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: Ride-buying is a subject often talked about here and other forums. I’d be willing to bet that 90% of drivers in NASCAR, IndyCar, F1 and other top tier series (take your pick) have personal sponsors/investors that have helped the drivers realize their dream. I understand the difference between a corporate sponsor and personal sponsors/investors. Corporations need a ROI for their name to grace the sidepods and wings. They receive access to races and entertain customers at hospitality events with appearances from the “paid” drivers; i.e. Rahal at golf outings and dinners with United Rentals, Daly at recruiting offices and at AF bases, Hunter-Reay at DHL events, and on and on…
A certain amount of driver pay is derived from the corporations that will spend their advertising budget on racing. Daly bringing USAF to ECR, Rahal brings UR, Hunter-Reay maintains DHL… these guys work their ass off behind the scenes to maintain these relationships. I get corporate ROI. Question is, all these guys (and ladies) have personal investors also since being in karts or quarter midgets at an early age. How are these contracts written with personal investors, and what is the ROI for the personal investors, and do these investors ask for or receive a percentage of driver’s compensation/pay throughout their careers?
Dan, Zionsville, IN
RM: Justin Wilson had investors that he paid back as he made his way up the open-wheel ladder and so does Alexander Rossi, so that’s probably the most popular and modern way. Tony Kanaan has been personally supported by Bryant Heating & Cooling and 7/11 for as long as I can remember, and they are displayed on his uniform, helmet and he does many personal appearances. Might they step up and be on the side of his car for his farewell tour with A.J. this year? We’ll see. Santino Ferrucci has had a longtime backer (Cly-Del) that brought him to IndyCar. As for receiving any compensation, most of the drivers bringing money don’t make enough to share with anyone.
Q: With Honda and Acura being owned by the same company and James Hinchcliffe having suitcases of money from the Canadian arm of Honda, is there a chance with his qualifications that he could end up on a factory team in open-wheel or sedan/coupe type racing with Honda or Acura since he is a good road racer?
RM: Not sure where you got “suitcases of money”, because I think Hinch has a nice personal service deal with Honda of Canada but it’s not enough to fund an IndyCar. Penske is the factory Acura team in IMSA and its line-up is full – just like the Honda teams in IndyCar. But maybe a one-off at Daytona or Sebring or Indy for somebody.
Q: Robin, hold on! Your Dec 25th Mailbag – quoting you – “James Hinchcliffe has an offer from a Honda team on the table.” That’s it? RRL? Full season? More details! We understand if you cannot. Do you have an over/under on how many cars go for the 33 spots in May?
RM: I believe the line was “he’s got one good option remaining with a Honda team.” But it’s part-time, and I’ll let him break the news if it ever happens. Thirty-six going for 33.
Q: We’ve seen some very serious injuries in IndyCar over the last several years – Bourdais, Hinch, Wickens. Do the drivers carry their own medical insurance, or does IndyCar offer a blanket policy for them. Does the team supply insurance as part of the driver contract? With medical costs being what they are today, it would seem that insurance costs would be through the roof for these folks.
Gary, Anza, CA
RM: IndyCar has insurance and the drivers have individual policies. Can you imagine what Robert Wickens’ bill must be? I asked him last year if we could start a GoFundMe Page or have some kind of auction to raise money, and replied he had the best coverage available and was OK. I sure hope so, because he’s worked his butt off and deserves to walk again. His PitFit videos continue to inspire.
Q: Reading the article “IndyCar tightens COTA track limits” I have to say, I’m not a fan. This is the part I do not agree with at any track: “It’s believed IndyCar’s race control team will void any qualifying laps at COTA where the Turn 19 timing line is missed. In the race, violations and unique circumstances, such as drivers going side-by-side where the outside driver is forced into the runoff area, will be reviewed before some form of penalty is assessed.”
Let’s create another gray area. This is where IndyCar always steps in it. Ninety-nine percent of the race will be black and white, but I guarantee you that gray area will be exposed at the most critical point of the race. Then the entire post race will be about “the call” or “the lack of a call.” This is the stuff that annoys me as a fan. If uou don’t want cars going wide, add a big rumble strip. Do something that naturally penalizes a driver for going wide. Then it is pretty easy to penalize the guy that shoves the other guy into no-man’s land. Actually, in most cases this happens anyhow through the guy braking or crashing. Most people will read this and say ‘no big deal’, but what is next? The best officiating staff is the one no one ever hears about. Sadly, we have a bunch of whiners just looking for an opportunity to cry. Let them race.
JR in Indiana
RM: I asked IndyCar for an explanation and haven’t received one yet, but other than one incident in the race last year it seemed like that corner made for some wild racing. If it’s easy to police and everyone understands the parameters, then complaining should be limited to the usual suspects like blocking. And you know how much everyone in racing loves to bitch.
Q: Happy New Year, Robin! Hope all the gossip and hearsay finds its way to your ears to filter out for us fans in 2020! It seems every week there are major controversial calls made in football games – missing penalties, penalties where there weren’t any, etc. What are some of your “favorite” horrible penalties made during IndyCar races over the past 40 years or so? Mine was Helio Castroneves in Edmonton 2010 – his infamous “block” by driving in a straight line down the inside of the straight into Turn 1. Ignoring the stop-and-go penalty was all he could do in protest. His almost comical grabbing of the very patient head of security (!) after getting out of the car was understandable.
Matt Woellert, Twinsburg, OH
RM: You’ve got to understand that racers ruled themselves back in the good old days, so there were very few penalties until USAC got uppity in the ’60s. Like suspending Paul Goldsmith from Champ Car competition for a year because he drove an outlaw stock car race, or fining drivers in May for “exceeding” the ridiculous speed limits posted by Harlan Fengler. The 1981 Indy 500 controversy would have never happened had ABC not pointed things out to Tom Binford after seeing the replay, because USAC certainly didn’t call it a penalty. But Helio’s was certainly one of the worst, and he had every right to go crazy.