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: Is it just me or is Barber the most overrated track IndyCar visits? Every year it seems pundits, broadcasters, etc., rave about the venue, but the truth is that the races are often quite dull for television audiences. I get that the facilities are top-notch, but it doesn’t matter to the average viewer when the race is a parade with minimal wheel-to-wheel action. This year it was even more bizarre given that many teams opted for a fuel conservation strategy which meant some drivers hoarded Push-to-Pass (although it wouldn’t have helped much given Barber’s circuit layout). Even the broadcasters were practically begging Will Power to burn up his P2P time in the final laps! Is there anything that can be done to spice up the races at Barber? The lack of any hard braking zones makes competitive passes almost non-existent.
On the bright side, I am pumped for this season. It’s huge that the season starts fast with a run of four race weekends in five weeks. That’s a great opportunity to kick start the season with momentum and to keep fans closely engaged. I hope they continue with tight scheduling in the future, since too often the start of the season is scattered by too many gaps between weekends. Excited for the year!
Mike, Des Plaines, IL
RM: My first suggestion is to go to YouTube and watch some ’80s or ’90s road courses races when Mario, Michael, Little Al and Rahal routed the competition. Those were parades. Sunday you had Bourdais and O’Ward banging wheels in Turn 5 for position, Palou, VeeKay and O’Ward making some nice outside passes, Power pressing Palou the final 10 laps and then Pato storming back from his extra pit stop to put the top four within four seconds of each other at the checker. A few years ago Pagenaud and Graham Rahal beat on each other for two laps in one of the best finishes I can remember, and yes Barber is tight (it was built for motorcycles), but Turn 5 is as good a place to pass as any road course. Sure, Sato stunk up the joint and ran away in 2019, but the races have been pretty decent considering the constraints of the track. Much better than I ever imagined.
Q: You called it on the youth being hungry. Palou drove a great race and his CGR team had great strategy. The car showed great pace while getting him the fuel savings he needed to stay in the lead at the end. Could easily have been O’Ward who drove the tires off his car. Sometimes, driving the tires off isn’t the best strategy, but O’Ward’s time will come as he is fast and fearless.
Cheers to the aeroscreen and the DW12 safety overall. That first-lap crash would have easily put several drivers in the hospital — if not worse — had it happened 15-20 years or more ago. Newgarden basically got T-boned twice and walked away. Hunter-Reay walked away, and so huge tip of the hat to the IndyCar team that has made this car as safe as it is today. Racing is still dangerous and always will be. But at least it’s not as deadly as it was in the past.
And how happy is A.J. with SeaBass’s finish? Things are looking up for the Foyt team. So many competitive teams this year… it’s a great time to be an IndyCar fan. Now, if only Carvana wouldn’t spend so much money so we could get a tad less Jimmie Johnson coverage and more coverage of battles going on in the field. But if it brings more fans to the sport, I’ll put up with it.
John Balestrieri, Milwaukee, WI
RM: Pato just got beat by strategy and Palou was flawless under pressure, but to have the top four cars finish within three seconds of each other is pretty damn entertaining. Check out Marshall’s story about RHR. The aeroscreen saved his neck, literally, so kudos to IndyCar. I called A.J. after the race and he was happy and said part of Seb’s underwing got torn off in that first-lap carnage, so fifth place was even more impressive. I think the Old Man might be going to most of the races this season. And be thankful Carvana is sponsoring J.J.; they’re spending money and promoting the series as well as the NASCAR champion.
Q: I don’t think you mentioned Romain Grosjean in your “IndyCar guard is changing” piece. He may not be a race winner in 2021, but I think he will show he’s a damn good race car driver who had been saddled to a terrible Haas F1 team in a racing series dominated by Mercedes. What do expect to see from Romain in this IndyCar season?
RM: He was certainly impressive in his debut, but my story about the changing of the guard was obviously aimed at youth and full-timers. We’re not sure how long Grosjean will be in IndyCar and he’s 35, but obviously he’s got a new motivation because he’s got a fighting chance in IndyCar.
Q: Great to have IndyCar back, and it looks to be an interesting year. Jimmie Johnson is obviously good for the series, and a great guy, but honestly I was disappointed by his pace. Were you thinking he would be this far off the pace? I understand there is a huge difference between a Cup car and an IndyCar, but there is just as big of a difference between a Supercar and an IndyCar and McLaughlin was much faster all week. It’s only one race, but I hope to see some huge improvement.
Chris Anderson, Mt Comfort RV
RM: My God, what do people expect? He’d never raced an open-wheel car, never run red tires and qualified in the 1m07s range with four other guys. Sure he spun once in the race and moved over for faster cars after losing a lap, but he was turning competitive laps in the final stint. I figured he might be four or five seconds off the pace when testing started, and he’s gradually improved and I think he will get better and better. Starting a new career at 45 takes guts and patience, and he’s got both.