Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at:
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, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.
Q: I’m torn in my opinion of Sage Karam. He’s super fast. He’s talented. He cost Ganassi a lot of money last year in torn up equipment. In order to finish first, first you must finish the race. I’ll count myself as one of the Americans who was excited when Karam was announced to have a full season secured with Ganassi. I’ll raise my hand and say I’m excited for Conor Daly this year. Daly’s ride is long overdue and I think he’d be better in F1 than Alexander Rossi. The problem is nobody can change the economics of the sport. The reality is equipment costs too much, there’s not enough sponsorship, and racing is a great way to make a small fortune (from a large one). Do I think Karam deserves another shot? Yes, but it may be best served as contingent on taking care of the equipment. Too many of the incidents were Karam’s fault, and at some point when you keep getting collected in an accident you have to wonder if some drivers have some situational awareness that Karam lacked as a rookie.
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: Fair enough, let’s use Paul Tracy as a comparison. He crashed and broke his leg in his CART debut at MIS; Sage charged from the back twice and finished ninth in his debut – the 2014 Indy 500. Then P.T. crashed leaving the pits on a practice day at Indy and also threw away a sure win at Phoenix when he crashed with a two-lap lead. It was obvious P.T. had plenty of speed and ability and Penske was willing to hang in there and pay the price during the first three years, while Ganassi gave Karam 12 races last season but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) fund him again.
In both cases, young, aggressive racers were driving for big teams that expect results so the learning curve is accelerated, whereas Gabby Chaves wisely knew he was on a small team with a tiny budget so he probably didn’t take the same chances and drove to finish. Was Karam immature in some instances? Yeah, most 20-year-olds are. Hell, I remember when Lloyd Ruby, Don Branson and A.J. all wanted to strangle Mario when he was starting. But your point is well-taken and the same one I made – IndyCar is too expensive, there aren’t enough owners (opportunities), sponsors are tougher to find and patience isn’t permitted. Unless you’re with The Captain. Simon Pagenaud had four more starts but only one more podium than Karam last year and his job was never in jeopardy. Like I said, the lack of testing, funding and patience all conspires to make it extra tough on all rookies nowadays.
Q: Following is a snippet of Mark Miles’s comments about the race this year in Phoenix: “As I said, we were just in Phoenix. Brian Sperber and his team are doing a fantastic job of reintroducing IndyCar in that marketplace. We’re looking forward to increasing the number of fans in those cities and making new fans.” Haven’t heard/seen any advertising at all, only about the NASCAR race. No mention about cars being displayed for the April 2 race date. Usually NASCAR hits up the malls, Lowes, Home Depot, Cabelas etc with a car and hauler. Maybe he is speaking of advertising in Mexico ? (Just kidding). Since this date is at the end of spring training and there are at least 10 baseball parks, why not set up a display at these parks? Yeah it’s a stick and ball site, but maybe it might work.
Peter in Phoenix
RM: I do know that people who have already purchased tickets to the IndyCar race have received a note from PIR about the free practice and autograph session on April 27. And the top of the PIR webpage is promoting the IndyCar test and race so that’s good. But, obviously, TV and print ads would be helpful and I imagine that will start six weeks before the race (April 2). As for your baseball idea, it would be worth taking a shot at a couple places anyway.
Q: With the announcement of Max Chilton joining Chip’s squad, the internet trolls have erupted again into their usual rant about “foreign ride buyers” and the imminent demise of the series. So that we all might be more educated, can you or MP put together a summary for us outlining the known grid for 2016 and classify the drivers into three categories: 1) Paid, professional racers; 2) Paid racers, but who bring some personal sponsorship; and 3) Drivers who bring the majority of the budget in cash or personal sponsorship? Let’s at least get the facts out on the table and then go berserk in the comments section. Thanks!
Brad C., Lindenhurst, IL
RM: Good question Brad, let’s give it a go and I’ll add some comments at the bottom.
WELL PAID: Scott Dixon, Will Power, Juan Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Sebastian Bourdais, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe.
PAID: Josef Newgarden, Jack Hawksworth, Takuma Sato, Conor Daly, Gabby Chaves.
PAID PRETTY GOOD BUT BRINGS SOME SPONSORSHIP: Tony Kanaan.
HAS A RIDE BECAUSE HE BRINGS A SPONSOR: Charlie Kimball, Mikhail Aleshin, Carlos Munoz, Max Chilton.|
What about Ed Carpenter? He owns the team and found partner Stuart Reed, so does he pay himself out of the Fuzzy’s money or percentage of what the team takes in? Hopefully Charlie gets a nice cut of his NovoLog/Flex Pen sponsorship (like Adrian Fernandez did with Tecate) and I imagine Munoz is paid a percentage of what he brings, probably along with Aleshin and Chilton. We always think Sato keeps his ride because of Honda giving A.J. free engines, but ABC Supply is one of the best sponsors in the paddock so that may not be the case. Would RHR have a ride without DHL? Maybe not with Andretti, but somebody else would surely hire him. And I imagine Michael would spend his own money to fund Marco if Snapple went away. A lot of people are probably skeptical about T.K. but if the 2013 Indy 500 winner (ABOVE) didn’t bring some help, I’m not sure he would be with Ganassi. That’s how tough it is out there.
Q: I thought your piece on IndyCar’s rookie problem was very fair and exposes one of many key flaws with the series. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that the perception at times is it’s the owners’ fault for not giving young up-and-coming drivers a ride. However the real issue to me is that we do not have a surplus of owners who have the means and ability to add them to their teams. You’ve said it time and again that it’s a big problem that three owners own half the field.
In the ’90s we had owners who were willing to move up the ladder with their drivers (Champ Car examples with Forsythe keeping Greg Moore from Lights to CART and Tasman doing the same thing with Tony Kanaan). Dario Franchitti was able to break in by stepping into a smaller team with Hogan. Current owners mention often that we can’t have escalating costs, but it’s troubling that we’re not able to attract any new owners or investors. At a time where more people are becoming wealthier in the United States (CNBC), IndyCar isn’t bringing in owners who have the capacity to bring in drivers who do not bring their own funding. I feel for smaller teams and understand their concerns that testing needs to be limited and the cost of parts reduced so that they can survive.
It strikes me as a short-term survival strategy to keep the smaller owners in the game, though. Instead I’d argue the series needs to invest more time in attracting new owners, and to identify that their market and target segment would be men similar to Penske and Ganassi who have the means and willingness to spend money for the sake of competition. We can argue that sponsors drive the finances of the series, but if the past 30 years have shown us anything, the series is controlled and run by the owners.
John, Okemos, MI
RM: It’s a vicious cycle. IndyCar purses suck and it’s hard to raise money so owners take sponsorship from a driver to stay on track. Sometimes these ride buyers are good and blossom and sometimes they look promising but turn out to be expensive, like Stefano Coletti. Of course another problem is that it’s easier for foreign drivers to raise money than Yanks, so trying to cultivate an obvious talent like Conor Daly is damn near impossible. Had it not been for the Byrd family, CD would be driving the Honda two-seater this year and scrambling for an Indy 500 ride despite the fact he shined last season in his two relief appearances. Indy Lights’ champ Spencer Pigot earned enough money to get his foot in the IndyCar door but how long can he hang in there?
Florida native Matt Brabham has won in every discipline but is finally getting a IndyCar chance because Brett Murray found him a sponsor – from Australia. And you made a good point about Steve Horne bringing T.K. along like Gary Peterson has done with Sebastian Saavedra but it’s rare nowadays. The bottom line is that unless the prices come way down and incentives go way up, the lack of owners will eventually be IndyCar’s death knell.
Q: What’s the story with the Max Chilton (ABOVE) signing with Ganassi? Did he bring some significant sponsorship? Another American driver [(Karam) gets left out in the cold by an American team with American sponsors. I just don’t get it. Also, do you know why there is only one DeltaWing? I would have thought by now they’d run two cars, but I’m assuming they don’t have a huge budget. That car was on rails until the accident.
RM: Oh yeah, Chilton brought money, just not sure whose it is (family or business) and I seriously doubt if Chip knew who he was before the check cleared. I would say your assumption of the DeltaWing is accurate.
Q: I saw all kinds of hype on social media last week that the Indy 500 had a commercial in the first half of the Super Bowl. It would probably help if Hulman and Co. would have been willing to spend some money to advertise it nationally and build attention for the most important race in Speedway history. We didn’t see anything in Pennsylvania. How can the series and more so the 500 expect to survive when they’re putting as little effort into marketing nationally as possible? It does bother me as a fan that the exposure of the magnitude of this race doesn’t get too far out of the Indiana state line.
Alan Bandi, Butler, PA
RM: It was a regional spot that played in Indiana (Fort Wayne, Lafayette, Terre Haute) and Ohio (Dayton and Columbus) and it would seem like Chicago, St. Louis and Louisville would also be good targets. But I think everyone several hours away made plans and reservations a long time ago, and IMS feels like its best chance to get a sellout is from its Midwest base. Obviously it would have been nice to see that ad play nationally but at $5 million for 30 seconds, it was decided to go regional. Still, as cool as the spot was, how many people saw that and decided to go to the computer and buy tickets? Love to know.
Q: It seemed that Andretti Autosport was going to receive funding from HPD for their fourth car for the coming year if they were unable to secure the money for it. I know this funding was intended to keep Justin Wilson in a Honda and at a competitive team, however wouldn’t it seem that HPD would still want to support one of their top teams with financial backing to secure a fourth team-mate with car set-up skills and an ability to communicate with their championship-winning driver RH-R? I’m not sure who you could go and get at this point, but someone such as Oriol Servia, Rubens Barichello, or even Pastor Maldonado would seem like a good fit.
RM: We’re pretty certain Honda helped fund Justin’s return last season and I imagine some kind if support could have been provided to try and keep him in the seat for 2016 because Honda wanted another “Bad Ass” in its lineup. Servia would get my vote today, but not sure it’s an option anymore.
Q: Sad news about Sarah and Wink stepping away from IndyCar, at least in a full-time capacity. Was this a merger purely one of convenience between Sarah and Ed? It just did not seem like they were that close on or off the track. Is this a way for Sarah to get away from the merger, regroup, and come back in a few seasons? Even with the downturn of oil prices and Wink pulling his support, it all seems odd. Is there more to the story?
RM: I think it was a story of two small teams trying to stay in the game and raise their game by merging resources and people. Obviously, Josef had a great year in winning twice and leading the most laps, but Ed’s side struggled much of the season so not sure how much it helped. But it was a strained marriage, and as sad as it is that Sarah and Wink had to close their side, not sure it would have survived much longer anyway. I think Sarah and Andy O’Gara will miss being with Newgarden and the competition, but their new go-kart track in Speedway will keep them plenty busy. And, thanks to Wink Hartman, Sarah got to keep racing the past eight years and Josef got a chance to prove himself. But it’s tough to find sportsmen like that anymore willing to spend their own money.
Q: The reason IMSA/IndyCar weekends at Long Beach or Detroit are possible is because street courses only exist for one week and it makes for a great entertaining weekend having two of the premier series in North America in one place. Ironically, that’s also exactly why, I (and I assume Road America) would not want them both on the same weekend. I want to spend two separate weekends at RA enjoying my two favorite racing series. You couldn’t charge enough for one weekend’s worth of racing to make up for the revenue that would be lost compared to having two weekends worth of tickets to two major race series. I have my tickets and campsites already lined up for both. Love everything about RACER mag and RACER.com.
Mike in Milwaukee
RM: Thanks for reading and for supporting IndyCar, and road racing in general. My logic is that when you haven’t been to a venue in a while (eight years since Champ Car ran Road America) it might behoove the promoter to give the fans as much bang for their buck as possible. The last ALMS/Champ Car doubleheader at Elkhart Lake had as many fans on Saturday as it did Sunday so it worked and I think it would be a shot at getting a decent turnout at Watkins Glen or Laguna Seca. But I can also understand wanting separate weekends with all the support series. I’m just glad IndyCar is going back.
Q: Just wondering why Indy Lights aren’t racing at Long Beach this year? I didn’t find any reason for it online. Do you happen to know by any chance? A few friends of mine and myself are disappointed about this.
RM: The simple answer is that the promoter has IMSA on Saturday and didn’t feel like spending the money on Lights.
Q: You know I think IndyCar is run by a clown circus, but that said, can you answer a way too difficult question for me. Miles and company are adamant about not racing up against the NFL to the point of sacrificing their best oval venue and the potential of Houston, Austin, dry-season New Orleans or any other blast-furnace-heat summer venue. I assume they can read a calendar, so, why the hell did they have their Media Day right in the middle of the NFL’s gargantuan, all-media-devouring Super Bowl Week?
RM: To be honest the Super Bowl didn’t have any more effect on IndyCar’s Media Day than Peyton did with the Broncos’ victory. USA Today was the only national paper in Indianapolis and it’s not like Denver or Charlotte was going to send a reporter here before its teams were headed for Santa Clara. Nor was Boston, Miami, L.A., Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix or St. Louis planning to staff Media Day instead of sending a columnist to the Super Bowl. The only way to get IndyCar any national attention on its Media Day would be to charter a plane and take drivers to all the cities it races in or go pick up the writers like Kevin Kalkhoven did when he co-owned Champ Car and take them to spring training.
Q: Many Super Bowl fans booked rooms on the Monterey Peninsula and made the hour and 15-minute drive to Santa Clara for the game. They will now stay the rest of the week for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am golf tournament. That event is always the week after the Super Bowl. In the same vein, IndyCar should consider a Laguna Seca (ABOVE) race one week after the AT&T. Many golf fans will use the same reason to stay a full week. A few years ago, Rubens Barrichello played as an amateur and drove the track for the first time with Pebble Beach resident Danny Sullivan.
No doubt many from the IndyCar owners and drivers ranks would be welcome to play as well, next to the many celebrities and sports figures. Watch the tourney on CBS and Golf Channel this weekend and see the exposure that is possible. And finally, watching the Super Bowl in Santa Clara, with temps in the low 70s and no rain in sight, forever erase any doubt that this part of California is a viable winter race location. Yes, the El Nino rains are due back, but the risk is no more than any of the other locations IndyCar goes to that have regular rains all through the summer.
Paul, Carmel, CA
RM: The only thing I would worry about was asking too much of the paying customers to spend that much time in one of the most expensive areas in the country. For sure it would give IndyCar that earlier opening it desires and have six months between West Coast road course races and it would have no effect on Long Beach. Might be worth a try and I sent your suggestion to Mark Miles.
Q: I ask this in complete ignorance of racing engine rules and politics, and maybe Marshall is the one to ask, but here’s my question. Would it be feasible and politically possible for IndyCar and IMSA to create engine rules that would allow the use of an engine formula that could be used in both series? Could this possibly attract more manufactures to put their toes in the water in IndyCar? I might get laughed out of the room for even thinking this, but it’s something I’ve always wondered about.
John Fulton, Akron, Ohio
RM: First off all, there is no such thing as an ignorant question about engines because I am a mechanical moron. So, with that, we’ll let Marshall Pruett answer your very logical question:
“John: Forget being laughed out of the room. I’ll welcome you into the room to ask the same question just to hear IndyCar and IMSA officials come up with an answer. I’ve asked it before (it’s been a few years, though), and I think we should keep asking it until someone provides a genuine answer why it couldn’t happen.
“The only item of note here is size; the size of an IndyCar engine bay and that of an IMSA Prototype is like putting a Size 5 shoe on your left foot and a Size 13 on the right. If a common, small-displacement formula could be agreed upon that allows IndyCar’s Size 5 needs to be met with an IMSA engine, it would help both series. Mazda has a little gem in its 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder IMSA motor which I’d love to see in IndyCar, but other than that, all of IMSA’s current and incoming Prototype engines are far too large to fit the DW12. Weight is also a concern.
“Here’s the major takeaway: IMSA’s going to a new P2-based Prototype formula in 2017, IndyCar is eyeing a new chassis a year or two later…maybe both sides should be talking now about collaborating to help revive road racing in North America. Both series are growing, but at a painfully slow pace. If either wants to mash the gas pedal and increase its popularity, finding ways to get more manufacturers involved is the number one method. IndyCar (two manufacturers since 2013) and IMSA Prototype (three left after merging the ALMS and Grand-Am in 2014) aren’t thriving on their own in this department.”
Q: Why can’t IndyCar go to the Mt. Panorama circuit as a Saturday event, in conjunction with the 12 Hours? You have a breathtaking world class circuit, a captive audience, a draw of Dixon, Power, Briscoe, and maybe Matt Brabham; a mid-winter date that would preempt NASCAR and the Super Bowl, and excellent TV coverage. Have a follow-up event at Phillip Island and you would beat old Bernie to the punch. As Richard Rawlings would say, “it’s a win, win, win, win!”
Jim Scott, Wisconsin Rapids, WI
RM: Obviously you are speaking of the famous Bathurst track in Australia that draws big crowds in February (12-hour race) and October (Bathurst 1000, ABOVE). Not sure the promoter needs or wants another big event but it would be a question of finding the right sanction fee, date, etc. I think we’re all in agreement that IndyCar needs to go back Down Under, but it takes two to tango and I don’t know of any recent communications between either party.
Q: Yet another long-time listener of your amazing content, first saw you on Speed and I still love reading you and Marshall’s articles on RACER.com. Here’s a question that many ponder in their heads, will there ever be a time Indy cars and F1 can be made to complete against each other despite what they are designed for? With the DW12 closing in on F1’s downforce and the 2017 F1 model somewhat resembling the DW12, I wonder if it will ever happen, or it’s far too separate for competition. Anyways thank you and Marshall for all the years of posting great IndyCar content for everyone who are long time fans or migrants from CABCAR.
RM: It happened in 1957 and 1958 at Monza, Italy when USAC brought over some of its stars in roadsters to battle the F1 Maserati of Jean Behra and Ferrari of Mario Bornigia plus the D Jags that had just won Le Mans. The Race of Two Worlds, as it was billed, featured three heats for 500 miles but it was a dud because Behra and Bornigia withdrew with poor handling (their F1 cars couldn’t adapt to the taller Firestone tires) and the Jaguars were six seconds off the pace. Tony Bettenhausen captured the pole position at 177 mph in the Novi (Indy’s pole speed was 143 that year).
Jimmy Bryan won two of the three heats (Troy Ruttman the other) to take the overall victory and Jack Fairman posted the best finish of fourth in the third heat (three laps behind). In 1958, Maserati built special car for Stirling Moss while Jaguar also showed up with a one-off for Monza for Fairman and world champion Juan Fangio ran a Dean Van Lines Kuzma/Offy and Phil Hill was in a Ferrari. Jim Rathman won all three heats in his Watson/Offy while Moss finished fifth in the first two races – only one lap behind! Hill subbed for Mike Hawthorn in the third heat and finished third as only six cars were running at the end.
In 1971, at the Ontario Motor Speedway’s road course, they staged the Questor Grand Prix for F1 cars and Formula 5000 cars but, other than Mark Donohue who qualified seventh, it was a cakewalk for the F1 cars with Mario Andretti winning in a Ferrari, ahead of Jackie Stewart and Denis Hulme. I believe the only comparison I can make in recent history was when Champ Car ran Montreal and was 4-5 seconds off the F1 pace. So, to answer your question, could it be a good race? Probably depends on the circuit so you would imagine IndyCars have a better shot at Road America with a long straightaway. But I’d like IndyCar’s chances at Phoenix, Milwaukee or Indianapolis on the oval (smile).
Q: Did you happen to see Katherine Legge’s performance at the Daytona 24? She took off and left the field behind and never looked back. I think she did a double stint and was cruising until she had to turn the car over to her co-driver who promptly crashed it right away.
My point is that she has still got it! She always has always had a lousy ride or some bad luck. I hope someone will give her a quality ride. I’ve always thought she’s much better than Danica. Just never got the ride!
Doug Ferguson, West Palm beach Florida
RM: I did watch her and Katherine is an interesting study. She really didn’t have that much experience when she came to the States and won her Formula Atlantic debut at Long Beach. Then she got thrown into a Champ Car in 2006 and it was too much, too soon, although she showed her moxie but getting up to sixth at Road America before her big crash. Had she been given a proper development program and a few years to mature in open wheel, I think she would have been pretty damn good. And she is a much better road racer than Danica. Hope Grace Motorsports can mount a competitive effort for her this May at Indianapolis.
Q: Have you had any questions about Scott Sharp lately? Great Rolex win for him and his team. With his long history in IndyCars, any chance he may look at ownership in IndyCar in the future? Or is he more than likely going to stay in sports cars? He seems pretty capable of putting together winning teams and sponsorships.
RM: Not seen Scott in a couple years but he’s got a good thing going with Patron and sports cars so I doubt he’s in any hurry to run back to IndyCar unless it would be a one-off at Indianapolis.
Q: Curious about something from a marketing and sponsorship perspective. TE Connectivity sponsored Simona at Indy either last year or the year before, my mind is getting old. Now I see them sponsoring her in Formula E and putting out a commercial or two. So is Formula E just dirt cheap from a sponsorship perspective or what does a company like TE see to make them think they are getting better value there than what IndyCar can offer?
Forrester Morgan, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
RM: Maybe it’s as simple as TE likes the worldwide exposure Formula E gives them (although the crowds certainly look puny) with the automotive press. But I have no clue what a sponsorship goes for, so I’ll ask my Formula E expert Dario.
Q: How much did the Hunter-Reay Indy-winning car go for at the Gooding Company? Regardless nice job by Andretti Autosport on thinking outside the box.
Matt Converset, Decatur, IN
RM: It didn’t get a single bid was the story I heard.
Q: Well, I have my tickets and I will be taking my teen-age daughters to the 100th running. High up in Turn 3, just as you suggested. We are pumped! It will be our first 500, but we have been to several races at Long Beach, Fontana and Las Vegas. We will be going to Phoenix and hopefully taking people with us that don’t know IndyCar.
This may seem corny, but as a fan, I try to buy products that support IndyCar and I would urge your readers and fans to do the same. I have Firestones on my car (and they are damn good SUV tires, by the way), I have a Verizon phone, drink Snapple when I see it, shop at Target, not Walmart, and on and on. So, as rookies to the 500, I plan on going to a Steak and Shake (we don’t have them here) and certainly getting a tenderloin sandwich somewhere. So my question is this: what is the “have to do” place to grab a bite to eat and who should I concentrate on giving my money to while there? They don’t need to be car sponsors, but just thought I would ask a local where to go.
Gary Nelson, Flagstaff, AZ
RM: You are a good man Gary, educating the younger generation and supporting IndyCar. You need to take the girls to the Workingman’s Friend for a great cheeseburger, then the Checkered Flag Tavern for fish and the Mug ‘N Bun drive-in for a breaded tenderloin with onion rings. And be sure to go the IMS Museum and then take a lap around the track in the tour bus.
Q: I have been a long time reader of RACER and have watched the Indy 500 every year since I could say “race car.” I am taking a group of about seven to the 500 this year and we want to sit in the infield. My question is, is there any good seating between Turns 2 and 3 that allow beer but isn’t as crazy as the Snake Pit? Any tips? Thanks again and no engine, race steward or President of IndyCar will ever make me turn the TV off on race day!
Cory from Pittsburgh
RM: I would go to the spectator mound in Turn 2 because that’s a good spot and I think it’s fairly tame.
Q: A Roboracing series for driverless cars? It already exists. It’s called Radio Controlled (R/C) Racing!
Jerry Wilt, Houston
RM: I thought that was Sprint Cup at Daytona and Talladega.