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: In your opinion, what were the Top 5 best things that happened in IndyCar in 2017?
And the five worst things? Always enjoy the Mailbag, please keep it going.
Dave Krueger, West Allis, Wi.
RM: 1. Josef Newgarden becoming the first American champion in IndyCar since 2013 and taking the title with an aggressive style that made The Captain proud. 2. Fernando Alonso stepping out of his comfort zone to compete at Indy: not only did he look like a veteran in his first oval-track race, he embraced everything about the month of May and was a refreshing reminder of the ’60s when F1 invaded IMS. 3. The promotion, atmosphere and attendance at Gateway, which hosted IndyCar’s return last August. It was a classic example of what happens when some hard-working, smart people score a good title sponsor and get the word out. 4. Scott Dixon walking away from his spectacular flip at Indy and then somehow beating Team Penske at Road America. 5. Newgarden’s ballsy pass of teammate Simon Pagenaud for the win at Gateway – it was his defining moment of the season.
As for the worst: 1. Sebastian Bourdais’ vicious accident during qualifying at the Speedway after posting the fastest lap, but thankfully Seb made a rapid recovery and was back in the saddle by August. 2. Knowing Juan Pablo Montoya was only going to get to run during the month of May. 3. Finding out back in June that Helio Castroneves was about to join JPM in sports car duty for Team Penske after 2017. 4. Knowing the dismal turnout at Watkins Glen was likely the death knell on IndyCar’s schedule for one of the great road courses on the planet. 5. The boring procession at Phoenix for the second straight season but hopefully the new aero kit will restore some racing to PIR this spring.
Q: A while back, Graham Rahal made the comment that he thinks Scott Dixon is the most talented driver in IndyCar and could run with the best in Formula 1 (this was in response to some snide comments Lewis Hamilton had made about the talent level in IndyCar). Given Dixon’s success in the IndyCar Series, I’d say it’s hard to argue against Graham’s point. Do you think that there are other drivers in IndyCar besides Dixon who could give Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel a run for their money? And how would you rate the overall talent level in IndyCar compared to Formula 1?
Garrick, Mobile, AL
RM: It would be impossible to make any comparisons unless everyone drove a Mercedes or Ferrari, but I imagine Newgarden, Power and Pagenaud could hold their own, as well as Rossi. What people tend to forget when debating IndyCar drivers in F1 is that Cristiano da Matta’s Toyota was a dog, and Bourdais told Toro Rosso he couldn’t drive the car they’d designed. Zanardi was already 33 when he went back to F1, and the Williams was hardly a world-beater at that time. Senna said it was a bad year and a bad car for Michael Andretti to make his F1 debut with McLaren, and Montoya was the only modern-day IndyCar champion with an opportunity to drive front-runners with Williams and McLaren.
Q: I was scared this off-season after knowing that we were going to be losing some full-time rides from different teams and really did not want the field to get any smaller then it already was, but it seems like we may have even more cars next year then we did in 2017. What is our car count as of now? I know some races will have more than others, but the field seems pretty healthy to me. If Esteban Gutierrez can put a full-time ride together, that would also be great.
Rick of central PA
RM: I count 22 full-timers (Andretti 4, Penske 3, Ganassi 2, Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan 2, SPM 2, Foyt 2, Dale Coyne 2, Ed Carpenter 2, Trevor Carlin 2, Mike Harding 1), but not sure how many entries will turn up at St. Pete.
Q: With the recent announcements of new teams, and drivers, where does this leave us in terms of car counts? The news seems good that we may have an increase, but are there issues with Chevy and Honda providing enough engines?
Jeff Otterstein, East Amherst, NY
RM: No, the engine equation is Honda supplying 12 and Chevrolet 10 for the full season.
Q: Does the management of IndyCar have no idea about who American race fans really are, or worse, they just don’t care? It appears they decided that their series is a business-to-business marketing opportunity for the benefactors of the well-connected that like to drive fast cars. No offense to the current champion, but more open-wheel race fans know that Bryan Clauson raced at Indy and have no idea who Josef Newgarden is.
The evolution of spec racing as turned the whole “ladder” into a private club, and the members that don’t run out of money can continue to play. Not really anything new about that, but the cost to race in this system is crazy. Talent can be found in much cheaper cars. I don’t believe Dale Coyne would be a member had this system been in place in the 1980s, and IndyCar needs more racers like Dale and a way to get them in the show if it wants to grow. Not sure how it happens, but I believe the long-term future of IndyCar racing may just be the owners and drivers that are racing at Tulsa, Knoxville, and the dirt track at Charlotte. If they had the opportunity I’m confident they would tell you where they would like to race on Memorial Day weekend, and their fans would follow.
CD, Beer Hill, Pa.
RM: Don’t think the cost of the cars has any bearing on the overall lack of identity for an IndyCar driver. It’s a matter of sponsorship and marketing and spending money. Josef has the perfect personality and tool set to become a star, but there is nobody spreading the world. To your point, BC had grass-roots fans everywhere and was more well-known than his Indy 500 teammate, and that’s why I pushed to get IndyCar to run JoNew at the Chili Bowl a few years back with BC’s help.
Would Indy be cooler with 45 or 50 cars going for 33 spots and guys like Donnie Schatz, Brad Sweet, David Gravel, Chris Windom, Kody Swanson and Justin Grant vying for a spot in the Indy 500? Absolutely. But for USAC or WoO teams to want to come to IMS, the prices would have to come way down on chassis and engines and that’s not looking likely. It sucks there are only 33 cars each May but a lot of sprint-car regulars couldn’t take the pay cut to come try Indy.
Q: If Michael Andretti can get full season funding (before hhgregg’s bankruptcy) or at least partial season sponsorship (UFD) for Marco Andretti, then what in the world is Chip’s excuse for Scott Dixon? By my count he had two funded races last year, St. Pete with GE and Indy with Camping World. All off-season last year we kept hearing Chip had something lined up for Scott, and yet there was nothing. It’s been the same this off-season – haven’t heard a single peep about it. Did Chip just simply forget how to attract sponsorship due to Target’s tenure?
Robert Cucchiaro, Baltimore, Maryland
RM: Andretti isn’t exactly the best example for your argument, but what Chip’s situation illustrates is how hard it is to get a sponsor nowadays. Sure, he got spoiled by 27 years with Target but he’s got good people looking for money and it’s drying up in NASCAR as well as IndyCar. NTT Data will likely be on the No.9 car a couple times in 2018 like it was last season.
Q: Sebring Raceway is an interesting track. I love the 12 Hour race, which is always packed with fans. During the winter, though, Sebring seems to be the busiest racing spot in the country, with teams from around the world testing. IndyCar in particular seems to have made it their second home (so much so that Dale Coyne owns the Sonny’s there!). That said, is there a reason IndyCar has never done a race there? Is it the track, the fee structure or simply that IndyCar just doesn’t want to do a race there? BTW, I loved your interview on Dinner with Racers! It’s a great podcast that’s a lot of fun!
Jonathan ‘JC’ Charles, Daytona Beach, FL
RM: The short track at Sebring is where all the IndyCar tests are held and it’s simply not big enough to host a race, while the big sports car course is way too rough for an IndyCar. When Tony Cotman was running Champ Car he looked at opening the season at Sebring as a prelim to the endurance race, but re-paving the track just wasn’t a viable option because the place was already packed for IMSA. Glad you enjoyed Dinner with Racers, Sean and Ryan are a hoot and do a great job.
Q: I can’t wait for the 2018 IndyCar season! I’ve been so excited about the season to come I’ve started watching some old Races on YouTube starting with the 1992 race at NHMS. This was the first race that I ever attended, and have been hooked ever since! I think it’s amazing how many races you can find on YouTube. What would be your top three races to go watch, and why? Keep up the great work, and I would love to see more Robin Miller in RACER magazine!
Rick Brown, Salisbury, Massachusetts
RM: Indy and Road America are the two best in terms of tradition, atmosphere and a bad-ass track, and then it’s probably a toss-up between Long Beach, Barber or a short oval like Gateway or Iowa. You picked a good track to get hooked on because the ’93 CART race at Loudon between Mansell, Tracy and Emmo was one of the best ever.
Q: Any idea if/where Juan Pablo Montoya will find a seat for the 2018 Indianapolis 500? The three top teams seem locked out. Andretti seems full, Penske will not be putting on a fifth car, which leaves us with Ganassi… but could you really see Roger letting JPM on loan to Ganassi for the biggest race of the year? The history between Chip & Juan is there, plus the Honda/Acura link will help, but I’m not sure? Is there a chance Montoya and McLaren/Andretti could work together?
Matt Lloyd, UK
RM: A couple months ago The Captain said if JPM wanted to run Indy for someone else that was his call, so I immediately texted Juan and told him to call Ganassi. He replied there was no chance, so then I called Roger about farming JPM out to another team and he said that wasn’t going to happen. So, sadly, no Indy 500 drive for the two-time winner. And Zak Brown told RACER last week that McLaren isn’t coming to IMS in 2018.
Q: Do you know if Michael Shank has ever considered Katherine Legge for his Indy program? We always thought that she real talent, especially after her comeback from the mishap at Road America. In my mind, this was confirmed in her performance in the DeltaWing. Her results may not look that good, but when she was in the car, she was regularly faster than her co-driver.
Dick & Sue Hildebrand, Ormond Beach, FL
RM: I’m sure if Mike Shank had the cars, engines and budget that Katherine would get a shot with him at Indianapolis. She got shoved into a Champ Car way before she was ready, but in the past few years she’s shown her moxie in sports cars and impressed a lot of people. She’s made two Indy starts but certainly not in the best of equipment, so I’d love to see her get a decent shot.
Q: Do you think Danica at Indy will actually happen? The teams do not seem very interested in her. Second, I am thinking about leaving a few days early for the Indy 500 this year. Is the Hoosier 100 on Thursday night? Is it worth the extra night in a hotel to see it?
Jeff Loveland, 20 minutes from Road America
RM: I’m starting to think she threw the idea out there without having a sponsor lined up, so right now I’d say her best shot is if IndyCar picks up the tab, because it definitely wants her in the show. So, yes, I think it will happen, but even though Ganassi admitted he’d talked with her people, there’s not been any movement lately in terms of a sponsor. As for USAC racing, Thursday night (May 24) is the Fairgrounds’ mile and that’s followed on Friday night at IRP (Lucas Oil Raceway) in Clermont. But if you come in early, then go to Anderson for the Little 500 on Saturday night. Might as well do the triple.
Q: Each year I pick up a few books from Coastal 181 around Christmas time to read and share with a few friends to close the gap between seasons. First book read was on Art Pollard by Bob Kehoe. Really did not know much about him other than he drove for Andy Granatelli in the woosh-mobiles. What a great story about a true gentleman, a person who gave more than he ever took. One just needs to read the section about the kids at the Larue D. Carter Memorial Hospital to understand his caring nature.
The author did a great job of weaving in interviews, newspaper articles, and pictures of so many different events that affected Art’s career from short tracks to the speedway. Also got a history lesson – I had no idea so many came from the Pacific Northwest area: Rolla Vollstedt, Lee Sutton, Del McClure, Bob Christie, George Amick, and a trio of Sneva brothers. It’s tragic how his career came to an end. But he gave us road map of how to live one’s life. Maybe do a video on him – just pull the “Tough” and insert the “Great” to the title.
James A. DaPuzzo III
RM: Art was a good friend and the guy who got me into racing. I kept saying I wanted to drive and he said to sell my sports car (Lotus) and he’d help me get a race car, so we bought a Formula Ford from Andy (and Vince) Granatelli painted STP day-glow orange. His nickname was “Alley Oop” and we played basketball, softball and poker together all the time, and there was no finer human being. And what he did for those kids at Larue Carter was praised to the heavens by the doctors and nurses, because Art was so patient and kind with them. We started a softball game in his honor after his death and those kids came to IMS for a picnic for 20 years. As a racer, he scored a couple of IndyCar wins and you have to remember he didn’t even start his Indy 500 career until he was 39. He was a tough guy and a great guy.
Q: I am 60 and have been at every Indy 500 since 1972. I take pride in being able to rattle off every winner since 1950, but in all honesty I have a lot easier time recalling the winning cars through the early 90’s than I do more recently; drivers as well. Could be memory and age, but it also occurred to me since the cars were unique and different from year to year back then, they are much more memorable than the spec cars over the last decade and a half. I know I am preaching to the choir, but the cars all now just run together and are pretty nondescript. Can’t wait for the Legends shirts go on sale in the next few days.
Donald A. Weidig, North Canton, OH
RM: We’re all in the same boat – over-60 types. I could recite every winner growing up and I know I have trouble recalling the past decade but, age aside, you are spot-on about the cars. The Novi, Watson roadster, Lotus, Eagle, turbine, McLaren, Coyote, Shrike, Gerhardt, Brabham, Wolverine, Wildcat, MT roller skate, Kingfish (above), Fleagle and Smokey’s sidecar were as popular and memorable as the drivers. There’s a big hole in Gasoline Alley that may never be filled, but thankfully we’ve got our memories. The shirts should be available for purchase soon (indylegendshirts.com).
Q: Did you ever go to the old Santa Fe Raceway near Chicago before it closed in 1995? And if so do you have any interesting stories? I used to attend sprint car races there back in the 80s.
RM: I have a close connection with Sante Fe Park because that’s where I got hurt during my first year racing USAC midgets. They dropped the green flag for practice on Aug. 1, 1975, and the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital about a week later. I suffered a serious head injury (obviously) but my crash did result in a move to improve safety. There was a concrete wall outside Turns 1-2, and when I got hit and started flipping the car went into the wall and tore off the cage. It was decided to remove the wall after my accident. It was also a great short track for AMA flat trackers and they put on a helluva show.
Q: It took me about a dozen years but I’m back on the IndyCar bandwagon! After Champ Car went spec in 2007 and changed to timed races rather than distances, that was the final straw for me, but I chanced upon an IndyCar race on YouTube earlier this year and I slowly got back into it. As much as street races are fairly rubbish, getting to watch the 2006 Indy on the Gold Coast from pit lane was an amazing experience.
My question is this: If money wasn’t an issue, you didn’t have to be pragmatic about it and you could schedule a 30-race NASCAR-rivaling schedule based purely on circuits you like, where would your series go? Mine would cover off all of the major food groups: Superspeedway: Indianapolis, Michigan, Auto Club, Pocono. Short Ovals: Milwaukee Mile, New Hampshire, Phoenix, Sanair, Iowa, Gateway, Puebla (MEX). Road Courses: Road Atlanta, Barber, Carolina Motorsports Park, VIR, Road America, Mid-Ohio, Portland, Laguna Seca, MSR Houston, Mexico City. Street Circuits: St Petersburg, Long Beach, Toronto, Belle Isle. Airports: Cleveland Burke Lakefront, Isla Grande Airport San Juan (Puerto Rico – they once had an SCCA event there). Dirt Ovals: Sacramento, Indiana State Fairgrounds, Springfield. I know it’s not very practical but a boy can dream!
Thomas Warren, Sydney, Australia
RM: I’d add Mosport and Phillip Island (in your country) and figure out a way to get back to Milwaukee. But 25 races would be perfect – 35 is too many. And we’d have to add DuQuoin to your dirt circuit in place of Sacramento.