<em style="background: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0) url('Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: 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: Really upset about Conor Daly losing his ride. I’ve always felt like he was a good solid racer who has struggled his whole life to get funding, either domestic or international. I get the sense he is one of the more popular young American drivers based on how much of his gear I’ve seen out there. Has Conor had a fair shake, and will you be helping as his agent this off-season?
Andrew Bane, Grantville, PA
RM: Your letter is in the majority of all the mail I’ve received this week (and this is just a little slice of it), because Conor is exactly the kind of kid IndyCar needs to hold on to – at all costs. Friendly, popular, American and a good racer. Check out his stats against Josef Newgarden’s when they were growing up together, and you’ll see they were almost identical in terms of who beat whom. It’s all about opportunity. From how much as A.J. liked Daly’s feedback from their very first test to the progress he made last year with a brand-new team I can’t believe that he gave up on him, but that’s the cruel reality of big-time motorsports. And I’ve kinda been his unofficial agent behind the scenes, but more as a tub-thumper. The answer: no he didn’t get a fair shake.
Q: Originally, I was going to ask you about the open seat at Ganassi, but it looks like the mystery has been cleared up! I’m excited to see how well Ed Jones does there. I’m curious as to what is going to happen with the second seat at Dale Coyne? It hasn’t been talked about too much with everything else going on, but have you heard any rumors regarding who will be racing alongside Bourdais? Are we 100 percent certain Coyne will be entering two cars next season? Daly, Kimball, and potentially Jack Harvey come to mind, but I’m probably missing a few names in there.
RM: RACER reported last week that Jack Harvey has a six-race deal with Mike Shank, and we’ve said all along with Max Chilton is going to start a team with Trevor Carlin, and Conor would seem the likely successor to go back to Coyne (where he was in 2016) because he had good rapport with engineer Michael Cannon. But Jones brought money this year and CD will have to do the same.
Q: Foyt’s decision to let Conor Daly go seems a monetarily-based decision, which is business as usual these days. I think Conor would have been better served with more time at Foyt, and the timing is really bad with regard to his efforts to find a ride for next year. I’m a Foyt fan, but the timing shows a lack of class on their part. It really stinks on several levels.
John Fulton, Akron, Ohio
RM: I told A.J. it took him four years to win his first Champ Car race and he’s the greatest of all time, so how is Daly supposed to mature in two years with two different teams and be competitive? He did a good job in the second half of the year and even Foyt admitted it, but I hear this is all about Brazilian television money and that sucks because ABC loves Daly.
Q: I was really disappointed with most of the driver signings that took place in the last seven days. The one I loved was Robert Wickens at SPM. He will be a good addition. However I was not happy with Ed Jones going to Ganassi and Brendon Hartley not going there. I think Jones will do well at Ganassi (although he really didn’t have a very good second half of his season) but it deprives us of getting to see Hartley in IndyCar, and it weakens Coyne, also. It will be interesting to see who Coyne picks – I’m hoping for Daly or Brabham.
Then we hear that it looks like Foyt has gotten rid of Daly and will replace him with Leist. He’s better than Daly? I doubt that. I thought Foyt didn’t need the money? So why are they now taking the money? And to be fair, unless Tony Kaanan greatly picks it up, he is on the downslide too. To top off the week, I now read that Josef Newgarden wants to race F1 for a few years. In my opinion, not a good week for IndyCar and the strength of the field.
Now my question: What happened with Hartley? Did Ganassi not want to wait to see what would happen with F1? Was he offered a F1 contract for next year from Toro Rosso? Is Ganassi still interested and willing to add another car for him if available? Will he be hung out to dry if he isn’t offered a F1 contract?
Paul Fitzgerald, Indianapolis
RM: Wickens was a badass in open wheel before heading to Europe and he’ll do just fine with Hinch. And I love having two Canadian drivers because there’s as many IndyCar fans north of the border as anyplace. Jones did a helluva job for Coyne and got rewarded, and I think we’re all savvy enough to know that Chip sold Hartley’s contract to Toro Rosso for a nice little profit. A.J. didn’t need the money but evidently it’s too good to pass up, although I haven’t talked to him about it. Leist will have a big learning curve and not be very helpful to T.K. and he’s trying to pull this team out of the bottom of the barrel. Hartley won’t be hung out to dry, read between the lines.
Q: Ed Jones to Ganassi. Do you know if Daly was even on the list? It seems like Chip has zero interest in American drivers. While Ed definitely showed he has talent is he that much better than Daly?
Jim Doyle, Hoboken, NJ
RM: On Chip’s list? Are you serious? No, Ganassi said after Zanardi, Montoya, Bruno and Dixon that American drivers couldn’t cut it like foreigners and, other than Tony Stewart doing a one-off at Indy, he’s pretty much stuck to that no red, white and blue theory. It’s crap, but that’s what he thinks. Funny, last I looked Jimmy Vasser won his first CART title in 1996.
Q: Dale Coyne seems a bit upset about losing Ed Jones. My word means a lot in my job, but if I was Ed I don’t see how I could possibly say no – and I don’t even like Ganassi. On a related note, does that mean Hartley is likely in at Toro Rosso for 2018? And finally on Daly, was this performance-related or just business? Munoz is no slouch on an oval and it isn’t like he embarrassed Daly, so I really chalk all of that up to the setup/team. They might as well have been a brand-new team in their first year on the grid with the learning curve they had compared to the other Chevy and Honda teams. If it was a performance-related decision that’s a real shame. Like Marshall pointed out, his results started to show at the end of the year, which is a clear indication of progress and potential.
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: I think Dale is more upset about losing Ed’s money, which helped with R&D and wind tunnel and shaker rig testing. DC did seem serious about keeping Jones, but nobody is going to turn Ganassi down to stay with Coyne. Foyt’s team needs help in every area and you can’t expect to be competitive with their pit stops. It was a brand-new team, but CD clearly got the better Munoz in the second half of the season – Munoz desperately missed RHR’s setup sheets. And it won’t be easy sledding for T.K. unless they get some help.
Q: With Team Canada at SPM and Team Brazil (allegedly) at Foyt, what would it take to get Roger to trade Pagenaud and Power for Rossi and Rahal to form Team USA with JoNew? I’m willing to shell out for the obligatory Captain America costume for Roger to wear at all the races to make this happen.
RM: Interesting question when you consider ages, and I do believe Tim Cindric and Graham talked about the fourth car if it stayed on track for 2018, but I think The Captain is quite happy with his current line-up.
Q: This may seem rather “out there” but since Leist seems to have Brazilian money behind him, do you think TK’s presence at Foyt had any influence on Leist’s sponsor approaching Foyt? Having an all-Brazilian team would be appealing to a Brazilian sponsor, but is a departure from A.J.’s anglophile attitude. Another example of money prostituting a team?
RM: If what we hear is accurate about Brazilian TV money, it was Kanaan that had to pique their interest – not Leist – because T.K. is as popular there as he is here, and he’s clearly the most popular driver now with Helio gone for all but May. And the extra money would supposedly go to engineering and development – two things A.J. needs.
Q: I was quite excited to see Robert Wickens and Brandon Hartley in line for IndyCar seats (although looks like Hartley is headed for F1). In the press release for Wickens it mentioned how he would have to adapt to ovals. That’s always mentioned whenever someone with a road racing background enters IndyCar. And yet you hear that drivers coming up from oval series racing don’t get full time IndyCar seats because they can’t race on road courses. Why is that? Why don’t we hear of oval drivers adapting to road courses?
Is road racing harder? I don’t believe that. When I first started folllowing racing in the mid-’60s you had oval racers who were pretty damn quick on road courses. A.J., Parnelli, and Roger Ward come to mind. They were just as quick as the European road specialists. A.J. won Le Mans, Parnelli won some Can-Am races and was offered a factory ride with Lotus. I see quite a few NASCAR drivers compete in 24 Hours at Daytona. Why aren’t there drivers coming up in ovals adapting to road courses?
RM: Good question. I remember asking Nigel Mansell halfway through his rookie season why it seemed like it was easier for him to adapt to ovals than it would be for Michael Andretti in F1. He said because he had the best team, cars and setup, got comfortable straight away with ovals (he was plenty brave) and was allowed to test, while Andretti had limited testing in a car that Senna said wasn’t very good to start with. A.J., Gurney, Parnelli, Mario, Ruby and the Unsers were quick and successful on road courses too, and real racers can drive anything. But they also drove anything and everything 100 times a year back then, and now IndyCar drivers are basically specialists that only run 17 races and maybe a sports car race or two, so they’re not nearly as sharp and versatile as that old guard. And today’s contracts limit a driver from much jumping around from series to series.
Q: This might be more of a question for Marshall, but now that we have seen the bodywork going back to where it should be, is there any chance of getting rid of paddle shifters and going back to manual stick shifting? Is this just a question of not going back to old technology? Or are there some other limitations? It sure would be nice to give even more of the car control back to the driver.
Mark Suska, Lexingtion, OH
RM: Over to Marshall: Hi Mark. I love the idea, but it would be going backwards, considering how many new road cars offer some form of paddle or auto/manual shifting through the lever. As a sidebar, I’ve heard zero from IndyCar on reverting to manual shifting, and considering how many blown engines we experienced in 2017, mostly from Honda, adding missed shifts and overrevs to the equation would receive plenty of resistance from both engine suppliers.
Q: My buddies and I are struggling with the long off-season, but we are pretty excited about the new look of the car. From what I understand this is not a new chassis, just a new aero kit, is that correct? I watched the short video of the Texas test and the car looks sharp; glad those rear pods are gone. IndyCar finally seams to be running as a cohesive unit and seem to be on the upswing. The aero kit design reflects what fans prefer.
RM: You are correct it’s a new aero kit on the old chassis, but it looks good and seems to be performing quite well also, which is what IndyCar desperately needs for short ovals and some street and road circuits.
Q: Robin, looking for some advice. My 10-year-old son and I have gone to Watkins Glen for the past two seasons and Toronto for the two before that, as well as the Indy 500 in 2015. (Epic to see my guy JPM win). In my youth I went to many races at MIS, Cleveland, Toronto and Vancouver. Now that the Glen is gone (really sad about that), we are looking for a new trip. Criteria: Within a six-to-eight hour drive of Niagara, Ontario, and generally in the summer months. I think we are down to either Pocono or Mid-Ohio, and maybe Detroit. I’m ruling out Toronto because it’s mayhem, and because frankly you can’t see anything. That’s what we loved about the Glen – walking around, great sightlines, lots of space, running into drivers (10 this past race, plus Arie) etc. There’s an outside chance Phoenix could be in the mix as well. What’s your recommendation?
Paul, Fonthill, ON, Canada
RM: Go to Road America’s website, buy a couple of weekend tickets and prepare yourself for one of the greatest road courses and experiences you and your son will see. Rent a golf cart and drive around the four-mile circuit, and the cornering speeds will take his breath away. It’s non-stop action from Friday through Sunday, and it’s one of my favorite tracks of all time.
Q: We are getting our plans figured out for the races we want to go to next year. Of course, being from Iowa we will be attending Newton for the 10th year! Other than that, we are kinda kicking around Mid-Ohio and Pocono. For both of those, what would be some of the pros and cons? Where would you suggest staying if we went to those races?
RM: Mid-Ohio is a three-day weekend with lots racing from Mazda Road to Indy to Pirelli World Challenge to IndyCars, you can walk just about everywhere and the sightlines are great. Pocono is a 500-miler that’s produced some decent racing considering there are only 21-22 cars but other than vintage cars it’s pretty much a one-day show. Stay in Mansfield for Mid-Ohio and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for Pocono unless you can find a nice bed and breakfast closer to the track – or the casino!
Q: Don’t you think that it might behoove Eddie Gossage to work with COTA on a spring/fall Texas package to race at both circuits instead of his all-or-nothing approach for a slowly diminishing race at his track? Seems like both tracks would benefit from a joint promotion package. Besides, I have never bought that “proximity” argument, if the races were spaced apart. That said, lets go back to Michigan, too.
RM: Don’t believe that’s how Eduardo looks at it, but if his race stayed in early June and COTA didn’t run until the fall, it wouldn’t affect either one. But not sure COTA even wants an IndyCar race. Repeat after me for the 1,457th time: Michigan is not an option.
Q: I just wanted to comment on the Portland/Watkins Glen deal. First off, I am glad to see Portland returning, it’s a much-needed region on the schedule. However, Watkins Glen is also in a much-needed area on the schedule as well. What about this scenario: replace the season finale at Sonoma with Watkins Glen? Perhaps Sonoma could be moved to the spring and run as a three-race west coast arch with Phoenix and Long Beach? Sponsors like the annual trip to wine country, so they can still make their wine country getaway, except it just comes early in the season. Maybe under that scenario the championship decider can take place on a much faster course with a few more passing opportunities than what Sonoma currently offers.
RM: As Mark Miles said a few weeks ago on RACER.com, the ideal place to end the season is on an oval that’s going to draw a good crowd, and Gateway is the ONLY option to my mind. The Glen isn’t going to try IndyCar until it gets a date that could work (like August with the sports cars) but that’s not happening, so it’s a shame. But it takes two to tango, and IndyCar and The Glen weren’t able to make things work in two years on Labor Day or back when it ran July 4th. It’s all about timing and having a chance, and being too close to the NASCAR race at The Glen killed IndyCar.
Q: Let’s say we put every USAC/CART/IndyCar champion, living or not, since 1955 in a race. The drivers are all in the form that they won their championships in. We’ll put them all in identical cars, something like a Formula Vee or a Formula Ford that has changed little over the years. The track is Watkins Glen or Mid-Ohio, again somewhere that has not changed much. Who would be on your podium? For me I’d think Mario, Super Tex, and Dixon.
Jake, New York
RM: Obviously Mario [pictured in 1966] and probably Parnelli and Gurney, with Dixon in the mix along with A.J. and Al Unser.
Q: Just like many other fans who follow you, I am saddened to see Watkins Glen removed from the current schedule, being that I attend both their IndyCar and IMSA events (rain or shine). But I am also very excited about the overdue return of Portland International Raceway. The Pacific Northwest presence and an outstanding track makes for a great new addition. One of the major factors that I think contributed to the poor turnout at WGI, but was not really highlighted much, was that we had two IndyCar races just a three-hour drive and 14 days apart from one another (Pocono and Watkins Glen). And although both are exciting race disciplines for the everyday IndyCar fan, the fact that 14 days apart you had a choice of either Pocono or WGI, the extreme GA price difference for tickets ($25 vs $75-$85), and that schools were starting back up at that time, made for a ‘pick one’ decision for the attending families.
I believe that running these two IndyCar events so close together on the calendar in the same region was more of a factor for WGI than the close proximity to the NASCAR events. Especially after the surprising, and promising turnout we had at Pocono this year, keeping in mind that Pocono hosted on the opening weekend of the Little League World Series, which draws a lot from the region as well. It seems though that WGI is still slightly on board for future consideration; however I have not heard when they feel they would like to host an IndyCar event that would provide the best opportunity and turnout. What have you heard personally as to the date range that that they’d prefer?
Jamie Doellinger, Wrightsville, PA
RM: I think your example played a part in the poor turnout, plus the weather, but the bottom line is that The Glen is now a NASCAR stronghold. Its crowd was monstrous this year, and IndyCar would need the perfect date to draw a third as many people. We’ve heard The Glen and IndyCar both favored running with the sports cars as part of a doubleheader, but IMSA politely declined.
Q: You have, on several previous occasions, supported increasing purse payouts to IndyCar teams. While I also support this, I think the money would make a bigger impact on the MRTI series because I believe having three loaded fields to supplement the main series would give more value to spectators in attendance, especially at ovals. I would bet that the Lights race at Gateway made just as strong an argument to the audience for them to come back as the IndyCar race did. Do you think the MRTI fields would see a decent increase with even a relatively small payout increase and if they did, would it also positively affect the main series?
Victor, New Haven, CT
RM: All purses need help because they’re woefully unrealistic, and make it so hard to field a car at any level because you have zero chance of breaking even unless you find millions for May or win the race (and by the time you pay all your bills, it ain’t much). That’s probably why there are so many foreign kids coming over here to race; because it’s affordable compared to what they’re charged in Europe or England or South America.
Q: I’m sure you’ve noticed the perfect confluence of event weekends the same as I have, but in case you haven’t, Fernando Alonso is in Florida for the Roar Before the 24 on January 5-7 and he’ll be contesting the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona on the 27th and 28th. That leaves a couple weeks of vacation time in there for one perfect event…the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, OK! If he’s really as serious about learning more disciplines of racing as he says he is, what could be better than hopping in a Clauson-Marshall Racing Midget for the week of the 13th! If anyone can get Zak Brown and Tim Clauson together, it’s you! Please make your please!
Dave in Reading, PA
RM: I think Alonso would be up for it, but I tried to put a deal together for JoNew to team with Bryan Clauson at the Chili Bowl a couple years ago (testing included) for $10,000 and IndyCar said it wasn’t their demographic. Really? More than 15,000 open-wheel zealots standing and cheering with their racing T-shirts on, and not 1 in 20 of them watch IndyCar or have a clue that’s Scott Dixon in the pits walking around and never being recognized. I’ll pitch Tim on the idea.
Q: I am old, and admit I do not get it. I can understand McLaren’s statement on not running Alonso this coming year. The engine change from Honda to Renault means Alonso’s got to get on top of it. I look for him to do that fairly quickly. The guy’s a real talent. The part I do not get is Brown and his boys along with Andretti put in a lot of time money and so on. It showed during the 2017 race. Now Brown says they want to come back in maybe 2019 or 2020 and be a force in IndyCar racing. Yet they signed Alonso to five years in F1. It does not add up. My question is this, why would they walk away from a successful year, leaving all they learned to sit for a year or so?
Bob “The Old Man” Lauman, Lawrenceville, GA
RM: First of foremost, Alonso is an F1 champion who hasn’t had a competitive car in years, and now it looks like McLaren had made some strides. Fernando enjoyed his Indy experience but he doesn’t want to leave his F1 legacy with a 10-year losing streak, and he’s got unfinished business in F1 before he returns here – at least that’s how I see it. And McLaren’s IndyCar effort doesn’t have to include Alonso.
Q: ESPN has NO motorsports now and is losing viewers, and so is NASCAR. And ESPN fired a lot of people in 2017 (more today) and ESPN anchors are loose cannons. F1 is happy to go to ESPN. Can you say stupid?
RM: All I’ve heard is that ESPN was given F1 to spite NBC. No production costs, no fees and no local talent – just the international feeds’ announcers. But that’s just a rumor.