Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag 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.
Curious about IMSA. It is booming and there’s all sorts of interest and growth, new teams, plenty of engine suppliers, etc. Can you outline the financial side compared to IndyCar? I am wondering what is funding all the growth, as I believe it is owned and effectively run by NASCAR, and I cannot imagine there is too much generosity in what is paid out in the way of purse. It’s impossible to quantify the crowd on TV as hardly anyone sits in the grandstands. How do costs of running a prototype team compare with IndyCar, and is there much of a purse for, say, winning the Rolex 24?
Forrester L Morgan
RM: A top-tier team like Cadillac, Chevrolet, Acura and Ford spends as much, if not more, than the Big 3 in IndyCar, and the IMSA purses are even a bigger joke than IndyCar’s paltry payouts. I think the winner’s share of the Rolex is $25,000 but that was a few years ago, and it’s not publicly shared. But, because there are factory teams in sports cars, money isn’t really a problem for some of the big dogs.
Q: From what you can tell, are the rave reviews coming from the drivers about the new aero kit their honest opinions, or mostly hype? I love the appearance of the new aero kit and I am just as excited as the next guy about the prospect of an IndyCar season with more overtaking and cars that require a little more work from the driver to get the most out of them, but as far as I have seen so far there haven’t been any drivers that have said they dislike the changes. (Please correct me if I am wrong) With nothing but positive reviews, I cant help but wonder if once the season starts we will hear them singing a different tune. Either way, I cannot wait to see this new car on the track and see how everything plays out!
Grant Hendricksen, Baltimore, Maryland
P.S. I want to take a second to thank you for all the hard work you do. I am a newer fan of IndyCar, (this will be my third season) and the videos that you and Marshall Pruett put out are a big part of the reason I fell in love with the sport. When I watched the first couple races I wasn’t sold immediately. I liked the finishes and I liked when there was an impressive overtake or crash (hey, just being honest), but the videos that you put out helped me to understand not only some of the rules that I was confused about, but also some of the backstory behind the racing, which makes what happens on track that much more interesting. Just as an example, this year watching Helio Castroneves and Takuma Sato battling at the 500. That would have never been as exciting to me had I not known the backstory about Sato ALMOST winning before, and Castroneves fighting for his fourth win. Your love of the sport is apparent and I appreciate all the work you do to share that with the fans.
RM: My yardsticks are Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya. Dixie said it was definitely going to be more challenging to drive and he liked that, while JPM said you could slide the car around at a place like Mid-Ohio and it was fun. If the car sucked, Montoya would be the first to admit it, so I think all the positive comments are worthy. Of course opinions could change depending on tires, how your team adapts and whether you’re having a bad day, but the real drivers have always wanted less downforce and more control over their outcome, and I think IndyCar has given that to them. Thanks for your kind words, glad you discovered IndyCar and like it.
Q: To me, sound is everything. Just got back from the Daytona 24 and I think the Porsche 911 six-cylinder engines sounded fantastic, especially at full speed going around the oval. Other than the Cosworth V8, I can’t think of a better-sounding engine. It’s too bad these aren’t used in IndyCar. I guess Porsche gave IndyCar a brief try and it didn’t pan out. But isn’t that engine roar part of the attraction?
Doug Ferguson, Debary, Florida
RM: It certainly is, and Takuma Sato and I were having this discussion last year at Sonoma. He said IndyCar’s engines should be a lot louder and pound the ground and make people look up in anticipation, like he did when he discovered Formula 1. Porsche left after CART’s Kangaroo Court screwed them over carbon fiber.
Q: What’s the story with Montoya and the Indy 500? Is Penske nixing his participation with other teams? Is Montoya not really that active in trying to find a ride? Are teams just not that interested, or need someone who can bring money? Cannot imagine some team wouldn’t pick him up for their second or third car. What gives?
RM: A couple months ago when Roger Penske said that JPM was free to look around this May, I texted the two-time Indy winner and told him to call Ganassi. He instantly replied: “there’s no way Roger is going to let me drive for Chip.” So I called The Captain a few days later and asked if Montoya was, indeed, a free agent for Indy. “He’s under contract to Team Penske and he’s not driving for anyone else,” was the response. From Juan’s viewpoint, he knows he can still win Indy but he’s not going to be a second or third driver on a team that can’t win, and he’s getting paid nicely to drive the Acura for R.P. in IMSA. It sucks he’s not going to be running, but Penske isn’t going to compete against one of his own drivers – especially one as formidable as JPM.
Q: I have been watching a lot of classic racing on YouTube. I had planned to write to you about the glorious CanAm series, but then I watched the 1981 Indy 500. I am sure you know the story, so please give us your take on it. I find myself siding with Uncle Bobby. Am I wrong?
John Masden, Georgetown, Indiana
RM: One night about 10 years ago I had the pleasure of watching the 1981 Indy 500 with Gordon Johncock and Uncle Bobby. Johncock had never watched a replay of his Indy wins, let alone somebody else’,s so he was an interested spectator. When Unser passed 11-13 cars (I lost count), Gordy screamed: “Jesus Christ Unser, how many cars did you pass?” like it was a revelation. Bobby told him it was ancient history and no big deal because he had the field covered.
Here’s my take: Mario also passed several cars exiting the pits, so they both took advantage of a nebulous rule that USAC’s observers obviously didn’t follow during the race. Had it not been tape-delayed on ABC and had someone not tipped off Jackie Stewart, I doubt anything would have ever been said – let alone the protest, the crowning of Andretti the next morning, the other protest and the reinstatement of Unser. The easy penalty for something like this would have been a $50,000 fine, because Unser didn’t need to cheat the blend rule to win that race. And the blend rule was anything but set in stone in the shaky USAC rule book.
Q: While I am not sad to see the Kardashians go, I must disagree with Bill Pappas (from last week’s Mailbag) in his assertions that they do not eliminate wheel-to-wheel contact. In the Scott Dixon crash last year, Scott hit a much slower car that was angled across his bow. Scott hit Jay Howard from a somewhat side angle and got into his tire because of such a great speed difference in the two.
A better example of what they were designed for was in the 2014 Indy 500. Martin Plowman ran right into the back of Josef Newgarden, nose-first into the rear bumper. It spun Newgarden into the grass and out of the race, while Plowman continued on. If not for the bumper, Plowman goes nose-first into Newgarden’s right rear and possibly for an aerial ride who-knows-where. The bumper kept Plowman out of the tire, doing what it was designed for – protecting a car at similar speed from getting into the rear tire of the car ahead. Are they perfect? No, but they do reduce the potential flights we saw with Wheldon and Power at Vegas. For Pappas to say they do not work is wrong. They do. I hope we all understand and acknowledge that IndyCar did increase the danger by removing them, and accept that risk of a car climbing a rear tire from behind and the potential consequences.
Mark in Cincinnati
RM: I don’t profess to know anything about aerodynamics, and Bill Pappas is a helluva lot more qualified to make a judgment than most of us since he spent several months in a wind tunnel and gathering data about the new aero kits. But I do know that an open-wheel car traveling 100 mph faster than another one is going to climb over it regardless of wheel guards or anything else. I believe that’s physics, and Dixon traveled just as high and far as anyone in the Vegas crash. Thankfully, his landing turned out to be much safer.
Q: I will be 61-years-old in February and I grew up two blocks from Gate 9 (Northwest turn) on 28th Street. I love the 500-mile race and have been to 33 of them. I saw Parnelli dominate all day and break, and I saw the ’68 turbine of Joe Leonard break and saw Andy Granatelli with his hands on his hips. My favorite driver growing up was Jimmy Clark. However, my lovely wife recently bought me a book on Bill Vukovich Sr. for this past Christmas. My God, I used to think Clark’s short body of work at the 500 was tremendous (one win, two seconds and what should have been a win in ’64 if he were running on Goodyear or Firestone tires instead of Dunlops, and another win in ’66 if it weren’t for spinning out twice during the race) but what Vuky Sr. accomplished in five years was mind-boggling. Two wins in a row, and almost three in a row had he not broke in 1952 with eight laps to go, and then to own a 17-second lead and be tragically killed…
Your thoughts on Vuky? I did see your piece on Jack McGrath. Good job. Best driver to never win at Indy, maybe. Our neighbors lived in a trailer park in the early ’50s before purchasing a home in our neighborhood in ’55. They lived next door to Jack McGrath and said he was the nicest guy. Always tinkering with his car or his race car outside – he was his own chief mechanic.
Greg (avid Indy Car fan)
RM: Obviously I never got to see Vuky in person, but I’ve read Bob Gates’s wonderful book (Vukovich), watched the old videos many times, and I eat lunch with his son every Friday, so let’s defer to A.J. Watson’s opinion. He said Parnelli, Vuky and Troy Ruttman were the three best he ever saw at Indianapolis, so that’s good enough for me. Vuky’s greatest stat? He led 485 laps in those four races. And McGrath was a badass, he just had the misfortune of running against Vuky every May.
Q: Do you think IndyCar will ever race on the Charlotte Roval? They had great crowds for the oval races before the accident. Can you ask Marshall what the technical challenges would be? I’m guessing high ride heights to get on the oval banking.
Matt Converset, Decatur, IN
RM: No, I don’t think IndyCar will ever run Charlotte again in any configuration, but I’d much rather see IndyCar go to Mosport or St. Jovite in Canada or try Watkins Glen again before something like a roval in NASCAR country.
Q: As much as I hate it I do follow NASCAR little bit, and IndyCar needs to take a lesson from Steve Phelps, NASCAR’s Executive Vice President and chief global sales and marketing. This link to an article on RACER.com spelled out exactly what IndyCar needs to do. I do highly disagree with his line that they have the greatest racing on the planet – it might be the longest and slowest racing on the planet, but Indy is the greatest and fastest.
CAM in LA
RM: I’ve been saying and preaching for years that IndyCar must adopt NASCAR’s philosophy about advertising, promoting and marketing its drivers on a national forum (preferably a television commercial in prime time) all through the winter after a sixth-month sabbatical. IndyCar doesn’t have sponsors to do it like NASCAR, nor will it spend the money like NASCAR does, but I think it’s imperative. Instead of wasting money promoting bands, houses, camping and everything that’s not responsible for the Indy 500’s stature, spend it on introducing the drivers to America.
Q: Appreciate your and RACER’s reportage and looking forward to a good season in IndyCar and changes in F1. It is interesting to hear some of the back and forth in letters complaining that the foreign drivers and “road racing” facilities are not traditionally American. Many do not know the origins of American racing: Vanderbilt Cup, Elgin, etc.
Out here in Tacoma, Washington State, we were on the national championship trail around WWI with a five-mile road course, then a board track. Dario Resta, etc. Fiat ran factory team there for Teddy Tetzlaf (the original “Mad” Russian. It is the nature of the beast, but too bad some of the drivers don’t get more time as newer guys come with funding. I do not have your closeness to the subject, but felt Tristan Vautier might have developed into a very solid driver. Your thoughts?
RM: Absolutely. Vautier showed plenty of promise and was having a helluva run for Dale Coyne last year at Texas before being caught up in an accident that wasn’t his fault. Like others before him that got a taste of IndyCar, he didn’t have the backing to keep improving and learning, and it’s the way of the world today in most forms of racing. The good old days were dangerous, but if you could drive you were going to get a decent chance to make it.
Q: My dad and I are looking for a race to go to for the 2018 season. We go to Sonoma every year as it is close to where we live, and I went to my first Indy 500 last year and it was amazing. I had hoped to go to Indy again this year, but it doesn’t look like it will work out. We went to Long Beach last year and felt that you just can’t really see what’s going on. Where would you suggest going? We were debating between Road America, Mid-Ohio, and Barber. Which of these do you recommend, or do you have another suggestion?
Max Camposano, Los Altos, CA
RM: Any of that trio is good – especially for walking around and taking in all the different corners of a road course. My choice would be Road America because it’s such an awesome track with every kind of turn imaginable, and it’s four miles long and you can rent a golf cart and see it all (but rent it ASAP because they always sell out). But Barber is a quaint, racy place that has great sightlines and an awesome museum on top of that. Mid-Ohio is an IndyCar mainstay and old-school road course that caters to campers and fans that like to get close to the action.
Q: I heard there is a cool DVD with Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones and Mario Andretti floating around. How can I get it?
RM: In 2010, IMS Productions kindly allowed me to host a two-hour b.s. session with those three legends (AJ was also supposed to join us, but he was the grand marshal of the parade and didn’t make it) and now it’s back in circulation. You can buy it here or purchase it at the IMS Museum gift shop.
Q: In a lot of ways I agree with your comment about Simona in last week’s Mailbag, but at the same time, I hope she stays in Supercars and sees it through as far as she can. I feel like too often with female drivers the focus has been on pushing for news and highlights rather than getting the solid accomplishments that get them into and keep them in top-flight equipment. Yes, I know, Danica, but I also know every driver isn’t a champion. But we can both rattle off a dozen names of shooting stars — and I definitely don’t want to see Simona end up that way!
RM: I guess my point is that Simona showed she could be competitive in an IndyCar without ever having driven for one of the best teams, so imagine if someone would have invested in her future? I hope she succeeds wherever she’s racing, but it was like starting all over again for her in V8s.
Q: Reading the Mailbag letter about an IndyCar race vs F1 reminded me of one I had read about many years ago at Monza in 1957, where both competed against one another. Perhaps Bobby from Texas was thinking about that one? The 1974 race at Phoenix you referred to was F5000 vs. Champ Car.
Tom Corso, San Francisco, Ca.
RM: Monza hosted Indy cars in 1957 and 1958 in the Race of Two Worlds that did pit Indy cars against F1, but it was no contest. After the Jags and their five-speed gearbox roared ahead at the start, the Offys came to life and blew them away. Jimmy Bryan won two of the three heats and finished second in the other one in 1957, while Jim Rathman swept all three in 1958 and Tony Bettenhausen qualified at an unbelievable speed of 11 mph! The Questor Grand Prix at Ontario in 1971 pitted F1 cars against F5000 cars, and the USAC race at Phoenix in 1974 had four or five F5000 cars trying to keep up with Indy cars – and that was a bad idea.