Robin Miller's Mailbag for September 11, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for September 11, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for September 11, presented by Honda Racing / HPD


Q: Can you explain in more detail what happened to Dixon at Portland? All we heard was the battery went dead, but that’s hard to understand if all the crew did was replace it. If the battery went dead, then the alternator or charging system was bad, but they didn’t replace that. Wouldn’t an IndyCar be able to run just on the alternator alone?

Lyn Greenhill, Auburn, CA

RM: Here’s the skinny from Ganassi’s Mike Hull:

It was an immediate battery failure. The battery had a bit over 2000 miles on it from new. We rotate two of them per driver for a season of running. They are the Braille Battery, which is a spec part that has been approved by IndyCar in concert with Honda and Chevy. This battery had never been in an accident or given symptoms to cause concern. It’s a sealed unit that’s returned at the end of the season to the manufacturer for inspection. To this point, they have been flawless.The Honda alternator/charging system worked throughout. 

“Battery voltage is monitored by telemetry while on track. If there was any warning, our Honda engineer, Pat would have been onto us immediately. There wasn’t a warning for a charging or voltage issue. The spot welds internally failed so that the cells had the freedom to mov,e which then caused an open circuit – for some of us that means that the battery went from a wired connection across the cells to zero connection. It’s like pulling a plug from a socket. It’s an immediate power down.

“When that happens there isn’t a reserve power source so the entire car shuts down. There wasn’t a dash, radio, telemetry, power to be able to shift, so it’s stuck in gear. Scott, stuck in gear/power off, made it to the pit lane entrance as it happened at the entrance to Turn 11. He realized when we didn’t respond on the radio that it was a full power loss. The pit crew quickly ran to the car; quick-lifted the back of the car as rear wheels locked; changed the battery; Scott found neutral to power up and refire the engine; crew fueled it; changed the tires while Scott worked to gain one spot at the south end of finishing order.”

Q: In follow-up to the question about why A.J. Foyt Racing doesn’t partner with another team on technical matters, that would make good sense. It sure can be fun to speculate. However, I don’t see such a relationship likely with Penske or Arrow SPM, as mentioned. A.J. is a legend and important to IndyCar. The Captain is a racer and has sportingly helped out other teams in the past, but I think those were isolated instances, not on-going arrangements. In a tight pinch, like making Indy, maybe Penske or Andretti lends a hand for the good of helping The Legend. But I don’t see a benefit for Penske or Andretti in any kind of an on-going relationship, and that would be their final analysis.

Likewise,with SPM and McLaren having teamed up, I don’t see that as a possibility either. Although no relationship is forever, and A.J. has changed manufacturers before, I think Foyt Racing (Larry) stays with Chevrolet. Adding up the OEMs, the personalities, the talents, etc., what makes the most sense to me is Ed Carpenter Racing. That could be a win/win with additional cars and drivers to share data.

Kevin Eads, Anderson

RM: I doubt if The Captain is interested in any kind of technical partnership with anyone in the IndyCar paddock, that’s not his style, but ECR might be the perfect partner for Foyt because of their friendship. Ed could make some money and A.J. could make some progress – especially at his favorite track.

MILLER: “Who do you like among the modern guys?” FOYT: “That Monterier was pretty good.” Image by Levitt/LAT

Q: With SPM/McLaren switching to Chevy from Honda and Harding Steinbrenner questionable for the future, is it possible Honda and Andretti reach out and form a technical partnership with – wait for it – Foyt? If Kanaan is going to run one more year, and Mario and A.J. seem to be BFFs now that they are getting on in years, is it out of the realm of possibilities to keep them afloat and relevant? Something has got to give if they are going to run two cars as A.J. says they will, yet not repeat this year’s disaster outside of the ovals.

Brian Miller, Katy, TX

RM: No because A.J. would have to partner with a Chevy team and it would be Michael’s decision anyway, not Mario’s.

Q: So sad to see attendance down at Portland this year. Living in the area, all I can say is that the promotion leading up to the race was non-existent. Back in the day with G.I. Joe’s sponsoring the race, there was a much larger promotional build-up, with discounted tickets getting everyone out. We sorely need better promotion and a title sponsor. A lot of people I talked to this week in Portland didn’t even know there was a race!

Partnering with IMSA would help, which brings me to my question: Who was the genius that scheduled IMSA the weekend before the IndyCar race at Laguna? That is a recipe for disaster (not to mention raising the ire of the NIMBYs that want Laguna closed). It’s hard enough bringing fans out these days, so drawing from the same base two weekends in a row is not smart. Let’s hope they bring them together next year.

Andre from Portland

RM: It did appear smaller, but without a title sponsor no race can be properly promoted, and Kevin Savoree seemed optimistic they could land one for 2020 when I spoke to him on race morning. As for the unfortunate back-to-back with IMSA and IndyCar at Laguna Seca, I’m told there’s not enough time or room to have all of IMSA classes compete along with IndyCar, but it certainly looks like box office suicide to me. It works at Long Beach and Detroit, but it’s not all of IMSA’s cars so not sure how to remedy the situation. But a doubleheader with IMSA and IndyCar would have a fighting chance to draw a decent crowd.

Q: I agree with your questioning of the Portland Festival Curves for modern IndyCars. I would hate to wait all year to see my favorite drivers in action, only to see six of them eliminated from contention at the first corner of the first lap every year. How about that, Hinch fans? Did you enjoy your day at the races after making the trip down from Canada? What can be done about it? Bypass it on the first lap (as you suggested to Bourdais), reshape it to be the reverse of what it is now, changing to gentle in, sharp out, making it the same configuration of Watkins Glen’s Bus Stop or even starting the race on the back straight like they do at Mid-Ohio? No matter what, I think it is unsuitable for modern IndyCars. Heck, I didn’t think it was suitable for IndyCars back in the days of CART, either.

Have you heard anything regarding changes in race procedures or changes to the Festival Curves complex itself? (Yes, I know it has been renamed the Shelton Chicane, but I think you’d honor the man more by naming a straightaway or a quick corner after Monte than an artificial, Mickey Mouse complex like that one.)

Jeff Barak, Minneapolis

RM: By going straight at the start at least you give drivers a chance to spread out a little and make a right-hander instead of funneling into a thimble. But the backstretch is way too narrow, and no need to spend money on another form of chicane. And no talk of making any changes. The drivers just need to act like pros.