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: Have you heard anything about Mid-Ohio being confirmed? I know reports were saying 90%, just wondering if anything was solidified or if an announcement is imminent.
Rob Pobiega, Lemont, IL
RM: It’s on, and reportedly 6,000 people will be admitted.
Q: With a lot of these places letting fans in, what are the chances that the IMS Harvest Grand Prix will be letting a certain amount of fans attend? They have tickets for sale on the website. I don’t want to pay for them and then just have them as a credit towards my account. If they do have fans, what do you think the demand will be?
RM: IMS says it will make an announcement in the next few days, but why would you buy them until you knew? It’s not like it’s going to be a sellout.
Q: When does the IndyCar Series close for the 2020 season, and what new races will be on the 2021 IndyCar schedule?
Chris Fiegler, Latham, NY
RM: Supposedly on October 25 at St. Pete, and, so far, it looks like Nashville may be the only new venue next year
Q: Just wondering if an IndyCar race without fans at the Milwaukee Mile was ever considered? After all, they’ve raced there with almost no fans before, why not now?
Jeff, Brookfield, WI
RM: Not to my knowledge. If anything, I think R.P. would go back to Iowa if he needed another race, because he’s already invested in it and plans on it continuing as part of the schedule.
Q: Is there enough money on earth to bring Virginia International Raceway up to IndyCar safety standards? Probably would involve the addition of a lot of kitty litter, guardail and even SAFER barrier in some locations. The sports car racing there never fails to be close and entertaining, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to good IndyCar racing.
Jonathan and Cleide Morris, Ventura, CA
RM: I have no idea – never been there. But if you spent a couple million upgrading the track, then had to pay for the IndyCar race, you’d best have a big-time title sponsor to help defer the costs. Where would people stay? I think it’s a real stretch to think IndyCar could ever wind up there.
Q: I’ve always thought IndyCar reached the top of its popularity when it went international, i.e. when it not only had drivers from outside the U.S., but also ran on racetracks outside North America. In fact, as a European, I do see IndyCar as a U.S.-based international series, just like I see F1 as a U.K./Europe-based international series.
Some might disagree with me since this is basically a U.S.-owned racing series, built around the Indy 500, run on U.S. soil for the most part and by U.S.-based teams. And so for all these reasons, American people kinda expect an American driver to win it. But you can’t ignore the fact that many pages of the IndyCar (and the Indy 500) history were (and still are) written by drivers that didn’t came from the U.S.. Funnily enough, I remember very well the late 2000s-early 2010s era when the show was all about Dario, Dixie, Helio and Willy P, during which time a lot of people were craving for more American drivers… but what do you think?
So that’s why I think looking for a worldwide audience is the right way to go for Mr. Penske. Now, I can already see you replying “Not gonna happen unless: people want you out there/the track owner finds a big-a** sponsor/agrees to pay the sanction fee and all teams and IndyCar staff travel expenses.” But then I’ll have to ask: what is the difference between IndyCar putting on a race outside North America and F1 putting on a race outside Europe? How come IndyCar struggles to put on a 17-race schedule with only one race outside the U.S., while F1 has over 20 races with two in the Middle East, three in Asia and four on the American continent? Also, what exactly is the sanction fee?
RM: The history of international races for IndyCar is a mixed bag. Some, like Australia, were a success, but others were a disaster and the promoter stiffed CART. R.P. isn’t a big fan of racing outside North America because he doesn’t see the value for sponsors, but I imagine he’d listen if Mexico City wanted a race to showcase Pato in the near future. But the reason CART was so popular was because of Emmo, Mansell, Zanardi, Montoya and Villeneuve – not because of the international races. And today’s IndyCar line-up has drivers from Sweden, Japan, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and the Netherlands, so it’s got plenty of international flavor. F1 races are subsidized by countries so it’s easier to find money than U.S. racing, where it depends on a promoter and sponsorship. A sanction fee is what the promoter pays for a race – maybe $15 million for F1 and anywhere from $500,000 to $1.2 million for IndyCar.
Q: I do personally dislike marketing and consumer research, but… does IndyCar know who its audience is? I just wonder, because F1 is always complaining that its audience is getting older, and they seem to be throwing various gimmicks at ‘fixing’ that, not that I as a 44-year-old do feel it needs fixing. Does IndyCar likewise also have an audience with a bit more salt and pepper in their hair than they would like?
I do enjoy the mixed bag of driver ages IndyCar enjoys. On one hand I think it’s great that a new wave of youngsters are racing at the sharp end of the grid, but on the other hand I’d be more than welcome as a driver even at my age! Do you think driver age correlates with the audience, or is attracting viewers these days enough of a dark art already?
David Herron, High Handenhold, England
RM: IndyCar is always looking for new fans, younger fans, because the average age of today’s die-hards is much closer to 50 than 25. But getting those young people interested in watching or driving to a track is far from easy, and nobody seems to have any good solutions. The Indy 500 rating was the lowest ever and you can blame the date, but the fact remains that IndyCar is a very niche sport that just isn’t very popular anymore.