The RACER Mailbag, March 20

Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to 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: Sorry if you covered this before. Michael Andretti said that IndyCar should adopt same engine package that IMSA uses, because costs would be low and you would get more manufacturers. Is this possible? Do you agree with him?

David Tucker

MARSHALL PRUETT: We only touch on it once every three or four Mailbags, so let’s give it another rundown.


IndyCar team owners and drivers alike are really unhappy with how heavy the Dallara DW12 has become; it will reach a modern high when the series goes hybrid. And that comes with a tiny, short, narrow, and comparatively light 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engine formula. A big component of what makes an IndyCar go as fast as it does is the absence of weight compared to a sports car or stock car.

Most of the GTP engines and pretty much all of the GT3 engines are much bigger, heavier, taller, wider, or longer, if not all five of those things at once. So if lightness is what makes an IndyCar perform like it does, the thing that will kill its performance is making it really heavy. The only workaround is to add a bunch of extra horsepower to try and offset the extra weight, but there’s a tipping point where only so much power can be added to mask that weight.

The DW12 was never designed to carry anything other than that tiny 2.2-liter motor, and the rest of the car is built around it. To consider using GTP/GT3 engines, an all-new car would be required that can accept all the different shapes and sizes. That can be done. But then we come back to the current car, with the tiny motor, becoming super-heavy when it gets all of the hybrid gear installed.

Bolting in a GTP or GT3 motor would take the weight into uncharted territory, which would only worsen the problem. More weight means a slower car, and one that hates to stop and turn.

So, yes, you could pull those IMSA motors over to IndyCar, but unless you design a new chassis that’s hundreds of pounds lighter than the DW12, and that’s not realistic, it’s hard to figure out how the insanely heavy cars would be anything other than a competitive embarrassment.

At that point, it would be easier to buy GTP cars, cut the fenders off, and call them IndyCars.

Q: There was a good demonstration by NBC reporters during the St. Petersburg race on the high amount of strength required to turn the steering wheel on an IndyCar. This is just another impediment in attracting women drivers to the series. It also is a source of wrist and hand injuries to male drivers as well. Power steering has been on Formula 1 cars for a while. How much would it cost to implement power steering for IndyCar? Safety has always been at the forefront of IndyCar. It would seem only natural that this change would fit right into this philosophy.


MP: It’s been spoken about for 12 years, and if it were easy, it would have been done already. If it’s going to happen, it would been to be designed into a new tub, and that’s a few years away, at minimum. Simona De Silvestro drove the DW12 at a higher level of downforce than we have now, and she put on the muscle needed to perform with the best in the series.

If you want to wear shades like those, you’d better be able to handle a car without power steering. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Q: Racing is back at last. Don’t panic people, it will get better. Just blame Josef Newgarden for being too good!

Recently, the Mailbag was full of grief about the situation in Nashville. I’m just glad the decisions have been taken so early — usually IndyCar is scrambling around with only a few weeks’ warning. But with regards to the notion of sponsorship packages and events planned around the city, I have an idea. Yes, it would cost money and would be a logistical nuisance for the teams, but here’s how Penske Entertainment could redeem themselves.

The World Rally Championship holds an opening ceremony in each Rally’s host city the night before competition starts where the crews are introduced — there are fireworks, a stage show, many even have the cars run a short spectator stage on the streets. Therefore, despite the rest of the action happening away in the surrounding area, it is still that city’s event.

So, how’s this? Firstly, over the summer, fill the city of Nashville with show cars, CART, IRL and IndyCar, and all in their proper old colors. Place them in shopping malls, libraries, schools, wherever to celebrate our sport.

Then, the night before qualifying, have the cars and drivers assemble in Nashville for a full-on event at the Music City Center and Walk of Fame Park. Make a huge fuss — this is supposed to be North America’s premier racing series and the crowning of our new champion. Give the sponsors their big event on Broadway (if only Travis Kelce’s girlfriend hadn’t fallen out with her old record label) with driver introductions and interviews. Just imagine the response for Josef, let alone having all the cars lined up on the street.

Then, with a proper call to start engines, have the field drive around the city and then down to the speedway, under the escort of the pace car, safety crews, local police, the most flashing lights seen in the evening since The Blues Brothers dashed back to Chicago! How cool would it look seeing the cars rumbling through the suburbs and along the Interstate? Have Davey Hamilton and others carry some VIPs in the two-seaters as well. A proper parade and then entry of the gladiators at the track before putting the cars to bed and ready for qualifying in the morning. Events at the track itself over the weekend? Well Iowa has set the benchmark for that, but make sure the city of Nashville still feels part of the occasion.

Or am I being silly again? By the way, Robin was wrong in 2014. Eddie Cheever’s Dallara was not a toilet and is still one of my favorite IndyCars of that era, along with the Team Menard eyeball scorchers and the Al Unser Jr, Robby Gordon, Gil de Ferran Valvoline cars.

Peter Kerr, Hamilton, Scotland

MP: You had me all the way up to Cheever’s car. Everything else? Brilliant. Only one snag: It would cost a lot of money, and that’s not an area where Penske Entertainment has embraced with the series.

Q: I’m making my first trip to Barber this year. As a long-time race attendee at Indy (every year since ’77 — Turn 4 seats) and with multiple trips to Mid-Ohio and RA, I’m interested in the best race viewing locations at Barber. As an old guy, I’ll be planting my chair and cooler and probably not migrating around much. I’ve identified my favorite places at RA and Mid-Ohio, but I have no idea where to go at Barber. My hope is to find a location with a lot of corner action, a video board to “watch” the race and some shade would be a bonus. So if you have any suggestions, I’d deeply appreciate them.

Pat, Indy

MP: I asked the Elite IndyCar Facebook group to help with answers since I’ve never been to Barber as a spectator (that pesky reporting job keeps getting in the way), and here’s what some of the fine folks shared:

Greg Warren: I’ve been a few times, we’ve always sat along the straight between Turns 11 and 12. There’s shade there and you can see the video screen. You have a good view of the cars coming down the hill into Turns 5, 6 and 7, which is where a lot of passing occurs. Then you pick the cars up coming out of Turn 11 into the straightaway and can see them until they hit the crest at Turn 13. You’ll be able to pick them up again (at a distance) in Turn 15 and 16 and pit in as they come around to the start/finish line. The seating is on a hill, so be prepared for that, but as I said, it’s shady so that’s a bonus. It is a popular viewing location, so get there early.

Carlos Fernandes: Top of the hill overlooking Turns 1, 2, 3 and part the straight coming up to hairpin.

Justin Smith: Birmingham local here. The tree line along the straightaway between Turns 10-11 is hands-down the best spot. Shady, close to concessions in fan zone, and great view of action-packed Turn 5. Runner-up but zero shade unless you bring your own is hill between Turns 2 and 3 looking towards Turn 1. Pro tip: Buy a museum membership and you can watch from bridges that stretch from museum to Turn 4 and take in some shade in wooded area in center of track.

Q: Doesn’t it seem a little odd that Hinch is driving a McLaren customer car for Pfaff in IMSA after his dismissal from AMSP a couple seasons ago. Did he need approval from Zak Brown, or is all forgiven?

Rick Schutte

MP: Maybe, but Hinch did nothing wrong so there was nothing to forgive. And he’s an excellent driver, so it seems like a really smart move by all involved. Although McLaren Racing is involved in an abstract way, this is McLaren Automotive and Pfaff Motorsports working together, which are different houses within the same family.

Q: While watching Sebring 12 Hours “respect the bumps” on commercial-free Peacock between commercials, I’m thinking bumps are one thing, but Turns 1 and 17 need attention as both are causing accidents.

Mark, Springfield, OH

MP: Oddly, 50-plus cars tore through those corners for more than 300 laps each, and by my math, that was about 30,000 combined opportunities for Turns 1 and 17 to cause crashes but didn’t.

Q: I’m sitting here enjoying the Sebring 12 Hours. Such incredible racing! They talked to the great Tom Kristensen, who drove the incredible Audi A10 to wins at Sebring and Le Mans. I’m an old man (Mark Donahue winning the Indy 500 was my first race) but how come they never won Daytona 24 Hours?


MP: Different series. Tom raced in the American Le Mans Series, which was the arch enemy of the Grand Am Rolex Series, and just as the Grand Am cars didn’t race at Sebring, the ALMS didn’t race at Daytona while TK was active.

You can bet that the Grand Am field was relieved that Kristensen didn’t show up at the Rolex. Motorsport Images

Q: What races and tracks should be on my bucket list? I’m 22 and am a lifelong IndyCar fan and have been to nine 500s and to Road America for qualifying, and the race three times. I’ve started watching IMSA as well, so I was watching the 12 Hours of Sebring and heard Townsend Bell talk about a racing fans’ bucket lists, which got me thinking about my own. The most iconic IndyCar races (St. Pete, Long Beach, and Texas) plus the endurance racing triple crown immediately jump to the top of mine. Do you have any recommendations first for what other IndyCar races should be the highest priority on my bucket list? And secondly what other series races should be high on my list in your opinion?

Michael, Chicago, IL

MP: Long Beach, for sure. Mid-Ohio is a blast. Iowa is mind-bendingly fast. Toronto is an amazing town and a passionate event. Laguna Seca, at least once. And Barber Motorsports Park. I hope Milwaukee is great again.

On the IMSA side, Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, VIR and Road Atlanta are unforgettable venues to start with.

Q: Good to see Pipo Derani walk away from his short takeoff and crash landing. My concern was that it appeared to take the safety team about three minutes to get to him. Thankfully there was no fire, or you might have seen the fans nearby hop the fence and try to flip that car to render aid. I was trying to see the clock at that time of the crash and the clock when the safety team showed up, but it was hard to time it as the network was at commercial.

What was your take on the time lapse and where was AMR parked in relation to the accident location? I imagine they are always reassessing the response time and making adjustments for the future. AMR does a great job. Is it me, or did it appear to be a long time?

Also, I think that contact was on Derani.

Jeff, Colorado

MP: I watched and rewatched the footage and can’t find anything Miguel Molina in the Ferrari did to cause the crash. Derani is one of the fastest and most aggressive drivers in any paddock and always puts on a show. He also suffers from never being at fault, which has left him with few friends and allies on track.

I went back and looked at the race footage on IMSA’s YouTube site, which has no commercials, and the car came to a stop with 4h35m06s left on the 12-hour countdown clock. The first safety workers responded to the crash and reached the car at 4h34m27s, or 39 seconds after Derani landed upside down.

Those were two safety workers in a truck that used the ring road — just behind the barriers — to get to the crash site. The AMR Safety Team, which had to wait for a clear track amid the 50-plus cars, took 1m19s to arrive via the racing circuit. The first to get there had fire extinguishers and could have attacked a fire if needed in that 39s window, which seems plenty fast to me.

Q: What a great race at Sebring. IMSA has come a long way. The only way it could have been better would have been if the winning Acura was the No. 60.

Rain Man, Cocoa Beach, FL

MP: The GTP paddock is less fun without Meyer Shank Racing.

Q: I have been an IMSA fan since going to my first Camel GT race at Sears Point Raceway in 1978. I really enjoy the races and the fan experience is fantastic; that’s why I keep going back. Sebring was the fourth endurance race I’ve been to in the last year, and I left slightly disappointed after seeing another race littered with multiple FCYs in the last hour. It has happened repeatedly at Daytona, Sebring and Road Atlanta during the last few years, so I believe it is now the norm.

I don’t like these late-race restarts because they devalue the teamwork, strategy and effort on display all day long when the outcome boils down to just 20 minutes at the end. Maybe I’m alone with this opinion, however I am curious if the teams, drivers, or journalists have similar views on the subject? And if so, any ideas that could mitigate this and give us several non-stop hours of green flag racing to the finish?

David Abel, Danville, CA

MP: It’s a great point. I have a similar reaction in the final minutes of important NBA games where, with a big win on the line, the intensity of play increases and the amount of fouls also increase and tend to ruin the flow of the game. Admittedly, I’m not sure how such a thing would be prevented since drivers are warned, penalized, and reprimanded for bad behavior, but rarely does it result in a widespread change in how they act when victory is in sight. Unless IMSA decides to start disqualifying cars on the spot — like a referee throwing a player out of the game — to set the tone early or halfway through its endurance races, I’m at a loss for how it might get its drivers to ignore the devil on one shoulder and embrace the angel on the other.

Q: It’s the Thermal Challenge this upcoming weekend, then a month break. I hate these month breaks, I wish they had something in-between like an indoor kart race similar to the Elf Master Kart class that F1 did in the 1990s — everyone has the same kart and let them rip.

Have it in Indianapolis at the Fieldhouse — indoors, plenty of room, seating, and most teams are based there. Invite the feeder series, make it a fun time for the drivers, make it a norm in between big gaps or offseason. It might not bring a big crowd, but at least something is going on and it would be fun

Paul H., Westlake, OH

MP: We do have the Indy Open Test from April 10-11, but I hear you. It’s not like the big void in the schedule is new; Penske Entertainment has known about it forever since it’s the entity that created the calendar. Thermal takes a six-week gap in racing and, as you noted, cuts it to four weeks, but yes, you do wonder what could be conjured up during that one-month window of relative inactivity to avoid such a big early season momentum stall.

Q: A recent trip through Texas got me thinking about the CART downtown Houston Grand Prix held in the late ’90s. Crazy to think CART was big enough back then to close the downtown area of the nation’s fourth-largest city for an IndyCar race! What are your memories of the event? And do you think IndyCar will ever return to Houston?


MP: Great city, track, and cars! Team KOOL Green teammate Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy getting into each other is my most lasting memory, along with the qualifying performances with the big Honda motors and those Velcro Firestones around the little point-and-squirt layout; Houston was something to behold. The second iteration around the old Astrodome/Texans stadium was one I also enjoyed, but it was wider in many areas and lacked that street fighter feeling the first layout had.

If someone in Houston wants to pay IndyCar a lot of money to return, I’m sure it will happen.

It says Houston right there on the bridge in massive letters, but Team Australia still looked a bit lost during their track walk in 2006. Dan Boyd/Motorsport Images

Q: After watching the F1 race live and IndyCar on-demand/replay on Peacock, I think that was an all-time “I need a mulligan” weekend for TV directors.

During the F1 race it felt like every pass was shown with replay instead of live, and they didn’t show Danny Ric having a 40 second pit stop.

The IndyCar race telecast deciding to interview Bon Jovi (who is the “Livin’ on a prayer” guy, for people under 35) on lap eight instead of commenting on the race was also very weird.

The commercials on the Peacock replay clearly weren’t in sync with where the commercial breaks were during the broadcast. Announcers were being cut off mid-sentence and when the commercial was done the announcer would be midway through a different sentence

Is this something the series talk to their broadcast partners about, and can somebody tell me it will get better?

Will, Indy

MP: It’s not something I hear about on a frequent basis, Will, so I’d lean towards giving them that mulligan. Let us know if the same thing happens during the $1 Million Challenge broadcast on NBC.

Q: Huge IndyCar fan for more than 40 years.  Lots of optimism from fans around the future of IndyCar. However, in the last 60 days,

1) Honda threatens to leave;

2) Some team owners become upset with the sport’s direction; leading to subsequent impromptu meetings;

3) Nashville’s change of location after the big promotion of a downtown event;

4) Thermal Club ticket prices

I’m optimistic and believe the series has a lot of upside, but I don’t remember this much drama in the opening few weeks of a year. You have been around a long time and have a good sense of what’s really going on. Are topics such as the above “normal” and we just don’t hear about them, or are we in a world where these concerns are more public now, or are there a lot of owners who are anxious about the future?

Tom Miller, Greencastle, IN

MP: Roger Penske is one of the world’s best in many areas, including auto sales, race team creation and management, and property management and development as we’ve seen with IMS. I don’t know if history will also include “leader of a beloved racing series” among his supreme talents. There’s still time for that to change, of course, and almost everyone in the paddock hopes he’ll do meaningful things to move the series forward.

The team owners who self-organized did so after waiting four years for Penske Entertainment to turbocharge the series’ popularity and prosperity. And yes, without question, COVID took the first two years of his series’ ownership to the brink, and those owners gave him a pass, as they should have. But the COVID pass expired, at least in my conversations with those owners, about halfway through 2022 and I don’t recall hearing it mentioned in 2023 as an excuse for the series’ stagnation.

So with the issues you’ve mentioned, and others, like not going hybrid as planned, the video game vendor everyone told Penske to avoid, which failed as they were expected to, plus $2000 tickets for a non-points race, and some other things I’m likely forgetting, you can see how team owners would lose patience and lose their willingness to sit back and hope Penske Entertainment does as it was expected to do when it bought the series.

Throw in the big spike in costs to go hybrid, and yeah, there’s some serious concern in the paddock — and with some owners more than others — about whether their favorite series is headed for better days or steaming towards an iceberg.

The dysfunction I recall from the CART/IRL days was mostly of the made-up variety, more squabbling over control than centered on grand failings by CART.

Q: I’m sure I speak for many in saying I’m delighted racing has returned. We can forgive the snoozefest that was St. Pete, as the series doesn’t offer up many.

However, the real takeaway for me was the discontent among team owners, Michael Andretti being the most outspoken.

I have long wondered if the major stakeholders (teams, specifically) were happy with The Captain’s leadership; we now have an answer. Chip was more diplomatic but he’s clearly not satisfied, and I loved Michael’s blunt remarks. He’s on the money in so many of the things he said.

Sadly, some of these revelations about teams paying $1m to enter the charter, the multiple cock-ups regarding the hybrid transition and subsequent cost to the teams and more meek PR speak from Mark Miles about a new car and engine maybe in ’27 really does highlight that there has been no forward planning from Penske, and the organization is spooked and running around directionless.

I struggle to understand why someone so successful in life (and racing) thought he could keep the same tired formula going for the foreseeable without any kickback, and why someone of his stature is clearly so sensitive to any form of criticism?

Were the comments from certain owners blown out of proportion, or is there genuinely growing discontent?


MP: I’m not insensitive to Penske’s position in life. He’s amassed incredible wealth, which brings the privilege of not having to bow to others. He’s developed a number of immensely successful businesses, and from those repeated business wins, you hear tales of believing that all he touches turns to gold.

So if you allow yourself to believe such things, it’s damn near impossible to process and accept the fact that in this one instance, with running a racing series, the Midas Touch routine isn’t working. And if you believe the hype about being perfect, there’s also no way you’re going to let anyone — from owners to drivers to idiot reporters like yours truly — say otherwise without going on the attack.

I can’t share what’s been said to me on background, but I can say Michael’s thoughts and words weren’t a major revelation because I’ve heard the same or harsher from other owners long before St. Pete. He took their collective inside voice and brought it outside. And to be fair, some owners idolize Penske and want to shield him a bit, which leads to some quotes being shared that, while nice or supportive, don’t align with what’s said in private. That’s among the saddest and weirdest developments in recent years.

Owners and drivers once spoke freely if they had issues to share about IndyCar. There was no fear of retribution. Those times are gone. Since Penske bought the series, there’s a big new filter folks use up front where they consider whether their answer will get an angry outreach from the execs. When your first thought is based on fears of repercussions, something’s broken.

More than ever, folks in the paddock are asking to speak off-the-record, even on fairly benign items that they would have freely answered before, all due to the wrath they’ve received from Penske.

That’s what made Andretti’s comments so noticeable. In another era, they still would have been a big deal, but less so at a previous point in time when the series’ owner wasn’t trying to police thoughts and words.

It’s depressing, but it’s where we’ve been at for a while now and it’s only getting worse.

Andretti’s sentiments are not unique to him among IndyCar’s team owners, but he’s an increasingly rare example of someone willing to take those thoughts public. Motorsport Images

Q: Do you think IndyCar is missing out on an opportunity to create some new fans by having its first race at St. Pete, which is usually not very exciting? NASCAR opens with the Daytona 500, which is usually crazy and probably gets some casual fans interested in watching some more, but I just don’t see St. Pete being exciting enough to attract further interest in IndyCar from casual fans. There is a lot of buildup during a long offseason for the first race to be a dud.

Mitch, Carmel, IN

MP: If St. Pete was almost always like the race we just had, I’d say yes, no doubt, let’s go somewhere else for the sake of improved entertainment. But I don’t recall recent runs at St. Pete being remotely close to the 2024 race, so I wouldn’t take it out of its pole position slot just yet.

Q: Long-time SCCA flagger, racer and fan here. First, I want to point out that the IndyCar TV format has the most helpful display of the running order of any series I’ve watched. For each position, we can see the driver name, car number but these are shown with a color scheme that helps the viewer – Newgarden’s No. 2 is shown in a light blue/white square, O’Ward’s is orange No. 5, Dixon is orange/blue No. 9… really helps you to spot the cars. Better than F1 and all the European coverage I’ve seen, like WEC.

Second, when it became apparent to all the teams that the race was going to be a mileage/coast test, why did everybody just follow along? My thought: somebody back in 15th or further realizes: “Hey, everybody’s going to lift and coast and this is going to be boring ­– and we can’t improve either. How about if we tell Hero Driver: Just turn it up and go for it! You can pass five or six cars and get lots of TV time for our sponsors. When you need fuel, come in, lose a few places and do it again! TV will be watching, you’ll get to drive like you want, and if a caution comes, it might work out — who knows? But let’s not follow along like sheep and ruin the show. Getting noticed is better.”

Seems to me that many years ago Fernando Alonso did this in an F1 street race, and man, was he fun to watch.

Joel McGinley

MP: The answer is tied to the last question about where St. Pete lives on the calendar. For the opening race, every team is playing the long game and trying to bank as many points as possible. If we’re at one of the final races and some of those drivers in the back half of the field are either championship contenders and need a Hail Mary to keep their chances alive, that’s when the “Eff it” approach might be considered. Same for an entry that’s had a terrible season, sits at the bottom of the points, and can’t be hurt by trying something crazy.

But nobody is going to roll the dice like that and risk putting themselves into a big hole to start the year.

Q: Is there a maximum amount of fuel that can be used during an IndyCar race? All the discussion about fuel races had me wondering. I think you hinted at it in last week’s Mailbag, but just to clarify, is the pit delta great enough at most tracks that even if a car went all-out the entire race with no concern for fuel, the time gained on the track would not outweigh the time spent doing an extra pit stop?


MP: Yes, IndyCar fills each refueling tank with a specific amount of fuel, based on track length and lap count.

In the scenario you raise, it depends on… track length and lap count. Pit lane at Detroit is short; Road America’s is super long. If the length/laps ratio allows it, along with how cautions could factor into the decision, we do have some tracks where those who had poor qualifying runs will opt to do an extra stop and go like mad the whole time, provided they have enough fresh tires to reward that strategy.

Q: A tough start to the season for IndyCar. Normally people are excited after St. Pete; but there was no joy in last week’s Mailbag.

Regarding the location of the restart line, was it too close to the exit of the last corner, allowing the leading car too get on the throttle early, which didn’t allow the trailing car a chance to stay close? If so, the series can learn from that?

I guess we need to add chaos back to the race to get great racing?

Bill Cantwell

MP: Like you, I wondered if the placement of the restart line had an effect on the quality of racing on the restarts, and according to three drivers and two race strategists I spoke with after the race, all of the drivers and one of the strategists thought it was a non-issue, so I didn’t bother writing about it.

Q: I am an IndyCar fan from the UK and I have been watching since the championship came to Sky Sports F1 in 2019. Thanks to being on the same channel as F1 I think IndyCar is the most popular it’s ever been in this country, although I may be wrong.

What is the likelihood of IndyCar ever coming across the pond for a championship or exhibition event? Do you know if the idea has ever been floated around recently or in the past? Could you pass on our desire for the championship make the visit to Jay Frye?

Danny Morgan, Southend-on-Sea, England

MP: It’s all about money, Danny. If someone in the U.K. wants to pay to get the series there, and to race, I’m sure IndyCar would be open to it. But like the trip to Argentina, or Brazil, or Japan, or Australia, it’s only possible when the bill is paid, in full, by the host/promoter/sponsor.

Johnny Herbert puts a 2000-spec Coyne car through its paces during CART testing at Rockingham in 2001 ahead of the Rockingham 500. Heady days indeed. Motorsport Images

Q: I’m as big a Michael Andretti fan as anyone. As a kid, my 1997 Andretti die-cast got quite the workout on the Hot Wheels supercharger, and my year-old Newman/Haas T-shirt got me a seat and some cool pictures in one of the team’s show cars in Cleveland after Michael had moved on. But his recent comments directed toward Roger Penske have me shaking my head.

Michael wants an infusion of cash from the series’ owner, to the tune of $100,000,000 in an effort to provide better return on investment for all team owners and OEM partners, but he won’t chip in a million dollars from his own pockets to be part of a solution? He’s spoken out in the recent past in support of guaranteed starting spots and Indianapolis for the “survival of the series” but won’t pony up the cash to buy that guarantee?

All this while bending over backwards trying to spend tens of millions in a bid to join another series that has humiliated and rejected him for more than 30 years, doing their worst to keep him out for more years to come. It seems that it boils down to the same thing that killed CART: selfish, stingy, greedy team owners who’d sooner suck the series dry before giving a dime to help one another.

I’m not pleased that IndyCar is using the same chassis 13 seasons going, that we’re talking about guaranteed entries at Indy, that we’re only getting 35 Indy entries in a good year, that the schedule is filled with doubleheaders and gaps, or that things are wrapped up before football season. But Penske was the guy to step up with his own money — and no small sum either — and buy the series and the Speedway when Tony George moved on. I doubt Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, or whoever else would have done the same. If the current progress is too slow for Michael or anyone else’s taste, chip in! A group of people thought they could survive without the guy who owned the Speedway a few years back, and despite having the greatest cars and drivers on the planet, they were wrong. Collaborate, don’t repeat history!

One last thing, Robin Miller’s dig at Eddie Cheever’s Dallara in the Final Word — oof! Kenny Brack’s IR-9 was another one getting battle-scarred on the Hot Wheels high-banks back in the day. Beautiful car in my nostalgic eyes. You worked on some of those didn’t you, Marshall? What are your thoughts on those old crapwagons? ;)

Pete, Rochester, NY

MP: Yeah, I worked on the first Dallara IndyCar, the IR97, and some GForces, and the Dallara was nicely done. But to Robin’s point, Cheever’s 1998 win and car, with the most random never-heard-of sponsor in Rachel’s Potato Chips, and that fugly livery, epitomized everything that was wrong with the IRL and the Indy 500 at the time. I loved being there, but also knew we were seen like scabs, filling in for the cars and teams and drivers most fans really wanted to see.

And I realize it’s what we had, and that somebody had to win, but that car was a lightning rod for how far the Indy 500 had fallen in stature where — and I don’t think Eddie winning was a real issue — the world’s biggest, oldest race was taken by an unknown team with an unknown primary sponsor.

Robin’s been gone for more than two years, but the IRL’s still not safe. Marshall Pruett photo

As for Michael, I hear you and don’t disagree with a lot of your points. As I wrote in the last Mailbag, Michael has more new money than anyone in any racing series, so if he and his investor/partner Dan Towriss wanted to, they could be the solution. But they wouldn’t do it as a gift; they’d want a stake in the series, and to my knowledge, Penske isn’t open to selling any portion of it.

So, if you have an owner who moves like the series is stuck in quicksand and refuses to sell some or all of the business to help it grow, you might be like me and have a lot of sympathy for the Andrettis and Rahals and others who aren’t exactly sure how to fix a business they make viable, but don’t own and can’t alter. Is being “between a rock and a Catch-22” a thing? Because that’s what this feels like.

Q: How many gallons of fuel would IndyCars have to carry to complete an entire street course race?


MP: This is what’s known as a “how long is a piece of string?” question.

Once again, what’s the track length? How many laps is the street race? Without that info, it’s hard to answer.

Q: With regard to the use of torque sensors for the GT3 class in IMSA, I have seen a price of around $60,000. Can you explain why they are so expensive?

Jake, PA

MP: Specialized application, limited production run and market, plus a mandate for them to be used, which can often lead to a big cost. Spoke with a GTD team owner last weekend who said the annual budget is around $250,000 for the season with routine failures, refurbishments, and the need for multiple spares to be on hand.

Q: All the dissatisfaction among the IndyCar owners has me wondering if we’re approaching another White Paper moment?

John, Seville, OH

MP: In early February, I would have said yes; the first draft of my Owners Unite story which I penned in stages from Feb. 15-20, had a long section which cited a ton of Dan Gurney’s original White Paper that launched CART and was included because it matched the tone of what I was being told.

As I started to hear about how the Feb. 28 owners’ call went with Penske, I cut that section out altogether. Depending on how seriously Penske takes the owners’ concerns and acts in the coming months will dictate whether the White Paper talk ends or if it moves to the forefront of the situation.

Q: You stated that Firestone produced a harder tire to accommodate the IndyCar hybrid systems’ additional weight, and the inability to produce a new tire in time for its absence. Does that mean the Indy 500 tires will be harder as well? If so, how do you feel it will affect the racing?

I’m not an expert, but a harder tire may mean more lifting in the corners and better passing opportunities for those dialed in. It could give the drivers from fourth to 33rd a chance to move up instead of the dirty air dictating their chances.

If I’m close to being right, then this could be a good unintended consequence with the delay of the hybrid system.

Or I could just be wrong.

Roger, Section H since 1986, Altoona, IA

MP: Yes, Firestone sent out a notice to teams at St. Pete which explained the matter. I’d have to think the Indy tires are in line with the rest they’ve made which conforms to the heavier full-hybrid cars, so degradation should be reduced. Depending on the ambient conditions, those harder tires could be a question mark if it’s super cold. Otherwise, we’ll have to see how the hybrid tires perform and survive before we get an inkling of how they might influence the race.

Expect more tire talk in the weeks ahead. Gavin Baker/Motorsport Images

Q: Last week’s Mailbag started out with a complaint about fuel mileage racing and a suggestion of mandatory pit stops and minimum pit stop times. It sounds like the obvious answer would be to ban refueling. I know it would be a bad idea for IndyCars to carry all that fuel on board, but am I right?

Tim Davis, Detroit, MI

MP: It’s not possible with the current car because it was never designed to hold 50-plus gallons; we race with 18.5 as the limit, although a little more could be squeezed in. But what happens when we get to Indy and need 125-plus gallons? The cars would need to tow a few 55-gallon drums behind them to do the entire race.

Rather than go insane here, maybe IndyCar just adds 10 laps to St. Pete to make a three-stop plan with minimal fuel saving a stronger likelihood.

Q: Gotta be honest, until I started reading various articles/viewer opinions, I didn’t realize St. Petersburg was a bad race. I’m going to guess this is because I was looking forward to the season opener after suffering through F1 snooze-fests and the usual NASCAR manipulated excitement so far this year.

Generally, I DVR races. Rarely do I (or am I able to) watch live. However, I did watch St. Pete live, and watched every lap. I base how good a race is on how much of it I fast-forward through. This last week, I watched more than usual of the F1 race, so it must have held my attention more than average, as well as most of the Phoenix NASCAR race, meaning the same. But neither did I watch live, or watch every lap without fast-forwarding. Winner for the weekend is still IndyCar.


MP: It’s a great point, Jason. Not every person cares about the strategies and passes for the lead; enjoying a motor race is always possible.

Q: It’s only been a week and I’m already tired of hearing about the excuse of the harder tire compound designed for the “heavier” IndyCar. Is there no common sense left in racing? If that is truly the issue (and I have my doubts), add 31 pounds of ballast to every car and be done with it!

Remove it once the KERS system is installed. Problem solved; one less thing to bitch about.

Chuck Ney

MP: It’s not the 31 pounds. I can’t get a straight answer on how much the MGU and ESS weigh as a package, but I’ve had a lot of drivers and engineers say it’s 100 pounds. That’s what the tires were designed to work with. Meyer Shank Racing’s Tom Blomqvist weights 152 pounds. To ballast up the car to hybrid weight, that’s like adding half a Tom to the car, and where would that get placed?

Q: Your words: “IndyCar’s executive leadership and the series’ owner are paralyzed by fear of failure.”

IndyCar has been operating in the survival mode of business since reunification. After the complete business thrash due the Split and post-Split mismanagement, they well needed to be in a deep fear of failure mindset. The problem is, operating in fear-driven survival mode will not get you to the sustainability mode. A transition must be made; that transition is long since due. To get to sustainability requires proactive thinking, taking justified risks and the acceptance that no business can become sustainable if the target is only survival.

Stephen Archer

MP: The target is also to make the series profitable, which it has never been asked to do in my lifetime, since the profits from IMS have been used to fund the series.

Q: I read Michael’s thoughts about Penske and his ownership of IndyCar, and pretty much agreed. I figured nothing much would come of it. I’ve been around a while (first Indy 500 in 1967) and there is always owner discontent, etc. However, today I am 100% on Michael’s side and he needs to keep up the pressure. I was listening to NPR in the car today and there was an in-depth story on F1 in the U.S.! How great it is, how popular, how it is the pinnacle of drama ­– they even conceded the racing was boring. There were also a few derogatory and inaccurate comments about IndyCar.

So just WTF is Penske doing? He is a bona fide billionaire; he can afford to spend the money to promote IndyCar. Yes, I know I am “spending other people’s money” but he has it and it is blindingly obvious he needs to get IndyCar off the dime. Maybe having the next race for a dozen of his friendly millionaires is his idea of promoting IndyCar, but I call BS. He just wants access to their money.

Mark Hamilton

MP: I’m just realizing I really should have cracked open a beer by now.

Q: Is it just me or is IndyCar about to embrace electric hybrid technology at about the exact same moment that Americans are seeing electrical powered transportation as a dying fad? Great timing. Those that like the idea of an electric or hybrid car already have one, and seeing a hybrid race car isn’t going to get anybody to march down to their dealership.

I’ve been a fan since Ontario Motor Speedway and got to see Mario and some of the greats when I was 10 years old in 1970. I also worry they’re getting themselves into a situation with this tech that’s avoidable. Can’t we just go back to the V8s and 950 real HP and let them race without all the kilowatt BS? Please Marshall…please…

Steve, NW Florida

MP: Can’t avoid the fact that IndyCar announced its new engine formula in May of 2018, which wasn’t hybrid, then took a lot of flak for that, and at the 2019 Indy 500, added the hybrid component to the plans, and then COVID hit in 2020 and it’s been a cascading tale of issues, vendors failing, supply constraints, and all manner of road blocks.

From when hybridization was announced a half-decade will have passed before the technology went live, and yes, I read the same stories of hybrid/EV doom-and-gloom, but it’s a big area of importance for a lot of manufacturers so it’s here to stay until it isn’t.

Other than the CART IndyCars you reference, the other cars that are the most impressive I’ve seen were the insane LMP1-Hybrids which shot like rockets off the corners with over 1000 combined horsepower. Since living in the past is never the answer, I dream of having big combustion engine power and big electric power and marveling at the ferocious speeds in an open-wheel car.

Q: For Marshall and Kelly: What are the chances that NASCAR’s new penchant for increased tire wear leads to increased use of PJ1 at places like Iowa, Gateway and Nashville, where IndyCar runs later in the season?

If that happens, how are Firestone and IndyCar going to deal with it so that it does not turn those tracks into skating rinks? Especially Nashville?

If this is the pattern going forward with IndyCar running on NASCAR ovals, is Firestone going to have to develop a tire that likes PJ1?

Ed Joras

MP: Lots of hypotheticals here. Firestone’s tires don’t have an inherent issue with traction goo. It’s when the goo is only applied on one lane and drivers try to straddle two lanes and have massive differences in grip across the goo lane and non-goo lane.

The goo ruined Texas for IndyCar for a few years, so let’s just hope it doesn’t get applied to the other ovals.

KELLY CRANDALL: NASCAR has been using resin versus PJ1 at many racetracks in recent years, so honestly, I’m not all that concerned about it. It’s not a concern we’ve heard about in a while from drivers, and the resin seems to be more popular than the PJ1, which would get lathered onto a racetrack and make things too slick.

Hopefully the days of IndyCars wobbling around on PJ1 are gone. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Q: Why was there so much tire wear at Bristol? Was Goodyear responsible for all this?

Kurt Perleberg

KC: Goodyear was responsible for bringing a tire with more wear, which NASCAR and the drivers asked for and tested last year. It’s the same right-side tire used in the fall 2023 race. The left-side tire has been run at Bristol since 2022. As to why there was so much tire fall-off, that’s a mystery that the industry doesn’t have an answer to.

Q: Please explain the F1 race day process for spotting rules infringements and imposing penalties and the concept behind it. As I understand it the race director — who I believe is now a permanent F1 position — determines if an incident is worthy of being forwarded to the stewards who, in turn, determine whether or not to impose a penalty and of what magnitude it ought to be.

This seems illogical to me.  If the race director decides an infringement did not occur or is not worthy of a penalty, the permanent stewards and the driver representative will never be able to consider it. Yet, if a matter is sent to them they retain the power to say it is unworthy of a penalty. I suppose one theory could be that the race director has too many other responsibilities to handle, but that seems thin to me, especially given that many incidents would be most fairly resolved if a decision is made quickly. 

Jack Smith

CHRIS MEDLAND: Close, and you’d be right about the illogical bit if it was a one-way street, but the bit you’ve just missed is that the stewards are able to investigate incidents that they see themselves, without the need for the race director to have sent it directly to them. If the stewards feel something is worthy of attention they can look into it immediately. Quite often they do this without a full investigation taking place, as they check what happened and have a second look and then deem it a racing incident or nothing of note.

They also get support from the FIA’s Remote Operations Center (ROC) in Geneva, where even more incidents can be monitored and analyzed, and then sent to Race Control if needed, so it’s not all on the race director to spot things. Just to add as well, the race director never makes a call on whether something is worthy of a penalty or not, they just often flag things to the stewards to look at and leave that decision-making up to them.

From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, March 19, 2014

Q: I’m so sorry to hear of Gary B’s passing. Every fan of open-wheel racing carries the name of Bettenhausen in their heart and I know this cuts deep for you. Favorite story?

John Fulton

ROBIN MILLER: When I bought Merle’s midget from Gary in 1974 I became “family” because they made Tony Jr. be my crew chief at the first race. In my USAC debut at Kokomo, Merle kept an eye on me and I managed to transfer into the feature. It was only my second time on dirt and after the race Gary came down to congratulate me. “You might be able to do this,” was his ringing endorsement. Five nights later, after I’d missed the show at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Gary storms over and yells: “Take our name off that car, you’re embarrassing the family.” That’s why we loved The Schmuck.

Story originally appeared on Racer