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: What a great win for IndyCar. Colton Herta is the real deal. I think Pato will be just as good. COTA raced way better than I thought it would for IndyCar. Great weekend! Your thoughts?
RM: They’re both very special young racers, and I don’t think IndyCar could have asked for a better story. I predicted a couple weeks ago that COTA would be a good race because if IndyCar can put on a good show at Barber, it made sense that with COTA’s wide open spaces it would be racy. I know a lot of people thought the fast corners might make it tough to pass, but watching the replay it was a wild west show and entertaining as hell. Some damn good driving too, only one yellow. Pato also did a good job considering he’d never seen the track until Friday and it was his first race of 2019. He’s a badass and Trevor Carlin will be all smiles for the next nine races. It was a great day for IndyCar. Period.
Q: What a terrific drive by the kid! Looks like the Yankee family may have a new Bambino! The race was excellent, and what class by Bryan Herta. You know damn well he was exploding with pride, but turned the focus of his immediate post-race interview on his driver. Well done, Herta clan! This is what we need, What a great performance this rookie class is putting on.
RM: I’ve said for years that BH is the most honest and dignified car owner in IndyCar, as well as just a humble great guy. And he’s really been hands-off with Colton the past couple years. Of course they talk, and Bryan answers questions and offers suggestions, but he wanted the kid to chart his own course. Bryan hesitated about doing the RACER video with me afterwards because he didn’t want to steal any of Colton’s glory. The kid is so much like his father – gracious, honest and humble – but this isn’t your ordinary teenager. He’s miles ahead of his age and profession.
Q: Really great to see the young kids in IndyCar shine at COTA. Both Herta and O’Ward raced extremely well all weekend. The talk of which driver Penske would snatch up (Rossi or Herta or both) is good for the future of the sport. I haven’t seen this much excitement and potential changing of the guard in a long time. The race was interesting, but the crowd size seemed underwhelming. TV coverage was great. Danica being announced as Indy 500 commentator is also good, as anything to build interest helps. The small teams proved they can compete! Very gratifying, especially after Herta had the engine change. All the new drivers were in the mix at various times. If I were Pagenaud or some of the other underperformers I would be rightfully worried about job security. Who have you got replacing Pagenaud?
Craig Bailey, Palm Bay, FL
RM: It’s crazy and funny and flattering that some RACER readers already have Colton headed to F1 with Gene Haas, and you can bet that R.P. is paying attention and has to be impressed. But the friendship between Bryan Herta and Michael Andretti is a strong one, and Colton and George Michael Steinbrenner are appreciative of the opportunity that Michael gave them in Lights and the tech support that Harding/Steinbrenner is receiving. I think there is a lot of loyalty there. Just like Alex Rossi, Honda and Andretti Autosport. P.T. said over the weekend that if The Captain calls, you don’t turn him down. Not many have (none I can think of), but these are two unique circumstances. And we’re only two races into 2019, so I wouldn’t be pink-slipping Simon yet. Does he need to win a race or two? Probably. But he can still drive, and obviously his qualifying luck needs to improve.
Q: I’m sure you’re receiving a ton a feedback from fans this week about the IndyCar race at COTA. I know my voice is just one of many, but I would like to add my own observations. In the week leading up to the race, I spent some time trying to gauge what F1 fans thought about IndyCar racing at one of “their” tracks. Since IndyCar is airing on Sky Sports F1 this season, I checked the comments from F1 fans on their Twitter feed, as well as on some YouTube videos. Here’s what I noticed. Leading up to the race, F1 fans seemed pretty dismissive of IndyCar. “The cars are slow,” “There’s no technology,” “Everyone is driving the same car,” “The drivers are just F1 rejects,” and “Where’s Ted?” seemed to be the dominant sentiments (not sure what that last one was about).
After the race, the tune changed. The F1 faithful were making comments like “F1 should take notes,” or “The cars are slower but who cares?” or “I wish F1 ran without track limits,” “I still hate the Halo” and “I wish we could have seen that in Canada.” Ultimately, what I gather from this is that F1 fans are very proud of their sport’s status as the “pinnacle of motorsport.” The fast, expensive cars and technology are central to the appeal, and that’s not going to change. However, they’re quite envious of the close wheel-to-wheel racing in IndyCar, and they desperately wish F1 offered more of the same.
If the reaction from the F1 fan base is any indication, IndyCar is onto something good and needs to keep it going. I know a lot of old-school IndyCar fans long for the days of yesteryear when the sport had technological innovation and diversity to rival F1, but time has proven that, in the words of Admiral Ackbar, “it’s a trap.” The spending that such an approach to motorsport requires is unsustainable (even F1 is finding that out the hard way), and worst of all, it would kill the awesome racing product that IndyCar has now. Please Robin, don’t let IndyCar fall into that trap. I’ll be at Barber next weekend, ready for some of the exciting wheel-to-wheel racing that I’ve come to love and expect from IndyCar. I would hate for it to be ruined because the loudest 10% of IndyCar fans want this to be the 1960s again. We have what we have, and it’s good. I mean, how can you beat what we saw yesterday? Love it for what it is. Respect the past, but live in the present.
RM: Thanks for sharing this feedback. I remember when Champ Car went to Montreal and they all said nobody would show up because the cars were seven seconds a lap slower and no technology and blah, blah, blah. Of course the place was packed (thanks to Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani and Sebastien Bourdais) and the racing was good (but nothing like last Sunday) and nobody cared about the lap time difference. We talked in our weekly NBC conference call about not dwelling on the differences between F1 and IndyCar because it’s irrelevant, and it’s good to see that F1 fans appreciate good racing. I think most people in this country today get hooked to watch hard, close racing with overtaking, and the technology is secondary.
Of course that was one of Indy’s major draws for 75 years and we loved all the different cars and engines, but it’s doubtful that will ever return. However, the competition in IndyCar is second to none, and there were so many great battles at COTA it was hard to keep up (but NBC director Mike Wells did a great job), and I don’t think you could ask any more from a road race with 24 cars over almost four miles. We’ve traded the Eagle, Lotus, Novi, Coyote, Offy, 4-cam Ford, A.J. Watson, Dan Gurney, Mickey Thompson and Andy Granatelli for some of the best racing we’ve ever seen. Hell, I think all of us old-schoolers miss those innovative days, but like you said, cherish the history and enjoy today’s competition.