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: Whenever I am waiting for the start of the new IndyCar season I always go to YouTube and watch old CART races. Recently I watched several races from the 1993 and 1994 season, and while I would never trade the excellent racing the series has had over the last several years, there are two things lacking in the current series.
The first is household names. When we were kids in the 1960s we would ride our bikes and pretend we were race car drivers. I was Mario Andretti and my friend was A. J. Foyt. And in grocery stores, at sporting events, and in car repair shops, everyone knew the names Foyt and Andretti. In today’s world, I doubt whether two kids would pretend they are Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi.
The second thing lacking is storylines. In the two seasons I mentioned, several things were happening. In 1993 Nigel Mansell was having an amazing season in his first year in IndyCar. Al Unser Jr. was going to leave Galles Racing and move to Penske, and Rahal built its own chassis. Honda showed up in 1994, and we had the tire war in 1995.
With all that being said, there one story I am really looking forward to watching, and that’s the arrival of Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean. I am encouraged that these two drivers, especially Jimmie, think enough of the series to want to come over. I hope that they are both able to race well, and I think their interviews after the first few races will be fascinating to hear. Anything else I’m missing?
Rick Schneider, Charlotte
RM: I think the kiddie corps (Herta, O’Ward, VeeKay, Palou) and their march to the front will be the most compelling story of 2021. True, IndyCar may not have many household names like the old days, but give these kids a few years and maybe that can change.
Q: Got my vaccine at IMS on Saturday, and IMS did a great job getting people in and out. Driving through the garages and Gasoline Alley was cool. Getting my shot in one of the F1 garages then going down pit lane to exit put a smile on my face. While waiting in the holding area they were handing out 50% discounts to go to the museum during the weekend. What a great promotion. I had been meaning to go to see the Granatelli exhibit last year, but never got around to it. Great time. They had the Novi that Hurtubise drove, along with some other great cars. Only wish they had the STP-Paxton Turbocar (it is at the Smithsonian) and the 1964 Ferguson NOVI that Unser drove. Did you get your shot?
RM: I did, and Mark Miles was kind enough to drive me. I tried to record the experience on my video camera but accidentally cut off his head, so we couldn’t use it. But like you, I was totally blown away by the organized, friendly, efficient manner of the National Guard, frontline health workers and medical personnel. It was as easy as a fast food drive-through.
Q: I just received my COVID vaccination at IMS. What a masterful job they did of having enough people present to move us quickly and efficiently through the process. I’d rather be here for racing, but at least I got to see my favorite place on Earth again today. Do you think IMS will host another round of shots?
Ian Kohlhaas, Indianapolis
RM: I do, but its all contingent on the supply of Johnson & Johnson vaccinations. I still love Mark Miles’s idea of a line for testing, a line for shots and a line for buying tickets, but logistically it might be tough to execute.
Q: Please keep doing what you’re doing. You’re irreplaceable! Long-time Indy fan here, going back to the Trenton days in the ’70s. I’ve been watching the off-season activity, and have two thoughts: 1) Gratitude should be our attitude to The Captain and all the IMS/IndyCar team. What they are doing amid unprecedented difficulties is incredible. 2) For arguments’ sake, I’m thinking this may be deepest IndyCar talent pool ever, or at least since the merger. I know the great old days of A.J., Mario et al, and the ’80s with Mears and the others, were amazing. But this 2021 crop of U.S. and international, young guys and older veterans, experience from many different types of racing (F1/NASCAR/Supercars) is a wonderful thing. They all want to be in IndyCar. We should fully appreciate your thoughts?
Jeff B, Bernardsville, NJ
RM: I don’t disagree it’s one of the best classes of the last few decades – we’ve got JPM, Helio, Marco, Ed Carpenter, Grosjean and TK as part-timers along with J.J. – but I think the depth of the teams and reliability of the cars/engines just makes it so much more competitive and tougher to win a race. I got some grief for predicting Pato and Colton would battle for the title, but times are a-changin.’
Q: OK, we don’t want another split, but a lot of us like ovals. We’re all happy Mr. Penske bought the IMS franchise, so we want him to benefit from his investment. We know the Indianapolis 500 is the most sacred race in the world. Nothing can ever replace it. But what if the last race every year was the Indianapolis 250?
Marty Jorgensen, Des Moines, Iowa
RM: I think one oval race a year at IMS is perfect, and let’s just keep the Indianapolis 500 in that special category.
Q: I think it is a sad thing that IndyCar is not running at COTA. COTA, being North America’s newest and most modern racetrack, should have the continent’s top-tier open-wheel racing series, and the fact that it doesn’t is further evidence to me that the damage that was done by T.G. and the CART/IRL split 25 years ago has left ugly scars on our beloved sport. I’m sure R.P. has his hands full dealing with this COVID fiasco, and if anyone can turn this around, it is Roger. I miss the CART IndyCar Series at its peak, and in ’98 I attended the 500, Long Beach, Vancouver, Toronto, and Surfers Paradise. The Aussies and Canadians are great IndyCar fans. I also wish the IndyCar championship carried more prestige, like the NASCAR Cup or the F1 world championship. Your thoughts?
RM: The Split did diminish the open-wheel championship and allowed NASCAR to jump ahead, and F1 has always been the world championship, but COTA is probably more about what is going to work best. The IndyCar race in 2019 didn’t draw a very good crowd, the track is supposedly on shaky financial ground, and replacing IndyCar with NASCAR in Texas would just seem to be good business.