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: Did not see the news of Sebastien Bourdais’ split with Dale Coyne Racing coming. Bourdais must have had some warning, though, since the IMSA ride was announced the same day? Assuming the Honda engine support might have been Seb’s main funding contribution to Coyne, does this provide an opportunity for Hinch at Coyne? I am assuming he likely has more Honda support than Bourdais had, as well as some potential other support. Or would Hinch need to basically provide full funding to DCR which puts him in the same predicament as he is with Rahal? A lot has happened since what was thought to be the main silly season story when Rossi signed with Andretti.
Don Weidig, Canton, OH
RM: I doubt Seb had much warning, It didn’t sound like he saw it coming and why would he? I don’t know the details of Coyne’s engine deal but I can’t imagine that would have been enough to bounce Bourdais. There has to be more to this story. DCR obviously needs money and I don’t know that Hinch has any. Honda went all in to keep Rossi, though, so unless Honda of Canada steps up, it may be Indy only for the Mayor of Hinchtown.
Q: I am really concerned that IndyCar is again losing its way by jettisoning drivers that fans have developed a desire to see on a weekly basis. The loss of Hinch and Sebastian this year should not be taken lightly. I feel IndyCar’s strength in the early ’90s was attributable to name recognition as well as competition. The new crop of drivers may be capable of putting on a great show but we need to keep people who put on a good show and talk to the TV camera well. Who would have thought Paul Tracy and Sebastian Bourdais would become lovable faces of the sport?
John Sedlak, Venice, FL
RM: It’s a shock to see someone of Bourdais’ stature moved aside, especially on a team he helped elevate, because it seldom happens. But, unfortunately, it’s the reality of the economics in IndyCar. And Hinch simply wasn’t wanted by McLaren or Arrow, it would appear. I’m sure IndyCar is concerned (especially in Toronto) at losing two of its biggest names, but other than raising the purses and lowering the costs across the board, what can it do? It’s not going to buy a ride for either driver.
Q: I just read the disappointing news that Seabass has been dismissed by Coyne. Might that open up a seat for Hinch or do you expect Coyne to go with a kid whose father has deep pockets?
Rick, Lisle, IL
RM: I expect Dale has already heard from somebody with money, but I doubt it’s Hinch.
Q: This is becoming a disease that IndyCar does not need if it is to have continued support by race fans: This evening I read on RACER that Bourdais is unemployed? What gives with this “off-season disease,” with the IndyCar driver unemployment line becoming longer with each passing month?
Bruce from Sheffield, MA
RM: Since 2015, Helio Castroneves, Juan Montoya, Sage Karam, Carlos Munoz, Gabby Chavez, James Jakes, Jack Hawksworth, Luca Fillippi, Mikhail Aleshin, J.R. Hildebrand, Jordan King and, soon, Mattheus Leist have gone from full-time IndyCar rides to sports cars to spectators. And that doesn’t count part-timers like Rene Binder, Kyle Kaiser, Pietro Fittipaldi, Pippa Mann, James Davison, Stefan Wilson or Oriol Servia. My point is that IndyCar is always a revolving door because of the economics, but this is big news because Seb and Hinch are two of the biggest names in our sport and that hasn’t happened since JPM was farmed out to IMSA.
Q: Hinch is to be paid for his final year via his contract, yet Bourdais is dumped despite having a contract. How does that work? Are there clauses in contracts regarding availability of sponsorship dollars? Yeah, that may sound like a dumb question, but it sounds even more stupid to me that contracts between teams and drivers would be signed without having sponsorship nailed down for their entire term.
Obviously it’s possible for a sponsor to have sudden financial issues which, despite a contract, could make recouping money from them problematic for the team and/or driver since the sponsor’s well could be dry, thus making lawsuit expenses wasteful and useless. But, if a sponsor just decides to walk away, then I’d think that the team, the driver, or both would pursue legal avenues. However, since Bourdais has a contract for 2020 but was dumped, it would seem that his reps could pursue legal action against the team.
From reading the articles, it comes across that Coyne figured out pretty late that he either needed or wanted more money from somewhere. While that’s literally a problem for Bourdais, in another sense it’s not Bourdais’ problem that the team owner took so long to figure things out (if you get my drift). I’d think that any contract should stipulate fiduciary responsibilities, timely communications — whatever necessary to keep all parties in the contract informed. If Coyne was having issues, then it would seem that he had a responsibility to inform everyone involved immediately. Or did Coyne’s issues (assuming it’s that and not just a desire) occur literally overnight?
Ron from Northern CA
RM: Nobody knows exactly what those two contracts say — whether there’s a buyout clause in either or both are entitled to their full retainer — and neither driver has made any public comments and probably can’t if they want to get paid. Seb was also in the final year of his deal. My suggestion to both teams would be to let fans know if the drivers are being compensated because that would be the first good publicity they received.
Q: After a wave of positive news, the loss of both James Hinchcliffe and Sebastien Bourdais has been a real letdown. The Bourdais/Coyne story was a great one. I always rooted for them but now I cannot. The only thing that can turn this into any kind of positive news would be if Hinch moves to Coyne via Honda.
I’m really disappointed in the way Coyne dumped Bourdais and left him hanging — two popular drivers dumped in the same way. Add that ugly aeroscreen we have to look at starting next year and my enthusiasm for the start of next year has waned. We need some positive news.
Bob Rundgren, Villa Park, IL
RM: I kinda thought Roger Penske buying IMS and IndyCar was positive…