Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.
Q: I just read Marshall Pruett’s two-part article regarding the prospect of an internet investor in IndyCar. With references to the financial issues in the sport, the ideas with regard to a new car and interaction gaming on-line makes me ask, what do you think? Your interview with Derrick Walker was almost heartbreaking. I am a lifelong IndyCar fan and have written you in the past, but the dreamland X-1 ideas contrasted by the reality of Walker’s frustrations … one can only conclude IndyCar as it is today will soon implode. Justin Wilson’s tragic passing has left a feeling of emptiness for this old fan, and between Mr. Walker’s comments and the video game sales plan, I am bewildered. What do you really see coming down the pike? Is there a future for U.S. open-wheel? Does anyone really care?
RM: The X1 program reminds me of CART’s Hawaiian Super Prix: too good to be believed. The pitch sounds great and I hope it’s a home run because the marriage of online gaming and real-time racing sounds like the BEST way to get young people interested in IndyCar. X1’s Michael Earle sounds convincing and committed, and of course the big question is, can he be well-oiled enough to pull off such an ambitious plan? But IndyCar needs some kind of monetary infusion to keep the teams it’s got, and try to entice some fresh ones. The future might look a whole lot more promising if this business partnership gets legs.
Q: I was more than mildly amused by your article on Mark Miles’s additional role in the series. I think he is being disingenuous. It would be to his advantage to understand better the areas Derrick led, but to think he can fill DW’s shoes is a joke, even on a part time, temporary basis. Miles should be trying his best to find someone (or more than one) who is qualified to take over the multiple areas. He needs to look outside the current organization. IMHO the mark of a true leader is someone who knows the areas in which they are lacking, then hires the best person(s) with expertise in those areas to fill those gaps, and supporting their efforts so the whole organizations succeeds. The leader looks good, the organization is well run, and everyone benefits. Do you see this happening?
Deb Schaeffer, LA
RM: Miles made it clear he wanted someone to run the competition side, but I hope he also adds Al Unser Jr. as the Race Director because that’s a totally separate job. As far as splitting time between Hulman & Company, IMS and IndyCar, all I know is Randy Bernard worked 12-13 hours a day and still never got everything done, so I think it’s a pie-in-the-sky deal to think anyone can spread themselves that thin.
Q: Just returned from Laguna Seca weekend and wondered why don’t any owners besides Sam Schmidt and Michael Andretti invest in Indy Lights? Or the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system? Finally, the $10,000,000 question: Any word from the folks on 16th Street about the 2016 schedule? Praying for a February-October schedule with an average of two-three races a month.
Eric J., Hayward, CA
RM: Can’t answer that, but IndyCar has tried to throw them a bone in terms of extra testing days. I just wish Ganassi and Penske supported the ladder system. I’m having lunch with Mark Miles tomorrow and hopefully we’ll have a schedule update on the RACER.com web site by Thursday evening.
Q: My wife and I were at Pocono and I wanted to comment on the professionalism of the safety team and track workers. We had a direct line of sight to the helicopter and were hoping to see Justin Wilson awake on the stretcher prior to being loaded. The safety team and track staff lined up several ambulances to block the view of him being loaded and we knew it must be bad. I am glad they blocked the cameras from capturing that for the sake of his family.
On a brighter note, I must say how thoroughly impressed I am with Graham Rahal. The man that is, not just the driver. I recall after Dan Weldon’s death that Graham took on the fund-raising efforts, and now he is leading fundraising for Wilson’s family. I know he was his teammate at Newman/Haas, but Graham’s efforts go beyond the call of duty. Tell Bobby he should be very proud of his son for the man he has become, not just the racer he has proven to be this season. Here’s to praying Graham never has to do another fund raiser for a fallen driver.
David, Greensboro, NC
RM: Graham regarded Justin as his best teammate ever and he’s really been working hard to take care of Julia and the little girls. He matured as a racer this past season, but I think he’s always had a good heart.
Q: I have to say, it was tragic losing Justin Wilson. I was at that race, but I was not initially aware of the situation. Only after the victory ceremonies did I find out what happened. And just like everyone else, I prayed that he’d pull through. If it weren’t for this tragedy, I’d say I enjoyed the race and atmosphere. I had the luxury of sitting in the Victory Circle Club, and I was able to briefly speak to Justin. I said to him, “Where there’s a Wilson, there’s a way!” He laughed at my pun before he headed off to race.
As for what happened, I will say that I do not blame Sage Karam for anything. I doubt something like that could happen like this again in the exact manner. I also do NOT blame the track layout either. Since people are complaining about how unsafe oval tracks are for open cockpit cars … this could so easily have happened at the Indy 500. What would people be saying then? I hope Pocono returns next year. And if it’s out, it would be great to see Richmond, ABOVE, come back. Or both.
Aaron, Media, PA
RM: Anyone that blames Karam or the track is being pretty petty and very unrealistic, and I’ve only had one email suggesting such. It was a tragic collision of fate and racing – much like the poor fan standing on the top row of the grandstand that was killed by a flying tire at IMS in 1987.
Q: I just wanted to get the word out to everyone. Anyone attending IndyCar’s test session Sept. 22 at Road America will be contributing $10 of their $20 ticket to the Justin Wilson Children’s Fund. It’s a way to take in some late-season IndyCar and contribute to a good cause all at the same time. Thanks for helping get the word out.
RM: Thank you for bringing this to our attention, and I just hope it’s a gorgeous day to bring out as many people as possible.
Q: I had to share my own little story about Justin Wilson with you. Since his F1 days, I have been a huge fan of Justin. I loved that he was such a “normal” guy who happened to be one of the finest racecar drivers in the world. I loved his racecraft and his clean, fair approach to racing. Living in Colorado, somewhat near where Justin’s family lives, sharing some hobbies like mountain biking, being a father of two myself, somehow I always identified with him.
In 2011, I heard that Justin was planning to do a very difficult 50-mile mountain bike race in Leadville, Colo. I had thought about doing it myself previously, and when I heard Justin was doing it, I decided to sign up too. On race morning, I showed up determined to meet my hero. I wasn’t there more than five minutes when I saw Justin waiting in line for the porta potty. Figuring that was my chance, I walked up to him, held out my hand, and said “Hey Justin.” He shook my hand, looking a bit confused about who the heck this stranger was and I said: “That was an amazing pass on Oriol last weekend” (the Toronto IndyCar race was the previous weekend, and Justin pulled off a truly brilliant pass at one of those spots “where you can’t pass’.’)
He gave me that big Justin smile, nodded, and said, “Thanks, I don’t think Oriol liked it all that much!” I told him I loved it, we wished each other good luck in the race, and that was it. Not that I expected differently, but I appreciated that Justin was so friendly to a fan boy who went up to bug him while he was in line for the restroom and preparing for a seriously hard effort on a mountain bike. I’ve seen several deaths in my 25 years of being a die-hard IndyCar fan, but Justin’s has really affected me. Not that any of them were easy, but this one is just particularly cruel. I will so miss the kind, normal guy and his clean, tenacious, giant-killing driving.
Mark, Littleton, CO
RM: There was something symmetrical about Justin living in the fresh air state, wasn’t there? Your story is like most of the 200-plus emails I’ve received in the past few weeks from fans sharing their inner-actions with the nicest BadAss in racing. And I remember that pass and it was as clean as it was surprising.
Q: What is the current sentiment toward improving driver protection? Will it require major structural changes to the current chassis? I remember back to the 1955 Indianapolis 500 when the “Sumar Special” Kurtis-Offy showed up with the No. 47 and No. 48 cars having envelope bodies and bubble canopies. If memory serves me correctly, Jimmy Daywalt qualified the No. 48 car after he had all the extra bodywork, and the canopy removed; then finished ninth. I’m sure Donald Davidson can give you the story behind the story. I just remember the early attempt at the use of canopies, although I think it was more for aerodynamics than driver protection. See you at the Road America test – finally!
Jim Scott, Wisconsin Rapids
RM: The answer is yes, but let’s look back at the Sumar Special (ABOVE, with owner Chapman Root). According to our man Donald, a canopy was tried in 1953-’54 by Johnnie Parsons but he didn’t like it and, as you correctly point out, Daywalt qualified after the canopy, closed wheels and much of the bodywork had been removed. The biggest complaints were the intense heat coming into the cockpit and the static electricity that attracted rubber particles, which stuck to the canopy and obscured vision. And the real downfall was that a driver couldn’t raise his hand to signal he wanted to begin his qualification run. We believe Marshall Teague was killed in the Sumar Special (with a canopy and closed wheels) in 1959 while trying to run 180mph at Daytona and claim $10,000 from Bill France.
Q: So, Buick has a new convertible called the Cascada. This car has a rear roll bar that deploys if the car detects a crash is imminent. Why can’t IndyCar do something similar? A sensor can tell if something is on a cockpit trajectory, be it fence or debris, and instantaneously deploys some sort of protection screen. And if it’s just a screen and not an enclosed cockpit, it would be easier to design a way to remove it quickly, in the event it doesn’t retract on its own after the car stops moving.
DJ Odom, Anderson, IN
RM: I defer to IndyCar tech chief Will Phillips: “Like all ideas, there are good and bad aspects – not a new one, however, but like a lot of the proposals, would require a new chassis. Always good to get the feedback and ideas because some of them will be new, or spark a new direction for a solution.”
Q: I thought I read somewhere that Don Halliday left the Foyt team, is this true? If so where did he go and who is replacing him?
Austin, West Michigan
RM: Correct. Don’s last race was Sonoma and he’s pretty much decided to retire. I asked about coming back to the 100th Indy 500 and he was lukewarm to the idea. A great guy with a sharp mind and the perfect temperament to be an engineer, the Kiwi will be missed. No word on his replacement yet.
Q: I wonder if Mark Miles is turning on a TV today and noticing there isn’t much to watch this afternoon? Is there any reason IndyCar doesn’t like Saturdays in September?
RM: I assume he feels that avoiding college football is a must as well but Saturday nights in September might be good (providing NASCAR is running).
Q: I think I have a solution to allow Honda to make improvements to their aero kit. If IndyCar allows Honda to make improvements to an additional “development box,” they must allow Chevrolet the same opportunity to countermeasure possible performance gains Honda may achieve. I think Honda learned its lesson this year and is very capable of making massive improvement to its aero performance. I just think this is the fair way to handle the situation. If the parity rule is invoked, all manufacturers must be allowed the same opportunity for improvement. Chevrolet shouldn’t be penalized for superior management of the project.
Aaron Malerich, Lafayette, IN
RM: My colleague Marshall Pruett agrees with your logic 1,000 percent Aaron. To your point, Chevrolet shouldn’t be penalized for doing a better job and Honda needs to get a re-load to be more competitive and it could be a good move to avoid World War III.
Q: Now that the 2015 season is over, do you have any idea what company is designing the 2017 Indy car? Is the design to be a true open-wheel car like the new Indy Lights? Will the rear wheel pods finally be removed? When do you feel the X1 program will go into effect and residuals be returned to the series and teams? I just met an Aussie, while on holiday, and he stated that his countrymen are less than happy with F1 and that when IndyCar came to the Gold Coast, the Aussies loved them. Just pure raw power, great engine sounds, very fast, and they can see the drivers had to control their cars. Will IndyCar ever return to Australia, where it appears they have always had a fan base?
Brent Logero, Denver
RM: To my knowledge there are no plans for a new car in 2017 or 2018 because the owners said they can’t afford one. As for X1, it’s still a long way from becoming a reality but, obviously, the partnership plan is to put money and cars into IndyCar and its teams. You would think with Dixon, Power and Briscoe, a return to Down Under would be a priority, but I haven’t heard any interest from either party.
Q: Any news or insight on Carlin fielding a IndyCar team in 2016? Too early for a 2016 car count guess?
RM: I believe Trevor Carlin has stated he wants another season of Lights (ABOVE) under his belt before trying IndyCar. Way too early for any car count guesses.
Q: Robin, for years now I’ve had smoke coming from my ears whenever you dissed Mosport as being unsafe because of the runoff areas and saying that IndyCar shouldn’t go there. Let me tell you something. Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (hereinafter called Mosport) has infinitely more runoff than any oval anywhere, ever. Mosport has vastly more runoff than any street track on the schedule. If you run off the track at Mosport you’re going to hit many, many layers of (relatively) soft tire walls – if you get that far on the paved runoff areas. Sure beats concrete! And now, in the last ‘Mailbag’ you have twice said that IndyCar should go back to Mosport. I’m flabbergasted. Why the change in heart?
RM: Whoa, I never said it was unsafe. I simply quoted various IndyCar officials and drivers who stated that they felt it needed better runoff areas. I went to Mosport for the USAC race in 1968 to see Dan Gurney sweep the double-header and I’ve always loved the track. I wish we had three or four races a year in Canada and Mosport would be one of them if I was voting.
Q: You say that the IndyCar series finale needs to be in the Midwest and I completely agree with you. I feel like there are three decent options. Finish the season either at the Milwaukee Mile, Kentucky Speedway or at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Because of the added significance of crowning a champion I believe the crowds at Milwaukee or Kentucky would grow, but you must give it a consistent date. That was the downfall of the Kentucky Speedway attendance, in my opinion – the race dates kept bouncing around all over the place.
That third option, which would probably be the best of all because of the historical significance, would rely on moving the Grand Prix of Indianapolis back to the end of the schedule. If Mr. Miles insists on keeping it in May, then they need to invest in some lights at Indy and hold a second road course race at night or maybe even race on the famous oval under the lights. I understand some people would have a cow over that, but honestly, it wouldn’t be that bad of an idea. Use the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the finale and race at night. I wouldn’t miss it for the world, and a lot of my friends and family would be coming with me. What are your thoughts on this, Robin?
Rob in Louisville, KY
RM: I like the idea of a Saturday night race in Kentucky to decide the title because you are showcasing speed and your heritage, and it’s a better television show than a road course. Not sure about Milwaukee anymore, but I like your suggestion about an IMS finale except Mark Miles likes what it’s done to start May, so I can’t see three IndyCar races at the Speedway.
Q: Instead of leading the month of May with the IndyCar race on the road course at IMS, why not finish the season on the road course at IMS? All of the infrastructure is there to put on a grand show for the championship. The event doesn’t draw much of a crowd in early May, but with the championship up in the air it seems like it might be a win-win.
Earl in Illinois
RM: The fact Miles got the entire month of May on ABC remains his caveat and it’s not changing, because ABC wants no part of televising an IndyCar race in September. I do agree that moving it to the final race would attract more of a crowd (and leave it on Saturday since IU and Purdue football aren’t exactly a drain on your crowd) but can’t see it happening.
Q: MotoGP will not be returning to IMS in 2016. The press release said this was a mutual decision. What is really behind the non-renewal? What does IMS do now for a big event? A IMSA race, Formula E or more concerts in the infield?
Mark, Carmel, IN
RM: I have no idea what the real reason was but last month’s finale was damn good racing. The crowd estimate of 162,000 for three days must have included the Brickyard 400. I’d like to see the Allman Brothers race the Rolling Stones in identically prepared Indy Blue electric cars with Tanya Tucker as the grand marshall on Thanksgiving Day.
Q: I know you’re big pals with Tony Kanaan so maybe the two of you can get to the bottom of this motorsports mystery: These are the Team USA Scholarship winners who were just announced, and as far as I know TK does not have any kids who are old enough yet to be in this program. However, the kid on far left must have, in the words of Jackie Gleason from Smokey and the Bandit, “come from his loins.” So perhaps if TK could try and recall who he was with on one special night about 20 years ago, the mystery could be solved and another farther/son Indy 500 matchup could soon be in store.
Steve, Eden Prairie, MN
RM: You are, no doubt, referring to Michai Stephens from Evanston, Ill. I interviewed Michai for RACER.com last winter at the PRI Show in Indianapolis and at least three people yelled “Hey T.K.” before they realized it wasn’t the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner. But I’ve seen Tony’s sons, Leo and Deco, and can report those are his only offspring and, thankfully, look like their mothers.
Q: My wife and I watch a whole lot of racing with our five-channel DVR. We strongly agree with the comments about the quality of NBC’s IndyCar and F1 coverage. But aside from the excellence of the commentators, the production crew on the IndyCar races also does a tremendous job. They always seam to have the right car on camera at the right time. Obviously the director of the telecasts knows something about racing. Even the F1 world feed sometimes misses important action.
Now the bad part: Contrast this coverage with the Indy 500 on the Always Bad Coverage network. This is so important race that it must have great production and commentary but it NEVER does. I just don’t understand why they always have poor commentators and the director can’t appreciate what is important as the race progresses. I strongly believe that if ABC would rent the NBC folks for the month of May, the interest in IndyCar would increase significantly throughout the rest of the year as a result.
Dick Hildebrand, Ormond Beach
RM: First off, I coined the Always Bad Coverage phrase in the late 1980s and it wasn’t because of Bobby Unser educating Sam Posey. That has earned me a lifetime ban from ever appearing on ABC, but I’ve backed off the criticism the last couple years because I want ABC to listen to me for the 100th Indianapolis 500. Hire Terry Lingner to produce the race and put Paul Tracy in the booth with Dario and Leigh Diffey. Then bring Uncle Bobby and Jackie Stewart back for pre-race predictions and post-race analysis. And add Gary Gerould to the pit crew. The energy will rise just like the ratings and viewers will always know what’s going on – visually and with the commentary. ABC will win a sports Emmy, and I will get a reprieve and be invited to co-host the National Figure-8 championships with Todd Harris.
Q: Robin, that was a nice article on the hazards of racing. Racing will always be dangerous and these guys all know the risks. Are we any closer to getting a third engine supplier? John Judd’s Lotus deal was kind of a screw job to Mr. Judd. Any one last thing. Is NASCAR still giving “The Call” anymore?
RM: Just wanted to point out that football is overall more deadly than racing during the past 20 years. Haven’t heard one word about another engine manufacturer being interested. I think if “The Call” still existed it would have gone to Tony Stewart or Miss Danica to make The Chase. But they may be saving it for the Dillon brothers.
Q: Bryan Clauson is trying World of Outlaws and ALREADY won over this guy Donny Schatz, the perennial WoO king. Really excited Clauson, ABOVE, wants to race the Indy 500 again next year but don’t you think he could do even better racing a short oval like Iowa or Phoenix? (If they’re on the 2016 schedule)? What’s your favorite? USAC sprint cars or WoO sprint cars? I used to LOVE USAC series but now I’m totally into WoO wing-cars! Better coverage, too. Both are almost impossible to follow when you’re not from the U.S.
Giu Canbera, Sao Paulo, Brazil
RM: Clauson is a helluva racer, and going from non-wings to WoO requires some time but he’s picking it up. I prefer USAC because wings are for airplanes and there is no comparison between the two in terms of good racing – USAC rules. But WoO is where the money is and that’s why Bryan is going back and forth. The Byrd family is making sure he runs Indy again next May and it’s part of their plan for him to run 200 races in 2016.
Q: I watched “Gonchi” last night. I remember Gonzalo Rodriquez driving for Penske and thought, “Never heard of the guy but if he’s driving for Roger, he must be good.” And then he was gone. Dr. Stephen Olvey’s “Rapid Response” filled in some of the details on the crash but Gonzalo, as a man, remained a mystery. Little did I realize that he was Uruguay’s Senna. It was all the more moving given the interview sequences with Justin Wilson, his teammate in Formula 3000. Anyway, I highly recommend it to any race fan. The subtitles are a bit tiring and it was strange, to me, to hear Helio and Juan Pablo speak in their native tongues, but it is well worth it. It’s now streaming on Netflix. Just thought I’d pass this on.
Rob, Spring Hill, TN
RM: Thanks Rob, he was a mystery to most of us except for what we read in Autosport, but you knew he had to have talent if The Captain put him in a car.
Q: Just read your mailbag from September 9, and in reply to the comment by Nigel Newman, us Brits can watch the Indycar series live on the BT Sports family of channels, including the 500, the majority of which appear on ESPN UK. http://indycaruk.weebly.com/ is updated through the season with TV coverage news.
RM: Thanks Stu, it didn’t make sense you couldn’t get Indy in the country that brought us the British Invasion.
Q: This past weekend certainly encapsulated all that is wrong with IndyCar. Hope the powers to be paid attention. Doubt it! With the season ending at a meaningless track like Sonoma, it kind of says it all. In the real world, racing rolls on in every venue. Formula 1, love it or hate it, but just seeing the cars go around Monza in real racecars makes Sonoma look like a joke. And their season is just starting the second half.
NHRA Nationals, always a treat. Moto GP with the resurgence of Valentino Rossi is just amazing. And the list goes on. Hey, we even get the start of a new season of Formula E in October. Hate it! Meanwhile, IndyCar snoozes along with no clear direction.
But let’s cut to the chase here. NASCAR owns the American market. The Southern 500 was spectacular in presentation. And what a coup for NASCAR to have the race broadcast on NBC prime. Whether you’re a fan of stock cars or not, it had to be meaningful to see all those legends at the track. They just did a knock-out presentation. The crowd is massive. I would guess that the attendance at that one race is more than the entire season of IndyCar except for the 500.
Whether you’re a fan of The Chase or not, it has captured the fancy of the media and fans. Once again, NASCAR outwitted IndyCar. I am a diehard race enthusiast for all sanctioning bodies, but I could care less about what meaningless schedule IndyCar comes up with for 2016. I will get excited as I do every year when the Indy 500 rolls around, but the rest is “same as it ever was” racing. IndyCar needs to take a few lessons from the Southern 500 presentation for the big 100th 500. How ’bout Catlin for the Grand Marshal?
RM: I’ll agree IndyCar needs a much bigger stage for its finale, but you couldn’t have asked for better drama than Dixon coming from nowhere to pip the Penske boys. I do wish the Sonoma PR/marketing staff promoted the whole IndyCar schedule, because they do a fantastic job. Mark Miles is trying to get a couple of IndyCar races on NBC for 2016 and that would be huge if he can pull it off. No doubt the Southern 500 had a cool throwback theme but the racing was boring – just like F1. Especially compared to IndyCar.