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: Recently I purchased tickets to the IndyCar event at COTA and wanted to get paddock passes. They told me they were sold out ($75 each), and I inquired how many they had. The response was 1,000! Are you kidding me? At every IndyCar event that I have been to, whether as a ticket purchaser or a participant in the MRTI in Pro Mazda, access to the IndyCar paddock was a given. That access is one reason why IndyCar is so attractive to the fans. If this is true and only 1,000 fans have passes, this is contrary to the IndyCar mantra.
Further, it reinforces some things about COTA that I am not particularly fond of, particularly after having attended other events. I was able to get passes via a race team but if true, this is insane. The paddock area is huge, and can accommodate many thousands. They also said that they would think 30,000-35,000 for the first year in attendance would be a good start. I would agree, but doing this with paddock passes on top of a premium ticket price will turn off many prospective fans.
RM: When I first read your letter I thought it had to be a mistake, so I called COTA and inquired about buying paddock passes and was told they were “sold out.” I asked how many were sold, and was told “a couple thousand.” I responded that COTA was enormous and could accommodate more paddock people than just about any IndyCar track, and I’d never heard of the paddock being sold out. The ticket rep said between IndyCar and COTA, they had reached their capacity. So then I called IndyCar, and it acknowledged there seems to be a little disconnect, but they were working on it. I suppose after dealing with F1’s limited access this is a whole new world for COTA, but it cannot afford to piss people off who are coming to its first event. I think IndyCar will work something out by March 22-24 so paddock passes would be available to anyone and everyone that wants one. But I thank you for calling this to my attention.
Q: I’m unsure what to make of Fernando Alonso. He’s seems personable. He seems likable. Money follows him wherever he goes. The guy is as good as it gets, but he seems to leave a trail of destruction – Renault, McLaren (first and second go-around), Ferrari. Would it be worthwhile financially for an IndyCar team to run him for a full season? Of course, it would cost a fortune. (And please don’t counter with he’s already rich, so he doesn’t care about money. Guys at his level always care about money.)
RM: I don’t pretend to know him very well (got to spend a few frigid hours with him at his Indy indoctrination run at IMS, and a few quick sound bytes during May of 2017), but he’s as personable as any major racing champion I’ve ever been around. And he’s a racer to the core, which I love – not afraid to try different things, and his enthusiasm rings true. Not sure you can blame him for the downfall of those three teams; if anything maybe he made a couple of bad choices. But I’m sure finding him a sponsor for the full IndyCar season would be easy, and he would take a pay cut from his F1 salary.
Q: The water issues at Daytona this weekend brought to light a problem that has come up several times over the past few years – Barber ‘18 comes to mind. Managing storm water on roadways and land development is commonplace. I understand racetracks can’t have curbs and gutters, but other conventional uses can be utilized yet seemingly are not. I think the primary issue seems to be either water collecting on the track, or flowing onto or across the track, both of which can likely be solved with improvements away from the racing surface by diverting the water elsewhere. Is there a reason storm water is not more heavily considered in race track design?
Kevin in S.C.
RM: I guess the easiest explanation would be that rain is seldom a factor in IndyCar races (Road America back in Champ Car, Toronto a few years ago and Barber), so tracks can’t be expected to spend a lot of money preparing for torrential rains. Street courses have no chance in a downpour because of the parameters of the tracks, while places like Barber drain pretty well but there is always going to be some puddling. Wally Dallenbach fixed the river at Elkhart Lake once with sandbags, so maybe that’s a failsafe.
Q: As a gearhead I am absolutely glued to the TV and NBCSN app, watching every second of the Rolex 24 this weekend. What I wanted to mention was the outstanding coverage of all the broadcasters from different series (Indy and NASCAR). NBC Sports has done an outstanding job to kick off the racing season. Can’t wait for IndyCar to start.
RM: Couldn’t agree more, James. The combined NASCAR and IndyCar talent did an excellent job in some challenging conditions (filling two and a half hours of a red flag after being up for 20-some hours) and it was quite entertaining. I enjoyed Dale Junior’s perspectives on his road racing, Allmendinger made a smooth debut, Townsend Bell was born to talk, Marty, Kelli, Dave, Kevin and Jon got a lot of interesting interviews and Diffey and Fish did a good job of sorting through four classes, staying on top of the standings and the weather. NBC’s initial 24 hours was a winner.
Q: I have been surprised the last few weeks how many ads I’m seeing for IndyCar and the Indy 500 on NBC. I think this is great, because we have not had this kind of coverage and exposure in many, many years. Do you think IndyCar should run a Super Bowl ad? I know the Super Bowl is on CBS this year, but I think an Indy 500 ad would be amazing. Do you expect this sort of advertising to continue, or ramp up even more as the season gets closer? Do you feel ratings will be up this year? I have a feeling this will be the highest-rated season and the highest-rated Indy 500 in many, many years!
Rick from PA
RM: One quick note – IndyCar and the Indy 500 have never had this kind of pre-season promotion, and it’s no surprise because NBC is vested and a true partner for IndyCar, as promised. NBC will be the best thing that’s happened to IndyCar racing in years, and it excels at big events. Indy’s ratings have gone down three years in a row, but that won’t happen this May. And eight races on NBC will certainly help drive up the ratings. There will be an ad running during the Super Bowl, but not sure it’s national – might just be for the Midwest.