<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: Your story about JoNew and Conor was on the $$$. Opportunities for the next generation of IndyCar drivers are between slim and none, with the small number of teams, cost of equipment, reduced test days, and fewer sponsors. I hope team owners who won’t consider rookies (or someone like Conor), remind themselves that Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes time, patience and luck for a driver and his team to gel, to improve and get better results.
RM: As long as the financial pyramid is upside-down, most owners can’t afford to be patient, but a quick look at the Indy Lights champions tells the story. In the past decade, J.R. Hildebrand and Josef were the only Lights’ champs to have scored full-time employment past one season until Ed Jones got an unexpected lifeline from Chip Ganassi. But Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves and Tristan Vautier got one and dones before scrambling for something part-time, and Spencer Pigot hung in there as a part-timer and now has a full-time gig with Ed Carpenter. Chaves’ good cameos in 2017 were rewarded with a full-time seat for Harding Racing for 2018, while Jack Harvey has worked hard to stay in open-wheel and may have six races in 2018. Kyle Kaiser will get to start his IndyCar career with Ricardo Juncos next year, but his future is all contingent on sponsorship.
Q: I just read your story titled the Dividing Line and I’m hundred percent with you about AJ Foyt getting rid of Conor Daly. I was already upset about the fact that he replaced a young good talented driver in Carlos Munoz with a driver that hasn’t won a race since 2014 – and tears up race cars left and right – in Tony Kanaan. But I had really come to love Conor Daly being an American and then getting hired by ‘the great American’. It could not have been better. He wasn’t competitive in the beginning because AJ Foyt Racing was having little problems left and right, and it was a new aero kit. But toward the end of the season they really got it together, and the next season was looking like more then likely a win or two was possible. It is a bunch of B.S., and Munoz and Daly really did get screwed by Super Tex.
Austin Blayney, Lakewood, CA
RM: The toughest truth in racing is being honest about strengths and weaknesses. Considering all the odds of a team split between Houston and Indy with new engineers, new engine and new personnel, nobody really expected much from Foyt’s team. And that’s why it was so disappointing to see Daly get axed, because he did a damn good job in the last six races and A.J. even seemed satisfied. And that American connection is what I wanted to see get a chance to blossom.
Q: After reading your piece on Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden and their respective and apparent divergent career paths, I started thinking about the odds of Josef Newgarden making it to F1. He’s already reached the top step of IndyCar (sans of course an Indy 500 victory) so what do you think his timeline in the series will be? Additionally, what do you think the chances of seeing Penske partner up with Haas to put him in an F1 ride? Would be nice to, you know, see an American in the only American team’s car.
RM: Josef is 26 years old and he’ll be 29 when his first Penske contract expires, so do you really think The Captain is going to let him go? And do you really think anyone in F1 even considers hiring a 29-year-old with zero F1 experience? Haas has made it clear he really doesn’t care about an American driver, and why would Newgarden want to go from the best ride in North America to a mid-pack F1 ride? I don’t want to see JoNew slog around in some s**tbox, I want to see him racing like he did in 2017.
Q: How does Roger Penske feel about Josef talking about his interest in F1? I imagine the plan for him at Penske is for the long-term, and not to be a stepping stone to F1.
Wally, Eden Prairie, MN
RM: Being interested in F1 is one thing, being realistic is another and I don’t think Roger is too worried about Josef wandering away.
Q: It’s been very interesting to witness the fallout from Danica Patrick losing her NASCAR ride. She seems resigned to the fact that not only is her stock car career over, but her career as a race car driver in general. There doesn’t seem to be any interest in returning to IndyCar or trying sports cars, Formula E, etc. Why do you think that is? Is she just burned out on racing? In my opinion, it solidifies what I always thought about her not really and truly being a racer. Besides the great showings at Indy, she never consistently ran up front in IndyCar or NASCAR despite always being in abov- average equipment and just seemed to lack the aggression and love for the sport that successful drivers have. She seemed to be missing the ability to get to the front and compete for race wins, not just respectable finishes. As someone who reported on her, do you think I’m off-base on that assumption?
RM: For anyone who watched her beat Tony Kanaan at Homestead for second place (wheel-to-wheel for 15 laps), or battle with Sam Hornish and Ryan Briscoe at Texas, or recall how well she always ran at Indy, it’s mystifying and insulting to hear someone say she wasn’t a racer. The hell she wasn’t. People got excited about her because this tiny little woman wasn’t afraid to mix it up with anyone on some of the fastest ovals in racing. When NASCAR came calling, IndyCar never lifted a finger to try and keep her, and I think most of us understood it was a money grab and nobody expected her to do much in stock cars.
Did her hype outlast her hunger? Sure, but she became a household name in IndyCars and got Indy back on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but nobody was smart enough to keep her in open-wheel. And I imagine she’s looking forward to not spending 36 weekends trying to explain why she’s only 25th in the point standings. But I’ll always respect what she did in Atlantics and IndyCars because she was tough mentally, had big ovaries (her words) and made people watch. And she was an open-wheel racer.
Q: Do you think there is any chance that Zach Veach may not be ready for a full-time ride at Andretti?
RM: All I know is that he’s working out hard and knows it’s going to be physically demanding for his frame, but I think he’s ready for the challenge.
Q: I so enjoyed your article in the new RACER magazine about Helio and his career at the Brickyard. I have enjoyed his prowess at the 500 and do hope he wins his fourth in 2018. I just don’t know how people can dismiss him because of his outgoing personality. I have never thought of Helio as superficial at all. Of course, I am a fan and not a racer. If I were, I would never underestimate his abilities or forget he is out there. I appreciated the insights you shared from Rick Mears and Gil de Ferran.
Deb Schaefer, L.A.
RM: Thanks, it was a fun story to write because The Captain, Rick, Gil and Tim Cindric all weighed in with some interesting angles. I guess maybe a lot of us who cover IndyCar or are close to it could be guilty of taking Helio’s persona and pull for granted, but I can assure you his presence will be sorely missed at the races in 2018.
Q: The PIR folks called to ask if I wanted to buy tickets for the 2018 race. They said if I bought before Nov 29, I could get the same package as this year (general admission for practice and qualifying, reserved seats on race day, parking and pit/paddock passes) but at a much better price, and would have the option of relocating. Sounds good to me. Plus, it gives me hope they will promote the heck out of it.
Chad R. Larson
RM: I’ve said all along that Bryan Sperber wants very much to make Phoenix a success again, and it’s a tough battle but he’s gung-ho about promoting Mario and his last IndyCar win in conjunction with next year’s race. He just needs the racing to be decent after two stinkers, and it’s good he’s being smart about tickets and access so here’s hoping the new aero kits deliver.
Q: Two IMSA/IndyCar-related questions, if you do not mind. Is there anything that Indycar can learn from IMSA regarding the influx of manufacturer investment in the DPi class? What sort of logistics make it hard for IndyCar and IMSA to race on the same weekend? Both have present commitments, but I would think that having both at the same track could lower costs. Personally I find a lot of value in being able to see both series on the same weekend.
RM: Over to Marshall Pruett:
“Hi Justin. It’s an interesting question because the DPi formula is identical to IndyCar’s aero kit era, where custom bodywork and bespoke engines fit within a spec chassis. In DPi, manufacturers have four spec P2 constructors to choose from and dress their chosen model with new bodywork and an endurance motor. If there’s anything IndyCar can take from DPi, it’s the low cost to develop a DPi model (some say it’s a few million; others say it’s high seven figures).
“IndyCar, for the sake of promoting small and efficient turbos that fit with what Chevy and Lotus were wanting when the 2010 ICONIC committee got together, has stuck to this unique formula. It’s a custom size for the Dallara DW12, which means it fits perfectly within the bodywork and doesn’t intrude into the underwing tunnels. If IndyCar wants to take something from DPi, it would have to wait until the DW12’s replacement comes in a few years, and would involve using motors that cover a wider range of size and weight. DPi makes use of everything from a 2.0-liter turbo Mazda 4 to a giant Cadillac 6.2-liter NA V8. There’s no way we go that large for the next IndyCar chassis, but if it can accommodate everything from a 2.0- to 3.5-liter, or something similar, and get away from the overly restrictive 2.2-liter V6 mandate we currently have, maybe the price to play for other manufacturers will be more acceptable.
“As for the IndyCar/IMSA crossovers, keep in mind both series are leaders in their form of racing. Having grand, standalone events is part of the program, which makes more doubleheaders a challenge. Would I love to see more of them? Absolutely. Would it help the sport? Without a doubt. It just takes a little word that is becoming a rarity these days: compromise.”
Q: I read someplace a while ago that Kyle Busch had a deal with ECR for the Indy 500 last year. Was this true, and could he run it this year if he wins another NASCAR title? Also, what are the odds of Larson running for Chip in May based on what you know?
Ben, Noblesville IN
RM: I never heard that rumor, but all I know is that I took Randy Bernard to Eldora in 2010 for Tony Stewart’s all-star dirt race so Randy could meet Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and the Busch brothers. He wanted to talk about running Indy and Kyle Busch told him that was a goal but Joe Gibbs wasn’t going to discuss it until he’d won a NASCAR title. Of course that doesn’t mean Gibbs is going to allow it, but I think Larson next May makes perfect sense – especially with Chip downsizing in 2018.
Q: I have been an IndyCar fan my entire life. I didn’t have any other choice; my grandfather and father were both maniacs for the sport. We would travel to the G.I Joes 200 every summer in Portland and I always came back with as much Andretti gear as my little arms could carry. I am very excited to see Portland back on the ticket; between that track and the new aero kits on the cars I cannot wait for the next season to start. I have been an Andretti fan as long as I can remember and through worshiping Mario as a kid I always loved the Dean Van Lines race team, which lead me to a book called Indy 500 Mechanic. The life of Clint Brawner was nothing short of amazing, he has to be one of the best mechanical minds that ever graced a racetrack. Did you ever meet him before his passing in ’87 or have any stories about him? I can only find that one book and would love to learn other things about him.
RM: Yes, thankfully I got to know Brawner [above, with Eddie Sachs in 1962] pretty well, and one night I interviewed him for three hours at his house on Georgetown Road. It was so entertaining and informative – and of course I lost that tape before I could transcribe it. He put Mario and Jim McGee on the map and was hell on wheels with A.J. Foyt, Jimmy Bryan, Eddie Sachs, Chuck Hulse and Bob Sweikert. He could fix anything and had an eye for talent, and was one of IndyCar’s great characters with his hat, bandana and sense of history and humor.
Q: I read with interest both of your replies to letters regarding your history working in the pits at Indy and the fallout with Economaki. How did you make your transition from working as an Indy crew member, to racing USAC midgets and then becoming a newspaper columnist? I assume you must have squeezed time to go to school, find work to pay bills etc.? Was journalism something you had a hankering for anyway, or did you just fall in to it? Excuse my ignorance, I am a big fan, but my knowledge of you is only after the open-wheel split. It was at that time where I started reading more to be better informed, and I found you on the old ESPN website. I would think that aside from writing a book, which I hope you do, that there is enough stuff from your past that could be molded into a great novel. Maybe even made into a screenplay that would kick Days of Thunder in the butt!
RM: My career can be filed under one word: LUCK. I had flunked out of Ball State after two quarters and I was answering the score phones at the Indy Star when a couple sportswriters got drunk one night and didn’t come back from dinner. I got called into action to take a few games over the phone and they invited me back the next night. From there, I started bugging them to let me write Indy 500 features and they finally relented. I also began stooging for Bill Finley’s IndyCar team and was hanging out during the day with Gary B., Vuky and Parsons and then moved in with Larry Rice. I bought Merle Bettenhausen’s old midget from Gary in 1975 and began running USAC while writing a weekly column on USAC racing, and I would work seven days a week in the winter so I could have flexibility to go racing in the summer.
I began working for ESPN’s RPM @Nite in 1999, got fired in 2001 at the Star after 33 years and became full-time with ESPN. When ESPN dropped racing, I got hired at SPEED to work on WIND TUNNEL and SPEED REPORT plus the website. When FOX unwisely opted to shut down SPEED a few years ago, I went to work for RACER.com and NBCSN was kind enough to hire me in 2011. I’ve got five college credit hours, a face for radio and enough smarts to know that nobody can be as lucky as I’ve been.
Q: A long time (probably 50 years or so) ago I used to subscribe to a certain Indianapolis newspaper for the Month of May and have it delivered the 200 or so miles away to my house in Aurora, Illinois. That’s where I became a fan of your writing. You penned a column that I think was most helpful to both fans that have been to the Speedway and people that just try to visualize the size of the place. You wrote about the volume of paint that it took just to paint the retaining walls. I can’t believe that I still remember this after all of these years. Because your Mailbox is looking for subjects, would it be possible for you to reprint that if you have it? Or, just give us the Readers Digest version. It would sure bring back some memories for this fan and might enlighten some others. Don’t ever retire!
RM: Those were the days, Dale, when The Star would sell 17,000 subscriptions for May and you folks would get them in a bundle a few days after they were published and we ran extra Indy 500 photos in the early edition because that’s the one that got sent out. I don’t have any old Mailbags, and I don’t think I’m allowed to re-print any columns because I assume they’re property of The Indianapolis Star and/or Gannett. But I’ll try and find some old stories this winter to bring back some memories. Retire from what? The best job in motorsports? No plans to.
Q: I just turned on the 1987 Miami race on the IndyCar website. I can’t believe they are towing racecars around the track while the track is still green. When did they start going full-course yellows when tow vehicles are anywhere near the track? Was there ever a big incident? It looks very dangerous.
CAM in LA
RM: Brother, I just watched the replay of that race and I don’t know what you are referring to because other than a couple of guys in the tires early and a late spinout in the monsoon, I never saw any yellows.
Q: Please forgive me if this has already been asked and answered, but who will be handling the broadcast booth duties now that ABC (Always Broadcasting Crap) & ESPN have the F1 TV rights in the USA? Is there any chance the current NBCSN crew will get the call? And should I get ready to turn up the volume because Bob Varsha will be back?
Tom Patrick, Lake Arrowhead, CA
RM: From what I’ve been told the international feed will be used so maybe Martin Brundle in the booth, but it won’t be NBCSN folks.