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 sure you’ll get hundreds of emails on Marco Andretti stepping back and only running the Indy 500 this year. My question is, did you hear any rumblings of this happening, or did it catch you off guard like it did me?
Chris Howe, Upper Sandusky, OH
RM: I think it caught everyone by surprise except maybe those closest to him. We’d heard that U.S. Concrete wasn’t coming back, but I don’t think anyone expected the bombshell that was dropped.
Q: You were just talking how Marco can have a ride pretty much as long as he wants with Michael owning the team. However I suspect sponsors have a lot to say in that matter. So what’s the real story behind Marco limiting his IndyCar activity?
RM: Marco owns 50 percent of that team so I imagine he and Michael were beating the bushes for sponsorship, and without the Leaders Circle, it’s a pretty daunting task to raise $4-5 million. Even with the Andretti name. But I’m guessing it was a budget-related decision.
Q: Marco. Whoa! Was this really a money issue? When the No. 98 car lost the Leaders Circle money for 2021, that created a million dollar hole assuming all the other 2020 sponsorship dollars came back for 2021. I haven’t read that Andretti intends to fill the seat with someone else. Have we just lost a full-time entry?
Bill Carsey, North Olmsted, OH
RM: Not sure how much sponsorship was raised in 2020, but I’ve heard a lot of teams had to give some money back since there weren’t 17 races and I can’t imagine U.S. Concrete being mega-bucks anyway. But it appears Andretti Autosport will be a four-car effort in 2021.
Q: Now that Marco step aside from driving, what happens with his car? And do you think he’ll go drive with Jarett? He still has a teammate to find for IMSA.
Rene Murray, Quebec
RM: Bryan Herta says he’s still invested in Andretti Autosport and wants to continue, just not sure what that’s going to entail this coming season.
Q: Count me among those who were surprised by Marco Andretti’s decision to step back from full-time driver duties in IndyCar. Odd as it may sound, I can’t help but feel that this will actually better his odds at Indy — now that he’s focusing more on driving for the fun of it and taking the pressure of trying to consistently put in good results week in and week out, I think he’ll be relaxed enough to find that mojo we all know he has. That said, I also can’t help but wonder how much missing out on a Leaders Circle award might have influenced things. Your thoughts?
Garrett from Reno
RM: No team can afford to lose the Leaders Circle, not in this economy, so that obviously put them behind the 8-ball, and securing sponsorship didn’t pan out. But Marco knows IMS as well as anyone, so I think he’ll be strong again this May.
Q: I am sure you will receive a lot of emails this week regarding Marco Andretti and his announcement to step back from full time IndyCar and concentrate just on the 500. I give him kudos for making a tough career decision. During Marco’s first 500 I was listening to the scanner and heard him ask his crew chief how many laps and was told he was on Lap 51, Marcos response was “**** me.” He almost pulled it off, and the last lap was a thriller. It’s been a tough 15 years for him. This may be more of a Donald Davidson question, but who was the last driver to drive in the Indy 500 as a one-off event and win the race?
David, Fort Wayne
RM: Not sure that wouldn’t be the reaction of any teenager in their first Indy 500 because of the length of the race, but the only one-off winner I can think of would be Jimmy Clark in 1965. Graham Hill in 1966, although he ran Mt. Fuji later that year. Obviously Montoya was an IRL one-off in 2000 but contested the CART season, and same for Castroneves in 2001. Dan Wheldon was a one-off in 2011 but, sadly, then raced at Las Vegas.
Q: I find it interesting that AJ IV never suffered the vilification Marco endured. But then there seems to be a lot of Andretti haters out there. Why do you think that is?
RM: Good question. It almost seemed like IV was told by A.J. to be a race driver, whereas Marco had been groomed at an early age by grandpa and his dad so maybe people expected more. I put a moratorium on, “What’s wrong with Marco?” letters last year in the Mailbag, and there is quite a bit of hate but I’m not sure why. It’s one thing to be a frustrated fan, but there is a big group that seems to revel in his failures.
Q: I read with interest the news about Marco’s scale-back to the 500 only, and have to commend him for the courage to make the decision. As an owner of that car, it is the right thing to do to make way for what is hopefully an up and comer (as much as I like Hinch). Much has been written about Marco’s difficulty in fulfilling the Andretti legacy, but he had flashes of brilliance and some bright spots at the Indy 500 and elsewhere.
Above all, I cannot remember a time he was accused of being an unfair racer and he was always a class act under terribly intense scrutiny. He’ll be able to hold his head high, and hopefully without the pressure of racing in IndyCar with the expectations his name brings, he’ll be able to enjoy himself in other forms of motorsport. Lord knows Michael has teams in just about every discipline on four wheels.
Marco is certainly not the first to struggle with the high expectations attached to a famous surname. Even Dale Earnhardt Jr. comes to mind along with other Andrettis, Kyle Petty, Bruno Senna and Jacques Villeneuve (brother to Gilles). I’m missing lots of examples, I know, but maybe Marco will have a kid and in 20 years she will be the Max Verstappen to Marco’s Jos? Good luck in the future Marco, thanks for being a class act.
Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, BC Canada
RM: I don’t know if the decision was totally driven by lack if a budget or Marco’s desire to scale back and try something else (or both), but the mail I’ve received has been in the same vein as yours – wishing him luck going forward.