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Robin Miller's Mailbag for May 14 presented by Honda Racing/HPD
Q: I noticed that only one yellow flag was displayed when Saavedra stalled. Shouldn't there be yellow flags displayed as much as possible on a standing start to warn drivers of trouble ahead? Just watch an F1 start in comparison when there's trouble – yellow flags displayed throughout the grid.
It's just a shame that IndyCar can't master anti-stall or even display more flags at the start. It makes the series look so amateurish and everyone will jump on the "get rid of standing starts" bandwagon. Get the technology and procedures working properly but don't ditch standing starts. They aren't the problem. If they can get out of pitlane after a pit stop, then they can get off the grid.
Graeme Watson, Brentwood, Essex, U.K.
RM: In retrospect, more flag-wavers could have helped but the driver is looking ahead, going for openings or dodging a slower car, so not sure that prevents what happened last Saturday. But you are spot on: fix the problem, don’t abandon standing starts. Think about how refreshing Long Beach was to have all the cars on the same stretch of track.
Q: So now there was another restart crash. When are the complainers (and that includes a couple of people who called the race from the booth) going to stop saying it’s the leader going too slow (like they did to Will Power in St. Pete) and realize that the majority of the issues result from the guys in the back of the pack trying to jump the restart? I wonder if Power felt some vindication in Saturday’s restart pile-up, since everyone blamed it on him for going too slow, when all he did was follow the rules for the restart zone, which is exactly what the leader on Saturday did, too.
David, Madison, WI
RM: As long as I’ve been around, the leader in open-wheel sets the restart pace and it’s your job to act accordingly. But I’d rather see more speed and double-file than a NASCAR-esque speed to restart.
Q: Just watched the GP of Indy…ugh! So close to being a great race, but there are still a few things that just frustrate me. And no, I'm not even talking about the start and the restarts (the drivers will figure it out, surely?). As a bit of a racing purist, I'm always frustrated by the amount of time and laps required for the yellow flag process. Why on earth do we need to continually gather the field, then keep it gathered until everybody has had a chance to pit? Fine if the yellow clean-up genuinely needs the laps (like the opening crash), but it’s frustrating when Scott Dixon spins, but gets corrected in only a lap or two!
So here's my suggestion…CLOSE THE PITS DURING ALL YELLOW-FLAG LAPS. Gather the field only long enough to clean up the incident, then let them go as soon as possible when it's clear. Allow pitting only under green flag situations has to be safer (less likely to have the entire field in the pits at one time). It won't change the good luck/bad luck caused by pitting before a yellow, but would make the race much more enjoyable for the fans if it can cut down the number of yellow laps. Thoughts?
Douglas Cole, Beaverton, OR
RM: I’m pretty sure the pits were first closed so USAC could properly score a race, but I wish the pits were NEVER closed. And waiting on everyone to pit also blows because long yellows make for bored fans and viewers who change channels.
Q: As the laps wound down on Saturday's race at Indy I recall the commentators saying that Servia and Pagenaud had both pitted on the same lap and were both close on fuel. Pagenaud obviously made it but with Servia only having a ride for a partial schedule, why wouldn't that team try to roll the dice and go for the win?
RM: Good question. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud and Servia all pitted at the same time and, instead of playing the fuel conservation game, RLL opted to send Servia on a banzai run hoping for a caution (although not sure why because he still couldn’t have won).
Q: My dad and I have been NASCAR fans for a long time, and we've been to a lot of races together. After watching a few IndyCar races (including the 500) last year, I convinced my dad to go to the 2013 MAVTV 500 at Fontana and we both thought it was an awesome experience. This season, I'm watching IndyCar full time for the first time now that both NBCSN and ABC are in my family's TV package.
On Saturday, I turned on the Indianapolis GP and I was able to bring my mother and father in to watch because I told them it was a history-making race. I even told them the standing start was going to be really good. That was, until the final red light went out. In the five seconds or so between Saavedra's stall and the crash, I was very scared, and when the pile-up occurred, we were all very alarmed at what happened. The polesitter stalling must be the worst thing that can happen in a standing start.
I'm writing this one day later. My dad, who was certainly going to renew our MAVTV 500 tickets, now likely won't. I agreed with him that open-cockpit cars are very dangerous, and this was only confirmed when debris gave Hinchcliffe a concussion. One reason we both like NASCAR more is because nearly all the time, drivers can walk away from the worst of accidents, thus their safety seems much more assured than IndyCar drivers' safety. So, is there anything I can do to persuade my dad to change his mind?
And also, I recall reading about someone developing jet fighter-style canopies for open-wheel cars. What happened to that? Do you think IndyCar would be better off if canopies were implemented?
Noah Stein, Apple Valley, CA
RM: Nice to hear you’ve become a big fan, Noah, and the best advice I can give you pertaining to your father is to remind him that open-wheel racing remains the fastest, closest and most edgy form of motorsports (along with motorcycles). That’s part of the appeal – it’s risky and too bad Hinch got dinged, but IndyCar racing is pretty damn safe nowadays. I don’t like the idea of canopies – fans want to see the drivers at work. Pack up your pop and get him to Fontana – I’ll treat you both to an In-N-Out burger.
Q: The first four IndyCar races of the season have been phenomenal. Great on-track action, multiple winners, and the natural unpredictability that occurs each race is an added bonus to the sport I love. And now to the Indianapolis GP. Yes I had my doubts but after studying and seeing the product the redone course offers, it wasn't too shabby. The track was fixed for the better. IndyCar had it right with the double-file restarts last year and Graham Rahal hit it on the head – this ain't NASCAR so why try to make it like it? Also loving your new mailbag sponsor! (Honda).
Ruben E. Hernandez, Austin, TX
RM: No argument, IMS road course is now racey and NASCAR-speed restarts have caused more carnage than excitement.
Q: I know the series is consistently trying to improve the spectacle but in my humble opinion, they should go back to regular restarts on some road courses. I was seating facing the Turns 12 through 14 complex and it was really awkward to watch the cars approaching the flagstand at such a slo-mo pace. Since the very first restart I had a bad feeling about this idea as I could see from the middle toward the back of the line do, not one, but two accordion effects. Of course, add to that the simple fact that the drivers were right on each other’s rear wing. How could they see the flagman? All it took was one driver to accelerate just a little bit and the one behind would smell blood and try and go for it only to then realize it was just a premature reaction of the car ahead. Slow restarts may work for other series but I didn't think they work well on a racetrack with such a long straight with drivers on edge and wanting to go at it... Why not consider the track configuration before trying to implement something like this?
Rudy from Ohio
RM: Your opinion represents almost every driver I’ve talked to about it, so look for it to change.
Q: I'm not clear on how James Hinchcliffe got a concussion. I was watching the race on television and saw him take the run-off, but did not see any impact with another car. The camera did not stay long on his car but the car looked fine. Did something fly up off the track and hit him in the head? Did the safety equipment fail and let his head slam into the headrest? What happened?
John in Charleston
RM: A piece of Justin Wilson’s wing flew back and hit Hinch, evidently knocking him out momentarily as he coasted to a stop. The car was fine and the new protective strip on his helmet likely saved him from a serious injury.
Q: I watched the Channel 6 Sports Extra on Sunday night with you and TK. After what I saw Plowman’s face shield and what happened to Hinchcliffe, IndyCar needs to make that extra strip on the shields mandatory before the Indy 500. Getting a clunk in the head at less then 100mph, like Plowman, and then Hinchcliffe at around 130-140mph, what happens at 200mph? IndyCar has always been a leader in safety. Has everyone forgot what happened to Massa in F1? Helio got lucky last year at Indy, when an axle zoomed by his head. They cannot protect these guys 100 percent, but what does a face shield cost? I hope you can get to the correct person.
RM: I think all the drivers will have them on race day, if not sooner.
Q: I love the IMS and the “500,” and this year’s will be my 24th in a row. That said, what the hell is wrong with them? I don’t know if it’s the doing of the Boston Consulting Group, but in what world does jacking prices up on EVERYTHING make sense, to a series desperate for new fans? First it was the ticket prices, which seems stupid when they’re giving away tickets through certain grocery stores, and tearing down stands that were going unsold. Then, at the GP of Indy, I see that the food prices have almost doubled. A tenderloin for $9? Are you serious, IMS? And on top of that, the wait for the food was ridiculous. I don’t want to spend my time at the track in line for 20 minutes. The kind of fans that IndyCar needs are young fans. What young fans don’t tend to have is a lot of money. At least they still let 12-and-under in for free. But for how long? And when will they prevent coolers from being brought in? Not smart, IndyCar.
Andrew Howard, Fort Wayne
RM: I agree 100 percent. I stood in those lines all three days to buy a tenderloin and it’s a new group handling the concessions. Besides food and drink being overpriced, they’re woefully understaffed or unprepared to handle a crowd. But just be glad they’re not charging you to use the restrooms. Yet.
Q: My wife and I attended the practice sessions last Thursday at IMS, and had a ball, all for a $5 parking fee across the track on 16th St. The fans and IMS staff were great, friendly and informative. All the infield grass and mounds reminded me of the Glen, or Mid-Ohio. I think the revised road course is a huge improvement over the previous version, and it proved pretty racy on Saturday. The standing start was very scary, but thankfully no one was seriously hurt. The following idea might be hare-brained....but perhaps IndyCar should occasionally consider a "Le Mans start," with the cars parked parallel to one another on the side of the track. This would reduce the risk of stalled cars being hammered from the rear. Hey, if WKA can start race karts safely this way for their road racing series maybe IndyCar should consider this as well. Plus...SeaBass and Simon P. can pretend they're back home, ha-ha!
David in Pittsburgh
RM: A true Le Mans start where the drivers ran to their cars would be interesting but I think IndyCar needs to stick with standing starts at some places and flying starts everywhere else.
Q: Now that the first Grand Prix of Indianapolis has come and gone, I'm wondering if you can conceive of a day that there won't be an Indy 500 and instead all of Indy car racing will be road racing and absent any ovals whatsoever? I ask this because who’s running IndyCar all have road racing as their background and don't seem to respect the history of the sport or its oval roots in racing (though admittedly road racing or point-to-point racing started) in America...
JJ, Sherman Oaks, CA
RM: I guess I could see a day when it was all road racing bar the Indy 500, but the real problem is that ovals don’t draw anymore and promoters are wary about scheduling an IndyCar race on them. Iowa is an exception and I think Pocono can keep clawing back but it’s a tough sell right now, despite the great racing.
Q: This may be an "out of left field" topic but here it goes. I was watching the Barber race on YouTube and seeing how it was a timed race, I wonder if IndyCar could potentially go to all timed races. I know it was because of weather, but I know Champ Car did straight timed races in their last year. How successful was that for Champ Car and could IndyCar potentially use that format in the future?
David Lawrence, Albany, GA
RM: Timed races are usually only necessary for television windows and NBCSN worked with IndyCar to get in the race live and then go to the NHL playoffs at Barber.
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