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: Although I like to think of myself as pretty well informed on IndyCar comings and goings, I had no idea the Ganassi/Ericsson deal was coming along. My assumption is that you had heard at the very least strong rumors beforehand. I’m curious how far out you hear about these things? And if the things you hear fall into a normal timeline – for instance vague rumors a month out, followed by strong rumors a couple weeks out, followed by confirmation a few days out, followed finally by public announcement? Or do these come about suddenly, and do you ever get caught unaware?
RM: Good question, and good story to go with it. RACER’s F1 scribe, Chris Medland, sent us an email a couple weeks ago saying he heard that Marcus had signed with Ganassi to drive a third car full-time in 2020. I thanked him and immediately emailed Ericsson and called Mike Hull. Didn’t get a response from the Swede, and Hull acknowledged that they had talked with Ericsson but nothing to report yet. “More smoke than fire at the moment,” were Mike’s words. Now I don’t know if the deal was already done when I called but regardless Hull naturally had to protect what turned out to be a helluva story and a big news announcement. And after it became official, I emailed Ericsson again to congratulate him and kid him about not being able to confirm or deny earlier. He responded: “Thank you very much. Ha ha yes, you know how it works. Super excited for this. It’s such a great opportunity. See you soon.” Of course you get caught unaware sometimes (Mansell to Newman/Haas was the best kept secret ever) but between Marshall and I, we’ve done this for a long time and have a lot of good contacts, so there aren’t too many major surprises. It’s a fun part of this job – trying to find out something before everyone else does and play that truth and denial game. I’ve done it for 50 years so not too much catches me flat-footed, but Ericsson-to-Ganassi certainly did when Chris Medland called.
Q: I gotta say, I really didn’t see Ericsson headings to Ganassi, and I hadn’t read anything about it anywhere (even from you!). I was under the impression that they were pretty set on staying with only two cars full time. Is this happening because they have staff from the soon-to-be gone GTLM program that they can move to IndyCar? Also, where does this leave Oliver Askew and the rumors that he’d be doing some part-time drives in a Ganassi car?
Max Camposano, Bethlehem, PA
RM: It caught everyone by surprise and I think it happened because Marcus has some stout sponsorship, but it’s also good for engineer Brad Goldberg and the Ganassi IMSA team since they were going to need something to do or look for a job. I’m hearing Zak Brown wants Askew at McLaren and he gave our Chris Medland some quotes over the weekend that didn’t rule it out.
Q: Zak Brown says the young driver crop has as much potential as Colton? No they don’t. It is a mistake to keep Hinch. That is just for Sam. Let Gil get two F1 guys like Ganassi would do. If they go with Hinch and an Indy Lights driver, they are screwed. Let Gil run the show! Robin, it’s too bad my man Michael Andretti is not involved. It would’ve been great and McLaren would’ve had Colton! Why didn’t Michael switch to Chevy and do it? I believe because he is Honda IndyCar like Newman/Haas was Lola. I think to beat Penske, you can’t be Chevy. You have to be on the other side. So, Honda of Japan must hate McLaren that bad, because it would’ve been beautiful! And they would’ve hurt Penske! They won’t hurt Penske nearly as bad now. Michael needs to focus on No.88 and No.27 and nothing else!
Dan from Lima, Ohio
RM: I think you could make an argument that Pato O’Ward, Oliver Askew and Rinus Veekay pack plenty of potential, and graduating from Lights to IndyCar doesn’t seem to be the big jump it used to be. And Hinch has won six races as well as the pole at Indy after nearly losing his life the year before, so not sure why it would be a mistake for SPAM to keep him. Michael stayed with Honda because they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse (and BTW, Carl Haas was the Lola distributor) but he very much wanted to team with Zak and Fernando. I’ve written and said for months it’s good to keep the balance of power and it remains in tact because Michael stayed put.
Q: So much controversy surrounding Hinch and SPAM. They say he’s under contract, but yet he’s not confirmed to drive. Sounds like they’re holding him under contract so they can sell that contract to the highest bidder. Thoughts?
John Fulton, Akron, Ohio
RM: I’ve said several times lately it’s pretty obvious to me that SPAM doesn’t want Hinch and I doubt he has much interest in staying but the looming question is where would he go? I know Honda of Canada wants to keep him and so does Honda Performance Development, but unless they can pull off a third car for RLL, James may be stuck as a lame duck. But I haven’t written everything I’ve been told, so stayed tuned.