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 wanted to get your thoughts on a theory I have about Marco Andretti. He seems to be a pincushion for a lot of Mailbaggers who like to poke fun at his lackluster results. I’m not a Marco apologist; some of the criticism is deserved, some of it not so much. His grandfather is arguably one of the best racecar drivers in history, while his dad was arguably one of the best AOWR drivers of his generation – always worth the price of admission.
Marco doesn’t have the skill, ambition or determination his gramps and pops had, but the last time I checked, neither do any other current IndyCar drivers – with maybe the exception of Dixon. He is perceived by some as arrogant, but I think that’s mistaken for his not-so-warm personality (just like his dad), immaturity and lack of patience.
In 2006 he came within one straightaway from winning the Indy 500. In 2008, 2010 and 2014 he finished third, was fourth in 2013 and sixth in 2015. In an F1 test in 2007 his lap times were a second slower than Alonso and Button on the same day. In 2008, none of his teammates could match his lap times at the 12 Hours of Sebring. I don’t know what any of this means other than these results don’t reflect (in my opinion) a driver who’s slow or bad. He’s always fast on ovals, rarely wrecks the car, but seems to struggle on road and street courses.
Let’s face it, he’ll never be as good as Mario and Michael. That in itself is enough pressure. I suppose you could say that it’s easier for Marco to become a bit complacent when things aren’t going so well, being that his dad is unlikely to dump him. Most drivers are out the door when they don’t perform, especially when they don’t bring money and sponsors. Having a third-generation driver with the name Andretti is good for the IndyCar series, and I wish there were more with names like Andretti, Unser, Mears, Johncock, Rutherford, etc.
Has Marco underachieved so far in his racing career? Probably, but IndyCar has a lot of competition with a lot of great drivers. He will continue to have his work cut out for him if he wants to succeed in the future and win races. I believe Marco has two problems and one of them is not his right foot, but the mechanism that controls his right foot, which is located up between his ears. His other problem is his last name. If he can find a way to put aside these prolonged issues, I think he has as good a chance as anybody to win the Indy 500. Isn’t that what it’s all about in IndyCar – winning the 500?
Steve Sporer, Chicago
RM: Obviously, carrying that last name has made it possible for him to stay in the sport, but also added an immense amount of pressure to perform. Michael managed to handle the expectations with great results (as did Al Unser Jr.), and who knows what would have happened if Marco wins that first Indy 500 back in 2006. As you pointed out, he’s always been quick and could easily be a multi-time winner at IMS but, for whatever reason, he’s struggled on road and street courses in an IndyCar. Part of it has to be mental, or confidence (or lack of), but last year was a good example in that he started out practicing at or near the top but couldn’t repeat it for qualifying – he never made one Fast Six. Yes, two wins in 12 years could be classified as major underachievement, but he’s still only 30 years old so it’s not like he’s out of time to turn things around. It’s at the point where nobody expects anything, and that’s sad for him and IndyCar. I pick him to win Indy almost every year and maybe someday he’ll break the Andretti curse, which would go a long way in improving his résumé.
Q: Every year, there is some pronouncement from Marco Andretti about how next year something will magically make his luck change. Is the car number switch really going to make a difference in 2018? He’s already had Herta in his ear for 2017 and the results were not radically better. I think not. What say you?
David, Waxhaw, NC
RM: As I stated in the letter above, Marco began 2017 so much stronger with Bryan in his ear and in his head on the pit box but, despite the good practice times, the results just weren’t there. But I do think Herta is his best shot at finding a groove.
Q: What do you make of Marco moving over to the No.98 car? I guess it can’t hurt, but like you, I always wanted to see Marco consistently fight at the front of the field. While he’s still relatively young, honestly, how much longer can he run towards the back of the field when driving for one of the three best teams on the grid?
Jim Doyle, Hoboken, NJ
RM: Obviously, changing cars or numbers isn’t going to make any difference, and just about everyone at Andretti Autosport has worked on Marco’s car at one time so finding some chemistry would be paramount. But to answer your question: I think he’ll have a ride as long as he wants or as long as Michael fields a team.
Q: Over the past few years we’ve seen more and more involvement by IndyCar drivers such as Hunter-Reay, Dixon, Montoya, Kannan, Castroneves and Bourdais in the IMSA series. I’ve followed Marco’s career and have always wished him the best. It’s a mystery why he hasn’t had more success. He’s expressed the desire to try new things in IndyCar; conditioning, focused training, etc., but where’s the desire to be a pure racer? It’s nice to once again see drivers getting involved in more than one discipline and expand their horizons, just like the good ol’ days. Marco had a go with a few races in the ALMS  and even at Le Mans in 2010. I’ve never understood why he hasn’t found a way to get out and get more exposure. Remaining strictly an IndyCar driver is not doing him any favors. Anything on the horizon that may put him on the IMSA grid? GTD? GTLM? Prototypes?
Terry Johnsen, Germantown, Maryland
RM: There are full-timers in Andretti’s Formula E and RallyCross teams so no place to run there, and Michael was vying for an IMSA team with BMW but it didn’t happen. I would think any IndyCar driver would try and run as much Outlaw as possible since there are only 17 races and a few test days but, sadly, it’s not like the ’60s when there were available cars in series everywhere, so A.J., Mario, Parnelli, Gurney and the boys could race every weekend if they wanted. But I don’t know of anything available for Marco right now, and I also don’t know how seriously he pursues one-off rides in sports cars.
Q: Always read the Mailbag and have decided to finally come from Australia (I’m a Kiwi) and watch IndyCar next year. I have been thinking about the Indy 500, but I’m also considering instead doing the Grand Prix at Road America and then the Iowa race – driving between the two? (That way I can see an oval and America’s best road course). Would you have thoughts/suggestions/recommendations? I’m hugely excited to see the effects of the new aerokits, which look pretty damn good IMO, except the blockers in front of the rear wheels. Thanks again for all you reporting and work and bring on 2018. (Let’s go DIXON).
RM: Indy has been a damn entertaining show the past decade so it would be tough to suggest going anywhere else, but your Road America/Iowa option sounds great, especially since Dixon thinks the cars are going to be tougher to drive on short ovals and road courses. Do me a favor and let me know what you decide. We’ll try and get you a little IndyCar welcome wagon kit.
Q: Just reading Mailbag where someone asked about PT’s attitude regarding his 2002 Indy 500 non-win. Paul was one of our favorite drivers, and we were able to see his last win at Cleveland in 2007 even though he had his third front wing on the car at the finish. (That was also the last time that we saw you). He was such an over the top, hard-charging driver that we watched him closely during every live or TV CART/Champ Car race that we saw. I don’t believe we missed any one of them over the years. We have been very surprised at how well Paul has accepted the 2002 result. I know that I would have never gotten over something like that if it had happened to me.
In his commentary during the telecasts he is always spot-on, and he has never shown any animosity towards Helio. We have been very impressed by the way he does the broadcasts. Paul has been very professional when commenting on the performance of both Helio and Seabass before, during and after the races. I especially like when he advises the young drivers during the race to be patient. He was great to watch back in the day. If he himself had been a more patient driver, he would probably have won many more races as he might have driven for the “Captain” for many more years than he did.
Dick & Sue Hildebrand, Ormond Beach, FL
RM: You are spot-on – PT has never played the pity card during an NBCSN telecast and always speaks well of Helio and his longtime rival Bourdais. The Indy verdict bothered him, of course – how could it not? But he moved on. My favorite moment was in 2003 when ESPN’s John Kernan was interviewing Dario on RPM2Night about Helio going for a third win, and Franchitti said: “You mean his second, because P.T. won last year.” It’s always funny to hear Paul talking about patience because he had none, and that’s why we couldn’t take our eyes off him at speed. But if he holds a grudge towards TG, Barnhart or HCN, he does a good job of keeping it to himself.
Q: I like you Robin. I love IndyCar racing. Next year will be my 42nd consecutive Indy 500. However, if you print one more comment from a disgruntled fan supporting Paul Tracy over the finish of the 2002 500, I am going to scream. Sorry, but no matter what anybody might personally think about the finish, the record books will always say Helio Castroneves won the race. It will say that tomorrow, next week, next year, in 10 years, in 100 years. And no matter what anybody says, it is not going to change! Sorry! So grow up and shut up and get on with your life. Sheesh! Am I a Helio fan? You bet, and I hope he gets a fourth 500 win to drive you and Tracy supporters even more nuts.
RM: Sorry Dean, but that’s a part of IMS history that will never be forgotten and fans like to talk about periodically. But it’s not a matter of persuading anyone, it’s a matter of seeing the video and knowing the facts and understanding it was a kangaroo court. Of course nothing is going to change, but it doesn’t change what we saw and heard in 2002. I just wrote a nice tribute about Helio at Indy for RACER, and if he wins No.4 in May, I’ll write something even nicer.
Q: Do you think Danica will have any effect on the Indy 500’s TV ratings? I’ve been having an on-going battle with a friend over her. I say she would bring higher ratings if she replaced Marco for the entire season, even if she didn’t do too well. He disagrees. What do you think?
Mike Talarico, Riverside, CA
RM: Good question. The last two Indy 500s (the 100th and Fernando Alonso’s first one) turned out to be ratings flops – 2017 was the worst ever – so I have no idea what might move the needle since the racing has been fabulous. And don’t forget that TV ratings really leveled off for the IRL in Danica’s final four seasons, so while I think it will create renewed interest from the media, I’m not sure it’s going to resonate in the Nielsen’s.
Q: After reading Chip’s comments last week regarding Danica running the Indy 500 for him being a “small chance of happening” and that it had to make business sense for all parties I come away with this conclusion: Whatever sponsor Danica brings, it will have to help pay for other aspects of Chip’s team, perhaps even some of Scott Dixon’s 2018 sponsorship. Am I right? Also, with this news now being public, what are the odds she’s driving for Chip in May on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being ‘no chance’ and 100 being ‘a lock’?
Damon in Hilliard, Ohio
RM: The day Danica announced Daytona and Indy would be her final two races, I called Chip and he admitted there had been discussions but that nothing was set and it had to make business sense, so nothing has changed. Would her funding help Dixie? I can’t imagine it being that much money, and a May-only program is going to be pricey enough. But I do think IndyCar is going to make sure it happens, so whether DP brings a big sponsor or a small one, she’ll be in a competitive car in May. And I still think it’s an 85 that it’s Chip.
Q: I have a question and a comment. It has been said that a race in Mexico without an established Mexican driver in the series will not be successful. Makes sense. After watching Takuma Sato run by himself in front of a big crowd at Motegi, why isn’t IndyCar trying to go back to Japan? Especially now with Sato being the defending 500 champ. Seems like a lock for a successful race.
And regarding the new aero kit, I have an idea for IndyCar. Every year, NASCAR runs a race or two with retro paint schemes on the cars. Now that IndyCar has a car that resembles the cars of old, why not run a race with retro liveries – not actual sponsors, just paint jobs? Penske already does it with Menards and Pennzoil. How cool would it be to see those two plus AJ’s Copenhagen look, Little Al’s Valvoline look, Fittipaldi’s Marlboro look, Rahal’s Genuine Draft look, Forsythe’s Players look, all racing around IMS? I doubt it would attract any new viewers, but damn it would be cool for us die-hards!
Blake, Flower Mound, TX
RM: The last time IndyCar raced at Motegi it was packed because Sato was in the field and, obviously, now that he’s the Indy 500 winner it would probably be a tough ticket because he’s a national hero. But unless Honda of Japan decides to jump back into the promoting business, it’s likely up to IndyCar whether it ever gets back on the schedule. Right now I don’t hear anything from either party in terms of going back. As for retro paint schemes, it would be kinda cool to see, but as hard as it to find sponsors nowadays I think most IndyCar teams are concentrating on how to keep them happy, and I’m not sure throwback cars do anything for them.
Q: Reading the questions from the last couple Mailbags about A.J.’s runs in the Aerotech got me wondering how fast one of today’s IndyCars could run on a closed circuit like the 7.7 mile Ft. Stockton test track? If a team had the necessary resources and motivation to properly set up a DW12 for a maximum speed on a circuit like Ft. Stockton, do you think it could challenge AJ’s 257.123 mph record?
RM: The natural reaction would be “hell yes” because of all the aerodynamic advancements in the past 30 years, but I need to ask an engineer. Better yet, let’s ask Marshall Pruett:
“The current DW12s, at Indy in lower drag/downforce trim, and with mid-level boost, run over 240 mph at the end of the straights. If Chevy or Honda were to go the route of the Aerotech and build a custom, heavy-duty, high-power engine, and add drag-reducing bodywork, specifically to shield the front and rear tires and cockpit, I’m confident A.J.’s old record could be beaten. If we’re talking a regular DW12 with no modifications, no, it wouldn’t crack 257mph, but again, the IndyCar chassis-based Aerotech was anything but stock.”
Q: It makes me very happy to see Honda showing off their Indy 500 champ. It makes me even happier seeing all those people in the seats to watch one car go around Twin Ring. I’m sure 100 other people have “when is Indycar gonna return to Japan” covered so here’s my question? Where the hell is the Stateside promoting of Newgarden? You, other media, the fans, even IndyCar have all said we need him in national commercials, and a social media blitz, and don’t let happen to him what happened to RHR… well, the only place I find him is on social media and you know what his recent tweets have been? Stuff about getting ready for next year! What happened? What are we doing here? It’s the same damn thing again! Send his ass to the Chili Bowl to hand out promo stuff in an IndyCar booth, or to Tony Stewart’s house and have them do a FB live for an hour while fishing so people can see his personality, or to a country music show in Nashville… anywhere that he (and IndyCar) can just get a little exposure and gain a new fan.
Matt, Marshall, MO
RM: I have zero confidence that JoNew will get anything resembling a national ad campaign or exposure, unless you count the Detroit Auto Show, and I was once told that the Chili Bowl wasn’t IndyCar’s “demographic” so don’t hold your breath on the booth I suggested three years ago. The problem is that IndyCar isn’t going to spend the money to promote JoNew to the masses, and Team Penske doesn’t have a sponsor willing to either. He will likely be another nameless, faceless IndyCar champion.
Q: I read a comment in the Mailbag lamenting the fact that IndyCar doesn’t run on “F1” tracks. Look at the classic road courses here in North America. Think of Sebring and Mosport. Many of our tracks would need to have major changes made in order to bring them up do FIA F1 specification. In doing so, I believe they would lose a great deal of their character. So many of the FIA tracks have enough run-off that a driver losing it in turn one has enough run-off that his luggage has to be forwarded by the airline. COTA with its great turn one, the esses, all of its great turns, still seems a little sterile to me. The Yabba Dabba Doo Grand Prix was quite a snorefest. It might have been better had there been IndyCars running, but again, it is a sterile track. The nattering nabobs of negativity should be glad they are able to access so many fantastic contests and at reasonable prices.
Brian Bristo, London Ontario
RM: While I loved watching IndyCars at Brands Hatch and Silverstone, it would be just as nice to see Road Atlanta and Mosport in the mix someday for IndyCar, and I’m told it would require some work in runoff areas but nothing like an F1 track would. And I like your Yabba Dabba Doo GP – it was much more entertaining than the race.
Q: Driving up Georgetown Rd. I noticed an Ed Carpenter racing sign. It’s in front of what I think was originally the Players racing shop (just north of 71st). Has Ed moved his team from Main St. in Speedway?
RM: Yes sir, ECR has moved into Gerald Forsythe’s old place because Mike Harding took over the shop on Main Street in Speedway.
Q: I don’t think this topic has been covered yet, but does the move of Helio to IMSA mean that Roger Penske won’t be calling races for anyone this season, or are they going to shuffle things around again at Penske?
Ryan Ward, San Jose, CA
RM: My understanding is that The Captain will be calling Will Power’s races, with Tim Cindric still with Josef Newgarden and Kyle Moyer with Simon Pagenaud. I imagine Helio will have Jonathan Diuguid on his pit box in May.
Q: Robin, I just wanted to let your Mailbag Readers know that Phoenix Raceway is having a Christmas sale, with two very good discount packages offered for the IndyCar race. Promotion expires on 12/22, so hopefully this message makes it into this week’s column. Here is the offer page.
Rob Joseph, Chandler, AZ
RM: Thanks Rob. I know Bryan Sperber and his PIR staff want IndyCar to make it and they’re all fired up about the Mario Andretti promotion, so this is good news. Thanks for sharing.
Q: Any chance that we will ever see another IndyCar race at the Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland? If you think not, any particular reasons you know of?
Tim Howell, York, PA
RM: If Mike Lanigan could find a title sponsor like he had at Houston (Shell), then I think he would bring Burke Lakefront Airport back in a heartbeat. But without a major title sponsor or a promoter – and those must go together these days – all we’re going to have is memories of a great event.
Q: With all of the banter last season about yellows and whether or not the pits are open or closed can ruin a race (Toronto), what would you think about the idea of a rule stating that pit stops MUST occur on green flag laps? I’ve never liked rules stipulating whether you can or can’t come into the pits, and I dislike even more what these happenstances do to the racing. I’m also coming at this from growing to LOVE rallycross racing over the last few years and the strategy and suspense that the Joker Lap offers. I was thinking of ways for that to be incorporated into IndyCar racing, but in reality the pit stop already is a “joker lap” of sorts. The only thing that prevents it from being such is that everyone tries to pit under yellow if they can, and there’s no guarantee that everyone takes it under the same conditions. Forcing stops to happen on green flag laps would sure create a lot of excitement as drivers manage their gaps and in/out laps. It would also help prevent potentially skewed results that come from the timing of full-course yellows.
Lyle James, Dayton, OH
RM: Tony Cotman, in between designing and trying to improve tracks for IndyCar, has spent his share of time in Race Control and offers the most logical answer to your question:
“There are two ways to look at this. 1. Pit stops under yellow make racing more exciting as the field gets bunched up and mixed up providing greater opportunities for different winners. 2. Pit stops under green will likely provide less passing (due to fast at front and slower at rear) but the fastest car is more likely to win. Over the years there have been mandated pit windows, pitting under green, pitting under yellow, all in an effort to nullify the yellows, but the reality is whenever a yellow occurs it has some sort of impact and ultimately effects strategy. There are many issues such as what if someone is about to pit, they are out of fuel and it goes yellow? What if someone is in the pit and it goes yellow, that’s a major advantage. No matter which way you slice it, there are multiple scenarios that arise. So, are we after the better show or pure racing dictating the winner?”