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 just talked to IMS and was told that fans will be allowed in the Turn 2 mounds for next weeks open test. Great news! No info on times yet, though. My questions: Do you have any idea as to how many teams and/or drivers might be participating in this? Any idea about how many have typically shown up in the past? I plan to be there both days. Thank you for any information you can provide.
Ken E., Bloomington, IN
RM: Actually that’s not true: it’s been decided there will be no spectators allowed at the test because IMS doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize May. Peacock will show all 32 drivers practicing on Thursday and Friday, and it’s $4.99 a month.
Q: So NASCAR has had seven races so far, IMSA has had a couple, Trans Am at least one, heck even the Aussies in Supercars have had four races at two venues. Why is it IndyCar can’t at least have one race that allows it to get some market visibility early in the year? Seems silly that it starts so late. This could also have something to do with lack of interest when it does start racing. All we hear about is IndyCar testing here and there, while other series’ seasons are well under way. Then the IndyCar season ends so early compared to other series. Maybe this is something it needs to address sometime in the future?
Mike from Springboro, OH
RM: There is no doubt that IndyCar’s six-month hiatus hurts any kind of momentum and makes it hard to follow the series, but starting earlier presents its challenges. Phoenix was always a good March opener but we saw the lack of response IndyCar generated from 2016-18, and St. Pete usually opens in March but has had to adjust this year for the pandemic. Finding a warm climate with a willing promoter isn’t easy and there aren’t a lot of options. CART opened the season in Australia for years in March, but because of the time difference for television it was a pretty well-kept secret, and Miami (street race) was a big hit before being moved to Homestead, which eventually died on the vine except for stock cars. IndyCar isn’t going to run Phoenix, Las Vegas or Homestead, and with Fontana’s reconfiguration that would be a long shot too. NASCAR took IndyCar’s place at COTA (another March date), and right now all of IndyCar’s best draws have established dates (Long Beach in April, Road America in June, Mid-Ohio in July, Gateway in August) that are working and are not about to change. Finding someone to take a flyer on an IndyCar race in January or February is a tough ask.
The only seats with butts in them at this week’s Open Test will be the ones in the cars. Owens/IndyCar
Q: Before you get all defensive about IndyCar, just remember I am one of the few (fans) still left. But I have been humored by your defending the status quo of this series when it is obviously dying on the vine! A racing season that starts too late and ends too early. Poor sponsorships and broadcasting partners. Antiquated rules and procedures like ending races under yellow. Strung-out single-file restarts kill any track competition drama, and leave it to horrible broadcasters to try making it up!
I thought Roger Penske would bring about positive change, but because one of necessities for fixing the patient that is on life support is speed, and because I haven’t seen much of that yet (except talk of jumping on NASCARS coattails) I am not as optimistic as you. Matter of fact, another year without butts in all the seats and the pending disastrous TV deal, I see the same fate for this series that has befallen so many of the local dirt track series across this country.
RM: I think the fact 23-26 cars will be at every race, sponsors didn’t abandon ship after the pandemic (there are actually a few news ones) and the competition remains as good if not better than ever before are three major positives for IndyCar. And NBC having eight races on network is above and beyond anything imaginable with IndyCar’s ratings, so I don’t know how you can say ‘poor broadcasting partner’. NBC has promoted IndyCar better than anyone ever has, and just pray they stick around. No doubt IndyCar could use a couple more solid venues and a title sponsor that puts cash into the Indy 500, but all things considered the series is a helluva lot better off than people envisioned a few years ago.
Q: I’ve read your piece about Push to Pass in the Indy 500, and as much as I agree with Scott Dixon that Indy should be the toughest race on earth, I don’t understand why P2P would be a bad thing. It would add a layer of strategy while keeping the challenge of the 500. They raced with Push to Pass in the 2010 and 2011 500, and the races were still as good as others.
Michael from France
RM: Like Dixon said, you use your experience, adjustments and the draft to move up or pass cars at Indianapolis, and the last thing it needs is an artificial boost to make it easier.