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.
Q: After watching the live stream of practice at Phoenix, I was pleased with what I saw and heard. It does seem that they have to drive the cars now, and actually lift entering the corners. I was disappointed though to read about the difficulty in traffic, and the real possibility of another disappointing race in April. That being said, I just read an article on IndyCar.com about the upgrades to PIR which stated, “When the Verizon IndyCar Series returns in 2019, all facility changes will be complete.” Has IndyCar secured an extension, or is this just hopeful prose?
Tom Anderson, Mesa, AZ
RM: I believe the original contract was three years and 2018 would be No.3, so if there’s been an extension, I haven’t seen a release. But, as I’ve said numerous times, ISM president Bryan Sperber wants to make IndyCar a permanent fixture at Phoenix and is doing everything he can to promote, create awareness and give deals to previous customers. He can’t make the racing better, but it needs to be to have a shot at staying on the schedule.
Q: I just read the article on RACER.com about the passing at Phoenix with the new aero kits. The article alluded to passing being just as hard as it was the last two years, and that there would only be one racing line. Has IndyCar experimented with an artificial rubber they can spray on the outside of the track to create another line? I hate to see another oval lost to IndyCar history, but if we have a couple more boring races, Phoenix will suffer the same fate as Milwaukee. IndyCar has failed at venues while having a great on-track product. How is it going to succeed with a boring product?
RM: Not to my knowledge, but I don’t think artificial rubber is the answer. I heard some drivers say they need more downforce, but taking away 20 percent of the downforce was supposed to make the racing better. It looks like the key to overtaking will be tire degradation, but I did see some bold passes during Saturday night’s running, so maybe just getting the cars dialed in could create more passing. Phoenix can’t afford to have another stinker after the first two, so there is a lot riding on April 7.
Q: I’m really looking forward to the 2018 season after the recent tests of the new bodywork. Very cool looking cars, especially the paint job on Vasser/Sulli’s car: reminiscent of the last Indy Eagles, or Jordan’s Buzzin’ Hornets F1 cars. Regarding the new windscreen, bravo to IndyCar for taking the lead on this. If it plays out, it could be as significant for safety as the introduction of SAFER barriers. Based on the helmet-cam video, it struck me how good the view was for the driver, but it also left me wondering about the impact of dirt/debris over the course of a race distance. Currently, if an IndyCar driver runs through oil/liquid or dust at speed they can just remove a tear-off and visibility is restored. the tin-tops, they run with a removable layer that can be torn off during pit stops. Do you have any insight on how they plan to address this?
Also, thanks for standing up for John Paul Jr. in the February 7th Mailbag. He was a clearly stand-up guy and a very talented driver in both sports cars and IndyCars, and he deserved better than he got, thanks to his father. Do you know how he’s doing these days in dealing with his Huntington’s disease?
Royal M. Richardson, Chester, NH
RM: You need to read the interview with Jay Frye on RACER.com, but yes, some sort of a tear-off will be implemented, and there is also a plan in place for oil. JPJ requires constant care, and it’s a very tough battle.
Q: You have been very clear about your opinions with respect to closed canopies when it comes to open-wheel racing. I have to agree that an entirely enclosed cockpit does not make sense for an IndyCar or an F1 car. Given what Dixie said after his first test, it seems as if the current iteration of the windscreen is off to a good start. One thing I paid attention to was the difference in how the in-car camera picked up the wall – there did not appear to be any distortion when you compared the wall inside and outside the windscreen, which is often a problem with such thick transparencies. So that also a good omen: you will actually know how close you are to the wall or the car in front of you. What I cannot get around is that halo in F1. Unless something hits right in the middle of the halo or at the top, how is it going to protect a driver? Seems as if IndyCar has gotten it right; what are your thoughts?
Tom in Waco
RM: I think we were all pleasantly surprised that the screen wasn’t too invasive and didn’t deter too much from the overall look of the car. It’s certainly much more appealing to the eye than F1’s halo. After the dusk run, Dixon said there was a little bit of issue focusing through part of the window where he looking to pick apex points, so that’s something IndyCar will be looking at and I encourage you read the Q&A with Jay Frye. But it appears IndyCar’s prototype is promising.
Q: In common with most fans, I like the potential of the windscreen currently being tested. Lots of questions to be answered, of course, but surely the best way of answering those questions would be to test the screen in the real world.
IndyCar should fund the running of a car with the screen installed, driven by an experienced driver outside the championship (lots of choice there!) and have it participate in all the races, or at least one race on each type of track. That car should pull off the track at possibly two-thirds distance, so as not to cause any unnecessary disruption to the race outcome.
Doing that would truly provide real world experiences in traffic, likely in rain, in the draft, in difficult light conditions and so on. Other drivers would also see whether there are any unexpected effects on them, like reflections. Yes, there would be a cost to this, but it sure would make IndyCar look smart! Robin, thank you so much for all that you do to help our sport progress without losing sight of the past.
Rob, Perth, Ontario
RM: I think IndyCar already looks smart in the sense it shopped around until it found PPG and Opticor material, and now it’s beginning the long process of testing it on all three kinds of tracks, and with as many different drivers weighing in as possible. This isn’t going to be something we see halfway through 2018; IndyCar is going to make sure it’s answered all the tough questions before the screen is ever put into play.
Q: Can someone tell me why I haven’t seen a single commercial for IndyCar
during this entire season of The Amazing Race? It seems to me that promoting
the series (and its website) to the millions of people watching Alex and Conor on the show would be the biggest no-brainer promotional opportunity for IndyCar this off-season. Please tell Mark to call a CBS ad rep and get a spot on one of the two remaining episodes this season.
Robert Niles, Pasadena, CA
RM: It would make great sense, but it’s likely a dollars and cents situation in that IndyCar doesn’t have the budget. That’s what Mark Miles had said in the past. But I would much rather see IMS/IndyCar run a national TV ad during the Amazing Race than a regional ad for the Indy 500 during the Super Bowl. Watching Rossi pour milk in Victory Lane or Daly pass some cars at Gateway would give viewers that connection between the show and what an IndyCar driver does. The audience IndyCar is trying to reach watches The Amazing Race, and they need to be educated.
Q: It looks like Conor Daly will not have a ride to start this season and he will be missed, but am I overemphasizing his importance to IndyCar? Who would be your top five drivers that IndyCar simply cannot afford to have missing from the grid? The image of Conor sitting in his 4×4 while his partner did all the hard physical winch work on The Amazing Race is classic.
Mike, Avon, IND
RM: Tony Kanaan because he’s the most popular driver, Josef Newgarden because he’s the defending champion, and Scott Dixon because he’s the most decorated. The next two would come from Hinch, Rahal, Pagenaud, RHR and Power, so flip a coin.
Q: First of all, I’ve gotta say how nice it has been lately to see regular sponsor announcements. I swear there have been more this year than the past three years combined. I am wondering about new tubs. The recent Shank article mentioned that teams had been waiting for tubs and bodykits, and Dallara is a bit behind. Are teams replacing the tubs every year? Looks like Bourdais has a new one, and I know Coyne purchased some last year. I think it’s great that teams are able to buy new cars every year. Since they seem to be able to afford it, perhaps it’s time to open up the rules and allow multiple chassis manufacturers again. have some sort of cost control, maybe use a standard tub, but leave the rest open for development.
RM: It has been pretty newsworthy in terms of sponsorship so that’s always a pleasant surprise, but you have to have interest to have multiple manufacturers and Dallara looks to be the only player – regardless of the rules.
As for tubs, here’s what Ganassi’s Mike Hull had to offer: “They (tubs) carry forward provided they haven’t been in an accident. We do check them for torsional stiffness from delivery. To this point we haven’t had one that has softened. The flanks of the tub have gone to the IndyCar-approved facility through its term for safety enhancement. The same monocoques from 2017 have been updated by the approved IC carbon vendor in Indy for 2018 safety and aero kit fitment.”
Q: Just read your 2/7/18 Mailbag and I only count 30 (not 31) confirmed at Indy so far: Andretti (Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Rossi, Veach, Munoz, Wilson), Ganassi (Dixon, Jones), Penske (Castroneves, Power, Pagenaud, Newgarden), Foyt (Kanaan, Leist), Coyne (Bourdais, Fittipaldi, Mann), Carlin (Chilton, Kimball), DRR (Patrick ), SPM (Hinchcliffe, Wickens, Harvey), RLL (Rahal, Sato), Harding (Chaves), ECR (Pigot, Carpenter), Juncos (Kaiser) and Lazier (Lazier). If we assume a third car at RLL for Servia and a fourth car at Coyne for Daly or Claman DeMelo, we only have 32. Where is the 33rd car most likely to come from, and who might drive it? I know you’re no longer excited about a 34th car, but I still love the thought of bumping!
Mark Zac, Long Beach, CA
RM: Not so sure Danica won’t end up with Ed Carpenter, so that would put Sage Karam back with Dennis Reinbold and give us 33. I would also think J.R. Hildebrand might be in the frame since he always run well at Indianapolis, but of course, the real question is engines, because 34 might be one over the available number.
Q: Why is everyone in such an agitated state over Guenther Steiner’s comments [about IndyCar drivers in F1]? I say, good! I’m glad F1 isn’t interested in poaching our guys. I understood why it happened in the past, but it was hard on the series and us fans to watch our stars walk off to F1 with varying degrees of success. I want our guys including but certainly not limited to JoNew, Rahal, Pagenaud and even Rossi – now that Rossi is committed to the series long-term here – in IndyCar, fighting for wins and championships for years to come.
Eric, Lancaster, NY
RM: I think it’s a natural reaction that fans of one discipline defend their drivers, and in this case, it was interpreted as IndyCar drivers not being good enough to be poached. Steiner should have asked Nigel Mansell, Rubens Barrichello or maybe even Alonso before speaking. But why would JoNew or Rossi or anyone want to leave a competitive environment to go run for 10th place?
Q: I find it interesting that Danica is bringing money for the Indy 500, but her two former teams immediately said they were ‘booked’ when she announced her intentions. Chip listened, but not for very long. With teams seemingly willing to sign even someone like me if I brought money, what’s up? I heard years ago from an insider that her own crews were not fans of hers, allegedly because of her attitude and how she treated them. With a proven history at Indy and money to bring, is there more to the rejection stories?
Also, with purses being so small, drivers and crews are really paid by sponsors (via the team owners), not from IndyCar, aren’t they? (Except for the Winner’s Circle money, there is really no ‘income’ provided via purses). Why would any professional driver race for a $20k purse, unless they are paid almost exclusively with sponsor money as we already know they are? Is IndyCar simply a tax write-off and club series hobby for owners? Love the Mailbag!
RM: When Danica announced she was going to do the double she didn’t appear to have any sponsor, and I said at the time I thought she was just throwing a line out there to see what she could catch. Had GoDaddy been on board when her people talked with Chip, I imagine something could have been worked out. Not sure Rahal was ever interested, he likes running Servia whenever possible. A driver must rely on his retainer or a percentage of the sponsorship to make ends meet because the purses are crap – even for the Indy 500. But for owners like Andretti, Carlin, Coyne, Foyt, Ganassi, Rahal, Shank and Schmidt/Peterson, racing is their primary business, it’s not a hobby. And it’s Roger Penske’s passion that he runs like a business, but obviously he has many other interests around the world.
Q: I am excited to see Jimmy Vasser back in IndyCar with Dale Coyne. What does it mean? Did Dale need money? Is Dale helping Jimmy get back in the game with his new team? Will we see more cars because of it in the future?
RM: Just about everybody in IndyCar needs money, but this was a chance for JV and Sulli to get back in the game without buying cars or equipment. Dale needed a sponsor and they needed a team – this kind of partnership has been going on for 30 years. But this is a good story because it reunites them with Seabass.
Q: It seems like there is infinite momentum swirling around IndyCar this off-season. Ganassi landing sponsorship with PNC is huge. Do you see this, as well as Penske’s sponsorship with PPG (both Pittsburgh based companies), as a pathway for IndyCar to invest in more exposure in the Steel City? There is a strong growing economy in the area, but unfortunately the only thing the majority of people around here think of when they hear racing is NASCAR or Lernerville (always a great Friday evening). Hell, Bobby Rahal has several dealerships in the area, and I’m sure most people have no idea about the MGD car hanging from the wall in his Mercedes dealership.
Other than a couple thousand diehards (myself included), most people here don’t even know what open-wheel racing is. Does IndyCar see this as an untapped market with potential to grow the brand?
Alan Bandi, Butler, PA
RM: No, I see it as a longtime relationship between Chip and PNC that blossomed into a full-time sponsorship for nine races, and R.P. was the one who brought PPG Industries into CART way back in 1979 and they’ve always maintained a friendship, if not a business plan. Pittsburgh is all about football, hockey and baseball, and I doubt IndyCar racing even makes Sports Briefs on Monday mornings in the Post-Gazette. I’ve never seen a Pittsburgh reporter at the Pocono race – not even in IndyCar’s heyday. There sure are a lot of sprint car fans in Pennsylvania, they just don’t care about IndyCar.
Q: Some reports in January suggested IndyCar is seeking a significant increase in rights fees from a potential new series sponsor starting in 2019. Do you think this could be an indication of where the series sees its new TV deal (also starting in 2019)? If the series is confident it will have significantly more exposure by being on a major network, the increased price could be justified.
Thomas, Richmond, VA
RM: Asking for a lot of money and getting it are two different things. I read that story and if IndyCar could get $30 million for three years, it would be a major victory. You have to think about how cheap Monster Energy got NASCAR for, and they out-draw IndyCar 5-to-1 in television viewers, so we have to be realistic. I do think NBC and NBCSN would give IndyCar more of a national platform and better exposure on network, but a title sponsor likely looks at bottom lines – not potential – when cutting a check.
Q: As a Jaques Villeneuve and Greg Moore fan, I’ve spent the long damp Welsh winter watching IndyCar races from 1994 until Fontana 1999 – I still can’t watch that race. My question is, what would have happened if Villeneuve has stayed in IndyCar? And how many races, Indy 500s and championships would Greg have won with Team Penske, if he hadn’t raced that fateful day in 1999?
Huw Jones, Pembrokeshire, Wales
RM: Jacques won six poles and four races in his title year in 1995 (only his second season), so you would assume he would have kept adding to that total. Helio took Greg’s place and has three Indy 500s wins and three runner-up finishes, so saying Moore could have been a four-timer certainly isn’t out of the question.
Q: Robin, what are chances of any sports network giving a little time to IndyCar racing? I miss the old Speed network and RPM 2Night on ESPN. I have always enjoyed your columns, comments and interviews. I had forgot or never knew that the IRL tried to run you out of ESPN once, you should have a big badge of honor on your chest for that.
Jim Millis, Cottonwood, Arizona
RM: When FOX shut down SPEED, it left a void that hasn’t been filled and there doesn’t appear to be any takers. A national motorsports show would seem to be perfect for MavTV or Velocity, but neither has the drawing power SPEED or ESPN offered, so IndyCar’s best bet would be to have a show on NBCSN. No network is going to make room for a racing show unless it’s at 3 a.m. on a Wednesday, and NASCAR has certainly elevated NBCSN’s profile so that would be the perfect place – providing NBC gets the IndyCar contract for 2019.
Q: Yet another question about Indy/F5000 match races: Back when SCCA and USAC co-sanctioned F5000, didn’t Gurney and Uncle Bobby bring an Eagle-Offy to the Riverside F5000 race one year? Maybe in 1975 or 1976? As I recall, the Eagle’s turbo lag was a handicap coming out of the slower corners, but nothing could touch it on RIR’s long backstretch. On a related topic, what do you think the outcome would have been if the SCCA/USAC deal hadn’t fallen apart? Would the two series have eventually merged? Would USAC have allowed road races to make up a larger share of a combined schedule? Would stock-block five-liter Chevys have supplanted the Offys? Would a merged series have prevented or delayed the launch of CART?
Dan Wildhirt, Longmont, CO
RM: From 1974-76, USAC and SCCA co-sanctioned the Formula 5000 series and there was a provision that Indy cars could compete with F5000 cars. Brian Redman won all three championships and the Lola/Chevy dominated the competition but Mario, Al Unser, Gordon Johncock and Mike Mosley all drove F5000 cars – not Indy cars. Uncle Bobby did run Dan’s Eagle/Offy in 1974 at Riverside and qualified second-fastest next to Andretti, but dropped out. Can’t predict what might have happened, because the SCCA was just as lame as USAC back then.
Q: I know you don’t know all the details of a team finances, but if you take Team Penske as an example, does the sponsorship for the IndyCar program cover all the costs of the three cars, or does Penske operate under a single budget for all their racing teams (NASCAR, IndyCar and IMSA)? Also, are the sponsorships that Penske secured more lucrative than other teams? Do they provide more benefits to their sponsors such as entertainment at the races? No doubt Roger is a great businessman, but just curious.
Jim Doyle, Hoboken, NJ
RM: I have no idea how The Captain structures his budgets, but I would imagine IndyCar, NASCAR and IMSA are all separate. I think it’s safe to say that Roger’s deal with Marlboro was as good as it gets for open-wheel racing (rivaled only by Target and Ganassi for 27 years) but how many of Penske’s sponsors are business-to-business deals? Quite a few I imagine. And of course hospitality is paramount for Team Penske.
Q: I know this is primarily a forum for us IndyCar zealots, but since Formula 1 falls under the open-wheel banner, I’m wondering if you have heard any updates on the status of Michael Schumacher? It’s been about five years since his skiing accident, and the last I heard he was still being kept alive somehow and has not been declared deceased. Have you heard through any Formula 1 journalist contacts what his status is?
RM: Not a word.
Q: In the 1950s and most of the 60s, the engine of choice for dirt champ cars was the mighty Offenhauser. Then in August of 1967, at the Springfield Mile, the Jim Robbins No.27 team showed up with a non-turbo DOHC Ford engine installed in their Grant King champ dirt car. Bruce Walkup practiced the car, but was unsuccessful in his qualifying attempt. A few weeks later, Walkup put the car on the pole at the Hoosier Hundred in Indianapolis, and did the same thing at Sacramento.
The potential for this engine was beginning to show and became very intriguing to some of the other car owners, but it wasn’t until 1972 that other owners joined the Ford brigade. Even then, only half a dozen teams used the engine because I imagine it was much cheaper to run the trusted Offenhauser and or the small block Chevy V8. The DOHC Ford had only had a 10-year run on the dirt circuit and according to my unofficial calculations, teams using the engine sat on the pole 12 times, resulting in 20 wins and 32 top threes. The wins belonging to Unser (9), Tom Bigelow (4), Mario (4) and Foyt (3). The engine had a beasty sound to it, which I captured with a tape recorder while in the infield at the 1969 Hoosier Hundred during a Foyt qualification run. Here is a YouTube link to the two-minute audio recording.
In 1972, Ford Motor Company pulled out of IndyCar racing after dominating the sport for a period of time. A.J. Foyt then bought the rights to Ford’s DOHC Indy engine and rebadged it as a Foyt. Do you have any thoughts on this dirt champ era?
Michael Frank, Lafayette, IN
RM: I just remember there were Offys, Chevys, Fords and a couple turbines in that era, but nothing sounded sweeter than that Ford so I encourage our readers to listen to your clip. That’s the kind of sound that made instant fans. Those were also the days when the stars of Indy still had to run the miles at DuQuoin, Springfield, Indianapolis and Sacramento, because it was part of the national championship. Then USAC threw it all away by starting a separate dirt division, and that was the beginning of the end.
Q: I suspect we’ll never see testing at Laguna Seca ever again, simply because sound has become the limiting factor. For a number of years now the track has been limited to just five “unlimited sound” weekends a year, which, off the top of my head, are currently being used by IMSA (one weekend), SCCA (two weekends), and the Motorsports Reunion (the event formerly known as the Historics) with the final two weekends. We can all argue and scream to the sky about people building homes next to a racetrack and then complaining about the noise, but those clouds have opened up and dumped rain on us, and no one is selling towels.
Steve “I can tell you how deep the gravel is off every corner at Laguna” Levin, Sunnyvale, CA
RM: Thanks for this info Steve, but it makes no sense for IndyCar to have spring training or a big test session at a track it’s not running on during the season.
Q: I get that February is considered the rainy season for the San Francisco Bay Area, but let’s be honest, its rainy season is not the same as Portland or Seattle. Laguna Seca should be used to kick off the season in February. The green grass is gorgeous. Please tell me this is being considered if Sonoma is no longer the series finale.
Zack, Atlanta, GA
RM: I imagine it could be considered to be on the schedule if Sonoma went away, but I can’t ever see it being the opener.
Q: Any idea why Emerson Fittipaldi had a three-second cameo in the Kia/Stephen Tyler superbowl ad? Just weird.
Rich G, Columbia, SC
RM: None, and you had to look close and be a real fan, but it’s kinda sad they didn’t identify Emmo.
Q: Before I move to the subject, I would encourage everyone to watch all of your Dan Gurney video series, and also YouTube the moving segment Lord March did on Dan’s gifts to him, as well as the track tribute from a few years ago at Goodwood.
Now, a word about Formula E [top] and most things electric. Aside from the obvious danger of moving racing in a direction that alienates those in love with the animal sounds of motorsports, (in exchange for a wild assumption that the younger generation will embrace silent racers), I contend it is a technological dead-end and is, dare I say the word: fake.
Electrical grid windmills are fake. Solar panels are fake. Tesla is fake, (loses thousands per car, but how people that have never made a car made one that good is astonishing). Ethanol is fake. Not unlike saying a 20-something getting money for rent and monthly expenses to live on their own is not an adult. A person transitions from child to adult when they carve out a life of their own, independently. A business is not a real business unless it does the same.
The root of all the above is not business but politics, and is mere fashion and cosmetics as they cannot stand on their own without fake profits and fake capital investment, (tax credits and subsidies). Aside from the false notion that plug in electric cars don’t pollute, (most all electricity is fossil fuel generated then stored in heavy metal batteries), the electrical grid of this country and all those elsewhere is not, and will not, be capable of a motoring public using electric vehicles in any capacity above mere novelty.
Make sure to note that nearly one third of electricity generated is lost to transfer resistance… oops! Would a landmark room-temperature super-conducting material change that? Sure it would… as soon as it is rewired through the entire grid. Not in our lifetime. GM Diesel Electrics have been around and functioning in the real world for a very long time and a fabulous example of: Not fake. The real story in technology is just how good and safe and clean a modern car is, and how the market provided it to us.
If racing is to really push the envelope in a way that does not tell the Emperor how great his clothes are, (modern racing engines of 2.0 and over with forced induction producing 700 horsepower is a pretty short putt), then reduce the engine size dramatically and provide a consumption limit. Then take out the fake speed, (downforce) and then real owners will pay for real drivers. And as Rick Mears stated, the fake drivers will be spared higher injury as lower cornering speeds make the real walls and the real fences and the real tubs stronger without real capital investment.
Joe Wicker, Greenwood, Indiana
RM: Obviously, this isn’t a question, but Joe takes the anti-Formula E stance so we’ll let him vent this one time.