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: McLaren/Indy. Why would a team/company (despite its current malaise in F1) that is at the forefront of engineering, both in terms of racing and its successful road car business, wish to compete with a Dallara plus a Honda or Chevy engine? Despite the genuine upturn in the series, I just don’t get it. Track attendance and TV numbers are still below what it should be. Is this a case of Zak Brown trying to fulfill a lifelong dream of being an IndyCar owner and have someone else pick up the tab? From the outside looking in, it seems that he’s he only person at the McLaren company who wants this to happen.
On the subject of Zak, he seems like someone who loves the sound of his own voice. Almost daily there’s a story quoting him about another series he’s looking at, his opinion on something completely irrelevant, or making some embarrassing excuses as to why he can’t land a sponsor in F1 (despite being the self-proclaimed sponsor guy). He’s now the undisputed boss at McLaren, has nobody else to blame and sadly he appears out of his depth.
Mike Hull was on the Marshall Pruett podcast not long after the Santino Ferrucci thing blew up post Silverstone. Mike was scathing that Haas as an American team might even contemplate dropping him from the development program, and was also not complimentary about Haas’s general lack of support for American drivers. All valid points, in my opinion. However, Mike and Chip are some of the worst offenders for not supporting U.S. talent… that’s been the case for 20-plus years, and doesn’t look like changing.
RM: McLaren wouldn’t be building a car or engine, it would simply run a Dallara if it was to field a car for Alonso and then use a Chevy. (It won’t be a Honda if McLaren signage is on it). And yes. the whole project is Zak’s baby but we understand it’s not all that popular at McLaren. He does like to be quoted and it seems like he’s all over the map right now, but he’s made Indy happen in 2017 so we’re hoping there is still some life in running full-time in 2019 – but I’m thinking Fred’s best chance to is run Indianapolis only. Brown has found some big sponsors in F1 and NASCAR in the past, but McLaren ain’t what she used to be, so it’s tough. As for Chip, he said a long time ago he favored foreign drivers over Americans. Even though Jimmy Vasser won his initial CART championship, he got brainwashed by the success of Zanardi and Montoya.
Q: Want to bet a St. Elmo’s dinner that McLaren and Fred end up SPM? Open seat. Jon [ED: Flack, SPM president] used to work for ZB [at JMI]. Honda tie-in. Sam probably needs the money, as the best driver he’s gotten in years is in the hospital. Zak is whispering sweet nothings in Schmidt’s ear to convince him. Oh, and there’s a global tech partner on the No.5 car, which could pass along some branding to the F1 deal. Makes a whole lot of sense, and to those of us kicking the can around 16th & Main, the chatter is getting louder and louder. ZB and McLaren pulled the ultimate smoke and mirrors. Can’t believe they are going to pull this one off with no one even paying attention. Just wait until the USGP in two weeks. Tell me I am wrong.
RM: Won’t be a Honda regardless of which team it is, so I will bet you a double cheeseburger at the Workingman’s Friend that Fred doesn’t drive for SPM. We all want Alonso in IndyCar full-time, but it won’t be this scenario. Sorry, you’re wrong.
Q: I am surprised by your comment to Curt from the October 3rd Mailbag regarding races in New Zealand and Australia. You stated, “I know, I know, don’t open the season outside the USA”. That does not make any sense to me, and it has already been done – Sao Paulo and Monterrey, right off the top of my head. I think that would be a great idea. Having two races in February would be amazing! Especially if they draw like you suggest because of Dixon and Power. Then get things rolling a couple weeks later in March back in North America. For the finale I am fine with a road course or an oval, but it should be at least the end of September. Now, if we can just get rid of double points – no single race should be more important than any other, even Indy. There, I said it.
Jeff, Orangeville, Ontario, Canada
RM: The eventual feeling 25-30 years ago was that opening the series outside North America got CART no U.S. media coverage and no TV ratings, and it was true. And when you don’t have a race for six months, opening your season on the other side of the world isn’t exactly a great coming out party. But if IndyCar could get back-to-back races in New Zealand and Australia and everyone could make a little money, then it’s probably worth trying it again.