Chat with John Oreovicz
Welcome to SportsNation! On Monday, ESPN.com IndyCar reporter John Oreovicz stops by to talk about the season, the upcoming Indy 500 as well as his ongoing series of stories recapping the history of the Indy 500.
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 Oreovicz Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET!
Oreo (1:00 PM)
Greetings from Speedway, Indiana! Welcome race fans, and thanks for stopping by today's INDYCAR chat!
Oreo (1:00 PM)
I'm happy to see that we already have a nice selection of questions. So let's get down to business!
Give us your thoughts on the strides INDYCAR has made in the last few years, it seems like they are gaining momentum.
Oreo (1:04 PM)
I agree that the series is gaining momentum, Tom. INDYCAR has gone from an 18-car field to a 26-car field for all of the races except the 500, and the depth of field is better than it has been since the early to mid-90s in the CART series. Unification between IRL and Champ Car came better late than never, but by the time it occurred the economy did not permit Indy car racing to benefit as much as it should have. There is still a worrying lack of major name-brand sponsors, though that situation is improving. The biggest problem right now is that the TV ratings for the races not broadcast on ABC are so bad that it is difficult for teams to sell sponsorships. A solid rating of 5 or better for Indy this year would definitely help.
Give us your early picks for the fast 9 on pole day
Oreo (1:06 PM)
I'd say Helio is the favorite for the pole. He really needs to turn things around and Indy couldn't come at a better time for him in that regard. Eight others: Franchitti, Dixon, Power, Briscoe, Servia, Rahal, Kanaan and Hunter-Reay.
when will IMS release the names of the "33 greatest drivers"? and who is on the board that makes the final decision?
Oreo (1:08 PM)
I'm not totally sure. I believe it will be prior to the race. A pane of so-called experts including yours truly was polled to compile the top 100 drivers for the 33 Greatest website. I believe from here on in the results will be calculated from fan votes on that page. Here's the link: www.thegreatest33.com
Do you think we could see more crossover drivers come to INDYCAR now that Scott Speed has signed to drive in this years race?
Oreo (1:11 PM)
I doubt it. The money is just too great in NASCAR for them to consider switching to INDYCAR. Someone with little or no Indy car experience and barely a day or two of testing can't be expected to be competitive at Las Vegas, where the $5 million bonus is on offer. Modern Indy car racing is so far removed from stock car racing that there is almost nothing in common between the two except four wheels and a steering wheel. Other factors: Contractual restrictions, the fact that NASCAR has a race Saturday night, less than a day ahead of the Vegas race, and NASCAR teams simply don't want to expose their franchise drivers to the danger of a 220-mph open-wheel race.
What is your favorite aspect of the Indy 500?
Oreo (1:14 PM)
The history is fun. Not many sporting events stick around for a hundred years, and IMS has done a good job of hyping its many traditions. My favorite things about Indy include "IT'S A NEW TRACK RECORD!!" - which of course hasn't happened in 15 years and won't again this year. Pole Day was always very exciting when speeds were constantly on the rise and I can only imagine how thrilling it would have been to be present in 1972 when the pole speed jumped by 17 mph! The other thing I really enjoy, not to rub it in because access is limited, is being on the grid during the final moments before the race. Seeing the grandstands full for the first time all month is really a buzz.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Why is Danica struggling so much? She's running better in NASCAR.
Oreo (1:19 PM)
The first year she raced IRL she had a Honda engine, which was vastly superior to the competing "Chevy" and Toyota engines. She hasn't qualified as well ever since. What is really surprising is how bad she sucks on road courses, given that she's a trained road racer who ran only a handful of oval races prior to being promoted to INDYCAR by Bobby Rahal. My observation from trackside is that she simply doesn't drive the car hard enough to make it fast in road course qualifying. Her race pace is much better. While not "easy" to drive, getting these cars around to qualify at a flat-out oval like Texas or Kentucky is pretty simple if the car is set up well. Her oval racecraft has improved considerably in the last couple of years and her second place finishes at Texas and Homestead last year were the best races of her career. Another factor: Andretti Autosport's cars haven't been very competitive since Dario Franchitti left the team. I think it's pretty clear he was doing the majority of the set-up work when he was there.
Who will be the highest finishing female at Indy this year?
Oreo (1:21 PM)
I think it will be Danica. She always seems to rise to the occasion at Indianapolis, and the other females in the field don't have the amount of experience she does on INDYCAR ovals. While Andretti Autosport can no longer be considered a top team like Penske or Ganassi, it's still a tier above Dreyer & Reinbold, Conquest and HVM.
Zach (Minonk, Illinois)
How do you think the double file restarts will affect the Indianapolis 500?
Oreo (1:22 PM)
I think there will be at least one restart accident as a result. I still think that they are a good idea because they do produce excitement and opportunities to pass. At Indy they will get more challenging as the race goes on because of the build-up of rubber "marbles" outside of the racing groove.
What's your favorite tailgate beverage before the 500?
Oreo (1:24 PM)
Can I answer that question two ways? Up to 1992, in my "fan" days, it was Budweiser. Since I'm now working during the 500 I stick to Coca-Cola Classic.
What full-time driver in the IZOD IndyCar Series could be in danger of not making the field for the Indy 500?
Oreo (1:26 PM)
I think James Jakes could struggle with Dale Coyne's team. Also Sebastien Saavedra with Conquest and Rafael Matos with AFS. It's important to get off to a good start because if the driver or team gets lost during the week of practice, there is little margin for error now that there is no longer a second weekend of qualifications.
Dan (Fort Wayne)
Even though T.V. ratings have sagged for the Indy 500 in the past, do you still think its the greatest race in the world?
Oreo (1:28 PM)
I have always thought that IMS took some liberties by calling (and trademarking) the 500 as the greatest race in the world. It's often not an especially great car race. But with the history and the tradition, it definitely is one of the greatest sporting events in the world - one that everyone should experience in their lifetime, especially if they enjoy cars or racing.
With 40 car/driver combos going for 33 spots, how do you think bump day will pan out. I staying Pole day through Race day for a week of activity.
Oreo (1:29 PM)
As usual with Indy, a lot comes down to the weather. If some of the qualification weekend is rained out, it will definitely increase the pressure. The big question: Will any big names fail to make the show, like Rahal in '93, Penske in '95 or Paul Tracy last year? With 40 or more entries going for the 33 starting spots, I'm almost certain that there will be a surprising non-qualifier.
Maybe you should switch to Sun Drop? Got to support those sponsors!
Oreo (1:31 PM)
Well, I think Coca-Cola is represented on the Penske cars, though the logo isn't very big. I should try a Sun Drop, because I do like Squirt and I think it's pretty similar.
I get into Indy on Thursday before Carb Day, what things should I try and catch besides the race?
Oreo (1:34 PM)
You should definitely tour the IMS Hall of Fame Museum. Always a bargain at $5, it's an unbelievable value right now with 67 Indy winning cars on display. That's for a limited time - the Penske cars are going back to the Penske museum in Phoenix soon after the race. You might consider taking in a short track race - there are several in the state on Friday and Saturday nights. This year I believe all of the living 500 contestants have been invited back (about 269 if I recall) and they will be having a massive autograph session at the track on Saturday, and the driver's meeting is also open to the public that day. Finally, the 500 Festival Parade is always a good time on Saturday.
Do you think it's been a good idea of IRL to shrink down the schedule the last few years to try and build things back up? Do you see them adding to the schedule if/when interest continues to build?
Oreo (1:35 PM)
Well 17 races matches the most the IndyCar Series has ever had in a single season. I would like to see them start the season earlier (beginning of February) and end the year earlier - ideally with a big-money Labor Day race on the IMS road course.
Where is your favorite place the cars run? I miss Laguna Seca!
Oreo (1:37 PM)
Now or in the past? I used to really enjoy Elkhart Lake and Cleveland. Now may favorites are Motegi (my favorite oval track by far) and Mid-Ohio, where I really enjoy the atmosphere. I also have a great time at St. Pete - I go down a couple days early and catch a few spring training baseball games with my father.
What is never mentioned, Danica has to put in her car between 45 and 50lbs of lead weight to match the others drivers weight. On the surface it seems fair, but a 155lb Tony Kanan is all muscle and bone that he can use to drive the car and not lead weight under the seat. It is not as fair as it seems
Oreo (1:39 PM)
They now include the driver's weight in the total. The first few years Danica was in the IRL they weighed the car only and that gave her a significant advantage, probably 0.1-0.2 second a lap on road courses. Not that it helped her road course performance that much...One other factor is that when you ballast up a car, you can place it strategically and that can be an advantage.
I will ship you a case, using DHL of course, just get me your address.
Oreo (1:40 PM)
Contact me via the e-mail address posted on my ESPN.com stories. I will definitely give it a try!
Keith Ori (Orlando)
Do you think Helio is ever going to give Tracy his trophy back? :-)
Oreo (1:43 PM)
Hello Keith! I agree with you that Paul Tracy was the rightful winner of the 2002 Indianapolis 500 and if he had been driving for a full-time IRL team at the time, the series might have allowed his win to stand. The disgusting part of that whole ordeal is that Barry Green spend about $200,000 to prove that Tracy completed the pass before the yellow came on, but two months later was basically told that he shouldn't have been allowed to protest the result. Greatest thing that came from that day was when Tony George was missing the last page of his notes as he announced the verdict. As you may know, Tony is a poor public speaker at the best of times and when his notes were missing, he got totally flummoxed. It was hillarious and when I need a good laugh I play a 30-second snippet of that moment.
It's May. It's Indiana. It's going to rain. Will the addition of rain tires to Indycar change anything, or will we be in danger of another rain delayed race if the weather is unkind?
Oreo (1:45 PM)
No difference. Indy cars have never raced in the rain on oval tracks and that's not going to change. I have always grumbled about the folly of oval racing on those days I was forced to sit around at an oval track on a rainy day. About 30 years ago Danny Ongais lobbied to run ovals in the rain but got nowhere.
Danica, Danica, Danica... who, in your opinion, is the female driver to watch in the coming years? The St Pete race was much more exciting due to another woman.
Oreo (1:47 PM)
In my opinion, Danica has lost interest in Indy car racing and wants to (or has been advised by IMG to) chase the money in NASCAR. She'll run 30th there but triple her income. I like Simona De Silvestro because she's serious about her racing. She really hustles the car on road courses and she's great with the fans. Ana Beatriz did a good job in Indy Lights and it will be interesting to see how she runs this year with a full-time ride. She has a good teammate to learn from in Justin Wilson.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Why doesn't Indy move the start time back to 11:00am? The easiest way to improve ratings is to allow NASCAR drivers to compete.
Oreo (1:50 PM)
Sad to say you are correct in saying that having NASCAR drivers in the field would boost ratings. I'd like to see the start revert to 11 a.m. too - why is that the ONE tradition that Indy changed? Obviously because of TV, and the TV ratings have been in a steady decline since they moved the race back to 12 and then 1. This year's 12 o'clock start is a step back in the right direction. 11 is 8 on the west coast, and if I lived there, I'd love to watch the race over a nice brunch and then still have the rest of my day to do whatever.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Can/Will anything be done about the Ganassi/Penske dominance? If you don't drive for those two teams, you really can't compete.
Oreo (1:52 PM)
Next year when the new car is introduced it will level the playing field for awhile - remember what happened when Champ Car brought in the DP01 in 2007 - suddenly it wasn't Newman/Haas and Forsythe all the time, though NHR and Sebastien Bourdais eventually prevailed. As they should have, given that he was the best driver driving for the best team. But Power/Walker and Doornbos/HVM won races and next year the same thing should happen in INDYCAR. Eventually, however, the resources, engineering depth and driver talent at Penske and Ganassi will again take over. When you have the best people in and out of the car, you win. Plain and simple. I am against manipulating the rules to try to prevent that from happening.
I've read some of the race teams are unhappy about the new chassis combo coming up. Are they going to push it back?
Oreo (1:55 PM)
No, the chassis is definitely coming for 2012. Some of the teams are complaining about paying extra for alternate body kits, but then again, they don't have to do that. An extra $200K for a few bodykits is a small part of the overall budget so I don't understand why they are complaining. The series needs to make the decision itself and if the teams don't like it, they can take a hike. The fans are DEMANDING visual differences between the cars after a long era of spec car racing and they are ultimately the most important constituency.
Keith Ori (Orlando)
All kidding aside, who are your top candidates (besides Speed) to enter Vegas for the $5M prize?
Oreo (1:58 PM)
There aren't many decent ones I can think of, frankly. They are not going to attract any top-line NASCAR drivers, and anybody else eligible is probably out of a ride right now for a reason. I suspect Jacques Villeneuve will show up, but what has he accomplished since 1997? I would have liked to seen them invest $5 million in the series in a different way - though I hasten to add that INDYCAR will actually just buy an insurance policy that will pay the $5m in the unlikely event that an outsider takes a miracle win.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Speaking of Sebastien Bourdais, how much longer until he's driving for Ganassi or Penske?
Oreo (1:59 PM)
I was fascinated to recently learn from Tim Cindric that Penske considered hiring Bourdais for the part-time Castroneves-replacement gig that went to Will Power. He's going to have to show some speed in that Coyne car for that to happen - Justin Wilson showed that DCR is not the penalty box that it was 10-15 years ago.
How many of the drivers did the Mini-Marathon on Saturday? Who has the bragging rights of fastest driver?
Oreo (2:00 PM)
I don't know of any that did the race. I suspect the winner of a 13-mile running race between the drivers would be decided between Kanaan, Power and Tomas Scheckter.
Is Sam coming back anytime soon? You would think if Penske can't find sponsorship for him on the slow circuit, he would have to come back. Right?
Oreo (2:02 PM)
He would have to be interested and motivated to come back to Indy cars, and he's shown no signs of that so far. Penske said flat out that they won't run him at IMS this year. Remember too that INDYCAR is half road racing now and Sam, along with a lot of the original all-oval IRL drivers like Dan Wheldon, can't road race their way out of a paper bag.
Keith Ori (Orlando)
Going back to the $5M- how about up and comers like Rossi (Alexander, not Valentino), Daly, Summerton, and that crowd? Would they even be eligible or is there a provision that you must have been previously famous?
Oreo (2:03 PM)
I think you have to be previously famous, whatever that may mean. They hope a few ringers with name recognition will draw interest to the race. An unknown guy on the rise like Conor Daly would frankly be more competitive than someone past their prime - say Jacques Villeneuve.
Oreo (2:05 PM)
Thanks for the questions, everyone. I look forward to seeing you at the Speedway in the next couple of weeks! And please remember to tune in to ABC's live coverage of the race on May 29 -especially if you are a Nielsen Family!!