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: Someone please spring for an IndyCar commercial before the Amazing Race (with Conor and Alexander) concludes! We hear how IndyCar wants/needs publicity, and a golden opportunity is slipping by while IMS spends time marketing to its existing fans – preaching to the choir. Though we appreciate the pre-season coverage of the pretty new car and the windscreen safety developments!
Please think beyond how great the new cars are and who has a contract with which team, and market the series to a [bigger] audience. Both Amazing Race IndyCar drivers have sacrificed so much of their pre-season time in support of IndyCar. In the process, Conor lost valuable time when he could/should have been working toward a new sponsor/ride for the 2018 season. IndyCar and IMS owe Daly some serious support. He has a good Forza simulation fan base, and that demographic might bring new fans to our series. “We” might even get a Forza simulation display in the Fan Village, along with Firestone and Honda. Think about it!
RM: I was going to write a little commentary about this very subject, but let’s just address it here. In January, the Amazing Race it was one of the most-watched shows for a couple weeks, and still drew 2.0 million last week up against the Winter Olympics. That’s a decent number for a series that gets between 400,000 and 1.2 million on its two networks, but more importantly, it’s an audience that likely knows nothing about IndyCar racing. It’s a chance to educate them about what Daly and Rossi do, and a 30-second commercial showing them in action and promoting the season would be money well spent.
My understanding is that IndyCar/IMS cry poverty when it comes to spending the big money is takes to advertise on prime time TV, but it would be so much smarter than investing in a regional Indy 500 ad that runs in Indiana only on Super Bowl Sunday, or those Indy Star ads and Indy billboards that promote May. To your point, promoting Indy in Indy is a waste of money. And Daly did get hosed. He left for the Amazing Race thinking he had a ride, and returned to find out he’d been replaced and it was too late now to get any kind of full-time seat. But IMS isn’t going to rescue you him, not even with his stepdad as president.
Q: Nate Ryan wrote an article this week about how NASCAR needs to revamp Speed Weeks. He gave credit to Indy for finding a way to reinvent itself (the Fast Nine) when bump day became irrelevant, and urged NASCAR to trim its field to make their product better. This article reminded me of another one I read a few years ago by a certain RACER writer who proposed a fictitious Week of May where Indy’s events were compounded into a seven-day span… That article represented a low point for me, even though I agreed with the logic.
But with that said, NASCAR is now in the same position as IndyCar was then, but IndyCar is on the rise – slowly. Last week you wrote, why even bump a 34th if we even got one – which at the time I agreed with – but now there is a legitimate potential for 36 if notice is given to Chevy in the next two weeks or so. This tells me that its time to go after this, and market the hell out of bumping again at the speedway. It’s just 1-2-3 cars, but who the hell cares?
NASCAR is wounded and looking for band-aids for a broken leg, while IndyCar is standing to stretch. Let’s get on the offensive and showcase our product! Especially since we are trying to get a new title sponsor and a decent TV deal!
Matt, Marshall, Mo
RM: NASCAR had nobody show up for its special winners’ race or the Twin 125s (and no sponsor for the pole award), but it’s taken down enough seats (roughly 90,000) that the race looked good (100,000) on the overhead shot for the blimp. Having said that, even though last Sunday’s Daytona 500 on FOX was its worst TV rating ever (a 5.1) it’s still a helluva lot better than last year’s Indy 500 (3.4) so it’s not like IndyCar is suddenly thumping NASCAR where it counts. There are some positive signs (new owners, new sponsors, cars look like IndyCars again), but still a lot of work to be done to make IndyCar relevant again with the American public. But if NBC gets the series for 2019, I think you’ll see a marked improvement in network ratings and exposure because it will promote.
Q: Hope springs eternal when discussing 34 or more entries for the Indianapolis 500. A common response is that it might not/probably won’t happen because there are not enough engines to go around. Why is that? How long does it take to build an IndyCar engine? What is the factor (or factors) that limit the number of engines that are available?
Howard Fry, Lombard, IL
RM: The factor is simply expense. Honda and Chevy both claim to lose money on their IndyCar engine programs, and I believe they agreed a few years ago to each provide 17 engines for May, with an occasional exception (Honda is likely looking at 18 this year) and a provision for partial May programs for one-off entries.
Q: I was listening to “This Week in IndyCar” with Pruett and yourself. Marshall alluded to JR Hildebrand and Ed Carpenter Racing having a falling out? I don’t remember this being reported publicly before. What is the source of animosity between the two?
Kevin in Sussex, WI
RM: Just the fact J.R. found out he was being cut loose before his home race in Sonoma last year – I think that’s the rub. But I don’t think its any big hatred, I imagine J.R. still appreciates that Ed gave him a ride the past few years.
Q: Do you believe IndyCar would welcome a third engine manufacturer? I know the series has become financially stable by minimizing the inevitable “arms race” mentality associated with top tier series, so would IndyCar really like to see a third OEM? Seems that everyone is sitting on the sidelines until 2020.
Jonathan & Cleide Morris, Ventura, CA
RM: Absolutely. It brings in more competitors, more marketing, more money and, hopefully, more competition. But right now every manufacturer seems enamored with Formula E, so it doesn’t appear IndyCar is getting many bites.
Q: Cosworth is reportedly wanting to be in IndyCar racing but they can’t find a manufacturer to badge the engine. I kinda believe that until IndyCar gets a major TV deal, whether it’s NBC Universal or ESPN/ABC, the series will continue to struggle to find a third manufacturer.
RM: First of all, Cosworth has been saying for years it would love to be back in IndyCar if it can find a partner, so there’s absolutely nothing new about that revelation, and it’s really nothing but filler on a boring winter day I guess. But I’m not sure how much a new TV contract will have to do with swaying any manufacturer’s opinion. It’s not like a new TV deal is suddenly going to send everyone running towards IndyCar. It’s simply got to make sense/cents.
Q: I was happy to hear that PNC is signing on for Dixon. Rahal signing Total and saying there are more announcements to come. Bourdais with the beautiful car brought to you by SealMaster. There seems to be some momentum with sponsors. There is potential that there may be more sponsors then engines, parts, and chassis. How does IndyCar correct that? Especially on the engine side – if they do bring in another engine manufacturer, how do they avoid a repeat of what happened with Lotus? Should IndyCar sign another chassis manufacturer?
Paul Hirsch, Erie, Pa.
RM: Not sure there is any surefire way to prevent an engine manufacturer from being uncompetitive, be it through outright speed, or reliability. In the case of Lotus, I imagine a little more digging might have unearthed the fact John Judd was woefully under-financed, but he had a pretty good track record so not sure there were many warning signs. At least, not until it hit the ground at Indianapolis. As for another chassis, the racing can’t get much better and things are pretty equal, so why mess with that? Not necessary, plus there’s nobody lined up to join.
Q: Is the Carpenter deal really Speedway money filtered through Ed?
John, Akron, Ohio
RM: If GoDaddy hadn’t come aboard, IMS was always going to make sure Danica had a good ride regardless of which team ran her in May. So not knowing how much that sponsorship is worth, I’d say IMS is helping field her car with ECR at a reduced rate because I imagine GoDaddy contribution is at least $500k-$1 million.
Q: I’m a long-time follower of American open-wheel racing, and one of the things I’ve been following is how this year’s Indy 500 grid is taking shape. A friend alerted me to the existence of Thom Burns Racing on Twitter, looking to put an entry together in the month of May. Can you shed any light on the backstory and whether there’s a chance of it happening? As a side note, I have to give props to Jay Frye and the rest of his team for the work they’ve done over the past few seasons with the new cars and getting on with business. Can’t wait for St Pete!
Dan Melrose, Sydney, Australia
RM: Marshall Pruett reported that Burns was going to help Conor Daly at Dale Coyne Racing for the Indy 500, so that’s all I know. Jay, Bill Pappas and Tino Belli have done a very nice job of simplifying things and making an IndyCar look like an IndyCar again.
Q: I’ve heard and read a lot about how the 2018 IndyCar has less downforce, drivers are not flat-footing the car, feeling the car more with their butt, etc. Sounds like a sprinter at Salem? Any chance this new car opens up a chance for some of the young talents to step to IndyCar vs the “hard top” route?
RM: Not unless those said young talents (Justin Grant, Chris Windom, Kody Swanson, Kevin Thomas, Tyler Courtney, Brady Bacon, Robert Ballou) hit the lottery or marry rich, because the owners have no idea who they are and would demand big money. But I like your thinking.
Q: We cannot afford another flop in Phoenix, so why not use Push to Pass? It’s a short oval with little to no straights; they need that extra little bit to pop out and get back in line quickly, assuming it will be a one-groove track. Not a fan of Danica really, but I am pleased she will have a good ride in May. If she is in the hunt, hopefully we can turn the TV ratings around. Do you see Ed with the just three cars?
Lastly, can you recommend some useful resources for out-of-town folks who want to come to Indy? I know there are packages, but I do not want to be in suite, I want to hang out in the grandstand (Turn 1 so I can see up the straight and the cars going into Turn 2), but to figure out what the views are from different seats is almost impossible because the sites that show “seat views” do not seem to match the seating system used by IMS. I went to the site and filled out an application, but it got too cumbersome so I bailed. There must be some useful resources for fans wanting to come to the race.
Sean Olgilvie, Vancouver
RM: I think PtP would make it tougher to pass at Phoenix, and what IndyCar is hoping for in April is that tire degradation helps overtaking, along with handling. I wouldn’t get too excited about Danica ramping up the TV ratings because it pretty much flatlined during her final three years in the IRL. She might help a little, but not enough to make any kind of big difference. Hope I’m wrong. Just go to the IMS website and buy tickets in either the Southeast or Southwest Vista as high as you can go, and enjoy the view.
Q: Where is Tristan Vautier racing this season? Any chance he could end up in the third SPM car for the GP and Indy 500?
RM: Jay Howard is the likely candidate for that third SPM seat and Vautier [above] would appear to be outside looking in, although he certainly did a nice job for Dale Coyne last year.
Q: Marco ran a 3/4 midget this offseason, and yesterday tweeted about running a 500-lap Kart event. Is this a new way to get him comfortable in a loose race car?
RM: He’s always seemed comfortable in a loose car. I just think it’s a chance to have some fun and experience some different cars.
Q: My question is about the schedule and how long Mark Miles has talked about starting the season earlier and ending early to avoid football. We got the back end changed, but nothing on the front end. I agree somewhat with the strategy to grow the TV ratings, but in order to work the season needs to start exactly when football ends. I checked the weather in Fontana the week before the Super Bowl, and it was sunny and 79.
It’s the weekend of the Daytona 24, but a Sunday race start at noon local will be when that race ends, and it’s a perfect time to start the season with hopefully a good TV audience and a much more exciting race! Run Phoenix or maybe Homestead the week after the Super Bowl, then add an international race if that’s ever going to happen somewhere like Mexico City. They could then alter the schedule to avoid ratings-killer events like the NCAA tournament and the Masters. F1 takes a summer break and IndyCar can lay low for parts of March.
If they start in January and end in late August at Pocono, that would start and end the season with 500-mile races, restore the Triple Crown, and be a reasonable offseason! Just need a sponsor to pony up to make it a real Triple Crown. If they add a couple tracks, then they could get rid of Snorenoma and keep the schedule in the high teens. Why can’t this happen, and why hasn’t it happened? My only thought is NASCAR won’t allow it.
Joe from Indy
RM: The first big shows of the year at Fontana and Phoenix are always NASCAR and that’s not going to change, and Fontana is only interested in IndyCar in the fall at night when it’s not so stinking hot. Phoenix promotes its Cup race in March then IndyCar in April and it’s not going to switch them, nor should it since it draws a big crowd. Schedules are all about finding the right date for series and promoter and then establishing continuity.
If you look at IndyCar’s schedule, its biggest draws (Long Beach, Road America, Mid-Ohio, Barber) are always around the same time, and that’s Gateway’s plan as well. But just dropping in races so IndyCar can get an early start isn’t likely to happen with any kind of success, and if you can’t get a few million from an international race (not likely) then why bother? Just shore up North America and stop the season in late September.
Q: With all this talk of the new bodywork making the cars looser and harder to drive, I’m guessing the early part of the season might deliver a lot more crashing. Does Dallara have enough bodywork pieces in reserve if we see a few crash-fests early in the season? Is there a danger being left out if you crash too much in 2018?
Scott Simmons, Nashville, TN
RM: Naw, there’s only one oval (Phoenix) prior to Indianapolis and Dallara will be caught up by then, so no danger of being on the sidelines if you have a crasher.
Q: I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I sat in the corner on an oval and heard such quiet cars turn the corners. I sat with the rest of the loyals in Turn 1 at Phoenix recently and it was remarkable how few drivers tried to stick it into the corner. So many guys figuring out just how far they can hold it into the corner, and how quickly they can accelerate out of it. I absolutely loved watching them figure it out and then seeing the drastic speed changes down the stretches. In the past years, first-timers haven’t needed much time to acclimate to these cars and be competitive in short order. Now that they seem trickier, do you think first-time open-wheelers like Robert Wickens will take longer to acclimate? With the decreased downforce, do you anticipate a little more carnage in the lead up to and on Pole Day at Indianapolis? Or do you think the decrease in awarded points will allow cooler heads to prevail?
Dan W., Ft. Worth, TX
RM: Glad you were paying attention, and it must have been just as cool to hear them back out of the throttle at both ends of the track, as it should be. Wickens seemed to adapt quickly, and since he’s not used to the old IndyCar, not sure it’s going to affect him all that much. The drivers all say it’s tougher and trickier to drive, so that obviously could result in a little more carnage, but finding the limit with this aero kit figures to be a new challenge.
Q: I was just rereading an interesting story from a few weeks ago where Zak Brown said that he believes Newgarden and Dixon are ready for F1 right now. Obviously, the chances of either happening seem pretty slim. But that got me thinking. A while back, I looked through the little driver descriptions on IndyCar.com, and the majority of them cited someone from F1, like Senna or Prost, as their racing heroes.
I’ve also seen that many drivers have come over to Indy after trying to get to F1. Some of them, like Rossi, end up loving it more than F1 and being totally content. But I get the feeling that lots of young guns, like Jordan King or Pietro Fittipaldi, are only here because they couldn’t get to F1, and would leap back at the chance if they thought an F1 seat was realistic, no matter which team. So my question is, how many of the IndyCar drivers right now do you think would jump ship from a good IndyCar ride for a second-rate or back-of-the-grid F1 drive?
To go a step further, do you think that guys like King want Indy to be treated as almost a feeder series like F2 to give a different route to F1? I personally think treating IndyCar as a feeder series would be a tragedy.
Max Camposano, Los Altos, CA
RM: That would be a good question for Rossi, because he’s gone from kind of a hopeless situation predicated on bringing money to a team with no chance to being paid, to a good IndyCar team where he’s already won two races and is now one of the guys to beat. Why would he want to go back? All I can tell you is that when I first met the late, great Justin Wilson in 2003, we were talking about him going from Minardi’s F1 team [above] to Eric Bachelart’s Champ Car team. “I think our budget was $50 million and we were seven seconds behind Ferrari,” said JWill. “I come over here to a tiny team like Eric’s, but I’ve got a chance to be competitive right away and that’s why I race. I want to be competitive and have a chance to win.” That is your answer.
Q: In the article about hope for passing in Phoenix, Charlie Kimball talked about Phoenix being a single-lane track. This makes me wonder what an ideal IndyCar oval would look like. Phoenix seems to only have a single groove. Pocono is too big for 22 cars (but the racing is good), Indy is great but fans can’t see the whole track, the 1.5-mile NASCAR ovals seem to encourage pack racing. If you have a bunch of real estate and several million dollars, what does your new oval look like? Are Iowa or St. Louis ideal IndyCar tracks?
Mike in Chicago
RM: It’s really not as much about the track as it is the aero package and tires nowadays. In the old days, Phoenix, Milwaukee and Trenton were all great, racy miles (before Trenton became a 1.5) because the cars weren’t very big, there were no wings, aerodynamics or downforce, and nobody even considered running wide open into a corner. If they can hit this aero kit with the right combination so drivers can get close to each other then more passing should be possible, although the tires figure to play a bigger role than anything. When you think about the two most insane ovals of the past few years (Fontana and Texas), there’s banking and multiple grooves that took your breath away.
A flat oval like Phoenix never had that kind of action, but rather somebody getting hooked up and passing on the outside, or somebody like Michael Andretti carving through traffic – still exciting, just different. Indianapolis has been must-watch television the past few Mays because the restarts are Wild West and drafting is so effective with the long straightaways that you can’t help but pass. And, as you mentioned, Pocono has been damn good despite having only 22 cars with lots of overtaking. So, to answer to question, we just want Phoenix, Iowa and Gateway to be racier, but there is no ideal oval in my mind.
Q: You mentioned on The Week in IndyCar news that there was an effort to get Gordon Johncock to Indy this year, hopefully to meet with the fans. What is the likelihood of this happening?
Ken, Geneva, Illinois
RM: Steve Shunck and I are always trying to get Gordy to come to Indianapolis but this is the 45-year anniversary of his first win, so we’re making him a little present. The problem is that he works seven days a week at his pulp mill and it’s a long haul to upstate Michigan. It will be a game time decision, I imagine.
Q: I’d love to hear your insights on a hypothetical scenario I’ve been thinking about. I’ve been thinking about what Gunther Steiner has been saying about U.S. drivers not being ready for F1, as well as thinking about what Zak Brown has been doing at McLaren and the talk that maybe, eventually, they could field a full-time IndyCar team. I was wondering about drivers for that team, and if you think that eventually that person could go to their F1 team? Or vice versa? I’d hate to see Indy be reduced to a feeder series for F1, but it sure would be cool to see more crossover fostered. I know, purely a long-shot hypothetical with a ton of “ifs”, but these are the kind of things one thinks about during a too-long offseason.
Jeff Barker, Boise, ID
RM: It would almost take somebody like Newgarden or Daly that had Euro experience early, then pack them up and send them to F1, but it’s hard to imagine with testing limitations, all the politics, and money. If they were in an IndyCar like Graham Rahal was at 17 then maybe it could be possible because by 21 that driver would have lots of experience and then go learn the F1 tracks. And if McLaren wanted it to happen, it would. I was just looking at a photo of Bobby Unser driving a spare BRM in 1968 at Monza – that was the weekend he and Mario intended to run the Hoosier 100 in Indianapolis and fly back in time for the Italian GP. Can you imagine somebody even thinking about doing that today? That’s why that era was so cool.
Q: I live in Sacramento and have a seen a few pictures of USAC races in the 1960s, with A.J. in a couple. What can you tell me about the track and its history? Did you ever go there?
Paul, Sacramento, CA
RM: Triple A ran there from 1953-55 before USAC took over, and made it a staple of the series until 1970. Along with DuQuoin, Springfield and Indianapolis, it was a one-mile dirt track that rewarded the brave and talented [like Mario Andretti, above], and the USAC champion was truly the most versatile because of dirt, pavement and road courses. I saw Al Unser win the last race there in 1969, and A.J. the year before. But I wish I’d have seen Don Branson qualify there anytime.
Q: After reading the announcement of the F1 Hot Laps Program, I was wondering if IndyCar fans can purchase rides in the two-seater? The only way I’ve heard of to gain access to a ride is through the Honda Fastest Ride program, which I believe to be a random drawing.
Vincent Martinez, San Gabriel, CA
RM: Absolutely, you can either drive around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yourself with the Indy Racing Experience (Phone: (888) 357-5002) or be a passenger with a former Indy 500 driver.
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 was on Art Pollard by Bob Kehoe. Really did not know much about him other than he drove for Andy Granatelli in the woosh-moblies. 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: There was no finer person than Art, he was a good friend who pretty much adopted me and helped me buy my first race car (a Formula Ford) from Andy Granatelli. We played poker at his house every week, and basketball in the winter and softball in the summer, and he was such a kid. The doctors at LaRue Carter use to say he was better than any medicine, and had such a calming influence on those kids and they loved his visits. He was also a damn good racer who didn’t come to Indy until he was 37 years old, and nobody drove any harder.
Q: So Austin Dillon hits the No.10 car, not once, but twice, to make sure he takes him out since he couldn’t pass with his like a racer, to claim the “victory” in the Demolition Derby called the Daytona 500. All I can say is, if IndyCar drivers drove like stock car drivers there would be multiple fatalities every year.
Jim Patton, Lindale, TX
RM: It takes no talent to spin somebody out, and he didn’t even have the courtesy to apologize to Amirola afterwards – or at least acknowledge that he’d punted him. When you get a run like that it seems like you could maneuver around, or at least move the guy aside, not just drop kick him on the last lap. But I sure wish it had been Tony Stewart he did that to, and I’ll bet things wouldn’t have been so friendly.
Q: Did you see Lewis Hamilton’s shout-out to Bubba Wallace during yesterday’s Daytona telecast? Sure, the race was a crash fest joke and agonizingly long, but I still maintain that Lewis Hamilton will end up in NASCAR in the very near future once Mercedes loses its advantage and its board pulls the plug on the F1 marketing exercise. Perhaps Bubba is laying the groundwork. Any news about IndyCar having a driver of color coming onboard anytime soon? My local sports talk radio host Jeff Deforest on 940 AM confused Willy T. Ribbs as being the last black racer in NASCAR, but I had to set him straight and let him know that Willy raced at Indy with backing from Bill Cosby.
Neil Rubin, Miami Beach
RM: That’s an interesting prediction, be fun to see. Haven’t seen any black open-wheel drivers since Chase Austin was going to try and run Indy for A.J. Foyt a few years ago, but it never happened. And Willy T. did run five NASCAR races in 1986, but always claimed he got sabotaged – and probably did.
Q: Several times in the past few years’ Mailbags you have quoted Edsel Ford as saying that “Nobody’s watching IndyCar” and that’s the reason Ford isn’t interested in participating in IndyCar. My response to Mr. Ford is this: If NASCAR’s ratings trend continues, in three to five years “nobody” will be watching NASCAR either. In other words, NASCAR’s ratings will be close to IndyCar quite soon. If (and more likely, when) this happens, would you please ask Ford again for an update on its position, pointing out that times and ratings have changed dramatically since 2006?
Also, what do you think of the idea of unlimited green/white checker finishes? I think it’s NASCAR’s worst idea yet, and I’m glad I didn’t watch the Xfinity race on Saturday. Five attempts to finish under green just makes the drivers look more and more amateurish, and I seriously doubt it’s going to help NASCAR’s ratings slide.
Marc, Orange County, CA
RM: Sunday’s Daytona rating was the worst ever (5.1), but that has to be tempered with the fact it still was considerably better than last year’s Indy 500 (3.7) and there is no doubt all of racing is hurting, be it viewers or paying customers. There are still some healthy venues, no doubt, but when Daytona takes down 90,000 seats so it can again have a sellout, you know the times they are a changin’. I don’t think Edsel has any particular dislike for open-wheel (he loves A.J.) but was just stating the comparison between NASCAR and IndyCar viewers. I watch Cup because of Kyle Larson, Xfinity because of Chris Bell and Austin Cindric, and Trucks because of Myatt Snider, but G-W-C is a farce and always has been. But it is amazing that the world’s greatest drivers always seem to crash on the straightaway.