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 not sure why people are complaining about the IndyCar Series the way they do. It seems to have become a series that a lot of drivers want to be a part of. It has drivers from NASCAR, F1, WEC, IMSA and other series racing or wanting to race in it. That should say a lot about the competition and the other drivers. You don’t see other racing series getting this attention. Do you think it has reached the premier level based on who wants to drive in IndyCar?
Eric R, London, OH
RM: I don’t hear too much complaining lately because the competition is second to none, and that’s what attracts drivers from various disciplines. Clark, Stewart, Hill, Brabham, Rindt and Hulme gave Indy massive credibility in the 1960s and Emmo and Mansell did the same for CART, so I think it’s always been highly regarded, even though F1 zealots still consider it inferior. Let’s put it this way, short of motorcycles, it’s the best way for a driver to prove his worth, since all the cars and engines are so similar.
Q: I haven’t heard much about lack of mechanical grip hindering passing for a few years. What’s your opinion of the current status? Any mutterings from any drivers? Is it even a relevant question now? With Dallara making the bodies, it ought to be a lot easier to change if warranted instead of trying to write a lot of construction rules for teams to innovate around, as in other racing series.
Steve De Cenzo, Vancouver, WA
RM: I haven’t been to a race and talked to a driver in over a year so I don’t hear anything, but the only area of concern seemed to be overtaking on superspeedways and that’s aero, not mechanical. Not sure you could ask for better racing than we’ve seen on road and street courses.
Q: Do you feel that IndyCar could benefit by allowing drivers to keep their number year to year? I believe that NASCAR drivers have a benefit by identifying with a number. It helps me to know who is running where, and I instantly identify with the person driving. Some numbers become iconic… the No. 43 and No. 3 cars come to mind. In today’s IndyCar it’s four races in, and I’m still trying to figure out who is who. The one exception is AJ. He is forever No. 14. With color schemes changing more often, some number consistency year-over-year would really help. Your thoughts?
Gerald Oliver, Midlothian, Texas
RM: It seems like Scott Dixon has been No. 9 forever but that hasn’t done much to raise his profile so I don’t think continuity matters, and many times maybe a sponsor requests a certain number. Only Herk (56), Parnelli (98) and A.J. (14) were popular enough to have that kind of identity — and Petty and Earnhardt.
Q: Ty Gibbs was ripping up ARCA last year and into this season, and is posting good results in the Xfinity Series. I can’t help but think back to what Tony Stewart said a while ago about Toyota and how it can pick up a young driver, have them race a year or two and release them, since there’s nowhere else for them to go. I look at IndyCar, and how even before the pandemic, other than Oliver Askew or Colton Herta, you didn’t really hear of teams like Penske, Ganassi or Andretti having someone waiting in the wings in Indy Lights or further on down. What are your thoughts on the state of young driver development in general, and where it can go from here once we get used to this new normal?
RM: Well, Andretti is the only IndyCar owner with a stake in driver development, and he’s cranked out Pato O’Ward, Sage Karam, Zach Veach, Askew and Herta while Ricardo Juncos has helped pave the way for Rinus VeeKay, Spencer Pigot, Kyle Kaiser and is currently grooming Sting Ray Robb. Based on the last few years I’d say the system is working pretty good — at least in terms of drivers getting a shot.
Q: At one time Tony George was on the CART board with a non-voting position. Do you think if he was given more input about some of his ideas the whole Split could have been avoided? Even Andrew Craig said Tony George was “very, very, sincere” with his vision.
Dan, Buffalo, NY
RM: All I know is that my old pal Tony Bettenhausen used to say that Tony would sit through a CART meeting and never speak, but then start voicing his concerns or ideas in the parking lot. Dale Coyne once said CART should have done a better job of keeping TG in the loop as far as future rules, tracks, etc. But his attempted buyout of CART in 1991 in Houston was a disaster and not many CART owners felt he was competent after that, so I don’t know if The Split could have been averted.
Q: Do you have any opinions or theories about Michael Andretti’s disastrous 1993 Formula 1 season? Do you believe there was a conspiracy to keep him from succeeding?
Ron, Portland, OR
RM: Teammate Ayrton Senna said it wasn’t a very good car, it was a bad year for rookies because testing was limited, and Michael didn’t endear himself to the team by commuting from the States all the time. He was only a couple tenths behind Senna in one test and obviously had the chops to do well, but it was just a bad situation — compounded by Ron Dennis, who couldn’t wait to get rid of Andretti.