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: Any word on the broadcast deal that IndyCar is about to announce? I ask because we all know Formula 1 is very expensive and the only reason sponsors are there is the international market, and not the racing. Do you not feel this is the time for IndyCar/Hulman to cater to the foreign markets, begin international races, and start selling the brand to international sponsors?
Brent L., Denver, CO
RM: Following Saturday’s tweet from an ABC-affiliated weatherman in Macon, Ga. with a memorandum that said ABC was getting out of IndyCar after 2018, Hulman & Company president Mark Miles said he hopes to make an announcement soon. (I’m hearing it’s today). But there doesn’t seem to be much demand/interest for an international IndyCar race and if F1 teams are struggling for sponsorship, can’t imagine IndyCar cashing in. The only selling point would be doing it much cheaper than F1, but consider what the worldwide audience is for F1 compared to IndyCar and I think you’ll get your answer.
Q: ABC’s F1 coverage on Indy 500 Day will butt up right against their coverage of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. So the pre-race coverage will get started on ESPN2, home of AAC basketball, snowmobile racing and reruns of The World’s Strongest Man if the Monaco coverage runs over, and will transfer to ABC just in time for Taps? The disrespect from ABC has grown almost intolerable over the years, and this is the latest insult. I can’t wait for someone else to cover this series.
Dan W., Ft. Worth, TX
RM: Since this appears to be ABC’s swansong at Indy, I imagine it will try to go out with a splash and I would think proper time would be allotted for both. But it sounds like you won’t have to wait too much longer.
Q: When I saw the headline on your story about ABC, I assumed it was Foyt Racing losing its longtime sponsor. Imagine my delight in learning that maybe we will no longer have to tolerate ABC in 2019. I know there are no guarantees in life and especially in the racing world, but I am relieved, and hope Mr. Miles can make it so.
RM: Obviously, I think the man who tweeted the ABC release last Saturday morning was a bit premature, if not ill-advised, but considering other affiliates also received that memo, it’s likely NBC is going to get the whole season in 2019.
Q: Just returned from the Sebring 12 Hours and am always glad to see so many IndyCar guys there. My question is, why Helio Castroneves isn’t doing both series? Lots of other guys like Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud and others do both series. Also I’m pretty sure that other than the Indy 500 and maybe the Daytona 500, this has to be the most highly-attended race in America, or any other sports event for that matter. It was packed!
Doug Ferguson, Debary, FL
RM: Simple. Roger Penske didn’t want to field four full-time cars anymore, and needed another star in the Acura sports car lineup to go with Juan Pablo Montoya. Look, neither one of those guys wanted to get out of IndyCar and both can still win races, but The Captain is pretty persuasive, and after being at Team Penske, they’re not going to go drive for somebody else. As for Sebring, it has to be the third-largest crowd annually in North American motorsports – 90,000?
Q: With all the Honda finishers at the top at St Pete, do you think the engines are fairly equal? The Honda teams have a lot more top drivers than Chevy and the Penske drivers had bad days, so Honda really does have an edge?
RM: Way too early to tell but remember this, two Chevy rookies (Jordan King and Matheus Leist) qualified in the Fast 6 and were both plenty impressive on race day before being felled by mechanical gremlins. King even passed Robert Wickens for the lead. Will Power was fast too, just got a little too aggressive in Turn 1.
Q: Those Hinchcliffe/Honda ads running during the NCAA basketball tournament are great. Did those run nationally or regionally? Also, read an article where Hinchcliffe said basically what you have said for years, and what most fans already knew: backyard “car guys” are not really relevant today because passenger car technology has put it out of their hands. And if IndyCar is serious about growing its fan base, it needs to instead promote their drivers and their personalities. Marketing and promotion is an integral piece of any successful business model. To not capitalize on the marketability of these guys is just so completely irresponsible.
RM: They are national ads, and there are several of them. Hinch is going to be such a star on television when he retires – we worked together at SPEED and he’s such a natural. He and JoNew should have their own TV show and it would be entertaining. Matter of fact, Alex Rossi and Hinch have a new weekly podcast called OFF TRACK that debuts Thursday (March 22). It can be can listened and subscribed to on CastBox or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Q: Glad to see Honda and Hinch have taken the initiative to promote IndyCar and Honda. I guess the IndyCar honchos look at this as a freebie.
Dino, New Hanover, PA
RM: They should look at it as a godsend. More people have responded to Hinch’s commercial than anything I’ve seen in a long time because it’s so needed.
Q: It’s a miracle. I’m in the Orlando area and I saw the Honda commercial with Hinchcliffe, and it’s great. And it was on prime time. Hinch was great, they told the audience who he was, and had a great shot of the racecar at the end. Thanks to Honda for promoting a great driver.
Paul, from Orlando
RM: Here’s a little Honda history. When Alex Zanardi was kicking ass and taking names back in the late 90s in CART, Honda did a couple of great commercials with him (one taking his driver’s test was memorable), and it also paid for the only FedEx spot to ever air. FedEx was CART’s title sponsor, yet never spent a penny on a commercial so Honda did one that featured Gil de Ferran. The customer was asked by the FedEx employee if he preferred standard overnight or Gil de Ferran? When prompted, Gil walked out in his driver’s suit. Honda’s contributions from title sponsorships to commercials to newspaper and magazine ads have been invaluable.
Q: Have you seen the Honda commercial with Hinch? Getting drivers on things like Dancing with the Stars and Family Feud don’t cost IndyCar anything, I would think. (I do understand the appeal factor comes into play). If you have drivers at short tracks or doing interviews, mostly people that already know who they are will listen, but a lot of people that have no idea who they are will watch fluffy TV shows and commercials. Maybe soon there will not be a month between the first and second race. We always find something to bitch about, right?
Tom in Waco
RM: I’ve seen two of them and it’s the kind of promotion to a non-racing crowd during prime time that IndyCar needs to make any in-oads with the American public. And Hinch is the perfect personality to deliver the message.
Q: Just wondering if you have seen the latest Honda commercial with James Hinchcliffe? They actually show Hinchcliffe’s IndyCar at the end of it! I know Hinch has done other commercials for them in the past as well. Hopefully, Honda is seeing value in IndyCar and will continue to do this. That being said, do you think Chevy will step up and put JoNew or any other Chevy driver in a future commercial?
Ken, Bloomingdale, IL
RM: I have seen two different ones, and talked to Hinch last night and asked if I could be his driver or key grip when he takes over The Tonight Show. Let’s put it this way, the camera likes The Mayor. As for Chevy, not sure driver commercials have ever been part of its marketing – not even in NASCAR, unless it was after Jimmie Johnson won a championship. But Honda has carried this torch for a long time, starting back in the ’90s.
Q: I was watching a primetime show with my wife this week, and a Honda commercial came on with Hinch in it. I saw it and had to rewind because I was so caught off-guard, but IndyCar is marketing its drivers… finally.
Mike R., Bloomington, IN
RM: No, actually Honda is marketing Hinch, not IndyCar. But they’re good spots, and it’s a great way to start 2018.
Q: Is Honda not willing to supply all the support vehicles for the Indy 500 so they can be awarded the pace car? Or is the Hulman/George family not interested in a Japanese manufacturer pacing the race? I’m so sick of Corvette, Camaro, Corvette, Camaro, Corvette, Camaro. It’s been 16 years. How about an NSX? Honda deserves it.
P.S. I don’t watch The Bachelor but I think America’s women want A.J to bitchslap Arie Jr. like he did his dad in Texas.
Greg, Decatur, Illinois
RM: General Motors obviously covets the pace car and has maintained long-standing contracts, so it’s not a question of Honda not willing, not sure there’s ever been a chance to cut in. And GM provides a ton of cars for May, so it’s a big commitment that not every manufacturer would embrace. I’ve never watched The Bachelor, but a bitchslap could probably help the ratings and get Arie some sympathy.
Q: My childhood weekends were consumer by dirt tracks, where my Dad and his friends – who included Emil Andres, Duke Nalon and Cowboy O’Rourke – shared tales of the Golden Age of Pre-War racing. Every tale detailed untold bravery and spitting in the face of death – guys like Mays, McGrath, Hinnershitz and Emory Collins. The Old Man and his posse all loved A.J., and once again he showed why he is the baddest ass of the bad, turning killer bees into “tried to kill me bees”. A life on the edge, and I hope he gets one more checkered flag at the Brickyard before his time passes.
RM: He’s as tough as they make men, and proved it again last week (those bees sting you until you stop breathing), and he’s defied death in almost every conceivable way. I called him last Thursday night and said he’d survived Langhorne, cars with no fuel cells and some of the most dangerous conditions ever, but maybe it was time to get a bulldozer with an enclosed cockpit. You know, in case he has another battle with bees. He didn’t disagree, but I think he likes his open-air model because it’s more maneuverable.
Q: If you will get me A.J.’s address I will go cut the tracks off of his bulldozer.
Greg, Decatur, IL
RM: Here’s the deal, Greg. He bought another ranch about 450 miles from Houston and he loves to get on his bulldozer every day. It keeps him going and motivated, and it’s good for him (providing of course he doesn’t encounter killer bees, water moccasins or tumbling into a lake), so we can’t take it away.
Q: Your Mailbag did a great job covering the last-lap debacle at St. Pete, which deserved a lot of discussion and debate. I was very impressed with Robert Wickens and thought he should have easily won, and hated the fact that there was no penalty for Rossi’s move. However, between covering that story and complaining about ABC’s race coverage, we failed to comment on another great story, Sebastien Bourdais’ win. I watched his team call a fantastic race and I am wondering if that was my old friend Jimmy Vasser calling his race? If so, that’s another great story.
Sebastien still loves racing in his hometown, and even if there wasn’t a last-lap crash he would have been on the podium! He raced extremely well all day and led a lot of laps. Having been at St. Pete since the 2003 race, I have seen it grow and hats off to everyone that makes this a superb event.
Doug Loeffler, Lakeville, MN
RM: It was an emotional victory, and well-deserved after all Seb went through in 2017, but we think Dale Coyne called the strategy.
Q: Sorry, I just can’t bring myself to say IMS instead of PIR. I just got my tickets in the mail. Quite reasonable, IMHO. I bought two seats near in Turn 1 for race day (about halfway up in the Allison stand), two GA tickets for Friday plus parking, pit and paddock passes for two. The whole deal was only $182, and I pay more than that for my Arizona Rattlers indoor football tickets.
Chad R. Larson, Phoenix, AZ
RM: Good to hear, Chad. I’m impressed with Bryan Sperber because he’s trying to do everything to bring the race back, from very reasonable ticket prices and deals, to honoring Mario’s final victory in 1993. That’s a helluva package for that price, so I hope other people take advantage of it. And it will always be Phoenix International Raceway to me.
Q: I usually attend three or four IndyCar races a year. Fell in love with IndyCar listening to the Indy 500 on the radio in 1969! Went to MIS when I lived in Ohio and stayed in love. Broke up with IndyCar during the split, then reconnected and allowed it back in my life in the late 2000s. Love the current racing, and the emerging personalities we are beginning to see. I know it’s been beat to death from “our” side, but why, why, WHY won’t IndyCar run ads showing comparable speeds to NASCAR? Truex gets pole with a 186.567, which is pathetic next to Pagenaud’s pole in 2015. Sato’s one lap in 2015 was 218.164!
Tom Fejes, San Diego, CA
RM: It’s a natural hook to point out that an IndyCar goes 50mph a lap faster than a Cup car at a place like Phoenix, but when the track is owned and operated by ISC, that’s not going to happen. And the promoter isn’t IndyCar, so the advertising is controlled by the track. If it’s a place like Gateway that’s different because it’s independent, but you’ve only got Trucks to compare with so it’s not as impressive. I get why a NASCAR track doesn’t want to advertise that a stock car is so much slower than an IndyCar, because you’re trying to sell two crowds. But just giving the speed would suffice: an IndyCar enters Turn 1 at Phoenix at 190mph! That’s pretty impressive.
Q: In 1969 USAC ran two races at Brainerd, which I guess was called Donnybrooke back then. I was pleasantly surprise to learn that the track still exists. It looks like a pretty cool circuit. I’d love to see IndyCar running there again. What do you think?
RM: I don’t think anyone has mentioned it in decades, so I would say there’s no interest. But I was there to watch Gordon Johncock and Dan Gurney take victories in the two heats.
Q: I just read in the Sunday, March 18th N.Y.Times of all places a real positive article about IndyCar (Florida at 200mph by Laura Lee Smith). A pure fan who gets our sport. I say bravo, and you should get a chance to read it. I am feeling very inspired about this season.
Jim, Long Island, NY
RM: I read it and it was a nice plug for IndyCar, written by a fan in one of the biggest, most prestigious papers in the country.
Q: Although I sorta agree with Tim Cindric’s comments about IndyCar becoming too spec, I also want a series where the best driver wins. I think that focusing on mechanical grip vs aero manipulations helps great drivers shine. In Formula 1, its likely 95 percent of the package is due to engineering – hell, they even try to engineer the driver – and five percent is driver input. I’d like it evened up a bit. Not reversed mind you, but let’s say 60/40, your call on which side gets which. Very happy where the series is going right now, and hunting for a race to travel to and spend my money!
RM: It appears the new car may be right in the wheelhouse of what you desire. It seems slipperier, harder to drive and doesn’t discriminate between rookies or veterans – yet. Now, that could change at Indy, but IndyCar usually seems to reward the fastest guys unless it’s a fuel mileage deal or some crazy caution-flag situation, and that’s just part of it.
Q: A couple of weeks ago I took a lot of flack for saying IndyCar needs to rewrite or open up the rule book to encourage innovation. And now that Penske’s Tim Cindric has said the same thing I feel somewhat vindicated. (Although I’m wary of anything coming from Penske, since they only act in their own self-interest, and I essentially blame The Captain for nearly ruining IndyCar racing to start with). That said, here’s my question: What is it with Indy and their unwillingness to promote what is now the premier racing series in America? New car, new season and not a peep of promotion. The opener at St. Pete was terrific, a good beginning to show off the racing and car – not to mention the sure rivalry between Rossi and Wickens – and not a wimper of promotion anywhere. And don’t even get me started on the dumb schedule. Who the hell leaves a month in between races without promoting the series? Dumb. Dumb. And very stupid. Clearly a missed opportunity.
Jake, Pasadena, CA
RM: IndyCar is not the promoter, that’s what they would tell you, so it’s up to the title sponsor and racetracks they inhabit. This is the 50th year I’ve covered IndyCar racing, and my old argument with USAC was the same one: it’s your sport, and you better promote it. USAC said it wasn’t their job (how they doing nowadays?). In the face of the fact that Verizon is a lame duck and not doing anything to promote the new car, teams and races, it’s imperative that IndyCar steps in and does it. I know IndyCar says it doesn’t have the budget, but you have to spend money to make it sometimes. I’d have a 30-second spot with the last lap at St. Pete and play it all during April before the three races.
Q: I felt really bad for Wickens, but was glad they did not penalize Rossi. Dixon’s crash was straight on and without any ability to make the car turn, which is avoidable contact. Rossi was next to Wickens and slid a little bit in the marbles while making a racing move, which I think is why he didn’t get penalized. I can’t believe there’s not another race for four weeks – after that fantastic start to have to wait that long loses momentum, what do you think? I also can’t believe 83-year-old Super Tex is out by himself on a bulldozer plowing trees, and the fact that he had to run a block to get back to his truck and drive himself is amazing.
CAM in LA
RM: I think three races in April is a good way to get back on the map, and I like the fact Phoenix and Long Beach are back-to-back. I’d like to see St. Pete in late March so there wouldn’t be such a gap, but the promoters have to do what’s best for their event. Super Tex is still undefeated against The Grim Reaper.
Q: Robin, thank you for your simple and absolutely dead-on analysis of last lap stupidity in St. Pete – you are the best!
Jeff Brown, NJ
RM: Thanks Jeff, but the opinion seemed to be pretty divided. I think everyone applauded Rossi for going for it, but half felt like he should have been penalized for crashing the race leader.
Q: Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. In qualifying, if you spin and cause a yellow, you lose your fastest lap. In the race if you cause a yellow by punting the leader, that’s penalty-free?
RM: To quote A.J.: “That’s a big sure.” And that was my point. When somebody tries hard in football but makes a mistake, it’s a penalty. Rossi didn’t do it intentionally, but did that make it any less of a crime than Dixon piling into Sato or Rahal spinning out Pigot?
Q: From what I was told, when IndyCar kept putting a crappy product on track, the track president at Richmond Raceway told IndyCar to not come back after their contract was up. Don’t know how true this, is but is there a chance that IndyCar will ever make a return to the “Action Track?”
Jon in Richmond, VA
RM: The crowds were always good and enthusiastic and the first few races were damn entertaining, but something changed (maybe the tires) and it became a parade. Haven’t heard it mentioned lately, but the track president is a big open-wheel fan.
Q: I spent three days at St. Pete and saw a lot of good open-wheel racing. The USF2000 and Pro Mazda series seem to be doing well. Unfortunately, the nine-car starting fields in the Indy Lights races was pretty disappointing. Michael Andretti is certainly doing his part to keep the Lights series afloat, but he’s not getting any help from the other big IndyCar teams. Any idea why Penske and Ganassi won’t invest in this series? Maybe they just figure that they will hire proven talent from the lower-tier IndyCar teams (Newgarden, Jones), so they don’t need to worry about the feeder system. I’m sure it’s a money thing, but they should be able to see the importance of supporting the Road to Indy ladder system as a key part of a healthy IndyCar program. If not, maybe it’s time to scrap Indy Lights and let Pro Mazda be the top feeder series. What do you think?
Alan Hummel, St. Petersburg, FL
RM: The Captain and Chip have never supported the feeder series, and IndyCar even tried to entice them with more testing time for teams that participated in Lights. I don’t know why, but I would make the Leader’s Circle payout contingent on whether you fielded a Lights car. If you did, you got the full amount. If not, you were discounted. But I think Lights will rebound, it usually does, and Dan Andersen thinks 2019 will be better.
Q: I’m not sure how other IndyCar fans feel about the new aero kits after its first race, but I think that it was a successful debut. There was more passing this past weekend than I’ve ever seen at St. Petersburg, and it was fun to watch the drivers wrestle with the handling. The only downside that I could find was the high number of cautions, which I kind of expected given the nature of the new car. That said, do you think that we’ll see a reduction in the number of accidents over time as teams and drivers will get a better handle on the car? I seem to remember a bit of a similar learning curve with the old aero kits.
Garrick, Mobile, AL
RM: I think it’s going to be a little sketchy for a while until everyone gets a better handle on these cars, but that’s what everybody wanted – cars that require more skill to control. So let’s give it a few races and a couple of ovals before making that call.
Q: Have you ever seen a field this deep in IndyCar? I am 37 and I am not sure that I have seen a line-up as strong from top to bottom as this. I strongly believe that we have seen the bottom of IndyCar as far as attendance, ratings, and popularity among the U.S. fan base. Frye and the IndyCar team are building this series with incremental steps, and I think the best is yet to come.
RM: Oh hell yes, but I’m 68. The USAC fields in the ’60s at the one-mile dirt races only started 18 cars, and some of the best drivers in the land were left out weekly. And the line-up at Indy in the ’60s and ’70s was tough to top with all the F1, NASCAR and IndyCar stars in it. But the last couple years IndyCar’s overall depth has been the best it’s been in a long time.
Q: Finally watching the recording of the St. Pete race. Was great to watch, but have just one question: Does ABC not know the IndyCar schedule? On the broadcast, they highlighted upcoming races on the schedule… the ones at Indy in May! I mean, seriously?
Brian L, Clarksville, TN
RM: True, but I recall Alan Bestwick also promoting the April races on NBCSN.
Q: Is this Turn 3 suite for real? The last time I checked, there were plenty of $85 seats available, so who would pay $750 to sit in Turn 3? Should I be worried my Southeast Vista deck seat will become an exclusive club I can’t afford to join?
Puzzled in Peoria
RM: No, the North Vista seats are always the last ones to be sold, so this is IMS’ way of throwing people a little bone and getting butts in the North Vista. But you have the primo seats and I can’t see putting suites up that high (smile).
Q: What do you think of the job Andrew Craig did of running CART? He took over the organization just as the IRL was about to form. Do you believe that if he had done some things differently, he could’ve buried the IRL?
Ron, Portland, OR
RM: He did some good things, but CART wasn’t going to bury the IRL unless it went to the first two races at Orlando and Phoenix. I think Craig negotiated with TG but the owners called the shots, so he was more or less doing their bidding with the Michigan 500. And TG wasn’t going away.