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: I recently heard rumors of Simona De Silvestro [BELOW, LAT photo] wanting to return to Indy cars. Since James Hinchiffe, has left Andretti Autosport for SPM, has Simona considered going there? She could actually have potential if she’s driving for a proper team. And Andretti fits the bill in my opinion. But then I’m sure Michael ought to consider Oriol Servia too. Unless he has a ride for 2015.
Aaron, Media, PA
RM: They’re more than rumors: Simona does want to come back, as Marshall Pruett revealed here on RACER.com last week but it won’t be with Andretti unless she finds a sponsor. Hinch would still have a ride there if the UFD backing hadn’t gone south.
Q: It would be a sad, pathetic season if IndyCar cannot find a way to get Simona De Silvestro in a car for 2015. If they want to get more butts in the seats, and get more attention to the series, this opportunity is slapping them in the face. Does she have any sponsors left? Does IndyCar have a slush fund to help a gal out?
Mark Suska, Lexington, OH
RM: Not sure about her sponsors but here’s a little history lesson. When Sarah Fisher was the IRL’s most popular driver, she didn’t have a ride and the IRL didn’t offer any financial assistance. When Danica was being courted by NASCAR, IndyCar never tried to keep her. So, if the two most popular American female drivers didn’t get any help, it’s not going to happen for Simona despite the fact she is well liked.
Q: Do you think Gene Haas would consider hiring Simona de Silvestro to drive for his F1 team? Wouldn’t that be a great way to stick it to (really) old Bernie Eccle(needs to be)stone(d)? Now she is looking to come back to IndyCar. Where do you think she will in 2015?
Tim Davis, Detroit, MI
RM: I doubt it. As I said in this video on RACER.com Bernie called Derrick Walker a few years ago to inquire if any of “those girls in America” could drive a racecar. DW said De Silvestro could and sent her the information, only to have her manager tell him to cease and desist. Bernie trusted Derrick so it might have led to something but we all know if Ecclestone wanted a female in F1, she’d already have a good ride. I have no idea if Simona will get an IndyCar ride in 2015.
Q: I assume that there are not enough IndyCar fans (even globally) for Simona to try something like Caterham did with crowd funding?
Wally, Eden Prairie, MN
RM: I would think that’s a real long shot. Different drivers in different decades have been supported by fans but the only time it seemed to work in Indy cars was in the 1970s for Spike Gehlhausen and Sheldon Kinser when $10,000 was a lot of money. Just a couple years ago a project was launched for a second car for Sarah Fisher’s team at Indianapolis but it wasn’t successful.
(ABOVE) Justin Wilson’s Newman Haas Lanigan Racing car leads from pole in the final Champ Car race, Long Beach 2008, ahead of Alex Tagliani (Walker Racing) and Will Power (KV Racing). LAT photo
Q: Any news on Justin Wilson’s prospects for next year? What a shame if he doesn’t get a truly competitive ride for once in his career. And, what’s the deal with the St. Pete ticket situation? I see that tickets are available for some races later in the year, but the St. Pete website just keeps promising “in the coming weeks”. Since they’re confirmed and the first U.S. race, I don’t know what the hang up could be.
Steve C., Ithaca, NY
RM: Newman/Haas/Langian was a top level team but JWil was only there a year and RuSPORT was a good start-up team in Champ Car but we’d all love to see him with a Big 3 ride. I think KVSH Racing may be his best chance for 2015. As for St. Pete website, co-promoter Kevin Savoree says: “We’re in the process of changing our ticket software for St. Pete, Toronto and Mid-Ohio and we should have it up and running by mid-December. Thanks for being patient but we feel like it will be a better experience for our fans.”
Q: My question is in regards to the new race coming to NOLA Motorsports Park. I’ve been looking at it on Google maps and it seems to me that the racing surface is very narrow. The pits seem to be non-existent and there are no grandstands. Do you think this track is ready to host an IndyCar event? Is the racing at this track going to be exciting? I have also noticed that they are planning a second south track that would also connect to the north track. Has there been any talk about running the five-mile course when it is completed? They could even have a great doubleheader weekend, racing two races on two different tracks at the same facility. Is that the goal for this event or is this just going to be another three-year bust?
RM: Tony Cotman is IndyCar’s new track consultant and has been actively involved in NOLA and Brasilia. Here’s his take on the new road course outside New Orleans that will host IndyCar on April 12: “It’s not ready yet but it will be good. The barriers, fences and infrastructure are a work in progress. Yeah, it’s flat, kinda like Cleveland was, but I think it will be a good show. There’s going to be a 15-20-foot berm where the fans can sit and see the whole track.”
Also, remember how everyone said Barber would be too narrow and wouldn’t produce good racing, and how we’ve said that about Sonoma, too. But the DW12 has proven to be a very racy car at both those tracks.
Q: Miller, one of your rival websites reported that Brasilia wasn’t going to happen because there was too much work to do and the race would be moved to a former F1 track. True or false?
RM: Again, let’s defer to Mr. Cotman, who recently returned from Brasilia. “The road course is still a go and although there’s not a lot of time until March, I’m more confident today than when we started at Sao Paulo. There’s a lot less work to do in Brasilia.”
Q: This is an off-season thought question. If oval racing is the most popular form of racing in the US, which it undoubtedly is if NASCAR’s television ratings are anything to go by, are there any theories as to why IndyCar’s oval racing attendance declined proportionally so much more than the road and street races? What does NASCAR do right with oval racing that IndyCar gets wrong? For the record: I am pro-1/3 oval, 1/3 road, 1/3 street.
Sanford Santacroce, NYC
RM: The only gauge I have is pre and post-1996 Split. Milwaukee, Phoenix and Michigan were packed in 1995 and ghost towns after the IRL started going there. Indianapolis also suffered, obviously, and once people quit going, they’ve never returned. Iowa (ABOVE, LAT photo) had big crowds the first few years but it’s dwindling – ditto for Texas – and some of the indifference could be the lack of action at ovals compared to the all-day racing at street and road courses. And, other than Indy and Iowa, the street races were more exciting than the ovals in 2014 which is hard to admit, but true. Having 500-milers at Pocono and Fontana with only 21-22 cars is also a bad recipe.
Q: Today I was doing my normal daily rundown of racing websites. Of course Racer.com is my go-to followed by too many others. Upon reading one of the others, I came across a very interesting number: 7.7. That is the average TV rating for the Indianapolis market. What is really amazing is this is for the 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup races on ESPN’s schedule (including three Saturday night races that aired on ABC). This put Indianapolis third for the year behind, Greensboro, NC, Greenville, SC and ahead of Charlotte, Birmingham, Raleigh-Durham, Knoxville, Nashville and Richmond, all huge “true” longstanding NASCAR markets. Yes, we all know NASCAR is on major networks, etc. I was hoping to get an insight into what you, a longtime Indianapolis guy who bleeds Indy car and a media star takes away from these types of numbers. I mean, I know people there love racing of almost any type, but is there a changing of the guard happening in Indy regarding the go-to motorsport series of choice?
RM: Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson still have a big appeal in Indianapolis and also with the people who watched them come through USAC. People don’t go to the Brickyard 400 anymore but they damn sure watch it. It is surprising we out-draw all those NASCAR bastions but it should also be pointed out that Naptown ranks #1 in IndyCar viewing so obviously we enjoy motorsports.
Q: I’ve watched both Formula E races now. Yes the cars look slow. But the driver lineup is impressive and the racing itself has been good actually. What are your thoughts on the series?
Bill Jurasz, Austin, TX
RM: I don’t watch and I don’t care. We’ve already got enough open wheel series in the world that nobody pays attention to and I always thought the sound added to my interest. I know, I know, I’m an old, head-in-the-sand, curmudgeon who needs to join the 21st century. No thanks.
Q: Here are a few questions regarding Tony Stewart’s sprint car future. Have you spoken to him lately and do you think he’ll ever run sprinters again? What about his teams? Is he still all in with the WoO and USAC? Is someone going to team with Donny Schatz next year? Just wondering what you might have heard. Apparently the hot rumor at the Grove’s National Open was that Clauson was going to move over to be Schatz’s teammate next year. If that’s true, who drives the non-wing sprinter?
Michael Long, Concord, N.H.
RM: I haven’t talked to Stew since the Chili Bowl but I did go to the World of Outlaw finale and heard the Clauson rumor. But it’s not true. He was talking with them about running a second car in 2015 but it didn’t work out and Bryan (ABOVE, LAT photo) isn’t sure what he’s got going next year except running the Indianapolis 500 for the Byrd family with KVSH Racing. Got to get Sulli and Jimmy Vasser to the Chili Bowl.
Q: What’s the backstory with Hinchcliffe leaving Andretti? I heard stories that sponsors didn’t jell with the team, but never a word about The Mayor not fitting into the business plan.
RM: I was told that United Fiber & Data hadn’t paid anything since last April so I guess that classifies as the sponsor not jelling with the team. Hinch didn’t want to leave, he was told to go look for work because Andretti couldn’t promise him anything for 2015.
Q: Been doing some calculations for 2015 and I need you to look over my work to see if I am on the right track:
1. Penske + V8 Super car series = IndyCar race returning to Oz?
2. Conway + Toyota LMP1 + win = Conway out of IndyCar (we probably know this one by now)?
3. DTM + IMSA – TUDOR series (they don’t want a dual series) = IndyCar + DTM in 2017?
4. Simona + IndyCar = drive with, KV (Saavedra out)/Rahal (second car)/Coyne (Wilson to another team)?
5. Ganassi – Briscoe = Sage or Wilson?
6. Shank-Ford = Ganassi DP x2 = Briscoe in second Ganassi DP?
RM: No indication IndyCar is returning to Australia, but everyone wants to go back. We should have some news any minute now on Conway’s future plans. Have no clue whether DTM in America will happen, but here is Marshall’s latest update. Simona is hoping to find something. Not sure about Justin but maybe KVSH. Karam in the fourth Ganassi car. Hope Briscoe lands a good sports car ride.
Q: If I was Dan Andersen, I would write a check or do whatever I could to get Simona in a Lights car. She has a fan base, me one of them, from when she had to carry that POS Lotus on her back and I think it could put butts in the seats for Lights and grow the fan base. BTW, GREAT video piece on the women drivers.
RM: Dan has done a lot for open wheel racing but Simona going back to a Lights car wouldn’t do anything for her career and her fans want to see her in an Indy car. Is it better than watching? I don’t think so. This isn’t NASCAR. When you’ve made it into IndyCar, there is no benefit (financially or otherwise) to going back to Triple AAA. I doubt if Simona would even consider it. I know Sebastian Saavedra did it but he’s a different case. Thanks for your kind words and for reading RACER.com.
Q: How much of a stir did Teo Fabi cause in Indy cars in 1983? [ABOVE, Portland ’83, Steve Shunck photo]. I’d always rated him in Europe – very good in F3 and F2, better than Nigel Mansell, for example – but obviously his first season in F1 was in a horrible old Toleman with a team that favored his teammate. So I was pleased when he got the opportunity to come to Indy racing and was even more pleased that he did so well although 30 years ago, news took some time to arrive in Italy, 4,000 miles away! Anyway, I just wondered what you and the paddock thought of him.
Giorgio Ramboni, Scotland, UK
RM: I went to Teo’s initial oval test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and after a few laps he said “no thanks.” The walls really spooked him. But he finally got comfortable and, of course, wound up winning the pole position for the 1983 Indy 500 before scoring wins at Pocono and Phoenix. He was a damn good road racer, obviously, and captured Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca in ’83. He won the most races (4), poles (6) and led the most laps but lost the championship by five points to steady Al Unser.
Teo was very quiet, tough to get to know but a nice guy and I always called him “Ted” and he couldn’t understand why yet he always smiled. He was very smart, in and out of the car. Brabham F1 team came calling for 1984 so he only ran a few Indy car races that year but returned to CART full-time in 1988 and he scored the only victory for Porsche in 1989. I ran into him a few years ago at the downtown Indianapolis mall and we talked more than we ever did at the track.
Q: In 40-plus years watching racing and making cars faster, I had never seen a sprint car race. Having grown up with drag racing and road racing in Southern California, I never made it to Ascot Park. I never went to Irwindale Raceway in the 90s because I did not want to support a NASCAR track. I had all kinds of top notch racing in California, why pay to see rednecks? My boyhood pal, now living in Indianapolis, talked me into seeing winged sprint cars at Irwindale. Friggin amazing. I cannot see how this is not better experience for driving an IndyCar than Formula 3? Eight hundred horsepower, simple cars and no driver aids except a wing. These things are a cross between Pro Mod drag racers and Indy cars. I kind of see how one would want to create a ladder for sprint car people. Of course, Mr. George should continue making baking powder and leave racers alone. If Ed Carpenter drove one of these crazy things, he is now one of my heroes. Can you name some NASCAR, F1, and IndyCar folk that have driven sprint cars?
John P, Glendora, Ca
RM: I’m partial to non-wing sprinters but watching a World of Outlaw winged missile sail into a corner is breathtaking. Of course when Indy was front-engine, dirt cars and roadsters, excelling in sprinters and midgets was the fast ticket to the Indy 500. Tony Stewart, Davey Hamilton and Carpenter are the recent drivers that came from USAC sprinters to the Indianapolis 500 while Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson graduated from USAC to NASCAR.
Q: I understand the IRL is going to have a new museum in Indy! They are going to buy a two bay abandoned gas station….in the first bay there will be a Dallara any year from 2006 till 2012…and the current car, (any year since 2012 and it’ll be around till what? 2018…2030?) in the other. The office will have pictures of every winner since 2006 and (for a fee…Indy has a fee for everything but peeing, and they are considering increasing the price of beer again with what they will call a “pass-to-pee” fee) you then can have the car wrapped to make it be any winner you want and have your picture taken in it…along with the driver, since they are unemployed for over half a year anyhow. I understand the charge will be minimum wage for the driver…which based on what the IRL pays to win a race…that seems a bit high, but since the Speedway is getting $100,000,000 from the state…they’ll pay that.
Seriously, think about what made IndyCar racing great. It was new cars, and new ideas, and that brought fans, and fans brought money, and money brought Wilbur Shaw, Ted Horn, Sam Hanks, Vuky, A.J., Nigel Mansell, Jimmy Clark, Parnelli, and Mario, and they brought sponsors. Now the fans are mostly gone, and drivers like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Sam Hornish and now Kyle Larson have all gone to that other series, along with the best sponsors. You know the series that understands that racing is entertainment not just for team owners but (keep this a secret) for FANS. Another secret: racecars do NOT have to be built out of carbon fiber, and they don’t have to have some woofer-dilley leased engines. There are at least 15 engines producing over 700hp. I’d rather see 70 cars entered, 33 qualified, and one car win by three laps than what we have today! Come on Robin, defend Mark Miles, Boston Capital and Brian Barnhart (he’s the only one left)!!
Terrible Ted aka The Grim Reaper
RM: What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m always thankful for sarcasm with dressing. I think the IndyCar season is too long. I’d like to see it go from May to July. The Boston Consulting Group is worth every penny, just like TGBB. And I think we need electric engines so we can hear each other talk during the race.
And thank you for giving us an excuse to run this LAT photo of the legendary Parnelli Jones with two of his greatest cars, the Johnny Lightning Colt-Fords in which Al Unser won the 1970 and ’71 Indy 500s.