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.
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Q: While I’m thrilled to see Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta get seats for next season, I’m especially thrilled to see another new owner enter the series in the Steinbrenner family. In the last few years, the entry of new teams and owners like Shank, Carlin, Juncos and Harding have been among the most important developments for the future of the series. What say you, and how quickly can each of them become a contender?
John, your ex-Gannetteer buddy in Louisiana
RM: I think it’s bigger than McLaren because of the national profile and the Steinbrenner’s passion and commitment. Pato was a contender in his debut, and with the Andretti assistance there’s no reason to think both kids won’t be competitive out of the box in 2019.
Q: Awesome to hear the news about Harding fielding Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward full time next year, they both deserve a proper shot. Marshall brought up that many are worried about Andretti having Honda data and Chevy data from their junior team that they could conceivably use to give themselves or Honda a major advantage. Have you heard anything about that? Also, now that Harding is full, what’s the status of our buddy Fred Alonso? Seems to be getting less and less likely that he’ll be racing full-time IndyCar, which is very sad.
Max Camposano, Bethlehem, PA
RM: The whole paddock is concerned/angry about one team having both engines, and that’s certainly understandable. But I think it’s yet to be decided, because Honda would probably like to keep Andretti all under one manufacturer’s roof if possible. Unless something happens pretty quick, I’m thinking Alonso will be an Indy 500 only driver.
Q: Huge news about the partnership with Harding and Steinbrenner. This is great for the sport, and Pato and Colton are great kids. The article said Andretti is providing “technical support.” What does that mean exactly? I thought Harding was going to be the Andretti B-team for a while there, and that doesn’t seem like the case anymore. Chevy and Honda must have felt weird about the potential of Andretti having access to both engine suppliers’ data. So what’s the scoop?
Mike R., Bloomington, IND.
RM: Andretti is supplying shocks, dampers, engineering help and personnel, so it’s going to be more or less the Andretti Junior team. We were told at the test and during Sonoma weekend that every component related to the Chevy engine in terms of telemetry was shut off. Proprietary tech or information was turned off to protect the IP. But we all know racing and there’s no secrets, so the best thing to happen would be if Honda simply added Steinbrenner/Harding to its roster so we wouldn’t spend 2019 in an engine civil war.
Q: I was a little distressed with your commentary about IndyCar hitting a home run with the Steinbrenners to read that nobody from IndyCar or IMS attended the press conference at Yankee Stadium. How does this happen?
RM: It happened because Mark Miles already had a business trip scheduled in Europe and Jay Frye already had a trip with the FIA set for Switzerland, but not sure why IMS didn’t send Doug Boles. Anyway, I should point out that my intent was not to pick on Miles or Frye, but rather emphasize to IndyCar’s marketing and PR staff that this is a big deal they need to make part of their annual game plan and do something creative. And I should also point out that Frye spent the past two years cultivating a relationship with Hank and George Steinbrenner, and they already feel like part of the IndyCar family because of it.
Q: You mentioned a while back in your Mailbag that you were sitting on a big story. I am assuming it was the announcement of Pato and Colton going with Steinbrenner – or is there another one you are sitting on?
RM: That was it but there’s another one brewing which the fans will love if it happens. But it’s still got a lot of moving parts.
Q: Great news for IndyCar this week with the announcement of Harding/Steinbrenner Racing. And the roster of Herta and O’Ward makes it even better. A new team with young drivers who both made an impressive debut in Sonoma is exactly the direction IndyCar should be heading. However, how does this announcement play out for Gabby Chaves? Enjoyed watching this kid throughout the year, and I really think he has strong potential. I thought Harding stated he would have a seat for 2019, but I guess nothing in life is ever guaranteed. So is he now the odd man out?
Chris, Elizabethtown, PA
RM: Unfortunately, Gabby is the odd man out and we all wish he could have been afforded the depth and help that Pato and Colton already got in their debut. I think Mike Harding will pay off Chaves’ contract (he had another year) and everyone in the IndyCar paddock knows this kid can race, but not having some big money behind him is going to hurt isn terms of finding a full-time ride.
Q: Absolutely pumped about the momentum we have been seeing the last couple years. With the Steinbrenner announcement, I am curious to know how NASCAR might be feeling? I understand they are still the 800-pound gorilla (maybe only about 700 pounds now), but they are losing teams and sponsors, as well as faced with dwindling TV numbers. Yes, I know IndyCar pales in comparison, but is it fair to say if sponsors consider momentum that IndyCar might get more looks now compared to a few years ago? Great days for IndyCar! Thanks for always beating the drum.
Mike, Fishers, IN
RM: It’s possible that Steinbrenner’s presence could help somebody in IndyCar, but NASCAR had the Boston Red Sox owner (John Henry) teamed with Jack Roush, so I doubt it feels trumped. And its TV numbers are still pretty damn good compared to most sports, and IndyCar would die for them. But I think eight races on NBC next year will help boost the ratings – especially Indianapolis.