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: About an hour before the start of last weekend’s NASCAR finale, I was in the paddock area near the media center when Josef Newgarden, the newly crowed 2017 IndyCar Champion, walks through the crowd wearing a crisp white polo shirt with the Penske name emblazoned on the upper left and accompanied by two other gentlemen also clothed in Penske attire. And not a single person noticed the newly minted IndyCar champion in their midst. As JoNew proceeded toward the garage area I, being the IndyCar apologist which I am, felt compelled to shout out “Hey, Josef, congratulations on the title, great work and good luck in 2018,” to which Josef smiled and thanked me for my support.
Almost immediately, my fellow NASCAR fans asked, much to my chagrin, “Who was that dude, does he work for the Penske organization?” I explained that yes, JoNew works for The Captain piloting an Indy car and that he just took the series’ crown just a few weeks ago in Sonoma, to which some in the crowd replied: “Never heard of him, is he from the US?”
Robin, I simply shrugged off the lack of knowledge by the NASCAR crowd and continued to enjoy my afternoon but it begs the question: Why has IndyCar failed to promote Josef, its Great American Hope, following his taking the title just a few months ago? I guess the NASCAR crowd would be equally hard pressed to identify the likes of Vettel wandering through the facility, but IndyCar is an American series, not some foreign series contested far away, which leads us to the following: IndyCar has taken no effort to promote Josef Newgarden because (A) The series has no resources to dedicate to this type of activity; (B) The series only cares about promoting its crown jewel, the Indy 500, and advancing the overall series remains superfluous; or (C) The series has a secret plan of action to promote its well-spoken, good-looking, American champion but has yet to reveal the same to the world. What say you?
Neil Rubin, Miami, Fla.
RM: Of course it’s sad to hear your story but not surprising since most IndyCar champions tend to be nameless faces. Not sure there is one answer to your question but clearly IndyCar doesn’t spend the money necessary to give the drivers a national platform. The best advert for JoNew was the Shell commercial with Vettel, Logano and himself and it’s exactly the kind of big-time promotion that needs to be used in the off-season. I know IndyCar PR plans on taking Newgarden to the Detroit Auto Show and other winter stops and marketing may have other plans but it’s the same audience every winter. That’s why spending money on national TV spots is paramount but likely won’t ever happen.
Here’s IndyCar’s response:
We’re excited that INDYCAR fans are passionate about Josef as the series champion. We see his success as an incredible opportunity to hail a new generation of future legends and speak to that ever-sought-after millennial audience. As you know, immediately following the race we organized a four-day media whirlwind that included stops in San Francisco, NYC, Nashville and Indy and hits on Sportscenter, CNN, Sports Illustrated, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio, NASCAR America and many others. It is important to us to keep that momentum going into the offseason, and Josef has been the epitome of a gracious champion in accommodating our many requests. We arranged for him to be featured in the NBCSN broadcast of the Austin F1 race, where he did the grid run with Will Buxton, and this week was featured in a Bloomberg Businessweek’s Pursuits feature.
We have many fresh opportunities leading up to the start of our 2018 season including appearances at the Detroit Auto Show and other activities. While we can’t publicly reveal the many details yet, there is a video/social media-based project in the works targeted toward young adults that will heavily feature our reigning champion.
Q: I have to say I really don’t care if Danica “closes” out her career at the Indy 500. It may bring some additional publicity but nothing near what Alonso brought this year. You say that nobody in IndyCar did anything to keep her which is true, but as an IndyCar fan, I’ve long since moved on from “Danica-mania.” I knew she would never have any real success in NASCAR but I guess she now has a multi-million dollar nest to retire on. I just have the feeling of “Who cares?” And wondered if I was in the majority?
RM: There is little doubt she’s become yesterday’s news in NASCAR but the Indy swan song should generate a decent buzz because it was her best track and people will want to see if she can still be competitive. I think we were all a little surprised she wanted to get back in an Indy car but it’s her best chance to go out as a racer and it shows me she’s still got (in her own words) big ovaries.
Q: Danica’s return to Indianapolis will light the place (and the series) up even more than did Fred.
Chuck Lynch, Greenville SC
RM: It will be a bigger deal here, but not internationally. Alonso garnered worldwide attention while Danica will get a nice ride from the American media.
Q: What do you think about Indy becoming a showcase event that takes on a life beyond the IndyCar series? Alonso then Danica…I think it’s great. Let’s keep that going. The health of the Indy 500 is the health of the series, so anything that can be done to boost the 500 is a great thing.
Clint, Chicago, IL
RM: Indy has always been the showcase and focus – so much so that the rest of the schedule is invisible. Obviously, having the biggest, single-day sporting event help keeps IndyCar afloat and sponsors engaged, but let me give you an example. Charlie Kimball brought some friends to Indy a couple years ago and after the race they asked him what he did the rest of the year. That’s the problem with IndyCar – it’s a well-kept secret other than May.
Q: Given the big story going around that Danica wishes to retire from racing with the 2018 Indy 500, how that makes me excited to have already reserved my ticket for the race. I have some suggestions that, even though they’ll probably never happen, would definitely improve attendance and ratings. 1. Bring back Paul Page for TV commentating and get rid of Cheever and Goodyear. 2. Have ABC Sports show us the starting field in the manner that they used to do back in the early ’90s with the music called “Europe” by Tom Blades. In that case, Paul would briefly share some insight on each individual starting driver from last to first.
Aaron, Media, PA
RM: No idea what ABC has planned for 2018 but don’t get your hopes up about sweeping changes or bringing back Paul Page. Of course if this is ABC’s final Indy 500, then maybe it would get a little nostalgic and give us one more volley from Uncle Bobby/Sam/Paul.
Q: Andretti says they are full for the Indy 500. They have their normal four and Stefan Wilson. Last year they ran six. Will they stay with five this year? If not who would be their sixth?
RM: No clue, but if Carlos Munoz finds some money I imagine he could persuade Michael to add another car to go with RHR, Rossi, Marco, Veach and Wilson.
Q: Tony Kanaan obviously still has the fire to compete and I’m hoping he can bring Foyt & ABC Supply at least one win next season. How do you think it’ll affect him to have a rookie teammate in the form of Matheus Leist? Is Kanaan going to spend a lot of time getting Leist up to speed or do you think he’ll be concentrating on just getting good results?
Dave von Falkenstein, Janesville, WI
RM: TK has brought along longtime engineer Eric Cowden so that will greatly enhance his cause, but he won’t get much help from a rookie that’s trying to find his footing. I’m sure he’ll offer his wisdom to Leist but getting A.J. some results is his priority.
Q: Watching Homestead last weekend, including all the tributes to Junior, reminded me of how unusual it is for a third generation driver to hold up the family name. Dale Jr. hasn’t come close to his father’s (admittedly incredible) record but has been able to win some of the time. Plus, he seems so humble and grateful that you can’t help but love him. Kyle Petty ditto. Graham Rahal is certainly a threat. Are there any other third generation IndyCar drivers who were legit? Marco seems like the poster child for the arrogant, entitled third gen driver who just doesn’t have the hunger. Please Marco: hand your car to Conor and all will be forgiven.
Lee Robie, Cincinnati, OH
RM: The Unsers have to be right there with the Pettys with Louie leading things off, then passing the torch to Jerry, Bobby and Al before Little Al took over and kept on winning. Billy Vukovich III was a good little racer before losing his life while Dane and Cole Carter showed flashes of their famous father and grandfather. But Little E won 26 times (plus the Busch title) and certainly did his family name proud on and off the track. Marco is a mystery but I still think he’s got talent.
Q: Does Chip Ganassi really not believe that American drivers are up to the task? If so, did Chip Ganassi the driver believe he had the talent to excel in a top ride? He would’ve said yes. So does that mean Chip Ganassi the owner wouldn’t give Chip Ganassi the driver a chance? Chip doesn’t strike me as a guy who likes to be wrong. And by definition, one of those Chip Ganassis is wrong!
Mike, San Francisco
RM: I think his hiring speaks volumes. Besides Bryan Herta, Jimmy Vasser and Memo Gidley (14 races), no other Americans graced one of the Target cars from 1995-2016. Sure, Graham Rahal, Sage Karam and Charlie Kimball all had Ganassi rides but had to bring sponsorship, and Chip has made it clear he doesn’t rate Yanks in open wheel. Would he have hired himself? Depends on how much money he brought.
Q: I’ve read your stuff (or listened) regarding IndyCar and IMSA at Watkins Glen. Why would the latter refuse to share the date? They would only have the benefit of more eyes on the event and by way of more viewers going for the weekend, increased gate. If the complaint this year was the price of the ticket without supporting events (and the date) then wouldn’t it work to have IndyCar hold a race on the Saturday and IMSA on Sunday? It’s not like people who would go to the IMSA race anyway are going to skip the Sunday because they saw driving the day prior. What was IMSA’s issue, or maybe that idea was proffered by IMSA and it was actually IndyCar that declined?
Cody from Hillsboro, OR
RM: All I can know is that IMSA is owned by the Frances and I imagine the thought of helping out IndyCar doesn’t go down well. I think the sports car guys enjoy running in front of crowds at Long Beach and Detroit with IndyCar and it’s not like IMSA draws a lot of people at The Glen. But I know IndyCar and The Glen both liked the idea of a doubleheader because it was a date and a promotion that made sense.
Q: I’m not sure if its even possible to gauge at this point all of the racing line differences that may come with the new aerodynamic elements of the Indy car in the 2018 season. But, is there any indication whether or not the cars will be able to break the draft/pull away a bit more naturally than has been the case with the aero kits? With the previous aerodynamics on the DW12, I never really liked how the cars came off of Turn 4 at Indy – almost immediately ducking down low toward the pit wall to cover the inside groove and force an outside pass. Not only was it odd to look at, I was just waiting for someone to T-bone the pit wall trying to make a last gasp attempt at an inside pass.
I’m hoping the reduction in downforce will allow the cars to maintain their line closer to the outside/middle of the track (like pre-2012) and use pure acceleration as their attempt to maintain position. Hopefully this will make the racing a bit less artificial as well. While I’d prefer not watching a race where the lead driver is able to open up a 20+ second lead, the snake-like parade with cars not being able to gap even a single second on the trailing car is a bit much.
Daine C., Noblesville
RM: Let’s let Marshall answer this one: “The new UAK18 bodywork has made it easier to pull up closer in the draft and go by, but I don’t think it’s going to be a warp-speed maneuver. Check out what Scott Dixon recently told RACER about the differences from 2017 to 2018. Cars have been pulling to the inside off Turn 4 for decades to try and spoil the tow for the trailing car(s), so that’s nothing new or specific to the DW12. I haven’t seen anything with the current car that leads me to think the racing at Indy was artificial.”
Q: Finally read the 11/8/17 mailbag and saw Jenson Button was friends with and competed against Dan Wheldon. I suspect his death impacted his thoughts about racing on ovals in IndyCar?
Jamie A. Carr, Lebanon, Ohio
RM: I don’t know that to be true but I do know a lot of F1 drivers, past and present, had no desire to run 200 mph up against walls. I think Wheldon’s death did affect a couple of IndyCar drivers that never ran again and at least one NASCAR champion changed his mind about running Indianapolis, but not sure Button ever had any desire.
Q: I was able to get to the IMS museum a couple of weeks ago and see my hero’s amazing exhibit. There is just no describing it, like there’s no real way of appreciating just what a bad ass Foyt really was. I wish they could have had the 1967 Le Mans winner there but we can’t have everything. I watched your three-part video on the exhibit last night on YouTube and that was great also. I had one question, in the video you mentioned that A.J. had not seen the crashed Lola tub from Elkhart Lake for something like 25 years. Does he not still own it? Do you know the story behind it? I remember watching on live TV when that happened and to see how bad the tub was and how they had to cut it apart made me appreciate his injuries and comeback even more. And at 55 years old! Nothing short of amazing.
Mike Bray, Flower Mound, TX
RM: Obviously the front of the car was destroyed so I’m sure it was stored somewhere in the shop and AJ simply mentioned he hadn’t seen that tub since the accident. I do know this: I spent three days with him in Houston while he was recovering and I knew right then he was the toughest son of a bitch I’d ever seen.
Q: Was wondering after all these years. Is it true that A.J. and Derek Daly actually got into a fight one May many years back when Derek’s hand was bandaged up while doing time trials at Indy for ESPN? I figured A.J. would be more than willing to go at it. But Daly doesn’t seem the type to me.
Al Schonberg, Rockford, IL
RM: Derek was a very brave F1 and IndyCar driver but he wasn’t crazy and, no, he’s never picked a fight with A.J. or even considered it. But I do know one person DD punched and would likely do it again if the situation arises. He’s tougher than you might think.
Q: Since it’s the off-season I decided to go into the past and watch some old Indy 500s, and watching the drivers drive down all the way onto the apron to make passes and to see a driver wrestle an ill-handling car around the track was a real pleasure. I didn’t think much about IMS repaving the apron until I saw a few articles from 2014/2015 saying that bringing the apron back was a sure thing. What happened?
I understand why IMS got rid of the apron in the first place, however the cars are more than safe enough to bring back the apron. I couldn’t imagine how these last several Indy 500s could be any better but with the draft the cars get on the straightaways into the turns, having the apron could only lead to even more passes throughout the race and bringing more excitement to watching the drivers drive. Do you think the apron will ever make its way back to the Speedway or is it a long dead cause?
Kevin, North Carolina
RM: The apron was another groove for passing (check out Michael Andretti and Rick Mears in 1991 below) and also a safe haven if your car was pushing, but IMS got rid of it because it was convinced it created bad angles for crashes. Bulls**t. Then a few years ago NASCAR figured out it could be the one thing that actually gave the Brickyard 400 a chance to have some action but it was quickly tabled for some reason. I haven’t heard a word about it lately and I imagine it’s never returning.
Q: Will the new Indy car stay on the ground when turned backward at high speed? Just curious what steps IndyCar took to prevent a repeat of what happened during Indy qualifying a few years back. They seemed to solve the problem for the last two seasons. Did they apply what they learned to the new body kits?
George, Lafayette, IN
RM: Marshall says: “It’s all there, just packaged differently without the rear ‘Kardashians’ attached. The same flaps have been moved to the tops of the underwing tunnel exits, and in a nice advancement by IndyCar’s Tino Belli and the design team from Dallara, the same spin stability has been achieved without using a dome skid beneath the car (which drivers disliked at Indy in 2016-’17).”
Q: I was thinking about watching Bud Tinglestad get his only Indy car win at DuQuoin in 1966. My brother took me over there for the doubleheader — USAC stock cars on Sunday and Indy cars on Monday of Labor Day weekend. Have you ever considered him for a “tough guy” episode? (Or have you done it and I missed it?) He beat Atkins, Bobby Unser, Branson, Leonard, Foyt, and McElreath that day (Andretti blew an engine). Seems like he had a lot of good drives in the ’60s – especially on dirt – and usually stuck a car in the field at Indy, with some Top 10 finishes.
RM: Tingy is definitely on my list along with Roger McCluskey, Bill Cheesbourg, Jud Larson and some other old-timers. And he was always competitive, especially on the dirt, but didn’t have the best IndyCar rides except for 1969 when he filled in for Al Unser.
Q: Why don’t Indy car teams use the “arms” for air hoses used in F1 pit stops? It can’t be due to cost: Amateurs running the 25 Hours of Thunderhill use them. It seems it would be much safer: It would eliminate pit crew’s throwing heavy air guns across the path of the car, and it would eliminate the penalty for running over an air hose.
RM: Over to Marshall Pruett: “Having an air hose gantry system for a race where 24 hours of pit stops are required makes sense. In a series where almost every race is between two and three hours, it’s not as obvious of a need. Infractions for running over hoses are rare, just like instances where gantrys are snagged by an errant hose and ripped down by the departing car are rare. Both still happen, though.”
Q: Well Robin, one of the greatest Championship comebacks in the history of motor racing was completed last Saturday night when Chris Windom edged out Justin Grant to win the USAC national sprint car championship by a measly six points! This despite Windom being behind Grant by 96 points in August and not leading the points until eclipsing Grant during the Western World two weeks ago at Arizona Speedway. What saddens me though is despite having some of the best racing in the world and some fantastic young talent like Windom, Grant, Chase Stockton, Brady Bacon, etc. (The top 5 in points were all under 30), there was hardly any coverage at all. Even National Speed Sport News only had a quick blurb about Windom’s triumph. Robin, what’s it going to take to get this series the coverage it deserves and spread the gospel of wingless sprint car racing?
Ryan Casillas, Mesa, AZ
RM: USAC sprints and midgets remain as good as it gets with four wheels, but with no television package like Thursday Night Thunder they’re pretty much anonymous. Windom has been one of the top drivers the past few years and Grant came roaring onto the scene last year, so it’s fitting they battled to the end. I’m going to try and catch up with Windom at PRI and do a video for RACER.com but I should have written something before you prompted me.
Q: It would figure that when a long time friend asks me to be one of the groomsmen in his wedding, that it would be the same weekend as the Indy 500. Hell-bent on bumping my streak to eight years in a row, I had spent countless hours figuring out how to do both. As if driving 700 miles nonstop for opening day at Road America didn’t seem crazy enough, now I find myself planning to drive from the Finger Lakes in New York six hours home to catch a 5AM flight from Pittsburgh to Indy (unless you can talk your buddy Chip into sending his personal jet for me).
I think it is safe to say that 40 years down the road, I will be able to be like today’s old timers at The Speedway, telling of some of the great lengths that they went through just to get into The Speedway just to witness the history that unfolds there. I suppose after the mud bath that was the Coke lot last year, fate would need me to one up myself and prove that I will go whatever length necessary to make it to the race that my life revolves around.
Alan Bandi, Butler, PA
RM: Tell the groom-to-be this is really testing your friendship and he’s lucky you are making time for him on the most important weekend of the year. But you are just the kind of crazy, passionate, loyal fan that IndyCar needs and doesn’t have enough of, so thanks for being like that.
Q: Robin, I cannot believe that F1 is dropping NBCSN for ESPN! Are they NUTS? I remember when ESPN had covered Formula 1 and it sucked big time with races being shown at 2:30 in the morning! Horrible coverage! Thank God the SPEED Channel came along and saved us from ESPN’s coverage. Then some moron decided to get rid of the SPEED Channel all together! NBCSN has done a great job covering Formula 1 and should continue doing so. I was sooooo disappointed when I read about the coverage change.
RM: The easiest explanation is that F1 gave it to ESPN (no production or talent costs and no rights fee) because I think the long-range plan is to make F1 all streaming on ESPN’s app.
Q: I’ve shown video and talked up IndyCar to people in France for the last two weeks. In doing so it occurred to me that I might be speaking to the most apathetic motor racing fan base in the world. I showed them Johncock and Mears, Unser and Goodyear, RHR and HCN, Chicagoland 2008 and Sato/Newgarden/Hinchcliffe at Sao Paolo in 2013. I even showed them my own videos from Grandstand A. None of it has made a difference. They talk football and rugby and could care less about motorsports. The name Bourdais was met with blank stares, which is patently ridiculous.
The most positive thing I heard was “at least you use a manual transmission when you turn left all the time.” Whatever was the cause of the Schmidt/Calmels deal falling through, it’s probably for the best. There simply isn’t a way to turn heads in this country without recreating the magic Alonso generated. I think that probably goes for any European country, short of Vettel or Hamilton taking a shot at the Brickyard, which we all know is about as likely as Lola making the new monocoques.
Dan W., Paris, France
RM: That’s too bad Bourdais didn’t resonate, but maybe they’re simply waiting for the next Alain Prost before they start caring again.