Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD . Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to email@example.com We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you.
And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, remember that Marshall Pruett tackles them in his Tech Mailbags. Please send tech questions to PruettsTechMailbag@Racer.com.
Q: With Pagenaud going to Penske, I’d like to see IndyCar cap car ownership – with exceptions for the Indy 500 and other 500-mile events should they continue on the schedule – to three or four cars (my preference would be three). This might allow smaller teams to get decent drivers with money (since that’s the name of the game now) and sponsorship and experience to go to smaller under-financed teams so they could up their game and really contend for wins and championships. As stated, drivers with money who could NOT go (and this would mean that current teams with four cars would have to jettison one of its current drivers) to the Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, would go to a smaller team and THAT team would improve and be competing for wins and championships. New owners might come into IndyCar and be able to lay their hands on proven Indy racers and develop a team around that driver and be competitive right from the start. IndyCar needs to do something to spread the wealth of talent and sponsorship, this might be the way. If they don’t do something to increase talent and competitiveness, it’s going to die. More teams with money closer to the Big Three might do it. What are your thoughts on the future of IndyCar owners and/or new owners?
JJ, Studio City, CA
RM: The big problem with IndyCar is that there aren’t enough owners so restricting anyone would be foolish at this point. If Andretti, Ganassi and Penske weren’t all running four cars, the full-time grid would be under 20 cars. Having said that, Ed Carpenter’s group managed three wins in 2014, Dale Coyne stole a victory and Josef Newgarden and Jack Hawksworth ran strong so, unlike NASCAR or F1, it’s possible for little teams to succeed. But Sarah Fisher and Ed had to merge and Bryan Herta is fighting to stay in business while Jay Penske and Panther are long gone and Dreyer & Reinbold is Indy-only. IndyCar regulates best it can with the Leader’s Circle and while that doesn’t encourage new owners, it helps keep the current ones going. Of the Big 3, only Charlie Kimball and Carlos Munoz could fit your scenario because none of the other drivers carry sponsorships. The ideal world would be 12, strong, two-car teams split evenly with Honda and General Motors. But, all things considered, it’s been pretty damn competitive the last two years and the aero kits and shift in power could change all that.
Q: Where’s the freakin’ schedule? It’s not like they haven’t had the time because they were busy promoting and staging races. Seriously, if they were competent, or even getting better, they would now be working on the details of the 2016 schedule and on potential new sites, and maybe securing new sponsors and new owners for IndyCar and Lights. You have a nice product, even better if you work with and co-promote with the sports cars, so how about a new kickass business attitude incorporating a macro vision, big picture approach instead of the current and on-going and on-going and on-going “treading water” mindset?
RM: Mark Miles told Marshall Pruett on Sept. 24 he was “closing in” on the schedule so I assume he’s still trying to find the season finale. But Milwaukee still didn’t have a date a couple weeks ago so trying to jam all your races into a five-month window has it challenges. But, hey, the 2015 Trans Am schedule was announced today.
Q: John Doonan of Mazda told Marshall they want to race during the NFL season because it puts them in front of a broader audience. I assume he means following the games…and the TV figures from COTA seem to back him up. Terrible decision to follow the Storage Consulting Group. Why not ask some people like Doonan, Mike Shank and some of the businessmen in other series? Even if they lied, it still couldn’t get worse.
RM: A 1.1 rating on FOX for a tape-delayed sports car race is all the proof you need to know that people are still interested in racing after Labor Day. Sure, it wouldn’t be that high for IndyCar on NBCSN because it’s cable compared to network, but the same 400,000 people that watched Iowa in July would watch races in September and October – providing they weren’t shown at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in the east.
Q: I agree with Kris in Orlando a 1,000,000% and then some. We race fans WILL watch a good race even IF we already could find out who won it. We love racing. As you said in your reply, we WILL watch, fall, spring, winter, day, night, live or taped, damn it to hell, we LOVE racing and we WILL watch it. Just look at the hits old races get on You Tube for that fact. Good grief, this ending the season at Labor Day, because the NFL starts its “regular” season then is total BULL.
Now, how do we make those who run IndyCar acknowledge this FACT? OK, the Boston gang is clueless, that is a given, but holy hell, what about those at 16th and Georgetown? Do they have their heads so far up their own hind ends that they only see the world in various shades of brown? OK, this IS a nasty email, but hell, I was a US Marine and saw combat in Vietnam with 5th Marine Regiment 1970-’71, so, yes sir, I AM a nasty-assed old man. My greatest joy is watching the races I love on the tube. Being old and disabled, not much else I can do.
And damn, I still miss you and Despain on Wind Tunnel.
Charlie the Bear, Alexandria, LA
RM: First off, you’ve earned the right to be a “nasty-assed old man” and, secondly, I miss WIND TUNNEL as well. As for the schedule, it’s not the Hulman-George family’s call and I’m not even sure the board of directors has much say. Miles is steering the ship, he just needs to watch out for those icebergs.
[BELOW: This is New Year’s Day, 1968, in Kyalami, South Africa, and Jimmy Clark is on his way to scoring his 25th and final Formula 1 win. And see those folk in the background? Despite January 1st being an odd day of the year for a race by current standards, we’re pretty sure not one of those people is thinking about football or rugby or cricket. A race fan is a race fan 24/7/365.]
Q: This morning Pippa Mann posted an Instagram photo of Dale Coyne’s race shop, which showed large posters on a wall of her Indy 500 ride and Carlos Huertas’ ride. Noticeably absent was a poster of Justin Wilson’s ride. Is this a hint that he has left Dale Coyne?
RM: I know he wants to move on and Marshall has reported a couple of times that Andretti could be where he lands, which would be fabulous. JWil certainly deserves a shot with one of the Big 3.
Q: I had to chuckle when you said “unless Marco and Graham come to life.” Is anyone that naive to think they will all the sudden come to life as contenders?
RM: They show flashes of their father’s forms every season and they both have the ability – just not the consistency. I still hold out hope, but it’s beginning to fade.
Q: What have you heard about the aero kits for next year and have you seen any of them? Granted, the new Dallara is aesthetically head and shoulders above the classic IRL crapwagon, but, it’s not saying much that the new Indy Lights car looks more like an Indy car than the actual Indy car does. Are there companies that are making them or can each team manufacture/customize their own?
Massey Hemenway, Nashville, TN
RM: Nobody I know has seen them but I’m hearing they’ll be tested soon at Pocono. Only General Motors and Honda are making them for 2015. The new Lights car looks damn good, agreed.
Q: I am in the camp that is definitely anti-canopy for IndyCar. A scenario that I haven’t heard anyone bring up is what happens in the event of a crash or engine failure and fire/smoke starts to develop, but while the driver begins to exit and engages the canopy release button/system, the canopy jams. That would obviously be a horrible situation in the event of a fast developing fire paired with a slow emergency team response to have a driver trapped with a jammed canopy. Or what if the canopy is jammed after an accident while a driver is in obvious dire medical straits and the emergency response team has to waste precious time just getting the canopy off. Have you heard any discussions/fears from drivers about such a scenario? Maybe NHRA has developed some foolproof system to release the canopy that I’m not aware of. Just curious.
RM: Obviously, the scenarios you laid out would be concerns and I’m sure the NHRA has addressed it since they have more rollovers than IndyCar but I have no data or facts. For me, open wheel is open cockpit and that may be illogical in this day and age but it’s what separates IndyCar and F1 from the pack.
Q: I never thought I would ever say this but I’m hoping Honda comes out with a superior aero package for next year. IndyCar’s best partner and supporter ever has taken some major hits the last two years. First, Ganassi goes to GM and now they lose (in my opinion) the best American talent to come along in a long time, Josef Newgarden, as well as Simon Pagenaud! My question is where would IndyCar be without Honda? They sponsor multiple races, the 2-seater rides and run commercials and advertisements. They go far and beyond what Chevy does and it would be a huge loss if they left the series. It might cost the series a few races like Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Alabama? If it ever comes to that the team owners and series to a lesser degree have no one to blame but themselves.
On a side note, things have gone silent on Cosworth possibly coming on board. Is it dead or still a possibility? Over a year ago when they announced the condensed schedule with international events we only have Brazil back on the schedule and still no word on the GP in Dubai. What’s the deal? Is it going to happen? How long until the owners try to throw Miles under the bus? Starting to believe he needs to return to tennis.
Joe from Indy
RM: No question Honda is reeling after losing Pagenaud and Newgarden and that’s why keeping Hinchcliffe in the family with Schmidt Peterson (ABOVE, Steve Shunck photo) is so important. And losing Honda would be devastating to IndyCar in many ways, as you’ve pointed out. Honda has invested big money in CART, IRL and IndyCar for 20 years and, besides Firestone, nobody has been a more loyal or valuable partner. But Chevy won 12 out of 18 races in 2014 and certainly has the best lineup going into 2015 so Honda has to make a big decision here shortly – stay and fight or go concentrate on sports cars and other forms of motorsports? Cosworth is looking for a partner, that’s how it would return but nothing to report right now. Dubai went silent a couple months ago so it’s maybe a 2016 project. Not sure what the owners think of Miles but they don’t think much of his schedule.
Q: Warren Buffet is now in the business of selling and repairing cars, insuring cars, and will soon be financing cars. IMS should try to get him here next May to wave the green flag, be grand marshal of the parade, etc. Convince the Berkshire Hathaway Automotive company that IndyCar is worth their support or involvement.
Kirby, Indianapolis, IN
RM: Excellent idea. I think he needs to own a team as well.
Q: I grew up in Fremont, MI and I can’t remember a time I didn’t love racing. I don’t know if you remember a racer by the name of Dan Gerber or not, but he is from my hometown and to us he was a successful driver. He is a member of the Gerber baby food family. He raced Cobras for Carroll Shelby. He raced with the likes of Tom Payne and Bob Johnson. Were they before your time? Anyway, my real question is, do you know where I can get a copy of the Chris Economaki book?
RM: I’ve heard of Mr. Gerber but that was a little before my time. The Economaki book, “Let ’em all go!” was written by Dave Argabright and I’m sure he’s got one at home he’d be happy to sell you. Send him an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: What is the real story of what happened to AJ Foyt IV? [ABOVE, LAT photo] He seemed to have talent and some real success in Indy Lights but his IndyCar career just fizzled. He walked away from the sport after a few Indy 500 qualification and race mishaps and never returned. There was never a press release in regard to his retirement. I know he is working for the Colts and good for him but what happened to racing?
RM: No underlying plot: he and grandpa tangled a lot, the IRL went away and road racing wasn’t AJ IV’s forte. Not sure how dedicated he was either. But he’s doing just fine, married one of Jim Irsay’s daughters, plays a lot of golf and looks happy flying first class whenever I see him. Good guy too.
Q: Last week during the press conference for the Japanese GP, all the drivers were asked what the most powerful car they had driven by age 17. Sebastian Vettel mentioned that he tested a Champ Car at that age. This would put it around 2004 or ’05. I’ve never heard anything about this test, so do you have any information about where it was and who he was testing for?
Artem, Kitchener, ON
RM: He was the Formula BMW champion (RIGHT, LAT photo) and earned a test in Derrick Walker’s Champ Car at Homestead’s infield course. Here’s a quote from Walker: “He was bloody impressive and I told somebody ‘That kid could be Formula 1 champ some day.’” Good call, D.W
Q: I know most normal guys sneak away to drink with their buddies or have sex with wild women but I am thinking about sneaking away to get a few laps with Cory Kruseman in Ventura, Ca. Do you know anything positive or negative about the school?
Tom Patrick, Lake Arrowhead, CA
RM: The Kruser’s sprint car and midget school has received nothing but rave reviews from everyone I ever talked to that took it. Paul Newman was a BIG FAN of the sprint car experience. Ventura is a cool little dirt track and there’s no finer guide/instructor/person than Cory. You will love it. Here’s a link to a RACER story about sports car driver Chris Dyson trying sprinters for the first time at Cory’s school.
Q: Thought I would update you on Pacific Raceways here in the Northwest. We still race on the road course, but nothing has been done yet to upgrade it. It wouldn’t be safe for Indy cars and really? isn’t the safest place for us to run! Portland would still probably be the best bet. There is a new road course over by Shelton, WA. called the Ridge, but the designer must have had go-karts in mind, because we can’t even get an Atlantic car out of third gear on it! ?
On another note: What do you think the prospect of Simona coming back to IndyCar? With all of the good drivers available, it seems as though she’s likely up a creek without a paddle. I do think it would boost viewer interest to have a female driver back and she certainly has the talent.
RM: Thanks for the update. Whether it’s Portland or Vancouver, there use to be a nice audience for CART so maybe some day…
As for Simona, I’m sure she’d be welcomed back if she had a big enough check.
Q: I call it a Swiss tragedy after Simona de Silvestro was left out from Sauber. Simona’s sponsors just left Sauber out in the cold and we are not even sure about her future in 2015. And even with IndyCars having their best talent, F1 teams (including the back-markers) just continue to shun them away.? Now, she could be or not be part of the next domino effect. Will IndyCar give her a lending hand? ?
RM: If IndyCar didn’t try and save Danica from defecting, doubt if there’s any chance it’s going to rescue Simona. And it’s a shame because she had the chops – not to mention the toughness – to win in IndyCar on a street (ABOVE, LAT photo) or road course.
Q: So how much money went to Sauber from Simona de Silvestro’s “management team” to effectively buy two tests in obsolete equipment? Enough to cover a season in IndyCar? More? I know the Europeans grow up dreaming of F1, but the current state of affairs over there makes IndyCar look almost sane. Note, I said “almost.”
RM: Not sure but I think I recall Conor Daly saying one F1 team wanted $400,000 for a one-day test (four hours) so it’s insanity over there compared to here. Almost.
Q: Longtime race fan of all types, but especially IndyCar. In this week’s Mailbag, someone was asking you about the split. Something I have pondered on is that good old Bernie put a bug in Tony George’s ear before coming into Indy to run the F1 series as CART was becoming much more a worldwide presence. Look at some of the F1 drivers that came over in that period. I am sure he saw the series as a threat to his empire. Has anyone ever put a thought to this?
RM: There is no doubt that Bernie was very concerned about CART in the early ‘90s after his World Champion Mr. Mansell bolted for the USA and didn’t defend his F1 title. The CART ratings in England were better than F1’s back then and I remember Barry Sheene – two-time bike World Champion who became a TV presenter – telling me he hosted CART parties in his bar on the Gold Coast, Australia, because CART was more popular than F1. But it was Bill France Jr., not Ecclestone, who prodded TG to start his own series…even though I’m sure Bernie would have seconded the motion.
[BELOW: The start of the 1994 Indy 500. IMS Photo]
Q: I finally figured out a benefit to the interminable off-season: Silence gives a man time to think. And I have an idea or two that need refuting. I continue to be disappointed by the conversations about new sponsors, better business models, increasing interest, improved TV ratings and finishing in the red, which are immediately followed up by news of the same low driver counts and teams with greater financial difficulty. I understand the Leader Circle and I appreciate it. I also understand that Tony George had a bit of a slush fund for times when teams needed a little extra cash, but that luxury came with a great deal of terrible judgment that we’re all too smart to welcome back.
One thing we all see is a shortage of occupied grandstand at ovals. It seems the larger the track the fewer the seats that are occupied. We’ve discussed ad nauseam the ways to improve the spectacle, including compressing the weekend and adding races in order to create spectator value. But something else has to be done about the car counts, particularly on the superspeedways. They seem to work fine at Indianapolis, but without at least 28 cars the track looks absolutely barren.
So what are the ways we can increase the car counts? Here are some ideas: What are the rules against manufacturer teams? If nothing else it sure looks like Honda could use one, with or without car count problems. What about collusion between Mark Miles’ team, Honda and Chevrolet in order to make affordable packages for ovals for teams that want to expand or get their toes wet in IndyCar? Somehow they manage to expand to 33 every year at the end of May. Who says there can’t be an affordable way to make that same hardware and resources available one or two more times a year, possibly even with a subsidy? Dan Andersen seems to think a version of that model has merit. What about leases? The engine manufacturers also make the aero kits and everything else is spec so it makes sense that Honda and Chevrolet might have inventory available for just a couple of races, even if they’re not the best or most newest hardware. Shoot, I remember Stan Fox qualifying for Indianapolis in 1995 in a four-year-old Lola. But revenue is revenue and if it helps with the show it’s a win for everybody involved.
Dan Wagner, Burleson, TX
RM: I’ve said for a long time that if you can’t get 33 cars for Pocono [ABOVE, in 1984 – LAT photo] and Fontana, then quit having 500-milers because it’s not a good show. Indy is great because there are 33 cars and always somebody overtaking/lapping somebody else. Traffic makes it exciting. As for your suggestions, there’s a special engine package for Indianapolis because it’s a big deal and people can come up with sponsorship. It would be nice to have the same options at Pocono and Fontana but I doubt if you’d add more than a couple cars. Having “house” teams from GM and Honda would also be perfect for 500-milers but they’re spending a fortune on aero kits so no extra money is available. But a couple IndyCar “house” teams would be wise for May in order to insure bumping but then you’d piss off the full-timers.
Q: What’s the problem with the tires? For years we didn’t have a problem with tires. Running through a big debris field or aggressive fender rubbing caused a lot of tire failure but that’s not the tire’s fault. Many failures are due to the crew chiefs playing with the tire pressure or tweaking the caster or camber too much. I would think the owners are getting a little miffed at Goodyear. What is your take?
Don Betsworth, Torrance, CA
RM: No problem with Firestone. Oh, you mean NASCAR? Well Brad Keselowski’s tongue should have been bleeding after biting through it during his post-crash interview last Sunday. He made it clear his team wasn’t taking any chances like you mentioned so they were puzzled. My question is, why would anyone contending for the millions it pays to win a NASCAR title try anything sketchy when you know the consequences? I would think the NASCAR owners are furious with Goodyear, as are the drivers, but it’s always hear and see no evil, isn’t it?