Chat with John Oreovicz
Oreovicz attended his first Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in 1978 and still hasn't broken the open-wheel racing habit. He has covered nearly 300 Indy-style races for National Speed Sport News and many other publications around the world and co-authored "A Winning Adventure," a history of Honda's successful Champ Car engine program. "Oreo" resides in western Indiana within earshot of his home track, the Putnam Park Road Course.
Send your questions now and join John in The Show on Friday at 4 p.m. ET!
Oreovicz Archive: Columns
Buzzmaster (4:00 PM)
John will be here to chat shortly!
John Oreovicz (4:02 PM)
Hello everyone, and greetings from Infineon Raceway where its hot and sunny and the Historic Grand Prix cars are on the track as I type. How inspiring to see the cars that first sparked my interest in auto racing at speed on the track!
John Oreovicz (4:03 PM)
The IndyCar Series has completed a 90-minute practice session and Tony Kanaan was fastest for Andretti Green Racing. Looks like AGR is in good shape this weekend because Danica Patrick was P3, sandwiching Helio Castroneves. The Ganassi boys were 6th (Scott Dixon) and 10th (Dan Wheldon), but there is plenty of time left for them to catch up. Now on to the questions!
Ray Folsom, Ca
Is Paul Tracy going to race full time in the IRL next year? I hope so.
John Oreovicz (4:06 PM)
Ray, you're not the only person who hopes so. I'm sure the promoters at Toronto and Edmonton are praying PT finds a ride and I'm not the only person in the media who believes his full-time presence would be good for the IndyCar Series. As usual, it is dependent upon sponsorship, and it's a tough economic market right now. But if any driver out there is capable of attracting attention, its the Thrill from West Hill. His best bets would be at Rahal Letterman Racing or Vision Racing.
If you were starting a team do you take Danica or Marco? And you can't use the terms: Danica will bring the car home every week or brings in sponsors or Marco has a lot of potential.
John Oreovicz (4:09 PM)
Of the two, I'd take Marco just becuse I'm old fashioned and if I was a team owner, I'd pick drivers based on their ability to win races and not on their marketing value. Marco has been unlucky not to win this year and he will win many races in the future. I'm not completely sure you can make that statement about Danica. Call me naive or stupid, but I still don't understand the phenomenon of Danica-mania and why everybody falls head over heels about her.
how are the track conditions?
John Oreovicz (4:11 PM)
Pretty slick, I would say. I watched most of the first practice session from Turn 2, an uphill, blind-entry, off-camber right-hander, and there were at least 5 spins or incidents in that corner alone. And it wasn't just backmarkers - Helio Castroneves spun, and Tony Kanaan got it all wrong on his second lap of the weekend and made a big excursion through the gravel track. It's supposed to be about 90 degrees for the next few days, so chances are the surface is only going to get greasier.
with only a couple of races left, is there any chance for anyone to lay claim to the title?
John Oreovicz (4:14 PM)
It would take a disaster for Scott Dixon far worse than the Penske transporter fire this week. Dixie basically just has to show up and start the last three races and Helio would have to win or come second in all three. The only way Kanaan or Wheldon could win would involve Dixon not starting the races. With a 27-car field, a driver would automatically get 12 points for starting a race, and the maximum number available (win + lead most laps) is 53. So that adds up to a potential 41-point swing per race, or a maximum of 123 points. And both Kanaan and Wheldon are more than 123 points back. Dixon leads by 78 points right now and if he leads by 82 after Infineon, the crown is his. All he really needs tlo do is finish ahead of Helio on Sunday.
Ken (Trenton, NJ)
Does Chicago or Detroit tracks favor one racer over another?
John Oreovicz (4:17 PM)
Yes. Dan Wheldon is particularly strong at Chicagoland Speedway and if I was a betting man, I'd lay some cash on him right now. Conversely, Wheldon is not as strong on road courses, so he'll likely struggle at Belle Isle. The favorites at Belle Isle will be Dixon, HCN, Ryan Briscoe, and the top ex-Champ Car guys - Justin Wilson, Will Power and Oriol Servia. At Chicagoland, Dixon and the Penske boys are the other favorites. If there is one driver who might be the most consistent threat at both types of track, it might be Tony Kanaan.
Is it bad for IRL that the race can be decided with two races left?
John Oreovicz (4:19 PM)
I don't think so. I'd say it just demonstrates the excellence that Dixon and the #9 Ganassi team have enjoyed all year and they should be rewarded and celebrated for kicking everyone else's *ss. What I will find comical and stupid is if Dixon wins this weekend, he won't officially celebrate the championship until after the Chicagoland race. And if he doesn't win or finish on the podium there, they will park him on the back straight, have a podium celebration with the top three, and then let him drive around for his own celebration. Memo to the IRL: You can't choreograph a championship, so why try to choreograph the celebration? Let the guy enjoy his accomplishment when it happens rather than making him and his team (and the fans) wait.
do you ever think we'll see the IRL adapt a Chase similar to NASCAR?
John Oreovicz (4:21 PM)
I doubt it. By adopting the current point system, they tried to create a way of prolonging the championship battle. But when one driver is so far ahead of everyone else, even that doesn't work. Like I said earlier, let's celebrate the fact that Dixon was dominant rather than try to dumb down the system to create an artificially close chase. If IndyCar or NASCAR used the old 9-6-4-3-2-1 points payout from Formula 1, both of those titles might ALREADY be decided....
How long do you think it will be before the healing is complete with IRL and CHAMP?
John Oreovicz (4:25 PM)
I think within the paddock, the healing is already done for the most part. I think the deepest wounds that will take the longest to heal are within the fan base. There are some CART or Champ Car fans who say they will never accept the IRL because in their view, the creation of the IRL back in 1996 was responsible for destroying a strong and healthy sport. I certainly enjoyed CART's cars and venues more than the IRL of 1996-2004, but the truth of the matter is that today's IRL looks a lot like CART did ten years ago and if those fans truly want to see open-wheel racing make up the ground it lost to NASCAR over the last decade, they should jump on board with the IndyCar Series. There will soon be a 50-50 mix of road/street courses and ovals, and the loud, ugly cars will only be around for a couple more years. Let's all hope the IRL hits a home run with the next IndyCar formula so the fans, manufacturers and sponsors all come back.
Since the two leagues merged, do you think IRL can regain its popularity that it had say 10-15 years ago?
John Oreovicz (4:29 PM)
Certainly not in the short term, though there have been signs of growth this year (better crowds at the track, slightly higher TV ratings). What CART had in its favor back in the early '90s was a strong group of recognizable sponsors (Kmart, Budweiser, Valvoline, Miller, Marlboro, Player's etc.) and more significantly, a group of manufacturers (Toyota, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Ford) that marketed and promoted the series. Right now, Honda and Firestone are doing their part in that regard, but the other sponsors are not household names and are not spending the promotional bucks. And let's be honest, cigarettes subsidized racing all over the world for many years, whether it was NASCAR, F1 or Indy. F1 and NASCAR have found a way to replace those millions, and IndyCar has not.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Which point system do you like better: current IRL or previous CART?
John Oreovicz (4:31 PM)
I'd go with the CART system because it only paid points to the top 12. The IRL system pays points all the way through the field in an artificial attempt to keep the championship close. Even F1 has been watered down with its current system, a system that was put into effect to try and stop Michael Schumacher from winning title after title. Like I said, if you really wanted to reward excellence, bring back the old 9-6-4-3-2-1 system that F1 used from the 60s to a few years ago.
Aaron: Phoenix, AZ
Any chance of seeing any new events on the west coast in 2009 or 2010?
John Oreovicz (4:33 PM)
I'm not the only one who would love to see Phoenix (the oval) back on the calendar, but unless ISC has a change of heart about IndyCars, I can't see it happening. The most likely candidate is Portland, but it would require a strong title sponsor and some investment in Portland International Raceway to make it nice for fans and competitors. The IRL says the Pacific Northwest is a priority so hopefully Portland will make the cut in 2010.
Brian (NY, NY)
Has IRL adapted something similar to NASCAR's COT?
John Oreovicz (4:36 PM)
The COT is a fancy (and false) name for a spec car. In that respect, the IRL was ahead of them by a couple of years, because the IRL has been a Dallara-Honda spec formula for the last three years. And to me, that sucks. One of the things that attracted me (and I'm sure others) to car racing was seeing the different cars and engines and the constant technical evolution. Spec racing neuters that important element of competition. To me, part of the challenge of racing was building a better and faster car, and that element has been essentially regulated out of the sport. NASCAR is the worst in that regard, because as soon as any manufacturer gets an advantage, they get penalized. NASCAR should be telling the others that they need to just work harder if they want to beat, say, Toyota.
Do you think Weldon will stay with Ganassi next year or is he done?
John Oreovicz (4:37 PM)
Well even if he doesn't stay with Ganassi, I doubt he is done. He's too good a driver and somebody would pick him up. I suspect he will be back with Ganassi in '09 and beyond, but his market value drops every day he remains unsigned. They don't call him 'Cheap' Ganassi for nothing.
Will the series suffer by showing most of the races on Versus in the coming years?
John Oreovicz (4:39 PM)
Maybe. But it might also grow in stature if the Versus broadcasts are properly promoted on other cable channels. Being on ESPN (and definitely ABC because it is free-to-air) has its advantages, because they are well-known networks. But if the IRL gets buried or ignored on those networks (as some say it is), then maybe it would be better served by a smaller but more aggressive network.
Marc (Malden, MA)
I think the IRL has an opportunity to capitalize on the NASCAR backlash. A lot of old school fans are really fed up with what's going on.
John Oreovicz (4:41 PM)
I agree. I know I lost interest in NASCAR in the late '80s when it started becoming a spec formula, where the cars are differentiated only by their engines and headlight stickers. The last time NASCAR really interested me was when Bill Elliott was running 212 at Talledega and winning all those races in the Coors Thunderbirds. There is definitely a backlash against NASCAR, but many of those fans were NASCAR fans because of an anti IndyCar bias in the early years of the IRL. Can they be attracted back to open-wheelers? I sure hope so.
Marc (Malden, MA)
When will the 2009 schedule be released? Any chance Loudon is on it?
John Oreovicz (4:43 PM)
The '09 schedule has already been released and Loudon didn't make the cut, much to the disgust of Bruton Smith and SMI. I hope the IRL didn't burn that bridge because the northeast is another key market the IRL could move into. Plus, Loudon is a good track for Indy cars. The '93 CART race there where Nigel Mansell passed Paul Tracy and Emerson Fittipaldi in the last 20 laps to win on his 40th birthday was one of the best races I've ever been at.
Marc (Malden, MA)
If the IRL wants to find a challenging street course, come to Boston. It can be really tricky getting around here.
John Oreovicz (4:44 PM)
Yes, I remember trying to negotiate Route 128 right after I got my driver's license on a family vacation. What an eye-opener that was!. I'd like any excuse to get back to Boston...is the Cambridge Magazine newsstand still in Harvard Square?
Will Castroneves find victory lane this season or will his bad luck continue?
John Oreovicz (4:46 PM)
I think the IRL should take a page from NASCAR's playbook and make sure Helio wins this weekend. It would help prolong the championship, and everyone loves a happy ending. Team Penske is seen by some as the Evil Empire, but after the week they had with the transporter fire and all, they deserve to have some good fortune this weekend. I'd say the odds are at least 50-50 that Helio will win one of the last three races - without a halping hand from the sanctioning body....
Jess (New Mexico)
Do you forsee in the future any major IRL drivers leaving to NASCAR?
John Oreovicz (4:48 PM)
Not after they way they have performed in stock cars. Dario Franchitti was a disappointment (though he was with a bad NASCAR team), Sam Hornish has struggled and AJ Allmendinger hasn't looked too good either. Then there is Jacques Villeneuve, a disaster if we are being generous. The most promising open-wheeler to make the transition, quite truthfully, is Patrick Carpentier.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Do you see any way tv can do justice to the speeds any racecar runs? It might attract more casual fans if they fully understood how fast they were going.
John Oreovicz (4:48 PM)
That's a good point and TV has always struggled to show the speed of Indy cars and the challenge of driving them. Maybe a fresh start with Versus will help in that regard.
Jon (Eden Prairie, MN)
John, I'm disappointed the Indy Car Series won't consider traveling to Road America in Southern Wisconsin... Seems like a perfect layout and apparently a lot of drivers like the circuit. What's the main problem??
John Oreovicz (4:50 PM)
I'm disappointed that Road America missed out as well. I think it will be back in 2010, certainly if the competitors have a say in the matter. There is a good chance some under-performing venues (like Homestead) will be dropped after their current contracts expire and I would say Elkhart Lake, Cleveland and Portland are the most likely events to be brought in.
Marc (Malden, MA)
The newsstand is still there.
John Oreovicz (4:51 PM)
Sweet! That's where my horizons expanded and I was able to source foreign magazines like Autosport, Sport Auto (from France) and Auto Motor und Sport (from Germany) and continue learning about racing. Keep reading magazines, kids - don't let the industry die!
Is there any better rivalry in racing then Team Penske vs. Ganassi?
John Oreovicz (4:53 PM)
Probably not, and certainly not in IndyCar racing. The nice thing about the rivalry is that it is built upon respect and there is not a lot of genunine bad blood involved. There are some great quotes from Chip Ganassi and Tim Cindric about this rivalry in the book I co-wrote about the Honda CART engine program a few years ago that are worth checking out.
Steve (Newport Beach, CA)
Any teams not making it on the grid next year? Any new news about Sufers?
John Oreovicz (4:55 PM)
No new news that I am aware of, but I haven't asked anybody from the IRL yet here at Sonoma. I plan to make a point of that over the next couple of days. I'm also curious to hear Kevin Kalkhoven's thoughts on the matter because I can't imagine the "Team Australia" program will continue if the race at Surfers Paradise is not on the schedule. It seems to me the IRL needs to reach out to the Australian V8 Supercar Series and reach a workable compromise on this one.
John Oreovicz (4:57 PM)
Forgot to address the first part of that, with the exception of Team Australia. I'd say Pacific Coast Motorsports is on the bubble; the 'Visit Mexico City' stickers have disappeared from the #96 car this weekend and rumor in the paddock is that PCM has not been paid its sponsorship fee. I'm also curious about the future of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing as well, though I am certain that Mike Lanigan will keep the team running in the event that anything happens to Paul Newman and/or Carl Haas.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Just saw the 2009 schedule, no Cleveland either? And a full month at Indy is too long.
John Oreovicz (4:59 PM)
Yep, a month at Indy is way too long. But that's a hard habit to break for IMS and it seems no amount of logic or persuasion is going to make them change their minds. Also, they are ramping up a three-year celebration of the centennial anniversary of the first race at IMS (1909) through the first Indy 500 (1911). So if anything, there is going to be eve more emphasis placed on the month of May for the next three years, even if the returns keep diminishing.
John Oreovicz (5:00 PM)
Well, we made it through another hour without any embarrassing pauses when there were no questions. Thanks for your support. Now I'm heading back up the hill for the afternoon practice session! Take care - Oreo
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