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 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: Last week was a stellar one for IndyCar with the NTT and Arrow announcements. Safe to say these are great developments and Mark Miles (whether lucky or good) has to be given a lot of credit considering few gave him much chance of success. I must tell you that I am confused by the NTT deal, however. I am struggling to understand the business plan around this sponsorship given what I have read. Do you believe there is something more to this that they have not announced? Some kind of tie-in with something else they are going to be doing in the USA that has yet to be announced? I not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the whole thing seems a bit curious…
Justin, Park City, UT
RM: Mark has done a lot of good things, but had nothing to do with the Arrow SPM deal, that’s all Sam Schmidt and his great relationship with Arrow. As for NTT, Jay Frye was the point man and NTT wants to have a bigger footprint in North America, so give it some time to roll out its plan. Of course they haven’t announced anything yet, it’s only been a few weeks and the racing season is still two months away.
Q: I was watching a Colorado Avalanche game and saw two full-length ads with Arrow and Hinch. They were also talking about Arrow’s increased involvement and interviewed Wickens and Ericsson. What does this say about how committed Arrow is now with racing and the state of IndyCar sponsorships?
Chris from Denver
RM: Like Marshall Pruett’s commentary stated, Arrow SPM now has the resources and commitment to challenge Andretti, Ganassi and Penske on a weekly basis instead of being hit and miss (although Wickens was right on pace most places before his accident). But I look at Arrow as a partner more than a sponsor, and IndyCar teams are still challenged to find big backers such as Arrow.
Q: It is worth noting that a year after their star driver was bumped and everyone acted like the end was nigh if sponsors didn’t get exactly what they wanted at Indy, Arrow upped its sponsorship of SPM and became one of (if not the most) prominent sponsors in the paddock for 2019 and beyond. Bring on more bumping in 2019.
RM: Arrow showed its colors last May when it didn’t try to buy Hinch’s way into the show, but don’t think all sponsors would be so supportive and understanding. Like I wrote last year, if we’ve got 40 cars this May then bumping means something again so I’m all for it. If we’ve only got 35 – start ‘em all because nobody can afford to lose their sponsor, and why is Indy better without one of its biggest names? And don’t give me that crap about tradition – it’s been gone a long time.
Q: I was watching the end of a live stream of a classic Las Vegas IRL race, I believe back in 1999, on the IndyCar Series FB page the other night. I was just over four years old then, so didn’t remember it too much, but having been to a couple of IndyCar races in person, and seeing about all the races on TV now, it’s crazy how different the IndyCar’s sound today compared to 20 years ago (assuming a V8 engine was used back then).
Also, one thing I thought was cool was that I got to see Sam Schmidt, who was the winner of that Las Vegas race and what he could do in a race car before he had his accident. I think it’s one of the most awesome things that he is a successful team owner today, and that he is helping to pave the way for paralyzed people to be able to drive a street car. Having met him a couple times in the paddock, he is definitely a wonderful man
Kevin, North Carolina
RM: Those early IRL engines were so loud it hurt your ears, but I think a certain type of header made them sound much better as time went on. Sam is inspirational on many levels and his spirit has always impressed everyone. And, against all odds, his story keeps getting better.
Q: Understand it’s going to be a long, long recovery period for Robbie Wickens. Any updates on his progress as of late? Also, is Townsend Bell officially retired? Would he be open to Indy only if an opportunity with a sponsorship and a quality ride would come available?
RM: He posted a video on Facebook last week that showed him walking with the help of his therapist and a form of crutches, and if anybody can make it all the way back I’d bet on Robert. But he sounds determined to race again, and I think he will regardless of whether he can walk. Townsend is retired from Indy cars because he’s 43, got a great job at NBC, a lovely wife, two sons and wants to stay married. But he’s got a full-time sports car ride driving for Vasser and Sully and will be at Daytona this weekend.
Q: After today’s announcement of NTT as the new entitlement sponsor of the IndyCar Series (good write-up on how that came to be, by the way), it got me thinking. Now that IndyCar has a Japanese engine manufacturer in Honda, a Japanese tire supplier in Firestone (owned by Bridgestone), a Japanese driver (and Indy 500 winner) in Takuma Sato, and a Japanese entitlement sponsor in NTT, isn’t it about time for the series to return to Japan? I, for one, would love to see a race at Suzuka. Maybe a double-header with Super Formula or Super GT? I’ve got to be honest, I’m surprised that the idea of a return to Japan hasn’t been kicked around much in the rumor mill over the past few years. What do you think?
RM: I think it’s been mentioned by NTT in their talks with IndyCar. Motegi’s oval still needs some work in Turn 3, but the last race on the road course was pretty good and as long as Sato is in the lineup the place would be packed. Can’t speak about Suzuka, but with Sato a doubleheader might work.