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: Alexander Rossi is once again on the sidelines. Marussia has officially closed its doors and Manor GP has taken over for 2015. Haas F1 is only one-plus year away from entering the grid, as is Forza Rossa. We hope Rossi lands somewhere as a tester – hopefully, Manor would give him the opportunity. Alex has worked so hard just to get a seat in Formula 1. If Manor doesn’t open its doors, hopefully another team could give him a test role. Haas is in no rush to get U.S. talent. I’d love to see U.S. talent in F1 once again.
JLS, Chicago, IL
RM: Obviously you wrote this letter before Marshall Pruett’s breaking news story Monday on RACER.com where Rossi confirmed he’s pretty much abandoning his F1 dreams to chase an IndyCar ride. He hung in there a long time and had success but he can’t afford (literally and figuratively) to play that game anymore. And I’d much rather see him in a decent car here than a slug in F1.
Q: With the recent news that Jean-Eric Vergne is looking for a ride in IndyCar and that Carlin Motorsport will be participating in the Indy Lights series in 2015 with the intent of moving up into IndyCar some time thereafter, it’s looking more and more like European race drivers and teams are taking a serious look at IndyCar as an alternative to F1 and its feeder system. While in the short term this may lead to more interest and investment into IndyCar (which it badly needs), will the series run the risk of losing its distinctly American flavor and independence from the European open-wheel ladder and instead become another faceless F1 feeder as time goes on? The lack of ovals and American talent on the circuit is already a big cause for concern, so I find the prospect of IndyCar simply being absorbed by the powers across the pond somewhat alarming.
RM: Economically, IndyCar is about the only option for aspiring F1 types with talent but moderate budgets. Adding a prestigious team like Carlin to the IndyCar lineup would be a huge bonus for the series but adding Vergne won’t sell a single ticket. Talented American kids like Jonathan Bomarito, John Edwards, Dane Cameron and Jonathan Summerton never got a sniff of an Indy car and who knows what the future holds for Matt Brabham, Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot? Conor Daly won here and in Europe and I’d much rather see him in an IndyCar than some F1 castoff.
Sure, if Fernando Alonso came to IndyCar, it would be big news and a media storm in the Mansell realm but we need Sage Karam (BELOW, LAT photo) to run for Chip and carve out a nice career in IndyCar because it’s all he’s ever aspired to do. And Pocono would have had 4,000 more paying customers last summer if Karam had been in the field because Nazareth would have supported him. Californian Rossi returning to the USA is also a good story in the process of being written. Of course the reality is that a lot of GP2 and GP3 drivers can find a few million and, in this economy, it’s usually enough to find a ride over here in Lights or IndyCar and leapfrog an American. But, sadly, the average American has no clue who won last year’s Indy 500 and that’s the root of the problem.
Q: With F1 in a bit of a financial crisis and it seems even more quality drivers being left without a seat, isn’t this a prime opportunity for IndyCar? First, I’m assuming there are European drivers who bring funding that likely is not enough to secure an F1 seat, but would pay for an IndyCar season. Would you agree?
Along with this, if IndyCar can begin attracting drivers, and possibly a few European teams such as Carlin coming over, isn’t this a great opportunity for the 2016 schedule? I know the 2015 season schedule release was a large disappointment (heck we have amazing drivers from Down Under, yet we can’t schedule a return to Surfers or another venue), but wouldn’t now be the time to return to Europe to begin gaining some more exposure and to show that IndyCar is a viable alternative to those drivers and teams who are being priced out of F1?
John, Clawson, MI
RM: If McLaren and Ferrari and Red Bull all started IndyCar teams, it might generate enough worldwide interest to drive up the television ratings and help attendance which, in turn, makes sponsorship easier to acquire and increases the chances of car owners hiring talent. And, yes, as I said in the question above yours, it’s much easier for aspiring F1 types to buy a ride over here. Australia or New Zealand would seem a no-brainer for an IndyCar race given that Power and Dixon are aces, but not sure anybody else moves the needle for races anywhere else in Europe or even England. (ABOVE, Rockingham, UK in 2001 and Helio Castroneves leads. LAT photo)
Q: The news of an unlikely return by Mikhail Aleshin in 2015 didn’t surprise me as much as others it seems. What did surprise me is SMP seems to have ceased paying the team at some point over the year. Obviously there are some international affairs issues at hand, however why would the team continue to display the bank’s livery on his car? The same goes for Hinch, who didn’t seem to be getting any real funds from UFD after April. It would seem like common sense that if a sponsor ceases to pay, you remove their name from the car. Is IndyCar in such dire straits with sponsors the teams have to keep the livery on the cars and hope the sponsors will start paying again?
Kevin, Atlanta, GA
RM: IndyCar racing has bounced along for decades on the “check is in the mail” premise but we have two very different scenarios here. Michael supposedly was best buds with the UFD founder so he would be prone to give him a little more rope while Sam was dealing with a company from another country in financial peril, but if you’ve received a couple checks, you’re more likely to give the company the benefit of the doubt.
Q: Chevy was spotted with its aero kits in COTA and yet we have no information about the Honda aero kits. One hypothesis is that Honda is testing them at Twin Ring Motegi or even Suzuka. What is your opinion?
Eusébio Sachser, Brazil
RM: Andretti Autosport is exclusively testing the Honda aero kits at various tracks around the United States.
Q: Why wouldn’t Simona be considered for Ed Carpenter’s ride if Conway leaves? Looks like a perfect fit.
Don Wallace, Roswell, GA
RM: Well, maybe she is. Ed told Marshall Pruett he was considering several drivers to replace Mike Conway, although J.R. Hildebrand would seem to have the inside line.
Q: It seems like the new Lights car has really drawn a whole bunch of interest from teams to get into the series. I have lost track, but I am sure you have a good grip on how many are legitimate possibilities. How many may pan out into IndyCar teams? What are the chances JEV or Rossi make it to IndyCar?
Dino, New Hanover, Pa.
RM: I think we predicted 16-17 to start the year and that seems legit. In the next issue of RACER magazine, series promoter Dan Andersen points out that the Freedom 100 usually attracts extra entries because of the boosted prize money and the chance to race at IMS on Indy 500 weekend. If those extra cars come from existing teams running their spare cars, then it’ll probably be just a temporary boost in numbers at the Speedway. But if there’s a startup team willing to buy a car to run that race, it doesn’t make financial sense for it to be a one-off. So I’m thinking the Lights field may be bigger in the second half of the season than the first. To answer the second part of your question, there’s no way to gauge how many Lights teams want to eventually move up to IndyCar. For now, let’s be pleased they’re interested in the feeder series.
Rossi has a good chance of getting an IndyCar ride.
Q: Between Rossi, Daly and Vergne …which driver gets a full time IndyCar ride first? (Please say Daly…please say Daly…) Does Michael Shank’s sports car program switch to Honda give us hope Shank he’ll take a crack at IndyCar again with a Honda engine? Carlin coming to Indy Lights means, I hope, they might join IndyCar in 2016 or 2017? Are they using Dyson Racing personnel to manage their Indy Lights program? How soon before Fan Force United confirms they’re running Stefan Wilson?
Gordon from Dallas
RM: Marshall couldn’t write everything he knows in Monday’s story about Rossi and I believe he’ll have some good news on that in the coming weeks. I would imagine Shank’s new partnership with Honda could open that door – if he chooses to give it another go. He wasn’t treated very well by IndyCar in 2011. No word on FFU and young Wilson.
As for Carlin, there certainly is hope that they’ll eventually go into IndyCar, because adding a team of that pedigree to the series would be big. Don’t know about Dyson’s crew, but Trevor Carlin (RIGHT, LAT photo) will have his U.S. base in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where Dyson Racing is also based, and Rob and Chris own Advanced Engine Research (AER), the company building the engines for the new Indy Lights car. So a strong link-up, or at least an arrangement involving some facilities or logistics support, would certainly make sense as Carlin builds up their U.S. presence.
Q: I would like to provide you with some info relating to the track widths of various road courses in the USA. This is in response to criticisms about the presumed track width at NOLA (your correspondent claiming it to be very narrow, and older criticisms about the perceived narrow width of Barber Motorsports Park).
Here are some track widths: (Typical widths taken at various points around the courses. May vary a little) Road America – 30 ft; Barber – 45ft; Laguna Seca – 40ft; Sonoma – 36ft; Mid-Ohio – 40ft; NOLA 40 to 50ft; Road Atlanta – 40ft; Miller – 40 to 50ft; Sebring – 30ft with some sections at 100ft; Lime Rock –30ft, 36ft and 40ft in the new section; COTA – 40ft, 45ft and 50ft sections. These stats show that Barber, which opened in 2002 (I think!) was at the time the WIDEST track in the USA when certain IndyCar drivers called it too narrow. Now people are calling NOLA too narrow despite it having 50-foot wide entries into four of its turns and a minimum width of 40 feet elsewhere!
RM: Thanks Alan. I know you’ve designed and built tracks all around the globe so it’s nice to have some facts to dispel the myths. And this new Indy car has shown it’s racy everywhere, especially street circuits and road courses, so glad to learn of NOLA’s true measurements. Please give my best to Desiré.
Q: Are there any more rumors on IndyCar and Gateway Motorsports Park? Curtis Francois is a great guy, who has done some very positive things with that property, and for racing in the St Louis area.
RM: I know IndyCar recently paid a visit to Gateway to check out the facility and listen to Curtis’ plans but not sure of the outcome. I talked to him last summer at Iowa and he was gung-ho to bring IndyCar back and seemed to have some solid ideas about promotion.
Q: Just watched your video on the best female drivers and I am surprised that you did not mention Janet Guthrie. Even though she never had the results some of today’s drivers have had. I believe she never had a chance to show what she could do. With her engineering background I believe she could have accomplished much if she only had the ride.
RM: Janet was a pioneer with a lot of chutzpah and very capable of going fast for four laps at Indianapolis but she didn’t ever mix it up like Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick or Simona de Silvestro. And Guthrie was also 38 when she first came to IMS and certainly not in the best of cars so that made it more challenging. Tony Hulman asked A.J. to let her drive the Coyote on the final morning of time trials in 1975 so she could show her ability and she ran quick enough to be in Row 4. Janet will always have a place in history and she still draws a crowd whenever she’s at the Speedway.
Q: Have been watching old F1, CART/Champ Car, and ALMS/Le Mans video clips. When (hopefully 2016) Road America gets back on the schedule, what are the chances that it can be the finale? Labor Day is great weather in the Kettle Moraine, and it would be incredibly nice to have the season finale at a track within a reasonable drive for many of IndyCar’s core fans and one in which drivers can pass as frequently as their car/talent allows (as opposed to the processional racing and “passing in the pits” that oh so frequently happens at Sonoma). F1 has been switching their finale between Interlagos and Yas Marina; I’ve yet to talk to a fan who favors the latter over the former (2008 Brazil GP was easily the most exciting F1 race I’ve ever watched). Is this wishful thinking, or can we actually get an IndyCar season finale at a track that rewards bravery and is never in short supply of slipstreaming or passing?
RM: I’m afraid as long as IndyCar insists on ending the season by Labor Day we’re pretty limited in what the finale can be. I’d have much rather seen Milwaukee or Elkhart Lake be the last race but evidently it wasn’t ritzy enough for IndyCar’s tastes. I think having the banquet in San Francisco superseded a racy track or trying to get a good crowd.
Q: My husband and I are huge open-wheel race fans – IndyCar, sprint car, F1, etc. We just got back from California for the King of the Wing sprint car races. Who is this Sierra Jackson girl? Holy crap, Batman! This girl is beyond fast and she’s running a 360 against the 410s?
RM: She’s a 22-year-old from Boise, Idaho who has been winning super modified races since she was 16. As you witnessed, she finished second twice just two weeks ago in Davey Hamilton’s series and he’s got high praise for her. I’m writing a little feature about Sierra for RACER.com that should be up by the end of the week.
Q: It’s been well documented that IndyCar has been having more and more trouble attracting crowds at most of the oval events. One of the biggest reasons is most likely the lack of activity on-track leading up to the race. Many of the road courses provide all day action by having PWC, TUDOR, or Mazda Road to Indy taking up the down time between IndyCar sessions and this provides a ton of bang for the buck for the paying customers.
With that said though, most true Indy fans still love the action that an oval race provides and would love to see more tracks added to the schedule. With the success that IndyCar has had during co-headlining weekends, do you think they would ever swallow their pride and run as a support series with NASCAR? With all the ovals that NASCAR runs, Indy could tag along and run a Saturday race in front of a decent crowd and hope to show off their product in hopes of growing the fan base. I know there will be so many people that hate this idea but at some point you’ve got to do something different to change the trend. Any thoughts?
Kyle McGlumphy, Columbus, OH
RM: It’s not a matter of IndyCar swallowing its pride, it’s a matter of NASCAR not about to run on the same track with a series that goes 40-50mph faster and puts on three times the show. ISC showed it had no interest in helping the IRL and nothing has changed. The ovals just need to ramp up the action throughout the day.
(ABOVE: Franchitti’s demo run in front of the NASCAR crowd at Loudon in 2010. This crowd didn’t turn up for the actual race in 2011, sadly. LAT photo)
Q: I just saw the headline “F1 sets up fans’ think tank”. Thinking it’s about time someone included the fans I immediately opened up the article and much to my disappointment saw that the fans think tank was made up of representatives of the teams and not fans. Being an IndyCar fan I then wondered if there was some way for the fans to have a seat, so to speak, at the table. Has something like this ever been considered? I admit that I’m not sure how this could be accomplished but one thing I do believe is that filling out surveys is a one-way conversation without a translator. In other words, not very useful.
RM: There have been “town hall” type meetings back in the CART/Champ Car days and they were fairly popular so something like that might be possible. But, really, the Mailbag is about the best forum for you fans because it’s 52 weeks a year and pretty open.
Q: Is it true that with the new roundabout on 16th Street at IMS, Georgetown Road no longer connects to 16th Street? They actually cut it off, what, 100 feet short? So there literally is no more “16th & Georgetown,” technically? No more leisurely drives hanging a right off of 16th onto Georgetown and going past the never-ending grandstands along the front straightaway? Is nothing sacred anymore?
Brian Kortepeter, Indy
RM: That would be correct, although I guess it’s not totally incorrect to use it since Georgetown Road will still border the front straightaway.
Q: Besides Al Holbert and Vern Schuppan, are there any other Le Mans drivers that left their mark at Indy? (Not counting Gurney or Foyt.) If memory serves me, Schuppan’s best 500 was with his own hastily put together team. Any insights?
RM: Vern drove for Dan Gurney in 1976 but finished third in 1981 (ABOVE, IMS photo) in his Theodore-run McLaren. Vern is good guy and a good driver. As far as your question, Stefan Johansson won Le Mans outright in 1997 and two other times in his class. Mario, Danny Sullivan and Lloyd Ruby ran Le Mans along with Eddie Cheever, Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud. Cheever won his class and Seb finished second for Peugeot. Mario and Michael ran together once and I think Roger McCluskey may have also run a couple times along with Jerry Grant and two-time Indy starter Walt Hansgen, who was killed at Le Mans in 1966. As good a road racer as he was, Parnelli should have tried it but never did.
Q: Saw this T-shirt in the IMS gift shop – think Mr. Foyt might be surprised to know that, according to it, he’s not the all-time IndyCar wins leader? Or maybe it means that before 1996 they were driving slow?
Scott Cooper, Bargersville, IN
RM: That’s sooooooo insulting. All IndyCar really has is its history and to try and act like racing didn’t begin until 1996 is pathetic and laughable and maddening. The good news is that most race fans aren’t fooled and I’ve never seen anybody wearing one of these shirts.
Q: I finally saw Kyle Larson race live and on a dirt track, too! My Thanksgiving night in Perris was very exciting. From Christopher Bell’s phenomenal domination the entire evening to Rico Abreu’s winning the series to seeing Parnelli honored as Grand Marshal, I couldn’t have asked for a better night of racing. And did I mention I finally saw Kyle Larson race? This was my first dirt track experience and I intend to have many more.
RM: Good for you. Parnelli told me Larson put on a show but Bell is the next great talent that NASCAR will likely steal from open-wheel and Rico ain’t far behind. Somebody sent me a photo of Chip Ganassi at the race so it’s good to know he got to see his man in his real element.
Q: I loved your remarks in the mailbag about Formula E. What a total farce of a series. What I feel bad about is they do have a lot of name drivers. Are things so bad that these drivers have to resort to such garbage to get a ride?
RM: Well, I know a lot of people who think its cool and it’s obviously got some strong backing and teams so it may make it. I just can’t image paying to watch racecars that don’t make any noise except the tires squealing. And I think it does say something about the amount of good drivers looking for work.