Interview: IndyCar boss Mark Miles on 2016 schedule, aero kit balance and more

Mark Miles, the CEO of Hulman & Company, which oversees the Verizon IndyCar Series.

As the Verizon IndyCar Series looks toward 2016, league boss Mark Miles participated in a conference call with IndyCar Examiner on Wednesday to discuss reactions to next year’s schedule, how Honda is making changes to their aero kits, and why IndyCar won’t have a NASCAR-style playoff any time soon.

“You kind of hold your breath when you put it out, even though you do your best to communicate with all your stakeholders,” Miles said of the 2016 schedule, which was released on Oct. 27. “But I think it’s been very well received and we’re pleased by that.

“There’s probably no better example of our sense of that than what we understand from Phoenix, where we had a media event in conjunction with the announcement, attended by Josef Newgarden, Arie [Luyendyk], Al [Unser] Jr. and Lyn St. James,” he continued. “I understand [Phoenix International Raceway president] Bryan Sperber and his team were pleased with that – the attendance, enthusiasm. More broadly, we got positive fan reaction. Tickets are on sale and the promoters are pleased with the pace.”

One of the biggest additions to the IndyCar roster is the Grand Prix of Boston, and Miles took a moment to address rumors that the new race is not entirely certain. He explained that the race promoter is finishing agreements with various area organizations who control the property that’s involved in the event, and he doesn’t expect any cause for concern.

“We are in very regular contact with our promoter, their people in Boston, and in regular contact with city officials. That is our direct understanding of the situation,” he said. “Our expectation is that everything will be worked out and the race will happen and delight IndyCar fans.”

While IndyCar has added Boston, Phoenix and Road America this year, fans shouldn’t get their hopes up at seeing Watkins Glen International make its way back onto the schedule in a future season. “To be honest, I don’t know of any discussion on that question,” Miles added. “At this point I would say I don’t think that’s in the cards.”

The bigger news is that IndyCar is allowing manufacturer Honda to make major changes to its aero kit after a season that saw Honda routinely beaten by Chevrolet. Under Rule 9.3 in the Verizon IndyCar Series rule book, if an aero kit is not competitive to the point where the league sees it as detrimental to the series modifications can be approved, and that’s the case for Honda going into 2016.

“I think we’ve previously made it known that Honda has petitioned IndyCar under Rule 9.3 to allow them to make some changes beyond what they can do under Rule 9.2 for next year,” Miles explained, “in order to, in their minds, catch up or at least have an opportunity to catch up in what they perceive to be a deficiency in their kits compared to Chevy.

After having tested Scott Dixon’s championship-winning Chevrolet and Graham Rahal’s contending Honda post-season, “IndyCar has notified both Chevy and Honda that…we are going to allow Honda to make adjustments or changes, or to propose making specific changes under Rule 9.3,” he continued. “That was because the data indicated to us that for short ovals, street and road courses, the Honda kit was not competitive.”

“However, for the superspeedways, we did not come to that same conclusion. We believe their kits are competitive,” Miles added, going on to clarify, “In finding that their kit is competitive with Chevy’s, or was in 2015 on the superspeedway configuration, we will not allow them to make changes to the car from the 2015 qualifying and race configurations at superspeedways.”

“I would say that it’s our view that both the substance provided by the data and the perceptions of the racing have clearly provided significant hurdles for our teams who are racing [with] Honda.”

The decision to permit aero kit modifications didn’t have any impact on Honda’s decision to return to IndyCar as an engine manufacturer. “it’s all systems go,” Miles told us of the company’s future in that respect. “This week we expect to receive a mark-up of the agreement that Honda will be ready to sign, and we’ll be reviewing that and hoping we can get it done in the next several days.”

Lastly, though IndyCar fixture Chip Ganassi has spoken of curiosity about IndyCar transitioning from a points-based championship to a playoff system similar to NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, Miles said that he hasn’t talked to Ganassi about the idea and it’s definitely not part of his plans for the league.

“From our perspective, the Verizon IndyCar Series championship is a flat home run, if I can mix my sports metaphors, or a walk-off home run would probably be better,” he said. “You know the results. It has at least recently come down absolutely to the wire and [this] year required a tiebreaker…At this point, we have not thought that was something that was broken and needed to be fixed, and haven’t really thought there’s a better opportunity.”

Given the controversy around the Chase, it’s for the best that IndyCar isn’t changing its format and is continuing to make every race count in the pursuit of its own Astor Cup. With competition in the league as strong as it’s ever been, TV numbers climbing for another season, and some of the best personalities in motorsports, IndyCar has a bright future – leaving Miles and the fans with a lot to look forward to.

For more on the Verizon IndyCar Series, visit the league’s website.

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