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’m a huge fan of IndyCar so I think the new schedule has some positives to it. Very happy to see Road America and Phoenix back on the schedule, but really disappointed that something couldn’t be worked out to give Fontana a night race. The action is always really good there, and it gives IndyCar another Southern California race, and the night race always drew a good crowd. Do you think IndyCar can ever work something out to get Fontana back on the schedule? Another few tracks that I always loved and seemed like there were great crowds back in the CART days were Vancouver and Gateway; do you ever think we will see IndyCar back at those venues?
Eric Dufay, Los Angeles
RM: Unless IndyCar runs into October and gives Fontana a night race I doubt it because, as you stated, it’s about the only chance to have a decent turnout. Dave Allen, president of the track, is a big IndyCar fan and is open to bringing IndyCar back under the right circumstances. The downtown Vancouver course was torn apart by the Olympics so there’s no place to go there, but Calgary remains a possibility. I think Gateway will be back on the schedule for 2017, because it sounds like both parties are interested in trying again.
Q: I just went to the USGP and had a great time. I think the rain definitely helped F1 put on a good show. While walking around the track I kept thinking to myself that it’s a shame IndyCar doesn’t race here. The track is world class. Aside from Eddie Gossage, what’s the reason IndyCar isn’t there?
Nick from San Diego
RM: Mark Miles said two years ago that IndyCar was seriously looking into COTA but didn’t want to step on Gossage’s toes or turf. My thoughts at the time – and right now – are that Texas Motor Speedway doesn’t draw enough people anymore to have any leverage, so IndyCar needs to explore a doubleheader with sports cars in Austin. And COTA might even put on a better show than the last few at Texas.
Q: I was wondering what you knew regarding whether Toronto will return to its doubleheader format or not for 2016? They were only able to stage one race this past season instead of two due to having to change from a traditional July date to early June to accommodate the Pan Am Games. The 2-In-TO format of dual races Saturday and Sunday were popular with fans when they did it in 2013 and 2014. The only downside was postponing the first race in 2014 due to rain and running back-to-back races on Sunday.
I also feel the recent change in leadership, with Jeff Atkinson stepping into the role of president of the Honda Indy Toronto following Charlie Johnstone’s departure, is a positive for the event. Atkinson has been involved with the race for at least 10 years in various capacities including managing sponsorship, ticket and hospitality sales. Furthermore, he’s always been passionate.
Geoff Roberts, Unionville, Ontario, Canada
RM: No, sadly, only one race in Toronto next year, and I don’t know why because Kevin Savoree and Kim Green said they liked the doubleheader format. I know it’s tough on the teams but it gives IndyCar something special, and gives the fans a good bang for their buck. But that’s good news about Atkinson.
Q: What great news for Spencer Pigot! I agree with Marshall that this is a perfect place for this talented young man. Now, let’s hope that Bobby can find sponsorship for an entire season, or at least a good part of the season. I salute Mr. Rahal for recognizing Spencer’s talent and taking a chance. Am hoping that other team owners will step up to the plate to support young American talent.
Deb Schaefer, L.A.
RM: Well let’s be honest, without the $1 million from Dan Andersen’s Mazda Road to Indy, Spencer wouldn’t be driving an IndyCar next year. But I give Rahal props because he’s always given Americans like Buddy Rice, RHR, Danica, Hertamania, Vasser and Simmons a job. And I doubt $1 million is enough to cover three races, so Bob, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan are making it work. Rahal and Michael Andretti have kept the red, white and blue behind the wheel when nobody else in IndyCar seems to care.
Q: Is Baltimore now in the ether and never to return?
RM: Can’t imagine it coming back. Millions of dollars in losses, vendors getting stiffed, locals livid about traffic jams and political pushback from Day 1. And it looked like such a great event from the outside.
Q: I was always been on the Champ Car side of the fence, but with the empty stands at the oval races (except for Indy) where did these fans go? With the Chinese buying Miller Motorsports Park, fielding a car in Formula E, and reportedly behind takeover bid of F1, do you think IndyCar is on their radar?
Paul Hirsch, Erie, Pa.
RM: The former Head of History Revision at IMS always said attendance was dropping in CART before the IRL came along which, of course, is total bulls**t. In 1995, Phoenix drew 60,000, Milwaukee 45,000, Loudon 45,000 and MIS 70,000. By the time The Split had done its damage all those numbers were missing a 0 at the end. People that paid to see Andretti, Rahal, Tracy, Unser, Sullivan and Emmo got pissed off with replacement drivers, so they either quit watching or quit buying tickets – or both. Indy’s attendance also suffered greatly, and practice and qualifying have never recovered. Have no idea about the Chinese.
Q: I know you are busy, but I think you are probably one of the most appropriate people to ask this question. I hope to attend my first 500 next year, and I am worried about getting to the track on time on race day. They’ve been conducting race day for more than a 100 years now, so it probably isn’t too bad. Do you have any tricks or secrets for getting around? I would like to stay close to the track, but don’t see much for options close by. Is track parking bad? Should I take the bus or a taxi on race day, etc? Thanks for your time and any advice you can offer, it is greatly appreciated.
RM: A cab or bus from downtown is the hot tip. You do not want to park inside at IMS because it’s too expensive but, if you must drive, try and get a reserved spot across from the main gate. It’s $50 but worth it, because you won’t sit in traffic for three hours.
Q: Regardless of what you and I and the small audience thinks of the quality of races in the IndyCar series (good in my opinion), the product evidently doesn’t work and hasn’t for many, many years. Yet nothing changes. We’re approaching the fifth year of the same car (aero kits do not count as ‘new’ or ‘innovative’, I’m sorry), no new car on the horizon, the same issues with scheduling, plus a compressed schedule that defies logic on every level. Three teams providing 50 percent of the grid, or sometimes more. No influx of new driver talent. What amuses me most is when people refer to it as the premier open wheel series, or talk about it in the same context as F1. IndyCar really is no more than a small-time national series, but it behaves like one, too. Some appalling tracks, average tech – spec cars just like GP2/Formula Renault 3.5. Why would you expect anyone new to watch and care? I’m not going to offer my suggestions of how to fix things, as it will probably echo the same as most other readers/contributors over the years. But how long can the series carry on like this?
RM: It’s the best racing on the planet that nobody knows about, and the problem starts with the lack of promotion, proactive thinking and marketing the drivers. Just having great racing isn’t enough, but like I’ve said for years, not sure different-looking cars is going to make much of a difference either. It’s the whole culture that needs to be changed. I know Derrick Walker had some ideas for a new car but he was squashed by the owners, so I guess IndyCar will keep plodding along with the Indy 500, a few satellite events and then a six-month break.
Q: Very sad to see Gary Gerould step away from broadcasting auto racing. I’ve enjoyed watching him for many years, and have seen him at a few NHRA events. He seems like a real pro. Do you have any fun or interesting stories about him that you can share?
Alan, Raleigh, NC
RM: Of all the people I’ve met or worked with in television, Gary ranks at the top in terms of class and professionalism. He knows his stuff and knows his job and is simply a delightful human being. My favorite moment was when he interviewed A.J. after Tex tangle with Jeff Andretti at Nazareth. After a few well-placed cuss words, our hero stormed off and Gary looked at the camera and said: “Vintage A.J.” But he’ll still be calling the Sacramento Kings games, so I hope we see him this May.
Q: When reading the article titled “Ecclestone: Not enthusiastic about America” I wondered what the hell is he talking about. He states: “the biggest problem with America is that they believe that they are the greatest superpower in the world. Believe. Not in reality.” What? This guy who basically owns and runs F1 for his own personal wealth must think that we not aware of the world outside of the US? We, America that fights for freedon around the world. We saved his country’s ass in two world wars. No one else was going to do it for old England. If you truly think this than take your F1 and money to the Middle East and Russia, they must love you there. You love our money though. and you think we want more of your races. Bernie/F1 go home, don’t bother coming back, WE DON’T NEED EITHER OF YOU! This is the United States of America, home of the free, land of the brave.
RM: I wouldn’t let what a delusional old man thinks ruin your day. Bernie will say anything, and it’s really difficult to know if he means any of it. He was brilliant in rescuing F1 but those days are long gone, and he seems like he’s lost his way.
Q: After watching the USGP, I have come up with a perfect way to solve all F1 issues and it won’t cost them a dime! All they need to do is use water truck to wet down each course before the start, and maybe again halfway through the race. The water truck could be sponsored by some European mineral water company (Perrier, San Pellegrino) and would lead toward more competitive racing by eliminating Mercedes’ competitive advantage as we saw on Sunday when it was wet. Red Bull would be happy, and could keep Renault as their engine supplier. Driver skill would be at the forefront of importance. Do you think Bernie will consider my wonderful idea?
Justin Park City, UT
RM: Bernie said a few years ago that maybe F1 should install sprinklers in the corners of all tracks to make the racing better. Why do we always enjoy F1 or IndyCar in the rain? It puts the racing back in the driver’s hands – especially in F1. You said it yourself – skill comes to the forefront.
Q: Don’t quite know what my fellow open-wheel loyalists think about it, but I think that the SCCA doing their Runoffs at IMS in 2017 will be awesome! Many of us amateur racers will be able to live out the dream, and check the “I raced at Indy” block on our bucket lists, and given that I’ll be doing it in an F-1000 that I designed and built, I can’t wait! But, in the meantime, what is going on with Boston? I know scheduling and cancelling events can be par for the course for IndyCar, but that’s not what the series needs right now! Also, what’s up with the schedule? How can a team keep sponsors happy if they have no idea where they will be racing (other than venues that have already self-announced)? Further more, how can you attract sponsors with this madness? Declaring shenanigans on IndyCar!
Brian L, Clarksville, TN
RM: I got no problem with the SCCA Runoffs coming to IMS, just hope they don’t have a flea market the day before. I mean, Indianapolis used to be special because it was exclusive, but that luster is long gone so the sportscars might as well join in the fun. The Boston Herald seems to be stirring the pot daily while the Boston Globe hasn’t sounded the fire alarms yet so I guess the jury is still out on what the real story is, but IndyCar only needs to look at street race history to understand it’s usually a political battlefield. Mark Miles says he’s not worried, but he probably should be. The official IndyCar schedule came out on Tuesday, but it’s what RACER had a few weeks ago.
Q: I was catching up on all my magazines and read an article on the new technology and design of equestrian helmets. Old-style helmets were designed to dent but not break if you fell and hit your head. New-style helmets are designed to break apart in a fall. The reasoning is that by breaking, it disperses the impact of the fall and therefore should lessen the impact to the rider’s head. The reason I am writing to you about this is because of what one helmet maker has compared the breaking apart to: “Watch an IndyCar race. The cars are built to come apart and deflect energy away from the driver. Keeping the driver safe is the primary concern, being able to come out of the crash without a scratch.” (Frank Plastino, IRH). Just thought it was an interesting comparison. Very rarely do my two favorite things intersect.
Sue from MA
RM: Roadsters used to hit the wall and batter the driver senseless, if not worse, and maybe break or bend an axle. So when rear-engine cars came into vogue they started breaking apart upon impact, and dissipating all that energy saved a lot of lives. Fuel cells, the safer wall, cars and helmets are the biggest strides in safety during my lifetime. Drivers went from cloth helmets to half-shell McHals and then Bell really made a breakthrough with the full-face model.
Q: In the 40-plus years you’ve covered the Indianapolis 500, can you pick the bravest driver?
B. Jackson, Charlotte
RM: That’s almost impossible because there are so many, from my hero Jim Hurtubise to Gordon Johncock to Tom Sneva to guys like Jerry Sneva and Rich Vogler that would “hang it out” with little or no practice in a strange car during the closing minutes of Bump Day. But the bravest might be Davey Hamilton’s father, Ken. He brought his homemade IndyCar to IMS in 1982 and, as you can see in this photo, it was rather unique. The wheelbase was so long that when Ken spun the nose was in the groove and the rear wheels were almost in the grass. I remember when he went out for the first time that half of Gasoline Alley headed for Turn 1 because they couldn’t believe anyone was brave (or crazy) enough to try and drive this car. Hamilton was a helluva modified, pavement driver but wisely figured out a combination of Vuky, Foyt and Mario couldn’t make this monstrosity go fast enough so he withdrew it.
Q: Happy Birthday, Robin. Now that you have attained the so-called “full retirement age,” what are you going to do with your massive (?) monthly retirement benefit from Gannett?
David, Waxhaw, NC
RM: I’m donating it to hire a couple copyreaders since The Star no longer has any and reads like an eighth-grade paper.
Q: Wouldn’t if be fantastic if the IndyCar ladder system could operate something like ARCA? They run super speedways, bull rings, road courses and dirt! It truly is the most diverse series (I’m a die-hard Indy fan). Again, I know we don’t need another series, it’s too expensive, we can’t run our type of cars on dirt (a NASCAR truck is better suited) etc. But, wouldn’t it be something? Great exposure for our young stars – I could see F2000 and possibly a step up at our local bullring, Elko Speedway. Great way to get some tin-top fans (I go to Elko; it’s a great show) exposed to our up and coming stars. Have an IndyCar there. Hell, maybe even run a lap or two as a demonstration! I know that would generate some grass root interest; something we desperately need. OK, tell me I’m nuts. Oh well, it doesn’t hurt to dream a little.
Wally the wisher, Eden Prairie, MN
RM: Of course a lot of us wish we could go back those days when a driver that was good on dirt and pavement could become an Indy star, but those days aren’t coming back. And I’m not sure how many fans IndyCar makes by just having a show car at a track. Those fans want to be invested in a driver they can cheer for and follow and that’s the key – getting people to care about the guys driving the cars. Other than Tony Kanaan and maybe Helio, today’s IndyCar field are faceless names to most of this country.
Q: Just read about Sierra Jackson on RACER.com, so I looked her up on the internet … a very poor presentation of a rising star in motorsports. I’m referring to pictures primarily, which gave me a thought: why don’t all the drivers in Indy and Indy Lights etc have world class portrait session done by the best photographers in the country and then posted on slick new web sites and Facebook plus thousands of photography sites? Seems simple, powerful and probably not unreasonably expensive. We keep wanting PR for the drivers and we know visuals are the first and most important tool to use.
RM: I know Sierra is a full-time college student and doesn’t come from any money to speak of, so most of her publicity is generated from admiring fans that send photos and stories to racing websites. Most of the IndyCar drivers have good presentations on the internet from their teams and their Facebook pages, so I guess your idea would apply more to up-and-comers.
Q: I didn’t see it, but I just read about the Joey Logano – Matt Kenseth dust-up. Sounds like what happened here was worse than what happen to Alex Tagliani at Mid-Ohio. Logano was not penalized. The rear bumper is in play in NASCAR and Tag didn’t protect his. They should penalize drivers for bump and runs, if only because there is the possibility that someone could get hurt or worse, but they don’t. We both don’t like it but everybody knew what would happen if Regan Smith got to Tag’s bumper. There should be no surprises there, but what you said made me think that you were.
Tim Davis, Detroit, MI
RM: Tag left the door open and paid the price, even though it was a cheap way to win a race. Whenever somebody blocks in a racecar, I feel no pity if he gets taken out. Logano could have probably avoided Kenseth but they all take turns laying the bumper to each other so it’s part of the game. And when Joey gets punted he’ll probably cry and act violated – it’s expected. But my editorial comment for the week is that those restarts at Talladega were embarrassing – even by NASCAR standards.