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: First off we are all glad that you are better. Are there any updates on how John Andretti is doing? Second, to all the people complaining about what has happened because of red and/or yellow flags and what might have happened, I have a simple quote from my childhood: “Coulda, woulda, didn’t” – Dick Grayson. These procedures have been in place more than long enough for everyone in IndyCar to be familiar with them. It is sad that great drivers and teams were caught out by the yellow and red flags, but these were all self-inflicted wounds. In qualifying, the teams know a red flag at the wrong time could kill their session, but they chose to sit in the pit lane and let the clock run out. No-one forced them to sit there and wait until the last second to go out to try and make a lap.
Both Penske and Andretti Autosport have decades of experience and have been racing in IndyCar full-time since well before the rule closing the pits at the beginning of a safety car was implemented. They knew the risks. And to the people who say it would have been different if they left the pits open during that yellow at the end, my question is, how? Have Penske or Andretti developed some kind of hovercraft system that would have let the cars fly over the crash scene and first responders? I know some people are upset about how things played out, but changing the rules would just reward the same kind of foolishness and arrogance that led to The Split.
Haskell, Victoria, TX
RM: Thanks for your logical letter. Yes, you nailed it, be it qualifying or the race, these teams had an opportunity to either go out or pit and chose not to so they got burned. You felt bad for Power and Rossi but they simply followed a game plan that turned out to be flawed. Talked to John last week and his cancer has returned, but he’s still fighting and looking for an alternative program with help from Mario.
Q: I’ve been an Indy fan for decades, and I’ve seen the improvement from speed limits in the pits – that’s fine. Then we started closing pits when a yellow comes out. I do not recall the rationale, but I believe it is to allow the pace car to pick up the field before the pits are open. I just attended the IndyCar at COTA, and we all know how closing the pits on the last yellow messed up several drivers and teams that did not deserve it. Rossi in particular was royally baked, while Herta and Newgarden benefitted from unknowingly pitting a lap before the yellow. I was delighted to see those two finish one-two, but I don’t think they deserved it. What is the reason for closing the pits? Can it be accomplished with some other alternative? And is it worth lousing up races?
Phil McKown, Nashville, IN
RM: As I wrote last week, USAC began bunching up the field and closing the pits in the late ’70s because it was having difficulty scoring the races. With the advent of superspeedways and street courses it became a safety issue, and despite an attempt to opening the pits a few years ago, the competitors opted to go back to closing the pits. In a situation like COTA, the leaders could have been spared by simply pitting when the window opened.
Q: It’s too bad when drivers are caught out during qualifying by late reds. I agree with the penalties for causing a red, but those caught out should be given at least one out lap to warm their tires and a flying lap. Or if there is more time on the clock, restart with the remaining time at the moment of the incident. I could see well-qualified teams sending out a lesser car to cause a red in order to keep the pole or other good grid position. I hope that IndyCar will take a serious look at that, regardless of remaining TV time left in the program. We’ll find out how qualifying finished during the pre-race broadcast. Good teams shouldn’t be penalized for someone else’s mistake.
Charley Goddard, the geezer in Muncie
RM: IndyCar used to guarantee so many minutes of green flag time but now the only session with guaranteed time is the Fast 6 so maybe that’s something IndyCar needs to revisit.
Q: I agree with Will Power. This yellow flag, pit-closing crapshoot is bull feathers. Rossi’s and his chance to win were over when that late yellow came out. Here’s my idea to maybe mitigate it. About 200 yards before pit-in, paint a three-foot wide line across the track. This is the “pit open” line. When an incident happens on track, here’s the procedure: Yellow flag. All cars slow to safer speed. No passing. Pits close. Only when the lead car passes the “pit open” line, the pits then open, and the leader gets 200 yards to decide to be the first to pit, followed by any others. The pace car picks up the leading car at pit-out, and bunches the field then. This protocol allows lead cars, who have built up substantial gaps over short pitting rivals, an opportunity to pit under yellow and maintain their running order, while allowing for safe accident cleanup, and closing up the field for a restart. Sure, this needs tweaked, and drivers will try to cheat and game it, but that’s why there are stewards and penalties then need to be called. The yellow flag in racing should be a wild card, not a soccer red card. Comments?
Tim in Ohio
RM: Nobody wants to see anyone’s race ruined by an untimely yellow flag but it’s happened for decades with or without closed pits, and as our reader from Texas said in an earlier letter, nobody is to blame but those two teams for leaving their drivers out.