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: Mike Hull gets my vote for the smartest man in IndyCar! He played Dixon’s tire strategy perfectly, and then Scott drove like a man possessed to make it work at the end. Where did Power’s speed go? Our TV coverage went to the NASCAR race too soon to get all the post-race interviews.
Doug Mayer, Revelstoke, BC, Canada
RM: Mike thanks you for the nomination, but is quick to point out it was a team decision between Dixie, engineer Chris Simmons and himself. Power said in our interview afterwards they simply made the wrong tire selections. But Hull did share the thinking that goes into choosing which tires to start and finish on:
“Where you start weighs in the decision. That’s why you saw some of the red tire starters on scrubbed rather than stickers – you knew immediately that they were a three-stop strategy with that grid decision. The second (if it’s final) or third stop is based at that point on what the longevity has been on reds vs. blacks, plus how close to the end, as reds do restarts better than the blacks if there’s a late yellow. Most teams specifically will watch when lap times begin to fall on sticker tires in the first run.
“In the case of Mid-Ohio, we thought that in order to have something close to a full run on them, that the track needed to be fully rubbered-in, so decided to start on sticker blacks. If we could get to lap 28 or 29 on the blacks, would have a chance for two stops provided that the sticker reds on a rubbered-up track could get you there on the next one. From there, it’s a tough one, as witnessed by SD in his last 10 laps. Felix couldn’t make 59, so a three-stopper for them, so their decision with the tires left was to go to blacks, so we say both strategies could work to lap 90. You could get it done with either strategy.
“The overall key, especially at Mid-Ohio, is having a portion of your run with completely open track position. That was very apparent with Dixon vs. Felix. Dixon by being on the two-stop strategy had much more open track position than most. Felix had to fight hard to clear not only the slower cars in front of him at the end, but also earlier in that final run. Not a perfect science, but great when the chemistry lab gets it right.”
Q: Does the call to bring in Rosenqvist into the pits on Lap 45 seem like the ultimate in team tactics to maximize points for Dixon? Barry Wanser saying Felix was always on a three-stop plan seem pretty weak considering they ran him to a two-stop distance around Lap 30. He was well ahead of Dixon and the rest before that lap 45 stop. Even if the tires degraded some, he probably makes it to lap 60 still ahead of the pack and second-placed Dixon, and goes on to win the race.
Instead, the Ganassi brain trust buries him in the pack and yet he still almost pulled it off. I know everyone was puppies and unicorns after the race because “Chip let them race,” but it sure seems like his team screwed him over for Dixon. Pitting on Lap 45 made no sense considering where they pitted before. Thoughts?
Mark in Cincinnati
RM: Good day for Ganassi strategists to weigh in. As for the ultimate team tactics, Barry Wanser says: “Not at this point in the year. We race the No. 10 car to win.” As for him saying a three-stopper was always the plan, “We took advantage of running fast laps at the end of the first stint on the primary tires. We had thoughts it could be done in two stops, but not likely running alternate tires on second stint.” And on your theory that Felix makes it to Lap 60 ahead of Dixon and goes on to win the race on two stops: “Once we caught traffic that had newer tires and watching our ghost car for where we would come out after the stop, and knowing the No. 9 car made the decision to try it on two stops, we came in to cover the other strategy with three stops. We knew Felix could move forward on another set of primary tires running full fuel and Honda power, and came out in second only nine seconds behind Dixon.”
To the criticism that the Ganassi brain trust buries Rosenqvist in the pack, Wanser responds: “If five lapped cars didn’t end up between Felix and Dixon, Felix would have caught Dixon many laps prior to the end and would have a greater opportunity to pass him for the win. Our other challenge for the late race passing was Felix had used up all of his push to pass. The lapped cars and then Dixon had push to pass to use to defend.” Thanks, Barry.
Q: What do you make of Ganassi’s inability to field a winning second car? It’s been since 2014 that a CGR car not driven by Scott Dixon won a race, and I don’t see that changing this year.
RM: Well it damn near happened last Sunday, and I think Felix is going to be a multiple winner before it’s all said and done. Maybe not this year (I picked him to win twice), but next year for sure. That kid has got it.