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: I’m curious to know if there is something more to the story with Pato O’Ward. If he has money for five races between his Indy Lights prize money and some other sponsorship he found, why is Harding not running him in the first five races of the season? Given the hubris to sign him without a sponsor lined up and assuming they could find one, it seems funny that they didn’t just start running him, hoping that they could find the money to finish the season. From Pato’s standpoint, isn’t five races with Harding Steinbrenner (backed by Andretti) a better ride that just about any other team he might find a partial season with?
Steve, Pittsburgh, PA
RM: First off, the Lights money is good for three races – St. Pete, Indy GP and Indy 500 – at least, that’s been the standard operating procedure in the past. And Pato pulled the plug on Harding because he had no confidence there would be a team for him in 2019. The Steinbrenners were responsible for Colton Herta and O’Ward’s fate was in Harding’s hands until Michael Andretti tried a last-second save, which I’ll try to explain in another question.
Q: What are the rules around the Indy Lights scholarship funds? Do they have to be used in IndyCar, or could Pato O’Ward take that cash to another series?
Tom Anderson, Mesa, AZ
RM: No, the money has to be used in IndyCar – Dan Andersen and IndyCar are 50/50 partners in the distribution. Does it have to be for St. Pete, Indy GP and Indianapolis? Not necessarily, although that’s been the trend.
Q: As I read your Mailbag and the RACER website this morning (Wednesday, Feb 13 at about 11:00 am PST), I see no reference to Michael Andretti offering O’Ward an eight-race deal this past weekend. Per Andretti, at least according to the article on another online auto enthusiast site, O’Ward turned him down by insisting on a full season ride, which Andretti could not supply. The tone of the article suggests/implies that Andretti was flummoxed by O’Ward’s response and that Andretti thus now has little empathy for O’Ward’s situation. Yet on the RACER website as I write this, there’s an article in which O’Ward is quoted as saying he’s presently looking to get at least six races through May with a team, fully realizing that the top rides are all full. So what am I missing? Is the timing quoted in the articles incorrect? Did Andretti even offer O’Ward a part-time ride? Please clarify!
RM: Other than during the racing season, I start putting The Mailbag together on Sunday night and finish it by Tuesday at noon, so the Andretti-O’Ward story transpired after I’d already finished last week’s. As for the story itself, yes it’s true that Michael intervened and reportedly offered eight races, but Pato evidently declined because Mike Harding would have still been involved. We don’t know all the behind-the-scenes stuff between O’Ward and Harding and nobody is allowed to discuss it after their settlement, but my take is that he feels cheated and wants nothing to do with Harding. Having said that, going with Andretti for eight races would have given Pato his best shot, and there’s nothing out there to compare with it. But, again, we don’t know the contractual ramifications of what the lawyers decided, and obviously, the O’Ward group feels very strongly about severing its ties with Harding. I don’t blame O’Ward for feeling his IndyCar career got derailed, and you can’t blame Michael for being angry for trying to help his Lights champion. In short, what should have been a feel-good story about two teenage talents is pretty much a mess.
Q: Is report true that Michael Andretti offered an eight-race deal to Patricio O’Ward and he turned it down? Does he have something better in the works? I can’t imagine what it would be at this point in time. Sorry for him losing his ride, but taking a first-class ride with Michael for almost half the season seems better than more races with a lesser team.
Dave, French Lick, IN
RM: Read the answer above yours, but no, I don’t think there’s anything available for Pato that rivals what Michael offered.
Q: As much as I don’t like NASCAR, I watched the Daytona 500 since it is the kick-off of racing season and I’m desperate for racing. But watching the end of that race, I was thinking: really, this is our competition? Over an hour to finish the last 10 laps of their biggest race of the year? Their so-called greatest drivers in the world cause three wrecks before the finish? C’mon, this should be easy! Watch the last 10 laps of any given Indy 500 and there’s no comparison!
RM: I told somebody that the last hour of Daytona was the best free advertising IndyCar could ever want. When you crash going in a straight line, time and time again, and then one of your expert announcers acts surprised, it’s all pretty comical. And it’s not racing.
Q: Just wanted to provide you with an update on Paddock Passes for the COTA race. Per previous discussions in your Mailbag, my buddies and I originally were not able to buy paddock passes as they had sold out. Last Monday I called the COTA ticket office to buy our weekend race tickets, and at that time I inquired about Paddock Passes and was put on a wait list. Today I received an email from a COTA ticket rep saying that more paddock passes were being released at $90 per for the weekend. She is getting us three since we called and were on the list. Not sure if they will be released online, as it sounds like it is a limited release. Might be good for other people to call the ticket office as well.
Brandon “MillenialRaceFan,” Chicago, IL
RM: Thanks for the heads-up, Brandon. I’m told paddock passes are available right now if you call COTA, but will be limited again because they’ve sold a few thousand and are supposedly concerned about space.