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 email@example.com. 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: It’s interesting to see Alexander Rossi racing for Penske at Petit Le Mans. I would suspect the Honda/Acura tie had a big part in this happening? Do you think Andretti Autosport had much say in it, was for or against it? If I’m a team owner I don’t think I would be big on one of my top drivers sampling Roger’s operation.
RM: I imagine when Honda went all-in to keep Andretti that there was some conversation about letting Alexander race sports cars for them as well, but I don’t see any downside for Michael. If anything, maybe Rossi learned a couple of things he could take back to Andretti.
Q: Internet forums are blowing up with memes and jokes at the expense of ASPM. There is a lot of hate towards Sam Schmidt and the ASPM team as a whole for the handling of Oliver Askew. That makes two years in a row that ASPM is at the center of fan hate around the firing of a driver. So getting to the heart of the matter, what is it about ASPM that puts it in the fan crosshairs of hate for two years in a row? On the other hand, we all know how much race fans, and IndyCar fans in particular, like hate.
RM: I’m not privy to anything ASPM does, but I don’t think Sam should get the blame for Askew. I know Hinch (and his fan base) were steamed at Schmidt after last year’s messy divorce, but this latest controversy has McLaren written all over it. They want to control the message from drivers, mechanics and engineers, and evidently the interview with The Associated Press was Oliver’s fatal mistake.
Q: What came first — Felix and a handshake deal with McLaren, or Oliver’s interview with Jenna Fryer? I’ve heard a lot of behind the scenes things where I’ll place a lot of blame on Oliver’s management team, but there’s a long shot theory that says the concussion thing was a last ditch effort to save his ride after talks between AMSP and Rosenqvist had moved quite far along. I say 5-3 on the interview being first and 10-1 on the interview being second. Where’s your money go?
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: I don’t know. Marshall and I were emailing Stefan Johansson a couple weeks ago when we heard Felix was out at Ganassi (and got no response) and it was about the same time as Jenna’s story, so I’d bet the interview triggered the decision.
Q: I read the AP article on Oliver and wondered if he would regret his agent’s mouthing off about the team and Oliver’s fear of notifying the team of his injuries? I am not sure about who is behind Oliver’s dismissal. It just seems par for the course with this team. On the other hand, I am delighted that Pato received a contract extension for next year. Will Oliver find another seat for 2021? And then I read about Felix leaving Ganassi for AMSP. Did you see this coming? I thought that all was well with Felix and CGR. If anyone would be leaving, I figured it would be Marcus. What am I missing? I am not sure how wise a move this is for Felix.
RM: I’m sure Oliver wishes he could retract that story because it also pissed off IndyCar, but I’m hoping he gets another chance somewhere because he’s got talent and he’s a great kid. I just don’t know where it would be, because he has no money. Felix’s departure was a shock because they had worked so long and hard (both sides) to get him in a Ganassi car, and he’s obviously very good. But we don’t know the NTT sponsorship details, and Marcus has a solid sponsor (and also did a really good job in 2020, despite not having the results to show for it).
Q: Hard to believe it’s just one race to go to see who will win the championship. I read the AP article about Oliver and it did not seem like he threw the team under the bus, he just expressed how he and many others are afraid to divulge any health issue due to fear of the axe. Was there more to this?
On the shocking news Felix will go Arrow McLaren SP, does this open the door for T.K. to do the ovals for Jimmie in that car? We need a silly season update from you for sure: Helio? Hinch? Oliver, done? Teams looking at adding cars? Lots of positive news in difficult financial times – we’re lucky on many levels. What else can we look forward to in 2021?
Sean O., Vancouver, BC
RM: I agree, it wasn’t that damning a story, but thin-skinned people evidently thought it was. I don’t think there’s any place at Ganassi for T.K. and I hope he puts together something for Indy with RLL or ECR. Hinch will be fine in 2021, but not sure there’s any place for Askew right now – or Helio. We can look forward to more cars on the grid and the return of Hamburger and French Fry.
Q: Seems Oliver Askew would be a good fit for RLL’s third car. Now that the first-year jitters are out of the way, he would benefit from Graham’s and Sato’s tutoring, and at 23 years old could be productive for a long time as Sato (42) moves closer to retirement and Graham probably could go another decade. Your thoughts?
RM: Oliver would need a big sponsor and I don’t know what Robby Buhl and his partners have planned for Spencer Pigot in 2021, so there might not be a seat except for Indianapolis if they ran four cars.
Q: I know racing is a business of dollars, but enough is enough. AMSP releasing Oliver Askew because of an injury (while possibly blaming his agent for comments that hurt their feelings) is maybe the worst thing to come out of the 2020 IndyCar season. Any goodwill Sam Schmidt may have earned from keeping Robert Wickens on the payroll is gone after this. Oliver deserved better, especially from a team owner who sustained life-changing injuries in a racing crash. I’m sure the fact he doesn’t come with a sponsor dowry doesn’t make him as appealing as a funded driver, but they knew about that when they signed him. There were times when his smarts allowed him to outshine his well-funded teammate, so I hope someone in the U.S. racing world picks him up. As for the AMSP organization, I wish them a solid mid-pack future.
Chris King, North Olmsted, OH
RM: There is no doubt Askew deserved better, but like I said earlier, don’t blame Sam for this one because I think it was McLaren. And Pato wasn’t funded to my knowledge.