IndyCar points leader Simon Pagenaud believes that being better settled within Team Penske has contributed to his excellent early season form.
The Frenchman finished a career-low 11th in the points in his first year with Penske in 2015, following on from three consecutive years in the top five with the smaller Schmidt Peterson Motorsport team. While he says that the dynamic between himself and teammates Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya is the same as it was last year, his early-season tally of two wins is the product of him having a better understanding of how the team works.
"It's interesting to complete yourself as a driver by watching what the others do, what they do better, how you can do something better than them, can you use their strengths," he said.
"I think that's what makes us [at Penske] so strong, and I think we all understand there's an advantage to be friendly off-track to each other and try to help each other. We don't hide anything. I think it makes for a great dynamic. Compared to last year, it hasn't really changed. There are years where you have luck on your side, years where you don't have any luck. That's just the way it is.
"But I certainly am 'better' in the system this year. I have a better relationship with everybody. Everybody knows me better. Things are going very smoothly. It's the best it can be right now."
Pagenaud heads into the Month of May optimistic about his chances of extending his current 48-point lead over Scott Dixon. He won the inaugural race on Indy's road course layout, and says that he now feels like a regular threat on ovals as well.
"In [testing at] Texas yesterday I really focused on race running," he said. "I feel like I've got enough experience now to know which way the tire is going to go during the stint.
"OK, it's not as much experience as [Tony] Kanaan, for example, but it's enough. It's what I have for now. I just need to use people like Rick Mears, Helio, on my side, Juan Pablo, they have so much experience on these kinds of tracks, they can be a great help.
"Last year was so strong, I don't see any reason why we couldn't reproduce. I think we'll be strong. It will just be a matter of preparing well during the month of May. I'm quite excited about it."
Only in the bizarre world of sports car racing can we accurately credit a broken gearbox in January at Daytona for Ford's breakthrough win in May at Monterey. More on that in a moment.
Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook made history on Sunday when they drove the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT to Victory Lane at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The Blue Oval's win was delivered in its fifth race (four IMSA rounds and one in the WEC) during the brand's high-profile return to sports car racing, and for the American side of Ford's GT program, it serves as the perfect primer for their next race: The 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Briscoe and 'Westy' used the craftiest of strategies to beat factory teams from BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, and Porsche in Northern California, and it's fair to say their success in the two-hour Continental Monterey Grand Prix was due to miserly fuel-saving instead of overwhelming speed.
In fact, it looked exactly like something taken from Chip Ganassi Racing's IndyCar playbook. Ganassi's four-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon - the king of fuel saving - is famous for using his otherworldly ability to lead while avoiding the gas pedal, and I actually sent him a text after the race to ask for proof he wasn't hidden in the No. 67 working the throttle while Westy turned the steering wheel ...
Speaking with FCGR's Brad Goldberg (right) after the race, the engineer of the No. 67 Ford GT let me in on the secret of how Briscoe and Westy completed the race with a single fuel stop and, amazingly, how Westy stretched that tank to last 52 laps while maintaining a race-winning pace.
"We knew that it was going to be a tight fuel-saving race, so we actually went out in the third practice session on Saturday and practiced exactly what we did on Sunday," Goldberg told RACER.
Interesting. As the sister No. 66 driven by Joey Hand and Dirk Muller worked on their own session plan, the No. 67 team dedicated their session to finding the limits of lapping quickly while sipping fuel.
"We wanted to see what we could do because we knew that dilemma of trying to do the race on one stop instead of two might happen," he said. "And, of course, there's multiple variables because you have a new tire from Michelin, so what is that tire going to do when you extend that period of time running on it if you only make one tire change?
"And then I sat down with Ryan Van Klompenburg, the 67's assistant engineer, and we just went over the numbers before the race to see what kind of mileage you would need to get to the end if a caution came out with an hour and 30 minutes go. And we also did a strategy for an hour and 20 minutes to go. Lo and behold, the hour and 20 minutes' yellow comes out and our mind was decided at that point on what we need to do to make it to the end on one stop. We had already done a lot of our homework in practice."
To be accurate, the fuel-saving test run performed by Briscoe and Westy at Monterey wasn't so much homework as it was preparing for a final exam. The real homework, Goldberg reveals, was done in Florida.
"It goes back even further than Laguna; this all really came about at the Daytona 24," he said. "We had a problem in the race and had to change the 67's gearbox (left). You always hope you have a chance to win the race, but if you spend three hours in the garage changing the gearbox, chances are it's not going to happen.
"So it becomes like when people say the race then turns into a test. We have the gearbox problem, we need to go out and run to the finish, but what are we going to do? What can we learn from here on out besides just running laps? Then Ryan [Briscoe] came up with an idea.
"He said, 'I'm just going to go out and I'm going to do what I can to save fuel and see how to drive this Ford and save fuel - see what it needs for a driving style.' Did it need an IndyCar style, or a different style? He wanted to find the driving style that would make for the best fuel economy with the Ford GT."
With plenty of time left in the race and a brand-new race car to learn, the former IndyCar pilot began exploring from inside the No. 67.
"So he goes out and does it and he is out there and trying and trying and trying to see what he could do," Goldberg said. "And he's trying different methods. And then the next guy in is Westbrook and he comes up to the top of the timing stand and says, 'how is Ryan getting on?' Richard had never really done anything like that kind of fuel-saving before. He'd never really had time to practice it.
"So I said, 'here's what Ryan is doing. If we do this, it will pay off down the road. I know we don't need to [save fuel] right now, but this is a test session. We need to figure out what we can do mileage-wise.' And then he sat there and studied the telemetry on how Ryan was doing it for 20, 25 minutes before he got out of the car. And he said, what was Ryan's best [fuel usage per lap] number? And what was Ryan's best lap time?"
With a challenge presented by Briscoe and the team, Westy became engrossed with learning a new driving technique.
"Ryan had done the fuel-saving game in IndyCar for a long time, so he knew how to apply the same type of things in the Ford," Goldberg said. "It was more Richard learning than Ryan, but he was definitely analyzing telemetry and analyzing numbers and analyzing lap times that Ryan was doing. He could see how he was doing it, and had an idea of what to try when it was his turn."
And leave it to Westy - in the middle of IMSA's longest race - to turn fuel-saving into a personal competition with his teammate.
"Ryan pits, Richard gets in the car, and right away, you can see he's working and working and working," Goldberg said. "He's like, 'this is pretty difficult.' And then they started challenging each other on how to do it better. After the race he said, 'I went out there with the mentality of, I'm going to learn how to beat that guy'. And then he goes out there and did it. That really impressed everyone."
With time to kill and an internecine duel to win, Goldberg says his drivers rose to the challenge and put some valuable knowledge in their toolkit for future use. Little did they know it would pay off so soon.
"After the Daytona race, I very distinctly remember telling Richard, 'look, this is going to pay off. I can't tell you when it will happen. I can't tell you if it will happen next year, but at some point that work that you guys did is going to be winning us a race'," he said. "That is where everything we did at Laguna really came from."
Faced with the same kind of challenge - one that would take Daytona's lessons and push them to the extreme— Westy found a way to survive each lap on an impossibly small amount of fuel. Taking it easy on the throttle also helped the Ford GT to preserve its Michelin tires as their rivals used copious amounts of fuel and rubber to keep pace.
"Fast-forward to Laguna, and the fuel number we asked Richard to hit ... I mean, he's going to tell you he thought we were drunk when we told him," Goldberg said.
"It was going to be really hard to get, but we thought it was an achievable number. And because we weren't punishing the tires to produce our lap time, we knew their fall-off rate was going to be better than the other cars.
"It ended up that those guys were pushing really hard and they struggled to keep tires underneath them. And with 20 minutes to go, we just gave Richard a lap time target and a fuel mileage number, and said, 'hit that and you'll win the race.' And that is exactly what he did."
Coming off of three punishing races to start Ford's return to sports car competition, Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull sees the result in Monterey as a turning point for the young program.
"What winning does is, it is a motivator, but more important it is a validator," he said. "It validates what the team does as a group of people together. It proves to each of those people that being a part of an organization and how hard they work together within that organization makes a difference. And I think that is what winning at Laguna Seca did."
If Hull has any trepidation after last weekend, it's centered on the timing of their first win. The team's greatest challenge arrives in six weeks when it spearheads Ford's 24 Hours of Le Mans program, where it will face most of the GTLM teams it races against in IMSA, and a few more featured in the WEC's GTE-Pro category.
"That's what really worries me a lot, because it's not just the race teams; it's who the race teams represent," he said. "And, so it's not like in IndyCar racing where it's Ganassi versus Andretti, or Ganassi versus Penske. That's not what this is all about in the category we are now in. This is Chevrolet versus Ford, Ford versus Porsche, and other major auto manufacturers. These are big people. They are big organizations. They have huge resource.
"And what scares me about winning is how these people come back stronger the next race because they have massive resources. We also have resources, but we are in the infancy as a team. We're trying to utilize the resources that we do have and we're trying to learn how to race at the same time. Winning this early might not be a good thing - you're poking the gorilla."
After securing the victory, the best part for Hull, Goldberg, and I suspect most of the team came when Henry Ford III, whose presence in Monterey came as a surprise, was invited to join Briscoe and Westy on the podium (above, far left) to receive the Entrants' trophy.
"We didn't know Mr. Ford would be there, and with Chip [Ganassi] in Talladega for the NASCAR race, we asked him to receive the trophy, which made the day more special than it had already become," Hull said. Goldberg was also moved by the achievement.
"To be part of it, and to welcome Ford back to victory in GT racing, with Henry Ford there, and the EcoBoost engine - it's the fuel efficient engine, right?" he said. "I couldn't be happier for all the men and women who've put in the work to make this program grow so quickly. I can only hope and pray we carry and continue this momentum forward. This was a two-hour race. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a whole different story."
The funniest part of the win belongs to Hull's reaction after Westy took the checkered flag.
"I was a little bit upset!" he said. "Richard was able to complete the cooldown lap, which tells me we saved too much fuel. He could have gone faster!"
Is David Pearson NASCAR’s best ever? Had he raced the full schedule during his potent partnership with the Wood Bros., chances are he’d be up with Petty and Earnhardt on championships earned. As it is, his win rate is without equal.
It was April 1976 and Buddy Baker’s Ford was dominating at Darlington Raceway, leading 205 of 367 laps in the Rebel 500. But as the laps wound down, car owner Bud Moore was on the radio, urgently warning Baker that David Pearson was in his rearview mirror and closing fast in his all-conquering Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Mercury.
“He’d been telling Buddy all along, ‘He’s coming, he’s coming,’” says Wood Brothers co-owner Eddie Wood about the messages Moore was sending his driver. “And Buddy was, ‘Naw, I think I’ve got him. I’m OK today. I got it covered.’”
Baker, unfortunately, was guilty of a little bit of irrational exuberance. Not only did Pearson catch Baker on the frontstretch on lap 356, but as he pulled alongside him, Pearson lit a cigarette, blew smoke out the window at Baker and pulled away to victory by leading the final 12 laps. “The Silver Fox” had struck again...
It was vintage Pearson – messing with another driver in the heat of battle and, more importantly, waiting until the right time in the race to strike. Leonard Wood, Eddie’s uncle and Pearson’s chief mechanic during the team’s glory years, saw it often.
“He always made the comment, ‘If you run as hard as you can go all day, you’re going to make a mistake,’” recalls Leonard. “Back in those days, the cars would fall out a lot more, so he would bide his time and wait until about half-distance, when a lot of the cars had already fallen out. That’s when he’d start going to the front – if he wasn’t already in front, that is.”
And Pearson went to the front an awful lot in a career that saw him win 105 NASCAR premier series races and three championships in just 574 starts. Pearson’s 18.3 percent win average is better than that of chief rival Richard Petty, whose 200 victories in 1,184 starts gave him a 16.9 win percentage.
As smart and successful as Pearson was on the track, he never was wowed by the trappings of stardom and fame like so many drivers are. He was born in the South Carolina mill town of Whitney, near Spartanburg, and worked in the mills and at an Esso gas station before his racing career took off in the early 1960s.
Today, he still lives near Spartanburg in a modest red brick ranch house on a former peach farm that he bought in 1977. He turned 80 last December and has recently battled a variety of health issues, including an abdominal aneurysm in October and a mild stroke in December.
His circle of friends and family remains largely as it’s been for decades, and his leisure time activities including feeding his goats and mules, and restoring old cars. Simple pleasures.
For Pearson, racing was a way to make a living, not a way to become famous.
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Formula 1 only needs to "look dangerous" rather than actually be dangerous, according to FIA race director Charlie Whiting.
He was responding to comments from Lewis Hamilton, who praised safety advances but added he believes an element of risk is key to F1's appeal. Whiting believes F1 can still have that image and continue to improve safety, such as introducing a cockpit protection device like the halo or aeroscreen.
"I take his point – there will always be risks if you start driving a car that quickly," said Whiting. "When you look at the cars on track, it's not until they go off the track that you realize how fast they are going and just what damage can be done.
"Cars will still look dangerous. Our job is to try and make them look dangerous without being dangerous.
"There is nothing better than to see a driver get out of an incredibly damaged car like we saw with Fernando [Alonso in Australia]. When you saw [Robert] Kubica's accident in Canada a few years ago , somehow you just thought he was going to get out of it, and we want to improve the chances of that happening while the spectacle is still there."
The FIA is continuing to evaluate the halo and aeroscreen devices with a deadline for a decision in place for July 1. One of the key factors in the analysis of the two devices is ensuring a driver can extract himself from the car quickly after an accident.
Whiting said if the FIA had to slightly increase the amount of time permitted for a driver to be able to get out of the car, it would be a small price to make for greater safety.
"That will be quite an important factor," he said. "Looking at the actual opening, I can't see any difference between the two. We did a jump-out test on Daniel [Ricciardo] on Thursday to make sure. He was only doing one lap but you never know what might happen.
"We wanted the comfort of knowing that he was able to get out of the car in the required time and he was and that will only get better. Teams will develop systems to make it easier for it to get out and if we eventually needed to add a couple of seconds to the time required to get out, that would be a small price to pay for the added protection for the driver's head."
The Mercedes Formula 1 team has issued an open letter to its fans in response suggestions on social media that Nico Rosberg is favored over Lewis Hamilton.
Nico Rosberg has had a near perfect start to the season, building a 43-point championship lead, but his teammate Lewis Hamilton has suffered a lot of bad luck. The reigning world champion suffered an identical MGU-H problem in qualifying in both the Chinese and Russian GPs and had to back off an attack on Rosberg in the race at Sochi because of a water pressure problem.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said "conspiracy theorists" accusing his team of deliberately hampering Hamilton to favor Nico Rosberg are "lunatics."
On Wednesday, Mercedes published a lengthy letter on its website detailing the huge amount of effort that goes in to ensure the team operates at such a high level. It highlighted the "monumental" effort that was required to get Hamilton's engine ready for Sunday's race and the "stressful" nature of race day, when Hamilton completed the last 16 laps with what it says was zero water pressure remaining.
"For those watching at home, a grand prix weekend starts on a Thursday morning and ends on Sunday night," said the team. "A bad result might hurt for a few hours afterwards but then life moves on. For more than one thousand people at Brackley and Brixworth, however, this is our life.
"They sweat, strain, laugh, cry, shout, scream, celebrate, and commiserate - together. And, as one of our own often says, they win and lose - together. We have the best guys and girls in the world, doing an awesome job, week in and week out – and they do it for the team. Not for one driver or the other – but for each other.
"There is no 'A' or 'B' team here. Every single member of the crew has earned their right to be counted among the elite of their trade – and have sacrificed much to do so."
While the team thanked those who have stood by it, it hoped it could convince those who have been critical to change their views.
"To those who stand with us, we thank you," it said. "And to the rest – the haters, the naysayers, the conspirators – if we can convince even half of you of what we really stand for, we'll consider that a battle well won."
Hamilton added that he understood the frustration of his fans saying: "My people saying they are feeling whatever pain I'm feeling. They are feeling the hurt and emotions we go through, naturally in any sport or any situation, the easiest thing is to jump to the negative.
"I just want to assure them my guys are working as hard as they can and doing a fantastic job, it's not their fault."
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton believes it is now inevitable he will get a grid penalty for exceeding his engine-part allocation at some point during the 2016 Formula 1 season.
The reigning world champion encountered an identical MGU-H problem in Sochi qualifying to the one that affected him at Shanghai. The team subsequently decided to fit his original unit from Australia, which had been used in the subsequent two races and then fitted with new parts after the China failure.
Engine penalties kick in when the sixth component of one of six items – internal combustion engine, turbocharger, MGU-H, MGU-K, control electronics and energy store – is used. Hamilton is already up to his third turbocharger and MGU-H with 17 races remaining.
"I'm running out of engines so that's on my mind," he said. "It's not that it's hurting, it's just... it's not great. What's pretty key is that we understand what it is, more so than before, and try and be careful in how we pick out all the engines because obviously I have only three for the rest of the year. So I'm going to have another penalty at some point, but I'll do the best job I can."
Hamilton also suspects he will get a grid penalty at some point for a stewards' reprimand, as being censured for rejoining the track incorrectly in qualifying in Russia put him within one reprimand of a grid demotion.
Despite the his poor run of form in the first four races, which leaves him 43 points adrift of teammate and championship leader Nico Rosberg, Hamilton said his Sochi pace had buoyed him.
"We did a fantastic job in terms of getting the car where it needed to be," said Hamilton. "I felt very strong with where we had the setup, very happy and it was just another race I wasn't fully able to exploit that. In terms of the work we're doing, I come away with a glass half full – there is still a long way to go.
"If we take this performance we've had, my group of guys with the setup and everything, there is no reason why we can't fight for wins. Once they fix the other issues – and hopefully we won't have any other issues – there are 17 [races] to go.
"If the last four are anything to go by, for sure there is more to come, but you just have to take it and twist it into positives."
Opinions of IndyCar's dome skids remain divided after the safety feature was tested again at Texas Motor Speedway on Tuesday.
The devices, which will be used at superspeedways, are intended to help stop cars from becoming airborne in the event of a high-speed spin, although their use has been an ongoing point of contention, with opinions loosely split between the Honda and Chevrolet camps.
Fifteen cars participated in the test at Texas, with cars running mostly alone or in small groups before heading out in larger packs for the final two hours. Penske's Helio Castroneves (below, LAT photo), whose airborne crash at Indy last year was one of the driving factors behind the dome skids' introduction, insisted that they are the right move.
"I'm not going to go into a Honda-versus-Chevrolet dispute, but my thing is that I was the one upside down last year, and no question that's what we are looking for with safety," he said.
"It doesn't matter what car it is; we are looking to make sure that when you have the dome skid when the car is sideways. It adds at least 500 to 1,000 pounds more downforce, which means you are going to keep the car on the ground. That's basically what we are doing. I feel the IndyCar Series is doing the right thing to test that.
"The dome skid is not going to hurt the quality of the racing. Right now, there seems to be a big challenge between Chevy and Honda with the aero kit. I think this is more about that. I still don't think it's going to hurt."
However, Graham Rahal (pictured at top), whose RLL team is aligned with Honda, said that his car felt unsettled with the skids in place.
"They make a difference," he said. "My car is pretty loose here. It was really loose during testing at Indy. The guys that tell you it doesn't make a difference are lying, to be honest. There is obviously some politics going on.
"The Chevy guys don't want the sidewalls, but we need it. It definitely affects my car a lot, but we are going to keep working hard and put our heads down and try to make the best of it. I hate that this has become a topic of conversation. We should be talking about how great the Indy 500 is; instead we are talking about dome skids. Nobody even knows what the heck that is."
Participating in the test were Penske quartet Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya, Ganassi's Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton, Andretti's Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz and Alexander Rossi, ECR's Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden, and Rahal.
Teams also did general setup work ahead of the race there on June 11, and Kanaan told RACER that he expects that cars will be able to run closer together than they were last year.
"We ran in a pack of six or seven cars, but it's not going to be a pack race, and it's not going to be like last year either," he said. "It will be somewhere in between.
"We ran the dome skids and the strakes and we learned a lot. Because the car is raised up, it's got less downforce and the car feels lighter and you have to figure it out, because it's a different way of driving. It's a lot more difficult to drive. But we'll deal with it. It's going to be 20 degrees hotter when we come back to race, but it was a productive test."
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 email@example.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: I grew up in Boston, go to Indy every year, follow the series closely, and was extremely excited to hear we were getting a race. I tried to support it as much as I could: shared petitions with friends, wrote letters, went to hearings at City Hall, bought tickets. Despite the early doubt, I was convinced the race was going to happen. Then, I went to a hearing on April 5th and knew it wasn't going to happen. Decisions that should have been made months earlier were still months away from being contemplated. It sounded a lot like what I'd imagine the planning sessions sound like right now in Rio for the Olympics.
I don't want to be too harsh but the IndyCar Boston team was ill-suited to present the race in public, particularly John Casey. He might be great behind the scenes but he somehow made one of the most exciting sports in the world sound boring and prohibitively complex, while at the same time brushing off real issues. The Boston City Council squabbled over what they were going to get (not in a legitimate "you need to offset interruptions" way, it was in a very petty "where's my cut?" way). And let's not forget that significant portion of Bostonians that continued their time-honored tradition of killing any fun event that takes a little creative work to bring together.
I hope Boston gets another chance, but I doubt it. Until then, let's race in Providence RI, let's race in Portland ME, let's race in Raleigh NC, let's race in the city you suggested Norfolk VA. Let's race anywhere that won't kill the idea out of the gates.
RM: Thanks for sharing your information and experience. Like most people that cared, I had serious doubts until Marshall's interview with Casey last week and things sounded solvent. Of course that was only half the story as it turns out. Yesterday's column in the Boston Globe shed further light on why it didn't happen. Glad you're coming to Indy, but Providence was having all kinds of financial issues so I don't see that happening.
Q: Your column about Boston about Boston touched on something I've been thinking for a while. It seems that IndyCar is trying to be something that it really isn't. IndyCar seems to be trying to demonstrate that it's a healthy, robust, glamorous sport by being in upscale markets. These markets have built-in competition with other professional sports and other events that make it impossible for a promoter to turn a profit, often resulting in the long list of failed races you mentioned.
I understand the idea of trying to get a race "close to the people," but hosting street races that require shutting down major parts of a city mean the promoter is starting out in a huge hole with significant logistic and economic barriers. It seems a better approach would be to rethink the markets and venues for new races. Focus on more modest markets that have less competition for attendees from other professional sports. Places where an IndyCar race could really be a big event for the community.
Barber is a great example, as you pointed out. Iowa is another. Rather than downtown events, there must be smaller airports or other venues that could be ideal for hosting a race and don't require shutting down major parts of a city. Boise, Lexington, Louisville, Omaha, Little Rock, Dayton, Knoxville, Tulsa, Memphis, Harrisburg, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Chattanooga are all metropolitan areas of similar size to Des Moines and Birmingham (750,000 to 1.3 million). IndyCar should focus on trying to be a big fish in a moderately-sized pond, rather than fighting for a spot in the biggest pond. They just aren't that big a fish right now.
Mark, Littleton, CO
RM: Well said Mark, and I think that's why a Norfolk could be a hit. We have to remember that when Long Beach began it was a dirty little port that nobody frequented. But, thanks to Formula 1 and then CART, the city experienced a renaissance and the race reshaped and re-energized the community. Birmingham lives for college football but has made a comfortable place for an IndyCar race, and several of those cities you mentioned could be candidates to do the same.
Q: As someone who bought four, 3-day race tickets and bought four non-refundable airline tickets, tell me why New Hampshire Speedway (above) as replacement won't fly? Don't give me 'NASCAR races three weeks later; Barber had good crowd one week before 'Wreckadega'. I'm going to New England now even with no Boston race, as my wife was only going for the vacation trip after the race.
Give me the true story. Was Boston city politics the reason, or did the promoter really not have the money to pull it off so they pulled the plug? Please don't tell me they will be going to my home state track Kentucky Speedway when I'll be in New England because of IndyCar's poor management!
RM: You should be mad, but I can promise you that Loudon would have little interest in hosting an IndyCar race three weeks ahead of a Chase race unless IndyCar paid them a couple million to simply rent the track. And, trust me, from what I've seen, there is very little crossover between the fans at Barber and the crowd at Talladega.
Q: I felt like it was important to write in and support the IndyCar Boston staff and IndyCar itself. I got to meet a few of their people at the Boston Auto Show back in January, and they were all very positive and it was very clear from talking with them how much work they had done.
Growing up in South Boston, this race was going to be a childhood dream come true. Unfortunately, politics in this area is inherently negative, and people treated a three-day event in a solitary location of the city like it would have been the disruptive and ungodly expensive month that the Olympics would have been. It is incredibly difficult to be a racing fan, especially of IndyCar, in New England. NASCAR thankfully has a solid foothold with NHMS and the many short tracks in the region, but open-wheel fans have to deal with willful ignorance and massive amounts of disrespect. WCVB, the local ABC affiliate, used to pre-empt races all the time in the early '90s, and even joined this year's St. Pete broadcast late so they could air 'Community Auditions'.
The good news is, we may be a small contingent, but we are growing. I've gotten a few friends to start following the series, This race would have been the perfect thing to expose an entire populace to the awesomeness of IndyCar racing live, in a way that Loudon, a long drive away by Boston standards, never could – although, if I'm honest, had SMI given that NHMS race one more chance, I think it would have stuck, and we'd never have gotten to the point of even mentioning a Boston street race.
I hedged my bets early on and still have tickets and plans to attend Pocono in August, but having another race in New England scuttled is a gut punch. I don't know that our region will ever get another get another IndyCar race now, and that's the part of this that truly frustrates me. But I can't blame the series or the promoter when the region is so closed minded. Thanks for letting me vent.
Cale P., Grafton, MA
RM: Thanks for writing and being a fan in an area that may never have warmed up to IndyCar racing. Mike Vega of the Boston Globe was IndyCar's #1 ally on the East Coast (along with Philadelphia's Bill Fleismann) but without Loudon it was all NASCAR racing. And that's understandable – especially in such a stick-and-ball town. See you in Pocono.
Q: I had to laugh while reading your story on IndyCar's 'black eye' in Boston'. The perfect quote: "nobody seemed to care." Has this 'IndyCar biggie' looked at the ratings lately? Has he looked across the track at the grandstands? I thought his quote was a prefect summation of the problems with IndyCar. Someone with a huge vested interest can't see the forest for the trees. These guys need to wake up, and quick.
RM: My thought was that the city of Boston might not have been aware there was supposed to be a race, let alone realize (or care) that it had been canceled. But some of the IndyCar paddock has tunnel vision.
Q: I have followed American open-wheel racing for all of my adult life, and seen several races canceled. I do not remember a replacement added during a season. Has a race ever been added after the start of a season, and if so, was it a success? How much time does a venue need to prepare for a race?
I live in a college town and two days after a football game there is no evidence 60,000 people were ever here. Is it the marketing that requires the time, or does it really take eight weeks to prepare the track for use? Why can't NASCAR and IndyCar share a venue in the same four-week period? I realize Barber and Talladega are different venues, but they are only a few miles apart and they both draw race fans to races that are a week apart. Finally a comment: I know there is not a snowball's chance in hell, but I would love to see IndyCar at Michigan International Speedway again.
RM: Not to my knowledge. Let's take Long Beach (above) to try and answer your question. They start trying to market the next race as soon as the checkered flag falls, and most tracks want at least six months to promote. But having date equity is huge, and most of the successful races in NASCAR have the same date every year (as does Long Beach) so people can make their plans and buy their plane tickets.
As tough as it's become to draw crowds to ovals, NASCAR isn't about to allow any competition and tracks aren't going to try and jam in an IndyCar race if there's a Cup show a few weeks out. As poorly as IndyCar's ovals draw, not many NASCAR tracks would even mess with them if there wasn't a conflict. And, trust me, there's very little crossover between the Birmingham and Talladega audience. As long as Belle Isle is on the schedule, I doubt MIS will ever be entertained.
Q: First of all, let me say I have been a huge fan of yours over the years. In fact during the whole CART/Indy break up you were the only voice of reason. My friend in Indy would send me your editorials from the local paper. I was a devoted CART fan and even went to the U.S. 500 at Michigan to support them. (Remember that first lap? I sure do). The Cars and the Stars all right.
So here we are years later, and I find out they have organized a race in downtown Boston. I'm in. Sounds like a very cool idea. I go to the ticket site and buy my seats for my wife and I, and then go to make hotel reservations. Well, all the recommended hotels are sold out. So I expand my search and the Marriot down the street still has some vacancies. Since I suspect they won't last long, I jump on the room. Two nights for almost $1200. Not that that was a bargain, but they went up quick from there. No refund (because of the 'special' rate). No problem, we're committing. My wife and I were hugely excited. And then we get the email that our tickets are being refunded since the event has been canceled! Great, we got our race tickets refunded, but now we're stuck with a $1,200 hotel bill!
Yeah I know, that's the chance you take, yada yada yada. But I thought this was a done deal. Had I had any suspicion that this was not secured, I would have never gone that route. Nothing for nothing, but I'm your typical long-time dyed-in-the wool race fan. I've been going to races since the '70s. I'm the sucker who shells out money every time I walk through every gate. I've been to races where I could almost count the people in the grandstands. And now what to do? I really had no ambition to hang out in Boston, just thought it was a cool venue. (I've been going to St. Pete the last few years and really enjoy it). I guess my wife and I will be spending some time in one of those Duck Boats this Labor Day. I should have gone to the F1 race in Montreal after all.
Dave P., a loyal fan, hope to run into you one of these races.
RM: That sucks, and there's nothing I can say to make it better except I appreciate your loyalty, and you're the kind of fan that IndyCar can't afford to lose.
Q: COTA does not have anything scheduled for that week and has the WEC race two weeks later. It would be good to go from Texas to Sonoma instead of Boston to Sonoma. Any chance of that happening?
Tom in Waco
RM: I imagine a double-header with sports cars and IndyCars might have a shot at COTA, but as long as IndyCar runs at Texas Motor Speedway I doubt if COTA is even considered. No chance Texas moves its date.
Q: "Find a place like Norfolk, Virginia, which doesn't command major sporting events, and try and grow a home there because the city seems interested." That would be awesome (as somebody who lives in Northern VA). Robin, why can't IndyCar partner up with IMSA on the weekend they are at VIR? It's an awesome track, lots of people show up and it's an established event. There are no prototypes, just a GT race. Maybe GM could pull some strings since they are there big-time with the Corvettes, and having their IndyCars there could be good.
RM: Not speaking for VIR, but if they already have an established event then why would they spend a couple million to bring IndyCar? And I'm sure the track needs some kind of upgrades if IndyCars were to run there, so that's more money to spend.
Q: I think the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (above) would be a perfect solution to replace Boston. Even the grandstands could be left up from the GP. The weather is usually great, and the girls are unbelievable. Hinch is a star and would help draw. Tagliani in someone's spare would just add to it. There's also the potential to be a permanent fixture since NASCAR has left the Island.
Rick in Toronto
RM: When CART/Champ Car went to Montreal from 2002-2006, it had Patrick Carpentier, Sebastian Bourdais (starting in 2003) and Tagliani and damn good turnouts because they love French-Canadian drivers. So if you had Seb and Tag it might still sell, and IndyCar needs more races in Canada.
Q: A friend of mine, on a IndyCar fan group on Facebook is telling me he heard that the Cleveland GP is ready to make a comeback. He claims that the Cleveland mayor and the entity that regulates Burke Lakefront Airport have both approved the return to the series; and the promoter (conveniently, he didn't mention who) is looking for a sponsor, and apparently PPG is interested. I think this fella might be a huge liar, but I wanted to ask you, since you are my reference when it comes to IndyCar. Have you heard anything about this at all? Is there at least a part of this statement that can be true? Thank you for everything and I'll be meeting ya at the Indy 500!
Lucas Stinziano, Argentina
RM: Let's just say there was some interest in going back to Cleveland but it wasn't PPG, and now that company has invested in another track. Mike Lanigan would be the promoter and he's all for going back if he could find a big-time title sponsor, but that hasn't happened.
Q: Upon reading of the cancellation of Boston, my first thought was Burke Lakefront Airport. Then I looked at the date. The Cleveland Air Show has been staged at Burke on Labor Day weekend since the Wright Brothers were around. Another opportunity lost.
Bill Carsey, North Olmsted, OH
RM: I never thought Cleveland could be a replacement for Boston this season, I thought with the right promotion and date it could be revived for 2017 or 2018.
Q: OK, so Boston City Hall puts a damper in the IndyCar race through the city streets because of some permit that could probably be overcome. The promoter made an all-out effort to get this done, and went the extra mile all the way till the end. I have a better place for him to take his hard work to and it will be a lot bigger crowd. Downtown Miami. That's right. Remember the Miami Grand Prix that Ralph Sanchez brought here? Well it was overflowing with crowds from all over the world. Fans flew in from everywhere just to see the cars race by the ocean and the cruise ships and all in the the best sunshine in the world. Mind you, we have a half-dozen IndyCar drivers that live here also – JPM, TK, Helio – to keep the locals interested. We already have Formula E here, so City Hall has all the permits ready. Have John Casey call the Miami City commissioners; he will do 10 times better here.
Mike Del Cueto
RM: The morning of that CART race in 1995 I was talking to Ralph and he was concerned that half of that massive crowd might be lost moving 25 miles south to Homestead. He was right, and when CART/Champ Car tried to come back to downtown Miami in 2002 and 2003 it was a different location, terrible track and not much interest. I think that ship has sailed.
Q: Looking at the schedule now that Boston has been nixed, how much sense would it make to have the race the following weekend after Labor Day at Laguna Seca since the lower series' on the ladder (Indy Lights) will be there that weekend already? Then the following weekend the IndyCars go to Sonoma. Whatcha' think?
RM: I don't think either promoter would embrace that idea, but it would be great for the teams.
Q: A suggestion I have for Boston's replacement might be Pikes Peak International Raceway. I have no connection with them, and have no clue as to its condition. However, it's an oval and also a road track, so the powers that be at Indy could select from both styles. Both the Colorado University and Colorado State Universities will have played their game against each other two days prior on Sept. 2. Is Gateway, Nashville, or Memphis even a possibility? Michigan? Could even re-think Vegas, maybe Kentucky, or Kansas? Dover?
Dan Gallion, Fort Worth
RM: It's still open, hosting Rusty Wallace's driving school, autocrosses, SCCA events and drifting but it was built on the wrong side of Colorado Springs and is a pain to get to, so it's attendance kept dropping until the IRL dropped it. I think Gateway has the best chance of all those you mentioned, and possibly Watkins Glen.
Q: Just heard the Boston race was cancelled. What are the chances Fontana, above, could get that date? A night race in Fontana on Sept. 4th would be awesome.
Mike Latino, Fontana, CA
RM: It would also be boiling, and that's why Dave Allen of Auto Club Speedway wanted an October date. We know the racing would be good and, honestly, it couldn't draw any worse than a Saturday in June race did last year. And the teams would already be in California, but I might move it up to Sept. 11 because Labor Day in L.A. is a tough sell.
Q: Although there are a number of changes that IndyCar should make, I'll just focus this conversation on the schedule. I'd like to know your thoughts on IndyCar making the finale on the road course in Indy in mid- to late September rather than Sonoma. And also, I believe they should consider how much more noise they'd make by having a shorter segment-style race on the oval at Indy, similar to what goes on in Charlotte during the month of May, as that would be much more beneficial to the teams leading up to the 500. And sponsors would get more bang for their buck for Indy, as I'd bet viewership would be better for that than the road course race during May.
RM: As much as I hate to think about more than one IndyCar race a year at IMS, I agree I'd much rather see the season end on the Speedway's road course because we would get twice as many people and it would feel like a much bigger deal. And the race would be better. As for a short oval race in May, why not? I'd rather see the field set that way than this current qualifying format. You want a job with IndyCar?
Q: I really don't like saying this but I'm glad the race in Boston was canceled. It should have never been on the schedule in the first place. I really hope that the IndyCar races at Gateway International Raceway since St. Louis no longer has the Rams playing there, plus it's an oval that series needs on the schedule.
Alistair, Springfield, MO.
RM: IndyCar approved Gateway as a test track this season after Ed Carpenter ran there last year, and I believe the IndyCar management is going to make a trip over there soon to check it out for a possible date in 2017. Could it host a race in fourth months? Probably, but I think Curtis Francois wants to have enough time to make a big splash and maybe find a better date than Labor Day (when the Cardinals are in town). But he also might want to help out IndyCar, and I imagine if it's some kind of co-promotion he'd seriously look at doing it.
Q: I see the Boston race is getting canceled. Why am I not surprised? IndyCar needs to do everything they can to find a replacement race. Maybe they can go back to Loudon if they want to stay within that area of the country. But if not, tell them to contact the Kentucky Speedway ASAP. If they come back to Kentucky I'll buy tickets the first day they go on sale. Labor Day weekend would be nice, and it appears to be available. If they're able to come up with a replacement race, where would you personally like to see it?
RM: I would go back to Fontana, but make it a night show on Sept. 11. I would buy a 30-second national television ad with highlights from last year's race and play it endlessly two weeks out and tag it: "If you think restrictor plate racing is crazy, watch this, and then come to Auto Club Speedway." I'd also include tweets from the NASCAR drivers that drove a million people to NBCSN to watch the last 30 minutes. Every seat would be $20 and the garage would be open to everyone for $10. No sanction fee, but a co-promotion like Phoenix between IndyCar and Auto Club Speedway.
Q: My brother, who was a die-hard IRL fan, is an alleged IndyCar fan, (he loves Charlie Kimball) but scheduled his son's graduation party on the Saturday before the Indy 500. We live six hours from the Speedway, so we canceled our plans to go to the race. But now that it is getting closer we have Indy fever, and I think we will leave Saturday night. Do you think street scalper ticket prices will be over or under face value this year?
Jeff Loveland, Chilton Wisconsin.
RM: The scalpers say it's the first time in 20 years they're getting big money, so my suggestions are to visit StubHub, check out The Indy Star's want ads, or just wait until 10:30 on race morning and try to get a bargain on Georgetown Road or 16th Street.
Q: The obvious problem leading to the cancellation is that the race promoter's failure to utilize the services of the Boston Consulting Group to convince the governing agencies that the City of Boston, as recommended in its 2013 Report would be an appropriate location where there would be the "... focus on excitement of real racing; daredevil drivers defined by winning, racing at thrilling speeds," and the way to distinguish IndyCar from NASCAR's "...amusing entertainment: off-track drama and partying. ..." I for one was going to go – lets holdout for Watkins Glen or plan a trip to Kettle Moraine.
E. J. Generotti, Plantation, FL
RM: I've been breathlessly waiting on the BCG's statement about how losing Boston was part of its strategy but I'm with you – let's head for The Glen.
Q: I know a few weeks back stories were going around about the 500 having the best ticket sales in the last 30 years. How is that going still? Do they think it will be a sellout? What is a sellout at Indy these days – 240,000? I really really hope that the crowd will be huge and look amazing on TV. And I really hope that the TV ratings will look good, just like the ticket sales.
RM: My understanding is that there are still a few seats available in the lower rows of a couple sections, but they are adding temporary suites (maybe in Turn 1 inside and outside Turn 2) to handle the demand. I believe there are roughly 230,00 permanent seats.
Q: Is capitalism the answer? Dan Gurney used to build a boatload of cars for IndyCar owners as well as himself. Then, look how many chassis and engines suppliers there were in the early '90s. Supply and demand works in an open market. I know you don't think of yourself as the technical guy and maybe Pruett might have a better idea about this, but why couldn't the aero kit solution come from opening up the market to anyone, including current owners? Why couldn't Penske and Ganassi design and build their own aero kits and then defray the cost by selling parts to other teams?
In a free market with real competition prices go down and quality goes up. It might not pay to develop a kit for just your own team but if you could provide a product to compete with Dallara, Chevy, or Honda why not let the free market take a shot at this? If it works for parts, maybe IndyCar could work its way back to having more than one chassis supplier as well. After all, somebody is paying for the research and development already, and true competition is good for everyone involved, isn't it? Otherwise, if this system is just being propped up in some artificial way, (i.e. racing's own form of socialism), it will eventually fail regardless. And if there is not enough interest in open-wheel racing anymore then perhaps it just needs to go the way of the dodo bird.
Jim Patton, Lindale, TX
RM: It sounds good and we'd all love to see a return to innovation and teams trying to out-smart one another. But if Chevy and Honda hadn't built the aero kits there wouldn't be any, because no team could afford to do it. Owners are scrambling now to make it so don't add expenses. The original idea sounded so 1960s – a bunch of different people building aero kits and suddenly we have five or six different-looking cars. But there wasn't any interest outside our two engine manufacturers and, suffice to say, the aero kits haven't moved the needle in attendance or on television.
Q: Robin, it is time to stop touting the last four years at Indy as good racing. The simple truth of the matter is that we have not seen a single good Indy 500 in the past four years. Why? Because not one event in the past four Months of May has included 500 miles of racing.
Running around for 450 miles in fuel-saving mode with crews screaming at drivers to get out of the lead isn't racing. An overtake that occurs because the driver in front does not want to be in the lead is not a pass for position, no matter how loud you and the brain trust on TV scream in amazement. If you're going to cheer for that then pull up a chair on the side of I-465 and applaud every time somebody overtakes the guy who just veered down the off-ramp. The aero package promises that yet again it will require too much fuel to actually race and the entire field is going to hang out in fuel-save mode and hope to pit at the right time so that the order is either inverted or remains the same in their favor so they can make a 20 lap run of actual racing.
Let's not ignore that 20 years ago the field wasn't bunched before opening the pits. The lapped traffic wasn't given the wave-around by the pace car with a half-dozen caution laps left so they didn't get to pit and catch the leaders again before the green flew again. Instead of acting like the current equipment package is delivering some amazingly close competition that couldn't happen in the days of yesteryear, why not admit the truth? Graham Rahal only got close because the aero package is so bad that leader can't even pass a backmarker.
Indy is close because nobody wants to lead if it means they have to stop longer and more often. Half of the pack would be ruled out long before drivers start racing at Indy if the sport didn't run 30 laps of caution just to kill time while the field is bunched and lapped traffic is catching up.
Scott in Indy
RM: There is no doubt that closing the pits, wave-arounds, push-to-pass, fuel saving and sweeping for marbles has taken away from the essence of pure racing. But, other than maybe Rathmann-Ward, I can't think of too many Indys that featured three of four hours of red-line racing or anything more than a duel at the end like Johncock-Mears or Unser-Goodyear.
Was Vuky lapping the field more exciting than Sachs pitting for a tire late in 1961 and losing the race, or T.K. holding off Andretti Autosport before the yellow waved? I don't know, but Hunter-Reay diving through the grass in Turn 3 to win it or wear it against Helio, Sato going for it all against Dario in Turn 1 on the last lap, (above), and Montoya and Power battling last year were all as hard a racing as you will ever see. Fans tend to remember the finish and whether it was good, and I think they'd rank the last three or four as highly entertaining.
I'm old school – I miss the drama of Bump Day, new track records and the innovation. May certainly isn't the month-long spectacle it used to be, and it will never regain that aura. But Race Day is still pretty damn cool, and whether drivers are saving fuel or playing it cool (Rick Mears made a pretty good career out of that) until the time is right to strike, the end result is that the Indy 500 still thrills a lot of people.
Q: First off, I miss the grid run! My wife, 12-year-old son, and I will be attending our first Indy 500 this year. We got a hotel out in Lafayette and should be arriving around midday on Saturday. Is it possible to drive in to see the museum or anything else of interest on Saturday? Also, what do you recommend for parking for someone from out of town who is likely to have a grumpy family in tow by the end of the race?
I'm sorry to hear the Honda people downplaying their potential on the speedways. This has been a dream for me to attend, and I'm hopeful for a great experience for me and the family. By the way, add me to the list of people that really miss Portland.
Jeff Schroeder, Anchorage, AK
RM: Well thanks but it's tough to fit in four to five minutes and that's what we need to do the grid walk properly and get a half-dozen drivers. On Saturday there's an autograph session at 9 a.m. followed by the public driver's meeting, and then you can hit the memorabilia show before taking in the IMS Museum (and buy a lap around the track in the tour bus). Parking sounds like it's going to be a nightmare since most of it on 16th Street is sold out. Your best bet might be trying to find a yard to park in a couple blocks from the track. Or park your car at the airport or downtown, and take the shuttle to the track. Good luck and have fun.
Q: In 2012 when the new engines came out, Chevy seemed stronger with its twin-turbo layout. They were better in practice, qualifying, and races all spring that year, including the Month of May – until the flag dropped for the Indy 500. The Honda single-turbo design was better down the long straightaways at Indy, and they finished 1-2. Honda didn't seem to mind that Chevy was perhaps a better motor for the championship with all the road and street racing because they got the 500. So why did Honda switch to a twin-turbo layout? Couldn't they continue developing the single turbo? Were they forced? Did Chevy force IndyCar's hand?
Secondly, why do Penske and Ganassi refuse to hire Americans? Don't they see Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden (above) the same way we do – a couple of badass Americans who have all the skills, drive, and balls to become champions, attract new sponsors and fans, and help save IndyCar for the future? Imagine what they would be doing in a red Target or black Verizon car.
RM: My recollection is that "TurboGate" in April of 2012 led IndyCar to mandate that all engines become twin-turbos by 2013, so it wouldn't have to try to balance the performances. I asked The Captain about those two drivers the other day and he said they were high on his list. But the flip side is that it's kinda cool to see these two Yanks on one-car teams out-running the Big 3 on occasion.
Q: Nothing against Mr. Penske driving the pace car for the 500, but wouldn't have been nice to see someone from the Hulman-George family drive it? Tony George would have been the right person in my mind. If not for Mr. Hulman saving the track back in 1945, it would have been full of houses by now. Just my two-cents worth!!
RM: All four of Tony's grandkids in the car with T.G. driving would have been good, but I'm not sure he would want to do it.
Q: Isn't it interesting that it seems all of the complaining about Honda is coming from the Andretti camp, yet the Rahal and Schmidt teams have been relatively silent? Graham has picked up where he left off in the second half of last year and had a top-5 at St. Pete taken away from him (by Munoz, another Honda driver ... he doesn't get any breaks from the other Honda guys does he?) and Hinch is starting to come back into form after the long recovery from injury, while the Andretti team continues in its slump in the mid-pack.
Perhaps the Andretti slump has a lot to do with losing many of its top people the last couple seasons? I don't think it's a coincidence that its troubles began when Kyle Moyer left – now look at the Pagenaud-Moyer combo at Penske. George Klotz is another guy that left that comes to mind.
Maybe the trouble isn't Honda, but internal within the team? I hope Michael can turn it around, because RHR and Marco being competitive helps the series as a whole. The learning curve for Rossi seems to be as steep as one would think, with little testing and running tracks that he's never seen. Great way to end the first quarter of the season and jump into the month of May. Looking forward to your coverage on RACER all month long, and looking forward to seeing you again at Mid-Ohio later this summer!
Brad Stevens, North Canton, OH
RM: Not sure what the issues are, but we all know RHR is as good as anyone on the grid so something is missing. Heard it could be dampers, but losing Moyer and Klotz certainly did not help the overall chemistry. I would expect Marco to snap out of it this month because he always runs well at Indy – ditto for Munoz.
Q: What the hell is going on with Andretti Autosport? They are horrible right now. Look, I know that they are considered one of the Big 3 but they are nowhere near the level of Ganassi or Penske, and honestly, seem quite dysfunctional. It pisses me off as a Honda fan because they are supposed to be Honda's 'factory' team. There is no doubt in my mind that SPM and RLL are running a tighter, better ship than Andretti, and both with less money.
I guarantee one of the issues is that they have too much emotion involved in everything that they do. Michael bitches about the aero kits, then Marco bitches about the aero kits. Michael says they don't have a chance, then Marco says they don't have a chance. Ryan is a good dude and just puts his head down and tries to work through the problems. Carlos seems out to lunch this year, and looks like a normal 'pay to drive' guy. Rossi hasn't shown much, but it's early and we'll see if he comes around.
My question is, why in the hell are they running so many different disciplines when their most important one is struggling mightily? They are involved in IndyCar, Formula E, Rallycross, Indy Lights, and Pro Mazda. Wait, I just looked up Pro Mazda and Rallycross, and neither have Andretti Autosport listed as a team. Andretti Autosport can't even update their website?
Every discipline they are involved in is struggling. Is this a coincidence? I don't think so. This is a direct product of poor management. They can argue until they are blue in the face that they are struggling in IndyCar because of Honda's aero kit, and they do. What is their excuse in regards to Indy Lights and Formula E? Andretti Autosport's fortunes are, at least in part, due to poor management and Michael not having his act together. Honestly, I'm pissed that Honda can't see this and put more of their resources behind RLL, SPM and one Andretti driver, RHR.
Bottom line ... great teams will have down years, I get that. However, great teams aren't going to struggle in multiple disciplines at the same time unless they are screwed up at the top of the organization, period!!
Josh R., Salem, OR
RM: A lot of people believe Formula E and Rallycross teams are helping keep the four IndyCars on the track. Volkswagen funds the two-car effort with Scott Speed and Tanner Foust for Andretti and teams are paid to compete in Formula E the way I understand it. He isn't competing in Pro Mazda or USF2000 this season.
Q: Robin, I just finished reading last week's Mailbag Mailbag with many concerns about the 500, and want your take on an engine idea. Looking back at the CART days, they had engines that were built for running 250 miles and it made things exciting when they pushed them past their limit to run 500 miles. Is there any chance that Chevy and Honda would be allowed, or even entertain the idea, of taking the current configuration and simply modifying a one-off engine just for Indy? Ideas such as no maximum RPM, no max turbo boost and to make it even more interesting, keep the same fuel allotment as it is today.
TJ Spitzmiller, Highlands Ranch, CO
RM: They spent a fortune on aero kits and claim they lose money on engine leases, so I would seriously doubt if any kind of one-off motor would be embraced.
Q: My wife and I will be at the Indy GP (race day only) and it's the first visit to IMS for both of us. What do we 'absolutely have to see and do' while we're there? I know your day will be hectic but where would we most likely see you in action? What about post-race – what local watering holes might be good for people watching?
Joel S, Columbus OH
RM: I would make sure you visit the IMS Museum before the race and take a lap in the tour bus if it's running. I'll watch from the media center and then shoot a couple of videos for RACER after it's over. You coul
I'd go to Dawson's on Main Street in Speedway or Sarah Fisher's go-kart track (it has two restaurants), or the new place across from her place on 10th Street. And Union Jack and Mug 'N Bun still draw a lot of racers.
Q: Great news. I just won the mega millions in the lotto and I want to go IndyCar racing. Can I get a one-off engine from Cosworth and design my own body kit, or am I stuck running a 'manufacturer' product?
Lewis from Croton, NY
RM: Right now you'll have to find someone Cosworth can badge with and you're stuck with one of the two aero kits. But, instead, you could always promote a race on Labor Day and be an instant newsmaker.
Q: I always enjoy your Mailbag. Today I wanted to pass on the wisdom of my little girl who's been raised on IndyCar. While watching a few minutes worth of Talladega, above, my six-year old became quickly puzzled, and said, "Daddy, why are they racing in lines like that?" followed by, "Is that even racing?"
Sleepy in Chattanooga
RM: Bless her heart, let's try and make her the grand marshall at Barber next year.
Q: As good as the racing has been, especially in the middle of the pack, there has been an issue that has been bothering me for a couple of decades. Except at Indy, I believe that qualifying is an outdated concept that has little to no entertainment value, adds cost for the teams, and all but guarantees processional racing. Especially at the front of the field. Now, with the aero kits and the turbulence that they create, putting the fastest car at the front of the field to start the race means that the only passing at the sharp end of the field is done with pit strategy.
What I propose is to eliminate timed qualifying in favor of qualifying races. Fans don't want to just watch cars go around the track, we want to see racing. When they arrive at the track, teams would choose their pit stalls with the points leader choosing first, second in points choosing second, then moving down the field. Each of two Saturday qualifying races would include half the field, be half the distance of the Sunday race, and with the drivers with the lowest points starting at the front and the points leaders starting at the back.
Qualifying race one would include the points leader, third in points, fifth, etc., with first in points starting last, third in points starting second to last, etc. Qualifying race two would be second, fourth, sixth, etc. Qualifying race finishes would pay half the points of Sunday's race, plus a point for each improved finishing position over starting position, and would determine starting positions for Sunday's race. The winner of the qualifying race that awarded the most points (had the most positions improved) would start the Sunday race on the pole, with the winner of the other qualifying race starting second, and alternating thusly.
This format would ensure great racing on Saturday by putting the fastest cars at the back of the field and watching them work their way up. By having split races, the fastest cars have fewer cars to pass, and less likelihood of carnage. The disadvantage of starting last is offset by the opportunity to score more points by moving your way up the field, plus passing is rewarded with a better Sunday starting spot. Plus, a bad weekend that yields few points moves a driver up the field to start the next qualifying race.
I think this concept makes for better racing, rewards good racers (not just fast qualifiers), and makes the championship point race very interesting over the entirety of a season. I have a spreadsheet that breaks this down if you're interested. Plus, I have a caution procedure that effects the race outcome less too, but that's another email for later.
Tim Hubbel, Turlock, CA
RM: If there were 50 cars going for 33 spots, qualifying races might make sense but only if they paid big money and were on live television. And if we had 50 cars going for 33 spots then qualifying would have plenty of drama and Bump Day would again be relevant.
Q: Could you please explain how this SPM/Marotti/Servia deal came together? What exactly is Will Marotti's role in this? Did both he and Servia give money to Sam? You usually don't see a lot of pastors having enough money to get involved with IndyCar and the 500. How much more money does Gabby need? Any way he can buy his way into one of the Coyne cars?
RM: Marotti began working on sponsorships 10 months ago and between what he raised and Oriol brings, they had enough to do a deal. But I don't think Servia had any idea who Mariotti was until Sam told him. Gabby and Mike Shank are still working to get something.
Q: The announcers, ever since IndyCar started going to Barber, have always and consistently insisted that it's difficult to pass there. I don't know if I've ever seen a road course with more passing. What gives? I love Barber, I think it's one of the best tracks on the circuit. Maybe #2 behind Indy.
John in Dayton
RM: The drivers say it incessantly about most road courses and street circuits but, thankfully, that's not been the case the past few seasons. A combination of tire and fuel strategy (plus push-to-pass) has made Barber pretty compelling to watch, and the Dallara's sturdiness has also helped.
Q: I just wanted to drop a line to you about the death of a great racer. No, he wasn't an open-wheel guy, but he did earn the respect of the open-wheelers who raced against him. USAC stock driver Don White passed away. Not many today will know his name, but he was the winningest driver in USAC stock car history. In my opinion the equal of any driver in the South. Don was a class act and competed against the best. He could drive any kind of track. He did race a hand full of races in NASCAR and was in contention in each race.
RM: I watched Don many times at the State Fairgrounds in the Century 100 dueling (and sometimes beating) A.J., Parnelli, Herk, McCluskey, the Unsers and Norm Nelson. Foyt offered him a chance drive an Indy car once but White politely declined. I asked him about it and he said: "I like having a roof over my head."
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- INDYCAR: Pagenaud thriving on Penske dynamic
- F4 U.S.: Lime Rock launch postponed
- NASCAR: Penalties for inspection failures at Talladega
- ANALYSIS: The bizarre story behind the Ford GT's first win
- NASCAR: Allmendinger reveals throwback scheme for Darlington
- F1: Mateschitz in TV station closure u-turn
- WRC: Toyota test car spotted in Finland
- In RACER's Heroes V Issue: Silver Fox
- WEC: LMP1 trio 'at each other's throats' - Webber
- F1: Cars only need 'look' dangerous - Whiting
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