DETROIT – Surrounded by the newest and sexiest in automobiles, Mark Miles seemed right at home today at the 2017 North American International Auto Show.
After all, the CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, will debut his own “new car” in 2018, when the Verizon IndyCar Series unveils new universal bodywork for the Dallara IR-12 chassis that INDYCAR officials, drivers and team owners hope will capture the imagination of race fans and provide even better racing.
Miles visited the INDYCAR display near the Lincoln exhibit. He was accompanied by 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske and new AJ Foyt Racing driver Carlos Munoz, formerly of Andretti Autosport and a Chevrolet Dual in Detroit winner in 2015.
While Pagenaud and Munoz signed autographs, Miles talked to reporters about his hopes to add “one or two” more automotive manufacturers to the series by 2019, the direction of the “universal” car next season and the series’ ongoing safety push that could see Indy cars with specially adapted windscreens within a year or two.
INDYCAR drivers got a peek at the new car via renderings and sketches at the drivers’ meeting in Indianapolis on Thursday. Miles was just as excited about the sleeker look.
“I had to say about three times (to the drivers) to put phones away – no cameras,” smiled Miles. “I told them we’d look forward to their feedback and it all seemed pretty positive.
“The new car design looks a lot sleeker – I like the lines.”
Miles believes the new car look will add to the allure of the series, which he thinks has grown stronger as a brand and a form of motorsports entertainment in recent years.
“I see 2017 as an opportunity to continue three years of momentum,” said Miles. “We’ve seen solid growth and we want to continue that momentum.”
This year, Miles will negotiate future digital media and TV rights. He’d also like to add one more North American-based race to the calendar, he said, “and add an international event or two at the beginning of the season, in February.”
The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, confirmed Miles, “will continue to be a doubleheader race weekend.” This year’s twin-bill in Detroit is set for June 2-4.
“Detroit is very important on the INDYCAR schedule,” said Miles. “It has stamped its place on the calendar. Fans know Belle Isle follows the Indy 500. We expect to continue the doubleheader in Detroit. They do it right in Detroit.”
Miles said adding an engine manufacturer or two to compete with Chevrolet and Honda is a primary goal.
“That’s something that would be very good and will we continue to work on it,” said Miles. “I’m a commercial guy and I want to see a company come in that wants to use the series and get the most out of it, not just build a fast engine.”
On the issue of safety, Miles said the series would likely go to some sort of windscreen to protect from flying debris rather than the “halo” design over the cockpit.
“We don’t see that – the halo – having any possibility for us,” said Miles. “We have banked tracks and you can’t see out of the car with that. But we are very interested on developing driver head protection and continue to work hard. We are more likely to introduce a limited windscreen rather than that halo.”
Munoz signed autographs and spoke at the auto show about his signing with Foyt in the offseason, as well as his love of the Belle Isle track.
“I like the course,” said Munoz. “I first drove it in Indy Lights in 2012. People say it is too bumpy and needs a repave. I like the bumps and the challenge. It’s physical. Detroit is tough, but it suits me.”
Could driving for A.J. Foyt, the four-time Indy 500 champ, be just as tough?
“I’m excited,” said Munoz. “A.J., he’s old but he is still fiery. Getting the Chevrolet (engine) deal – he’s fired up. He’s a pure racer and he wants to win as bad as we do. He’s a character. It took a lot to understand him when he would tell me stories about the Indy 500, though. He’s got a Texas accent.”
Pagenaud joined Miles in saying he eagerly awaited the new car.
“I’ve seen the sketches,” said Pagenaud. “They are exciting, particularly the oval design. I think they are very enjoyable to the eye.”
On defending his title, Pagenaud seemed relaxed about the battle ahead.
“In 2016, I felt pressure,” said Pagenaud. “It’s funny, I feel the opposite way right now. I feel the pressure has been lifted. I feel more relaxed. I realize now my anxiety can go away a little bit (in 2017), and that’s a good thing.
“But, my motivation is as strong as ever, even stronger than last year. Now I think the pressure is on others to try and catch me.”