Q: Enjoyed the insight on the current state of IndyCar, and the small insight you indicated on how engine leases works. So, do I understand correctly that Honda offers free engines to some if not all teams? How is this program structured and is it available to some or all Honda engines? If the program exists, is there any IndyCar rule(s) that covers it?
I agree with your comments that the current system is bad for drivers — as you stated, contracts don’t mean a thing anymore. More concerning to me is that we are seeing that talent is no longer important when it comes to the final decision on selecting a driver. If this trend continues, then the series is less compelling for fans as we will be watching the drivers who bring the money required to get behind the wheel. For me, in this scenario, it won’t be worth my time to watch, and I won’t be spending the money to attend the one race near me.
RM: Driver talent is still important and I think you see that with Oliver Askew, Pato O’Ward, Colton Herta, Spencer Pigot and Conor Daly (for five races last season) because they were hired to drive without bringing money. We aren’t privy to the deals Honda and Chevrolet have with their teams, but I think there are freebies or discounts depending on one’s status in the series. Drivers have been buying rides for 40 years, so I don’t know why everyone is suddenly in an uproar. Yes, it sucks that a driver with a sponsor could have a ride instead of a former champion like Bourdais, but that’s the reality of racing. And so far it hasn’t diminished the fierce competition in IndyCar.
Q: With Michael’s hectoring for value adding franchises (son of IRL), is there any talk of paying drivers (less ride buyers) so they can make a real living in line with risks? How about paying the boys in the shop turning wrenches more money and benefits? Not just engineering. I’m guessing … not!
RM: I think the salaries for IndyCar’s front-liners range from $2-5 million, so it’s nothing like CART’s heyday when Honda and Toyota were throwing money around and big names made $5-7 million a year. But it’s still better than the mechanics that no longer get percentages of the purses and were castrated by the Leader’s Circle.
Q: Please pass along to Michael that now any Marco, Dick or Harry can have his daddy buy a car and truck, and just show up at the track, race after race, to be a backmarker, when real drivers like, Hinch, Seb and Daly have to stay home.
Randy Silberman, Columbus, OH
RM: I’ll let you tell him Randy.
Q: I’ve been an IndyCar fan since my oldest brother took me to Winchester to see his favorite driver, Pat O’Connor, when I was three. I’ve gone up and down with triumphs and travails of IndyCar — even through the IRL/CART days — always telling my friends that the best racing is in IndyCar and that “real race cars don’t have fenders.” I’ve been delighted with the Mark Miles/Doug Boles era, seeing the sport pulling itself out of the low point of Las Vegas in 2011; watching a truly outstanding crop of American drivers develop and get good equipment; observing the development of a real plan for the future; building strong relationships with NTT and NBC; improving safety with the aeroscreen; and finally the Penske deal putting IMS in solid hands for a nearly unlimited future.
Then, the bottom seemed to fall out. Hinch, the best spokesman for the sport, is let go with what appears to be a backhanded move after Schmidt announced Hinch was his driver for 2020. Then, Bourdais is cut loose without any of the respect he deserved. And Conor Daly is still without a ride. I know it’s a money sport. I think your mentor Bob Collins used to write, “Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?” But for the first time ever, I think I will find myself actually cheering against two teams — something I’ve never done. Never. It’s nothing against the drivers, but I want to see those teams fall flat on their face.
It’s not that Hinch and Bourdais lost their rides; that has always been part of IndyCar. And both had difficult 2019 seasons. But the way it was handled was appalling. I always wanted to see Sam Schmidt in Victory Lane, just like I always cheered just a bit louder for John Barnes and Panther Racing; but no longer. Next May, I’ll be back in my seats at the top of Turn 3, but I’m not sure I’ll feel quite the same. And that’s a shame.
RM: I think you feel like a lot of fans do, and I imagine Dale and Sam both wish they would have handled things with more dignity and honesty.
Q: Robin, you have said that Arrow was upset with James Hinchcliffe’s “spread” in ESPN’s The Body Issue. Really? Really? In this day and age? It wasn’t like Hinch was hanging out all his junk for everybody to see as if he was in Playgirl. I seem to recall Helio a few years back was in The Body Issue and nobody at Penske or their sponsors threw a hissy fit. And, anyway, how many athletes have appeared in that issue? Probably hundreds! I don’t recall any of them suffering any repercussions from their appearance. I guess it just gives me another reason to dislike Arrow McLaren since first they can Hinch and now they are acting like the Church Lady.
Rick Owens, Fort Wayne, IN
RM: All I know is that the team president and PR person lost their jobs and it was supposedly because Arrow wasn’t informed of the ESPN shoot ahead of time. Is it petty? Hell yes. That was great publicity for all concerned, but I guess Arrow didn’t see it that way. I do like the idea of Hinch dressing up as the Church Lady at the season opener.
Q: With the recent news around Pigot, and then Bourdais, it seems by my recollection that there are six or seven seats that have not been “confirmed” for 2020. Interested to hear any insight you have, or rumblings of who might fill the seats at Foyt, Coyne, Carlin and ECR? Lastly what are your insights to ASPM? It feels like McLaren is running the show there now, and SP’s days are numbered before they are completely bought out. If ASPM is taken over by McLaren, do you think SP would start another team?
RM: All Marshall and I hear every day are rumblings. I think Tony Kanaan will run the ovals for A.J. with maybe Seb or Charlie Kimball on the road races and Dalton Kellet supposedly in line for the No. 4 car. Marshall reported F2 driver Sergio Sette Camara was a Coyne possibility, and Honda Super Formula winner Alex Palou was also in the running. Hoping Conor Daly gets the nod for Indy and the road races with ECR and there might still be hope for Hinch in a third car at RLL. I think if Sam and Ric sell, then obviously McLaren is the logical buyer.