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 burning up YouTube watching CART videos from the mid-to-late 90s, getting ready for the season debut. What I’m getting out of it, other than Danny Sullivan’s flat refusal to call Mauricio Gugelmin anything other than ‘Big Mo’, is that we had exactly what we crave today. Multiples of everything: OEMs, chassis, tires, parts, the works. We had tobacco, alcohol and petrochemicals on the sidepods. There were world-class drivers at the end of their careers, at their peak, and at the very beginning. Most importantly, we had high performance machines doing exactly what high performance machines should do. And it all got screwed up.
I’m not alone in believing that it is in IndyCar’s DNA to destroy itself. They don’t need any help getting in the way of their own success. So here we are: a new chassis and engine formula on the way, a solid TV/media distribution partner, a likely new OEM, a powerful new title sponsor and a black balance sheet. The series is again being seen as a desirable place for F1-tracked and experienced drivers to ply their trade on their way up and down, or to bide their time in-between stints. Value is being found by teams and sponsors, and more cars are finding their way onto the grid every year. We even seem to have the willing and capable lieutenant to the top executive that IndyCar has been craving (God bless Derrick Walker for efforts under duress) for years. There’s even the stated goal of trying to reach record pace in qualifying again. By many metrics the arrow seems to be pointing up. Forgive my apprehension, but from USAC to CART to IRL and Champ Car and now IndyCar, it is hard to hope for sustaining this success. What do you think is to keep this group from sabotaging itself? Is there anything different this time? Is hope impudent? Or has the egg timer already been turned over?
Dan W., Ft. Worth, TX
RM: USAC was governed by a 24-man committee of which half had no skin in the game, CART was controlled by car owners that cared more about stock prices than the overall good of the sport, IRL was a poorly-planned coup that fractured open-wheel racing, and Champ Car was too little, too late. The reason I have some faith right now is because Jay Frye is calling the shots and he’s a racer who listens, has common sense and works for the good of the overall group. IndyCar still needs a third engine manufacturer, a major upgrade in purses and a defibrillator for its ovals, but today there is a game plan and a leader – two things foreign to IndyCar for the past 50 years.
Q: I did a car count. We have 23 full-timers and three part-timers; 26 at St Pete. Indy 500… maybe 38, but looks more like 36? How is my math?
RM: Marshall’s Indy 500 entry story shows a potential of 38 but more likely 36, so your addition is good. I think 24 starters at St. Pete (22 full-timers) with Pato hopefully putting something together through to Indy with Trevor Carlin after the opener.
Q: It’s crazy how many people I’ve seen post bad comments about Mike Trico hosting the Indianapolis 500. Trico has covered many big events. He’s covered Olympics, the Triple Crown horse races, NBA Finals, golf, he hosted the Cup Series race at Homestead a couple seasons ago, and I think he’s hosted/covered a Super Bowl for NBC. As you said, this is a big deal, and it seems like NBC is bringing almost all of its team out to Indianapolis, which is great. Any surprises?
Kevin, North Carolina
RM: I think Little E will be very visible in May, and that’s a good thing – just like Tirico being the host.
Q: I have noticed people complaining about Mike Tirico being host at the 500. They need to stop. He will do a wonderful job. He will be professional, well prepared. I can’t wait for May!
RM: Did you watch him make his NHL play-by-play debut the other night? He was excellent and got rave reviews from a lot of the hockey crowd.
Q: This whole deal (or un-deal as it were) with Pato O’Ward got me thinking about engine leases. My question is, what happens to non-used engines (if any) from previous IndyCar seasons? Do they get recycled for the next season, or are they passed along to second and third tier teams to use? Do you ever see a future where IndyCar will allow teams to build their own engines – within spec, of course – and chassis again? It seems to me that some teams with the right talent could build a season of engines for less than then the current $1.1m lease program, and it might allow for more one-offs at Indy or a new team to try and get its feet wet in the sport.
Jake, Pasadena, California
RM: Honda’s Dan Layton explains his company’s engine program: “There really aren’t any non-used engines. Every component of every engine has a service life, and those parts are replaced when they have reached their mileage limit. Some parts are replaced with every rebuild, other have a longer service life (every second rebuild, etc). This applies to all components, including the block, cylinder heads, pistons, etc. When a parts service life is exhausted — or will be used up before the next rebuild — it is replaced. Once an engine is built (or rebuilt), it is given a serial number and placed into a pool of Honda IndyCar Series engines. This year, our pool includes just over 50 engines, which includes those we’ll need for one-offs at Indianapolis and other partial season entries, as well as anticipated replacement engines for those we may lose due to crashes or failure. The engines are then assigned by INDYCAR to an individual team and chassis. So there really are no leftove” engines available for “second and third tier teams.” Everyone gets that same engine, and to the best of our ability, the engines are all equal. At the end of the season, the engines are returned to us to be prepared for the following season.”
As for your question about teams building their own chassis and engines, no chance. Way too expensive.