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: IMS had the benefit of Fernando Alonso last year, and now Danica testing prior to the formal kick-off of the month’s activities. With NBC Gold to be introduced and reasons needed to pay for the extra content, what about an “invitational” of sorts that would give an open test day at the track at the end of April or early May to non-full timers? It could create some buzz every year leading into the race, and is far easier to get someone to do a one-day test on a Tuesday or Wednesday versus getting a big name to commit to the race itself. Who knows, maybe the experience could make the driver hungry to do the race. Good publicity either way. Next year, I’d say the invite list should be Kyle Larson testing for Ganassi, Max Verstappen testing for Andretti, and Sam Hornish testing for Penske.
RM: I love that idea and two of your three candidates (although Verstappen would be tough since its during the F1 season), but I don’t think Sam would be interested or would bring the viewers like Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick, or even Ricky Taylor. It’s also the kind of no-pressure situation that would appeal to most good racers, but you know Larson is going to run Indy sooner or later.
Q: Is it my imagination, or do the regulars at the Speedway seem to be much more welcoming to Danica than the NASCAR guys were? I do think she will equate herself quite well this month as she appears to be more comfortable than she ever did in the tin-roofers.
RM: I’m not sure what kind of reception she got in NASCAR, but I think it was pretty positive. Tony Stewart defended her on a few occasions and I don’t recall anybody attacking her verbally. And there is no reason for the IndyCar boys not to welcome her back – half of them weren’t even around when she left. Of course she struggled in stock cars, as everyone predicted, and an IndyCar at IMS suits her style.
Q: While I understand there is some excitement and hype around Danica’s drive at Indy, from what I see coming out of the Speedway/IndyCar on social media, I think they’re putting way too much weight on her appearance. She’ll be gone after May 27, and the IndyCar series will move on to the rest of the season. Will she sell more tickets? Maybe. Unlike Alonso, she’s mostly an American story, whereas he brought an international fan base that was new to IndyCar. I guess in some ways I’m resentful of her coming back to close out her career and being embraced as the conquering hero when she was mediocre as best in NASCAR, and turned her back on the series that enabled that career.
Jim Doyle, Hoboken, NJ
RM: I’m not sure she’s going to move the needle on TV ratings or sell a bunch more tickets, because both of those had pretty much flat-lined during her final three years in IndyCar. She will generate more American press (and already has, based on last week) than Fernando, but he was easily the biggest story in international motorsports in 2017. And I don’t think anyone portrays her as conquering hero. I simply think she wanted to quit at the track where she shined.
Q: People can say what they want about Danica. I am not necessarily a fan. But when I was watching the test on Facebook Live, the views and likes doubled when she was on track. She brings eyeballs, and that’s a good thing. Besides that, my 9-year-old little girl is going to her first Indy 500 this year. She is very excited to see Danica in an IndyCar again. So, I’m going to stay positive and just enjoy May.
RM: The amount of attention, young fans and females she brought to IndyCar racing in the beginning is incalculable, and her place in history is secured. The resentment she got from all the attention was misplaced – it wasn’t her fault everybody wanted to take her picture or write about her. And it was great for IndyCar, but that was lost on a lot of people.
Q: After Pietro Fittipaldi’s unfortunate crash at Spa, there seems to be a lot of speculation about his potential replacement. For me the ultimate PR coup for IndyCar would be to get Simona De Silvestro into that seat to take on Danica. She has just had her best result yet over here in the Supercars series with an 11th-place finish last week in Perth, but it would be cool to see her back in an IndyCar.
RM: It would be very cool because she’s easily the best female road racer since Desire Wilson or Lella Lombardi, and maybe the best ever. But she’s got a full-time Supercar ride and never been in one of these new cars, and I imagine Dale is going to either go for Saavedra or Vautier.
Q: I’m wondering is there a specific reason why on the new aero package the rear wing is so low in super-speedway trim? It’s almost non-existent visually compared to the CART/Champ Car era, and even the crapwagon years. Is this new package so efficient that a big wing is not necessary? I love the new look, but the small speedway wing looks kind of out of place.
C.J. Eisman, Terre Haute
RM: Over to Bill Pappas, IndyCar’s vice president of competition and race engineering: “With the reintroduction of using the underwing the requirement for a bigger rear wing was not necessary and we also needed to reduce the drag and bigger wing produces more drag. Hope that provides some insight.”
Q: Curious, as I suspect many are, about some of the numbers I heard out of the test. You and Marshall mentioned 233-235 mph on cars as they were going into Turns 1 and 3, which I do not believe is any increase from last year. Then I think I heard you guys say that JoNew hit 243 mph on a straightaway with the windscreen on. Is there really 10 mph difference with that, and what about the windscreen would cause that massive uptick in straightaway speed?
Forrester L Morgan, Myrtle Beach, SC.
RM: We received a little too optimistic of a reading. According to IndyCar’s Bill Pappas the top speed they collected showed 234 mph with a tow. He added that it is possible to get a higher top speed if a car gets a bigger tow and the car is geared for it. Pappas said the top cornering speeds were 230-231 mph, and they did not see 243 from Newgarden. He also added there is a slight balance shift, but the downforce and drag are very similar to the car without the windscreen.
Q: It dawned on me after watching Indy’s live stream on Monday that I’d rather watch the cars practice on the oval than race on the road course. It’s too bad they have to lead up to the best race of the year with the worst race of the year.
Jim Patton, Lindale, Texas
RM: Oh it’s not the worst race of the year, I can think of at least two or three others, but people go to Indianapolis to see big speeds on the oval. Period. That’s Indy’s DNA, not a road course race, but Mark Miles saw that nobody ever showed up for qualifying anymore so he added a race that ABC televises and gives Indy three weeks of network TV. So, in the end, as much as we may hate it, the extra exposure helps.
Q: I took my 4-year-old last year since kids get in free with an adult general admission, and I’m bringing my brother-in-law and 8-year-old nephew along this year to the grand prix. I sat on the Turn 1-2-3 spectator mounds last year. Is there a better spot to try and sit? I know the kids are too young when they open pit lane which is too bad, but anything else to look out for on Grand Prix Saturday?
RM: I would think the spectator mounds are the best because you’re close to the cars and that should be captivating to the boys (for a little while, anyway). I guess some people like Turn 4 because most of the passing is in Turn 1, but you guys are up close and personal, which is where I’d want to be.