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: I know we are only four races into the season, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on how things are shaping up. Obviously Newgarden, Rossi and Bourdais have been very strong at most of the races even when they didn’t win (Newgarden was unbeatable at Barber, and Bourdais showed unbelievable skill in the wet on slicks), but there are other stories here. First, Dixon can’t catch a break for some reason, and Ganassi seems to be struggling. I hope Hunter-Reay’s result at Barber is a glimpse of some potential wins this season, and then there is Power and Pagenaud… they both seem to have the cartoon anvil hanging over them while their teammate can do no wrong. And SPM? I think that as they continue to gel as a team, they could wind up being a serious threat to everyone as the season unfolds. Your thoughts?
Richard Siler, Flower Mound, TX
RM: I think the rookies – Wickens, King, Veach, Leist and Kaiser – have been a big storyline with their performances, and I think Andretti as a team is P1 right now even though it has only got one victory. Their cars have been good everywhere. I wrote a story over the winter about Rossi being a title contender, and he’s looking like JoNew’s stiffest competition. With a little luck, Bourdais might be leading the points because he’s been superlative, and Dixie is still way ahead of where he usually is at this time, so he’ll be heard from before it’s all over. T.K. will be strong at Indy, and so will RHR and Helio. Graham Rahal is my under-the-radar pick at Indy.
Q: Since we are getting close to everyone’s favorite time of year, I was wondering how the ticket sales are going for the 500. Does it seem like it will be a big crowd? I would think with the upswing IndyCar is having this year that the ticket sales would be up. We have more cars then norm, and a lot more talent and depth in the field. I’m really looking forward to the 500 this year!
RM: Doug Boles keeps crowing they’re way ahead of 2015 and 2017, so maybe only 10,000 empty seats next month. What we always have to remember is that it’s a big crowd every May, but between Danica’s return, the chance of bumping and the fact the past four races have been stellar, IMS is counting on a larger number than a year ago.
Q: I’ve gotta say I love the new IndyCar and I’m excited for what’s to come from it. It looks great and it seems like it’s much more fun to drive. My worry though is not with the chassis, but the engine manufacturers. Honda is kicking the hell out of Chevrolet right now and outside of Penske, the BowTies have no real championship potential. In fact Penske is the only reason Chevy has won the manufacturer’s title every year, but surely even they can’t carry them this year.
What makes Honda so much better right now, and what is it going to take for Chevy to get more winners in its camp? Really wish we could get a third manufacturer that was worth something. Also, my money is on Rossi for the title. Thoughts?
RM: Well Newgarden certainly looks more than capable of defending his title, and Power and Pagenaud have been quick, just have nothing to show for it. I think the engines are very comparable and the aero kit has obviously evened things up and taken away Chevy’s advantage. (Penske won 10 of 17 races in 2017). Sure, Honda has the numbers, but ECR is stronger than its results have shown and Foyt will be good at Indy.
Q: Who do you see as the next breakout driver? Or has the pattern for the season been set with no surprises coming?
Greg in Chicago
RM: Obviously Wickens could have two wins already so I think he fits that moniker, and Zach Veach has certainly raised some eyebrows, along with Jordan King and Matheus Leist.
Q: What about the IndyCar windscreens is wrong? They ought to be adopted right away. Isn’t that obvious? They add obvious safety, they can’t be that expensive, and they look great. I bet they might increase the speed of the car too (that is one way we got capsules adopted on limited hydroplanes – they sped up the boats). It also appears to offer better protection than a F1 halo, and still allows us to see the driver. Why isn’t this obvious?
Mark Lamontia, Landenberg, PA
RM: Nothing is wrong, but IndyCar wants to make sure it’s got exactly what it wants. Here’s a quote from Jay Frye: “We believe in this application and that’s why we are diligently working in that direction. Anytime you do a project like this you must go through a process from engineering to on track and ultimately manufacturing. We have a lot of very smart people involved, but the cause and effect is not always predictable.”
Q: Not sure if this was discussed before, or if it’s just an ignorant idea, but why not mandate that the low-drag superspeedway aero package be used for all ovals? The kit could be adjusted for the unique characteristics of each track, i.e. Texas vs. Iowa. Wouldn’t this place more emphasis on mechanical grip, braking, corner entry and exit speeds as well as demonstrations of “driver brass”? Doing so may just eliminate the predictable, droll, single-line, washed-up into the marbles, “who hit the wall this time” parade of Safety Cars driving through puddles of shredded carbon fiber? Or not…
Jonathan Frank, Houston
RM: These cars are designed to perform with downforce. There is a minimum amount necessary for the cars to perform at an impressive level on short ovals. I love the idea, but you would be listening to a lot of drivers coasting through the corners because a big lack of downforce would prevent them from going hard.
Q: The recent article from Marshall about the next engine and keeping hybrids out is such great freakin’ news, man. “Faster and louder” is the only way a race engine should be described. All this good news coming from IndyCar (aside from the attendance at Phoenix) is just awesome.
RM: I couldn’t agree more. Louder would be even better with more horsepower.
Q: In last week’s Mailbag, Michael DeVine from Ohio asked a question about another OEM. For some time now, IndyCar bigwigs have been telling us that they are close to obtaining a third OEM. Also for some time, we have heard Ferrari talk (or threaten) to leave F1. I know things can never be discussed until all the pieces have fallen into place, but here’s my question. Might Ferrari be at least looking at the possibility of running a car at Indy, or perhaps even running full-time at some point using Alfa Romeo as the engine supplier? This should not be too hard to put together as both Ferrari and Alfa Romeo are owned by Fiat. We have seen that Scuderia Corsa will be fielding an entry at the 500. Might this be an “under the radar” case of slowly nudging into IndyCar without much fanfare?
Jerry Laake, Davenport, Iowa
RM: I think Jay Frye has said he’s optimistic and IndyCar is keeping potential manufacturers up to speed with any and all ideas, but nobody has said they’re close, to my recollection. Alfa tried once and that was a disaster, so not sure how eager anyone in Italy is to try again. Ferrari sells a lot of cars here, but I can’t see them ever getting out of F1 to come to IndyCar. And the Scuderia Corsa folks are in Nevada and have no direct ties to Ferrari, to my knowledge.
Q: There has been some consternation about the size of the Indy 500 field. Should it be held to 33 or let any extra cars run? With the cost of racing today and to encourage others to try, I would suggest, that the field still be limited to 33 but any other cars that complete a qualification run be rewarded with $100 – $125K if their time is within 105 percent of the pole. Your thoughts?
RM: Well I started this debate by suggesting all 35 cars get to run so nobody is left out in this economy, and then Marshall made some good points in a column that made me re-think. We hate that four laps at any speed was good enough to be in the show, so now we have a chance to make teams earn it. I still would hate to see any new teams or potential new teams or big teams get left on the sidelines, but Team Penske was a spectator in 1995 so there is a precedent. But since last place only pays $200,000, I doubt IMS would consider paying six figures to miss the show.
Q: Approaching the month of May, I usually like to go back in time to learn about the history of the race. This time I watched the 1988 edition, and I’ve got two questions. First, why did the drivers not use the apron nearly as much as in 1989 or 1992, except maybe for Little Al? Second, why did the 80s’ engines sound like screaming, and much more high-pitched than those of the mid-’90s CART engines?
RM: I don’t know, maybe drivers weren’t having many pushing problems, so they didn’t need the extra room to make the corner. If Lloyd Ruby was still racing I promise you he’d have used it.