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: Let me yet again praise Jay Frye and his team, not only for listening to the gripes about the Indy 500 format, but subsequently coming up with an idea most of us hadn’t thought of. Many (including me) felt that Hinchcliffe was failed by the convoluted format last year, which had cars competing for Top 9 and field of 33 competing for track time. That was totally absurd. Enter Frye. I think this new format is terrific. It gives NBC and the attendees dramatic action from the get-go on Sunday afternoon. Plus, after they eliminated the Monday practice, having the full field go for a few hours afterwards is a great idea. As for the bumping itself, with this format, as long as everyone outside or on the bubble is given one legitimate shot at qualifying, I think that’s fair. They also have Saturday, too. Frankly, there’s just not a lot to be done to a car these days like back in time, and most of them are trimmed way out to start with.
Greg, Belleville, NJ
RM: I agree that Jay made Saturday relevant and ramped up Sunday’s intensity. And having the two most dramatic emotions (joy and depression) wrapped around the Fast 9 is good television, and smart since NBC is devoting three hours that Sunday. There will still be two hours of practice on Monday, but that needs to go away because three hours on Sunday is plenty.
Q: Just saw the article on the “Last Row Shootout” and I imagine your inbox is going to be filled with emails just like this one. What in the world are the powers that be at IndyCar Central thinking? Did Jay Frye take a trip to Colorado and partake in some of their delicacies? To ask an actual question, how did this come about? I know you, as well as most every one of your readers, was asking for Bump Day to be moved to Sunday. But that’s it. Move it to Sunday. Not eliminate the joys of actually having a true Bump Day with possibly three-to-six cars not making the grid for the first time in years. *shakes fist at cloud*
Tyler, Milwaukee, WI
RM: I think having five or six cars going for three spots on national television is just as compelling and good for Indy as giving them five attempts each over the course of six hours. And it won’t be any less dramatic just because it’s one attempt. Sure, it was always cool to see somebody go out, wave off, make some changes, go back out, wave off, come in for some more tweaks and then stick it in the show. But for the number of cars we have today, this is a good system. And NBC has allotted three hours to show the emotions of Indy, and I think that’s way better than a whole day on cable TV because sponsors need exposure.
Q: I love the new format of Indy 500 qualifying… except one part. The one attempt rule for Fast 9 and bumping is terrible. They had a chance to truly bring back drama but left this part out? Why is that?
PS: I will be attending my 17th Indy 500 in a row this year since beginning in 2003, the day after I graduated college!
Brian, Ashville, OH
RM: Why don’t you think there will be drama with five or six cars going for three spots? In 1979, because of the pop-off valve controversy, there was an extra round of qualifying held the day before the race. Eleven drivers got one shot to beat the slowest speed in the lineup, but only Bill Vukovich and George Snider made the show, as Dana Carter just missed because his owner wouldn’t buy him a new set of tires and Bill Alsup crashed after going plenty fast enough on his first lap. Believe me, it was dramatic.
Q: With the new Indy qualifying procedures in place, and the Last Row Shootout limited to only one run per car, was there any thought given to what happens if a car/driver has an issue a la Rossi’s tire going down mid-qualifying run? Is it “too bad, so sad” for that team to have bad luck and maybe miss making the field? Or will they be granted another run on the basis of a mechanical failure? Seems like a potential controversy in the making.
Matt, Whitehall, PA
RM: If you take the green flag and blow an engine or cut a tire, that’s just bad racing luck and you are toast. Kinda like when Derek Daly had two good laps in the books (I think 1986) and then it started raining and never stopped.
Q: Leave it to IndyCar to screw up a sure thing. The allure of Bump Day has always been the combination of having the speed and racing the clock to make the show. Now you have a mildly intriguing session that will be completely overshadowed by the Fast 9. Not to mention that Saturday has been stripped of most of its meaning again. It’s never going to be like the bump days of old, but the last hour of Saturday qualifying last year was the most thrilling TV of the entire month. With the expanded entry list, it seemed so obvious to market what happened last year and try to make bump day a big deal again – instead they neuter the whole process. What the heck are they thinking?
Kyle, Urbana, Ohio
RM: I disagree. Saturday now has a meaning because 10-30 are locked in, instead of the waste of time and money of qualifying so they can really qualify the next day. And whether you get five tries or one, a few drivers are still going to get bumped or not go quick enough. The last row will be just as compelling as the Fast 9, and both will be on national television.
Q: The new qualifying format for the 2019 Indy 500 is a big improvement! Really don’t see how anyone could disagree. A few questions, though. Will each car still be allowed three attempts on Saturday to make into the Top 30? Why only allow one attempt in the Fast Nine and Last Row Shootouts on Sunday? There would be much more drama if those sessions were expanded from 60 minutes to 90 and each car was allowed two or three attempts as time permitted. With only one attempt, if a car accepts a time in the Last Row Shootout and gets bumped, the car cannot make another attempt to get back in the show? At least, I hope an attempt can be waived off if after three laps the speed is lacking, so the car can be adjusted for another attempt, but pity the cars with an early draw.
Mark Zac, Long Beach, CA
RM: Everyone is guaranteed one attempt on Saturday, and then teams can go back out as many times as time permits. The Last Row and Fast 9 are condensed into a window that worked for NBC and that’s good for exposure. No waves-offs for the Last Row, one shot only.