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: My question comes from the recent trend of talented drivers being left without a seat in IndyCar. There are obviously big names like Hinch and Daly, but there have also been several Indy Lights drivers end up in other series because nothing was available upon graduation. I know there are a ton of factors that contribute to this, the biggest being sponsorship dollars, but I’m curious about the impact of so few owners on the grid. With the recent Penske ownership news, this issue seems more relevant than ever before.
Should the cost of ownership be lowered to entice more people to get involved in IndyCar and therefore open up more seats? Or should the cost actually increase so as to make the teams that are on the grid more competitive? If you’re Roger Penske, is your focus to get more owners into the fold, or to make the racing even better? Or is there some happy medium of being able to do both? Thanks for your insight!
P.S. If I had an extra $15 million lying around, I would be ordering some Honda engines and signing Hinch and Daly up tomorrow! But alas…
Tyler from Michigan
RM: As long as drivers have been buying rides (since the ‘80s), good ones have been left on the sidelines and that’s not going to change. The fact Colton Herta, Oliver Askew, Pato O’Ward and Spencer Pigot all got rides without bringing money is still rare but encouraging. And I think Jay Frye, IndyCar and Dallara have done their best to at least keep costs somewhat reasonable. But considering how much it costs and how bad the purses are, it’s amazing there are 22-23 full-time cars. Raising the purses and Leaders’ Circle might be one way to entice more participation, but right now it’s the one major series where a Mike Shank can come in with the right people and be competitive. That’s the major selling point.
Q: I see that Spencer Pigot has been dumped by ECR. It sucks for him, but he’s had a decent shot at it, and VeeKay looks like a badass like Colton and Pato. Though I do wish that Ed would either stop driving or run a third car so he could still do the ovals. That way he fields two cars driven full-time by young hotshots. What’s your view on this development?
Jordan, Warwickshire, UK
RM: I think Ed has given American racers like Spencer, JoNew and J.R. Hildebrand a fighting chance, but he’s not made of money and needs some help like everyone else. If he would hire Veekay and Conor Daly retains Air Force that would be a good pairing for 2020, and then he still gets to run Indianapolis. But I applaud him for “hiring” these Indy Lights champs through the years.
Q: With Pigot now officially out at ECR, a move to Foyt seems seamless. He’s young, American, has shown some really strong potential, and is a Chevy guy. Is this anything that you are hearing as a possibility?
RM: I talk to A.J. once a week and he and Larry haven’t made a decision yet, but I think they’re looking for a driver with money to go with Charlie Kimball and T.K. (who would share a ride). Just a guess.
Q: I wonder if the IndyCar community is concerned about a big drop-off in attendance in Toronto if there isn’t a Canadian driver? That has rarely happened.
RM: Not sure, but I imagine it’s got the attention of promoters Kevin Savoree and Kim Green, and I think Hinch will have a ride for Indy and Toronto, at the least, and it would behoove IndyCar to invest in making sure it happens up north.
Q: The Derek Daly article about the two kinds of drivers got me thinking about A.J. Foyt Racing. Based on the assumption that Tony Kanaan is a “reflex” driver and Conor Daly is a “feel” driver, wouldn’t it make sense to pair them up for Kanaan’s last IndyCar season for both their immediate and future needs? Let’s also assume that McLaren has their eye on Simon Pagenaud for 2021 when his contract expires with Penske. If McLaren lets go of either O’Ward or Askew to pair with Pagenaud, they would have both types of drivers. Foyt could then snatch up the freed young gun and have both types of drivers with huge potential for the future. Possible?
Mark Zac, Long Beach, CA
RM: That’s what T.K. was hoping before A.J. dropped Conor, but it’s not going to happen now. And Pagenaud was just a hunch about 2021, but now that McLaren has two youngsters I don’t think the 2019 Indy winner is in the frame. I know A.J. was interested in Pato and Ferrucci, but I don’t think they were interested in his team.