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: Takuma Sato had one of the best race weekends since he’s been in the series – even better than winning the Indy 500, because he proved that he’s no fluke, and that going from Andretti to Rahal Letterman Lanigan was a good move. He is getting up in age, and I’m wondering: will there be another young Japanese driver to replace Takuma when he retires? And finally, I had an interesting chat with a former F1 driver who thinks that it could be too fast for Formula 1 cars to race at Barber Motorsports Park, though he likes the layout of the track. What do you think?
RM: Sato has smoothed out as he’s gotten older and that was a virtuoso display at Barber, from taking the pole on his last lap to dominating the race. He’s 42 but looks 32, and is in great physical and mental shape. Indy is still his big prize, but last Sunday was his finest drive. Haven’t heard of any Japanese drivers on the horizon. Don’t see why F1 couldn’t run Barber, except it’s not nearly cosmopolitan enough for their tastes.
Q: Watching the race, and this point just can’t wait. We heard non-stop complaining about the pits closing for yellows. Then the incident with Graham happens, TK drives Chilton off the road (unintentionally) diving into the pits late, and since they left it green long enough for guys to come in, pit lane was complete chaos! We’re lucky nobody got hit or taken out in the scramble that was that pit sequence. For the sake of safety, they need to just throw the yellow and close the pits. The rules are the same for everyone so the teams need to quit crying about getting caught out. Yes it sucks, but you know the rules like everyone else does. Side note: Graham finally has a great weekend and a fast car, then the gremlins hit. Tough break, but I hope he can bounce back.
Jacob Perl, Mansfield, Ohio
RM: The pits are always chaos after they’re closed and everyone comes in so it makes no difference, but the best thing about Barber was that Kyle Novak judged the situation and deemed it OK to leave out the green long enough for everyone to pit and not ruin it for the leaders. Dixon and most of the drivers applauded that move, because it let the race be decided on the track. And I think Novak wants to do that whenever possible, but all cautions are different and closing the pits is still about safety. Rahal and engineer Allen McDonald are starting to click and they should be formidable all season – especially next month.
Q: Can’t believe so many people are still whining about the closed pits. It was everyone’s option, and as PT and TBell repeatedly noted, Power and Rossi were playing with fire. Change this rule and then what’s next – green/white/checkers, lucky dogs, stage racing? Hell, let’s just invert the field after qualifying, too!
RM: I said last week that I’ve been around long enough to remember when the yellow would fly and if somebody was coming off Turn 4 at and get slowed down in time to pit they would gain a lap on everyone, so it’s always been a factor, open or closed.
Q: During initial qualifying, is there any rhyme or reason to the make-up of Group 1 and Group 2? I noticed at COTA Penske and Ganassi were in different groups, as were Rossi and RHR. Just wondering.
Chris in Indiana
RM: The qualifying groups are designated by the practice times of the final session, and then it’s every other driver – fastest time goes to Group 1 and second fast to Group 2, and so on down the line.
Q: Do you think that it is a possibility that both Simon Pagenaud and Will Power could find themselves out of a ride at Penske for next year if things don’t begin to shape up? I know it’s early in the season, but it’s no secret that Roger Penske likes to win, and the only driver on the team right now that’s been able to consistently show that he can win is Newgarden. What are the odds of Penske going after Rossi, Herta or O’Ward?
Bille at Ball State
RM: Power had COTA covered before the untimely yellow and his subsequent mechanical trouble and he was on the pole at St. Pete, so why would he be in any danger? Simon probably needs to win a race or two, but who knows? I mean, if The Captain goes after one of those teenagers, Pagenaud could always be farmed out to the Acura sports car team, but I don’t believe he’s forgotten how to win. History shows that R.P. is always looking down the road for younger, faster – Tom Sneva was fired as the national champion, and JPM was sent to sports cars two years after winning Indy. And it’s served him pretty well.
Q: Can you tell us more about Colton Herta’s team, such as how many team members and their backgrounds? I was watching the COTA Friday package on NBC Gold (great value) and saw maybe four or five people in the garage working on Herta’s engine change, including Brian Barnhart. So it looked like a relatively small crew that must be doing a very good preparing the car for an excellent young driver.
Scott Thompson, Nebraska
RM: Harding Steinbrenner has several experienced IndyCar mechanics and chief Doug McCain has been in IndyCar and NASCAR. Brian Barnhart and Vince Kremer started way back in the 1980s, and Nathan O’Rourke is regarded by many as one of the best young engineers in the paddock. It’s a small budget team compared to most because Mike Harding and George Michael Steinbrenner finally scored some sponsorship last weekend, but this group has come a long way since January and is looking good.
Q: Just a quick one in response to a question asked on your Mailbag this week – I suspect Colton will have picked this up from his time in the UK, it’s a very British thing to refer to a group of men as “boys”!
RM: Thanks Stu, I think it’s common everywhere nowadays.