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: I am considering going to the Texas doubleheader in early May as a lead-up to the Indy 500. However, considering the cost involved (travel, accommodation, meals, race tickets, etc…), I have a couple of questions before I make a commitment. Based on last year’s race there and the lack of on-track passing, what is IndyCar doing to remedy this? Last year’s race was boring. Second, like you, I do not care for lengthy downtime at the track. So what, if any, support events will there be for the two days to keep the momentum going between IndyCar practice/qualifying sessions? And no, infield concerts do not count. As always, thanks and stay safe.
Dale, Chesterfield, VA
RM: Here’s what IndyCar’s Jay Frye said: “We did a six-car test at IMS last fall and learned a lot, which we will apply to speedway configuration at IMS and Texas. Should enhance overall passing opportunities/passes.” And here’s Texas promoter Eddie Gossage on his race: “As for other events, there are no other racing events planned. We’re still working under pandemic protocols so keeping infield/garage/pit road population to a minimum limits what we can do to create a more complete slate of racing. We’re hoping like everyone else to get back to a full schedule as soon as possible, but the decisions to do so aren’t in our hands.”
Q: Are there any updates or announcements pending for unconfirmed or vacant rides? We have not heard confirmations on three Andretti seats. Is RHR set? Marco and the No. 88 or No. 29 car? Dale Coyne hasn’t announced anything. Is Ferucci back, or have we lost him to NASCAR? Carlin Racing, assuming Chilton is back with Daly running ovals? How about a 22nd car that was rumored? Any word on a third full-time car at Rahal or Foyt?
Eric, Hayward, CA
RM: Marshall Pruett’s latest silly season story covers everything but RHR is back in the No. 28 with DHL, Hinch will be with Andretti and Marco stays in the No. 98. Coyne claims he’ll announce something soon and Conor is with ECR for all the road races and Indianapolis, but no word from Carlin yet. No third car for A.J., but Rahal working on one and Santino is NASCAR-bound.
Q: With the Chili Bowl running as this week’s Mailbag will be posted, I figured now would be a great time to ask this. This may be more of a Doug Boles question, but what is the status of the BC39 and IMS dirt track? It was on the initial USAC schedule that was released with a TBD date, but has since been removed. I attended both and it’s some of the best midget racing I’ve seen, and brought in solid car counts. I think this race is something IMS needs, and it was packed both years! They barely have to open the track up, it brings new fans to the track, and it bridges the gap between short tracks and Indianapolis. And having guys like Daly, Briscoe, Larson, Bell, T-Mez, and Tyler Courtney makes it a great talent pool. Not to mention, it’s just dang cool to have a dirt track inside IMS. Would love any insight you can give on this!
Ben, Noblesville, IN
RM: From Doug Boles: “Still trying to determine a date. Likely not able to make it work with Brickyard weekend due to Knoxville Nationals and the many conflicts it would create. I have hope we can get it done!”
Q: What’s the real deal on Zach Veach? He seemed like a star of the future but he wasn’t getting the full support of his team or sponsors. Tell us the real story.
RM: Not sure anyone had him headed for stardom, but he had a fine rookie season and then struggled to repeat that pace on a consistent level over the last two years. I wrote that he exceeded expectations and Gainbridge seemed satisfied until getting a chance to go with Colton Herta. That’s racing — perform or get replaced (or lose your sponsor and get replaced) — and we’re all happy Zach has a full-time sports car ride, and hopefully we’ll also see him at Indy.
Q: Throughout the 2020 season I heard what seemed like a lot of drivers complaining about a lack of practice time due to the condensed weekend schedule. I never felt a lot of sympathy for them, and to be honest, it all grew a little tiresome hearing them whine about it, especially when it was some of the more experienced drivers. It’s part of the reason I love IN and PA dirt sprint car racing — five laps and you get it done, then you go racing.
Spring forward to a recent article on IndyCar.com where Jay Frye was interviewed about the challenges of 2020 and what IndyCar learned going forward about how to make IndyCar more efficient without hurting the fans or the promoters. That article leads me to wonder: was it just me, or were there really that many drivers complaining about a lack of practice, and is it fair of me to think they are just whining? And, how much heat did Jay and his crew receive from owners and drivers about the lack of practice?
Finally, could you provide some insight to how USAC and CART did things in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s verses the 2020 condensed practice schedule, and your personal thoughts on this subject?
RM: I only went to the races at IMS so I don’t know if the drivers were bitching about a lack of practice time, but it’s certainly been condensed from days gone by. Some of that was the pandemic and some is because of all the support races and a tight schedule. I feel for the new guys because testing has been limited along with practice, but it didn’t seem to hinder Palou, VeeKay, O’Ward, Ferrucci or Herta that much. In the old days at Milwaukee, Phoenix and Trenton, it was always a one-day show with an hour of practice, qualifying and then line ’em up. With today’s economics and limited fans because of COVID, I would imagine Texas will be only one day, but Gateway makes two days work because of all the extra races.