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: Noted you posted my comments in the Mailbag. Slim pickings, eh? Another example of the long off-season’s effect on the series: out of sight, out of mind. Anyway, sorry my posting was not more clear. When I said your comment angered me, what I found irritating was that you pointed out how the Fontana race had generated some buzz for the series and likely had a positive impacted on ratings for the balance of the races. If a race can do that when we need all the exposure we can get in mainstream media, that event should be a no-brainer, attendance or whatever else be dammed. Indy, Pocono and Fontana are three awesome and diverse super-speedways – there is your Triple Crown. And we should have a day of national mourning for Milwaukee, BTW. I do wonder though why Texas has been a bit of a snooze-fest the last few years when Fontana continues to be so exciting. Is the aero that different? Makes me wonder how this car would race in Michigan?
RM: No worries, thanks for taking the time to write. It’s too bad IndyCar didn’t see the value in the Triple Crown, at least trying to find a proper sponsor, and staying in Fontana with a fall date that worked for the track. There is no arguing that last summer’s race helped drive up the TV ratings and interest for the rest of the season but the grandstands were empty and I don’t blame Auto Club Speedway for digging in about an October race. As for Texas, it’s been a clunker the past few years because of the combination of the aero package and tire degradation. Less downforce and lots of green-flag laps really strings out the field. Even the last “good show” when Justin Wilson took advantage of Graham Rahal’s late slip into the wall had been a clunker because Scott Dixon was long gone before he crashed. MIS would all depend on the aero package.
Q: Just finished reading the interview with Jay Frye. I just hope that he reads some of your old emails that tell about Brian Barnhart’s incompetency when he was director before naming a new race director. Under no circumstance should he name TGBB as race director. He also should eliminate the ruling by committee. The best-run races were when Beaux Barfield was in complete control. I know some did not like his rulings but they were made just after the incident and not days later. TGBB rulings were out of the hat and best guesses. I am afraid Frye is looking at TGBB as race director, just based on reading his interview and saying they have qualified people on board. TGBB was on his way out under Randy Bernard but Randy got fired before that was completed – what a shame. Do you have any inside info as to which person TGBB has by the cojones so that he keeps coming up in positions of authority?
Dick Klein, Torrance, CA
RM: My understanding is that Race Director and Chief Steward are different jobs and it sounds like it’s still going to be ruled by a vote of a committee – hopefully composed of ex-drivers. I’m with you in that one person needs to make the call and I thought Beaux did a good job but he and Derrick Walker never saw eye-to-eye. Barfield was very complimentary of Barnhart’s running of the driver’s meetings and he will maintain that position but not be the Chief Steward. Hopefully, it will be somebody like Al Unser Jr. who would have immediate respect with the drivers.
Q: Every May I run into Leo Mehl and ask him when he is going to write a book. He doesn’t seem too interested so maybe you could persuade him. If anybody needs to write a book, it’s Leo!
RM: Considering he ran Goodyear’s F1 and Indy programs, yes, he’s got some great stories – just not sure he’d be willing to share them all with the public. Leo is kind of a private person anyway, so I doubt anyone could persuade him.
Q: I’m p***ed off about the IndyCar schedule, with regards to the Iowa weekend. The most successful venue for that track has been hot days, cool nights, short-track style racing. It’s been thrilling to say the least, and has branded itself as a unique event, with fans to support it. I’ve been to a race there every year since the track opened, except one. In 2016, they’ve scheduled it for Sunday frigging night!! What the hell? What are they thinking? I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but red flags go up when I realize NASCAR purchased the track last year. Do you think they’re trying to ruin IndyCar’s success with the track and hog it all for NASCAR events? I mean, it is a very popular track around here for all events, but having it all to NASCAR events would make it even more profitable. Looking for your unfiltered thoughts.
Jeff L., Des Moines, IA
RM: No conspiracy theory, it looks like a simple maneuver for television. NASCAR runs Kentucky on Saturday night, July 9, so that will be live on NBCSN and that gives IndyCar the Sunday evening time slot on NBCSN. The obvious fly-in-the-ointment is if it rains on Sunday night.
Q: Now that Frye has fancy new position, he’s been interviewed unlike when he was in the background. Upon reading those interviews, the impression I get is that he’s going to be one slippery son of a gun, because he never answers a question directly. Just misdirection and babble. The true signs of someone who’s over his head and incapable of being effective. I hope I’m wrong. You must have had dealings with him since he’s been around IndyCar a while – what are your impressions?
Rick in Toronto
RM: As I wrote, Jay can BS with the best of ’em and that could be a valuable ally in his new job but one man cannot “save” IndyCar. It needs a makeover and a new culture but I don’t see that coming in the near future. Frye knows a lot about the business of racing and that’s valuable but, as I’ve said, he needs a couple of key lieutenants for rules, aero kits, new cars and the daily power plays inside the paddock because that’s not his expertise. I just hope he doesn’t get overwhelmed.
Q: I was a little disappointed that Honda is being allowed to upgrade their aero package for next season. Good for the sport, but why penalize Chevy for getting it right? What if Honda comes in next season and blows Chevy out of the water? Would Chevy then be able to react? Perhaps an answer could be Chevy having access to Honda’s improvements if they prove to be ‘too good’ after the season starts. Chevy would then have the option of adapting anything Honda comes up with for themselves. Another question. F1 this time. Is anyone really surprised that Honda has been so bad with McLaren this year? After all, they re-entered the series well after all the other teams had a huge head start with new rules regarding powerplants. Does anyone believe that Honda won’t come back charging next year and perhaps in two or three years be kicking everyone’s collective asses again?
When is St Petersburg? March? Jeez!
Bill Phypers, Brewster, NY
RM: Both manufacturers agreed on giving each other a chance to catch up but the rub is that Chevrolet doesn’t feel like it’s got an insurmountable advantage even though the statistics are pretty telling. The problem is that IndyCar couldn’t afford to lose Honda and it also can’t afford to p**s off General Motors so what happens next is a slippery slope. I can’t offer much wisdom on Honda of Japan in F1 but in the CART days it was tough to out-work them. After getting its butt kicked in 1994, Honda roared back to dominate from 1996-2001 and after a slow start in the IRL it kicked ass. So I would imagine things will turn around over in F1 as well because of that Honda culture. By my calculations, it’s only 106 shopping days until practice begins at St. Petersburgh.
Q: I see a lot or requests or suggestions from IndyCar fans to reduce the downforce and increase the horsepower. Didn’t CART do this in the last few years of the 1000HP engine war? If memory serves me right, the rules package kept reducing the size of the wings and at one point, they were running super-speedway wings at the short tracks (Nazareth, Gateway, Milwaukee and Chicago ABOVE) and drastically reducing the underwing tunnel exits at Michigan and Fontana. During those races, the passing become non-existent. I’m not a mechanical engineer, but perhaps someone (Mike Hull?) has the downforce data from both eras and could weigh in on this? I would hate to see the close racing that we have go away, just to watch a parade on the short ovals.
Matt Fraver, Columbus, OH
RM: Mike Hull was kind enough to respond: “First, in total agreement that the close racing is full of entertainment. The skill set to race close is also dependent upon the trust that drivers have for each other. The cornering speeds of the cars can be altered by IndyCar tweaking of the aero package, as we have seen, to effectively change the race balance. If they get it right (and normally do), it’s still really good two-abreast racing. If over-downforced in combination with tires that maintain grip for an entire run, you will see what happened at Fontana.
In 1999 when we ran the speedway wings at short ovals even with the big tunnels, we were at exactly half of the downforce level we have available now. The mid-corner speeds were significantly reduced but the lower drag of the wings meant the speeds at the end of the straights were higher – going over 200mph into T1 at Phoenix in testing – (in testing, we are at 185mph with the current car) – with only a small amount of downforce to try and handle the corner. The CART races in this low-downforce spec at times became processional as with the additional loss of downforce by being greatly affect by the wake of the car in front. There was not enough grip to make a pass even with almost twice the HP that we have now. The only way this low downforce level of racing would work is if the level of grip was so low that tire degradation became significant (like we have now at Texas) with the result that the difference between new and old tires creates the overtaking opportunities.”
Q: I was thinking: why doesn’t IndyCar adopt a set of rule similar to that of the WEC P1 cars? A pool of engine and chassis/aero manufactures and let the team owners pick what they want and then have a balance of performance to make the cars more equal? Or if biggest problem is the aero packages, why not use the same car and a choice of engine, opposite of the new for 2017 P2 regulations? I know to run P1 in WEC it can cost near as much as F1, but make it cheaper and but keep the same general idea.
P.S. I have been writing to since I was in middle school (now in college) and I have always enjoyed reading your responses.
RM: IndyCar had the most balanced playing field in motorsports in 2012-13-14 with 29 different winners in 52 races and last year, despite Chevy’s dominance, still had nine different winners in 16 starts, albeit only four were Honda-powered drivers. But Honda and Chevy wanted their own identity and got it, so I don’t see any kind of pool working. Plus, here’s no line to come play anyway.
Q: Will you be reporting on the indoor midget races at PRI, Performance Racing Industries trade show? Will any full-time Indy drivers be there, or will they be too busy driving imaginary racecars, on their laptops, to drive real racecars, in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse?
Chris, Colorado Springs
RM: You mean the ‘secret’ indoor midget race that nobody seems to know anything about? Not sure I’ll be going, haven’t received one press release or inquiry about credentials. I know Gabby Chaves would love to participate, but it was by invitation only so I imagine that cuts him out.
Q: I just turned off the TV because I couldn’t watch the Race of Champions. It’s amazing to see the best drivers of multiple disciplines race each other. But in a stadium? They were so slow, it was terrible.
So I remembered the Paris-Bercy Masters, a kart race held in Paris in the 1990s, where top F1 drivers faced guests from IndyCar and sports cars. I only have a French magazine and internet videos, but I’m sure it was an amazing show. Then I thought: United States is home of the All-Star games, why don’t you host an all-star kart race? Well, last September it was the Dan Wheldon Memorial Pro-Am Karting Challenge. But it’s Pro-Am rather than All-Star, it had IndyCar drivers only, its held somewhere in eastern Indiana, and it’s not even televised.
A proper All-Star Karting Challenge should have Dixon, RHR, Hélio, Rahal and Andretti and Newgarden, but also Earnhardt, Jeff and Robby Gordon, the Busch brothers, the Taylor brothers, Danica, Scott Speed, Ken Block and Pastrana. Hey, there could be a supermoto race too, with Valentino, Márquez, Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Hayden, Taddy Blazusiak, Cody Webber and Chad Reed. It should be held at the Lucas Oil Stadium, Ford Field or Superdome. It should air live on NBC and the Saturday before the 24 Hours of Daytona, where there’s no NFL. And it should be aired in Latin America on ESPN (IndyCar, MotoGP) or Fox Sports (F1, NASCAR).
RM: The annual go-kart race at Mark Dismore’s track in New Castle, Indiana is damn good racing between a lot of the IndyCar guys and assembling a field like you suggest would take a lot of money. The race in Brazil that TK, Helio and JPM usually run combines F1 and IndyCar and sports car drivers so that puts the Race of Champions on the trailer in terms of star power and competition. I agree with you, watching last week’s ROC was a snoozer. Much like Homestead.
Q: Rumor has it that Audi installed autonomous controls in a couple of their race cars and ran them at Sonoma, and the autonomous cars posted faster times than the driver controlled cars! Extend that notion to Indy and it gets somewhat problematic for our heroes: 33 driver-less cars taking the green flag … to empty grandstands because all the Gen X-ers are watching the live stream on their iPhones at home. If you were a giant multinational corporation who had invested in technology how would you spend your sponsorship dollars?
Jim Scott, Wisconsin Rapids
RM: Not sure about sponsors but think of the money an owner would save – no salaries, no bonuses, no per diem, no first class airfare tickets and no agents. And the engineers could do whatever they wanted with no talkback or resistance. I’d say let’s not give anybody any ideas.
Q: Considering his dominant Euro F3 championship, and his second win at the Macau GP, Felix Rosenqvist’s stocks are sky-high at the moment. He says he want to do GP2, but he’s had offers from the USA. Anything you could shed the light on? How many seats are there left to fill on 2016 IndyCar grid? Anyway, keep an eye on Rosenqvist, he’ll be bigger than Kenny Bräck!
Jacob in Sweden
RM: I emailed Brack and here’s what The Meatball had to say about his young countryman: “I think Felix is good but its hard to say how good he is in a fast car until he gets to drive one. F3 is F3 and not that representative to IndyCar or F1.” A little update on the 1999 Indy 500 winner, he’s living in London and working for McLaren as a test and development driver in its sports car division.
Q: Why is there more passing for the lead in IndyCar than NASCAR?
Jim Overmeyer, Islip, NY
RM: That’s a good question but I guess the simple answer is that spec cars should produce closer racing and IndyCar teams are limited in what they can modify or experiment on the cars so that also helps close the gap. And the DW12 is a damn racy car on ovals, street circuits and road courses equally. Even though Chevy had the edge in aero kits in 2015, it was still impossible to predict the winner in any race. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find more passing for the lead (on the track) than there was at Indy, Fontana and Pocono. I guess you have to credit the drivers, the teams, the cars, the tires, the engines and the aero packages.
Q: It’s interesting to hear a lot of IndyCar fans wanting COTA, but after reading RACER’s story this morning, how can they even afford the IndyCar fee with the Texas funding gone? And do you think F1 at COTA will now be gone? Thirty-three million, that’s a lot of money.
RM: Without knowing the inside story, it appears Bernie’s blood-letting could claim another casualty and IndyCar is obviously a lot more affordable option. But would IndyCar draw what F1 did? Can COTA survive without the support of the state? It amazes me anyone still wants an F1 race because the economics are so skewed against them.
Q: I watched ‘Winning: The racing life of Paul Newman’ on Velocity the other night, and I recommend it to anyone interested in racing or PLN (ABOVE). It got me thinking about non-racers, mostly actors, who attempted to drive and how good some of them were. Certainly people of our age, Robin, know about Newman, James Garner, and of course Steve McQueen. I know Newman and McQueen had success in the pro ranks and I know Garner had a race team (if you get a chance to see his movie about his team, it is worth seeing) and he was the only actor that did his own driving in Grand Prix. I know Tommy Smothers was a racer as well. Later on, Bruce Jenner had a credible racing career and had pro wins, and younger folks will remember Frankie Munoz giving it a try and Jason Priestly, who was doing a good job before his big crash. Now we have Patrick Dempsey and he has proven to have the right stuff. My question is, who do you think is the best of the pack that tried racing, and who do you know that was good that I left out? I am thinking four national championships and a class win at Le Mans is going to be hard to beat.
Tom in Waco
RM: It has to be PLN hands down, although McQueen was decent on dirt bikes and Smothers ran Formula 5000 or Formula A and was credible. James Dean evidently had some chops in sports car racing while Gene Hackman tried sprint cars in Danville, Ill. and Kent McCord of One Adam 12 fame ran little sedans and sports cars for many years and did OK. Munoz was making strides before he quick and Priestley nearly died in an Indy Lights cars, but Priestley seems to have had the right stuff like Newman.
Q: Any book recommendations for this holiday season for us racing fans? Can you recommend the new ‘The Indy Car Wars’ book by Sigur E. Whitaker? Research shows that you are quoted in that book.
PS: A big thank you to your readers a few months ago for mentioning that the ‘Gonchi’ movie was on Netflix.
RM: I’m going to do another Christmas present video in early December like I did last year, so I won’t give it away yet. But I’ve never heard from or met the author of Indy Car Wars so I’d be a bit skeptical. An IndyCar mechanic pal of mine said he read the book she wrote on Tony Hulman and it was full of mistakes.
Q: I hope you won’t mind me writing to your Mailbag address with a bit of old Indy-related info again (previously about Jim Hurtubise and A.J. Foyt running a Corvette together at Sebring in 1963). Here is a photo and comment thread about Eddie Sachs driving an unlimited hydroplane in 1963. It is on the ‘Vintage Hydroplane Lovers’ Facebook group.
From what I can find, it was his only unlimited-hydro race, although he had hoped to run more. The boat, Such Crust IV, was unusual for being powered by two Allison V-12 engines – each 1,710 cubic inches, supercharged, 1,500 hp stock, 2,000 hp or more race-tuned, depending on how well set up. Most unlimiteds in the ’60s had one Allison V-12 or one Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12. The Merlins were more powerful, usually, as had been the case when the two engine types had been used in World War II fighter planes.
Glenn Marston, Bushnell, Florida
RM: Very cool, thanks for sharing with the Mailbag readers. Sachs was as brave as they came and A.J. Foyt ranked him highly as a driver. Obviously, the late Salt Walther ran Hydroplanes but not sure I know of any other Indy 500 vets that tried.
Q: Is there any co-development between the Honda IndyCar aero kits (front wings) and what McLaren are doing? The showed a close up picture of the McLaren Honda front wing and it look similar to the IndyCar wing.
RM: I’d be surprised, but you never know since Nick Wirth has worked on both sides of The Pond.
Q: We have seen NASCAR make changes to the chase to possibly help a certain driver so are we going to see Brian France break Junior’s leg at Daytona next year? I am sure DW would be glad to help him. Also, is it me or was Brian’s speech when handing over the trophy a little uninspiring? Congrats to Kyle, showing once again as everyone knows, no good drivers have come from the west coast…oh wait.
RM: I didn’t watch the post-race celebration but Brian isn’t known for his public speaking prowess. Busch made a helluva comeback and has been championship material for years. But I hate the fact you can miss that many races and still be the champ – it should be about your performance for the whole season. To think Kenseth, Logano, Keselowski and Johnson had no shot at the title despite all their success is simply unprofessional. It’s all Hollywood but everyone makes so much money why bitch? Most don’t.