Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the high volume of questions received, 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: I read in the previous Mailbag that Oliver Askew has been in contact with some IndyCar teams for the 2024 season. I really regret that Askew has not yet had a second season to demonstrate his potential, especially as we now realized that he was not so far off the rhythm of Pato O’Ward if we compare him to Felix Rosenqvist, for example. In addition, his experience in Formula E (where he was rookie of the year and he was closer to Jake Dennis than Andreas Lotterer this year) would be a very interesting experience for the teams with the transition to hybrid in 2024. Hope to see him in IndyCar or IMSA’s GTP next year. What do you think?
MARSHALL PRUETT: I met Askew and Kirkwood for the first time in 2014 or 2015, and between the two at that time, I thought Oliver was going to be on the fast track to IndyCar success before Kyle, and sadly, instead of both being on top of the IndyCar world today, one’s in and the other is out.
I do hope someone will give Oliver a better chance to shine. Of the remaining free agents, most have a known quality to bring, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
I know of one team that’s committed to a new driver (for them) whom they aren’t all that excited about, but the driver is the best they can recruit at this time. Compare that to an Askew who is an Indy Lights champion, had a mostly bad rookie season with a team that never really wanted him, and has untapped potential that could — and I stress the “could” part — be higher than many of the known products on the market.
But, most team owners will err towards a safe bet instead of an unknown like Askew, which is sad. And, thankfully, we have a few who are willing to give our young champs a full-time chance, like Ganassi with Linus Lundqvist.
Q: I live outside of the United States. There are plenty of foreign IndyCar fans. When you request autographed photos from drivers and teams you have to send an SASE. That’s a reasonable requirement.
The problem? Unless you have U.S. stamps on the return envelope, it will bounce back to the sender for incorrect postage. I checked with post office and there isn’t an international stamp that is globally accepted on SASE. What’s a fan outside the U.S. to do?
You can’t buy U.S. stamps in Canada, for example, even from USPS, and our Amazon is different from yours. This issue would also exist in other countries. Can you ask IndyCar what to do and/or publish my question to see how teams would address requests from outside U.S. for photos?
MP: This makes me really sad, David. I get the self-addressed stamped envelope routine here in the U.S., but with all the damn money teams waste on absolute nonsense — how about $90 leather belts by one squad — I’d have to believe they can afford postage to build a wider international fan base. Let’s see if any respond.
These Kiwis were lucky enough to meet their hero in person in Toronto, but it sounds like getting an IndyCar driver’s autograph is harder for overseas fans than it needs to be. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
Q: I’m a bit sour on the idea of IndyCar having discussions about charters. It touched a nerve. The series still has no clear marketing strategy, no races in the Northeast and no plan in place to address this. If they want to build value, why not make their product easily accessible to the largest TV market in the country? Was that discussed? The only race near the Northeast is held in another country and streamed behind a paywall. Sorry for the rant.
Rob, Rochester, NY
MP: I hear the no-Northeast race complaint on a regular basis, Rob, so you aren’t alone. One impassioned IndyCar fan said the same thing to me after the WWTR race, in fact.
Q: I read Marshall’s article on the five most recent unapproved engine change penalties to be applied at the Bommarito 500. I understand that rules are to be followed, but it must be a necessary change for the teams or they wouldn’t do it — at least, I hope. I’ve probably lost count, but in the last two races, nine penalties have been applied. That’s at least one-third of the 27 cars running this season which have been affected.
Are the changes due to faulty engines, or just normal season wear and tear? If such a high percentage of teams are being penalized, would it make sense to look at the rationale for the rule.
MP: The rule is each annual engine lease comes with four engines and 10,000 miles of service, so to try and prevent teams and manufacturers from gaming the system, a grid penalty exists if more than four are used. You could go over four if explosions have happened, and then that’s just bad luck you’re paying for. You’ll also see, late in the season, when we have drivers in the championship hunt, a switching to the fifth for the sake of reliability because high-mileage motors tend to be the ones that pop. So, if you’re running strong in the championship, it’s a smart call to make that change to a fifth at the last oval, take the nine-spot penalty, and suffer no real consequences in the race.
The overarching goal for the rule is to keep manufacturers from going nuts with their budgets and moving to fifth and sixth engines with most of their better drivers just for the sake of always having fresh motors in action. This is a normal routine; get to the last few races and the grid penalties start ramping up.
Q: Who brings extra engines to the race? Do Honda and Chevy bring a truck filled with engines, or do teams carry their own? Regarding tires, is there a difference between scuffed and used reds? Why not always use new reds to get more laps? Finally, when Felix Rosenqvist’s car took off by itself into the tire barrier (at Detroit?), what reason was given for the malfunction?
Janis, Tampa (where you can hear the sun sizzle)
MP: Each manufacturer transports extra engines to the races. “Scuffed” alternates are nothing more than used alternates, and since there are fewer alternates than primaries, teams often have no choice but to use the used alternates in the race. No, Arrow McLaren never officially explained what happened, but it’s believed it was a case of the pedal assembly coming loose.
Q: Are you privy to the character of the discussions taking place between IndyCar/Penske, Track Enterprises and the Wisconsin State Fair Board? Does it seem that provided the ARCA/Trucks event is a decent success, and provided that the track commits to having a few more safety improvements made over the off-season, that Milwaukee would return in 2024? Or are we looking at 2025?
I lived in Milwaukee until a few years ago. I really had no clue the Mile existed, although at that time I did not follow racing. Only in the past year or so have I learned of this quite historic track. I think with smart and directed promotion, the event would draw a respectable crowd. A good chunk of people who are into IndyCar now were not on the radar a decade or so ago when the event last ran.
There was recently some discussion online about making the event a “throwback” week. The consensus was that such events, when mandated, have grown a bit stale. Yet there was a desire for acknowledgement of the long history of the track. One thing I learned is that the race at Milwaukee had a pretty badass sounding name — The Rex Mays Classic — for many decades. Mays was a driver from the 1940s and ’50s who, aside from being a multi-time champion, was a safety advocate. He once pulled over while leading at Milwaukee to help a stricken driver.
Having the title sponsor present a Rex Mays Classic, a badass old-school trophy, a few old cars, and perhaps some unofficial encouragement for a few teams to run vintage liveries, would, I feel, provide plenty of room for a cool sense of nostalgia, while not turning the event into a history lecture. What do you think? Whatever ends up happening, if there is a race, we will be there.
KS, King County, WA
MP: I was told Milwaukee is looking really good for next year while at WWTR last weekend. I love the idea of MKE becoming a throwback event, but not to start. Too many years have passed since we were last there, and we have tons of new fans who’ve started following since 2015, so IndyCar needs to start something cool and new at the track before going too hard into retromania that might only connect with half the audience.
Q: I was thinking about all the cars sitting overnight in the paddock. Do teams have someone who sits all night with them to make sure no one touches them?
MP: They all get loaded into their transporters and locked up overnight.
The final job on every team’s to-do list on each day of an IndyCar race weekend is to put the cars safely to bed in their transporters. James Black/Motorsport Images
Q: I never cease to be dismayed by Graham Rahal’s lack of performance, especially on ovals. I was beginning to think the RLL team had made progress after the Indy road course. But on Sunday, the commentary from the on-air personalities said “Just 25 laps, and not a happy lap,” then Mr. Rahal commented that the crossweight was wrong and they would have to duplicate their teammate’s setup.
Wow, does this indicate a complete lack of communication between the crew and Mr. Rahal, Mr. Rahal forgetting how to drive ovals, or something else structurally wrong with the team?
MP: Before we put it all on Graham, the team sucked last weekend when compared to their performance two week’s prior at the Brickyard. As a whole, RLL was out to lunch at WWTR. Graham was the worst of the three, though, and I spent most of the lone practice session in his pits as they tried a number of changes to try and make things better and nothing worked. Rahal’s won at Fontana and Texas and been on the podium at every other oval, I believe, including two thirds at the Indy 500, so his oval skills are solid. But it doesn’t help when Conor Daly shows up for his first race and leads RLL in qualifying and the race, so there’s that.
The team has made a ton of improvement on the engineering side in recent months, but it still needs a major overhaul. We know where Ganassi and Penske cars will run every weekend, but we never know where RLL will end up. Even Lundgaard, RLL’s golden child, was made to look ordinary for once by Rahal at the Brickyard, and he had no answer for Daly at WWTR. If and when they can become better on a consistent basis, we’ll have less to wonder about with its drivers and their potential.
Q: Over the weekend, I was watching racing history videos on YouTube. The diehard NASCAR fan in me was watching the new NASCAR Classics page. But I stumbled onto a short video produced by a YouTuber that talked about the history of NASCAR’s very short-lived “Speedway Division,” which was NASCAR’s version of IndyCar in its efforts to dabble at open-wheel racing in the 1950s. Obviously whatever hopes at a legit open-wheel league that NASCAR ever had have long been dead. But just what if NASCAR actually succeeded in having a legit open-wheel division? What might you have envisioned?
MP: Indianapolis had already captured our imagination in the 1950s, so I doubt it would have made much of an impact on what happened then or what follow in the ’60s where the Indy 500 and related events were the biggest thing in American racing. The combo of production cars being raced on southern ovals was perfect, so I think history played out just as it was meant to be.
Q: Regarding Scott Dixon’s fuel saving, can you put some sort of mpg, or per lap or percentage over others? I’m sure exact numbers are secret. I know he’s great; question is, how numerically great.
Isaac, Fruitport, MI
MP: This is the type of thing where, upon Dixon’s retirement, I’d bet the team would share some numbers. But not while they’re beating everyone with his superpower.
Q: How many engines do Honda and Chevy typically bring for a race weekend? Do the engine manufacturers rebuild replaced engines to be placed back into the pool, or are all engines new?
Doug, Brownsburg, IN
MP: I’m told about a half-dozen are on hand at each race. They’re all rebuilt, and as certain components age-out, snap in half, or knock holes in the block, they’re replaced by new parts.
Q: This might be a little nitpicky but I watched the command for “drivers” to start their engines and then watched as crew members crouched down behind the cars and actually started the engines. I know and get tradition, but might it be time to acknowledge the work of the crew members and the team and rewrite the start command? Something like, “Fans, drivers, teammates and crew members, let’s get this thing started!” A mic drop might be cool too!
Bill Phypers, Brewster, NY
MP: I love the idea of a mic drop, Bill. Since each track does its own thing, we don’t have a standard script deployed by IndyCar so we get imprecise wordage at times.
Q: With Marcus Ericsson going to Palou’s backup car, I’m guessing the crew couldn’t rewrap the car in the Huski colors. Does that mean Huski gets a refund for the race? Did they need permission not to have them on the car? How does that work?
My other question falls under the “I don’t get it” category. IndyCar is using renewable fuel, and the green tires are made from sustainable material, and now the series is going to hybrid next year. The series is, I guess, trying to send a message that says, “Hey look, we’re trying to be more environmentally friendly.”
Then why is it that you only have to run two laps (according to the broadcast) to satisfy the requirements of running the alternate tire? This is not the first time we’ve seen teams run a few laps on the black or reds to satisfy the requirements. This not only seems not at all cost-effective for teams but doesn’t really play into “we’re being environmentally friendly.”
MP: With the team leaving the track at 1am Sunday morning and returning by 7am to continue final prep on the car before 10am qualifying, the window to wrap the car didn’t exist. Marcus’ personal sponsor owns Huski, so this wasn’t a case of a traditional paying-the-team-to-market-a-product deal where a rebate is required.
I hear what you’re saying on the alternate tires, and the street course tires only make use of guayule on the sidewalls, not the carcass that touches the road, so we might be reaching pretty far into the depth of things to criticize here.
The time taken to prepare the backup car meant Ericsson got to play in some different colors at WWTR. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
Q: Numerous drivers in the IndyCar race at WWTR received nine-spot grid penalties because their teams made unapproved engine changes prior to the race. Why are the teams/drivers penalized for these changes and not the engine manufacturers themselves (beyond not earning engine manufacturer points), since the teams have little control over the engines?
Jim, Basking Ridge, NJ
MP: The penalty has changed over the years. It was grid penalties, then there were complaints about exactly what you’ve mentioned, so those went away and it was strictly about losses in the manufacturers’ championship points. But then it was felt that there was no public awareness of the penalties and that manufacturers were more willing to fire fresh motors into their best cars without a physical penalty, so we’ve gone back to the grid penalty routine.
Q: Sounds awkward, but when does ECR fire the E?
Bernardo, Canyon Lake, TX
MP: Are we talking the “Ed” or the “Engineer” here? How’s this: Drop Carpenter into Newgarden’s car or Dixon’s, and he’s either winning or on the podium at every oval. Showing up five times a year to drive in his own part-time entry has been brutal, and mostly on the chassis setup side. He’s got some serious questions to ask himself because there’s no reason to continue driving if this is the best his No. 33 Chevy entry can produce.
Also, Ed’s done five races this year with a best of 13th and the other four have been 20th or worse. Linus Lundqvist, a total rookie, has done three races, including his first ever IndyCar oval race on Sunday, where he out-qualified Ed and finished six positions ahead of him. Linus is only nine points behind Ed in the standings with two fewer races in the books. You know how RLL fouled up through May and refused to let it keep happening? I keep waiting for ECR to make that same commitment to being better.
Q: I have a friend who is a huge NASCAR fan but also loves all motorsports. We’ve been texting during racing the past few seasons and he agrees with me: IndyCar has the best oval racing, period. I’ve heard you say that it’s time for IndyCar to get a new chassis. Seems to me the current chassis/aero package is producing great racing. What’s your major complaint/suggestion for a new car? I understand it’s a 12-year-old chassis, but it’s not like it hasn’t been tweaked/developed over the years.
MP: I’ve probably spoken on this 50 times in recent years in articles or the Mailbag, so I’ll keep it brief. The first argument is that the current car has been modified to within an inch of its life and will weigh more than any IndyCar has, in at least 50 years, when 2024 arrives. The other argument is one of modernity. F1 went to a new car. NASCAR went to a new Cup car. IMSA has its new GTP cars. Formula E went to a new car. IndyCar? Still racing a vintage car. Just for the sake of visual excitement, we — be it fans or sponsors — have been staring at the UAK18 bodywork for six years now and are headed into a seventh in 2024. It gets harder to preach modernity and relevance with renewable fuel and an energy recovery system when all are packaged in the same old shape.
Want to create some excitement to help sell that modernity? Create something new and compelling to look at. There’s a reason people threw away their Ed Hardy trucker hats and Affliction t-shirts from the late 2000s — because they fell out of fashion. The argument to keep racing a car that was commissioned in 2010 while trying to convince people the series is cutting-edge and relevant will always fail. And yes, the racing is great, but it’s always been great, and yet, the series is a deep second to NASCAR. No way in hell that gets solved by sticking with the same old, same old.
Q: Roger Penske is now in his mid 80s. Is there any known succession plan for Team Penske once he is gone? Roger’s son Jay Penske had his own Indy race team (Dragon Racing) over a decade ago, but I’ve heard nil about him since. Does he play any ongoing role in Team Penske?
Anthony Jenkins, Ontario, Canada
MP: Yes, and his son Greg has taken a greater role in all Penske Entertainment activities in recent years. Jay runs his Formula E team and his media group, which owns a lot of digital and print titles. He has no involvement in Team Penske.
Q: What can IndyCar do to improve the raciness of WWTR? Sunday’s race was the poorest oval show I have watched in a long time. No one could pass, even when the track was relatively free of marbles. The alternate tire experiment made marbles even worse, so passes were pretty much limited to pit stops. Kudos to Dixon for another fuel economy master class, but that’s not exactly compelling racing.
Steve Summers, Jasper, TN
MP: I swear I saw Malukas and others using the second lane. It wasn’t as racy as we’d hoped, though, and I don’t know if there’s an obvious answer beyond sticking with the primaries. I loved the race. We get one or two of these each year, and a few runaway wins, and a few super close finishes, and some big drama finishes, etc. It would suck if half the races were like Sunday’s, but I tend to think of the season like a TV series with 16 or 17 episodes and look for different things from one episode to the next so it doesn’t become too predictable. But maybe that’s not how others see things.
Q: What do you think about having IndyCar mandate a set number of fuel stops to prevent races being fuel milage races like at Gateway on Sunday? It might make the racing better without teams having to hit a fuel number — just stand on the gas and go.
I attended the three-day Kokomo Smackdown for USAC Sprints this weekend, and was blown away — now I know why Robin loved this kind of racing. I am a long-time Indy fan, having attended my first 500 in 1956 and probably another 25 or so since, but the Smackdown rivals the Indy 500 in my opinion.
My son and I were crewing for Trey Osborn, who is on a super-tight shoestring budget — open-wheel trailer and just scraping by. He is fast, won a heat and made the feature each of the three nights and was the most popular driver. Nobody shows up with an open-wheel trailer anymore, and fans in the campground raised over $2,000 for him on Saturday, and all day Saturday and Sunday fans were coming up to him and giving him money — he came away with $3,000 in donations and four new right-rear tires. We were pushing him off for the feature on Saturday night and a guy came up and gave me $20 to give to him. Dirt sprint fans are unbelievable, and the racing is incredible.
Big Possum, Michigan
MP: That’s amazing to hear for Osborn and just the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from racing fans. We really care, and that’s one of the common bonds that makes our sport so special.
If WWTR had two or three more yellows, which was entirely plausible, we have no fuel saving, so going spec on mandatory stops is not the way to go. Like I said in the last response, I try to appreciate the different types of races we get and I’m thankful they aren’t all flat out from start to finish because even that would get boring after a while. Variety is what we have in the five types of tracks we visit, and what we have in how races are won. It’s something I happily embrace.
Dixon’s rivals would certainly have liked to see him make an extra stop or two last weekend. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
Q: With the amazing fact that Scott Dixon s able to win the race with only three pit stops to most others needing five stops, one has to ask; was post-race scrutineering done to determine if they were cheating? A larger fuel tank or some secret hiding place for fuel?
Doug Mayer, Revelstoke, BC, Canada
MP: One doesn’t have to ask, actually. One can respect the achievement without casting unfounded aspersions. Yes, a full and in-depth inspection was performed and there’s no news to report.
Q: I caught up with Earnie Francis Jr. at Worldwide Technology Raceway and asked him about his future plans for next year. He told me that he plans to race in the final two Indy NXT races, but after that it’s up in the air. I hope whatever happens he finds a ride either in NASCAR or in IMSA, because he’s way too talented of a driver to passed up.
Alistair, Springfield, MI
MP: Agreed. I’d love to see him get one more year in NXT, but I don’t foresee Ernie winning the title next year, so if he’s able, landing a quality ride in IMSA would be awesome for him. Great kid with lots of talent.
Q: I watched the replay of the Malukas pass on McLaughlin. I can see if Scott wasn’t looking in his mirror he would not know David was there. Not sure if Malukas should have backed out or not. Nevertheless, Scott got the worst of it. In the end I think it was just racing. Malukas said McLaughlin came to him at the podium. Can’t confirm that. I think that is not the time to air grievances; stealing someone’s podium thunder. There’s a time and place. Kind of tacky on Scott’s part. Your thoughts?
MP: I look at this as 28 drivers who trust each other to treat each other in a safe manner on the ovals, and in Scott’s view, David crossed a line. You and I can have our opinions, and I don’t know if I saw Malukas do anything that was truly egregious, but if the guy who was doing 175mph next to him in a few corners was pissed about the other guy’s driving behavior, pithy things like podium etiquette aren’t even a consideration. And based on what McLaughlin said to him at the podium, there’s no doubt that the beef is real.
I do appreciate how David handled things afterwards and that he made an effort to stand up for himself. Whether he was right or wrong, he’s perceived as weak and couldn’t afford to be a pushover.
Scott’s a cool and playful guy, just like David, but the difference here is Scott doesn’t handle beefs with emojis and gifs on Twitter. He’ll take the fight straight to you, and for that, I also have an appreciation. Ultimately, this feels like it’s much ado about nothing, so hopefully it gets mended before knuckles are required.
Q: Do auto racing fans buy tickets or tune in to races to watch fuel economy contests? Do they yearn to learn whether one tire compound is superior to another? Or do they want to see daring and skilled drivers in fast cars dual on track for position, victory, and prestige?
As a long-time IndyCar fan, my patience with all things fuel-savings related (and to a certain extent tires) is wearing thin. Scott Dixon, whom I’ve admired since the CART days, won at Gateway fair and square, but the viewers in my circle of friends and family lost. It’s time for IndyCar to go back to the drawing board, lessen the scope of strategists, and put more power in the hands of the drivers. One way to do that would be to require a minimum number of pit stops at each venue (for example, five stops at Gateway for a minimum of five seconds each). Or something similar.
I’m confident there’s some way to take fuel economy out of play or nearly so. We have plenty of that kind of thing in our daily lives already.
Kevin C., Nashville, TN
MP: Sure, but do baseball fans buy tickets and leave happy when the score is 1-0 after sitting in the stands for four hours? Or are soccer fans stoked when they leave the stadium after a 0-0 match? I’d guess the answer is no, but in the context of a season of events, it’s not remarkable. I’ve been to a lot of 1-0 MLB games in my life, and I kept going back because I loved the sport enough that I hoped the next one would be better, and it usually was.
If IndyCar held one race per year and it ended up being a fuel economy/race strategy race, I’d get the anger. Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, but they can’t all be classics. And we’ve seen WWTR produce some thrillers, including last year. It was one non-thrilling race for those who aren’t intrigued by strategy, not the end of the universe. I hope.
Q: Are there any drivers who don’t drink? If so, do you keep a non-alcoholic beer in reserve in case they win? (Or did I just complicate your task?)
Tom Hinshaw, Santa Barbara, CA
MP: It’s never occurred to me. In my simple brain, being able to win an IndyCar race comes with a level of personality and daring that would involve the willful consumption of beer. I know most of these fools drink, so if I meet a winner who does not, I’m not sure how I’ll react to the beer rejection.
Q: Did we just see Takuma Sato’s last race in IndyCar, or will he race the 500 and other ovals next season?
MP: I expect Marcus Armstrong to go full-time in the No. 11 Honda he shares with Taku, so it’s not as simple as just continuing with Ganassi, but Taku has at least two teams who want him for next year’s Indy 500, so I do not believe we’ve seen the last of him.
There’s still another chapter or two waiting to be written in Sato’s IndyCar career. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
Q: I assume there is now really bad blood between Chip Ganassi and Zak Brown? Secondly, it wouldn’t be The Captain’s style to speak out publicly about the Palou situation, but I cannot believe he is very happy about it. Your thoughts?
I am tired of professional athletes believing they can renege on contracts they agreed to. We have that situation with Chris Jones and the Chiefs locally, as he has held out of camp because he wants a new contract and has one more season left on the existing one — at $20m!
I’d also like to know more about Helio moving into an ownership role at Meyer Shank.
MP: Oh, there’s been some serious ill will between these two for a while now, and it’s no joke. Penske does his handling of people away from the cameras, away from the spotlight. The way we’d know he put an end to it is if McLaren and Palou settle quickly. My 49ers are dealing with the same routine with our best defensive player, Nick Bosa. It’s standard fare in stick and ball sports, but not so in racing… until recently.
MSR saw great value in keeping Helio in the family and, more importantly, as a brand and sponsor ambassador, hunter, and so on, so the best way to show they meant business was to give him a small ownership stake. Now he profits from all the deals he’ll make happen for the team, and Helio’s always been all about the money, so this is a great fit for him in terms of having a long runway after driving that provides security for his family, and feeds his insatiable desire for $$$.
Q: Can you talk about what it’s like being a reporter during the height of IndyCar’s silly season? How many phone calls do you have each week? Do drivers and teams reach out to you for information too?
MP: It’s fun and a pain, but it’s more of a time sink than anything else. I looked and counted 29 phone calls either outgoing or inbound from Monday-Wednesday leading into WWTR, and there are days where three to six hours are spent on calls — sometimes multiple calls with the same driver/owner/whomever per day — so it’s a deep investment of effort when we have an insane year like the one we’re in.
It’s all some form of information exchange, and whether it’s me looking for info or a driver calling to see if I know something that would help them, or an owner checking in to see who’s on the move or who’s still available, it’s all fairly normal stuff. And a lot of it stays private, because trust is all that matters. Fun tidbit: You also never know where intel will come from. I learned about Lundqvist going to Ganassi from a driver on the junior open-wheel ladder who mentioned it as a throwaway line…
Q: Continuing the topic mentioned in the last RACER Mailbag last week, Honda Twin Ring Motegi is an engineering marvel. Turns 1 & 2 at Gateway are reasonably comparable to Turns 3 & 4 at Motegi, however right next to the Motegi turns there is a drop of about 500 feet so they put up a steel wall rather than a catch fence. I would guess that wall is at least 30 feet tall. This wall begins at the entry to Turn 3 and ends at the exit of Turn 4, and is probably 8 to 10 inches thick with a frame and sheets attached to either side of the framework — in front of which is the SAFER barrier. There are probably four to six windows for photographers and officials for observations as needed.
These walls are perfectly smooth there is no chance of tangle, so debris is not going to create a hazard. There was no advertising attached to the wall; however, I suppose if necessary there might be a chance of making that work. While I am sure that this arrangement wasn’t cheap, the maintenance would be zero. It would seem to be worth trying to make that work here.
It would not work at Indy at this time. However, if something clear could be developed that would eliminate the distortion as curves create going around a corner, it could be possible. Our safety needs to keep getting better and better.
MP: Thanks for sharing, Glenn. I only got to Motegi for the finale, but was able to walk around most of the oval and was mesmerized by it.
Q: I have some questions about the Nashville street race. How is IndyCar going to work with the NFL on scheduling? They can’t set the race for a weekend that the Titans will be at home. Or at least, I don’t think they want to do that.
My other question is, how much concern does IndyCar have going up against University of Tennessee football and Titans football with those seasons in full swing by mid-September? The South loves football, so I would imagine some of the potential race fan base will be either on the road attending those games, or watching the football at home instead of going to the street race.
MP: It would be the event’s promoter and the city to do the scheduling dance with the NFL, not IndyCar, and I’m confident they’ll be able to ensure the Titans are playing an away game next year. If someone likes football and likes IndyCar, there’s one chance to see IndyCar in TN and many opportunities to see NFL or college ball in TN. Conflicts are the norm so, as Juan Pablo Montoya likes to say, it is what it is.
Q: Is it possible that another reason Andretti went after Ericsson is because of his F1 experience? Theoretically if Andretti does get a F1 seat, Ericsson could be a good partner with a Herta or Kirkwood in bringing up the team. Thoughts?
Jeff Smith, State College, PA
MP: Ericsson’s F1 experience was of zero interest to Andretti, as I understand things. They first approached him after he won the Indy 500, so their draw involved his big-time success and his ability to continually run towards the front of IndyCar races. If Andretti Global gets its place on the F1 grid, it will have a ton of options with younger drivers with more recent experience.
Ericsson’s F1 experience didn’t factor into Andretti’s interest — and it’s by no means certain that the Swede would be interested in going back regardless. Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images
Q: I am curious to know your opinion on what Arrow McLaren has been able to find in its cars/chassis/engine package so much more quickly than other teams? They seem to be able to squeeze out more on a consistent basis. And what is the timeline for a new Dallara chassis, especially give the added weight of the new hybrid system?
MP: I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know what you’re referring to with Arrow McLaren. Arrow McLaren has been the biggest disappointment of all the major teams in 2023, having gone winless across 14 races. They have one pole from 14 rounds, two fastest laps, and are routinely the third-, fourth-, or fifth-best team on most race days. It’s Ganassi, Penske, Andretti, and now RLL who fit what you’re describing more than Arrow McLaren. That being said, they could easily be on pole and win this weekend, but they have not been better than any of the top teams at getting more out of their cars at a faster rate.
There is no timeline for a new chassis, unfortunately.
Q: Just an FYI concerning IndyCar dropping the second Indy road course race and substituting Milwaukee. I attended the Gallagher road course race in August, and in the ticket envelope was the renewal form for 2024 with a 8/28 deadline. So it would appear the race will continue in 2024, but maybe a different date. Of course, IndyCar could still cancel the race and do credits or refunds. But…
MP: Thanks, Bill, I’d heard about that from a few local friends in Indy. Can’t wait to once again be the least important series at the Brickyard event.
Q: I may have jumped the gun with my reply to Ryan in West Michigan about paddock access at Mid-Ohio and being able to get access for his son. As I was reading my reply to Ryan I realized that Xfinity races that I attended at Mid-Ohio had very limited paddock access. During those events only NASCAR-affiliated personnel or people who somehow were able to purchase passes before the event were permitted in the main paddock area.
Not even support series drivers, cars, or their personnel were permitted to go through the main paddock to access the pit lane for their events. They all had to access the track/pits through the false grid area, which is the long way from the upper paddock to the track. The upper paddock was also open to all spectators. In hindsight it appears that NASCAR stupidity, not Penske regulations, may be the reason a paddock pass was unavailable for the combined weekend at the Indy road course.
By the way, I quit attending NASCAR-sanctioned events two years ago. I don’t appreciate their spectator restrictions, let alone all of the needless yellow flag time.
Dan, Mansfield, OH
MP: Thanks, Dan. I still stand by what I wrote last week: IndyCar needs to develop a welcoming, kid-friendly plans for all of its events.
Q: With Foyt getting the link with Penske, I imagine those seats just became much more sought-after. Any idea who we will see in the two Foyt seats next year?
MP: Yes, indeed they did! I’d hope the Pedersen/Foyt relationship comes to an amicable end, because it’s been terrible for both sides and there’s no rainbow waiting at the end of the road here. I hear Devlin DeFrancesco is a name to watch for if a seat opens up.
The truth of the matter is the team needs a major infusion of cash, and that could mean its driver choices are based more on talent+budget than just talent alone. But Penske isn’t helping just for the sake of it; there’s an expectation for a rise in quality on the driver front, so with the Penske technical link in mind, I’d think a young and funded Indy NXT and/or quality Formula 2 driver with money to offer is where we might end up.
Santino Ferrucci has been excellent at times, but I don’t know if the team is racing to sign him to an extension. Let’s get through the last few races and see how Santino does with Penske tech support. Strong runs could help his case to continue, but we still come back to that budget issue. It’s way too of a complex situation to predict who’ll be in the Nos. 14 and 55 Chevys.
Q: Thanks to RACER for posting the article about the passing of my friend Mickey Rupp. Though Mick had a short history at Indy, as well as racing karts and snowmobiles, his last great racing adventure was flying his P-51 Mustang in the Unlimited races in Reno.
From 1988-1995, he raced “Samurai,” partnering with Jack Roush in developing pistons and parts for the Rolls Royce Merlin V12s. Mick was a “good stick,” was fun to hang out with, and was even known to have a bit of a temper from time to time… but I will cherish my friendship with him. He was another one of those people who “did” instead of just talking about it.
MP: Thanks for sharing, Brad.
Rupp’s Samurai — and possibly the only time a photo of a plane will appear in the Mailbag. It does look racy. Image courtesy of Brad from Seattle
Q: I am willing to bet money that the recent article about the talks of a charter system for IndyCar has sparked off some angry Mailbag submissions about the idea of guaranteed spots on the 500 grid. Rather than add another rant to the pile, I figured I’d make the point of how sad an idea it is by proposing another way of guaranteeing some 500 starts that is much more in line with what Indy is, theoretically, all about while also giving additional purpose to the rest of the season.
For starters, only put five guaranteed starts up for grabs. This gives more than enough room for qualifying drama in spite of the guarantees. However, there is no guarantee five drivers will be awarded these spots — it is possible for only one guaranteed spot to be taken under this system. Maybe two depending on what you roll with for one of the criteria. As for what those criteria are, it’s pretty straightforward…
1) Defending Indy 500 winner gets a spot
2) Defending IndyCar Series champion gets a spot.
3) Winner of the Indy GP that year gets a spot.
4) Points leader after the Indy GP gets a spot.
5) Either the polesitter of the previous year’s Indy 500, or the highest-position driver in points that doesn’t meet any of the above, gets a spot.
If a driver meets multiple criteria, none of the spots go to next in line — it merely results in a guaranteed start not being awarded. This gives everyone something extra to push for throughout the season, gives a purpose to the controversial Indy GP, and leaves the majority of the 500 grid open. Despite my being opposed to any guaranteed spots on the 500 grid, I can still see myself getting more hyped for a season as a whole with something like this in play.
I will now await your complete evisceration of this notion.
MP: No eviscerations today. What you’ve outlined above reminds me of the ACO’s annual awarding of automatic invites for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. If you won the LMP2 championship in the ELMS, you get an auto invite. If you’re the top amateur driver in IMSA’s GTD class, you get an invite, and so on.
I hate the auto invites, but since that’s the system they’ve chosen, I understand how such awards are given in a completely contrived, non-competition-based approach to setting the entry list. The ACO could say there are 15 spots in the race reserved for LMP2 cars, run a qualifying session for however many want to enter, and send those who are 16th and slower home, but they don’t.
And as much as I hate auto invites for Le Mans, I hate the idea of auto invites for the Indy 500. But, if Penske’s going to guarantee starting positions at the Speedway, and I’m confident he will, there’s no reason to stop there. If IndyCar is going to a contrived entry list for the 500, they may as well guarantee last year’s winner and all the other gifts that are proposed here.
For me, it’s either pure and based on merit where the best 33 get to race, or it’s a joke and qualifying is a meaningless exercise for the “made” entries. If that’s where we’re going, we may as well give away the other entries to those who fit all kinds of made-up criteria.
Q: As a former Philly native who watched the whole Eric Lindros NHL head injury kerfuffle play our two decades ago, with the (not wholly-unexpected) retirement of 2014 Indy 500 starter Kurt Busch, Simon Pagenaud being sidelined after his barrel-roll at Mid-Ohio and Ryan Preece’s barrel-roll over the weekend at Daytona (not to mention Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s early retirement), it’s worth a look again at closed head injuries, especially with barrel-rolling. For many years now, accelerometers have been built into IndyCar (and NASCAR?) radio earmolds, providing useful driver g-force crash data.
What were the G-forces experienced by Kurt Busch in his spin and impact at Pocono, Simon Pagenaud snap-rolling at Mid-Ohio, and Ryan Preece rolling at Daytona? Unless I missed something, I haven’t seen the data from these three crashes released.
Do barrel-roll type of wrecks seem to cause more severe head injuries than other types of wrecks?
Dan Schwartz, Atlanta, GA
MP: Unless the team or series releases the data, this isn’t information that tends to be released. Unlike the NTSB or FAA, racing series rarely give full public documentation of what happens in crashes. I’m not a doctor or an expert on which types of crashes produce more severe head injuries, so I have no answer.
KELLY CRANDALL: NASCAR does not typically release those numbers to the media, but Busch told The Associated Press in February the rear impact was 30G and the front was 18. Analysis is still ongoing of the Preece crash, so we may not hear anything for a while unless Preece or Stewart-Haas Racing release information. As for barrel-roll wrecks being more serious, I’ve never seen data or numbers that would correlate that, but in speaking with drivers who have crashed or flipped in the past, they say it’s not the flipping that is the problem; it is the way in which the car lands and impacts. It’s when everything stops that can hurt.
Q: What in the wide world of bad decisions were F1’s stumbling, bumbling, fumbling group of race controllers thinking when red-flagging the Max Verstappen Annual Dutch GP parade? The desire for safety on the track comes first, obviously, but closing the pits while the potential exists to completely change the complexion of the race by trapping a car on pit lane could have massive implications. In this case, it likely cost Perez a podium finish and we should be thankful nothing more like a race win or drivers or manufacturers’ championship was put in jeopardy.
Why wasn’t a safety car period announced to slow the cars, protect the accident area from further slide-offs, allow the track workers to attend to car and driver at Turn 1, and then allow each driver once past the pit-in to change tires without the penalty of getting trapped in pit lane”
Having some insight into race control at a high level, there are constant conversations going on regarding the planned reactions in preparation for incidents, and I feel like I’d be surprised if those plans weren’t talked about prior to the final rain shower with the potential for a red flag while cars were pitting. Am I wrong?
CHRIS MEDLAND: Afraid I’m going to say you’re wrong here, Eric! The restart order is taken from “the last point at which it was possible to determine the position of all cars,” so Perez being in the pit lane didn’t matter at all as it goes back to a point before then, and he needed to be in the pits because he’d crashed at Turn 1 himself at the start of that lap.
That also shows how treacherous it was — the rain was so severe you could not race in it, and Zhou Guanyu’s car was totally in the firing line after aquaplaning. The race was put under Virtual Safety Car at first to try and avoid a red flag, but then drivers lost temperature in their tires and couldn’t stay on the track in those conditions. Plus barrier repairs were needed.
There’s also no point running around behind the safety car in conditions like that and when the barrier needs repairing. Aside from the risk of a car sliding off track when they’re not racing, and potentially into the marshals clearing another car, the quicker you red flag it when it’s impossible and dangerous, the more of the race you save for a restart.
I don’t always say this, but I thought race control handled it perfectly all race. They didn’t delay the first race start and judged the rain wouldn’t be a dangerous level on slicks so left it to driver skill, even though the first lap was then wet, and after the red flag they waited long enough for the track to dry so that minimal laps were lost behind the safety car before restarting. If they went back out too early, the spray would have meant racing laps were lost.
A marshal checks on Zhou Guanyu after his crash at Zandvoort. For all the flack that F1 race control receives, the red flag was the right call on this occasion. Dom Romney/Motorsport Images
Q: Back in the day, Formula Renault 3.5 was almost on par with Formula 2 in terms of driver quality. When DRS was added to formula cars in Europe, the series ran them with a time allotment similar to IndyCar’s push-to-pass. Drivers were able to defend or attack, but it was a time-limited amount for the entire race. I would love to see F1 try that as it becomes a much more tactical device compared to what we have now.
CM: This is a topic that’s come up a few times now, and I totally agree — I think the freedom to use it as a defense tool at times could make a fight even more interesting, because it might even mean passing and re-passing like we sometimes get if detection zones are in the right place. The technology clearly exists to try that, so I don’t see a reason why it couldn’t be looked at.
As an aside, it’s a shame FR3.5 disappeared. It was sometimes a bit confusing about how good a driver was without seeing them in the same categories, but it did mean more opportunities just below F1. But at the same time the F2 conveyor belt of talent has been pretty strong if you look at the likes of Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, George Russell and Alex Albon who came through it. I don’t feel like top talents are hurt by the new structure.
THE FINAL WORD
From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, August 27, 2014
Q: I like Will Power because he’s a hard charger and he reminds me of a young Paul Tracy. Same sort of aggressive brilliance combined with random instances of stupidity. He still has one more chance to display the latter, but I think we’ll see the former. Earlier this season I thought Tony Kanaan was a has-been, but in the last part he’s proving me wrong. Good for him. Will Helio go down in history as the greatest IndyCar driver never to win a championship? His podiums, poles and laps led are impressive, but never a title. Is it bad luck or bad management?
ROBIN MILLER: There are some similarities between WP and PT and they’re always worth the price of admission. TK has made a lot of folks eat their words the past couple months and it’s good to see him rally. As for Helio, he’s had more bad luck than anything else the past two years, but you ask an interesting question regarding the best never to be a champ. Parnelli Jones and Bill Vukovich immediately come to mind, along with Dan Gurney, Lloyd Ruby, Gary Bettenhausen, Bill Holland and Frank Lockhart. And Will Power. So either he or HCN are finally going to be No. 1. [As the history books show, Power removed himself from that particular list just three days after this Mailbag question originally appeared – Ed.]