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: The recent P2P test at IMS involved four teams: Penske, Ganassi, Andretti and Arrow McLaren SP. I know that other teams occasionally get involved, but wondered how allocations are made to keep a level playing field? Also, do teams pay to be involved?
RM: Let’s ask someone who knows the answer. Mike Hull, managing director of Chip Ganassi Racing. “Frankly, the teams don’t push for it, or politic for it, it’s a call that’s made between IndyCar and the two engine suppliers. What’s changed with Jay Frye’s administration, however, is that teams test exclusively for IndyCar, rather dragging their feet testing their own items.
“Using the recent Push to Pass test as an example, the teams are given a very direct test plan by IndyCar that limits the team’s time up front to try their own items. The teams fit in advance the test items, so are ready to get after it once the track is ready. The test is IC-issued pre-fit parts, combined with driver feedback, their access to the data stream, and then onto the next phase of the test. What happens is that you find a baseline for balance and then start the test. IndyCar calls it when they’ve learned from their items. The teams aren’t given the rest of the time for their individual improvements. IndyCar likes a cross-section and requires unselfish access to the data stream that can represent the field. It aids their process to create decision-making direction with fairness of various driver styles.”
Q: Amen to your column “A power play the Indy 500 doesn’t need.” The Indy 500 is not about how many passes are made, it’s about holding onto the damn car, hitting your marks every time and being up front at the end. A fan knows this, and is on the edge of their seat pulling not only for their driver, but for the whole field to make it safely to the finish. IndyCar would do well in telling more about how hard it is to travel at 240 mph into Turn 1 at Indy or how much work it takes to set the cars up so that it will turn at speed instead of worrying about push-to-pass. If the powers that be want more craziness and danger, leave the boost up for the race. Agree?
Jack, Ft Myers, FL
RM: Like I wrote, Jay Frye and his staff do a good job of trying to find the right balance of power and downforce on ovals, and I trust they will listen to the drivers about P2P. Do we need more HP? Sure, as long as there’s less downforce.
Q: I read your piece about IndyCar testing overtake assist systems at IMS. I agree that the Indy 500 doesn’t need P2P, KERS, DRS, or any other overtake assist system. Instead, the race just needs a good aero package. From 2012-2017 when IndyCar used the base DW12 aero kit (2012-2014) followed by the manufacturer aero kits (2015-2017), the Indy 500 averaged 43.67 lead changes per race. When the series moved to the universal aero kit (UAK18) in 2018, the average number of lead changes fell to 26.67 per race.
In other words, the competitiveness of the Indy 500 decreased by almost 40% with the introduction of the current aero package. I know some purists argue that the previous packages made passing too easy, but if there’s one problem IndyCar (and motorsports in general) doesn’t have, it’s that there’s too much passing. Putting on a great show for the fans should be the top priority. And I know it’s easier said than done, but if IndyCar can just get back to what made those packages great, we wouldn’t see another boring Indy 500 would we?
RM: I don’t see Indy as boring, but I guess a lot of people want this non-stop passing parade. The Hanford Device accomplished that in CART: nobody wanted to lead and it was too easy to pass, but it was great for the paying customers and TV audience. I agree with Dixon that Indy should not be easy, and as I noted, these past decades have had some of the best finishes in IMS history. Newgarden told us about some of the changes for May (filling in the hole in the underwing and using strakes) to try and improve overtaking, so maybe that’s going to help.
Q: I couldn’t agree more with regard to not having Push to Pass at Indy. But I was a little disappointed when you said that spec racing is here to stay. I guess I’m in the old school category in regards to spec cars. I honestly think that’s one of the reasons racing seems kind of stale, with all the gimmicks you mentioned. I guess my question is, why do you think spec racing is here to stay?
RM: Money, budgets and manufacturers interested in building IndyCars are all in short supply. And engine leases are boring, but they make for good racing and lots of finishers. Like I’ve been saying, the fact there is going to be 22-25 cars at every race (especially after this pandemic) might be the most encouraging thing I’ve seen in years.
Q: Any word on if fans will be allowed to attend next week’s Open Test at IMS? My buddy from Michigan and I were talking last night and wondered why don’t they open the lower section of Stand E and charge $10 to pay for cleaning the stands and a couple of bathrooms after? I would gladly pay $10 after driving 300-plus miles since you can see so much more than you can from the viewing mounds. I think there is a lot of pent-up demand and a lot of people would come watch if stands were open. Shouldn’t be too hard to socially-distance.
RM: The Speedway is trying to determine what kind of options there might be for spectators, and they intend to put out an update at the end of the week.