Robin Miller’s Mailbag for November 20, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

Q: My question comes from the recent trend of talented drivers being left without a seat in IndyCar. There are obviously big names like Hinch and Daly, but there have also been several Indy Lights drivers end up in other series because nothing was available upon graduation. I know there are a ton of factors that contribute to this, the biggest being sponsorship dollars, but I’m curious about the impact of so few owners on the grid. With the recent Penske ownership news, this issue seems more relevant than ever before.

Should the cost of ownership be lowered to entice more people to get involved in IndyCar and therefore open up more seats? Or should the cost actually increase so as to make the teams that are on the grid more competitive? If you’re Roger Penske, is your focus to get more owners into the fold, or to make the racing even better? Or is there some happy medium of being able to do both? Thanks for your insight!

P.S. If I had an extra $15 million lying around, I would be ordering some Honda engines and signing Hinch and Daly up tomorrow! But alas…

Tyler from Michigan

RM: As long as drivers have been buying rides (since the ‘80s), good ones have been left on the sidelines and that’s not going to change. The fact Colton Herta, Oliver Askew, Pato O’Ward and Spencer Pigot all got rides without bringing money is still rare but encouraging. And I think Jay Frye, IndyCar and Dallara have done their best to at least keep costs somewhat reasonable. But considering how much it costs and how bad the purses are, it’s amazing there are 22-23 full-time cars. Raising the purses and Leaders’ Circle might be one way to entice more participation, but right now it’s the one major series where a Mike Shank can come in with the right people and be competitive. That’s the major selling point.

Q: I see that Spencer Pigot has been dumped by ECR. It sucks for him, but he’s had a decent shot at it, and VeeKay looks like a badass like Colton and Pato. Though I do wish that Ed would either stop driving or run a third car so he could still do the ovals. That way he fields two cars driven full-time by young hotshots. What’s your view on this development?

Jordan, Warwickshire, UK

RM: I think Ed has given American racers like Spencer, JoNew and J.R. Hildebrand a fighting chance, but he’s not made of money and needs some help like everyone else. If he would hire Veekay and Conor Daly retains Air Force that would be a good pairing for 2020, and then he still gets to run Indianapolis. But I applaud him for “hiring” these Indy Lights champs through the years.

Q: With Pigot now officially out at ECR, a move to Foyt seems seamless. He’s young, American, has shown some really strong potential, and is a Chevy guy. Is this anything that you are hearing as a possibility?

Cade F.

RM: I talk to A.J. once a week and he and Larry haven’t made a decision yet, but I think they’re looking for a driver with money to go with Charlie Kimball and T.K. (who would share a ride). Just a guess.

Q: I wonder if the IndyCar community is concerned about a big drop-off in attendance in Toronto if there isn’t a Canadian driver? That has rarely happened.

Gary Wood

RM: Not sure, but I imagine it’s got the attention of promoters Kevin Savoree and Kim Green, and I think Hinch will have a ride for Indy and Toronto, at the least, and it would behoove IndyCar to invest in making sure it happens up north.

Q: The Derek Daly article about the two kinds of drivers got me thinking about A.J. Foyt Racing. Based on the assumption that Tony Kanaan is a “reflex” driver and Conor Daly is a “feel” driver, wouldn’t it make sense to pair them up for Kanaan’s last IndyCar season for both their immediate and future needs? Let’s also assume that McLaren has their eye on Simon Pagenaud for 2021 when his contract expires with Penske. If McLaren lets go of either O’Ward or Askew to pair with Pagenaud, they would have both types of drivers. Foyt could then snatch up the freed young gun and have both types of drivers with huge potential for the future. Possible?

Mark Zac, Long Beach, CA

RM: That’s what T.K. was hoping before A.J. dropped Conor, but it’s not going to happen now. And Pagenaud was just a hunch about 2021, but now that McLaren has two youngsters I don’t think the 2019 Indy winner is in the frame. I know A.J. was interested in Pato and Ferrucci, but I don’t think they were interested in his team.

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Robin Miller’s Mailbag for November 13, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

It almost goes without saying that Roger Penske’s purchase of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NTT IndyCar series was one of the biggest stories not only in RACER.com’s history, but also for open-wheel racing and its followers. The reams of emails have been divided into comments and questions – just like last week with Hinch. I’m sorry if we didn’t use everyone’s, but as you can imagine there was quite a bit of duplication, so I tried to represent as many different opinions as possible. And the normal Mailbag resumes after the Penske questions. Thanks for everyone’s participation over these past two weeks. Robin.

My favorite saying during IndyCar races has always been A.B.P. – Anybody But Penske! I don’t hate Roger Penske, I was just tired of so many wins for his team. I was also tired of so-called racing fans loving the Penske team because it was easy to love the winner. I am an underdog lover, although I greatly appreciate Roger Penske and all he has done for the sport.

Yes, Penske deserves the wins, yes he is the best, yes he has the best team, yes to all of it.  And even though lately IndyCar has become much more of an even playing field with the current car and engine packages, Penske still beats everyone else. Well, imagine me falling off of my chair the other day when I read that Roger bought the Speedway! I was shocked and elated! Hip hip hurray! Now things will improve! The sport I have loved since 1967 may just finally take its rightful place among the stick and ball sports. And who better to do this that The Captain! My friend and I are ecstatic! So, anybody want to buy my “A B P “ T-shirts? Maybe I should change them to N.B.P. – Nobody But Penske!

Sean Raymond

It’s always been said Wilbur Shaw and Anton Tony Hulman saved the Speedway. It may be said someday that Roger Penske saved IndyCar racing. I can’t think of anyone better suited than The Captain (and his people). His phoning A. J. and Mario tells me most of what I need to know in a positive way!

Ron Carbaugh, Eaton, Ohio

There is no person better on earth that can continue the stewardship of the iconic IMS. Roger’s heart, knowledge of motor racing and impeccable business savvy will not only benefit IndyCar, but all of motorsports. All his businesses have been extremely community friendly and he has a huge heart for people.

Stephen Janny, Nazareth, Pa.

Thanks for your Penske purchase story. Coming from you, I can accept that this is the best news of the past 50 years in Indy. I believe Penske has always demonstrated due diligence, paid his dues, done his homework, busted his butt to get it right, or however we choose to phrase it: he is a winner, a dedicated hard worker, he builds people up, and sets and maintains exceptional standards. When dampers (shocks) were not adequately developed for superspeedways, he built up a group of over 20 crewmen dedicated to shock development and management.

When teams were foundering in gear-set and final drive ratio selections for Indy, he realized that many teams were trying to find out what ratios his research had led him to use for the upcoming Indy 500, so he ordered and paid for gear sets from Xtrac for 21 (!) different ratio sets and final drive numbers to mask his choice. What’s the point of dragging out that history again? It is validation of his approach, understanding, and commitment. He is not a “checkbook racer,” not a guy that just throws money at issues and problems. He is a problem solver. It’s time for a party.

Rick W., California

I was a CART safety team volunteer for years but I gave up my Indy 500 tix in 1996 (after 21 years) vowing to never come back until T.G. got his personal checkered flag and the Speedway was sold. I never again bought products from IRL sponsors. Economacki/ Speed Sport News; Indianapolis Star subscription for May only; RPM Tonight were all in my rear view mirror. I just consoled myself with my love of F1 since the bloodbath years of the 1960s to the present time. Stewart, Emmo and Hamilton kept me going from era-to-era, but still there was that huge void with no Indy racing sanity in sight. And then, last Monday my 60-year-passion for Indy racing was again restored!

Anyone writing to you with a note of caution or negative response of Roger buying the Speedway or IndyCar is frickin’ crazy. This is the guy who will manage everything as a business, not a sport. There is no other way to approach motorsports to ensure its survival in our world today. In doing so, IndyCar has its only chance to survive. Thank you so very much for your devotion to AOWR/ Indy and best wishes for you personally and professionally as we enter a period of optimism we haven’t had in nearly 25 years.

Patty Anderson, Omaha, Nebraska

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Robin Miller’s Mailbag for November 6, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

This is a Mailbag for the ages, because all the letters about Roger Penske started flooding my inbox as I was answering all the James Hinchcliffe emails from the previous week. So we’ve decided to run a couple of Penske comments today, and next week will be largely about The Captain’s takeover of IMS and IndyCar. And what we’ve done in this edition is to let fans voice their Hinch thoughts in the first part of the Mailbag, and then switch to the usual Q&A format to cover some questions about The Mayor’s future and then the normal flow of IndyCar stuff. Thanks for the support and interest. Robin.

Q: Holy smolie! Who saw this one coming? If the Speedway had to be sold, I’m glad it’s staying in the ‘family’, if you will. Mr. Penske should be an excellent steward of the Speedway, and IndyCar in general should be in great shape in the coming years. Thank God it wasn’t sold to the France family! That said, I am slightly concerned that rules could be enforced that might be in Penske’s favor.  In my opinion, that should not be allowed to happen. Overall I think I’m happy with this, and there could be exciting opportunities down the road. Did you have any idea this was in the works, Robin? What are your feelings on the sale?

Jerry Laake, Davenport, Iowa

RM: I wrote – and I feel like – it’s the best news in 50 years, because of R.P.’s commitment to excellence, worldwide business savvy, ability to pick the right people to run his companies and his undying passion for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. I knew something might be coming, but I didn’t hear The Captain’s name until 72 hours before it was announced.

Q: Every time one of the France family made a sideways glance to the north, rumors started flying about IMS being sold. How in the world were they able to keep this quiet for this long?

Scott C, Bargersville IN

RM: Because Roger Penske commands and gets respect and emphasizes teamwork. It all happened in six weeks, but just like the Mercedes engine surprise of 1994, he gets his people to buy into loyalty and keep things in-house. Hell, he got Paul Tracy to keep a secret back then.

I think that the treatment Hinch has received is appalling. You said it was going to happen, but why couldn’t SPM have been decent about it and done it before teams were pretty much set for 2020? IndyCar wonders why they constantly have to fight for viewers; perhaps they should just look at the way they do business. Hopefully Hinch will find a ride with a team that doesn’t regularly screw up their race strategy.

Dave, a pissed-off Canuck!

I had planned on writing something toned-down about SPAM and its announced driver line-up, and then I saw this small piece in the LA Times: ‘Zak Brown, the head of McLaren, said its IndyCar team will pay James Hinchcliffe not to drive for them next year after driver Pato O’Ward became available.’ Now, how cold is that announcement!

My first reaction to the article last Monday was, how wonderful for Pato and Oliver. Then a few seconds went by (more than I care to admit) and then I said out loud, “but what about James?” So, what else will SPAM pay Hinch not to do? And this b.s. from Brown about James being in the running for an Indy 500 drive if he does not secure a full-time ride is completely bogus. Does Zak think I truly believe that? This whole episode has been mishandled from the start. SPAM should have had the balls to let James go in the beginning. That would have been honest. I am disgusted.

Deb Schaeffer

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Robin Miller’s Mailbag for October 30, presented by Honda Racing/HPD

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.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

Note: The Arrow McLaren SP driver news triggered a flood of letters, almost all of which unfortunately arrived too late to make this week’s edition of the Mailbag. Robin will tackle them next week.

Q: Taking away the politics (almost impossible right now), Roger Penske receiving the Medal of Freedom is huge. A great honor and big for the racing community.

Joe Mullins

RM: Yes it was, and it was sad to see some of comments about how R.P. bought this award because of his clout. This had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with The Captain’s body of work and achievements. From racing to business to revitalizing Detroit, he’s a force with a plan. But because of today’s highly-charged climate, I don’t think Team Penske even sent out a press release and that’s also sad. Happy to see IndyCar.com posted a story on Monday and RACER.com wrote one last week.

Q: The following drivers deserve quality full-time rides: O’Ward, Ferrucci, Daly, Askew and Veekay for Arrow McLaren SP, second Coyne car, Carlin’s No.31 and A.J.’s No. 4. That’s four full-time seats for five drivers, and it is entirely possible that someone I didn’t list gets one of the seats I just listed. So who gets the short straw(s)?

Ryan T.

RM: Well I think RACER gave you the answer on Monday night with the breaking story that Pato and Oliver are bound for Arrow McLaren SP in 2020. Santino is staying with Coyne, and I think either Daly or Veekay will end up with ECR. And that leaves Carlin, which will have Max Chilton for the road races, and not sure about the other car.

Q: Dale Coyne talked about looking for engineers even before Mike Cannon left and Ganassi talked about “when somebody of Mike’s caliber becomes available.“ Seems something put Mike’s nose out of joint and he jumped before getting a new role sorted.

Oliver Wells

RM: I don’t know that Dale was looking, but Cannon wanted to get back to Indianapolis if ever possible and Trevor Green-Smith (assistant engineer for Seb) took a job with Andretti, so that’s two spots to fill. But I don’t think there were any bad feelings from either side. And DC still has Olivier Boisson to take care of Ferrucci, so he’ll be fine.

Q: Happy that Mike Cannon’s talents are being recognized with his hire at Chip Ganassi Racing as Scott Dixon’s race engineer. What I will miss is his talents of engineering rookies and ‘little guys’ for the front of the field. Always a great story.

Ralph, Indianapolis

RM: Michael has a knack for educating the kids and from A.J. Allmendinger to Ed Jones to Ferrucci, that even-keeled, pragmatic approach just seemed perfect for a rookie.

Q: Wonder the feelings Graham is having since having Taku on the team? Sato has the only wins in the last couple years, and usually out-qualifies Graham. Seems he might be a little green with envy. Any knowledge of where they think the differences lay?

Tim B.

RM: Not necessarily, I think they get along just fine, but Graham admitted in a recent interview that he wasn’t “at his best” every weekend in 2019 and needed to regain that form he had in 2014-17. He qualified better than he has in the past but other than Barber, Long Beach and COTA didn’t run up front.

Q: I would be shocked if James Hinchcliffe is testing on Nov 5th with a Chevy engine and Arrow. It has been way too quiet with both parties. Any news you can share would be appreciated.

Ron Z.

RM: I said for the past few weeks I didn’t think Hinch would be with Arrow McLaren SP in 2020, and now you know from our breaking story last Monday it’s true.

Q: Do you think Fernando Alonso will race in the Indy 500 in 2020? What is the status of Ben Hanley and DragonSpeed for next season?

Paul Fitzgerald, Indianapolis

RM: Absolutely I think we’ll see Alonso back at IMS, and hopefully a couple other places like Road America and maybe a short oval. All I know about DragonSpeed is that they are sending tubs to be updated for the aeroscreen, so obviously 2020 is in Elton Julian’s plans.

Q: Just read your article on drivers for Foyt team. Would like to see if you could put another name forward: Dakota Dickerson. He’s won back-to-back championships in F4 (2018) and F3 (2019) and I think he’s talented and needs a look.

Evan Chance

RM: Jeremy Shaw says he’s a pretty good peddler who is very good with sponsors and people in general, but Dakota is still a kid so let’s give him a little more time to marinate.

Q: Good job on the Foyt article. They suck by the way, and I feel bad for Larry. Conor deserves the seat and would do better than they deserve. I think the F1 kid will do well for Gil. I am super-excited about Colton! This kid is the most electric talent in years!  Michael will have to keep him away from Roger! Love to see Colton, Rossi and Ferrucci in a three-car team for Andretti and send Marco to Foyt, any chance?

Dan from Lima

RM: I wish A.J. would have stuck with Conor, but he was able to show his wares with Andretti, Carlin and Arrow SPM last season so maybe it worked out if he can land a full-time job. No way Marco is leaving, and Ferrucci is staying with D.C.

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Robin Miller’s Mailbag for October 23, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

Q: It’s good to see Patricio O’Ward is returning to IndyCar, but I’m a little confused about the Red Bull situation. The Indy Lights schedule and lineup is no secret, so why would Red Bull sign him when the Super License eligibility was at best in jeopardy (FIA has clear rules on obtaining it) and wasn’t even granted to him prior to the signing? O’Ward says FIA throw them under the bus, but it looks like Red Bull jumped the gun to me…

Randy Mizelle, Raleigh, NC

RM: To be clear, Pato isn’t officially back in an IndyCar ride yet, but Marshall and I think he’ll be with McLaren and SPAM next season. As for your Red Bull scenario, let’s hear from RACER’s F1 writer Chris Medland:

“I totally agree with the reader, to be honest. I think Red Bull were after special dispensation, and any promises were only ever verbal. The rules are pretty clear that the year he won Lights the series wouldn’t be eligible for points, so I think they took a punt in asking, potentially got lucky when someone suggested he’d be granted one and then Red Bull jumped early to secure him with McLaren sniffing around from an IndyCar POV in St Pete. Whether you think the Super License rules are right is another matter, but until he physically had one I think both Pato and Red Bull must have known there was a risk.”

Q: Just read an article saying Pato is being replaced by another driver in his Super Formula seat! Article lacked details and it’s not clear if he left on his own or got the boot. With most if not all Indy and F1 seats filled, it would be sad to see him on the bench. Any insight?

Mark Schue

RM: Read our RACER story (above) from last week. Pato was let go by Red Bull but is destined to be back on the IndyCar grid in 2020.

Q: Do you think McLaren holding onto Hinch is a way for them to get back at Honda and is more fallout from the F1 engine partnership fiasco than their really wanting Hinch as their driver? From the outside, McLaren do see a bit amateurish in this. The driver lineup is a mess, Indy last year speaks for itself, the constant waffling on whether it was even going to participate in the series, denials it would run the full season, to now kind of owning a team. Is there hope for them, or is this going to play out as one of the biggest disasters the sport has seen?

D. Hudson

RM: Just the opposite. I think SPAM could release Hinch to Honda and maybe reduce the cost of their buyout. McLaren was counting on Colton Herta so they’ve been scrambling, but now I think Pato is going to be their driver and they’ll figure things out. I know some people seemed happy Alonso missed the show last May, but that baffles me because McLaren in IndyCar is a good thing.

Q: As someone following the McLaren/Schmidt marriage, I’m a bit confused by what I’m reading from you for their future drivers. Correct me if I’m wrong: Hinch is in for one more year (in McLaren/Chevy?), but is a lame duck, and you are hinting he may outright leave, but only for another Honda. McLaren and Hinch now seems like awkward marriage for the next year if it happens that way. Askew is the leading second driver, but nothing confirmed. Freddy Alonso is still in the picture for an Indy-only ride, but not likely to do a full season in IndyCar, and is now flirting with getting back into F1, though not with McLaren. (I thought he was done with F1…)

All of this sounds odd. Who is poo-pooing the Hinch/McLaren relationship? Honda? McLaren? Hinch? I’d think Hinch’s prospects, on paper, for a home-run season would be best under McLaren, even if he does have leave Honda. Why is it sour? (Does Honda pay Hinch’s SPM salary or something?) I also don’t see any other names of Hinch’s caliber out there for McLaren to consider, so why are they so wishy-washy on the guy? To me, Hinch’s lack of recent success in elevating the SPM team to a Penske/Ganassi/Andretti level has more to do with SPM shortcomings than Hinch’s driving.

Finally, as a general question, outside of the winner of Indy Lights and the $1 million they bring, why does there always seem to be a propensity for teams to bring in rookies instead of pulling up/promoting a talented, existing guy like Conor Daly? Likewise, wouldn’t teams like McLaren want to bring in a TK or Helio for a one or two year deal (which immediately gives them a legit chance to win) instead of throwing in a rookie who doesn’t have the all-star level experience to be competitive out of the box? I mean, look at the success model: Big Al in the late ‘80s jumps into a topline Penske car in his late ‘40s, and won Indy in 1987 and continued with Penske thereafter… with pretty damn good success… (Third in Indy 1988…)

Jim in New Mexico

RM: I can’t give you specifics, but Marshall and I heard all summer that Arrow SPM/Hinch relationship had gone south. Then McLaren buys in and doesn’t seem the least bit interested in The Mayor. Arrow evidently throws a wobbly when Hinch poses for ESPN’s magazine without informing them (why they wouldn’t like free national publicity escapes me) and threatens to give away his ride at Laguna Seca. Does that sound like a happy marriage?

Robert Wickens really spoiled Arrow SPM in 2018 and they were poised to join the Big 3 like Sam Schmidt was hoping. But they took a step back in 2019 without Wickens, and I think Hinch fell out of favor. Yes, he has a contract for 2020, but since when does that matter? Especially if both sides want out. I wrote last week that Honda of Canada still has Hinch in its budget for 2020 and he’s the face of Honda in North America, so why would he want to give that up if he could find another home? I don’t know why Conor can’t get a full-time job, but I do know that Helio is hoping for the fourth Penske car next May and T.K. is staying with Foyt.

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Robin Miller’s Mailbag for October 16, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

Q: Although I like to think of myself as pretty well informed on IndyCar comings and goings, I had no idea the Ganassi/Ericsson deal was coming along. My assumption is that you had heard at the very least strong rumors beforehand. I’m curious how far out you hear about these things? And if the things you hear fall into a normal timeline – for instance vague rumors a month out, followed by strong rumors a couple weeks out, followed by confirmation a few days out, followed finally by public announcement? Or do these come about suddenly, and do you ever get caught unaware?

Tim Elder

RM: Good question, and good story to go with it. RACER’s F1 scribe, Chris Medland, sent us an email a couple weeks ago saying he heard that Marcus had signed with Ganassi to drive a third car full-time in 2020. I thanked him and immediately emailed Ericsson and called Mike Hull. Didn’t get a response from the Swede, and Hull acknowledged that they had talked with Ericsson but nothing to report yet. “More smoke than fire at the moment,” were Mike’s words. Now I don’t know if the deal was already done when I called but regardless Hull naturally had to protect what turned out to be a helluva story and a big news announcement. And after it became official, I emailed Ericsson again to congratulate him and kid him about not being able to confirm or deny earlier. He responded: “Thank you very much. Ha ha yes, you know how it works. Super excited for this. It’s such a great opportunity. See you soon.” Of course you get caught unaware sometimes (Mansell to Newman/Haas was the best kept secret ever) but between Marshall and I, we’ve done this for a long time and have a lot of good contacts, so there aren’t too many major surprises. It’s a fun part of this job – trying to find out something before everyone else does and play that truth and denial game. I’ve done it for 50 years so not too much catches me flat-footed, but Ericsson-to-Ganassi certainly did when Chris Medland called.

Q: I gotta say, I really didn’t see Ericsson headings to Ganassi, and I hadn’t read anything about it anywhere (even from you!). I was under the impression that they were pretty set on staying with only two cars full time. Is this happening because they have staff from the soon-to-be gone GTLM program that they can move to IndyCar? Also, where does this leave Oliver Askew and the rumors that he’d be doing some part-time drives in a Ganassi car?

Max Camposano, Bethlehem, PA

RM: It caught everyone by surprise and I think it happened because Marcus has some stout sponsorship, but it’s also good for engineer Brad Goldberg and the Ganassi IMSA team since they were going to need something to do or look for a job. I’m hearing Zak Brown wants Askew at McLaren and he gave our Chris Medland some quotes over the weekend that didn’t rule it out.

Q: Zak Brown says the young driver crop has as much potential as Colton? No they don’t. It is a mistake to keep Hinch. That is just for Sam. Let Gil get two F1 guys like Ganassi would do. If they go with Hinch and an Indy Lights driver, they are screwed. Let Gil run the show! Robin, it’s too bad my man Michael Andretti is not involved. It would’ve been great and McLaren would’ve had Colton! Why didn’t Michael switch to Chevy and do it? I believe because he is Honda IndyCar like Newman/Haas was Lola. I think to beat Penske, you can’t be Chevy. You have to be on the other side. So, Honda of Japan must hate McLaren that bad, because it would’ve been beautiful! And they would’ve hurt Penske! They won’t hurt Penske nearly as bad now. Michael needs to focus on No.88 and No.27 and nothing else!

Dan from Lima, Ohio

RM: I think you could make an argument that Pato O’Ward, Oliver Askew and Rinus Veekay pack plenty of potential, and graduating from Lights to IndyCar doesn’t seem to be the big jump it used to be. And Hinch has won six races as well as the pole at Indy after nearly losing his life the year before, so not sure why it would be a mistake for SPAM to keep him. Michael stayed with Honda because they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse (and BTW, Carl Haas was the Lola distributor) but he very much wanted to team with Zak and Fernando. I’ve written and said for months it’s good to keep the balance of power and it remains in tact because Michael stayed put.

Q: So much controversy surrounding Hinch and SPAM. They say he’s under contract, but yet he’s not confirmed to drive. Sounds like they’re holding him under contract so they can sell that contract to the highest bidder. Thoughts?

John Fulton, Akron, Ohio

RM: I’ve said several times lately it’s pretty obvious to me that SPAM doesn’t want Hinch and I doubt he has much interest in staying but the looming question is where would he go? I know Honda of Canada wants to keep him and so does Honda Performance Development, but unless they can pull off a third car for RLL, James may be stuck as a lame duck. But I haven’t written everything I’ve been told, so stayed tuned.

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Robin Miller’s Mailbag for October 9, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

Q: As I’m sure you’ve heard from just about everyone, the race at Laguna Seca was a hit. Plenty of passing, plus another sensational win by Colton Herta. And while there wasn’t much drama in the championship battle, Josef Newgarden is a great racer and a good spokesman for the series, so him winning a second title is far from a poor outcome. Overall, IndyCar couldn’t have asked for a better showing.

However, there’s one thing that I think as been lost in the discussion. I think it’s remarkable that Harding/Steinbrenner Racing, the little team that has had a troubled existence since it first showed up at the track, managed to win its final race as an autonomous operation before being absorbed by the Andretti behemoth. Now, I know that HSR will still exist in name going forward (as “Andretti/Harding/Steinbrenner Autosport”), but it’s just a technicality. The fact that this scrappy little team that had trouble finding together the funds to show up at the track each weekend managed to take the win at their final race as an independent organization is something to celebrate.

Racing is a tough sport, and what these guys managed to do with what little they had should be recognized by the motorsports community. I know that ideally we all would like to see HSR continue in its current form and be the “little team that could.” However, business is business, and it makes perfect sense for HSR to join forces with Andretti. But while new owners aren’t exactly lining up to join the series, it’s good that one who actually did sign up and take the plunge managed to go out on a high note.

Garrick Aube

RM: That’s a great observation, and I mentioned in last week’s Mailbag that their pit stops were excellent in that victory and helped keep Colton out in front. To beat Andretti, Ganassi and Penske requires the best of everything – driver, engineer, mechanics, pit stops and strategy – and for a small team that’s disbanding to pull it off was even more impressive. I hope all those guys find jobs with Andretti, and it’s too bad Mike Harding couldn’t make it work. I think his heart was in the right place but without a major sponsor it’s only a matter of time until money becomes an issue. Marshall wrote a good story on Monday detailing what happens to a team that’s disbanding.

Q: As a lifelong motorsports fan, long-time Mailbag reader and active trauma surgeon, I am excited to see the success of the new aero-screen test and the way it is being embraced and heralded by the drivers. Regarding severe trauma, there are three injuries that have irreversible (in the current state of modern medicine) and life-changing effects:  severe brain injury, major burns, and spinal cord injury (Robert Wickens is thankfully an incredibly rare exception to the rule).

Professional drivers face these risks each and every time they step into the car, and any initiative to reduce the risks of these injuries is not only welcomed, but a moral imperative.  For those armchair fan critics of the “looks” and “loss of the risks of the glory days”, I invite them to visit the nearest Level 1 trauma center to see the devastating effects of these injuries on patients and their families. My question is, what is the plan for the final aero screen challenge yet to be described by RBAT and IndyCar? Rain. Do you have any insight into the current working solution (hydrophobic coating, aero tricks, ect.) and testing plans regarding wet weather racing? Thanks for all you do for the sport.

Scott Brakenridge MD, Gainesville, FL

RM: The screen will have tear-offs as insurance, but the rain is supposed to run right off the screen due to its shape and it seemed to pass its first test with flying colors on Monday at Barber. Here’s a shot of RHR testing Monday at Barber in the rain. He and Simon Pagenaud gave it big props.

Q: I saw the video of Robert Wickens and his bride, and Robert standing from his wheelchair. I was thinking about how he got injured so badly even though the DW12 stayed intact. Two ideas come to mind for protecting the spine: could the drivers wear a kind of ‘corset’ that then attaches to the car? This would reduce movement during the crash. The other idea is something along the lines of a jetfighter pilot’s G-suit with air bladders that could inflate to protect the spine/neck. Has anyone brought anything like this forward in the wake of Wickens crash?

Earl McKenzie, Edmonton, Canada

RM: Not my knowledge. The HANS Device and SAFER walls are the two biggest breakthroughs in racing safety during my 50 years, and now the aeroscreen has been added. There’s very little room in today’s cockpit, so not sure anything like you propose could even be realistic.

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