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: As a journalist and media personality, what is the bigger story: McLaren/Alonso’s failure to qualify, or the uplifting story of the little teams that could? I was conflicted all weekend. Sure, we want Alonso in the field for massively increased interest levels and eyeballs on the event. But the David v Goliath showdown was true eye-moistening drama. In the end will the event suffer, maybe decreased interest due to the smaller teams, lesser-known names, now in the field of 33? Conflicted? I was pulling for Pippa, Ben, and Kyle to secure a spot, while still wanting to see the two-time world champ pursue his Triple Crown. Conflicted? What a weekend full of drama. How does Zak Brown and McLaren react to another failure? Now a mid-field team at best in F1, they can’t even crack the staring grid for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Can’t wait for Sunday!
RM: As good as those little team stories were, and they were all damn good, nothing can top McLaren’s failure to provide Alonso with a competitive car. It’s an international story, and his presence will be missed in the race in terms of worldwide viewers and coverage because he is so popular. Zak reacted by firing team manager Bob Fearnley, but it’s obviously a black eye for the organization when a little USAC team with no money or experience makes the race and McLaren goes home.
Q: After today (Sunday, Bump Day) I am all in for the full-time teams to be guaranteed spots in the 500. Not the top spots, just spots. It just makes too much business sense, and even locking in the part-timers up to the 30th spot is fine. However, IndyCar stumbled on something with the last row going at it with bumping on the line. That was by far the most dramatic qualifying session I have watched in years, and I enjoyed every second of it. It’s just enough “tradition” mixed in with a bunch of business sense.
My question is the spare car rule. I was surprised McLaren fumbled about as much as they did (I think the TV crew really gave them a pass by not calling out their incompetence. I mean, when has Paul Tracy ever kept his opinions to himself?) But I did read an article earlier this week and it made it sound like a team can have a spare car, but it cannot be fully ready. Is that correct? Even the lease motor has to be swapped as well as other parts? It made it sound like it can be partially-built but not turn-key. I remember the days of drivers jumping in and out of primary and T cars at Indy all the time. What’s the rule now?
RM: Obviously you wouldn’t want to guarantee the front row, but there would still be bumping even with 22 spots reserved, and the Last Row shootout was Jay Frye’s idea and it was a roaring success. You can have your backup car pretty well finished like Arrow SPM did, but no team is allowed to have a T car waiting with an engine in it. It usually takes 90 minutes to two hours to install one, and Hinch’s team did a yeoman’s job.
Q: I just watched Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing knock the great Fernando Alonso and McLaren out of the 500. With Zak Brown saying that a full-time program for next year was somewhat dependent on this year, did we just see the last of McLaren? I would imagine that if Alonso wants to try Indy next year, he will do it with an established team, not McLaren, even if they do run.
Bruce, Philadelphia, PA
RM: It’s tough to say right this minute, but it certainly couldn’t have helped Brown sell the program to McLaren’s principals. As for Alonso, he’s been loyal to Zak but I can’t imagine him returning unless it’s with a top-notch team.
Q: Was curious about your thoughts on Colton Herta and who he reminds you of? What he did on Saturday, in my eyes, was one of the best qualifying performances we’ve seen in a long time. To go that fast in those conditions and then get out of the car and calmly say “we could have trimmed out more” was insane to me. With everyone nearly crashing on every turn in those conditions, him just keeping his foot in it, driving beautifully, and acting like it was no big deal reminds me of Rick Mears. What do you think?
Brad Heuer, Coeurdalene, Idaho
RM: I’m not sure he reminds me of anyone Brad, because he’s a teenager and 19-year-olds aren’t supposed that cool under fire. Colton is amazing, and no less than Sebastien Bourdais was singing his praises over the weekend. “Don’t count that kid out when you’re talking about who could win this race,” he said. Bryan’s son is an amazing blend of talent, chassis savvy, aggression, smarts and a refreshing humility and honesty.
Q: I think the new format for qualifying worked really well. It added some great drama to the weekend. It almost feels like Alonso thought he was going to waltz right into IMS and get a starting spot. I think they got a good dose of reality. He didn’t act like he really cared to be there. Also, I’d like to thank you and Hamburger for having your videos with French Fry. I was not a fan of his during his CART and early IndyCar days, but now I have become a fan of his and root for him each weekend. He has a great personality and doesn’t pull any punches. Keep up the great work.
Eric, London, OH
RM: Jay Frye hated the old format where Saturday basically was a test day, so he concocted a format that restored some common sense and retained the drama, and would have been a great show on NBC had it not rained. Alonso was understandably frustrated, but was a total class act and he cared until he was a couple tenths short of making the show. Seb is the best thing on the internet.