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: I just read about the IndyCar race in Mexico being called off. That’s a real shame; I was looking forward to seeing IndyCars run at an F1 circuit. Any idea what caused it to fall through? I read a while back that it was pretty much a done deal and that the series and the track were just waiting for the right time to make the announcement. My guess is that either something significant changed at the last minute or the earlier report was inaccurate, but to my knowledge no one has publicly said anything about what the sticking point was.
On a side note, I think it would be great if IndyCar could race at a handful of the current F1 tracks. COTA, Mexico City, and Montreal would be the obvious candidates since they’re in North America. I think that if F1 fans saw IndyCars at an F1 venue they could compare the two series side-by-side, and they’d see that IndyCar is a more entertaining racing product.
Garrick, Mobile, AL
RM: Obviously the price or the timing wasn’t right, or both but the only way an IndyCar race was going to be successful was to have a big-name Mexican driver like CART/Champ Car did in 2002-2007. Mexico City was packed those first two years because Adrian Fernandez was a god, while Michel Jourdain and Mario Dominguez also had big followings. Not sure Esteban Gutierrez would have been a big enough draw but maybe the race was contingent on him having a ride (which he doesn’t yet) for 2018. Montreal drew nice crowds from 2002-2006 because Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani are French-Canadian, and Sebastien Bourdais also helped. COTA might work if it was a doubleheader with IMSA.
Q: Being a huge Paul Tracy fan at the time, I have always refused to consider Helio a three-time winner of the 500, and have explained why to others along the way. That will never change. With that said, I’m curious how PT feels about TGBB, then and now?
Vincent Martinez, San Gabriel, CA
RM: I know P.T. will always feel screwed but as far as his relationship with Barnhart today, it’s fine. They’re always chatty in our NBC production meetings and I don’t see any outward animosity.
Q: Do you find it strange that with all the Gallagher/Chilton money that Max is carrying, not to mention his dad being a partner in Carlin, and with the money that Kimball is carrying from Novo-Nordisc, that nothing has happened as far as an official announcement about that team or either of those drivers for 2018? I would have thought that they would have had a solid package together by now. You think it will happen?
Forrester L. Morgan, Myrtle Beach, SC
RM: Absolutely. I gave up emailing Max back in October and I’m not really sure why the secrecy or delay, but from everything I’ve been told it’s a go with Max, Charlie and Trevor Carlin – which is great. But there also could be a hang-up because the engine situation isn’t settled yet. I think Chilton and Kimball want Honda but not sure they can be accommodated since Honda already is supplying 12 for 2018. Just a guess.
Q: The Indy 500 needs more viewers, so why not throw Arie Luyendyk Jr. in a car since he’s this season’s Bachelor? It airs on ABC, after all. He can’t do any worse than Jay Howard or Tristan Gommendy, can he? At least he would be a field-filler with some value.
John, Atlanta. GA
RM: If it was May and ABC was inclined to bring a film crew to town, hell yes put him in a car. But I really don’t think the Indy 500 would get more than a mention unless Arie ran well, got bumped (no chance) or survived a spectacular crash. I’ve never watched The Bachelor but I’m sure ABC likes to control the environment and the Speedway might be a little too big and too raw. Good idea, though.
Q: All of the talk around Verizon leaving as title sponsor at the end of 2018 has me feeling so disappointed, thinking about what could have been if they’d actually promoted the series. It also got me wondering about sponsors in general and how the process works. We all agree there is no better sponsor than ABC Supply. They have strong turnout at races, and I noticed there was even a separate parking lot for them at Gateway. While TV numbers are important, I would think that for sponsors one of the most important perks is being able to entertain clients. I have to believe this is a major reason why ABC Supply stays with A.J., since their money gets them more in IndyCar. So how much of a role does IndyCar have in pitching sponsors?
P.S. Keep posting the uncensored clips with Marshall. It is much more entertaining listening to you when you’re using profanity.
RM: I think ABC stays with A.J. because the late founder and his widow love Super Tex and enjoy the notoriety he brings them, in addition to the fact that IndyCar is a good platform for bringing customers and employees to the races. I think there was a time when the IRL was poaching sponsors from teams – or at least trying to – but I believe that was stopped. Does IndyCar pitch sponsors for teams? I think IndyCar provides videos, stats, etc. to help owners, but not sure IndyCar actually goes out and tries to sell any sponsorship for a team. I’ll ask C.J. O’Donnell.
Q: Here’s a thought. I doubt it’ll happen, but… Ferrari makes good on its threat and leaves F1. It enters IndyCar as an engine manufacturer (badged as Alfa Romeo?). It’s too much to expect them to enter using someone’ else’s spec chassis?
RM: The Ferrari “threat” is several years away and Alfa just signed up with Sauber for 2018, so I can’t imagine IndyCar holding any magic for the Prancing Horse considering F1’s pull. Ferrari [pictured above in 1952] and Alfa have both been to Indianapolis without any success, but I don’t think it’s something they feel must be rectified any time soon.
Q: I know many people feel comfortable behind their keyboards and typing whatever opinions they want, especially when it comes to racing, schedules, rules, etc. I’m curious to hear your opinion about IndyCar bringing back a 500km road course race.
During the early ’80s Riverside and Cleveland both held 500km road course races. One of the Riverside races only had four cars finish and two were on the same lap! Crazy times back then, with long, grueling races in sometimes intense heat. I am not a fan of double-points races (I know this has been discussed numerous times) but if IndyCar has to have two double-points races for Indy and the season finale, how about hold the season finale at a road course event which is 500km in length? Push the drivers and teams to their breaking point.
It might make Sonoma more of a challenge, and force the drivers to take their time and work on a race strategy – even if IndyCar decided to run the NASCAR layout, ultimately making NASCAR’s Turn 7 a great passing zone. I love the idea of having the toughest and longest races being worth more, especially when the title is on the line. I believe it beats the gimmicks in other motorsports with playoff formats and point resets. I understand both sides of the argument for a championship battle. Even NASCAR’s Euro series has a “playoff” format, although the final two races are just double points.
RM: The heat, humidity, race length and engine builders all contributed to the attrition back then, but today’s engines are so bulletproof I don’t think 500K would be any big challenge. And the key to your season finale (I think) is having an intense, free-for-all at an oval instead of a road course procession. Obviously, if Cleveland was still in play that was a great track with plenty of passing and great viewing for the fans, but I think I’d rather have a 90-minute sprint race instead of an enduro.
Q: Regarding a question in last week’s Mailbag, I am pretty sure that I read that they brought the Aerotech to IMS later that year and A.J. took it out but it was too windy and I don’t think it broke 200 mph.
RM: You are spot-on, Joe. My pal and Indy guru Dave Scoggan was at the test and said it was windy and cold and A.J. never ran over 190mph. It was more of a PR show than any serious attempt at a speed record.
Q: Regarding John Illk’s question about the ABC talent for its 2018 IndyCar broadcasts, don’t be surprised if you see Allen Bestwick and Doc Punch involved. Terminating their ESPN/ABC contracts just made them freelancers instead of being on the regular payroll, and I don’t think either one of them burned any bridges that would keep ESPN/ABC from bringing them back on a freelance basis for its broadcasts. Hell, they both need the work anyway.
Second, with regards to the comment from John from Arizona that “Even the NBA makes sure that the Lakers and the Clippers do not play on the same night in Los Angeles.” He apparently doesn’t realize that they both play in the same arena (Staples Center) so it’s impossible for them to play on the same night in Los Angeles unless they’re playing each other! Loved the Roger McCluskey “Tough Guys” video, too.
RM: I agree and would like to see both of them return (especially if we could get Al Unser Jr. or Paul Tracy or both in the booth with Bestwick) instead of ABC experimenting with newbies that have no clue or passion for Indy. Duly noted on the L.A. hoops’ schedule. McCluskey was a tough hombre, glad you enjoyed it.
Q: What’s the story behind A.J. Allmendinger? Watching a bunch of the old CCWS races on YouTube, he looked to have the American open-wheel scene by the scruff of the neck and then all of a sudden he’s in NASCAR.
RM: It was a great story. After winning the Atlantic championship, he signed on with Carl Russo and the new RuSport’s Champ Car effort in 2004 [above] and had some impressive runs, but threw away one race at Edmonton and started really pressing. He lost his ride but then Gerry Forsythe gave him a shot in 2006, and together with engineer Mike Cannon, they clicked instantly. The Dinger reeled off three straight wins before later adding two more, and he was poised to challenge Bourdais for the 2007 title. But he got offered big money to go to NASCAR (A.J. was part of the Red Bull program) and open-wheel lost a potential superstar.
Q: I think IndyCar may be the best racing series in the world when it comes to placing their history on YouTube. Putting up the old races is an amazing thing. Right now I’m re-watching the 1994 season and it’s incredible. It really hurts at the same time, because I wanna pick those cars up and drop them off at the teams to race next year. It’s nice we are getting a more “Indy car” next year, but the sounds and just the rawness of these cars were amazing. Lastly, seeing so many fans at these races is heartbreaking. Some tracks look like they have 100,000, if not more. Miller, you need to build a time machine during the off-season and bring this back! Get on it!
Rick from PA
RM: The thing that always strikes me most is all the sponsors, hospitality and fans in 1993 and 1994. Not sure there’s ever been as many people as there were at Road America, Mid-Ohio, Laguna Seca and Milwaukee those two years to watch Nigel Mansell. I remember riding around in the pace car with Wally Dallenbach at Elkhart Lake before the ’93 race and I’ve never seen that many people standing 30-40 deep all around the track. After the race, I wrote a race report, a column and a notebook, and three hours later the traffic was still backed up.
Q: What is the current status of “show cars” in IndyCar? Ten years ago I would routinely see Cup and GN show cars, sometimes with driver appearances locally at various businesses. Twenty years ago IndyCar show cars were commonplace. In the late ’90s we even borrowed a Team Rahal show car and got the prime space in the hallway between the two main entrance doorways for the Columbus Auto Show. We were recruiting for volunteer race officials, primarily for SCCA and Mid-Ohio. It was our most successful recruiting event ever, and we had tremendous traffic. Lots of kids got to sit in the car, and a lot of posed pictures were taken. Hardly anyone noticed that the dash was just a decal, or the engine had some fake plastic components. We put those deals together in less than two weeks before the show, and all for free with no contracts.
My suspicion is that show cars are a victim of the series, and manufacturers wanting to monetize everything for their own personal gain rather than chipping in and working together for the greater common good. Are low-cost “fake” cars, engines and gearboxes even available in these days of carbon fiber and leases? Does the series get involved now with licensing fees? Do any teams even have show cars and the trailers and crews to go on the road with them?
Rick, Marengo, Ohio
RM: Show cars are still very much alive, and I think if you called most IndyCar teams they would be willing to lease you one of theirs or steer you to somebody else. I don’t know if there are still show car teams like CART had in the ’90s, but show cars will always be around.
Q: I’ve long considered Jim Clark as one of the best drivers in history. I wondered what you thought about him? Also do you have any stories about Clark that you could tell?
Paul Fitzgerald, Indianapolis
RM: I defer to A.J., Parnelli, Mario and Dan Gurney, and they all rank him at the top. They were all impressed with how he adapted to ovals along with his pleasant, understated demeanor. “He didn’t think he was better than everyone else like some of those foreign guys,” said Mr. Foyt back in the day. I don’t know many stories, but after Foyt knocked Clark off the pole at Indy in 1965, the Scotsman came down and congratulated Super Tex in a very classy move that A.J. always appreciated.
Q: I’ve always wondered why the series won’t ever let any type of production engine into the 500, and into the series for that matter? I know they say that they’re too heavy and would throw off the handling, but I’m pretty sure someone could come up with some type of engineering that would be competitive and still cost less and would not be as hard to engineer as the current Chevy and Honda engines. Just having the availability seems like it would be a positive for the Indy 500 and the series.
Austin Blayney, Lakewood, CA
RM: Indy was built on innovation and trying different cars and engines. But nowadays, with everything spec and only two engine manufacturers interested in IndyCar, it has become a closed playing field. I’m sure if Audi, Alfa and Ford all wanted to come run Indianapolis under a different formula then IndyCar would listen, but Honda and General Motors are partners as much as they’re manufacturers, so I don’t see them being abandoned on the chance a production engine formula might work. It would take big commitment.
Q: I know we’re a little late for Thanksgiving sentiments, but in a racing world full of hate I thought I’d mention something I’m thankful for that brought me some joy last week, and will warm the cold, dead hearts of my fellow die-hards. This May will be our Indy Group’s 26th straight year, and my 20th. I started going when my best buddy finally invited me when he and I were cocky 17-year-old schmucks, and my first two years all we caught were the first 10 laps and the last 10. (We were too busy witnessing the infield shenanigans). Over time our group has grown and gotten older.
The patriarch of our group (my best buddy’s dad) started with four seats low in the north short chute and over time we went to six tickets and then to eight, now in Paddock (our blessing from The Split). Two years ago our first group member brought his son for the race weekend (we camp in Lot 2). In a couple years I’ll bring my son, and about six more for my best buddy to bring his. We finally decided to pull the trigger on adding additional tickets to our order to accommodate the progeny, and I’m happy to say that IMS hooked us up with six more seats that are a great starting point for us and way better than where the group started 26 years ago. Six months to race day, and I can’t wait.
RM: Very cool Clint, and I know you’ve also been a loyal Mailbag participant and reader over the years so there is hope the younger generation still cares. I’m glad IMS was smart enough to accommodate your ticket request, because you and your pals are the lifeblood of May. Thanks for sharing your story.
Q: The ad for the auction featuring this car showed up on the RACER website.
I don’t even remember Drake-Offy building a V8. Did it have the head integrated with the main block like the 4-cylinder Offy? I can’t tell by looking at the ad pictures. Care to enlighten us?
Allen Lasko, Saint Adolphe, Manitoba, Canada
RM: I think the car in this ad is misidentified, because that looks like Jim McElreath’s PC6 and he did run a V8 Chevy once but not the V8 Drake. The Drake V8 was the hopeful answer to the Cosworth, and Lindsey Hopkins tried the V8 Drake in 1979 with Hurley Haywood and it was fast (first qualifying lap was 190mph) but not reliable (it lost almost 20mph on the second lap) and missed the show. I think Pat Patrick and A.J. Watson also tried the Drake V8 without any success. But I have no idea about your technical question.
Q: Since it’s the dark, cold winter in England I’ve started to watch past races: IndyCar, Group C and IMSA GTP. While watching the IMSA race from New Orleans 1992, David Tennyson was mentioned as the up-and-coming driver, but after 1993 he seemed to disappear. Do you know what happened to him?
RM: All I know is he ran IMSA from 1989-93, and had a couple of third-place finishes in GTP and two wins in the Canadian Rothman’s Porsche Turbo Cup and one Camel GT victory.