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, in your opinion, has happened with Simon Pagenaud and Will Power? Pagenaud who looked very weak and faced speculation about being dropped by Penske after last season, is delivering powerhouse wins, while Will Power, dependably up front for years, is qualifying and racing poorly – at least by his exalted standards. What’s up?
Anthony Jenkins, Mono, Ontario
RM: Racing is all about confidence and being in a groove, and right now those two are at opposite ends of that spectrum. Simon struggled last year and lost his mojo and was certainly in danger of not being re-upped before last May’s command performance. Now he’s driving like he did in 2016-2017, and is right back in the title picture. If Power won COTA (he dominated before the caution and subsequent mechanical failure), who knows what this season would look like? I do think he’s pressing, which is only natural when your teammates are kicking ass. But he’ll snap out of it. He’s too good not to.
Q: Would appreciate your perspective on what the pressure to win must be like for guys fortunate enough to drive for RP? Going all the way back to the days of PT and “Coogan,” I’d have to think it must be enormous? Could Power be feeling it, especially these days, given the uncharacteristic mistakes he’s been making? (Have to add how impressed I am with the way he is accepting responsibility for them; didn’t often see that level of maturity from him in years past.)
RM: Will and I were talking Friday about pressure and he welcomes it, citing that you can never get complacent – especially driving for The Captain. The expectations for Team Penske are always to win and then keep winning. Cogan was doomed after blaming the car in 1982 at Indy, while P.T. handled that Penske pressure, they just weren’t a good match – like Sneva and R.P. But Power handled the pressure of not winning a title or Indy and kept fighting until he did. I think there’s a big difference between pressing and not responding to pressure. Will is the former right now.
Q: The 2019 race season started with a real buzz around the health and growth of the series. With new teams and drivers joining, or considering the series, the excitement was likely at its highest mark in years – maybe decades.
However, the reality of how competitive IndyCar is, and specifically the Big 3 teams, has likely slowed or even defeated this early excitement. While there have been a few breakthroughs with the new or “newish” teams (Herta/Harding Steinbrenner at COTA, Harvey/Meyers Shank at Indy Grand Prix) there have been many more setbacks, in my opinion (Pato O’Ward losing funding at Harding Steinbrenner, then missing 500 with Carlin and finally funding at Carlin, Alonso missing 500 with McLaren, Ben Hanley/DragonSpeed not racing at Road America – a track they announced they would race at this year. I think I even read that Oriol Servia secured funding for extended racing with Stange racing but they have been absent from all races since Indy).
I would love your assessment of these new teams. Can they stay healthy and continue to grow? Will we see some retreat and leave IndyCar? Inversely, are there other teams that may be considering the series for 2020?
RM: I still think the best thing about the series is the uncertainty of who is going to win the pole and the race. I realize Team Penske now has won six of 11 races, but there have been seven different winners and nice surprises like Ferrucci and Ericsson. Herta alone has been enough to keep us interested, and losing Pato was a blow, but he might be back. Of course there always is a chance of losing and adding teams, but way too early to make any predictions on that front.
Q: Love the work you and the crew do on NBC. I have a question about the blue flag procedure for IndyCar. I watch both F1 and IndyCar and have noticed that one of the few things that Formula 1 does better than IndyCar is getting slower lapped cars out of the way of the leaders. It seems as though the FIA places much more of an emphasis on slow cars getting out of the way than IndyCar’s Race Control does. I see the blue flags wave, but cars don’t move out of the way. Why is that? I know that pace difference between a Mercedes compared to a Williams is much greater than a Penske compared to a Foyt, but the slower cars in F1 make much more of an effort to get off of the racing line and let the leaders through.
In IndyCar, there is too much talk of “is the Chevy going to let the Honda that’s leading through” even though the Chevy is already a lap down. It shouldn’t matter what engine manufacturer or whose buddy is leading the race, they should just let the leaders by. I think we were robbed of a great finish in Toronto with Dixon chasing down a fuel-saving Pagenaud because a bunch of lapped cars didn’t get out of the way. I know there are some purists out there that will say that the leaders need to get by the slow cars on their own, but I want the watch the leaders duke it out in the closing laps.
Jordan M. from Indy
RM: Veach, RHR, T.K. and Chilton were still on the lead lap when Pagenaud came up on them in the closing laps, and by rule, they do not have to get out of the way. But I think you saw some professional courtesy from those guys and their teams, and nobody really held Simon up. As for the teamwork among engine manufacturers, that’s just gamesmanship and nothing too sinister. Dixie had an open track to overhaul Pagenaud but just couldn’t quite get there.