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: You already know the answer, and the interview with Mike Shank that Marshall did was the basis for my question last week. The answer is basically “to make 0.3 seconds a lap, we spend $500K-$1m per season or about 9-13 percent of the budget to get that.” A fan will never recognize this at a race, so, at the end of the day, you blow up budgets for that last 0.3s at best. I would bet that if the IndyCar season budget dropped by that amount, certain teams that do not have currently would have funding to compete the full season. The sponsor equation would fall into place more easily when assessing value. Further, the driver becomes even more important, and those funds would be better spent on driver salaries which we all know are pretty pathetic overall.
As a fan that watched IndyCar at Road America in the late 1980s, the real deal is the pure acceleration and blinding speed those cars had. Going 200 mph into Canada Corner was the thing. That 0.3s gained from a $1m shock program was irrelevant to fan experience. Mike Shank has great points. Also, pointing to joint weekends with other series makes a ton of sense. The pie is not growing.
RM: The owners voted not to have spec shocks/dampers a few years ago and Shank is spot on in that it does nothing for the fans or the experience. So sometimes you have to protect the inmates from themselves, and I guess if IndyCar got real serious about cutting budgets, it would intervene and adopt that rule.
Q: What’s to keep a Joe Blow from somehow acquiring a DW12, working on it in his shop with a small crew, and haulin’ it to races behind an F-250 in a Featherlite trailer? How much equipment is necessary vs. keeping up with Mr. Penske? (Isn’t that what it’s all about, anyway?)
Todd in Southern Virginia
RM: I think you just described what Clauson/Marshall did last May, and while they didn’t keep up with R.P., they did make the show with a very small budget and not many spares. But it was all about getting in the race for them.
Q: Robin, a note from a guy as old as you who cut his Indy teeth watching races at Trenton. I can still remember the thrill and the hair standing up on the back of my neck when the cars came around the grandstand. I love tradition as much as anybody but you must adapt to survive. I’m glad you were so direct responding to the idea that the Indy 500 naming shouldn’t be touched. It would be a huge boost in more ways than one to sell the naming rights. It might even be a game changer. Everything you keep repeating about the economic realities is spot on, as the Brits say. I hope Roger does a great deal for the rights; if anybody can, he can. Keep speaking the truth even if it rattles a few cages. Keep up the good work!
Jeff, Bernardsville, NJ
RM: Thanks Jeff, I always find it amusing when people get up in arms about messing with Indy’s tradition. Really? Other than 11 rows of three, what tradition is left? And as difficult as sponsorship is to secure why wouldn’t real fans welcome Indy’s purse getting a big boost from a title sponsor that R.P. locates? If Indy paid what it should we might have 45 cars again.
Q: In order to have a race in Mexico, first Mexican fans need to embrace “Pato” as they did Adrian Fernandez. In my opinion, Adrian was a very good driver but a better PR person and businessman. This year we were able to watch Indy in “Clarosports” paying $45/year. That is OK, but we are hardcore fans. Average fans need to have the races on open TV. In the CART golden years it was TV-Azteca — they made such a fan base that they built Fundidora racetrack at Monterrey. To fill the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez track is no problem, the fee no problem, etc. But people need to know who “Pato O’Ward” is, and, at the moment, he is a very well-kept secret.
Juan Langarica Renteria
RM: If Arrow McLaren SP provides Pato with a good car, then Mexico will become very familiar with him because he could be another Montoya in my book. As for your TV options for 2020, that’s something I’ll have to ask IndyCar about; but I do remember the ESPN-type show back in the CART days.
Q: We hear time and again that Honda spent all its money on Rossi. We also hear that Honda has a beef with Alonso and McLaren. We also keep hearing that Honda US and Honda Japan are different companies and that the IndyCar Honda and F1 Honda are separate companies. I know that international companies have distinct entities in each country for tax and legal reasons, but aren’t they all the same? Honda of America doesn’t have the $1 million to get Hinch or Conor a ride, but Honda Japan has the tens of millions to fund Red Bull. But somehow Honda of Japan has the pull to tell Honda of America not to give Alonso a ride. No money attached, would they not have the pull to tell them to write checks? By the transitive properties (at least in my bourbon fueled mind), Honda has the money.
RM: Honda of Japan is the boss, makes the major decisions and controls the resources. Obviously, with its international TV audience, F1 dwarfs IndyCar so the big money spent is justified. The fact that Honda of Japan felt insulted by both McLaren and Alonso played directly into their not supplying engines for the IndyCar effort last May. Honda Performance Development makes its deals with IndyCar teams and HPD president Ted Klaus was instrumental in keeping Rossi on the team. But, as much as HPD likes Hinch, it doesn’t have millions to get him a ride. It can help with an engine but that’s about it. Maybe Honda of Canada could help, but I can’t imagine it pitching in $5 million. And, as much as HPD likes Michael Andretti and his team, it’s not going to go against the home office and run Alonso unless there’s a change of heart in 2020.
Q: I just read a report on Wheels.ca that says it’s a good possibility Hinch will replace Bourdais at Dale Coyne because of his ties to Honda — specifically that he has an engine lease that Coyne has now been left to pay for with the recent sponsorship deal falling through. Do you have any further details on this? Are you of the same mindset as I am that IndyCar needs a Canadian in the full-time field (Wickens notwithstanding) in order to nurture and grow the sport in Canada? I for one would not be satisfied if Hinch just drove the Indy 500 and Toronto.
Rick Fokkens, Port Colborne, Ontario
RM: The popular opinion is that Coyne and Honda are going to rescue Hinch, but I don’t think so unless Honda of Canada writes a big check. If Honda pulled its support of Bourdais for last season’s lack of performance, then why would it justify a freebie for the guy who finished right next to him in the points? Don’t get me wrong: HPD loves Hinch and is very fond of Seb; but, again, it’s all about business. Even though James has gone underground, I’m hearing he still might have a shot at a third RLL car so I’m going to call Bob Rahal this week and inquire. IndyCar definitely needs The Mayor in the series because Canada still represents a big part of the fan base, despite the unhappiness over the lack of television coverage.