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: Excuse me if this subject has already been addressed and I missed it, but I am very concerned about access and egress of the drivers from the Indy cars. The opening above the aeroscreen seems way to small for a driver to be able to get out under normal conditions, but extremely difficult and dangerous at other times. For instance, Grosjean seemed to be able to get himself out fairly quickly and easily because, it seems to me, the opening on the F1 cars is larger than on the Indy cars. Is that true? Also, what if a driver has a serious back or neck injury? They would need to be pulled out through that narrow opening, probably exacerbating the injury. Why can’t they make a quick disconnect to that the entire aeroscreen could be quickly be removed for better access to the driver?
Thomas C., Elizabethtown, NC
RM: Give IndyCar a little more credit. Don’t you think they’ve got a plan to extricate drivers? They spent a long time trying to find the best solution and it seems to be working for its desired affect – deflecting debris and keeping wheels and tires out of the cockpit. Thankfully there hasn’t been anyone upside down or any fire issues, but I know IndyCar has tools and a process in place to rescue the driver. IndyCar has the best safety team in motorsports so I’m fairly certain they’ll be prepared in the event of a situation like you brought up.
Q: A question really directed to Mike Hull, if you please. Regarding the height of the IndyCar aeroscreen, a couple of commenters at RACER, under Pruett’s Insight article on the topic, got into a pissing contest regarding the height of the aeroscreen compared to F1’s halo. One stated that the IndyCar screen is higher than the F1 device (however “higher” is defined), while the other insists it’s not and any appearance otherwise is an illusion. One states that the aeroscreen is “higher” due to sightline issues encountered on banked IndyCar ovals, the other states that sightline issues had nothing to do with the current design. How does the height of the aeroscreen compare to the F1 halo, and are either of these incessant blowhards correct?
Alfred N, Northern California
RM: Mike Hull was kind enough to answer your question. “Let’s talk about the reality of both the FIA-approved aeroscreen and halo. Either choice has already proved its competition worth at multiple levels of motorsports. That’s their core purpose, so let’s put driver’s wellbeing into perspective. In comparison with Chris Simmons, our Performance Director, who was directly involved in the development of the screen from the very first test at Phoenix Raceway, here’s our thoughts: The aeroscreen was redesigned to fit onto the DW12 with the support pylons added near the back of the cockpit for strength in a rollover or other vertical impact. That does give it the wider look and changes some of the sightlines, making it appear taller (and wider) than it is from some angles.
“Our team doesn’t have any direct measurements, but Scott Dixon was one of the drivers in the DiL Dallara simulator with the FIA halo fitted to the DW12. Visibility was not an issue at any of the ovals tried (Indy, Texas, Iowa and Pocono). He also did the same test with the prototype aeroscreen, first on the Phoenix oval. There were no visibility issues. Dallara would have CAD for both designs, so they could answer directly on the height difference. From having looked at them, and frankly based upon the question, took the time – it appears that any height difference would be small. The size and shape of the fairings that cover the titanium aeroscreen frame or halo would be the bigger difference, so it’s probably an optical illusion more than anything.”
Q: Do you still believe IndyCar will move the St. Petersburg March race to April of 2021? When will they make the announcement?
RM: A reader asked me to make a few predictions last week so I said I thought St. Pete might move back to the April date previously held by Long Beach because it made sense. It was a guess in case the pandemic is still limiting attendance, because Green Savoree and all the other IndyCar promoters need paying customers – they can’t survive another year like 2020. And now it sounds like the series is thinking the same way.
Q: I realize we’re all hoping for a full schedule with fans, but one of the best things about 2020 was the doubleheaders at Road America, Gateway, and Mid-Ohio. Can someone please beg Mr. Penske to do that again? The cars and drivers are already there, and two races at great tracks are always better than one.
RM: It’s not that simple. Those doubleheaders were a necessity to make sure IndyCar had at least 14 races (don’t forget Iowa too) and while they were well-received by the fans, it’s tough on the teams and promoters. Tracks like the build-up with practice and qualifying towards race day, but not sure the paying customers wouldn’t prefer doubleheaders – it’s just financially challenging.
Q: Robin, any insight into what’s going on with Marco Andretti for this coming season? No confirmation of him in the No. 98, and it would appear U.S. Concrete is done as a sponsor. We know he missed out on the $1 million Leaders Circle money, so does that have anything to do with his plans being finalized for this season? I mean, we know he himself or Michael can pay out of pocket no problem if he doesn’t have a primary sponsor so what’s the hold up?
RM: Here’s my insight: as long as he wants to drive it will be for his father, and he’ll be in No. 98 this season. Hinch hasn’t been formally announced yet either because I imagine Michael Andretti’s people are still scrambling to find as much sponsorship as possible. But what’s the hurry? We’re at least three months away from the season opener, and when everything is locked up, there will be announcements.
Q: Robin, would the teams rank top five races in order of importance to series? I realize it is highly subjective. Any race they might prefer to see expire? Love your stuff.
RM: I don’t know about the teams, but here’s my top five (based on attendance, prestige, excitement and degree of difficulty). I think everyone wishes Texas and Toronto could get their old crowds back, but I don’t think anyone wants to get rid of them.
1. Indy 500
2. Long Beach
3. Road America
5. Texas & Gateway