Robin Miller Discusses IndyCar
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t feel left out if I didn’t directly respond. I appreciate your interest and passion.
Q: I’ve been going to Texas since 2004 and what a dog race that was. Found out Derrick Walker took out an additional 200 pounds of downforce off the cars from 2012 -- what a disastrous move. Worst crowd I’ve ever seen at Texas and people were leaving real early... I gave it up with 48 laps remaining and Helio had a half lap lead. This race is in serious trouble and next year could be the end… I know I won’t be back.
RM: As Walker admitted in the story I wrote for SPEED.com, the racing wasn’t very good and he apologized to the fans for not listening to the drivers about downforce following Friday’s practice. But Derrick inherited the aero package, he didn’t take anything away, and the softer tire contributed to the equation as well. But let’s not get too dramatic, it’s the first boring race IndyCar has had in a long time and Pocono and Fontana will be better.
Q: Please tell me I'm wrong but the Firestone 550 was just good ol' boring TV. There were only FIVE cars on the lead lap at the end? I do not understand what the ABC crew saw or was watching but when they said "that was a great race" I wondered what did I miss? It was horrible from my seat. I wish the tires went off more dramatically at Lap 50 on a new set. Now that would have made it interesting. So is it me? Again, at the end of 550 miles, only five cars had a chance to win? Ugh, just when I get comfortable with the product on TV, this race is displayed.
RM: In talking with Dario, Will and RHR afterwards it was plenty exciting for the drivers because they were hanging on for dear life. But, obviously, it didn’t make for good television on a night when IndyCar had a captive national audience on ABC. There was some good driving, just not a lot of the close racing that we’ve come to expect with this car.
Q: I've been an avid fan of open wheel since I was little and still am today as a university student. I was really hoping that IndyCar could follow off a couple good nationally broadcast races (which I attended at Detroit) with another, but we were sadly let down...AGAIN! I felt sorry for the fans who actually went to the race, you didn't see two cars race for position all night, the downforce setup was totally ludicrous and I don't care how much the drivers enjoyed the driving, the sponsors and ABC don't give a damn when nobody is watching this product. I don't want to bring back pack racing but something where the tires last for more than five laps would help. And if we are going to advertise about how these cars are the fastest in the world, don't have them running slower than NASCAR does. IndyCar has only a few opportunities to showcase to a large audience what a terrific product and season we have had this year, but once again I tried my best to tell myself I enjoyed that race tonight, but I couldn't. When the sport needs to attract new viewers, especially in my age demographic, I get worried.
RM: First off, NASCAR doesn’t run as fast at Texas as IndyCar (speeds fluctuated from 217 mph to 200 mph most of Saturday night) and 90 percent of the IndyCar races at Texas have been more exciting. Screw the speeds, IndyCar should bill itself as the most competitive series on the planet right now because it is (seven different winners in eight races). But your point is well taken about trying to get kids your age interested with a prime time opportunity and then IndyCar lays an egg. But it’s only one race and the past year and a half has been very entertaining so don’t give up.
Q: How annoying can IndyCar fans be? I enjoyed the Texas's race. It wasn’t that good, I know. But if you read the people comments on twitter about the race! Oh dear God! They are all complaining about how boring the race was, how cars were all separated from each other, lack of action. And all of this just because we finally have a race that you could really see different results by changing your car! How could THOSE FANS be the ones who desperately want aero kits? (the cars will likely be VERY different from each other). How could those fans say that "CART era was so much better"? (What? Winning by two laps?) Man, it impossible to please IndyCar fans.
Giu Canbera, São Paulo, Brazil
RM: It was a technical race and Castroneves & Company nailed the setup and got rewarded. It was more like some old USAC and CART races where one driver dominated. It wasn’t what IndyCar needed for prime time but it was still better than NASCAR at Pocono or the Canadian Grand Prix.
Q: I just have to ask how you felt about the race we saw at Texas Saturday night. Personally, I liked it (again) and found it to be quite exciting. Watching these drivers do their best to hang onto those cars while racing wheel-to-wheel was awesome to watch. Yet it seems many people didn't like how the race played out. (By watching twitter and the comments on SPEED.com) I guess you can't please everyone...especially the people who expects the series to throw phantom cautions to keep everyone bunched up together. I'm currently trying to decide on 3-4 IndyCar races I want to go and attend next year, and after the racing Texas has had the last two years, I'm seriously contemplating going to Texas. Can't wait to see what happens this week at the Milwaukee Mile!
RM: Most of the drivers want the cars to be harder to drive on ovals and they got their wish Saturday night and it was a credit to them that nobody hit the wall. But I was hoping for a repeat of Fontana last year with lots of overtaking at the front and a dramatic finish for national television and maybe a 2.0 rating (Texas got a 1.1).
Q: Really IndyCar? Five cars finish on the lead lap at a high banked track? I understand why they wanted the tires to fall off to break up the pack racing but that was a little overkill. If that is the product they are going to put together for those tracks why go back to Michigan, Kentucky, or Chicagoland? I went to every race at Chicago and Kentucky, and have been to several Michigan races. I would now longer make the trek if that is the racing I am going to see. After arguably one of the greatest 500's in my 35 years of going that Texas race was a huge let down. I hope to shout IndyCar brings to Pocono the same tire they had at the 500 or I will be one and done going to that race.
RM: You said it best, Indy was a helluva show just like almost every race has been the past year and a half and everyone is entitled to a few clunkers. It’s just too bad it came on prime time. I predict Pocono will be just fine. Love to go back to MIS but not Chicago.
Q: I was one of the few in the grandstands at Texas and really enjoyed the race. I am a die-hard road/street course fan (20+ years attending Long Beach Grand Prix) but I enjoyed watching the pit strategies and changing car conditions define this race. I think one of the problems we are running into is that we seem to be discussing IndyCar at too low a level. What I mean is there doesn't seem to be the same discussions on pit strategy, pit sequence, tire pressures, wing settings; you know the technology and strategy part of the game. I enjoyed watching the race and watching the pit strategies develop, especially with how the cautions fell. It seems recently, TV coverage of IndyCar races has become like watching Touring Cars. "Let's just watch them go around and see who wins." All of us true fans know there is so much more.
Michael, Long Beach born living in Dallas, TX
RM: There’s no doubt that spec racing on most ovals has spoiled us into thinking every one of them will be non-stop action with a photo finish. As you obviously know, that was not the case back in the day when only 2-3 drivers finished on the lead lap at Indianapolis, Mario had a two-lap lead at Indy or Paul Tracy lapped the field at Phoenix. I didn’t get to hear the broadcast but strategy helped TK and hurt Marco and all the drivers earned their pay Saturday night because it was difficult, which should be expected in an Indy car. But today’s short-attention span audience demands action and entertainment and the casual observer that IndyCar needed to hook last Saturday night didn’t stick around.
Q: The Firestone 550, was that the attendance? But hey, more showed up for the race than the Trucks on Friday night. That's something to brag about. Has there ever been a more boring IndyCar race? I can't remember one. So this is going to save IndyCar? I don't think so. At least we had real race cars and a true international field to watch on Sunday from Montreal. What ever happened to the white knuckles hold your breath racing at Texas? And, I am talking about the viewers watching the race, not just the drivers.
RM: There have been loads of races that were more boring (I ran the pit board for Lloyd Ruby at Trenton when FOUR cars finished) and the racing has been excellent all season. Running wide open all the time at Texas doesn’t take half the talent it did last Saturday night but it made for better television. One race isn’t going to make or break IndyCar.
Q: The two oval races so far this year have been totally different in terms of passing. Texas normally know for side by side racing had very little passing, but the one groove Indy track had a record number. Was it the tires or the aero package that made the difference and what can we expect at the next three ovals?
RM: It was the combination of aero and tires and I know Derrick Walker is meeting with team engineers today to get a handle on the final four oval races.
Q: Let me add another, to what I'm sure is a long list of fans who think the tire degradation idea is stupid. Lowering the downforce is a good idea, it worked last year. Making the tires behave this way ruined the race. Now I know why F1 fans are complaining about tires so much.
John, Dayton OH
RM: In fairness to Firestone, the Texas test was held in much cooler conditions so that probably played a part in their decision and the tire was evidently softer than last year’s. Did it play a part? Of course but Firestone’s black and red tires have also helped make street and road course racing some of the best we’ve ever seen. No comparison to the F1 fiascos.
Q: Compared to last two seasons at Texas, I saw more bodies in the stands and I enjoyed the drivers working the cars. Any word to confirm my observation? What venues not currently on the schedule will be added? How many races on next year's calendar do you foresee? How come SMI pulled the plug on New Hampshire so early? Rhode Island and New Orleans were rumored last summer. Anymore word on those making the schedule?
RM: No official crowd count but I thought it was the worst ever – maybe 30,000. If the front-stretch grandstand holds 100,000, there had to be a butt in every third seat to get to 30,000 and it was close. Haven’t heard much about the 2014 schedule but I think Elkhart Lake and Quebec are possibilities and possibly another oval.
Q: Yes, another note on the same subject. I watched the Texas race - out of habit, now - and I was appalled & shocked by the size of the crowd. In any normal real-world business people would be fired for this sort of performance. After all of these years of close "racing" with spec cars, the fans have voted!! Stop it already. Try something - anything different. What do they have to lose? One more thought: Do you think anybody will line up at the Indy museum in 20 years to see these spec cars? When I think of all the cool cars at the museum, it is a shame to consider how awful these spec things will look sitting next to them.
RM: It was a tiny turnout for a place that used to be IndyCar’s No. 2 draw but I really don’t think different cars and engines would make much difference except at Indianapolis. And Derrick Walker has announced a plan for innovation starting in 2015 so we’ll see if some of the magic can be re-captured.
Q: As I sat down to watch the Texas IndyCar race tonight, my cell phone BINGS with a TEXT message from a friend asking if I'm watching the race and did I see all of the empty seats? I responded Yes & Yes. Then I started thinking, what's the reason? Well, let's start with gas prices going for nearly $4.00 per gallon, then some tracks have raised the cost of everything, event tickets, (IMS Just raised their ticket prices 15% to renew for 2014), programs, food, drinks, T-Shirts and so on. The next big issue I think would be the high percentage of unemployment. If you can't afford to pay your bills, going to a race track buying 4 tickets, a $15.00 program, 4 $5.00 hotdogs, 4 $5.00 drinks and a couple of $25.00 T-Shirts for the kids would be the first thing that I would have to cut out. Racing is also competing with stick & ball sports right now, there is the NBA Finals, Base Ball season is in full swing and then there is the Stanley Cup Play Off Games for the people who watch Indy Car Racing are Indy Car Fans. Not the casual Indy 500 fan, (some 230,000 attended this year), who either watch only one race or go to one race a year. I didn't hear a ticket sale number for the Texas race but I did hear Helio state that Texas was the second largest ticket sale race on their schedule. WOW that crowd is 2nd largest? I thought Mid-Ohio packed a larger crowd that Texas.
Tony Piergallini, Steubenville, Ohio
RM: The ticket prices were more than fair at Texas -- $99 for four tickets, four hot dogs and four cokes is pretty damn good. Indy didn’t have 230,000 and Texas used to be the second best draw but Barber, Long Beach and Iowa will all be better this season.
Q: My boyfriend had a BBQ at our house Saturday night, so I decided to be anti-social and sneak into the living room to watch the IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway. Before I knew it, the living room became a viewing party with all of my boyfriend’s gearhead friends watching the race with me. Not knowing a lot about Indy cars, here were some of their thoughts: boring, no real action, the cars look slow, nobody in the grandstands, the demolition derby at the county fair is more interesting, and so on. It was pretty disheartening for me to listen to their criticisms considering I know how great the 2013 season has been. To be honest, I did think the Texas race was the most boring thus far, but it wasn't horribly boring by any means. From a purist standpoint, I’m not fond of the contrived racing that occurred at Indy that resulted in constant drafting and passing, but to the casual viewer at home I’m sure it was exciting. Is this the only way to attract new fans? Have they become so accustomed to the NASCAR-way of racing that they would never consider anything else? The only ray of hope was at the end of the telecast when they were interviewing Helio someone remarked, “He seems like the type of guy that would be cool to hang out with...oh wait…is that the guy from Dancing with the Stars?” So, maybe that’s part of the equation to attract new fans…put them out in front of the masses and show off their personalities? Is there any chance that Helio could help recruit TK to do Dancing with the Stars?
RM: Thanks Paula, that’s a very telling scenario you laid out and exactly what concerned me about Saturday night. IndyCar had a prime time chance to score new fans but didn’t deliver the races we’ve been seeing all season. You are correct, it wasn’t as boring as Pocono but it was the runt of the litter so far in 2013 and a lost opportunity. Yes, NASCAR fans want guaranteed finishes but thankfully I don’t think IndyCar’s sport a G-W-C mentality. Having said that, NASCAR’s fan base dwarfs IndyCar’s by staggering numbers. Love to see TK dancing, I’ll ask Helio this weekend.
Q: During the Texas race ABC replayed a radio transmission between Marco Andretti and his team. He was ranting like an agitated teenager. I've heard him whine and yell for years now. I know there are drivers who need to be calmed sometime during race. My questions are: Does any other racer consistently yell like this during races? And does he or anybody become a real danger when they are so preoccupied with another racer?
RM: First off, I don’t blame Marco for yelling at his crew: he was the fastest car on the track and pulling away so why would they use an alternate pit strategy? Ever listened to the Busch brothers during a race? Hell yes, lots of drivers vent during the race and I think it helps some of them.
Q: Did you see Servia pit during the first caution period for wing adjustments a few laps into the race? That is a sign of a team that botched the setup. And even with the changes Servia still looped the car. Last year J.R. finished fifth at Texas. At the start of last season we were told that "the alliance" forged by Panther and DRR took place for two reasons. So DRR could get Chevy Engines and that Panther would get setup data from DRR which had a highly experienced driver. Now Servia cannot make a smooth transition to a team he has been working with for a year and a half? Something funky is going on at Panther.
RM: I think I did see about 4-5 turns of front wing so obviously it was a handful but I would give them a couple races to learn each other before making any declarations.
Q: Come on now! Racing drivers have never been choir boys at an ice-cream social! Top drivers are very competitive individuals whose passion to win fuels our interest as fans. I can't believe Bourdais' $30K fine for gestures or Powers' fine for getting upset after crashing. And I honestly don't believe that occasional emotional outbursts tarnish the sport's image. To the contrary, we fans are usually amused by these often immature displays. It’s human nature. Certainly we don't need to see drivers flipping out over every miscue or to hear constant streams of profanity from team radios, but punishing the occasional outburst so severely seems highly hypocritical. Racing drivers aren't saints they're young men and women whose careers are measured by winning in an intense and dangerous sport. It seems to me that European organizers have a bit more tolerance for similar behavior and that F-1 announcers often display a sense of humor toward such outbursts. Pressure on drivers to remain politically correct at all times from sponsors and team management probably have more significant impact than draconian fines.
RM: I couldn’t agree more, Sebastian Saavedra’s $30,000 fine for the giving Marco the double bird was insanity; hell, he doesn’t make 30 grand. Give him a $3,000 fine and make him do a free PR appearance. If anything, IndyCar should secretly reward drivers who show some emotion – it’s the only chance they’ve got to get on Sports Center.
Q: I listened intently to every word of Derrick Walker’s future plans for IndyCar and it does sound like a great plan – two years ago. I’m worried with the fantastic competition that we have been seeing the last 2 seasons, that it is bad timing. With the exception of adding a few more horsepower to allow breaking on some ovals, I believe the current formula is finally just about perfect for competition. I’m worried that the changes could undo all of the incredible advances to great racing that we are now witnessing. What do you think?
Mark Suska, Mansfield, OH
RM: Absolutely, that’s why I wrote the commentary I did a week ago – be careful what you wish for because I can’t imagine the competition being any better than it is right now and we don’t want to lose it. If the innovation is for Indy only, that may work. Stay tuned.
Q: With Dale Coyne Racing being a team on a limited budget and a reputation for being frugal with their spending, did Mike Conway have to pay to drive at Detroit or was he a paid driver? Do you think got a nice paycheck/bonus for a first and third finish? I sure hope he was compensated well for what may have been the best showing for a part-time driver in any series.
Allen Cradler, Brownsburg, Indiana
RM: I would imagine he brought a little sponsorship but the purses in IndyCar are so lame nowadays he could have got 100 percent for his victory and not made $40,000. But it was the greatest one-off performance I’ve ever seen.
Q: I'm wondering what's up with these heavily damaged cars being sent out to rejoin the race. We've seen it a few times before and during the Detroit races, this was almost unheard of before the DW12 arrived. Is the DW12 stronger than the old car or is it new rules that are making this possible?
Derrick, Lancaster PA
RM: Mechanics say the cars are much stouter than the old ones and the wide sidepods also help in the wheel-to-wheel combat.
Q: Was the doubleheader format awesome or what? It seems like a win-win for all involved. How was it in person? I see that the ratings are up from last year a bit. I think part of that has to be the "wait til tomorrow" outlook of fans and drivers. As fans, we don't have to wait until next year to see what will happen, we can see it the next day! For drivers, they get another crack at it in roughly the same conditions, which has to be nice, if not a bit tiring. It was a really exciting weekend, and after the race on Saturday, I was totally pumped for Sunday. I couldn't wait to see what would happen! I hope others feel the same as me. The opportunity for increased exposure of the series to fans, both in person and on TV has to be a huge win. I read that Penske said the corporate support was huge. Hopefully that is something that will continue. So what is your opinion? Will we see doubleheaders stay on the schedule next year and beyond?
RM: I thought it was great and other than being crazy for the mechanics (a 9:30 am warm-up on Sunday for a 3:50 start is ridiculous) I think it was well received. I think it’s going to be even bigger at Toronto because of Mayor Hinchcliffe and the Rogers’ TV promotions but if it makes cents to the promoters – I think they’ll be back. The combined TV rating was a 1.5 and that’s exactly what Randy Bernard had in mind when he adopted this plan – more eyeballs.
Q: You have to start a campaign to get Mike Conway in The Eldora DREAM. I know that he does not do ovals anymore but late models on a half-mile dirt track is different. In two weeks it will be 51 years since I saw my first 100-mile dirt car race & I never missed a chance to see one after that. We also watch all kinds of racing, IndyCar, F1, Rolex-ALMS, WOO & the 3 NASCAR circuits. I have seen the very best go sideways thru a turn AJ, Parnelli, Curtis Turner, Branson, Rutherford, Red Farmer, etc. and once in a while Kyle Busch try's to do it on pavement at over 180 mph, BUT I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYONE GO THRU THE ESSES ON A STREET OR ANY KIND OF ROAD COURSE SIDEWAYS UNTIL MIKE CONWAY DID IT AT DETROIT. This guy was born to race on dirt and I think once he try's it he will be hooked. Tony Stewart & Tony Kanaan should be able to sell him on at least trying it out in a test.
RM: Too bad The Prelude is gone because that would be perfect and maybe the truck race would be better than the late models because Conway would be on more level footing.
Q: The only way Indy could have been better for me this year is that if Bruno Junqueira was in the field and had a great run. After TK, I think Indy owes him the most. What's he up to?
Regarding the twin races in Detroit last weekend - just another example why Randy Bernard needed to be fired. Having that much traffic and so many fans around on Saturday certainly took away that "intimate" experience on previous Saturday's before the race.
Wally, Eden Prairie, MN
RM: Bruno is a damn good racer and right now he’s driving sports cars but he belongs in IndyCar. Yeah, Bernard had the audacity to try something different didn’t he? Silly boy.
Q: Insane racing from Detroit??? Wow!!! That was one of the best street races ever. Have a where are they now question for you. Remember Dick Rutherford’s idea of a Hawaiian Super Prix? I think it was going to be a twin race like we have now. What happened to him and is there interest in going to Hawaii? How about Carl Russo? I met him in the paddock of the inaugural Edmonton race and he was probably the most genuine person I've ever had the pleasure of meeting in racing. Any chance of him coming back? RuSports with AJ and Justin was a really cool team. And just for fun why don't you do a lunch with Gerry Forsythe and Neil Micklewright? The transcript would be priceless I'm sure.
Fastman, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
RM: Oh yeah I still have the press release. Not sure what happened to ‘ol Dick but Russo is still a successful businessman and it’s a shame he’s no longer around because IndyCar needs owners like that. I spoke to Gerry a couple months ago and he’s got no desire to get back into racing. Too bad, his teams were first class.
Q: When RB got canned my interest in IndyCar waned considerably. But my 9-year old son was still excited and I took him to St. Pete. That was fantastic racing! As you pointed out in your article, it hasn't stopped yet. We don't need new speed records or aero kits. Maybe a little less downforce on ovals so drivers have to lift going into corners. Other than that, let 'em run! Keep this up and the TV ratings will climb. It took a while to kill open wheel after The Split, it'll take a while for it to return. But we have a great start. Continuity with drivers and teams, exciting racing, it will happen.
RM: The interesting thing is that Randy texts me during every race weekend because he wants to know what’s going on – he became a fan and still cares about the series. Glad your son is starting young – we need a youth movement.
Q: After watching all the races in 2012, I never thought I'd see another season like that. Boy was I wrong! Every race this season has defied my expectations, and I couldn't be happier with the quality of racing right now. With that said, I want to turn the tables and look at it from a different perspective. I've been following IndyCar closely for 15 years or so and have seen every driver currently in the series develop. I know, for the most part, that they are all great (130+ straight green flag laps at Indy in a constant pack should solidify this feeling to everyone). However, there aren't many people like me...and for a series that is trying to gain popularity, it begs the question. How much parity is too much parity? As you have said before, one of the series biggest struggles is a lack of star/heroes for fans to relate to. Right now, it gives the appearance that either every driver out there is a star...or none of them are, as there is no real separation. After last weekend, even I was shocked when Conway came out and blew the doors off the competition in race one. If that wasn't enough, I was absolutely blown away by the Pagenaud/Jakes/Conway podium in race two. While I loved it, I fear it hurts IndyCar's push to attract the casual fan as there are no "top-tier" drivers for fans to latch onto as a favorite.
RM: Dario said it best, while there is no Fittipaldi, Mansell, Zanardi or Montoya right now, it’s the deepest field in a long, long time and the racing is great. Of course it is good to make heroes and that usually comes from a dominant winner like A.J. or Mario or the Unsers so I guess it’s a fine balance between the two. The problem is that Franchitti, Dixon, Power, Kanaan and Castroneves have been excelling for years but none of them is a household name in this country like Gordon, Stewart or Earnhardt.
Q: I enjoy your recounting of the racers from the 60’s and 70’s. I read somewhere that on bump day in 1978, Jim Hurtubise was protesting something regarding the disallowing of his qualification run and he had to be detained by police after running onto the track. Wow, what a story, can you add any detail?
Tony, Atlanta, GA
RM: Herk was upset because USAC said he didn’t have the proper sticker to qualify and it didn’t exist so he was totally within his rights to be angry and his protest escalated from sitting in a fellow driver’s car holding the brake to running from the guards and police out onto the track. It was funny for a while then it got sad when he was escorted out of the track. Here was a brave racer who had thrilled people for years at Indy being led away like a crazy man and some people make the mistake of remembering him for that instead of his heroics behind the wheel.
Q: By now we all know that the IndyCar hard cores are against any G-W-C at the 500. But what about a red flag for cautions anywhere within 10 to go? That way it would still end up being 500 miles. It certainly worked at Fontana last year. Without the red we would have never seen the last lap pass or the championship drama that also unfolded. Some say it wouldn't be fair if a car wasn't able to restart, but is that even a real problem with today's cars? For me, I'll always think of the 2013 500 as the one that could have had the most exciting last four laps we've ever seen at IMS. It was a shame to not be able to see what Marco, Carlos, RHR and Wilson had planned for those final laps. A simple red flag for Dario's goof and we most certainly would have seen an epic finish that would have gotten much more play on ESPN, newspapers, etc. It's going to be a GD long wait till next year!
Steve, Dubuque, IA
RM: Beaux Barfield made a lot of fans with that call last fall at Fontana but I think IMS management has a long-standing edict of never calling for a red flag in that situation. Just a hunch.