Miller’s Mailbag, 6.27

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Hello open-wheel types and thanks for all your questions. I intend to answer your questions every week during the season, so just email me at openwheelmailbag@gmail.com. Don’t feel left out if I didn’t directly respond. I appreciate your interest and passion.

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Q: What is the status of the number “99″ in IndyCar? Is it officially retired? If not, and Hinch finishes the season strong, or even wins the championship, we need to start a petition so he can run the number. He has proven that he is worthy of it.

Also, what is to become of the Mailbag and the other writings of you and Mr. Pruett?

John Risser

RM: It was retired by CART after Greg Moore’s death but it’s available in IndyCar. It was used in the 2012 Indianapolis 500 by Townsend Bell. The Mailbag will continue on; I started it at the Star and it has followed with me ever since. And it looks like Marshall and I should get to keep working together so please stay tuned.

Q: Hard to imagine saying that the guy who led 95% of the laps didn’t have the best car but in reality today he didn’t. Yes Hinch led almost the entire race but he also had the relative luxury of having the most clean air meanwhile RHR started 12th, started moving forward before a self-admitted mistake relegated him to tail end Charlie only to knife his way through the field. And if it weren’t for Simona (seven laps down) getting racy, he was on his way to catching Hinch and making things very interesting! RHR in my opinion was the class of the field today!

Bill, WPB, Fla.

RM: No argument here, RHR was as quick as Hinch and looked a little like Michael Andretti threading his way through traffic. To come back from 21st to second with hardly any cautions was impressive.

Q: I’m still waiting for ABC to tell us why the first caution came out. I was confused watching it live and thought maybe I had missed something so I rewound my DVR and couldn’t find anything. I know RHR had to get a wing change and I know he told his crew he made a mistake but I have no idea if he just put a bit of debris on the track or what happened. Can you tell me?

Ryan in West Michigan

RM: RHR clipped Graham Rahal when he pulled out to pass and crumpled his right-front wing and that brought out a debris caution.

Q: The way Ryan Hunter-Reay has been running the past two years I am getting the feeling that he might go to NASCAR like Sam Hornish Jr. and Danica. Have there been any rumors to that or Andretti is headed to NASCAR with Dodge like he was supposed to last year?

Steve, Salem, Va.

RM: Ryan has never mentioned it and he’s 32 in the prime of his career – kicking butt in IndyCar so I can’t see it and I haven’t heard anything about Michael’s interest since a year ago.

Q: I was amazed while watching the telecast of Iowa to hear Graham Rahal take the one opportunity he seems to have had this year to be interviewed (his performance thus far not worthy of discussing on air) to talk about how the race winner pushed him up into the gray! Why not thank his sponsor and fans who have not had anything to cheer about this season? Why imply another driver (who dominated the race) drove too aggressively when he himself was blocking all day? Young Rahal has become quite unlikeable as well as somewhat delusional about where he stands in the pecking order at IndyCar these days. He should take some lessons from his Dad about how to have a bit of class and show it instead of appearing like a spoiled brat.

Justin Park City, UT

RM: I think he was frustrated for falling from third to fifth at the end but you’re not the only letter concerning his complaint with Hinch. A lot of fans who really liked him are voicing their displeasure with his attitude of late so hopefully he’ll see this. He drove his ass off all weekend and finally looked like Graham Rahal again. I know it’s been a tough season but he doesn’t want to get labeled as a whiner. He’s better than that.

Q: Iowa was a good race, even I enjoyed it. But again the crowds were small (less than last year?) and I have to guess the ratings will be bad. I know there will be lots of talk of how good the race was but the business model does not work and there are VERY FEW customers (fans)! The few fans remaining can talk among themselves how great it all is, but the real world has voted – “no thanks.” We need “stupid fast”!

Mark Hamilton

RM: It was a disappointing turnout (the all-morning rains didn’t help) and the TV rating was a 0.7 (544,000 households) but I really don’t think stupid-fast would make any major gains in viewership. Maybe a little for practice and qualifying at Indianapolis but cars going 10 mph faster at Iowa won’t make any difference.

Q: I personally think IndyCar need to stop trying to recapture the past via bringing back format from the 60′s-80′s and I know heritage is important but it’s not the solution. IndyCar needs to focus all its attention on marketing of our great sport either by hiring a marketing wiz like a Zak Brown type or have Red Bull or Andretti Marketing do it because that’s how we can get legit cash flow. And time to ditch the ovals besides Indy because let’s face it — NASCAR owns that market. It’s time to focus on more road/street market ala Champ Car 2007 model or more like 2006 when they had one oval. After that then we should open the rules to allow more chassis and go to production based motors. Personally that only way I can see IndyCar surviving the post CART/IRL aftermath.

Kevin East Hanover, NJ

RM: IndyCar’s identity is variety and its heritage is ovals so I disagree. We don’t need half the schedule on ovals but we need at least the Triple Crown, Milwaukee and Iowa. IndyCar does need a strong title sponsor that will promote the product (like IZOD did in the beginning) and that should be priority No. 1 for Miles & Company.

Q: How much of a factor is the reduced amount of sponsorship contributing to the smaller crowds at the oval races? Correct me if I wrong, but didn’t the big name corporate sponsors used to give tickets away? I remember I received a free pair of tickets from Marlboro to the 1999 Homestead race….and I don’t even smoke.

Bill G, St Pete

RM: No doubt there were plenty of Marlboro, Toyota and Honda freebies at Homestead, Fontana and Michigan so not having them hurts but there were huge crowds at Phoenix and Milwaukee in 1995 without any giveaways and Road America, Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca in the early ‘90s with no gimmicks.

Q: Hey Robin, Considering Helio’s past transgressions with blocking and being a multiple winner of Marshall Pruett’s Golden Bowling Ball award, I don’t think his explanation of almost running Power to the grass at Milwaukee passes the smell test. Thoughts? Also earlier in the season it seemed that Marco had inherited Paul Tracy’s Chrome Horn. I realize that Marco has been more patient this year but he seems willing and able to give a little extra “push to pass” when needed. My question is do you think Marco can become IndyCar’s next polarizing figure like PT was?

Doug Fast

RM: It was a chop job and I think Will quickly figured out that third was better than a DNF. It would be great to have Marco become a hero or a villain but he’s probably too bashful/soft spoken to give us the headlines and highlights P.T. provided for 20 years.

Q: I had high hopes for Simona after the St. Pete race and things have been looking pretty dismal ever since. What gives?

David Donovan

RM: Not sure, her engineer (Gerald Tyler) is a familiar face with a good track record and there are some good mechanics on her crew but it’s just been woeful lately.

Q: So it is two week until Pocono. Safe to say there will be no Kurt Busch or will there be a surprise for IndyCar’s final ABC race of 2013?

Ray Hando

RM: I think the plan is for Kurt to try and run the Fontana finale.

Q: I wrote to you a while ago to get your advice about bringing children to a race. We decided to bring our four-and-half-year-old boy to Iowa and he loved it! My advice to other parents is to absolutely bring ear protection for your kids (and yourself). I saw younger kids there, but they didn’t follow the race as closely as he did. This also happened to be my first race! My wife and I had a blast! The cars seem much faster . . . and louder . . . than on television. I wish people at home could feel the race the way we did. It was, at times, an almost overwhelming experience. We also enjoyed the Fan Village, the food, and I won access to Victory Circle! We had a wonderful experience all around.

Andy Davis

RM: Glad to hear that and we need all the young fans we can get. IndyCar has tried to make it a pleasant family experience at Indy and it sounds like it worked at Milwaukee and Iowa.

Q: This has bugged me since it was first assessed. Driver (A) a top of the line driver does something to be penalized 10 grid spots. He normally qualifies in the Top 5 or 10 so the penalty puts him at mid pack. Driver (B) a backmarker always qualifies near the back, same rule infraction. So now, instead of starting 22d, he starts 24th or 25th. My idea is that any grid spot(s) penalized, must be served.
So driver “A” likely serves his penalty in the next race Driver “B” however, might get two grid spots in the next race, the next race, the next race until a TOTAL of 10 grid spots have been served. Good idea? Or is the back-marker already at such a disadvantage, that we don’t want to dishearten him?

Bummed Bruce

RM: I hate the 10-spot penalties because it confuses the fans and penalizes the teams for something it has no control over. Get rid of them.

Q: It seems strange to me that the media have not given much coverage to the power differential in output between Honda and Chevy. I know it has been reported that they are pretty close now, but given the results on the ovals this year, how can anyone say that Chevy doesn’t have a power advantage? During Indy qualifying, the Hondas were lucky to break into the 224 mph range while the Chevy frontrunners were running in the 227s and 228s. At both Texas and Milwaukee, the Honda runners were not even making the Top 5. The Target guys have been talking about ill-handling cars on the ovals, but this smells like they are being forced to run lower downforce just to keep up with the Chevys, which is why they have been so lousy in race trim. How long will the likes of Chip Ganassi stick with Honda if this continues and when will Honda finally step up to the form when it last dominated against the competition?

Mike

RM: I think we’ve mentioned Chevy’s podium sweeps and a few of the Honda drivers have privately said they figure they are down about 20-25 HP. No doubt Chevy has the advantage with increased boost at Indy in qualifying but Honda dominated Long Beach and Detroit, which is just the opposite of what to expect with single turbo vs. double. If Honda changes to a twin turbo for 2014 it may level things out.

Q: What do you see A.J. Allmendinger doing in 2014?

Perry Fague

RM: Too early to tell but like to see him full-time in IndyCar.

Q: Are you hearing anything at all about the possibility of electric or hybrid engines being introduced into IndyCar competition? Is it even on the horizon that we might see an ethanol powered V6 versus an all-electric versus a diesel hybrid? Might this get additional manufacturers interested again in IndyCar?

Clint, Chicago

RM: I haven’t heard anything but maybe Derrick Walker’s 2019 plan to open things up will include some of those scenarios.

Q: I know things didn’t pan out for J.R. Hildebrand at Panther and money is always an issue, but any idea where he might be headed? Is he destined for a life in sports cars like a lot of other American talent…Gurney, Fogarty, Rice, Summerton, etc. Just got back from Milwaukee and I am hoping for more races in coming years at the Mile.

Brian Henris

RM: I spoke with J.R. at Milwaukee and he’s not giving up on IndyCar but realizes he’ll probably have to find a decent sponsor to continue.

Q: What are the chances that Carlos Munoz and Sage Karam can get a ride for 2014? I hope Walker can improve the Indy Lights series and somehow get more Americans involved. If Kurt Busch seems interested in running Indy or other races like Fontana hopefully others can see the light. I would love to see Casey Mears return to Indy cars, I bet he would have more success than he does now in NASCAR.

S. Coffman

RM: If both of them find a sponsor, I imagine they’ve got a decent shot, especially Munoz. Not sure what’s going to happen to Lights. Busch can run an Indy car because he’s not driving for a big team anymore and Mears is making way too much money to ever consider IndyCar.

Q: In regards to Milwaukee, can’t forget that the original 1930′s grandstand held far less people than the 2002 replacement, which is one reason the old CART races looked so packed. That said, 2008-2009 had full houses. What changed? The loss of the Marlboro’s of the world giving out thousands of free tickets! Really shows the desperate need for sponsorship of IndyCar events. On the subject, Philly-based Sunoco stepped up with presenting at Pocono! And does it make TOO much sense for an August 2014 Road America double-header with sports cars to actually happen?

Greg (Belleville, NJ)

RM: There were 54,000 people at Milwaukee in 1995 (largest crowd ever) and it stayed good until about 2002. When Champ Car and IRL both started running there, nobody came. Great to see Sunoco and Bardahl back on the side of an Indy car.

Q: I was just reading the 6/21 Mailbag and your article on the potential for a return of Road America and you quoted George Bruggenthies, president of Road America, as saying “I reached out again last weekend because we were only an hour apart when he (Mr. Miles) was in Milwaukee but I never got a response.” Seriously? Given the current state of things in IndyCar and the long-time desire of fans to see these cars back on this beautiful track, he can’t return a phone call from an interested track president? While I still miss Randy’s enthusiasm, I had hoped bringing in a “business guy” would finally result in some positive behavior coming out of Indianapolis but this seems like it is stacking up as a colossal missed opportunity for the sport and the fans. Or are you hearing something different?

Royal Richardson, Chester, N.H.

RM: Mark Miles isn’t like Bernard in that he doesn’t return phone calls and emails with any promptness but he says he’s waiting on Milwaukee’s situation to unfold before he pulls the trigger on Road America (but he seems optimistic).

Q: I attended the Champ Car/ALMS race at Elkhart Lake years ago and enjoyed the event and atmosphere. It seemed to me that there were as many ALMS fans there as Champ Car fans in those days and a lot of manufacture support on the ALMS side. After the merger I wondered if there was ever any thought about buying the ALMS and pairing it up with Indy Car on street and road courses? The fans that would have come along with that merger not to mention the manufactures pipeline that might have created for IndyCar (participation in both series) would have been great, of course now it’s too late!!

John Whitehead, Indianapolis

RM: I was there also and it was as big, if not bigger, a crowd on Saturday for ALMS as it was for Champ Car on Sunday. George Bruggenthies says he’s open to a doubleheader and there’s a nice cross pollination of ALMS and IndyCar fans. Your idea about buying ALMS might have worked before all that money was spent keeping the IRL afloat.

Q: We saw the vintage Indy cars running on Carb Day; there was one with a small-block Chevy that sounded great. I am wondering what advantage there is to anyone, owners, drivers, manufacturers, to spend big bucks for hyper-expensive racing engines when they could use the same formula as Silver crown for a lot less money? At the Hoosier Hundred there were Ford, Chevy, Mopar, and Toyota engines. Sounds like an improvement to me.

Tom Phillips

RM: Maybe there will be a place for those manufacturers in a couple years down the road but having turbocharged engines that are leased has been a pretty reasonable price.

Q: What does it take to the make IndyCar fans happy? I ask this question because I see the answers aren’t satisfying anyone. They want good racing. They are getting it these last two seasons, but still aren’t happy. They want to have less down-force to reduce the danger of pack racing. They got that at Texas and Milwaukee and complained because the fastest car ran away from the field. They want the cars to not all look the same. Different aero packages will also spread out the field. They want more American drivers. J.R. Hildebrand just lost his ride to a Spaniard. They want more ovals. They leave more than half of the seats empty at all oval races except Indy. They want prime time TV coverage, but don’t tune in to watch anyway. They want American winners and champions. RHR has done both with less fanfare than if he came from Lower Slobovia. What does it take to the make IndyCar fans happy?

Keith. Pitt Meadows, BC, Canada

RM: We are an unhappy group Keith but in terms of good, hard racing that is pretty damn unpredictable – I’m satisfied.

Q: You may have seen last Thursday’s Opinion column on Millenials and their changing views on cars and driving. If true, what potential impact does this have for the future of auto racing in general, irrespective of whether it’s IndyCar, NASCAR, sprinters, etc.? Thanks for the entertaining mailbag column on the SPEED website.

Glenn Harris, Greenbelt, Md.

RM: It says a lot Glenn and that’s why I’ve been saying for a couple of years that I’m not sure different cars with big HP engines and track records is going to make much of a difference. It might at Indy but today’s kids don’t have much interest in cars or speed. Certainly not like we did.

Q: I have three questions for you. First, do you think IndyCar will ever return to Michigan Speedway? Those were some tremendous races. Nothing against Belle Isle but MIS was a great place to watch open wheel and I think the new cars would make for some competitive action. What do your instincts say on this? And second, would you agree that the younger people today have much less interest than previous generations? I can’t begin to tell you how many 15 and 16 year olds are lacking interest in getting a driver’s license today. If they have less interest in driving it seems to follow they would have less interest in watching others drive. I take my kids and grandkids to the 500 every year and, after about lap 20, they are busy with iPods and smart phones and could seem to care less about track action. It seems racing is far less interesting than video action. Could it be that the younger generations are simply are simply no longer interested in auto racing?

Randy in Michigan

RM: I’d love to see MIS return but probably won’t happen as long as Belle Isle is on the schedule. The story in the question above tells you where the kids’ minds are today and it’s not on driving, racing and speed. They’ve got way too many distractions and other interests.

Q: While marking the days until my annual trip to the Sonoma race in August, I have a question and a comment. Does the ABC IndyCar contract give them exclusive network broadcast rights? I think I read that in an earlier mailbag response, but it is the only time I recall having heard that. I ask that in the context of NBC switching a broadcast to the network. My comment involves lights at Indianapolis. I am in favor of them not because I want to see the Indy 500 run at night, but because it would give the option of getting the race in if there is a rain issue. While that hasn’t happened the last couple of years, it is a real disappointment to see the race end early due to daylight issues when tracks can be dried so quickly these days.

Rick Navratil, Phoenix, AZ

RM: It gives them exclusive “network” rights. If running the Indy 500 at night on prime time packed the house and doubled the TV ratings, I’m all for it.

Q: I’ve seen a lot of people talking about the crowd at this year’s IndyFest at Milwaukee and since I was there I wanted to say a couple of things about the crowd. First of all, the whole week leading up to the race forecasts showed that it was going to rain all day Saturday which no doubt kept some fans away. Second, it sounds like there was good enough promotion in Milwaukee and Chicago but I live two hours north of Milwaukee in the Fox Cities (400,000+ population) and there wasn’t a squeak about Indy cars up here. Also, and this one always baffles me, the race is scheduled the same weekend as the June Sprints at Road America. When you’re looking to get fans to attend a race in the Midwest it doesn’t seem like a smart move to schedule that race on the busiest day of the biggest and oldest event on the Chicago Region SCCA calendar. To be honest IndyCar need to change the date because I doubt they will win against the June Sprints in the near future and this is coming from a hardcore IndyCar fan and a very casual SCCA fan.

Cullin from Appleton

RM: I agree. The ideal Milwaukee date is the Sunday after Indy at 1 p.m. – not 3:40 on a Saturday before Father’s Day during the June Sprints.

Q: I just heard that Turn 10 (Developers of Forza Motorsports) got licensing for the IZOD IndyCar Series. That is such a great move on IndyCar’s part. Video Games are the biggest place when it comes to promotions nowadays in my opinion, and the guys who make those games do an awesome job. Do you think we can see IndyCars in another game, like Gran Turismo 6 for the Playstation, because Gran Turismo is a really popular simulator worldwide. Also what is your take on putting Indy cars in popular video games, do you think that will help a lot?

Elmer Arden

RM: It can’t hurt and I get several emails a year wondering why IndyCar doesn’t have a video game so this is good news. Thanks for sharing.

Q: Hey open wheel fans – get a clue!! We have damn good racing so quit crying and get your tails in the bleachers or in front of the tube. Numerous cars on the lead lap, fights for the lead, strategy, technology, colorful drivers with lots of different personalities. Something for everyone!! Embrace it! Quit being such prima donnas that have to be entertained and catered to every second. Hell, learn to watch a race without having to be told what is going on by a TV talking head or track announcer. Watch the cars, first place through last. See who is fighting the set up and see who is coming through the field using what grooves, strategies etc… Take your own stop watch or use the one on your cell phone. We can complain about the split and pine for the old days. Well guess what -the split is over and the old days ain’t coming back. Live for today’s racing. And damn well learn to appreciate it because we are lucky to witness it. It’s about time that we as fans took the next step in the healing and growth process and went all in – balls out for Indy Car. Things will never be perfect but John Q. Fan has to stop kicking the shins of the sport by bitching about every little (or big) thing. Trust me, you don’t have to take it upon yourself to complain. Somebody, somewhere can handle that perfectly well enough without us. And by us I am referring to real fans. The real fans. You know, the people sitting in the stands at Warsaw, Kokomo, Eldora, Milwaukee or Indy praying for dry weather and safe racing. If we just focus a little more on the positive and a lot less on the negative we will all benefit. Sponsors will feel the support of the consumer for the series and when sponsors start moving $$ into the great game of open wheel racing we will see it ascend back to the greatness we all desire. Learn to love it.

Troy from Indiana

RM: Amen brother Troy, thanks for the sermon.