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 1 p.m. ET!
Oreovicz Archive: Columns
John Oreovicz (1:02 PM)
Hi folks, and thanks for taking time out of your Friday afternoon. It's a pleasure to be back here at Detroit's Belle Isle for the first time since 2001. Roger Penske and his associates have done a nice job upgrading the faciity here.
John Oreovicz (1:02 PM)
We've got a few questions lined up, so let's jump right into the action!
Bob: (Cheyenne, WY)
Has the Detroit track improved over the old CART days?
John Oreovicz (1:04 PM)
I haven't directly asked any of the drivers yet, but I plan to do so after the afternoon practice session. Penske has done a lot of paving and concrete laying in order to make the paddock more manageable. One year there was a flash flood and it was a muddy mess. I'm told the track is somewhat smoother but it's still too tight and not a place where real racing is likely to break out.
What was up with all the pitting at the first yellow last week? Why if you can make it on two stops in a race with no passing would you decide to take an extra stop and give up so much track position that early? Helio got away with it because he was in first (and had the best car by far) but why pit if you were further back knowing at least a half dozen cars weren't?
John Oreovicz (1:08 PM)
Tim Cindric talked about this issue after the race. His point was that the IRL and its tracks need to work together to determine the right length for races so that fuel mileage isn't such a critical issue. At Sonoma, the teams calculated the earliest possible moment they could pit and make it to the end on 2 more pit stops. That was about lap 10, so when there was a yellow at that point, (or even before in some cases, some teams like elected to pit and fall to the back but be set up in a good sequence for theiir final pit stop. According to Cindric, the window to calculate the fuel strategy was too small at Sonoma.
Marc (Malden, MA)
So do you expect a snoozer this weekend?
John Oreovicz (1:09 PM)
Yes, unless you are captivated by the drama of a fuel race. There certainly won't be much passing or wheel-to-wheel racing. The best hope is that the race is clean and green and that the fastest driver wins.
Jessse (Rockford, IL)
Is there really any difference between oval tracks?
John Oreovicz (1:11 PM)
Obviously Milwaukee is different from Texas. But when Chip Ganassi tried to build an enhanced copy of Milwaukee in Chicago a few years ago, it showed how hard it can be to get a track right. Tracks like Chicagoland and Kansas, or Texas and Las Vegas, are outwardly the same and often share the same banking. But there are nuances, like how the different grandstands affect sightlines, or small bumps that cause drivers to slightly change their line.
RacersEdge (STP, Florida)
What do you think about St. Petersburg as the Indy car season opener?
John Oreovicz (1:13 PM)
I think it's a great place to start the season. The IRL wants to begin the year in the USA and in just a few years, St. Pete has developed into a popular event with decent crowds. It has a big-event ambience and corporate sponsors like Honda enjoy the entertainment possibilities.
Marc (Malden, MA)
I've never seen this suggested, but what do you think of the IRL at Darlington?
John Oreovicz (1:15 PM)
That's a radical idea. I'd love to see the IndyCars try some alternate ovals to replace some of the ones that are not attracting the fans. I wonder how fast an IndyCar would travel around Darlington and what kind of line they would take. Regulating speeds on a track-by-track basis will be easier if and when turbocharged engines make a comeback in 2011.
Homer (SpringfieLd USA)
Who is the best driver in Indy car sereis? Who is the worse?
John Oreovicz (1:17 PM)
I think there is a group of fiour drivers (Dixon, Castroneves, Kanaan and Wheldon) who stand out from the rest. Based on the last year and a half, you'd have to conclude that Dixon is the best of the best. The second tier includes Briscoe, Servia and (on her good days) Danica. I rate Justin Wilson highly but he and his team have struggled to adapt from Champ Car to the IRL.
John Oreovicz (1:19 PM)
Forgot to mention the other end of the spectrum. I don't think it's a stretch to say that Milka Duno and Marty Roth don't stack up well. But having said that, Marty has qualified near the top 10 occasionally on ovals and Milka outqualified Wilson at Kentucky. That's probably more of a statement about how easy the current IRL cars are to drive over one lap on a big oval than of actual driver skill.
So, turbocharged engines are a sure thing? Or nearly a sure thing?
John Oreovicz (1:22 PM)
The Indianapolis Star quoted Brian Barnhart as saying that turbo engines are a go. It speculated on a V-6 or inline 4 configuration, which I find disappointing. The 4- and 6-cylinder F1 motors from the '80s didn't sound very good, unlike the turbo V8s that various forms of Indy-style racing used from 1976 to 2007. The way the cars sound is important!
Does Helio have any chance of winning the championship?
John Oreovicz (1:24 PM)
His chances seem a lot better than they were a week ago and I expect Helio to be the outright favorite this weekend. Dixon was fastest in the first practice session but Helio was right up there. If Dixon finishes ahead of HCN on Sunday, he will be the champ.
Speaking of engine sounds...I'm headed out to National Drags Saturday. And, I will be taking my earplugs with me. Those cars are LOUD!
John Oreovicz (1:26 PM)
You'll probably need more than earplugs. At least in drag racing the noise is brief.
Peter Griffin (Rhode Island)
Tell Homer he is so yesterday. Do you know how much it costs to produce a race for tv (production crew, cameras, etc.)?
John Oreovicz (1:28 PM)
I don't know the exact numbers, but costs a lot more than you would think. It also costs much more to produce a road race broadcast than an oval. You need more cameras because there are more corners. Wiring can be factored in at ovals and permanent road courses, but at temporary street courses they have lo lay literally miles of cable.
Mike (Detroit, MI)
Just looking at the first practice times, why in the world does the IRL continue to allow the moving chicanes known as Marty Roth and Milka Duno on any road or street course?
John Oreovicz (1:29 PM)
Last year it was mainly because they desperately needed the entries. This year coar count is less of an issue and it would be nice to see the series keep the Roth and D&R entries but upgrade to more talented drivers.
David: (Evanston, IL)
What do you think about turbo engines for the future?
John Oreovicz (1:32 PM)
I think they are a good move. They give flexibility to adjust power between tracks, and right now these cars need another 100 hp or more for road courses. They are also much quieter because the turbo acts as a muffling device.
If the IRL takes fuel mileage out of the equation than how is Danica going to compete:)? Just a useless fact that really doesn't mean anything but she is almost exactly the same number of points behind Scott Dixon as she is ahead of Milka Duno...
John Oreovicz (1:34 PM)
You are correct that most of Danica's best race results have come in fuel strategy races. She's certainly not demonstrated the qualifying speed she had back in 2005 and maybe the Panoz wasn't as bad a car as it got made out to be.
What do the teams and drivers do during the off season?
John Oreovicz (1:36 PM)
The smaller teams hope to make it through without laying any employees off. The major teams focus on detail aerodymic work in the areas that are open for development, do computer simulations and stuff like that. The drivers relax and work on their fitness; the ones who have sponsors do PR work. People like me try to come up with enough stories to keep interest up and keep paychecks rolling in!
Why all the Danica haters in the world? Is it because she was hyped before she really earned the tv time? Or, is it the seemingly increasing brat personality?
John Oreovicz (1:37 PM)
I think it's a combination of both, with a dose of chauvanism thrown in. She was definitely hyped to the hilt in '05 and that seemed to offend the purists. She's still the main focus of the TV broadcasts even though she generally runs just outside the top five. She won a race this year, but in general, she was competitive more often in her rookie season.
Ed Hartford Ct
Do you happen to know the lap times from when the CART Turbos last raced at Belle Isle?
John Oreovicz (1:44 PM)
I happen to have the June 17, 1993 issue of Autosport with me because it contains the very first race report I ever wrote - the 1993 Detroit Grand Prix. So this is the 15th anniversary of my first event as a so-called professional - look for my walk down memory lane later today on the ESPN site. Nigel Mansell was on pole at 70.902 seconds, compared to the 73.9 that Dixon ran this morning. 32 drivers tried to qualify for 28 grid spots and Dennis Vitolo, Ross Bentley, Jeff Wood and Lyn. St. James didn't make the cut. You could probably start your Milka and Marty comparisons now. BTW, the announced race day crowd for 1993 was a record 62,700...
John Oreovicz (1:48 PM)
as a folow up, it appears that the lap record for the short course was a 69.052 by Gil de Ferran in 1997. The track was different enough that you probably can't make a direct comparison. They were running 73-second laps on the long circuit )2.34 miles) the latter years, with Montoya holding the record at 1:13.056.
John Oreovicz (1:51 PM)
"Mickey Mouse" is a derisive term for a slow and boring road course. Detroit certainly qualifies in that regard, though the second half of the lap is at least interesting for the drivers.
I"ve heard the Detroit track has been called Mickey Mouse> What does that mean.?
John Oreovicz (1:52 PM)
I think I put the answer ahead of the question there, so sorry.
Earl Hicky (Camden County)
Who wins in a fight: Muppets or Sesame Street?
John Oreovicz (1:53 PM)
Aren't they one and the same? Kermit the Frog did both. And don't forget Fraggle Rock. I'd put my money on Sesame street because of Cookie Monster's Power, Super Grover's atleticism and Oscar The Grouch's attitude.
Floyd (Las Vegas)
What's the weather looking like for the race this weekend?
John Oreovicz (2:02 PM)
Perfect - Temps in the low 80s and no rain after this morning's shower.
Marc (Malden, MA)
I gotta give the edge to the Muppets, simply because of Animal.
John Oreovicz (2:03 PM)
I forgot about him. And the experience of Statler and Waldorf.
I am a little tired of the Danica gets criticized because she is a woman thing - look at what happened to Tomas Schekter who was the next big thing and ended up out of the series, to a lesser extent Briscoe was criticized to the point where his ride was in jeopardy as well and look at Marco this year - bottom line is if you aren't performing to where your equipment dictates you deserve the criticism.
John Oreovicz (2:04 PM)
Right on. But she doesn't get criticized because she's a woman, she gets hyped because she's a woman. I try to rate her as an equal competitor to the other drivers. If we must categorize, she is the most complete and skilled open-wheel circuit racer to date.
John Oreovicz (2:05 PM)
Thanks everyone. We'll resume next week by discussing how the Bugs Bunny Road Runner show stacks up against the Playhouse Disney morning lineup.
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