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: Now that we know Mark Miles seemingly missed an opportunity to be a part of a great cross-sporting promotion in order to handle overseas business and he and Jay Frye seem fully invested in working with a European OEM, the question has to be begged: Why? Is the international revenue that good that he can ignore the opportunities in the U.S.? Are those TV rights and the exposure from an Italian or German marque going to point that needle where it needs to be? IndyCar isn’t going to race in the Middle East anytime soon, at least to the point of finding an audience that cares. There have been no rumors about a race in Europe, and only one European driver has turned the needle since 1994 – and it was only for a month. There have been plenty of American flashes in the pan over the last few decades, only to fizzle in the spotlight.
But no-one is suggesting that a partnership between George Steinbrenner IV and Mike Harding is going to make an instant powerhouse. However, marketed well, this could be an opportunity to leverage a much larger brand to help create a brand for two young drivers who have the potential for many years of successful racing into the future. It seems to me that IndyCar doesn’t have much desire to market individual drivers to the masses, but marketing the racing hasn’t exactly brought sponsors in droves or the international motorsport community to its knees. Good for the increased car counts. Good for F1 drivers seeing value while waiting for their delusional chances at a world championship. Good for owners in other series seeing the value in IndyCar. But where is the love for the young American drivers, and particularly owners, who want to win races, championships and ultimately, the pinnacle of motorsports? The series just doesn’t seem to care.
Dan W., Dubai, UAE
RM: Miles and Frye had overseas meetings that were booked weeks before the Steinbrenner presser at Yankee Stadium, but I can assure you Jay spent lots of quality hours with Hank and George last year and both he and Mark understand how important it is that famous family is now part of IndyCar’s paddock. The key is making sure IndyCar’s marketing and PR departments take advantage of having one of American sport’s most iconic names in the paddock, and think of some good cross-promotions with baseball in 2019.
Q: Living in Southern Cal, I’ve seen the end of Fontana, the end of Phoenix, and the end of Sonoma. Not that I don’t understand why. I went to every race, and kept being hopeful. Fontana had its moments, especially with Graham Rahal winning in 2015; that was one hellava race! Many, many passes for the lead. Sonoma and Phoenix are picturesque settings for a race track. Unfortunately, other than Long Beach (thank God for Long Beach!) it was always just close friends and family at these races. Very unfortunate.
I harken for crowds of the 80s and 90s; yet I wish the racing fans of the world realized how great the talent and racing is in today’s IndyCar. It is top notch! IndyCar has so many positives going for it. New teams, new drivers, and another new (old) track at Laguna Seca. Full-time, one-network coverage with NBC. The best announcing team, and the best pit reporters and great racing will lead to new fans! Very excited about the future, and am personally excited to go back to Monterey, to a historic track, for some great racing (Yes, I know it could be a parade with no passing, which I hope they will correct with some additional testing). IndyCar is such a exciting sport with great athletes, great personalities (which need to be marketed) and growing with new teams/drivers. The future is so bright! I hope Laguna Seca can be successful, because I’m running out of west coast tracks to go to. Do you expect Laguna to out-draw Sonoma? Kudos to Scott Dixon for not only being a champion again, but for his 2019 Oscar nomination!
Tom, San Diego
RM: I would hope that after a decade’s absence that Laguna will embrace IndyCar – it worked at Road America and Portland – and I guess my only concern is the sports car race two weeks before. I always though John, Diana and the Sonoma staff tried their best to promote IndyCar, but the Bay Area just never seemed to care so not sure what to expect at Laguna. I remember leaving at 7 a.m. back in the CART heyday because it was so crowded and then attendance dived in the Champ Car era, so maybe IndyCar’s revitalized look will bring people back.
Q: I’ve heard rumors that IndyCar and NASCAR are in discussions to combine forces and host a doubleheader weekend at Chicago. Do you have any info on this coming to fruition? If so, what is the reasoning behind this somewhat random development? Given the addition of multiple rides for 2019; who are a few drivers to keep an eye out for to snatch a seat come next season, and with what team? IndyCar fans are always fantasizing about possible tracks added to future schedules, myself included. That said, do you see any possible additions for 2020? And why is IndyCar still staying within the North American market? What is wrong with a European race, return to Brazil, or even Mexico City?
RM: There’s been talk about IndyCar and NASCAR sharing a weekend on an oval in 2019 or 2020 but right now it’s all talk. As for drivers, Marshall Pruett’s story earlier this month pretty much said it all: “Among the regular entries that completed the 2018 season, only Carlin Racing, Juncos Racing, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have full-time rides to fill. And after the full-timers, Ed Carpenter Racing is sitting on its prime part-time road and street course opportunity. That’s a modest 3.5 unassigned drives to secure. And who’s trying to get into those seats? From those who competed last season, it’s Charlie Kimball, Ed Jones, Jordan King, Gabby Chaves, Conor Daly, Pietro Fittipaldi, Zachary Claman De Melo, Stefan Wilson, Carlos Munoz, Kyle Kaiser, Rene Binder, and Alfonso Celis Jr. That’s 12 for 3.5.” And that story was written before Marcus Ericsson threw his hat in the ring for the other Carlin seat. There could be a couple new venues in 2020, but IndyCar can only go where people want them, not where people want them to go. Mexico City could be a possibility with the emergence of Pato O’Ward, and we always hope New Zealand or Australia wants to play, but nothing so far.