Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for length and clarity. Questions received after 3pm ET each Monday will appear the following week.
Q: From the New York Post:
“The company [Sports Illustrated trademark holder] has received interest in a licensing deal for SI from Vox, Essence, Penske Media and former NBA star-turned-executive Junior Bridgeman, another source with knowledge told The Post.”
Any details on Penske Media’s interest? Would it return IndyCar news to the magazine and website if it were able to acquire the publication?
Rob Joseph, Chandler, AZ
MARSHALL PRUETT: That would be Roger’s son Jay Penske, owner of the Dragon Racing IndyCar team and now longstanding Formula E team, who also owns a number of major magazines and websites. Jay’s Penske Media Corporation is a separate entity from Penske Entertainment, which owns IndyCar and the Speedway.
Q: What in the world will happen to this series if and when Roger Penske passes away? (God forbid, of course)?
Jim Muessig, Elmsford, NY
MP: Like every good business, there are succession plans; Roger owns and controls many things, which means there are multiple contingencies in place. His son Greg, who is extremely sharp and well-liked, has been spoken of for years as the person who is most likely to step in and run the series at some point in the future. He’s been ever-present in recent years.
Q: In 2008, I went to the ALMS race at Laguna Seca. It was complete bedlam in the paddock as Helio had recently won the “Dancing with the Stars” competition. The autograph line for the Penske driver was 100 yards long, so I wandered to the other end of the paddock. I noticed two people waving at me to come closer. Wait, is that Gil de Ferran and Tony Kanaan waving at me? It was. I got some great autographs, we talked about the beautiful race day weather, whether Rubens Barrichello would ever race in IndyCar — all sorts of things. I noticed there were lots of well-wishes for his refueler in the Acura pit. I asked Gil how he was doing. Gil explained to me that he was out of hospital and recovering at home and then said, “Thank you for asking about him.”
Some drivers are remembered for their surliness, some for their infectious enthusiasm, some for their sense of humor. Gil will be remembered for his graciousness. He was also the greatest ambassador for IndyCar of our generation. Does Penske Entertainment/IMS have something special planned in Gil’s honor for this year’s 500?
Jonathan and Cleide Morris, Ventura, CA
MP: That 2008 race was hard to forget, wasn’t it? I haven’t asked, but with Gil’s special ties to Penske and the Speedway, I’m sure he’ll get an awful lot of love in May. I had my friend Andy Blackmore make a tribute sticker for Gil and I’ll be handing a bunch off to the team here in Homestead for them to use on their cars, if desired. Gil’s loss has been on everyone’s minds in Daytona; still hard to process that he’s no longer with us.
Gil de Ferran giving the Acura lots of right foot in 2008. Heck of a driver, heck of a human, heck of an ambassador, heck of a loss. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
Q: For all the talk about aero, it seems that there is still a lot that I don’t understand. I admit I’m somewhat ignorant of such details, but maybe others are also.
Rewatching last year’s Indy 500, it appears that both Rosenqvist’s and Grosjean’s crashes were caused by the car ahead of them taking the air off of them. They both got loose or lost downforce, and couldn’t turn. Yet cars follow each other the whole race long with no issues. What do you do as the following driver? Is there a sweet spot, a given distance back that you can’t be in, if you are the following car? Or can you take a slightly different line and avoid the issue altogether? Or is taking a different line the cause of the problem — do you need to take exactly the same line?
In summary, it seems like there is some invisible aero minutiae that we the casual viewer can’t see and is seldom talked about in sufficient detail to understand.
MP: It’s the surprise change in downforce to the front of the car that’s a problem. Drivers, as you observed, spent lap after lap following each other, and they’re fine because they’re modulating the throttle and making micro adjustments to the steering wheel to maintain the car’s balance and stability while tucked into the leading car’s airstream. But if that leading car cuts right or left unexpectedly while the trailing driver has a decent amount of steering input into the car, or a small amount, the sudden addition or removal of clean air can either pin the nose and cause oversteer or do the opposite and cause the front of the car to slide towards the wall.
Q: I keep seeing articles about this Brad Pitt movie and was not aware that IMSA was any part of that plot. With all the scuttlebutt about IndyCar’s lack of marketing, I wonder if The Captain and company thought about something like that? Other than that cartoon several years ago, I don’t recollect any films about IndyCar since that old Paul Newman flick in the ’60s. Given IndyCar still does have the world’s largest single-day sports event, I find that almost shocking.
I read that some good things are supposedly on the cards at 16th and Georgetown but it seems that a once-dominant series that had kept F1 out of the racing fan’s mindset here domestically for well over half a century is becoming content with a certain level of mediocrity so long as the business model fits. I’m rambling, but I miss the time when the Michigan 500 was the second-largest race on the continent.
I saw a recent YouTube interview with Mario Andretti who joked about A.J. Foyt always telling him how surprised he was that the two of them were still around. It’s sad when our racing heroes pass away and lately there’s been several with Dan Gurney, Bobby and Al Unser, David Pearson, and Cale Yarborough. I never hear about Gordy Johncock, a man who still won the most exciting Indy 500 ever over the best Indy oval driver ever, in 1982. I wish we would have more interviews with drivers like him, Johnny Rutherford, A.J. and Mario. Perhaps a weekly feature on your website? We should enjoy these icons while they are still with us.
I also am curious to know whatever happened to Tony George, who seems to have just disappeared. I think Tony was well-meaning but misguided and deserved a better fate than to be discarded into motorsport exile.
Joseph Wood, Lake Ozark, MO
MP: The Pitt movie folks haven’t spelled out the entire script, but it’s safe to assume there’s an IMSA element to the film since they have a massive film crew here at Daytona and at least four or five Porsche 911 GT3s done up in the same No. 120 Chip Hart Racing liveries for “Sonny Hayes.”
I don’t know if Penske Entertainment has the financial resources to make a film like the one Apple and F1 are creating together, so it’s unlikely. I like your idea of making talks with racing’s legends and heroes a regular feature on RACER, so let’s see what’s possible.
Tony George can still be spotted in the IndyCar paddock, usually within the vicinity of Ed Carpenter Racing.
Q: I’m heading down to Florida in a few days for the Rolex 24. Despite being a race fan for over 20 years, this will be my first IMSA race and my first time at Daytona, so as you can imagine, I’m quite excited.
That said, I do have a dumb question. I’ve heard a lot of race teams in IMSA and in other series referred to as “works,” “factory” and “factory-supported.” I’ve always assumed these terms were interchangeable. However, ever since I heard the news about the Corvette team switching from being a “factory” team to a “factory-supported” team, I’ve been wondering if there’s a bit more nuance to the terminology?
Could you explain the difference (if any) between these designations?
MP: Great question, Garrick. In most instances, it’s just using variations on the same thing. A works team is just another word for factory. “Works” is a term I’ve seen more in European racing circles than in the U.S. They are indeed interchangeable.
Factory- or works-assisted is just as it implies — not a pure factory/works team, but one that receives technical or financial or staffing support (or all three) from a manufacturer. And to add another wrinkle, in some cases, that assistance is offered by the manufacturer to give them more cars and a stronger presence in a series, and sometimes that factory link comes via the wiring of a bunch of money to the manufacturer to get that support.
Q: Why do people go to the infield during a major sports car race like the Rolex 24?
MP: For the same reason they go to the infield during the Indy 500 and Daytona 500, I imagine: There’s a lot of great viewing spots and there tend to be some fun parties and camaraderie to enjoy. Also, it’s where you’ll find the best food and drink.
Q: At time of writing, there is about six and a half weeks until IndyCar’s opening round at St. Pete — and still no race start times released? Speaking of IndyCar TV coverage, how’s the new TV deal coming along?
Rob, Rochester, NY
MP: I’d put good money on NBC releasing the start times once we’re closer to St. Pete. I spoke to Mark Miles about the TV side not so long ago; I’ll spool that up for a post-Rolex 24 story.
Q: I have a couple of questions. First, this year will be the Indy Pro Series’ first season using Continental tires. Even though we’ll all miss the ol’ Cooper tires, I was wondering if you heard an opinions or feedback on the Continentals? Were they well-received or are the drivers wishing for the Cooper tires again?
Second, Portland’s last contract with IndyCar was supposed to end in 2023 but obviously Portland is back on the schedule for ’24. Do you know any info on this supposed new contract and how long Portland will be part of IndyCar’s schedule?
MP: I haven’t gotten a proper download on the Continental NXT tires, but from the limited conversations I’ve had, the feedback was positive. Continental took a big leap in the quality of its racing slicks in the latter stages of its IMSA relationship, and I’ve heard similar notions about its open-wheel tires, which would explain why initial responses on the NXT side have been favorable.
As it was explained to me, Portland lost one year on its contract due to COVID, so the upcoming race is one that completes the deal and a new contract would be needed to stay for 2025 and beyond. Based on the incessant complaining I hear from drivers and team owners about racing in Portland — not about the track, but the city — I’m not sure how hard a decent portion of the paddock would fight to make future returns. I’ve loved the place since my first visit for an SCCA Regional race in 1988.
What’s not to love about Portland? Depends who you ask, apparently. Phillip Abbott/Motosport Images
Q: I watched the NFL playoff game the other day on Peacock, and they ran ads for programs and sports that they show, but IndyCar was noticeably absent. I don’t understand it. Why wouldn’t they want to promote programming that they’re paying to air on their network and streaming?
Jim Hannon, Mount Sterling, KY
MP: Hate to beat an old drum, but NBC has a ton of sports to offer, and while IndyCar and IMSA and Indy NXT are important to us, they just aren’t high-level items to promote when positioned next to the NFL and the Olympics.
The only surprise for me is the IMSA side, knowing that the Rolex 24 At Daytona airs on NBC, among its other platforms, here in January. Promoting IndyCar in mid-January for its March 10 opener would seems strange, considering how far out it is and how NBC has something more timely to put its spotlight on. We’ll see if that changes this weekend (Jan. 20-21) with the NFL playoffs.
Q: While reading articles about the “private dinner” that IndyCar leaders held for some selected drivers, several questions immediately raised within my mind:
Why not invite all the full-time drivers, and not for dinner but for a legit meeting? What was the criteria for choosing drivers? Why are Rossi, Ericsson and Rahal more special than the others?
What could those chosen drivers have been told that left them so excited? The looming prospect of driving the old dog DW12 for another 10 years, but now with a spec Ilmor-badged hybrid engine? More gimmick contests at private club tracks?
And if there is really a reason for optimism and a lot of good things on the horizon, then why are Penske & Co. not willing to share it with the general fan base and calm us down? Instead of doing so, a couple of drivers are now preaching to us another “the future is bright” mantra and Mark Miles continues to tell us his typical Mark Miles things.
On the other hand, Pato O’Ward, who wasn’t at the dinner, continues to speak out about the lack of growth in the series. And his frustration is understandable! The series has a young Mexican superstar driver and there’s still not a single mention about possible race in Mexico, while the series openly plans non-points (that’s stupid, you don’t pay for points out of your own pocket) race in Argentina.
Nick S., from overseas
MP: The drivers have been asked to hype the series so they’re hyping the series. There’s nothing wrong with Penske Entertainment asking them to do so, nor is it wrong for the drivers who accept the request.
Everyone wants IndyCar to grow and become a bigger and better sports property, so as long as the series is working on some of the future-related items it needs to achieve those goals, I don’t mind the hard sell they’re pushing in the short term. I’m also probably not alone in wanting the sunshine and rhetoric to be backed up with real things, so we’ll stay tuned and wait to see what IndyCar comes up with to move the needle.
Q: We live in an age in which major racing series must be pragmatic with their rule books — safety, cost of development/operations/consumables/crash damage, tire design, fuels/energy, manufacturer interest, etc. Instances such as the Porsche 919 Evo are few and far between, and beloved events such as the Indy 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans may never again see a near-open formula. So for a thought experiment, if a well-financed team with the daring driver were given a clean-sheet challenge, how hard would it be to design/engineer/assemble a one-off prototype (general sense of the word, not inherently a Le Mans prototype) combination that was capable of hitting 300mph on Indy’s straits and maintain 250mph through Turns 1 and 3?
Would the design resemble that of the Red Bull X cars dreamed up for Gran Turismo? Please have some fun with this and let me know what you come up with!
MP: It wouldn’t be impossible; it would just be extremely expensive. The technology and expertise to make such a machine has been here for decades.
I’d imagine we’d see a car that deployed full ground effects that sealed the sidepods like we had in the late 1970s and early ’80s, a fan of some sort to create a bigger vacuum effect, with both being neutralized on the straights akin to DRS, extreme lightweighting of the chassis and related components, the addition of fairings to the tires to eliminate as much aerodynamic turbulence as possible, and an almighty turbocharged engine — likely from the 2.65L CART V8 era — would be a solid starting point.
The cornering speeds are nearly there today, so it would be the getting to 300mph that would be the greatest challenge, and that would need to be achieved with a combo of shape-shifting aero and power to turn the car into a streamlining dragster on the straights. Sounds like a perfect challenge for one of my race engineering/designing heroes, Gordon Murray.
How about something like this? Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images
Q: I understand Michael Andretti’s desire to go into F1, but I see some issues. Running an IndyCar team is already a full-time job; add to that running an F1 team an even bigger task. Each day only has 24 hours. I wonder if he will spread himself too thin and accomplish not much in F1 and go down the pecking order even more in IndyCar?.
Also, with Andretti buying into WTR as an easy way to get a piece of the action in GTP,s the objective of this deal to buy out Wayne in the future? Before the 2023 Daytona race, what were Acura’s plans for 2024? What would have happened for 2024 if the whole tire pressure scandal never happened? I doubt that Acura would drop a scandal-free MSR.
Was it to run one WTR + one MSR, or two WTRs + one MSR, or two WTRs? Wayne Taylor was very keen on getting a second car, but would he get it if the whole tire pressure issue never happened?
MP: Michael’s become a highly ambitious business and team owner, and for that, I have tons of respect. He’s hired a ton of talented people, so it’s not like Andretti’s singlehandedly doing all of this himself. Roger Griffiths is a perfect example; former HRC US technical director who went to work for Michael in Formula E running that program, and with Roger and a group of great folks, they won the FE championship last season. Michael owns the team and makes plenty of big decisions, but it’s lieutenants like Griffiths who are the ones putting in the long days and nights to deliver for Andretti Global.
Who knows if we’ll see his team in F1, but you are right; IndyCar is and has been his core team for a long time and it needs to do more than fight for occasional podiums. If the IndyCar program was up there giving Ganassi and Penske a hard time at each round, I bet a lot of concerns would be eased over the desired F1 expansion. And with the changes they’ve made for 2024, Andretti’s done what was needed to make that happen.
Buying WTR was smart — a title-caliber team that, as we’ve seen, is a nice complement to everything else Andretti has in his inventory of series. WTR wanted exclusivity in being Acura’s only GTP team and was working to make that happen before MSR’s tire pressure scandal. The scandal helped make that a reality, but it didn’t start trending in that direction just because of the scandal.
Q: Two weeks ago there was a letter requesting Indy dump Push to Pass for DRS. Are they crazy? Have they not watched the DRS trains that form where everyone is unable to pass because they are all close enough to use DRS? The other problem with DRS is you can only use it on long straights — usually just one place on most tracks.
P2P can be used anywhere the driver wants. It involves strategy as you have a limited amount of time and you have to figure in fuel usage. The drivers who are able to save fuel and P2P for the end of the race have an advantage by using the right strategy.
The only complaint I have about it is when slow cars being lapped use it to stay ahead and bunch up the leaders. This then forces the faster car to take risks to get by. Keep P2P, because it does improve the racing.
Mark B, Floral City, FL
MP: The Mailbag has spoken.
Q: Any word on how IndyCar is promoting Milwaukee? I live in the Milwaukee area and there has been nothing. I mean zero talk about sponsors stepping forward, potential entertainment, i.e bands, etc. It’s only January, yet, the Milwaukee double is less than eight months out.
Bradley J, Sussex, WI
MP: I asked the series to help with an answer and, in reference to the Milwaukee race that’s not happening for another seven months, I’m told:
“We just had David Malukas in town on Friday for a local media tour and he appeared at Motorsports Night with the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team Friday night and signed autographs and did some promotions during the game. Ticket sales have gone well initially and advertising/marketing/promotions will begin in earnest in a few weeks.”
Q: Winter in Nazareth. Here you go. And his Feb. 18, 2021 thread on the motor is good reading as well.
The first test of chassis 004 took place fitted with engine 002 at Nazareth PA, 20th Feb 1994 with @alunserjr at the wheel. Early tests took place in harsh conditions with a big logistical effort, borrowing snow clearing kit from the local airport. @MarioAndretti lives next door. pic.twitter.com/4hjrVnsMVw
— Dawn Treader (@DawnTreaderEng) February 19, 2021
Ron in 3 degree Akron
MP: Thanks, Ron.
Q: I’ve been a race fan since I could walk, over 60 years, and a Mailbag reader since day one. Tom from Detroit wrote in last week with “race teams that start in NASCAR very rarely race in other series.” You guys responded with examples from NASCAR and IndyCar, but no mention of NHRA drag racing. Let me share some added tidbits. In years past Richard Petty, the Andretti family, Jack Roush and others have all participated in one way or another in drag racing.
Most recently and continuing into 2024, Rick Hendrick is a major sponsor of Greg Anderson’s Pro Stock team; Rick Ware purchased the Clay Millican’s Top Fuel team, and most recently Tony Stewart (Smoke) dove head-first after meeting Leah Pruett and marrying her, to purchasing the Leah Pruett Top Fuel and Matt Hagan Funny car teams from Don Schumacher racing. Not only did Smoke purchase the teams, he decided to try out driving a Top Alcohol dragster and won his second race out. Now, he is going to take over the driving duties of his wife Leah’s Top Fuel car in 2024.
Needless to say, Smoke has bought many other racing fans to drag racing. RACER has periodic big stories about the NHRA and should watch NHRA in 2024 as it looks like all pro class fields will have more than full fields of 16 cars at every race. If you’ve never been to an NHRA event, there is nothing like having an 11,000 horsepower car fire up (nitro methane in the morning) to it sucking the life out of your body as it flies down the quarter mile at over 300mph.
LA in Oregon
MP: Yeah, I’m kinda’ linear like that. If someone writes in asking about NASCAR-to-IndyCar, I tend not to think of answers involving the NHRA. Thanks for writing in and sharing. I haven’t been to dozens of drag races, but the ones I attended or worked at while running a team in the former NHRA Sports Compact series are prized memories.
Smoke is the tip of the spear for the current generation of circuit-racing-to-drag-racing converts. Image via NHRA
Q: Following up on the 1/17 Mailbag thoughts from Formulafox about the similarities between the Super Formula and F2 chassis, if you put an IndyCar, F2 car, and a Super Formula car on a standard road course, how close would the lap times be?
F1 doesn’t bring along F2 or F3 when F1 races in North America. Vegas and Miami might be tricky, but COTA, Canada, and Mexico all have room to have support series. Has IndyCar ever looked as running during an F1 weekend like how IndyCar and NASCAR did last year at IMS?
MP: Since we’ve never had those three models on the same track, it’s one of those questions that can’t be answered unless someone wanted to give it a try in an iRacing environment, or similar, right?
I feel confident in saying IndyCar has never inquired about being a warmup act for F1 during its three U.S. races.
Q: In 1977, I took my 70-year-old mother to her first Indy 500, and I’m now 71 (having attended Indy races since 1968). With my age, I have some suggestions that I would not have made when I was younger.
I’m still in pretty good shape for my age, so I park one-plus miles from my seat, and sit in the sun in the top row in Turn 3. That’s 40 rows up. It does make for a strenuous day. It is not for everyone at age 70.
You never know about race day weather, but it can be in the low 90s with high humidity. Having worked a full decade in the track hospital on race day, I can say from experience that heat in the upper 80s and higher, plus humidity, can take their toll on people, and particularly older people.
So, here are my top tips:
1) If you can, pick seats that will be shaded. They are more expensive, particularly if you are buying them in the aftermarket. But they are still cheaper than a trip to the hospital.
2) Reserve parking that is a short walk to where your seats are located. They can be expensive, but again, they’re cheaper than a trip to the hospital.
3) Keep the same thing in mind when going to the track for Carb Day, qualifications and practice. I love every time I’m at the track. But heat and walking can always make it strenuous.
4) Take a scanner with two headphones to the track, or at minimum, a radio with headphones. On race day, you simply can’t hear the track PA over the cars.
5) Get to the track early and take in the entire day.
6). Use plenty of sun screen, wear a hat, and hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. It’s always important, but the older you are, the more important it is. Oh, and minimize alcohol.
7) Have lunch at least once at Dawson’s on Main Street in Speedway. And if you have the money, get reservations for dinner at St. Elmo’s Steakhouse — and make sure to order the shrimp cocktail.
MP: Great insights, Stephen.
Q: Just listened to The Week in IndyCar podcast, and you mentioned five potential new teams. You relate the health of the series to the health of the paddock. Well, if the paddock is so healthy, why can’t we get a new chassis begin development? Does the need for a new chassis coincide with the need for a new OEM? Can you ask RP if a State of the Series every year at Indy is too much to ask for?
Vincent Martinez, South Pasadena, CA
MP: Health has levels, doesn’t it? Some are healthier than others, but overall, the level is good. And good’s different than great, if we’re taking every team into account; at one end we have the super-healthy Arrow McLaren and at the other, we have the Foyt team which is rebuilding its financial foundation. So, if all teams were sitting on McLaren-level funding, we’d have new cars in 2024.
Q: Since there are often questions about other races to see while in Indy for the 500, a list:
5/21, USAC sprint cars, Terre Haute, IN
5/22 & 23, USAC sprint cars, Circle City Raceway in Indy
5/24, Silver Crown, USF Pro2000, USF 2000, Indianapolis Raceway Park
5/25, Little 500 (33 sprint cars on a paved, high-banked 1/4 mile track—absolute madness!), Anderson, IN
Tom Hinshaw, Santa Barbara, CA (formerly of Muncie, IN — Robin Miller once told me: “Good move.”)
MP: Thanks, Tom!
Q: I read your stuff every week. I really like it. However it could use more multi-dimensional race fans and contributors. Sprint car fans will tell you: Dirt is to race on. Pavement is to get to the track.
I doubt any of them care about IndyCar, F1, road racing, etc. Most do not like NASCAR much. Like me, many of them also watch midgets on dirt. Knoxville Nationals and Chili Bowl are very popular events with the dirt racing fans. These are multi-day events with lots of racing to determine the feature field. Typical one-day dirt events have multiple races where the feature event field is determined by several factors, too.
It takes a while to understand how it all works and not all the events are run the same way to determine the feature field.
Pete Pfankuch, Wisconsin
MP: Thanks, Pete.
Q: Charlie, you are a good man for taking your brother to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. I can’t give you all of our secrets, but try these for a start:
1) Breakfast every morning at Charlie Brown’s in Speedway. Get there at 7am with the Old Timers, former and current crew members, and crusty Yellow Shirts. The breakfast is surprisingly good.
2) Gold or Silver badges do not include race tickets or any other seating. For qualifications, get Gold Badges if you can so you can go in pit area — especially on Bump Day and General Admission tickets for the front straight. Take an hour off for lunch and hang in the stands, but otherwise follow the stories as they develop in the garages and pits. Get as close as you can to the team that earns the last spot in the field. Also, experience the agony of defeat with the last team bumped.
3) For Fast Friday/Carb Day: after breakfast, go to garages. Start and end the session in the pits — in the middle go to front straight grandstand for a break. GA tickets are cheap and, I think, are the only tickets available for this day. Evening: Lucas Oil Raceway/IRP for sprints, midgets, and USF Pro championships (bring clothes as if you are going to Candlestick Park).
4) For Saturday: Go to track early and get autographs from all the Old Timers — drivers, etc. Shed a tear for Al Unser, may he rest in peace. Sneak onto pit road and watch the drivers meeting leaning against the pit wall separating pits from track. You will be awed by the folks you see in this area. As soon as the drivers meeting is over, lunch at Shapiro’s Deli in downtown Indy. Work off lunch paddling a boat in the downtown canal. After paddle boats, go to the Bottleworks District and walk around and play carnival games. Dinner in Bottleworks.
5) Race Day: Sit as high as you can on the front stretch, preferably toward Turn 1. This way, you can see cars coming out of 4, in the pits, and into Turn 1. You will need to buy these good tickets from a broker unless you get incredibly lucky from IMS. Get to the track early race morning so you can experience the day without stress of traffic. The Starbucks on 10th Street (halfway between downtown and the track) opens at 6 or 6:30, so get “breakfast” (if you can choke down something amid the excitement) there on way to track. Forget lunch — too much going on in garages and grid.
Splurge for pre-race grid passes from a ticket broker so you can get onto the pre-grid. This will be the highlight. Avoid the Yellow Shirts after 11am as they will try to kick you off the grid. Leave the grid around 11:20am so you catch the cool pre-race festivities, Back Home Again, flyover, and start command, from your seats. If timed correctly, your brother and you will be sobbing during Back Home Again in Indiana.
6) Savor the race. Stay until after the winner tours the track in the Pace Car. Traffic will be bad for Indy, but just another weekday morning in the Bay Area. Have a nice dinner — plenty of good restaurants downtown, Broad Ripple, or Keystone.
Kenneth A. Ehrlich
MP: Some excellent choices, Ken.
Don’t forget the Mug n’ Bun. You never know who you might bump into. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
Q: A couple of things to hold you to, Marshall:
1) In the last Mailbag, you say the Brad Pitt movie will be a dud in the USA by the time it comes out. I say, maybe so, but since it is Sir Lewis behind the project, it probably won’t matter that much to him, as this movie will be box office diamond around the rest of the planet.
2) You say the stick and ball folks don’t go out and promote their teams and leagues outside of their sports venues. Well, in the stick and puck world (ice hockey), the stars are always out doing events for the boys/girls clubs, childrens hospital visits, sport and card shows and old-timer hockey games etc. All-Star events and player drafts occur in different cities every year to promote the sport even more. Now there are hockey teams in Arizona, three in California, Dallas, and two in Florida. So no, I must disagree with you, the drivers of IndyCar and any other motorsports group should be going to the car shows, especially in big city markets like Chicago.
3) Surprised that you don’t see much in the way of IndyCar drivers in TV ads in the USA. Here in Canada (or at least Ontario) I see an ad with a former IndyCar driver two to three times a night. You can see it here.
And finally, should we be concerned that Honda, worried about the ROI, may stop the sponsorship of the various races it does sponsor? What kind of a ROI would it get if a race was run and won by an Ilmor spec engine? Not much marketing there. With Toronto being sponsored by Honda, and not supported by the mighty NBC/Peacock, or the sponsors of the various race teams as you also mentioned, I wonder what viability continued sponsorship will have for Honda in IndyCar? If I were the organizers of the Toronto race, I would be thinking about calling the Formula E group and kick some tires with them. A designated world championship round, on a track that is tailor-made for Formula E, and Honda building an EV plant and a battery plant in Allison, Ontario… seems like a nice fit for everyone, except IndyCar.
MP: Thanks for writing in.
Q: We are heading to the St. Petersburg race for the first time this year. Please list all the dos and don’ts for attending this event for the first time. Don’t forget race friendly bars!
JRWJR, Chandler, AZ
MP: This is another perfect scenario to ask Mailbag readers to offer their takes on where to go and what to do in the comments. As the opening race of the year, it’s always been a series of long days and nights cranking out content; the hot spots and nightlife side is where I fall short on info in St. Pete.
Q: I’m relieved you survived another IndyCar is DOOMED! Winter of Discontent intact. I’m looking forward to another season of the best motor racing on the planet. Hoping also, that we see a revival in form for the Rahal, Carpenter, and Foyt teams, especially.
You know, Greg a few weeks back brought up a point I wanted to make. IndyCar has been here before, with a proven if stagnated design just waiting for a catalyst. In the early 1960s the Roadsters still ruled — beautiful dinosaurs wheeled by a fantastic bunch of drivers. However, they were still basically incrementally modified versions of a decade-old design (sounds familiar?) and their roots went back even further. Remember, Colin Chapman described it as going back in time to watch the pre-war Grand Prix cars. The huge prize money compared to the peanuts paid out for a Grand Prix win back then got his attention, how times have changed! The Cooper-Brabham adventure in 1961 was a portent, but it just needed a connecter to join up the dots.
That conduit was, of course, Dan Gurney, jetting back and forth that May in 1962 between his rookie Indy 500 and the Dutch Grand Prix, whereupon Chapman unveiled the Lotus 25. Dan’s furtive mind went into overdrive, and the rest is history.
My main concern, which I see is shared by many, is not the on-track product, but what happens off it with the inept promotion of the series by the series! I’m sure there are some who wish the only IndyCar race was the 500 and see the championship as a necessary evil. I think Randy Bernard found that one out pretty quickly. NASCAR, long ago, realized racing is a branch of “sports entertainment” and as the saying goes, if you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. So, don’t be scared to tell the world about yourself, IndyCar. Is it a shocking lack of ambition or just plain incompetence?
As for a new car, yes back in 1999 there were eight chassis and six engine choices spread across a divided land, but that was when you had huge tobacco and alcohol sponsorships and before the dotcom crash, and those days aren’t coming back! Not unless IndyCar sells its soul to the devil like professional golf and Formula 1 and indulges in some filthy sportswashing for various nefarious and dubious regimes. Again, why can’t they just update Chris Beatty’s original Velocity design, built by Dallara and/or whoever — though I doubt any financial model could sustain a multi-chassis series now, with an engine bay designed from the outset for various power plants, be they ethanol, hybrid, and/or hydrogen fueled. I have no problem with a spec engine wearing rival badges. It works very well over here in the BTCC with different brands running the same customer engine.
The Indy 500 and the various championship trails have survived numerous financial crises and internal strife, let alone two world wars, and if another one is possibly on the horizon, I’ve no doubt the track would be quickly cleared, and we would be looking forward to the first post-apocalyptic 500 with a field of IndyCars straight out of “Mad Max” and “Death Race 2000” and reading the moans about it in the Mailbag.
Apologies for taking up so much space!
Peter Kerr, Hamilton, Scotland
MP: The Mailbag needed its first proper manifesto of the year, Peter, and we appreciate you for stepping into that breach.
Another long letter complaining about IndyCar promotion means one more trip into the photo archive to see if we can find more shots of Jarno Trulli doing something random. The answer is, of course we can. Here he is hanging out on a Honda production line, and clearly enjoying the experience a lot more than Jean Alesi is. Motorsport Images
Q: I think it’s great that IndyCar is going to increase the funding for the Leaders Circle payout. With that being said, with 27 full-time entries in 2024, and talks of two or three more future teams wanting to join IndyCar and have full-time programs, the current Leaders Circle program is out of date. It needs to be increased to a minimum of 24.
It was started in 2000. With talks of a new TV deal with the possibility of an increase in revenue sharing, this would be a perfect time to do so. IndyCar needs the grid size to increase, not decrease due to lack of revenue support from IndyCar.
AE, Danville, IN
MP: Agreed. The number has fluctuated on rare occasion, but it’s been locked in at 22 for a while.
Q: I’ve written a lot recently, but with all of the “what’s the future of the series” and engine talk, here’s my two cents.
Going electric (now or ever) isn’t ideal because Formula E already has that cornered. There is little to nothing to be gained by a manufacturer if IndyCar goes electric. In fact, Formula E has lost manufacturers in the past because they felt they had tapped out what could be learned.
Going hybrid isn’t ideal because IMSA already has that cornered fairly successfully. There’s little to nothing to be gained by a manufacturer if IndyCar goes hybrid. They can already do that easier in IMSA.
Going “everything is open” (like the “good old days”) isn’t ideal because F1 already has that covered globally. There’s little to be gained by a manufacturer if chassis and engines have open rules because they can essentially already do that with F1, which is the world’s largest and most popular racing series. Plus, whether it be IndyCar in the past or F1 today, the racing is generally not great when the rules are very open.
IndyCar and its teams do not have the money for wild new chassis, fancy or complicated engines, or off-the-wall technologies. Period.
IndyCar must focus on what it’s good at. Double-down on being old-school. If someone wants fancy tech, watch F1. If you want electric technologies, watch cars screech slowly around a small track with Formula E. If you want the world’s fastest tracks, most versatile drivers, and closest racing on the planet, watch IndyCar.
Chassis: Carry on with the DW12 until the series simply can’t anymore and then come up with an incredible-looking spaceship of a spec chassis. This will help continue to introduce new teams to the series before large expenses are needed.
Engine: Make a cheap, reliable, powerful spec engine that could be branded by any manufacturer. Make it loud and sound incredible. Make it something that when people hear it they say, “That’s the best sounding thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” The older generations will love it, and little kids will love it too. There’s a reason kids love stuff like Monster Trucks. They’re loud.
Continue focusing on the closeness of the racing. No other series comes close. Do not lose that, no matter what.
Focus on driver accessibility and promoting the drivers. They may not be world famous, but you can shake their hand, be up close in the paddock, and interact with them in ways you can’t with other series.
Get cocky. “Our drivers go 230+, yours don’t.” Be American. Be brash. Be audacious.
Basically, if every other series has already staked claim to the “future,” be bold in the otherness. Make races an overwhelming sensory experience they can’t get anywhere else. Stop trying to be a lesser-than F1. Embrace what makes IndyCar unique, and amp that up.
Ross Bynum, Laurel, MS
MP: Two manifestos in one Mailbag? Like IndyCar’s grid, we’re full of awesomeness to start the new year.
Q: I have a poster for the 1970 Inaugural race of the California 500 at the Ontario Motor Speedway. 187,000 spectators! What ingredients produced this number?
TJ Spitzmiller, Parrish, FL
MP: A bunch of things like having three television channels, a lack of 300 different sports to follow, the spectacle of big speeds at a giant new track that brought the cars of the Indy 500 to a facility that was similar in scale, and the much greater place IndyCar racing lived in the lives of average Americans. IndyCar was a huge deal back then.
Andretti, Foyt, Unser, etc. Living legends and heroes, while in their youth, coming to a huge metropolitan area like Southern California/Los Angeles, was today’s equivalent of F1 coming to Miami or Las Vegas. Massive buzz, huge spotlight, and with enormous star power of the drivers pulling people in to see the daredevils in action.
Sadly, we have IndyCar drivers today who deserve the same reverie and treatment by the average U.S. citizen, but the spotlight isn’t the same as it once was. For the umpteenth time, we’re hoping IndyCar conjures up a few ideas on how to fix that problem, because the Dixons and O’Wards and Kirkwoods and Newgardens are worthy of the same nationwide adoration and following as the Verstappens and Leclercs.
Q: With Rolex 24 At Daytona this weekend, how many issues will teams have with transition from oval to road course, Bus Stop?
MP: No more than usual, Mark. Same transition onto and off of the banking. Only the Bus Stop has been repaved and slightly modified. I watched the night session there during the Roar in super chilly conditions and there were no issues.
Q: Can you please expand/explain what Gunther Steiner means when he speaks of the organizational model all the other F1 teams are taking and the relationship between capital and operational expenses?
As a follow up, would you comment on the F1 cost cap in general? Do you think it is adhered to? Is it an effective step in leveling competition? Said differently, if a team is spending to the maximum of the cap in all areas, would additional funding be useless? How many teams are operating fully at the limit of the cap?
CHRIS MEDLAND: Sure. He means that because F1 now operates under a cost cap (that almost all teams are operating at) the differentiating factor is how efficient you can be under that cap. Basically, where can you save money but get the same outcome in terms of how competitive the car is, and the best way to do that at the moment is by investing in your infrastructure to make yourself more efficient.
For example, a better wind tunnel on-site means more value from each run, but also lower transportation costs between the factory and an off-site tunnel. In Haas’ case, they have to design the part in one place, have a model made and transported to the Ferrari wind tunnel to be tested, then have it manufactured at Dallara, and then get it to Banbury for maintenance. All of that costs money that you then can’t spend on other areas under a cost cap.
I actually think the cap has had a really positive impact. The teams are all far more stable (Haas right now might not look it, but as a business it would have a huge queue of buyers), and the whole grid is closer together. Annoyingly, the biggest gap is between P1 and P2, but across all 10 teams it’s extremely tight given they design and build their own cars and it’s not a spec series.
It’s adhered to like all other regulations. Teams will always look for loopholes and small advantages, but that’s part of what makes F1 what it is. And yes, if a team maximized its CapEx spend and was operating at the cost cap, beyond that any income would be profit. (Although I’m not sure you can ever maximize your CapEx spend — even though there’s a limit to what you can spend over a four-year period, that’s likely to be an infinite area of investment as you try to ensure you have the latest technologies and best facilities).
The way the Haas team was put together made sense in 2015/2016, but Steiner believes it is a liability in the modern cost cap era. Zak Mauger/Motorsport Images
Q: How long will it be until women like Chloe Chambers and Sophia Floersch make their debut in F1?
CM: I think quite a while. Sophia is closer in F3 but would need a big season this year to aid her cause of getting a competitive drive in F2, and then would need a big year at that level to knock on the F1 door. I’d say she’s looking at three more years in junior formulae before a potential F1 opportunity if she followed that trajectory.
For Chloe, F1 Academy is a great platform but she’ll need to nail this season to get the momentum to move up to F3, as the top finishers in the academy get support to help them make that step. If she can do that then she might catch an eye, but I can’t say I feel like Haas is the place where she’s going to get a big chance at this stage.
While it all feels a long way off from a female driver reaching F1, I do think F1 Academy — and W Series before it — have at the very least provided more seat time on the single-seater ladder that then will hopefully mean more women reaching higher levels than before. It’s a step in the right direction but the fact that we can’t talk about any in F2 right now shows how far there is to go to ensure more opportunities.
Q: So, as a Bostonian, I am obliged to note: If Bill Belichick, perhaps the greatest NFL coach ever, can get fired… etc. (Amusing to note that in the post-firing recriminations, the exchanges have been identical — cheap owner/spendthrift coach-team boss.)
That duly noted, my question is, what does the future hold for Haas F1? My first reaction was that Gene Haas was getting ready to sell the team. And, despite his protestations to the contrary, I still think that’s the most likely outcome. Especially when Haas discovers that ace aerodynamicists are hard to come by. If you think of Haas F1 as a subsidiary of Haas Automation, firing the unit’s chief and rejecting plans for more capital investment sure sounds like the business plan for disposing of the division. (Just hope that he takes Michael Andretti’s call this time.)
But I don’t see infrastructure as Haas’s most urgent problem. Ferrari built them a tech center in Maranello, and there haven’t been any reports that it’s inadequate. Haas now will have more access to the Ferrari wind tunnel than Ferrari does. Seems to me the more urgent needs are purpose and people. Regarding the later, the team is hugely reliant on people on loan from Ferrari and Dallara, with little of its own staff.
As for purpose, right from the start, I have never understood what Haas’s plan for the team has been other than to publicize the Haas Automation brand internationally (which could have been done more cheaply by signing on as prime sponsor for another team). Could have been a Ferrari “B team” but it wasn’t. Could have a genuine “American” team but it isn’t. If there is some niche it’s trying to fill, I don’t see it.
Al in Boston
CM: I’d say you’re right about purpose in terms of publicizing the Haas Automation brand. It’s definitely done that, and F1 is a huge marketing exercise so you could say Gene has been astute in financing an entire team that he owns, and now is worth so much more than when he started out.
But beyond that it’s drifting now, especially if he won’t invest more in infrastructure and trying to keep up with the other nine teams. Ayao Komatsu admitted what Guenther Steiner has also said — the model used to work really well, but you wouldn’t set a team up that way now.
The thing is, with the infrastructure and facilities (with all due respect to those running the factory, Banbury isn’t exactly top of the list of desirable places to work in F1) it is very tough to attract better people than your rivals, so the two go hand in hand. Add in the lack of ambition that there appears to be right now and Haas is not the most attractive place on the grid, so you’re always going to struggle to keep up.
Take Williams, for example, it was adrift at the back and struggling, and still is a long way from being competitive with the top six, but it has attracted quality talent from Mercedes (James Vowles) and Alpine (Pat Fry) among others, because it is showing ambition and a willingness to invest in its future. People want to be part of that journey.
I wish I could answer the “what does the future hold?” question better, but sources tell me Gene has no interest in selling, and no interest in investing more while he waits to see what Komatsu can do in terms of maximizing the team in its current state. It could all be a bargaining chip for a sale, but it’s the messiest one to take over from Andretti’s point of view given the way it wants to run a team, so it would likely only be interested in buying an entry.
For now, I’d just say it feels like more of the same is on the cards for Haas for the foreseeable future.
Haas is keeping his hands as far away from his pockets as he can — which is worrying news for anyone looking for significant improvements from his F1 team. Andy Hone/Motorsport Images
Q: I have pretty much ignored Formula E because I didn’t love the sound of the motors. But after seeing news that an Andretti driver had won the championship last year, I recorded this past weekend’s Mexico City race to see what it was like.
I didn’t find the racing or CBS’s broadcast nearly as exciting as what IndyCar routinely delivers, but I was surprised at the 100% packed grandstands, all the auto manufacturers represented, and the massive levels of sponsorship visible around the track. I googled the series and found lots of news about international TV deals and an article claiming that the average Formula E salary is around $1.8 million.
Given how many talented IndyCar and F1 drivers left without a ride in recent years, I was surprised to not recognize any names on the driver’s grid. What’s the typical path to driving for Formula E? Is it seen as a step up or step down from F2, Indy NXT or IndyCar?
LA Racing Fan
DOMINIK WILDE: Unfortunately, I’d have to agree. Mexico City wasn’t exactly the most enthralling of races, but don’t let that put you off entirely. It’s not always like that. Give Saudi Arabia this weekend a go — it’s a doubleheader, so two championship rounds across Friday and Saturday, and last year was a fun pair of races. It’s a different kind of racing, though — there’s plenty of overtaking, but with energy management a key factor, you’ll find the races reaching a crescendo rather than being 10-10ths from the second the lights go out.
As for a typical career path, that’s a tough one to answer. The simple answer is: “There isn’t one.”
One thing that’s worth pointing out is that Formula E is one of the few categories where drivers can get paid a healthy salary without having to bring sponsorship. Not even F1 can boast that. That’s one of the reasons why Formula E is so attractive for drivers, regardless of where they were before — and it’s why you’ll find a range of CVs across the grid.
Many of the drivers climbed the open-wheel ladder in Europe and then moved to Formula E instead of Formula 1 but there’s also the likes of Nick Cassidy, who moved over after a stint in Japan racing Super Formula. Of course there’s also the likes of Sebastien Buemi and Lucas Di Grassi who will get the cruel “not good enough for F1” tag having moved over from there. Many also dovetail their Formula E commitments with full-time rides in the World Endurance Championship. But with things like Formula G on the horizon, a more typical electric ladder route could be established in the future.
Q: Desperate for racing, I watched the Formula E race last weekend. The cars seemed to have no downforce-inducing aerodynamics: wings, undertrays, etc. I assume they are set up for reduced wind resistance to lessen the need for the battery to overcome the resistance. I would love your comparison between the designs and philosophies. They did not seem to lack cornering power and the tires lasted 38 laps. Any insight?
DW: Enzo Ferrari once famously said “aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines,” and while that remark isn’t a perfect fit here, it is somewhat relevant.
As you’ll know, in Formula 1 and pretty much other open-wheel series, aerodynamics are a key element of the car’s functionality. But in Formula E they aren’t really a factor, and that’s primarily down to the series’ reliance on lower-speed street circuits. They just aren’t necessary.
When the car was unveiled, Formula E described it as being “designed and optimized specifically for street racing” — it’s been kept compact to enable it to race better in the tight tracks the series mostly races on, and a direct contrast to the ginormous boats we have in F1 today, but ultimately the thinking behind the car’s aesthetics are form over function.
Formula E is, in essence, an “engine formula.” Manufacturers and teams have the freedom to develop their own powertrains and software (with upgrades within the two-season hardware homologation period coming in the form of software updates), and that’s where the differences lie. That’s what the series wants to focus on and where manufacturers can gain true benefit for their consumer products. As such, it gives the series (and chassis builder Spark) the freedom to do what they want with the car, hence the jet-fighter-inspired design.
As for the tires, they’re not super-sticky racing slicks, but rather road-relevant all-weather tires made up of 26 percent natural rubbers and recycled fibers. All get recycled after each race as well.
With the same tires being used regardless of the on-track conditions, more onus is placed on driver skill because you’ll never truly have the optimum grip levels you’ll see in the likes of F1 or IndyCar. They also can’t be heated with tire blankets or heated tents or rooms, but they can be covered to keep heat in once they have been put through a heat cycle on track.
A big misconception is that Formula E cars massively lack performance compared to other open-wheelers just because they’re electric. While yes, in a straight fight around a circuit an F1 car or an IndyCar would eat a current Formula E car for breakfast, it’s all by design. Formula E cars are made to promote more interesting racing at a lower cost that’s more sustainable and more relevant to manufacturers.
An electric open-wheeler could, theoretically, perform much much better with improved tires and aerodynamics — you could probably make a similar case for an IndyCar — but there’s just no need right now.
Q: I have to admit that I watched the Mexico Formula E race. The one thing that stood out to me was the crowd. How in the world did they promote that race and get that many people to attend? Could IndyCar fill that place like that?
Eric R. Springfield, OH
DW: The event appeared to be incredibly well-promoted on the ground. From the moment I got off the plane, Formula E was everywhere. Posters in the airport — even on the baggage carousel — and multiple billboards throughout the city on my drive to the hotel, then onwards to the track.
It’s a similar story here in the UK. While the London races aren’t until the end of July, advertisements are already popping up all over London, including at the world-famous Piccadilly Circus, and I’m getting ads for it on a bunch of websites, too. Formula E can’t rely on people merely being aware of its existence because of history, like F1, but it’s doing a very good job of getting its name and brand out there to catch more mainstream folks.
Also, Mexico City is routinely a sellout. 40,000 attended this year’s event, and all of those had the ability to secure early tickets for 2025 at a discounted price, which helps to keep people coming back in big numbers.
I’ve got to say, though, the atmosphere in Mexico was incredible. I haven’t ever been at a race where the vibe was more akin to a major soccer match rather than a car race. Every lap those 40,000 were on their feet clapping and cheering loudly. The drivers often speak of how you can feel the energy from the Mexico crowd in the cockpit, and if anyone is ever to experience a Formula E event in person, Mexico City is the one to do.
Some “traditional” racing fans are quick to write Formula E off, but it had no trouble finding support in Mexico last week. Simon Galloway/Motorsport Images
Q: Will any of the small NASCAR Cup Series teams (Legacy Motor Club, Live Fast Motorsports. Rick Ware Racing, Spire Motorsports) win a NASCAR Cup Series race in 2024?
KELLY CRANDALL: I can certainly see Legacy Motor Club contending for wins. Given the move to Toyota and the resources they’ll have, they should be able to compete at a much higher level than they were preciously. Spire Motorsports will have its chances as Corey LaJoie has some tracks where he’s a contender, notably on the superspeedways. But it’ll take everything going his way to see him pull off a victory at another track. As for Live Fast, they will be on a limited schedule and are not competitive enough to contend head-to-head for a win. And then with Rick Ware Racing, I think you keep Justin Haley in mind at the superspeedways because he’s a great drafting driver and is now going to have Ford horsepower.
THE FINAL WORD
From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, January 25, 2017
Q: Robin, could you elaborate on the apparently complex personal relationship through the years between A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti? Just read Foyt’s “I didn’t give a s**t when I ran against him” comment in the latest Car & Driver. Why the animosity? I also remember an Andretti interview in which he said he respected Foyt “on the track.” Thoughts or insights?
John from Baltimore
ROBIN MILLER: Publicly, A.J. acts like there wasn’t any rivalry and he doesn’t like “The Guinea,” but privately he respects Mario and they had a wonderful breakfast together at Daytona a few years ago. When they tied for Driver of the Century, I called both for a story. Andretti said “it was an honor to be mentioned with Foyt because he was always the yardstick for greatness.” A.J. growled and said he wanted to have a run-off to determine the winner and I replied, “What are you going to drive? A school bus? Because that’s all you could fit in.” (I was pretty brave on the phone). Let’s put it this way, one of the great debates of all-time in racing is whether A.J. or Mario was the best. They’re forever linked in history and that’s cool — and the way it should be.