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.
Questions for Robin can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t always guarantee that your letter will be printed, but Robin will get to as many as he can. Published questions have been edited for clarity. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of RACER or Honda/HPD.
Q: Iowa Speedway and IndyCar did a pretty good job at making fans feel comfortable and safe last weekend. I attended both nights, and had zero complaints about the accommodations. Staff were professional, fans were largely compliant with rules and procedures, and nearly everyone was polite and patient from what I witnessed.
In terms of crowd size, it seemed like the socially distant sell-out crowds consisted of slightly fewer people than there were at the last couple Sunday afternoon Iowa Corn 300s in 2017 and 2018. I hope this provides something for IndyCar and IMS to work with for this year’s Indy 500. I’d feel a lot better about attending it with one-third capacity than 50%, but that’s my preference. I’m curious to know what your thoughts are on how the Iowa weekend will inform plans for Indy, if at all?
Andrew McNaughton, Chicago
P.S. USAC and Little 500 champ Kody Swanson had a good run at the ARCA race at Iowa Speedway Saturday afternoon, finishing on the lead lap in eighth place.
RM: That’s good to hear, thanks for your report. I think Iowa was helpful to Indy, just like NASCAR at Bristol and Texas were because it showed spacing the grandstands and on the spectator areas. Not sure we’ll know what kind of capacity we’re looking at for IMS, it could be anywhere from 60,000-125,000, but I think IMS is large enough to make you feel safe. Good news about Swanson, too.
Q: The Iowa races showed IndyCar to be nothing but F1 with fewer manufacturers. Penske, Ganassi, barely Andretti. Other than major catastrophes in the pits or on the track, none of the others have a chance. They can spend exorbitant amounts and nobody else can. Most teams are barely hanging on the edge. Great-looking racing, just never matters in the end. I never understood how Michael Andretti came out with a team more powerful than an already-great name like Foyt?
RM: Really? Conor Daly on the pole Friday and up front most of Saturday night with the smallest team in the paddock. Pato O’Ward chasing down Team Penske before a problem in the pits. Oliver Askew and Jack Harvey running strong both nights. It’s true that the Big 3 dominate, but unlike F1, IndyCar gives a good driver with a savvy engineer a chance to be competitive. And I’m not sure where you got that most teams are barely hanging on, but I don’t think it’s accurate.
Q: Even behind the mask, the frustration and disappointment of Michael Andretti was evident when Ryan Hunter-Reay crashed for the second night in a row coming out of the pits. And he can’t be too happy when he sees his former Indy Lights drivers, Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew, running circles around his more-established drivers. I know he has Colton Herta, but at what point does Michael start considering pulling the plug on some of his drivers (RHR and possibly Marco) and look to go younger?
Scott Cooper, Bargersville, IN
RM: Well you can’t blame him after watching his most accomplished and experienced driver crash twice in the same place leaving the pits, but the Andretti line-up obviously depends on sponsorship. Is DHL back with Ryan Hunter-Reay? This is the third and final year of Zach Veach’s deal with Gainbridge backing, will it continue? Rossi and Herta look set and Marco isn’t going anywhere, but RHR is still plenty quick so I doubt Mikey wants to cut ties unless it comes down to money. But what if Conor Daly gets a nice boost from the Air Force or Hinch gets a full ride from Genesys — do they take their deals to Andretti?
Q: Two terrific races and several impressive performances in Newton. Pagenaud, Newgarden, Askew, O’Ward, Daly, Rahal, Dixon – all amazing each in their own way. But my vote for the weekend MVP goes to the designers and builders of IndyCar’s mandated aeroscreen. I don’t think it’s overly dramatic to say they saved two drivers from very, very serious injuries… or worse. I truly hope this will quiet those who’ve somehow convinced themselves that the aeroscreen is bad for the sport. Following Texas, IndyCar’s racing has been characteristically spectacular and two young men were able to travel home on Saturday night who not have had IndyCar implemented protective measures any less far-reaching. We have no right to demand that drivers be exposed to unreasonable risks for our entertainment. Kudos to IndyCar and all involved with the aeroscreen!
RM: Red Bull Technologies, IndyCar and Dallara can take a bow for the aeroscreen.
Q: Do you think that the safety windscreen saved Rinus Veekay’s life? The screen appears to have lifted Herta’s nose, and prevented the left front from hitting him. Then, the chassis floor bounced up. It might have hit the roll bar, or the screen might have helped too. Then, the left rear bounced off, too. Pretty good design! Not only that, but the SAFER barrier helped with Herta. Congratulations to whoever designed the screen. And of course, the SAFER barrier.
Mark Lamontia, Ladenberg, PA
RM: I think it saved him from a serious injury for sure, and he was most appreciative in his interview so he knows its value.
Q: Aero engineer with an aero question. With all the discussion on cockpit heat, what’s going on in there? Are the vents in front of the windscreen bringing in hot air? Or is the air flowing up the inside of the windscreen and out the top of the cockpit, bypassing the driver? I would not expect stagnant air in there. I enjoy the guest mailbags, keep those coming!
RM: After Iowa one driver described it as “sandy” inside the cockpit, while another said it was still ridiculously hot and a couple more said the new vents didn’t help much. So I guess it remains a work in progress.
Q: Why does it seem no one is upset that the restart being waved off for no good reason is the real cause of the aeroscreen test we witnessed on Friday night? Everyone accelerated and was in perfect formation, and as we know from experience, a faster restart is always safer than a slow restart that stacks everyone up. I’m really disappointed that no one is calling out whomever it was that called off the start, as that was ridiculous and obviously very dangerous.
RM: It wasn’t a perfect alignment. Pato O’Ward started accelerating a couple hundred feet before the restart zone, so the restart was immediately called off (you can see the flashing lights on the cars’ attenuator indicating it’s still caution and they go off when the race goes green). It sounds like everyone got the word except Colton, and he said he heard green on his radio. Just some kind of communication problem that proved expensive, but thankfully not costly in terms of injuries.