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: Interesting read on the Chip Ganassi Racing site about its downsizing, and interesting quotes from TK somewhat refuting the popular belief of an A and B team. Do you believe the downsizing will be beneficial to CGR? And do you think there was a B team?
Bob from Minnesota
RM: It’s tough to field three or four cars and obviously it could be a drain on the budget, but I don’t think Dixie’s team ever wanted for anything. It’s just easier to concentrate on two cars rather than four, and putting all your efforts into the best driver in the series. Yes, I think there was a B team, but not in terms of preparation or sharing information.
Q: I have always wondered: since Target left Ganassi, why NTT Data is not Dixon’s primary sponsor? Why has it always been associated with the No. 10, and appear to be staying with Ed Jones this year? I see in testing the team is running NTT Data on the car, and did run it on Dixie’s some last year. I would think NTT Data would want a four-time series champ and Indy 500 winner as its primary. Does Chip charge more for a primary on the No. 9 versus the No.10? Perhaps NTT Data has increased its spend, but I am guessing it is not a full two-car sponsorship package. Seems strange now that NTT Data isn’t primary on the No. 9 all year and associate on the No. 10 based on the new driver line-up.
RM: Chip isn’t big on sharing that kind of information. All I know is that NTT Data really liked Tony Kanaan, so maybe that’s why it stayed with the No. 10. I can’t tell you why it doesn’t transfer to Dixon’s car but I do know that CGR is working on a new title sponsor for him and I imagine NTT Data will appear on No. 9 a few times in 2018 (like it did in 2017) if a new sponsor isn’t secured. But Ed Jones will have NTT Data all season.
Q: All of the questions regarding the Andretti/Rossi number switch seem to think it’s about helping Marco improve, but could the change be more about Rossi? Since his car is co-owned by Andretti and Herta, is it possible that Michael Andretti made this move to gain full control over Alexander Rossi, who he probably thinks has a big future in IndyCar, and is forcing Bryan Herta to take Marco to remain a part of the partnership? I could just be overly cynical, but that was my first reaction to the announcement.
Steve, Danville, IN
RM: The best way to answer your question is to ask one of the team principals – Bryan Herta:
“Alexander has always been under contract to Andretti Autosport and he just extended his deal. Actually, we made the change at my request because it’s better for everybody, and I’m happy about it. I’m still close with Alex, and I think he’s going to have a great year and I think it’s going to be a good year for Marco as well. I think we’re as prepared and as ready as we can be.”
Q: What can we expect from Carlin next year? Are Kimball and Chilton going to have the same quality of rides they had with Ganassi, or will this team be in the back for its first year?
RM: I think the cars will be very well prepared because Trevor Carlin is the consummate professional racer, but he’s also realistic and stepping into a new arena that’s loaded with depth and talent, and there will be a steep learning curve. If Honda has a little edge, like many are speculating, it makes it that much tougher, but I would think running in the top 10 would be considered a good start. Not every race, mind you, but Charlie is always good at Indy and Mid-Ohio, and Max led 50 laps last May at Indianapolis, so if there is an instant chemistry with their engineers, they’ve got a chance to be heard from.
Q: Great to see Carlin join the series next year with a two-car team. I realize car count is important, but I would really like to see IndyCar eventually adopt a rule that limits teams to just two or three cars (with an exception for Indy). More teams and owners would make for better competition and add stability to the series, right? The competition would be more balanced since there aren’t five car teams gathering data collectively over a weekend compared to one and two car teams. Itg would also help with series stability. If an owner bails out (or cuts its team in half like Ganassi did), it doesn’t take as much of the field away. Do you think IndyCar might consider this at some point?
Andrew Rolfe, Brighton, MI
RM: When you only have 21-22 full-timers it’s not the time to be limiting entries, and maybe some day if there are 15 owners you could make it a two-car max (except Indy), but that’s a long ways away.
Q: I know the likelihood of this happening would be slim to none, but what would you think of Dario Franchitti as the new race director? He has definitely seen his fair share on track, and has raced with some of the best and some of the most aggressive drivers of the modern era, and has a tremendous amount of respect throughout the paddock. I suppose the biggest thing that would deter him would be wearing the “public enemy number 1” tag that is associated with that role.
Alan Bandi, Butler, PA
RM: Even though he’s had great preparation for dealing with attitudes (he was married to A. Judd), Dario is way too smart to even consider this job. He likes his friends, family, freedom and fun – not listening to drivers and owners bitch. I think commentating on Formula E races is the only racing gig he really wants right now.
Q: Good news about Carlin joining the field with two full time entries! But it seems to me that there is more to the story. It was widely reported that securing a Honda engine contract was the holdup, given the lack of availability. Carlin has have announced it will be using Chevys… But missing from the announcements were the usual platitudes from the team about Chevy (Carlin’s press release thanked IndyCar and their sponsors but not Chevy) also there was no PR from Chevy welcoming the team. This seems to be a shotgun wedding. Is there more to the story?
Chris, Colorado Springs
RM: I hear a lot of things, but that’s a new one. Honda supplied 13 engines last season (to Chevy’s eight) and will power 12 in 2018 (Andretti 4, Ganassi 2, Rahal 2, Coyne 2, SPM 2) so I think the only option for Carlin Racing (or any other new team) was General Motors. Harding Racing will add a full-time entry next season so the Bow Tie Brigade will number 10 (Penske 3, Foyt 2, ECR 2, Carlin 2, Harding 1).
Q: I know you get asked this every week, but we all want to see this happen. How close is our boy Conor Daly to securing a ride for next year? If I remember the last Mailbag correctly, you said he’s working on DCR with but needs some more money. Any updates?
Max Camposano, Los Altos, CA
RM: The only update I’ve heard is that Zachary Claman DeMelo may have the inside line for the second seat at Coyne because he’s got money, and CD is still searching.
Q: Can you clarify the new aero kit testing guidelines? I thought each manufacturer got two teams to test during this initial period, but then I saw that TK is testing with Foyt Racing in Sebring today (12/13). Why is it that a third team was allowed for Chevy? And why didn’t Honda get to use a third team? I’ve seen numerous drivers from the other teams complaining on Twitter about the head start Penske, ECR, SPM, and Ganassi will have. Are the other Honda teams going to get all the data that SPM and Ganassi gathered, supposedly to help Honda? And same for Chevy teams? Could there possibly be data gathered by the testing teams that won’t be shared?
Rachel, Carmel, IN
RM: Foyt’s team replaced ECR at Sebring and all the collected data was passed on to each OEM to share with their teams. Are some teams mad because they haven’t started testing yet? Hell yes, but that’s racing, as they say.
Q: Michael Shank’s recent announcement that he is running several races with Jack Harvey, it reminded me of his last attempt to get into IndyCar. One of the drivers associated with said attempt was Paul Tracy. Do you think that there is any chance that this might be rekindled, or is PT truly done behind the wheel?
Duncan, Port Perry, Canada
RM: I think P.T. is happily ensconced in the NBCSN booth,and is done driving IndyCars. But he’s not necessarily done behind the wheel – be it trucks, sports cars or choppers.
Q: Why can’t big teams like Penske and Andretti just buy Cosworth engines and let the automakers support the smaller teams? I understand Chevy and Honda are propping up the smaller teams and drivers, but if Penske wants to pay Cosworth to build him new engines, why don’t they just let him do that?
Russ in Indianapolis
RM: Well, first off, not sure why you think the engine manufacturers are propping up smaller teams, because Honda paid a pretty penny to get Ganassi back last year. And Chevrolet is Roger Penske’s house team. Cosworth could badge somebody’s engine, but it’s not prepared to go up against GM and Honda by itself. And the Ilmor/Chevy connection is The Captain’s baby; he’s got no interest in Cosworth.
Q: If you dial back to a year ago, we were all concerned about not having new teams, new drivers and excitement coming into the series. As a long-time IndyCar fan it seems as if 2018 will be a year we turn the corner! New teams, new drivers and there is a lot of exciting news for the series. I for one think it is awesome to see new teams like Carlin, Juncos, Harding and Michael Shank Racing entering; this is just what IndyCar needed.
This year we will see 24 cars at St. Pete, and new drivers like Robert Wickens, Matheus Leist, Kyle Kaiser, Gabby Chaves, Zach Veach, and Jack Harvey. Who is Dale going to hire to team with Bourdais? We are going to see a new car that looks better than anything we have seen since the 2008 Panoz! Even the city of St. Petersburg is looking more exciting every March. IndyCar fans and sponsors take note! Your thoughts?
Doug Loeffler, Lakeville, MN
RM: The new owners are much needed to try and position IndyCar for the future and they’re all racers that want to be around for a long time. It’s exactly what IndyCar needs – serious players. Not sure about Coyne’s second car, but the popular vote favors Conor Daly, he just needs a couple million dollars.
Q: I was reading through Beast. It gives a pretty great view into how and why The Split occurred, and why Tony George went and started his own series. But it got me thinking. Tony’s main complaint was that CART wanted Indy to just be another race on the schedule, preventing it from being a standalone event as it should be (in his opinion). Isn’t this what IndyCar has done to the Indy 500? It’s still the greatest race, but I’m pretty sure the pole money has been the same since the ’90s, and the qualifying gimmick doesn’t bring the fans to the gate either. Not to mention the fact that the double-points are lame. Plus, you have the same 33 Dallaras on the track with zero innovation whatsoever. Couldn’t they just use the Dallara-Honda or Chevy combination as a jumping-off point and open the rule book so they could maybe attract more manufacturers, which, in turn, could bring more of them and owners to the series as a whole? Not to mention they need to increase the prize money by a factor of at least five. Just some thoughts on a cold winter day.
Kris Branch, Peru, IN
RM: When Dan Gurney penned his famous White Paper in 1978, one of his concerns was that USAC’s Championship Trail had become the Indy 500 and a bunch of little satellite races nobody cared about that were run twice a year. He was spot-on. Fast-forward to today: Indianapolis is the only race anyone watches or the media covers, and the series is pretty much an afterthought. But honestly, it’s always been that way because Indy lasts a month and draws the spotlight. Through the CART years, Long Beach, Toronto, Vancouver, Road America, Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Portland became big draws and big events that complimented Indy. Nowadays, IndyCar is off the map for six months and really a tough sell to the public. Charlie Kimball hosted some friends a couple years ago at Indy, and after the race they asked him what he did the rest of the year. They had no idea there were other races besides IMS. Yes, the Indy 500 purse sucks, so do double-points, everything is too expensive, and nobody shows up for qualifying or practice because there’s no innovation and you can watch everything from home on your computer. The racing has been better than ever the past few Mays, but last year’s race had the lowest TV rating ever so I don’t know the answer.
Q: In last week’s ‘bag was a letter from Justin Holden from Down Under where he was thinking of coming over for the 500, RA and Iowa. You have his address. Let him know that if he comes to the Iowa race (my home state), I’d be happy to meet perhaps and act as his ‘host’, maybe put on a corn feedbag and munch a tenderloin! Also, it’s been mentioned in the past and you’ve never seemed to make a big deal out of it, but you gotta do a book my man! There’s just too damn many stories in that head of yours not to share! Put me down for the first two books, signed of course!
RM: That’s very considerate of you and I also got a note from George Bruggenthies at Road America about sharing some hospitality with our Aussie fan. I think a breaded tenderloin has to be better than a Vegemite sandwich doesn’t it? No book yet, but thanks for the pre-order.
Q: Have heard virtually nothing about John Kernan or Dave Despain in last few years. Are they still involved in racing at any major media? What are Dr. Jerry Punch’s prospects post-ESPN?
Tom Fitzgerald, CPA
RM: Had lunch with Dave the other night at the PRI Show. MavTV canceled his interview show, but he’ll be doing the Chili Bowl next month, and has a few other live events for Mav in 2018. But we need WIND TUNNEL back. Kernan has been doing drag racing for FOX, and I imagine Jerry will be involved in ABC’s Indy 500 coverage.
Q: I know there will be screams of blasphemy, but hear me out. Been a fan since Bobby Unser won the rain-shortened 500 in 1975, and love IndyCar. I hate seeing where it is now (though it isn’t terrible, it can be so much more) I’m thinking a doubleheader at The Glen with the Cup guys would be a success. Maybe on the new “Roval” at Charlotte? With sponsorship becoming harder and harder to secure, pooling resources seems like a good idea.
Daniel Tripp, Boaz, AL
RM: There is no chance NASCAR is going to share any venue with IndyCar – let alone The Glen, where the place is packed every year. IndyCar’s best partner would be IMSA, because it’s kind of the same audience, and it works at Long Beach and Detroit.
Q: So, instead of trying to bring IndyCar back to where it was and failing year after year, why not accept that the fan base is what it is? Be happy with what you draw, and adjust the costs of the cars and competing to match reality? Let it build slowly and naturally, like IMSA has been doing. Would we really lose the diehard fans we have now if the cars were closer to the current Lights car? Would reducing the cost result in bigger fields?
Jason Scott, Green Bay, WI
RM: There’s nothing wrong with wanting a return to the old days of big crowds, but I do think a lot of people need to understand that 30,000 should be considered a damn good turnout for any oval race (except Indy) nowadays, and that’s why Gateway was such a big deal. Road America, Mid-Ohio and Long Beach set the standards for road and street circuits, and Barber has been a pleasant surprise. And we’re all hoping Portland can re-emerge with a decent crowd. I think the fans are optimistic about the new aero kit and the fields are going to be a little larger at certain races in 2018, but cutting costs always helps.
Q: First let me say you are awesome! Someone who tells it like it is. Keep it up. When I look at the rear wing on the 2018 speedway bodywork kit, I have to wonder who will be the first to take it off completely! What do you think, and who will it likely be? A Formula 1 car or IndyCar without a rear wing… imagine that. I guess all that sponsor space is not so important after all. Thanks for your input. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
RM: Tom Sneva removed his rear wing once at Michigan during practice and certainly got everyone’s attention, but it wasn’t off too long.
Q: With the news of Alex Zanardi coming back to American racing in the 2019 Rolex 24, I think it’s time that he received significant recognition at IMS. I’m hardly the first person to suggest this, but Zanardi was robbed of the ability to race at IMS during his prime because of The Split, and then got injured before he could get a chance during reunification. It’s probably too late for a driving return, sadly. There are a lot of different ways he could be recognized: Driving the pace car, driving a modified IndyCar like he did at Lausitzring after the accident, driving his GT car. But to me, the best way would be to give him a handcycle lap before the pace laps. That would recognize all of his achievements, and can you imagine the sound of the crowd when he comes down the front straightaway? I know Indy has a pretty strong tradition around their pre-race ceremonies, but my math says that Zanardi went 19 miles in under 30 minutes in 2016, so it wouldn’t take that long. Could you possibly pass this idea to the IMS people?
RM: I already forwarded your suggestion to the IMS folks, and I think Zanardi riding his handcycle would be fantastic.
Q: I am already looking forward to the IndyCar series, especially the 102nd Running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Since, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has never been to the 500, what about him driving the pace car? Also, it’s really disappointing that IndyCar can’t get back to Michigan or even Kentucky. Why is that?
Brian Lancaster, West Lafayette
RM: Let’s wait and see if NBC gets the television rights in 2019 and then invite Little E to drive the pace car, since he’ll already be part of the NBC NASCAR team in 2018. You can’t go to MIS or Kentucky unless they want you, and I don’t think there’s any interest.
Q: It seems like everyone – the drivers, the media, the fans, longtime series insiders – wants more horsepower. What is keeping it from happening? I understand the manufacturers may not want to go back to 1000+ HP beasts, but couldn’t we add at least 100-200? Do you think we’ll see an increase in HP in the near future?
RM: The financial answer is that more horsepower puts more load on the engine, shortens the life of the internal parts, and so reduces the maximum mileage between rebuilds (which are currently every 2,500 miles). To make, say, a 100hp increase happen, IndyCar would have to shorten the minimum mileage requirement, allowing a fifth, or sixth (or seventh!) rebuild each year, and that naturally would drive up costs significantly. That would either cost the teams more money (which they don’t have) or the manufacturers (and they already spent big bucks). There has been a steady improvement of horsepower and reliability, just nothing most fans would notice.
Q: What do you think of F1’s halo? Do you see Liberty pushing the costs of F1 down? Who is going to run Danica at Indy? Any Fittipaldis in the future at Indy? Who is going to run JPM at Indy? Anyone going to offer Jenson Button a crack at Indy?
RM: Don’t like it, or anything else covering the cockpit. Don’t care about Liberty or F1. Chip Ganassi. Not to my knowledge. JPM will be a spectator, sadly. Nobody, Button has no desire to run the Indy 500.