach the heights it did back then or in the mid-’90s in CART.  

Q: I have finally talked my wife into attending a race at Indy. We are getting our feet wet with the GP of Indianapolis next year. Where should we sit/see while there? My goal is to get her to want to see the 500 in a few years.
Matt in Green Bay, WI

RM: You can see a lot of passing going into Turn 1, which is grandstands H & J, but I also think standing or sitting on the infield mounds is good because you’re closer to the action – maybe the grandstand at Turn 5. If you bring her back for the Indy 500, get any seat high up in any of the four corners – the vista deck if you can afford it.

Q: Does anyone in the current IndyCar management have the responsibility for the retention and acquisition of potential new car owners for the series? Seems like a nice opportunity this year and next to recruit some new blood to the Lights series that could potentially lead to new IndyCar ownerships. Maybe they could or should make the entry into Lights extremely attractive to start a feeder program. EXTREMELY attractive! Have read so many decent ideas in this forum over the years for growing IndyCar, yet all we see is mostly status quo with some non-effective "tweaks." No one argues it is an entertaining product. And no one argues they are horribly bankrupt with meaningful strategies to market it.
Jim, Indianapolis

RM: That’s a great question Jim and I sent it to Mark Miles because I don’t know the answer. But having a full-time team scout sounds like a good idea – for IndyCar and Lights.

Q: Why does IndyCar insist on ending the season at Fontana? Why can't it start the season, say in February before the SuperBowl and the Daytona 500 (maybe even the East Coast could get snowed in and a fistfight could break out at the race)? Why not divide the season into thirds: A) a winter season of Asia/Australia/Fontana (the ending race), B) the spring/summer season with Milwaukee following a week after the Indy 500 and the season closing in mid/late Sept, and then C) the South American fall season? Indy should be a full month of racing (one "E" ticket) of the Indy GP, a Pro-Am/Vintage/Qualifying/Indy 500 - how's that sound? And even though Townsend Bell hates them, why not make all oval (except Indy) races one-day events with points/paying heat races and a feature? Very old school, but it might work.
JJ, Studio City, CA

RM: Fontana was the only venue willing to host it, would be my best guess, but not anymore. It’s either moving to June or going away, whereas Auto Club Speedway would prefer a date in October (the spring doesn’t work because of NASCAR). One-day oval events are a no-brainer, saves everybody wear and tear and ramps up the energy. But running all over the globe only makes sense if the teams get a lot of money. 

Q: Only just read your schedule article and knowing the attendances of IndyCar events, I'm sure an event in the UK would get a larger crowd if only there was the money to fund one. Also, I agree with the moaning about the time when the finale finished; 6 a.m. UK time is too late. Finally, compared to the state IndyCar was in a couple of years ago, the future looks brighter.
Alex, Northampton, England

RM: The races at Rockingham, UK, were well attended and the crowd was as patient and enthusiastic as I’ve ever seen but not sure the promoter made any money. I hope the finale is on Eastern time in 2015 but I’m not sure the future looks a lot brighter – IndyCar had 24-26 cars a couple years ago and now it’s a shaky 22.


GrahamMarcoQ: We have all been waiting for the new generation of American IndyCar drivers in Andretti & Rahal [ABOVE] I know you have been Graham’s pseudo PR person and I have been the biggest Andretti fan since the ’70s but I think the time has passed and the genes just are not there. Although Marco has flashes of greatness I believe a big part of it is in his head and the pressure is too much, which makes what Michael did even more impressive. Although not as bad as A.J. Foyt IV or Just Al, the latest meltdown of Rahal at Sonoma proves to me it’s not going to happen. To almost wreck the car because of a radio conversation and then get a pit penalty (maybe it’s Courtney Force?). In the beginning, Graham seemed to be the more mature of the two but not so much anymore. To have rookies like Munoz, Aleshin and Hawksworth kick their butts is embarrassing. Is there still hope for at least Marco? 
Tony, N.Y.

RM: I think there is still hope for both of them but it’s dwindling year after year. Graham seems to have lost his confidence and I can never get a read on Marco. I thought he’d solved his road racing ills but he seemed to go backward this season. Still consistent but missing the sparkle. They both have pride and ability, but do they have the necessary hunger? Not as hungry as Hawksworth, Aleshin and Munoz, would be my answer.

Q: I’ve been a Graham Rahal supporter and apologist from day one, but I’m at my wits end with the latest RLLR engineering reshuffle. Graham reminds me of a very naturally talented college quarterback who doesn’t understand that you need to watch 20 hours of film every week to make it at the next level. You don’t just get to show up and be a superstar for more than a season or two before the act is up. 

I think it’s pretty obvious the raw talent is there, but he seemingly has no clue what it takes to make it happen every weekend in IndyCar. He’s far too concerned with chasing his latest blonde escapade or showing off his newest jaw-dropping supercar (not that that doesn’t sound fun). It could be so good for IndyCar if this kid was actually relevant at the racetrack, even more so than Marco. He’s usually well-spoken, great with fans, great at tracking down sponsorship money, and clearly has speed when the car is underneath him, which only happened consistently when he had the wizards at Newman/Haas behind him, but he just doesn’t get it because he is permanently distracted. He seems far more suited to the business side of racing, and it’s time for Bobby to wake up and replace Graham with a talented driver who is actually dedicated to his craft.
Ian in Chicago
P.S. I am going to a NASCAR race tomorrow.  Where are you, IndyCar?

RM: No chance Bob is replacing Graham but it was disappointing to see Bill Pappas and John Dick leave after only one season. Having continuity with driver and engineer is key (although Aleshin and Hawksworth jumped right in and took off) and that was Rahal’s complaint that he had none. I don’t know what to think because he’s shown the skills but he’s definitely not making any progress. And now he’ll have to start all over with Eddie Jones.

Q: Did you see Will Power on Letterman? He was fantastic. Relaxed, funny and engaging. Granted, Dave is a race fan so he knows what to ask and how to steer the conversation but I thought he did a great job. The only downside is after Letterman is off the air, I doubt anyone else is going to give them that kind of exposure. I thought your article about Beaux Barfield’s replacements was hilarious. Are we going to see your year-end report card?
Jim Doyle

RM: I did and he was entertaining as hell. But then Will has always had a good sense of humor, he’s just quiet. Yes, IndyCar will miss Letterman because he’s the only conduit to regular national television exposure outside of the races. He’s been a great friend to CART, IRL, Champ Car and IndyCar.

And yes, we’re going to start an in-depth year-in-review feature (daily) next week.


Hinch2011

Q: The young talent in IndyCar is incredible. I've been thinking about this for a while. What current or past IndyCar driver would you compare Munoz, Aleshin, and Hawksworth to when they were rookies?
Chad Frankenfield

RM: Tough to compare since guys like Al Jr. and Michael started in the best equipment with two of the best teams but the trio you mentioned are kinda like Hinchcliffe when he joined with a low-budget iteration of Newman/Haas [ABOVE] in 2011 – overachieving. Graham, as a teenager, was exceptionally impressive in his first year as Bourdais’ teammate.   

Q: Race fan here since Meadowlands 1987, a local race that got me into Indy cars. I enjoyed watching the old Marlboro Challenge race back in the '80s and '90s. I think it was entertaining, and some of these guys really went for it. I would love to see a current version of an All-Star race where entry would be determined by criteria such as a win, a pole, or recent past champion. I think it should be open to Indy Lights drivers, also. To make things exciting and to give each driver a fair shot, I would like to see a racing school like Skip Barber step up as a sponsor and provide evenly matched racing school cars. This could be billed as an all-star race that non-race fans might watch. It could also be a boost to the racing school. You could later drive the same exact car that Helio Castroneves drove, etc. The point is, would this be a good idea to bring back?
Ray Tetro

RM: I think it would be great to have some kind of Challenge that paid big money and could be staged during the off-season on television. I’d prefer they were Indy cars though, not something smaller. But I like your idea. And, by the way, A.J. always called it the “Medlands.”

Q: As a long time IndyCar fan, it’s become apparent that most of today’s drivers are not racing hard on the large superspeedways. With the exception of the few remaining drivers from the CART days (but even those have backed off a little) and Ed Carpenter who was raised on ovals, there’s just no more white-knuckle racing. It’s all about tire wear, gas mileage and attrition. I’m craving the old days (for me at least) of Paul Tracy, Michael Andretti and especially Montoya driving with no fear. Those guys took risks and made the passes when the opportunity didn’t exist.

Most of today’s racers come from road racing backgrounds and are obviously afraid to race to edge of their ability on ovals, like the North American drivers do. This is not a dig at foreign drivers as I’m a big fan of having them here. We just need more Americans with oval experience to keep the others honest. Since a surge of American drivers is not going to happen, IndyCar needs to come up with a strategy to make drivers actually race hard on ovals. I was not a fan of artificial yellows, like NASCAR does with 20 laps to go, but you’ve got to admit, the last 20 laps are white knuckle racing at its best.  

IndyCar needs to implement performance bonus points at different stages of the race to make the drivers race hard (not yellows). Take Pocono for instance: if a driver needs to pit by lap 68 for gas and tires on a green flag run, make everyone has to stop by lap 60. This way everyone is on the same gas/ tire strategy and give bonus points for the position they’re currently in for every 60 miles. If drivers accumulate points at different stages throughout the race they’re more likely to race harder without worrying about gas and tires. What do you think?
Jerry, Williamstown, NJ

RM: Not sure I agree with that. What may be true is that the cars are easier to drive and therefore very few cautions at Pocono or Fontana or Texas. But Dario always claimed the cars were harder to drive than it looked on television or from the grandstands. I do think the cars moved around a lot more 30-40 years ago and you could see a driver fighting for control and the ‘90s had big horsepower and some gunfighters like you mentioned. Incentive points during a race is an interesting proposal because I know fans hate to hear about “saving fuel” from lap 4.

Q: Longtime CART/Champ Car/IndyCar fan, been through the agony of the ups and downs of open-wheel racing in North America. My comment is that lately I feel that the IndyCar Series looks like a lottery for many drivers, where if they were at the right place at the right time when a yellow happens to fall a time a driver gets lucky enough to win that race and is not necessarily the leading driver.

And all of this, I happen to think is due to IndyCar being too happy to throw yellows at will. For example, look at what happened to Will Power (yeah he made a mistake and spun) at Sonoma: he dominated pretty much in all sessions, won the pole and ran off with the lead for a third of the race and yet lost out. The Huertas car, for example, stopped so close to the barrier that if they could have just put a local yellow and had the course marshals push it off behind the barrier would have been enough. Instead they not only threw a full-course yellow for it, they went off to do a whole spring cleaning of the course and the yellow lasted about five laps and on a long course? Not only did we lose five laps of racing, it just jumbled up everything for the leaders.

My point is, I watch F1 and they try to do all they can to not have a Safety Car out, but IndyCar just throws the yellow for any excuse they can get. Although I've been watching the racing like this for a long time, I think lately it’s bothering me that the racing has lost its purity, that everyone is proud to brag about how unpredictable it has been. But this is exacerbated by the trigger-happy yellows that they throw out. I don't know if anyone else has been bothered about this, but lately it’s been a big turn off for me. It’s inevitable to go yellow in a street course, I understand, but on a road course they could at least try to not go to a yellow for every little problem. What’s your opinion?
Shyam

RM: My opinion is that there are extra long cautions sometimes but it’s more to clean up the marbles than anything sinister. I hate the pits being closed for yellows because that can scramble a race (like you point out) faster than anything and truly affect the outcome. This year, Huertas took advantage of a good pit call and timely caution at Houston, just like Dixie at Mid-Ohio, and Conway was the first to dive in for slicks at Toronto and was rewarded but that’s just part of racing. 


ArieQ: After reading your story about the possible Barfield replacements I just wanted to drop a quick line to you. Yesterday I was at the annual Porsche owners/enthusiasts Holland event where Arie Luyendyk [ABOVE] together with former F1 driver and Le Mans 24 Hours winner Jan Lammers, made an appearance to have a picture taken with or catch an autograph. I know from TV coverage on your side of the ocean he is still very popular but after he was announced on stage and applauded after a short introduction, I believe he ended up signing like six autographs and had a few pictures taken in the 45-minute session he was available.

Unbelievable. A few years ago I stood waiting in the Barcelona GP pits to meet Michael Schumacher for nearly four hours to have an autograph and a few words, did the same over the past years with Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton and several others, no problem. Yesterday I stood next to 2-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, just the two of us and I could not say any more than "Thank you," being stunned and amazed just to even meet the man, the legend, as I believe he is the best racecar driver we Dutch ever had (in success and racecraft). Later on, while walking back to my car I saw him wandering through the bazaar looking at magazines, paintings and diecasts without being bothered. I really hope he gets a lot more appreciation and attention in the USA, as for me, he is a true Indy car legend!
Erwin Pitlo, The Netherlands

RM: Not that surprising, Arie has always pretty much mixed in with the scenery and carries a low profile although I would have expected more of a response in his homeland. People who don’t know him might think he’s standoffish but he’s just quiet…unless you’re a hot-looking woman.

Q: Watched my first Formula E race, or at least a couple laps. They need to put playing cards in the spokes to make some noise. Perhaps they could drop in V6 turbo gas engines. The IndyCar race at Fontana was a billion times more exciting. Yea, people drive electric cars and hybrids, but they also use lawnmowers. I cannot see paying to see lawnmowers race. Nor golf carts. 
John P, Glendora, CA

RM: I tried to watch a few laps but lost interest. I think we’ve got too many racing series now without the Charlie Chaplin 100.

Q: As I scan the program guides looking for racing it is obvious that IndyCar hasn't got a clue how to keep the fans happy or keep them returning for the next season let alone even remembering what IndyCar even is. You look at the mammoth attendance at the NASCAR Chase crowd and realize NASCAR won the war. So with no advance promotion, I accidentally tuned in on the Formula E race from Beijing. Maybe IndyCar has a chance after all. Is this the most ludicrous attempt to draw all the Prius fans to a race or what? Formula E is by far the worst idea in racing since Tony George came up with the IRL.

My point, I keep hearing and reading that IndyCar fans can't stand the sound of the current engine configuration. Not enough roaring balls-out sound like the good old days. So they're going to crowd the stands to listen to the E generation? I don't think so. I do have a solution, one that goes back to our youth. Put some playing cards on the wheels for that sound of speed. Formula E… Does the E really stand for ENOUGH?
Grumpy Gary

RM: It stands for eeeeewwwwwww!!!!!

Q: I had my first sports car experience at Road America a few weeks ago. As a lifetime IndyCar/NASCAR fan, I was open to trying something a little different. The friend that invited me is one of those people who only follows sports car racing because he thinks it's the only relevant motorsport. At first, the pompous nature of his opinion drove me nuts but I decided to go and keep an open mind.

Robin, I feel pretty ignorant saying this but it was eye-opening. I started to count all the races I'd been to this year (five NASCAR, two IndyCar, two Knoxville Nationals) and it was the best event I'd been to all year. Here's why: 1) Car count: We sat on the Turn 6 hill looking down at Turn 5 and the hill leading up to the start-finish line. There were very few moments where you couldn't see some kind of action. 2) Support series: The track was constantly in use. Constantly. It didn't matter what series it was, we watched because there was something to watch. It doesn't hurt that you have a view of a portion of the track regardless of where you meander. 3) Unique vehicles: This is the big one and the reason I'm writing you. Every car looked different, sounded different, smelled different. It reminded me of the early '90s when I went to RA with my grandfather and every Indy team/car had its own presence. 4) Raving fans. There are a lot of "car people" still out here. The kind that save up their entire life to get a certain car, drive it to Elkhart and root like hell for it to win a USCC race. Some don't even know or care who the driver is.

So what does this have to do with IndyCar racing? There's no doubt we are seeing a pretty good series week in and week out when it comes to competitiveness. But there's an entire motorsport fan base that got completely left behind during the spec era. The "car people" don't watch Indy anymore. The young kids who play Forza and Gran Turismo religiously would rather go to a LMGT series race than a Indy race at the Milwaukee Mile. A month ago I would've thought these opinions were crazy but out of sheer curiosity, I talked to a lot of race fans at Elkhart Lake and the one consistent point was this. "No, I don't watch it since it went to a spec series." I was at the Milwaukee Mile for Indy the next Sunday and the buzz and excitement was just not anywhere near the same level of the week before.

So here's my question. Does the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship deserve to be IndyCar's opening act? Or should it be the other way around?
JD Einerson, Des Moines, Iowa

RM: Good observations and to think NASCAR runs Elkhart Lake and IndyCar doesn’t is nauseating. And you identified some of the reasons IndyCar on ovals isn’t working. But I don’t care which order they run: the TUDOR Championship and the Verizon IndyCar Series need to run double-headers on EVERY road and street course.


Ed-JosefQ: I have chased you around the internet for years, love the Mailbag! While watching Mike Conway challenge for the win at Sonoma, I was thinking of the amazing season Ed Carpenter Racing has had. They have three wins, more than a lot of the bigger multi-car teams and I am curious as to why they are changing the formula. I see the benefit to SHR but ECR has proven a level of strategy, setup and talent that I hope is being recognized by the insiders in the racing community. I also am now paying the premium for Fuzzy's, so let them know that racing works!
Tom Polizzi

RM: I think it’s obviously a move to insure their futures and keep Wink Hartman engaged. But I think it’s going to be great for Josef Newgarden’s career because GM Tim Broyles will shape up his team’s pit stops and Ed will help him immensely on ovals [ABOVE, running together at Texas Motor Speedway].
Good to know advertising works for race fans.

Q: 1) What is the deal with the third engine and Cosworth? We heard quite a few rumors and it seemed promising and now everything is silent. 2) What is it gonna take for IndyCar to gain new team owners? The series has very talented young racers begging to get a shot but there are little to no cars available. Are there any rumors of new owners coming down the pipeline?
Kyle Good

RM: All quiet although Kevin Kalkhoven is in Japan so maybe that’s a good sign. Better purses and cheaper cars might lure some new owners but, right now, I haven’t heard of any.

Q: A few weeks ago a reader asked you about Firestone cutting back on promoting IndyCar and possibly moving on in favor of Cooper. Anything to add?
B. Sellars, Michigan

RM: I was wrong, Firestone’s contract is through 2018 (not 2020) and here’s what Lisa Boggs, director of Bridgestone Americas Motorsports had to say about advertising/marketing: “Firestone is proud of its unparalleled heritage in and strong dedication to the Verizon IndyCar Series. We continue to invest in the Series at multiple levels, including commercials on the broadcasts, as well as print and digital media ads.”

Q: What are your thoughts on IndyCar having a weekly TV show? I've noticed that NBCSN already has a weekly/daily show dedicated to NASCAR, and they won't be broadcasting NASCAR until next season, which to me seems like NBC is already shoving IndyCar to the side. This was a great year for IndyCar, and I think Power earned the championship. The season seemed a bit abbreviated, but living in the South, I understand (not necessarily agree with) ending the season before football season.
Patrick Black

RM: I think Mark Miles is hopeful it could happen some day but NBCSN is simply doing what makes sense: millions of people watch NASCAR races and starting a show as early as it did was smart. Having NASCAR on NBCSN could drive a lot of people to IndyCar, at least to check it out.

Q: I was wondering what your take was on why the racing spectating public doesn't see much of historic CART racing nowadays? I live in Northern California, so there are definite venues for these events if they were to happen at Sonoma and Laguna Seca. I am a fan of historic vintage style racing cars that encompass the great eras in racing, the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s predominantly. Why are there so many old rich guys who can buy up the old F1 cars but you don't see them buying old CART-style Indy cars from the great era of CART? I have seen videos on YouTube showcasing the great era Indy cars at oval circuits, but not from the glory years of CART [BELOW]. What say you?  
Trent Barr, Roseville CA

RM: Not sure those CART cars have been silent enough yet to be considered vintage – certainly not with the appeal of the ’60s and ’70s Indy cars. I don’t know, maybe some day we’ll have some Lolas and Reynards running around but will they interest us like a 1971 McLaren, 1972 Eagle, 1977 Coyote, 1979 Parnelli, 1982 Penske and 1983 Wildcat? Another thing you’ll notice about the majority of the old F1 cars you see in action: they’re normally-aspirated – either pre- or post-turbo era. Turbochargers seem to add a huge cost risk, and involve engine management systems that are harder to program by non-specialists. Well, of course those same two complications apply to all CART-era Indy cars, too.

1991RestartIndy

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Sales of GT3-spec cars and other manufacturer-based machinery conforming to the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship's GT Daytona class have been a surprisingly positive element during the 2014 season. That trend is expected to continue into 2015, which is in stark contrast to what P2 manufacturers are bracing for next season.

New P2 coupes from Honda Performance Development, Ligier and ORECA could offer the TUDOR Championship's Prototype teams a faster package to take the fight to Daytona Prototypes, but as HPD Vice President Steve Eriksen suggests, the overwhelming success by DPs this year has impacted new P2 sales in North America.

"I think it's very damaging to not have the Balance of Performance right," he said, referring to the 7-2 DP/P2 win tally through nine rounds. "That has really made a singular impact on potential P2 participation in the TUDOR series. It's also the single biggest factor which will determine where P2 cars race globally. The series has been trying to balance the cars, but it is still not in a state where a person is swayed to the P2 side. I'm glad they're working on it. They need to keep working on it. They need to have a sense of urgency because it's having an effect on manufacturers like HPD."

The performance differences between both cars have been thoroughly chronicled this year, and IMSA has done an exceptional job at bringing P2s and DPs together. Despite those efforts, the 7-2 DP win record is hard to ignore.

vettes detroitAt the point in the year where teams are considering which package stands the best chance at winning in 2015, Eriksen says it's hard for P2 manufacturers to make a compelling argument for their product while DPs continue to win the BoP war.

"We're definitely seeing more interest coming out of Europe for our new coupe than we are here in the U.S.," he explained. "We're in the business of selling racing cars, and you can only do that in the regions or markets where customers know they have a fair chance of being able to win. This is ultimately about Balance of Performance in the TUDOR series, and they hold the key to how the cars perform. We are very confident in the ARX-04b (coupe) we have coming, and have to rely on the series to ensure the [BoP] will be where it needs to be."

So far, only Extreme Speed Motorsports has signed up for the ARX-04b, and it's unclear whether ESM's coupes will spend the 2015 season in America, in the World Endurance Championship, or a mixture of both. Deals for Andretti Autosport to field an HPD P2 coupe recently fell through, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is keen on expanding its operation beyond the IndyCar Series, has had two potential P2 deals go south in the past month.

Onroak Automotive has its new Ligier JS P2 coupe for sale, and as Oak Racing founder Jacques Nicolet told RACER, the French team is optimistic the car's debut this weekend at Circuit of The Americas will convince American teams to place orders for its prototype.

"When we decided to take part in the TUDOR Championship with OAK Racing's entry of a Morgan-Nissan LM P2, and then from the Austin round, with a Ligier JS P2-HPD, we were perfectly aware that it would be very hard to balance the performances between DP and LM P2, and more specifically during the races, given the conception differences between these two types of car," said Nicolet. "Today, we're convinced that these differences, namely in terms of [safety], can lead certain teams to choose our Ligier JS P2, and the work done by IMSA to balance the performance as best they can allows us today to consider in very positive light the future of our Ligier JS P2 in the United States."

Both companies hope to take deposits for their respective P2 coupes in the coming weeks and months, although Eriksen conceded, "We need some of the people kicking the tires and sniffing around to commit to buying a car and place orders."

Will the dominance of the DP platform continue to stifle P2 sales as the TUDOR Championship heads into its offseason? Without an uptick in P2 results at COTA and two weeks from now at the Petit Le Mans season finale, Prototype could become a decidedly Daytona Prototype affair once the Rolex 24 at Daytona gets under way in January.

Pag-portraitIt’s a fun game we play all the time with drivers and owners. Where are you going? Taking your engineer? Are you hiring so and so? It’s a lot of denial or carefully crafted responses. Sometimes they have to lie about what’s happening and sometimes we have to lie about what we really know. The Silly Season is an ongoing competition between the few full-time IndyCar reporters left who still care and the guys they cover.

And the prize possession of free agency for 2015 remains Simon Pagenaud. His next stop could define his career and he’s got everyone guessing.

Pag-CastroBut this isn’t a guess: the 30-year-old Frenchman is moving up and into one of the top two teams with Chevrolet power. Whether it’s Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing remains the question I’ll spend the next few paragraphs trying to answer.

Simon’s contract with Schmidt/Peterson Motorsports expires Oct. 1 and the way they’ve been pursuing James Hinchcliffe leads us to think they know Pagenaud is gone. Michael Andretti admitted a few months ago he wanted to run a fifth car for Pagenaud but that’s not going to happen since his team is scrambling to try and keep Hinch on board.

Honda, which is going to officially lose Josef Newgarden to Chevrolet on Wednesday when Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher make their engine announcement, desperately wants to keep Pagenaud. He’s won IndyCar and sports car races for them and is a Honda favorite.

But with four victories in the past two years and a third and two fifths in the Verizon championship standings, the fast, friendly Frog has earned the right to make more money and move into IndyCar’s elite neighborhood. And, unfortunately for Honda, right now General Motors owns Boardwalk and Park Place.

Pagenaud reportedly told a couple friends he was going to the “best” team in IndyCar but he’s done his best Gil de Ferran impersonation and offered nothing in the way of information when pressed. Like on a phone call Monday night.

“What makes you think I’m staying in IndyCar?” said Pagenaud, unable to stifle a laugh, when asked about his switch to a Chevy biggie.

“Because you’re too old for Formula One,” I responded.  Briscoe

“Oh you know I cannot talk about my future,” he said. “But thanks for asking.”

Ganassi’s fourth car, sponsored by NTT Data and driven by Ryan Briscoe in 2014 (RIGHT) is the most coveted and seemingly available ride in the paddock. Young Sage Karam dazzled everyone last May and is under contract to Chip so he’s certainly a logical candidate to take over #8 but the NTT Data CEO adores Briscoe so he’s still in the mix as well.

I snapped off a quick text message to the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner: “Hey TK, I hear Pagenaud is your new teammate?” Reponse: “No, Honda won’t let him do that. I think he’s going with Michael. Plus, we’ve got Sage (Karam).”

My reply: “OK, just wondered if you’d heard that.”

TK: “I’m in Brazil, but I guess it’s possible.”

RogerPenskeThen it was a quick call to Pittsburgh and a short volley with Chip.

“No, I’m not hiring Pagenaud, hell even Sam Schmidt thinks that,” responded Ganassi when asked the obvious question. “I talked with him for a day but I’m telling you it ain’t me. I thought he was going with Michael.”

Informed that I had it on good information he was changing to a “big Chevy team,” Ganassi added: “He must be going to Penske then.”

It’s logical when you think about it because Helio Castroneves will be 40 in May, Juan Montoya turns 40 next September and Pagenaud is only 30. The Captain (LEFT) is always a few miles ahead of the posse and signing Simon to go with champ Will Power gives Team Penske a bright future.

What doesn’t jive is that Roger has NEVER fielded four cars in his 46 years of racing Indy cars full-time. And he indicated last week he wasn’t planning on it for 2015… unless I misunderstood him. Or he was playing our game.

The educated guess of a guy who’s covered Indy car racing for 47 years but flunked out of Ball State after two quarters?

Pagenaud will be Team Penske’s fourth bullet in 2015.

Pag-portrait2

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Verizon IndyCar Series team co-owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson have enjoyed immense success since signing Simon Pagenaud as a rookie in 2012, yet with three consecutive top-5 finishes in the standings and the Frenchman serving at the top free agent entering the off-season, there's no guarantee he'll return next season.

With Pagenaud's contract coming to an end later this month, the rising IndyCar star could sign a multi-year extension with SPM or head elsewhere, and while his possible movement has been a topic of great interest, the team behind Pagenaud's success has also been working on securing its future – with or without the four-time race winner.

"The good news is that the plan from three years ago (to hire Pagenaud) worked out; some people might have thought we took a little risk there but we did our homework, we had a solid team in place, and the good news is Simon helped us raise the level of the team," Schmidt (near right, BELOW) told RACER. "In return, we helped raise his value. It was a win-win, we got everything out of the deal we wanted, and I think he got everything out of it on his end."

LAT Miller 23May-21

Pagenaud is expected to make his decision in the coming days, and Schmidt hopes SPM's offer will keep Simon in the No. 77 Honda, although based on his tone, Schmidt might not be surprised if there's a vacancy to fill. He's also working on securing a long-term deal with Mikhail Aleshin, who drove the No. 7 SPM Honda last season, and is currently recovering from the injuries he suffered at Fontana on Aug. 29.

"It is our absolute priority to keep things exactly the way they were last year because we haven't had the benefit of having both drivers return for a second year together and I think that would be a powerful combination," he said. "Over 2013, we went forward in a lot of areas. We went backwards at Fontana, but we could have potentially finished second in the championship with Simon, and for all the obvious reasons, we're battling for consistency."

Pagenaud has taken time since Fontana to weigh his options. He's been on some rather impressive shopping lists at various points over the past few months, and one trusted source went as far to say Pagenaud rang Honda to say farewell and thank them for their years of support. If it's true, Simon could be headed for one of IndyCar's most storied teams.

"We haven't been told we won't have [consistency], but we can't compete with a massive salary offer that could be out there and that he deserves," Schmidt admitted. "So we have to have a Plan B, Plan C...and we've been working down that path for a couple weeks. The good news is with the results of the team, we've been amazed at the people who've come out and said they want to drive for our team. Some are obvious, and some, including a few Formula 1 stars who are currently on the grid at the moment, might not be as obvious, which has been very cool.

"So we've been talking with all of our partners, all of our commercial partners as well, to see what options we and have to take everybody's temperature on things. Our current deal with Simon is up on October 1, and I expect we'll know his decision by then, if not earlier."

lat nelson 14son2684Schmidt is also waiting to see how international affairs might affect Aleshin's return next season. Escalating sanctions by the U.S. on some of Russia's state-influenced banks, including Aleshin's sponsor SMP, could complicate the Moscow native's continued participation in IndyCar.

"I wake up every morning and watch CNN to find out if anything else has been done to impede our progress; I never thought I'd have to look at the international news to find out where my program's heading next year (laughs), but it does have some bearing on things," Schmidt said.

Aleshin wants to return, according to Schmidt, which is a positive sign that could inspire his faithful backers to find the money required to secure his future in the series.

"I spent some time with [Aleshin] when he was still in California, and all he could talk about was next year's schedule, that he was sorry about tearing up the car, that he was hopeful the team wasn't mad at him, and all he wants to do is get back in the car, which is great," Schmidt noted.

"It's going to take him a while to recover, and we'd love to have him back, but I don't know if that's our decision or his decision at this point. It's probably going to take another 30 to 45 days to figure out there and we're working on contingency plans in the meantime."

Schmidt and Peterson could have two seats to fill or a full house once they know where Pagenaud and Aleshin will land for 2015, and despite the uncertainty, Schmidt's confident his team will maintain its place among the Andrettis, Ganassis and Penskes in the IndyCar Series.

"We took a lot of effort to work on our chemistry, to work on what our employees need, and it's great to get the kind of feedback we receive on how well we work together and the caliber of our program based on the people we have in place," said Schmidt. "I don't want to say it doesn't matter who's in the cockpit, because it absolutely matters, but the response from our guys is that they know we can do some pretty incredible things with a good driver in the No. 7 and the No. 77.

"There's a belief out there that if you go and hire a bunch of good guys, you'll have a good team, but as some teams have found out, the names of the people you hire aren't as important as how they all work together. Good guys, individually, don't get the job done. We have a great group that works together, and we're confident we have a team ready of winning with any quality driver in the seat."

 

 89P2407I found myself repeating the phrase "It wasn't as bad as I expected" to those who asked the debut of the FIA's Formula E series last weekend in Beijing, and rather than weave a yarn about the event, here's a loose collection of everything else I learned during the championship opener:

  • The all-electric open-wheel series had 100 different ways to fall flat on its face, yet managed to make a statement by putting on a rather uncomplicated motor race. For the better part of two years, we've heard plenty about the ground breaking, emissions-free motor racing that would usher in a new era of excitement – a serious departure from everything else – but it turned out to be a surprisingly regular contest between 20 drivers.

  • If there's one major takeaway, it's how little the "E" in Formula E seemed to matter, and that's definitely a critical view of what took place over 25 laps in China's capital. Other than the mid-race vehicle swap and the absence of exhaust notes, the fact that the cars competed with batteries in place of combustion engines proved to make little difference in the final product. Hit the mute button and I'm not sure there was much left to distinguish the Formula E brand from any other lower-tier open-wheel series on television. Nothing on the cars screamed 'Electric,' nor was the race constructed in a way that amplified Formula E's most unique attribute. For those who were more interested in the message being sent – that it's possible to hold an all-electric event – than the race itself, I'd ask who the message is meant to reach. For racing fans new and old who tuned in or attended, the concept was definitely interesting to view, but for me, the wonderment was over at the end of lap 1. The cars pulled away when the start lights went out – most of the cars, to be accurate--and then navigated the course. By the end of lap 1, the investment was validated, the concept was proven, and by the time we reached lap 2, it felt like an ordinary motor race. That, on its own, was sad. And once the race settled into its rhythm, it failed to trigger much emotion until we reached the final corner on the last lap when Nico Prost turned his brain off. Minus the scary crash, Formula E's debut was rather subdued from lap 2 to 24, and without an injection of action and excitement, all the tecno music in the world won't stop the series' prized 18-25 demographic from tuning out.

 SBL5693

  • How much fun was it to watch Franck "The Tank" Montagny go for broke throughout the race (ABOVE)? While the rest of the drivers appeared to race with real concerns of making it to the final lap, I wasn't sure Franck was particularly concerned about making it through the next corner. Good to see he hasn't mellowed with age.
  • Drivers were tasked with harvesting and conserving energy in the race, but you wouldn't have known it. Accentuating the one thing that makes Formula E different from every other series would seem like a priority going forward. By comparison, the FIA World Endurance Challenge has its LMP1-Hybrid prototypes that use combustion engines and energy harvesting/spending systems that combine to make the most of the limited fossil fuels permitted by the rules, and the efforts by drivers to make speed while conserving resources is a big part of the game, as well as a point of emphasis from the series. It should be an even bigger part of the story told during each Formula E broadcast.

  • The FanBoost option that gave three drivers an extra 40hp (as voted by the fans in an online poll) was treated more like a penalty than a gift. With limited battery power available, pushing the button to get the boost was a risky proposition due to the extra drain it would cause. I'm not sure the series expected its big fan-driven gimmick to backfire, and if we're lucky, they'll retool the concept before Round 2 in Malaysia.

  • If the series wants to attach real meaning to its eco-conscious events, how about rewarding drivers for setting the fastest laps while using the least amount of energy? Isn't that the central focus of the entire series – speed produced by ultimate efficiency? At present, that message is nowhere to be found. Pay the award by giving the top performer a slightly higher pit lane speed limit during the vehicle swap – the cars are already bog slow during this phase and use minimal energy, making a 5mph increase a welcome gift that won't burn down the battery.

  • The Internet is a decidedly unhappy place. If Formula E wants to quadruple its awareness via social media, I suggest adding a second by-the-fans poll where people can vote to take power away from whomever receives the most votes in the FanDrain competition. Think of all the hatred it could spawn based on silly things like whether people like a driver's name, nationality, their looks, or other pithy things that breed contempt on the intarwebs. The series currently asks its drivers to win popularity contests to get the 40hp FanBoost; how about asking drivers to trash each other to make sure the other guy loses? This has the potential to be a viral sh*tfest if Formula E is willing to steer things in a darker direction...

  • It would have been nice to have someone like Bob Varsha involved with FOX Sports 1's broadcast to lend a familiar and experienced voice to the series. The embedded host was underwhelming, making a separate commentary team with Varsha, whose decades of experience leading Formula 1, Indy car and sports car races should make him an obvious choice. Add a well-studied, no nonsense color analyst like Calvin Fish as his partner, and it's a no-brainer for FOX to consider. I thought Dario Franchitti did a solid job on his debut, and as he finds his voice – and let's some of his humor shape the commentary – it will only improve the product.

  • A DTM team (BELOW) triumphs over a field loaded with elite open-wheel operations. What an awesome surprise.


audi motorsport-140913-6573


  •  G7C1347Obvious Statement Alert: The cars are just slow. Camera pans took a painfully long time as the Formula E cars lumbered past, and while I knew to expect it, it was still rather startling to view. There's nothing for the series to do at the moment, and nothing that doubling the 200 ponies available in race trim that wouldn't fix the problem. The series has already invested a fortune on getting the cars to Round 1, and each battery already weighs 700 pounds, so the only remedy is limiting long pans and any other camera angles that expose the lack of compelling acceleration.

  • The lack of power also exposed the limited passing opportunities, and most passes only happened when the leading driver made a mistake under braking or by getting sideways exiting a corner. While that isn't unique to Formula E – it's the norm in the junior open-wheel categories, it does take away from a driver's ability to push hard and take risks. The majority of those who pushed hard paid the price by locking a brake or catching a slide, and rather than gain a position, they lost a spot to the car behind. Don't be surprised if the new emphasis is perfection, and with so many talented drivers in the series capable of executing at a high level, it could spawn some perfectly boring single-file racing.
  • I should have thought of this beforehand, but man, the parade lap and safety car laps are wickedly slow. The pace was so slow, I'm wondering if it was even possible to build proper brake and tire temperatures.

Prost Look

  • What is there to say about Nicolas Prost's move on Nick Heidfeld other than it was as dirty as it was dumb. Prost claims he didn't know Heidfeld was coming, yet looking in his mirror right before his Rebellion Racing LMP1 teammate pulled out to make the pass (ABOVE)....so was he using the mirror to check and see if he had something stuck in his teeth? My first thought was of a bizarre father/son tribute 25 years after Alain turned in massively early on an overtaking Ayrton Senna at Suzuka... The FIA is known for applying Draconian penalties to the mildest infractions, which makes me wonder how Prost's wildly inept decision – one that resulted in Heidfeld being flipped like a pancake into the fencing – only warranted a 10-spot grid penalty for the next round. It sends a dangerous message.

  • Predictions that the Beijing e-Prix would be overwhelmend with more fans than the circuit could handle turned out to be pure fantasy. CEO Alejandro Agag crowed over selling out all of the tickets for the event, but once we saw the limited number of grandstands that were erected, it was a bit like a garage band boasting over playing in front of a packed house. Trust me, I want to see Formula E succeed on a grand scale, but I don't need the smoke and mirrors routine from the series while it's in its infancy.

  • How is three-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon not embroiled in a bidding war for his services? Going fast while saving energy...he's the best on the planet at the very discipline that's needed to win Formula E races, and should be on the shopping list of every team while the Kiwi sits idle during IndyCar's looooooooooooong offseason. Dixie's the only guy I can think of who stands a reasonable chance of leading every lap and winning every race without swapping cars...

  • Penalties galore. In a series where battery life is a limiting factor – to the point where two cars are required to finish a single race, having something as silly as a power consumption limit seems ridiculous. The penalty for using too much energy should be crawling to a stop during the race, not a post-race demotion as Abt suffered for using 28.2kw (instead of the 28.0kw maximum). I'm not advocating the race being run without rules, but the litany of penalties that were handed out for some admittedly obscure infractions only added to the confusion.

  • It wasn't long before audio problems made hearing the commentators a genuine problem. There was either a volume issue or a frequency issue at hand, and I tend to think it had something to do with overlapping frequencies. The separation between engine noises and the higher tones spoken by most commentators has worked for ages, but it's possible the higher tone of the Formula E cars had the unintended effect of creating a noise cancelling dynamic, muffling what was being said in the booth. The moment the director turned down the trackside microphones, the commentators could be heard, which makes me think there's value in raising the host's mics at future rounds. Lowering the ambient car sounds certainly isn't the answer – there's not much of it to dial down.

  • Prost and the e.dams team absolutely nailed their vehicle swap, recording a pit-in to pit-out time the better part of four seconds faster than their rivals. With 20 identical cars leaving little room for differentiation, leave it to a team to turn the one moment of human interaction into a handy advantage.

  • The fact that it got off the ground without any show-stopping hiccups was a miracle, and now they have plenty of time until Round 2 to make plenty of tweaks to the product. With the enthusiasm from those in charge of the series, I'm confident Round 1's deficiencies will be thoroughly addressed before everyone reconvenes 66 days from now in Putrajaya.

  • There's clearly a lot of work to be done, but there's definitely something positive for Formula E to build on, although I'm not sure we'll see the series hit its stride during the inaugural season. I'll continue to watch with interest as those within the series learn from the shortcomings that are exposed at every round – it is a new type of racing, after all, and with a bit of patience and gentle encouragement, Formula E could take root as a series that makes waves in the coming years. (And I'm not kidding about that hatred-based FanDrain idea, either...Formula WW-E, here we come, baby!)

MORE Formula E...

MALSHER: Formula E is missing that vital spark

VIDEO: Formula E Beijing highlights

Clampdown extends to F1 pit boards

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The FIA has told Formula 1 teams that the ban on advice being given to drivers will also extend to pit boards from this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix.

Following a clampdown on team radio conversation that was announced last week, the governing body has now clarified with teams exactly what is and is not allowed.

In a lengthy note that was sent to teams on Monday, and then published by the FIA, it made clear the areas of car settings that drivers would now have to deal with themselves. It was also pointed out that teams would not be allowed to get around the radio ban by displaying information on the pit board instead.

However, some leeway has been given until the Japanese GP for teams to get better fail-safe systems in place so that drivers can cope with areas like tire pressure, brake wear and gearbox learning without safety or reliability being compromised.

Further discussions with teams are expected to take place ahead of the Singapore GP for the teams and the FIA to clear up any outstanding issues.

The dramatic nature of the new interpretation of the rules has already left Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff in no doubt that there will be some controversy as it comes in to force.

"The directive is not yet fully clear and there will inevitably be some controversy, so it will need further clarification as to how much the essential on-track procedures will be affected – particularly before the start of the race," he said.

THE FIA's FULL CLARIFICATION OF TEAM RADIO SITUATIONS

The FIA's note issued to teams made clear what team messages – either through pit boards or radio communications – that are and are not allowed from now on.

Here is the full list:

WHAT IS ALLOWED

- Acknowledgment that a driver message has been heard.
- Lap or sector time detail.
- Lap time detail of a competitor.
- Gaps to a competitor during a practice session or race.
- "Push hard", "push now", "you will be racing xx" or similar.
- Helping with warning of traffic during a practice session or race.
- Giving the gaps between cars in qualifying so as to better position the car for a clear lap.
- Puncture warning.
- Tire choice at the next pit stop.
- Number of laps a competitor has done on a set of tires during a race.
- Tire specification of a competitor.
- Indication of a potential problem with a competitor's car during a race.
- Information concerning a competitors likely race strategy.
- Yellow flags, blue flags, Safety Car deployment or other cautions.

WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED

- Sector time detail of a competitor and where a competitor is faster or slower.
- Adjustment of power unit settings.
- Adjustment of power unit setting to de-rate the systems.
- Adjustment of gearbox settings.
- Learning of gears of the gearbox (will only be enforced from the Japanese GP onward).
- Balancing the SOC [state-of-charge of batteries] or adjusting for performance.
- Information on fuel flow settings (except if requested to do so by race control).
- Information on level of fuel saving needed.
- Information on tire pressures or temperatures (will only be enforced from the Japanese GP onward).
- Information on differential settings.
- Start maps related to clutch position, for race start and pit stops.
- Information on clutch maps or settings, e.g. bite point.
- Burn-outs prior to race starts.
- Information on brake balance or BBW (brake-by-wire) settings.
- Warning on brake wear or temperatures (will only be enforced from the Japanese GP onward).
- Selection of driver default settings (other than in the case of a clearly identified problem with the car).
- Answering a direct question from a driver, such as, "Am I using the right torque map"?
- Any message that appears to be coded.

 

 

 

Originally on Autosport.com

 SBL5712

I’m not living in the past. I hope there’s a place for an all-electric racing series (until solar power can be harnessed properly for road/racecar applications). I think the FIA is smart to have given Formula E the green light. I admire the series for daring to be different regarding its race venues. And I do believe this series has staying power…

…But only if the spectacle is radically improved.

I will always hold the belief that the key to making a racing series a must-see spectacle is to make one car running solo look breathtaking, whether you’re standing trackside or watching on TV. My logic is this: for the majority of time, the cars will be following roughly the same strategy and running in approximate order of speed – fast at the front, mediocre in the middle, slow at the back – therefore, it’s inevitable that the cars will get strung out. But that needn’t matter if a single car provides huge entertainment by making visibly huge demands of its driver.

It’s a power vs. grip thing. That’s why we still rave about Can-Am. That’s why the World Rally Championship is still awesome to behold. Just as you were never left in any doubt of the personal efforts of Mark Donohue, George Follmer, Denny Hulme or Bruce McLaren as they blasted past in a 700hp-plus monster, so there can be little doubt that Sebastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala, Mikko Hirvonen and Thierry Neuville are on the limit. The cars are twitching under power and under braking, they’re drifting, jumping, understeering, oversteering. In short, these cars require taming, and it’s obvious that it’s not something the common man or woman could do. It inspires awe; it creates heroes and memories that last forever.

Formula E, by contrast, looks far too easy. Obviously it wasn’t that easy, otherwise we’d have had 20 winners at Beijing but,  89P2408considering that was a street course, the cars adhered to the road far too well. And, given that none of the corners looked high-speed, I’m assuming it was rubber-to-ground/mechanical grip rather than downforce that made the cars so well-behaved.

The instant torque of an electric motor which makes, for instance, a Fiat 500e so much fun to drive in the wet – with traction control turned off, it will spin its wheels in a straight line at 30mph – should have made these Formula E cars twitchy. Instead, the Spark-Renault SRT 01Es speared off the grid and thereafter appeared far too docile, power output comprehensively overruled by grip. Through all those 90-degree corners, they behaved as if they were all-wheel-drive – initial turn-in understeer followed by just enough torque to straighten them out on corner exit, but not slide them.


 89P1852

Formula E is just half a second quicker around Donington Park than Formula Ford, and while this needn’t be a problem in itself, I’d far rather watch a pack of F-Fords because they’re a visual treat, given their power-to-grip ratio. I can witness car control and drifting; I can distinguish between driving styles; I can see kids and veterans do things with a racecar that I never could; I can see the cream rise to the top. Formula E cars – at least in Beijing – looked very much point and shoot, with an individual’s ultimate pace dictated by the machinery’s relatively low performance threshold. On reaching that threshold, there was nothing to separate the best from the not so great. It felt as if, were I brave/confident enough, I could do it myself.

 G7C1781Nonsense, of course. The one thing I could have done as well as anyone else is what Nicolas Prost did to Nick Heidfeld approaching the final corner of the final lap (although there’s no way I’d have matched the guilty party’s lame protests of innocence). But the cars did not look demanding at all, and that’s sad considering the race veterans who filled the field.

Maybe I’ve had it too good: I’ve seen Nick Heidfeld flat-out in the lovely Rebellion Lola while trying to get on terms with the far superior Audis at Sebring; I’ve witnessed Oriol Servia passing Paul Tracy around the outside of Turn 1 at Indy; I’ve seen Franck Montagny starting to master a Champ Car at Long Beach; and I still get goosebumps remembering the footage of Jarno Trulli’s pole-winning lap at Monaco in 2004. Watching these and other highly talented drivers whirring, squeaking and flicking their way around Beijing’s Olympic Park at 100mph seemed tame in comparison…because it was.

The major flaw, in my opinion, is that these Sparks look like conventional open-wheel racecars. Not only has this ensured they’re too well planted, it doesn’t project the image of futurism so well-meaningly peddled by advocates of their power source. Had Formula E consisted of superfast electric karts, or light egg-shaped “Cars Of The Future” running on skinny tires, just think what influence those McLaren-built 200kW power units would have had on the handling of the vehicle, and therefore, the spectacle! Think, too, how much longer the Williams-built batteries might last in a far lighter car with a reduced frontal area.

Of course, that’s a long-standing racing enthusiast talking and not the target demographic of Formula E, which is apparently trying to attract new fans to the sport, rather than overcome the prejudices of traditional motorsport aficionados. Yet if this series is to succeed, it surely needs to appeal to both sides… and the folk who can’t appreciate the sight of a flying lap from Lewis Hamilton at Spa, Will Power at Sonoma or Kazuki Nakajima at Le Mans – never mind the ridiculous thrills of NHRA or World of Outlaws – will be far harder to convince of racing’s merits than us, who couldn’t quit watching racing even if we tried. Based on Beijing, I wonder how many people in either camp were impressed with Formula E.

 A8C9160The idea of an environmentally friendly race series is a worthy one, but if no one enjoys the show, its “green” credentials are irrelevant. As race fans, we’ve all heard people question our fascination with a sport that consists of “just cars driving around and around.” But has anyone been asked, “How can you watch two hours of fossil fuels being burned?” The reply that these cars are electric and aren’t harmful to the environment is not going to persuade the skeptic to sit down and watch people driving “around and around” in vehicles that behave and sound like slot cars. There's still no captivating hook for outsiders.

People “get” racing or they don’t, and if this brave new series is to become popular, as opposed to just a money-earner for participants and suppliers, it must appeal to current (no pun intended) racing enthusiasts as well as potential new fans. And to attract either, never mind both, it must be far more entertaining than Formula E in Beijing.

While we should commend the FIA, Alejandro Agag and all of Formula E’s suppliers for having the courage of their convictions, getting behind this project and not merely creating yet another “normal” junior open-wheel formula, it’s hard to believe this formula will convert non-believers into race fans, any more than it will persuade existing racing enthusiasts that all-electric racecars are more than just a gimmick.

We could be witnessing the start of something big, but I wish we hadn't seen the cars so early in their gestation, before they can complete more than 25 minutes at only 200hp. Watching drivers have to stop mid-race and jump into another car will never convey the right message about the viability of pure battery power in either road car or racecar applications. And however unusual the cars, the race formats and the chosen venues, the basic entertainment element of Formula E is missing that vital electricity.

 W2Q1865

time-machines-leadLike something out of a science fiction movie, the LMP1-H cars from Audi, Porsche and Toyota push technology to the limit, with future benefits for the street cars we all drive.

This story is an excerpt from RACER magazine's THE INSIDER ISSUE, on sale now.

20140614 LM-76-ct4Hidden away inside the recesses of the Automobile Club de l'Ouest and the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, the men in charge of crafting the new LMP1-H regulations decided a half-ration of insanity and a full measure of inspiration was needed to prod the automobile industry.

Within the minds of those freethinkers, a concept involving the shift from heavy reliance on fossil fuels began to percolate. It quickly expanded to an interwoven matrix of aerodynamic purity, decreased curb weight, reduced fuel capacity, fuel usage limits per lap, and increased hybrid assistance to steer its marquee prototypes in a greener, more relevant direction.

The ACO/FIA decided a complete sea change was in order, and the risk/reward factor would certainly favor those capable of mastering the challenge, but at what price?

Announced in 2012, the new-for-'14 regulations could perhaps have been perceived as a massive overreach. To comply with them, costs would rocket and taking huge gambles would be required at every step of the design process.

Dole LAT LM24 2014037Yet Audi, Porsche, and Toyota immediately answered the call and, through the first three rounds, the eco friendly regulations devised by the ACO's Vincent Beaumesnil and his FIA brethren allayed any fears that the World Endurance Championship would become a tedious fuel-saving exercise for LMP1-H cars.

June's 24 Hours of Le Mans featured lap times that eclipsed the best seen in 2013 by more than a half-second, and even with new-formula reliability issues that inevitably hit each camp, the 82nd running of the race was defined by fierce LMP1-H battles.

The endurance classic also brought three wildly disparate technical interpretations to the world's attention, stealing a technological march from Formula 1 in the process.

"Our target was to motivate our manufacturers in new ways – to improve fuel consumption and reduce the use of fossil energy by 30 percent, while maintaining the same performance," says Beaumesnil. "It's a massive challenge. Le Mans had diesel and gasoline; it had hybrid, so it was logical to do more innovative things with the technology. The idea was to not become an economy race, and it isn't all about hybrid systems. It's about every part of the car being better and smarter – we are the only series with big freedom on the internal combustion engine. LMP1-H is in its own category in motor racing."

jr7 3612The brilliance of the new rules comes in a pick-and-choose menu where only maximum values are documented. Manufacturers select an engine size, its energy recovery level (8MJ max.; 2MJ min.), and then massaging the specific balance between engine displacement and energy recovery system (ERS) oomph is open to individual interpretation.

Go the route of a bigger engine and you pay the price with more frequent stops for fuel. Opt for something smaller, and you overcome the power deficit by saving time with fewer trips to pit lane. On the surface, this could have been a minefield for manufacturers – a set of rules demanding a sacrifice of speed or economy, yet the formula allows efficiency to be increased without surrendering performance.

Motivated by the liberal LMP1-H rulebook, the three marques set off in three very different directions, choosing engine architectures and hybrid power levels that prescribe to unique ideologies.

Toyota put its faith in a 6MJ super capacitor ERS system mated to a growling 3.7-liter, naturally-aspirated V8 that combine to rattle the earth with 1,000hp. The TS040 HYBRID is an engineering corresponding fuel allowance per lap and marvel, yet packs a punch as subtle as an earthquake. Wins at the first two six-hour rounds and pole at Le Mans spoke volumes about the German-built machine.

jr5 2683Audi's pioneering nature was diverted from the engine bay to material sciences. The R18 e-tron quattro is a technical masterpiece, its 4-liter, turbodiesel V6 and flywheel-based ERS system were thoroughly optimized, and with the smallest 2MJ hybrid solution in the series, the German brand also made a statement on where its interests lie.

Porsche, meanwhile, channeled Star Wars and quirky Swedish automobiles for its return to prototype sports car racing.

Reprising a 40-year-old engine layout last seen in the Saab Sonnet, the most famous name in endurance racing married a brand-new 2-liter, turbo V4 to a 6MJ flywheel ERS unit. Impossibly short and light, the V4 engine is complemented by a featherweight chassis and running gear – it's the waifish supermodel in the paddock. While all LMP1-H cars feature electric motors driving the front wheels, only Porsche chose a secondary exhaust-driven ERS system to spread the recovery load.

Of the three, Porsche took the task of total vehicle efficiency to the extreme, while their rivals embraced a Texas-sized appetite for brute force through mechanical or electrical means. Those seemingly random choices are a byproduct of science, math and philosophy, and reveal firmly held – and opposing – views on the right path to follow. At one extreme, if you want to get an earful on whether hybrid systems belong in racing, just ask Audi Sport engine guru Ullrich Baretzky about how the R18 ended up with the smallest 2MJ system...

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