The RACER Mailbag, March 27

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: Thermal. What a joke! I turned it off at the start of the second race. Stupid idea, worse than F1.

Rich Shiroky, Toms River, NJ

MARSHALL PRUETT: Most of the comments I’ve read on social media have been highly critical of all aspects of the racing, and the other comments have been supportive of the attempt made by IndyCar to create something cool and special during a long break.


Since I doubt this event will return in the same format, there’s no need to throw haymakers at the series, but I would love to see a proper all-star race at some point. This just wasn’t it. I also hope the flamethrower that’s been aimed at the series since Sunday doesn’t scare its super-thin-skinned executive leadership into never trying something new or interesting in the future.

Granted, if history has been a guide, we should be on the lookout for a reality-bending release from Penske Entertainment that hails this as the best thing to happen to humanity. But I hope they don’t. That would be sad. It was a loss. A bad one. Accept it, come up with ideas to prevent it from happening again, and do better next time, if there is a next time. It’s what racers do.

Q: After watching that glorified test at Thermal I have a few thoughts. The NBC broadcast team should win an Emmy for best fake excitement because they actually tried to sell this garbage as an exciting race. As a fan, I couldn’t care less about how the über-wealthy live and was not even remotely interested in the venue that produced a processional of bad “racing.” There was no excitement without fans, grandstands, sponsors, etc. There was no energy at all.

If IndyCar wants us to get excited about non-points races, wouldn’t an actual race be a better way to do it? Why not Motegi, Surfers Paradise or even Argentina? I know the cost is greater, but interest would have to be, too. Thermal club is nothing but a snoozefest. Is there any way IndyCar lets this dead dog lie and finds actual races to run?

Brian Z, Phoenix, AZ

MP: If I had to guess, I’d imagine the track had some sort of stipulation in its agreement where a lot of heavy lifting was done during the broadcast to promote its existence and membership opportunities. There are many fine homes there that have leatherbound books and smell of rich mahogany, but there are also a lot of unsold lots to be purchased by new members to build more trackside mansions, so in the absence of an event sponsor like Pennzoil or Firestone, it looked like Thermal, which forked out a lot of money to make the event happen, got the title-sponsor treatment during the broadcast.

Since Thermal was the main backer of the event, it makes sense for them to be treated as such during the broadcasts.

Only just noticed now that the novelty check is larger than the podium. Yikes. Josh Tons/Motorsport Images

Q: The last 10 laps at Thermal were pretty exciting, and from the interviews it sounded like the driver is going to keep that entire prize money awarded. Doesn’t that normally get split up within the team to some extent?


MP: Prize monies are paid to the team, so it’s not something the drivers get directly and can keep. All depends on the team and the contracts the drivers have done with their teams. One told me it would be a 50-50 split between driver and crew, and another told me they don’t do event-specific prize money distributions; they pool all of the winnings across the season and pay an end-of-year bonus for their crew who take home whatever percentage they’ve negotiated.

Back when I was an IndyCar crew member in the 1990s and early 2000s, the average percentage I got was 1% with lesser teams, and a fraction of that with the better teams. I also recall having to get creative one year, when our little TKM/Genoa Racing team was damn near broke from the start of the season, by accepting a small salary — I think it was $45,000 as assistant team manager/engineer — with a 3% prize money take in the hope of getting to a proper number by the end of the year. My optimism for our team’s fortunes must have been higher than our team owners’ because they accepted my little strategy and it worked. Especially after we qualified second for the Indy 500 and led 18 laps with Greg Ray.

That led to a very testy exchange the week after Indy where it was conveniently forgotten that I was no longer on 1%… but they finally, and begrudgingly, paid what they owed.

If you want a driver-keeps-the-money story, our Genoa Indy Lights team put in a lot of effort to practice for a downtown pit stop challenge in Quebec in 1996 ahead of the Trois Rivieres race. We beat the Player’s team, which was a big deal; I changed the right-front, our crew chief Jon Ennik did the left-front, and our driver Dave DeSilva did a great job of launching the car, stopping for us to do the fronts-only change, and firing across the finish line.

I’ve forgotten how much it paid — maybe a couple of grand — and the promoters did hand him that wad of cash later that night at a Lights party. Dave, a paying driver whose father owned the second-largest construction company in California — built the new Oakland Raiders/Oakland A’s stadium, as well — was a sweet guy who was worth more than all of us combined, was really hyped after winning the pit stop competition, and decided it was his prize money to keep.

Whatever bond he had left with us was largely broken after that. We’d put in time in sweltering summer heat in our tiny East Lansing, Michigan shop, to practice pit stops — keep in mind that pit stops weren’t done in Lights — and treated this as the one event during the year where we as the pit crew had a tiny moment to shine. So, knowing the prize money was like pocket change to our driver, I badgered him for the next day or two, and at first, he peeled off something like a hundred bucks apiece for each of us. Felt like we were being tipped as his servers at the country club in his mind.

That was an even bigger insult than getting nothing at all, so I kept after him and he upped it to maybe $300. Ennik came to me afterwards and said, “Hey man, I wouldn’t ask him to give out any more money… he’s really pissed.” I think my response was something like, “Good, he should be pissed, at himself, for trying to s*** on us and take money that belongs to his crew.”

Q: I’m sure Thermal is a topic which will dominate this week’s Mailbag. Although personally I didn’t find the race day action to be the most compelling, I appreciate that IndyCar tried something new and different. I also appreciated that I got three days of televised race cars on track, instead of having six weeks of nothing.

I do have one (hopefully) constructive criticism to share, though. A phrase I heard many times leading up to the Thermal event was, “Made for TV event.” From what I saw, something along those lines was even on the event credentials fans were wearing. When I see or hear that phrase, I expect that I will be seeing a broadcast which is different. Special. What I saw on Peacock and NBC this weekend was… standard. It was normal.

I wish IndyCar, IMS Productions (which I understand handles most of the tech for IndyCar broadcasts) and NBC would have worked together to give the viewing audience something they’ve never seen before. Test out new on-screen graphics. Let us hear more real-time race communications from teams, drivers, race officials. Give us new camera locations around the track. Put cameras and mics everywhere in and around the paddock. I would say mount cameras all over the cars, but something tells me that would have required new/updated bodywork from Dallara and that might not have been financially realistic — but you get the idea. Take advantage of this unique event to truly make this TV event something just as unique.

Matt Philpott

MP: I had the same thought about the “Made for TV” angle as well. It was no different than any other race, both in the TV presentation and the on-track product.

If they told you it was a points-paying race and heat races were the new format and there was a decent cash prize for the top five at the end, you’d have watched the broadcast and likely been underwhelmed. Take away the points, keep the heat racing format, and keep the cash prizes and… it still underwhelmed.

What it felt like was a company (Penske Entertainment) that isn’t known for its creativity and has never put on a special event, showed it doesn’t know how to create a special event.

With the thousands of people over the hill in Hollywood who make a living putting on made-for-TV specials, it seems like a call or two could have been made to hire some creative types to make something remarkable.

Call the WWE or AEW. Find the people who produced American Gladiator, Wipeout, and The Floor Is Lava, and get them involved. Otherwise, just make it a normal race and promote it as such.

Q: Just got new ink and wanted to do a tribute piece for Bill Vukovich. I know the number 14 should be in a red circle like it was in 1954, but with the background having red and the wheels themselves being red my artist went with a more golden hue around the number.

Figured you all would like to see an old roadster tattoo every now and then!

Joseph Keleman

MP: We seriously need to do a Mailbag dedicated to photos of the best IndyCar tattoos. Any thoughts on whether I should skip my plans to honor Dennis Vitolo’s humping of the back of Nigel Mansell’s car at Indy with a tattoo?

Q: I read your piece on potential Josef Newgarden moves with great interest. It does prompt some follow-up questions, though. Any driver who goes to the likes of Penske or Ganassi knows that they are going to have teammates who are fast and capable with similar budgets and solid teams. I assume data sharing and cooperation with teammates is non-negotiable. Even understanding that most racers have a competitive urge that would frighten an NFL linebacker, I wonder if the lineup at the new team comes into their thinking at some level?

It also seems to me that IndyCar has largely avoided team play as it exists in F1. True? How has that been achieved?


MP: F1 teams are largely constructor/manufacturer driven, so it’s Ferrari as a car maker and factory against other brands, so there’s that side of brand-first loyalty. There’s the part that’s even bigger with the money each team/constructor gets paid for where they finish in the constructors’ championships, and that’s a giant amount of money on offer. That’s why we see the team play (with the occasional exceptions) in F1 and do not (with the occasional exceptions) in IndyCar.

On the chemistry side of choosing drivers, yes, for sure it’s a consideration, but with someone like Newgarden, the only team he wouldn’t immediately enrich is Ganassi. And that’s not a dig at Newgarden; Ganassi has the best driver of the 2000s leading the charge with Dixon, and while Newgarden would certainly add some operational ideas and chassis setup concepts to the mix, this is a team that’s won three of the last four championships and isn’t lacking in talent or knowledge.

Where he’d be a no-brainer, regardless of chemistry, is at every other team. At Andretti, he becomes the top dog in an instant and elevates every aspect of how the team goes racing because he’d be arriving from a better team. Same for Arrow McLaren. If I’m Michael Andretti or Zak Brown, I’m pursuing Newgarden with however much money I can afford and whatever enticements — use of the company jet, free cars, Formula 1 testing (that’s more of a McLaren thing), and a post-driving role that keeps serious income coming in — that are needed to get him.

This is my Golden State Warriors going after Kevin Durant to push them over the edge, or the Los Angeles Lakers signing LeBron James to return them to title-contending status. In both cases, championships followed their arrivals, and with Andretti having 2012 as its last title year and McLaren sitting on zero championships and zero Indy 500 wins, I’m confident a Newgarden (or a Dixon) would be the final piece they’re missing to unlock their dreams.

Closing on the chemistry part, things are somewhat frosty for Newgarden with his current teammates. But does that matter if he’s bringing titles and wins at the 500?

Q: The celebration of the “Dream Team” Friends of Laguna Seca finally getting the keys to Laguna Seca Recreation Area had been delayed by the Highway 68 Coalition lawsuit, which just settled to everyone’s satisfaction last week. Is it now time to write the final chapter of “The Bewildering Battle for Laguna Seca”?

That series of articles stirred everything up around here. Back then all parties were angry at the bidding process for the track management contract, but in hindsight, I believe the Board of Supervisors made the right call to keep the management in house with the hiring of Narigi LLC. John Narigi received a lot of resentment, but I had always found him to be a dedicated operator in his role as President of the Monterey Peninsula Hospitality Association. I believe he will also remain in some role with the new contract.

With the likes of Ross Merrill, Bruce Canepa and Gordon McCall at the helm, the future looks bright and donors can now be confident their investment will pay great dividends for the track and the racing world at large. I think it’s now time to outline what that actually looks like and reveal the management team which will now be able to implement their vision for the future.

Paul, Carmel Valley, CA

MP: I hated the process the county created to select Narigi; it was a sham, and from that process, I expected him to be a failure. And I’ve never been more wrong. He’s been exactly what Laguna Seca needed, and with the FLS group now merged with Narigi’s team, we do have the best scenario I could hope for to secure the track’s future.

It wasn’t included in the press release, but I was told afterwards that the kind person who sued over the supposed sound breaches received zero dollars in the “settlement” and, more importantly, is barred from suing again.

Q: There has been a lot of talk about IndyCar’s lack of changeable parts. Prior to the Indy 500, RACER did a great piece on the number of aero options available to teams — I was surprised the number of choices. Granted, most of the options were pre-race decisions and could not be changed during a race. But with complaints about a “spec series,” I expected the broadcast do something more with the options available and picked each team. We even had Rossi change the under-car aero package during Carb Day.

Did every team wind up picking the same options on race day? Even if they all picked the same, the broadcast should answer why. I’m pretty sure my eyes saw some rear wing difference during the pre-race, but little if any mention on TV.

Mike H, Dallas

MP: Brother, I’d need to go back and get the race-day setup choices for 33 teams and compare that to what they did on Carb Day, which is another set of 33 answers I’d need to gather to do a compare-and-contrast, which would take a week or more of work, to provide an answer.

Unfortunately, that’s beyond the Mailbag’s scope. Definitely appreciate the interest and curiosity, so if there are other questions that can be answered in a reasonable amount of time, please send them in.

Q: I’ve noticed in most of the practice sessions so far this year that the three Penske drivers are at or near the top of the time charts and the two Foyt drivers are near the bottom. Since the two teams are in an agreement with each other to fully share information, do think Penske is really sharing their dampers and everything else or do you think Penske just wanted Foyt’s Indy 500 info and never planned to share everything fully?

Paul, Indianapolis

MP: Yes, Penske is sharing what they said they’d share. We’re still talking about a Foyt team that was among the slowest and worst in 2023 trying to become better with help from Penske, but that won’t happen in two races. Foyt also lacks the personnel, culture and funding to be as good as Penske. They will improve as a result of the relationship, but it will take time, and won’t move them ahead of Andretti, Ganassi, McLaren, and so on. It could, however, move them ahead of a few teams in the midfield.

Ferrucci has a Penske-ish color scheme, but the important bits of the Penske/Foyt partnership will take some time to trickle down. Josh Tons/Motorsport Images

Q: With reference to the letter from Dave (March 20, RACER Mailbag) asking why IndyCars don’t have power steering, I’ve wondered that too.

Quite apart from a potential safety advantage, and whether it would level the playing field between men and women, I’d be willing to bet that power steering would actually make the cars faster. That would be despite the added weight, the power draw, and potential loss of feedback (i.e., “feel”).

That appears to have been the case with all short track (oval) race car divisions. There are plenty of reasons why oval track cars are faster now than they were many years ago, so it’s hard to isolate the effect of power steering. Obviously, with the advent of power steering, reduction in driver fatigue could explain why the cars with power steering started winning more races, but it doesn’t explain why they seemed to be just plain faster. Power steering enables different steering ratios (and smaller steering wheels), and it even influences suspension geometry.  Whatever the reasons, there’s convincing evidence that power steering does make race cars faster.

I’d guess F1 teams have spent time on the simulator looking into why this might be. Based on my own experience, I think it’s because it’s possible to make corrections faster, but with more precision, when there is less steering resistance.

Electric power steering can be compact enough that there might be a way to squeeze it into existing cars (if they have an electrical power source).

I think IndyCar should give it serious consideration (and not because it would make the cars faster). Driving race cars is one of very few sports — I can’t think of another, just offhand — where women can compete on completely equal footing with men. [ED: Ultrarunning]. But that’s only true if there’s power steering.

IndyCar is the exception among racing organizations. I would think everybody in IndyCar would want to fix that. If Simona De Silvestro were to say that with power steering she could have whupped everyone, who’s to say she couldn’t have?

Walt, Apple Valley, CA

MP: I’ve yet to hear anyone in IndyCar say they want to be like all the other series. When the Dallara DW37 is designed in just over a decade, I’m sure IndyCar will poll its drivers and ask if power steering is something they want.

Q: I’m already starting to get tired of IndyCar’s media rights talks and wish that IndyCar and the Indy 500 could stay on ABC/ESPN, where it belongs. The idea of Indy being on FOX sounds like the craziest idea ever.

Aeren Maxfield

MP: IndyCar hasn’t been on ABC/ESPN in many years. The Daytona 500 is on FOX. Is that crazy?

Q: I’m not sure if this has been covered already. I have two questions which were inspired from the fires from overheated brakes we’ve already seen early this season. Most of those fires go out by themselves or with a blower. With respect to the hybrid systems yet to be deployed in IndyCar: First, what is the procedure to put out a battery fire and keep it out? I have heard about EV battery fires that have re-ignited hours or even days later. Second, is there any type of containment for the battery (like a fuel cell) to give time for the driver to get out and for the Safety Team to respond?

Rob, Rochester, NY

MP: I don’t know yet on the first question; regulations for all things hybrid have yet to be finalized. The MGU and ESS are encased in the bellhousing, so yes, it’s not near the drivers. Same bail-out situation for a driver if there’s an engine fire behind them.

Q: It’s probably me and me only: A race without fans feels like COVID. I had enough of that stuff.


MP: There were fans at Thermal; I spoke with at least 10 percent of them, and they loved being there. But yes, the numbers were really small and did have the look of being empty, except for the shots of folks viewing from the homeowners’ balconies.

Q: Enjoyed the entertaining non-points race, but am curious to know if the teams utilize traditional spotters, and if so, where are they located? Do they simply use TV feeds or are they located around the course?

Pongo in SoCal

MP: Only spotters I saw, and there weren’t many, were atop the media center which is located on drivers’ right at pit-in. With the short races, it was mostly down to the drivers to use their mirrors.

Q: OK, how does Rahal Letterman Lanigan (which I was pleasantly surprised and happy for in the heat races) badly miscalculate putting fuel for a 10-lap race?


MP: They made a mistake. An embarrassing one. But it happens. All teams were instructed to fill their cars before the 10-lap opener, and they didn’t with Pietro Fittipaldi’s car, but did with the other two. I’ve run an IndyCar out of fuel before; thought I had my calculations right, went one more lap than I should, and we lost out on a decent finish. Wasn’t intentional, but since we’re talking about people operating the cars, there’s always a chance someone gets something wrong.

Q: Watching this manipulated “race” where drivers not racing to save tires between 10 minutes’ break is dreadful. No racing, just an advertisement for expensive homes in Thermal, much like timeshare infomercial. I don’t know what Penske and IndyCar are thinking. Not a points race, lag back and don’t use tires (but refuel). A couple of interesting rookies but can’t see them do much. Formula 1 in Melbourne earlier that day was exciting with a Ferrari one-two. IndyCar is lost, and other points races at better venues would be advised. The announcers are terrible, also with little intelligent inputs. A new low for IndyCar.

Only thing noteworthy was Grosjean wrecked out (typical) but was hit by Dixon or someone from behind (normally a Grosjean stupid mistake). His tantrum at track workers made me chuckle — he has no class.

Craig B, Leland, NC

MP: Of the many things I’ve learned in racing, one of them is to avoid messing with safety workers, many of whom work as firemen and firewomen and EMTs and police officers or correctional officers during the week, and who can snap you in half. Romain came to that realization rather quickly and stopped trying to tussle with the wrong one.

Q: It’s currently halftime in the Thermal Challenge. I’m actually really enjoying this Supercross/sprint car format! Makes everything higher stakes and you see some guys going on wild strategies or taking low percentage moves at the start.

I really think IndyCar should embrace this format more for certain street course or an odd road course race. There’s a ton of potential in this format and it kept the drama riding at a high. If I made any tweaks, it would be introducing a LCQ race for guys that didn’t qualify (top four for a 16-driver grid) and getting rid of the ridiculous half-time break.

Otherwise, I’m a huge fan of this new format. It caters to younger people like me who have a shorter attention span!

Alex R, Michigan

MP: Great to hear. Just think of the Indy 500 as 20 10-lap heats without halftimes.

Q: Biggest reason I say no to racing at Thermal again is that the racing was just boring, not to mention gimmicky. I was also taken aback by the groveling about the place by Diffey, Bell and Hinchcliffe. I don’t know if they were angling for a free membership, or offering some kind of quid pro quo for something, but they were shameful. I’m usually Diffey’s biggest fan… not today.

I live in a town where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Ferrari, Lambo, or Porsche. It’s not that big a deal. With their backgrounds, I assumed they felt the same.

John, Boca Raton, FL

MP: Stop swinging dead cats, John. We’ve asked nicely. Twice.

In the absence of a dead cat, Bell swung some golf clubs instead. IMS Photo

Q: My question is, what won’t IndyCar do for money? Thermal Club featured racing before few fans in a bunch of rich guys’ backyards on a featureless, Mickey Mouse track in a silly stop-and-start format.

It was pointless (literally) and boring and the NBC commentary team felt the need to remind us about “the cash,” “the money” and “the bucks” every 30 seconds.

I found the whole event a new low, and without any class whatsoever.

Anthony Jenkins, Ontario, Canada

MP: I wonder how much it would cost to name Paul Tracy as the winner of the 2002 Indy 500?

Q: Well, the Thermal races were interesting but rather boring. Palou still shows he is the class of the field at least on road courses, but I don’t know what else it showed. Too many variables with the way rules were written. What did the drivers think of this diversion? Did they think this format should continue? It seems to me that this gap in schedule would best be served by a regular race with points. Thermal is best suited as a pre-season warm-up like it was before. I would be surprised if ratings were mediocre at best.


MP: The drivers mostly said the kind things they should say because they care about the series and want it to do well. Rosenqvist was the most enthusiastic among those I spoke with. None of them want to go through the time and effort to race for a small purse that comes with no points. Make it a championship event, or get the purse way the hell up, and you have drivers who feel their time isn’t being wasted.

Q: The past few days I’ve been seeing an infomercial about a race destination east of Los Angeles called Thermal Club. It was surprising to see all of the regular IndyCar drivers, teams and even the NBC broadcast staff on hand to sell the concept to unsuspecting race fans who thought they were tuning in to see an actual race.

My only question is, how much was IndyCar paid to produce this farce?

For those unfamiliar with Southern California geography, there is no need to spend millions of dollars to drive on a racetrack covered in blowing sand, suffering from blazing hot temperatures and winds so strong that they affect a cars handling… Willow Springs has been doing the same thing for years for a lot less money.

Tom Patrick, Baja California

MP: Yours is my favorite email of the week, Tom. I spent the weekend in Thermal thinking about Willow Springs and how the only thing we were missing were the tumbleweeds blowing across the track, and the giant floor-puncturing rocks that line the circuit.

Q: How can any team justify racing at Thermal Club, unless they address it as a three-day test session for road courses? The $23k paid to all but the top five teams does not even cover the travel, lodging and meals for the race teams. Add to that the transport of the racing rig and car, and any consumables for the weekend.

Ronald Kintz

MP: The teams who sign the 22 Leaders Circle contracts are obligated to show up to every race in order to get that guaranteed money, and if those 22 are going, you may as well bring the other five.

Q: I’m all for trying out new ideas, especially in an era when IndyCar and specifically Roger Penske seem doggedly determined to keep things the same for eternity. But now that we tried this Thermal Club experiment, let’s never, ever do that again. From the event being a private showing for R.P. and his richest friends, to the lackluster racing, to the PR disaster that was the grand prize being half of what was advertised, nothing about this event should ever be repeated.

Please, do whatever it takes to not have a six-week gap, and fill it with a real race at a real track where fans can come and enjoy. I am so sick of IndyCar looking like a cute side note in the motorsports landscape destined to be irrelevant. It deserves better. We all deserve better.

Michael, Halifax, Canada

MP: The optics for a down-to-earth series like IndyCar weren’t a big hit for the 99%.

Q: It would be nice if the Thermal event could be moved to occur two weeks before St. Pete.  It would make a great pre-season test and build some interest before the real season starts.

John P., Brownsburg, IN

MP: If the event survives, that’s exactly where it needs to live. Or it needs to stay where it is and become a regular race.

Q: Regarding Thermal, I just finished the first 10 laps. It was pretty goofy. I think it’d work better if they made the second half start with intervals commensurate to their time from the first half. This would avoid the tire saving. I did like it better than I thought I would.

DJ Odom, Anderson, IN

MP: A universal note I’ve gotten from team owners, race strategists and drivers is to kill the single-file restart for the second half of the race. If they did it again, and with the single set of tires, your idea of locking in the gap from the first 10 laps would certainly kill the tire saving routine.

Q: I have a few thoughts from the IndyCar “test and cash” event at Thermal Club:

Marcus Ericsson might be rethinking his choice to join the Andretti
Global team. Although the car is similar to the one he ran the past few
years for Ganassi, he looked out of sorts at St. Pete and Thermal. From
my viewpoint he always seems a smooth, controlled driver, so to see him
fighting with the car seemed abnormal. Of course, we need to wait for
next few events, especially Indy, then we will know if it is just
taking time to settle in with his new team or something else.

Christian Lundgaard is a highly confident fellow, as one needs to be to
get ahead in any racing series. I just have a feeling that he will be
looking outside RLL for his 2025 ride.

Callum Illott proved he should still be driving the full IndyCar
season. I suspect he will be doing so in 2025.

Do you think that Zak Brown was smiling with regard to Palou winning
the $500,000? Made me laugh!

Glenn, Renton, WA

MP: Marcus will be fine; he’s got one of the best engineers in the business in Olivier Boisson. Lundgaard is on more than one shopping list and I’d be surprised if he isn’t wearing papaya orange next year. It’s on RLL to give him a reason not to go. Ilott showed he can play well with others, lead Arrow McLaren, and defer to his teammates. Any question about those items after the messy end with Juncos Hollinger should be put to rest.

Zak being happy about taking things from Chip via one of his drivers? Never.

Q: So, Palou won the $500k. Now he only needs to do this 45 times more and he can pay off his $23M lawsuit from McLaren. Are there any updates on the status of his legal troubles?


MP: I haven’t asked because it truly doesn’t interest me, but I’ll see what I can find out.

One down, 45 to go.  Josh Tons/Motorsport Images

Q: I’ve been an avid IndyCar fan going back to the early ’50s, listening to the corner-to-corner call of the 500 on radio. We’ve been to the 500 umpteen times and races all over the country since then. Probably over 100 races at current venues and tracks no longer with us. I was even at the non-race inaugural Texas Motor Speedway event.

Watching Dan Wheldon’s horrific crash unfold right in front of me made me very nervous about a high-dollar run for the money at Thermal. Then seeing Grosjean going off track and back into traffic during the first stage, my only thought was, “Oh my God, not again!” A lot of drivers, cars and IndyCar got really lucky on that crash.

As for Thermal, on TV it was probably the most beautiful, well laid out and challenging circuit I’ve see other than Road America.

It was an interesting weekend. There were good and not so good points. The good: beautiful track with great atmosphere for the lucky few.

I think that, for a non-points event, the stage qualifying and races was also very interesting and fun to watch.

The bad: I wish each stage was a little longer. And I really feel that the actual race should have been longer. Long enough to need a real pit stop and no silly timeout.

I could ad that the NBC announcers seemed to give more emphasis on Thermal the venue, and less on Thermal the actual race.

Just a humble opinion from an old (very old) fan.

Mike S

MP: Thanks, Mike!

Q: I really enjoyed the experiment that was this past weekend at Thermal Club. Credit to IndyCar for trying something. Even though Captain Commitment won rather easily I thought it was pretty entertaining. Herta’s strategy was smart. It made for some interesting moments in the second half.

I like the idea of making it gimmicky and have a suggestion. Keep everything the same except, instead of two halves for the feature, have a consolation race so the non-transfer cars get to run again for extra TV time. Take the top two from the consolation to make a 14-car shootout. Then draw starting positions for the 10-lap main race. Those that start up front — top two rows — no push to pass. Second two rows, limited push to pass. From row five through seven, unlimited — or whatever the maximum possible is — for push to pass. Maybe give the back row alternate tires as well. Call Row 7 the Lucky 7 row as they get alternates.

Obviously starting up front will still be a huge advantage, but this would provide some extra excitement as the guys in the back will definitely be on a charge. I’d love to see the event stick around. What are the chances of it happening again?

Eric Z, Lancaster, NY

MP: I can’t see how the track made any money with so few tickets sold, so unless I’m missing the other income generators, I’m struggling to see the members supporting another outlay for another infomercial. But if they get 5-10 new members who spend a fortune, maybe it’s worth doing it again.

But if it does survive, I’d love to see your let’s-go-crazy approach adopted.

Q: I think Thermal can be improved greatly by finding a real race to fill the six weeks between St. Pete and Long Beach. It’s got to be a fair weather venue. Back to Homestead, Texas or resurrect Phoenix. Let’s try NOLA again and maybe it won’t rain.

It wasn’t just Herta saving tires in that first half that was the problem. After everyone got strung out they all were, even Palou. The only second half excitement was Herta’s move on Armstrong for $50,000 more bucks. I thought after Dixon’s drive-through he should just park the car at that point. Why risk the car? Pretty boring stuff.

Jeff, Colorado

MP: Pikes Peak. $1 Million Run To The Clouds.

Q: Well, that was… interesting. The first-turn crash in the first heat race seemed to calm everyone down. I’m happy for Rosenqvist as MSR seems to be off to a good start and they are working well with each other. Interesting strategy by Herta, but it was fun to watch him run up through the field. Overall, I’m kinda ambivalent about the event. But I am glad IndyCar tried something.

The Andretti organization still looks like they are missing something. I didn’t expect them to dominate immediately after dropping from four cars to three, but I did expect the team to be running better than they have so far. MSR as Andretti lite is the top performer so far. Any insight?


MP: Only surprise for me has been the slow start for Kirkwood. I need to dig into that a bit. Andretti wasn’t going to overtake Ganassi and Penske simply by dropping a car and adding Ericsson. We’re also talking about a season that’s two weeks old for IndyCar, so I’m not sure how much we should expect them to be achieving by March 24 when the first race was on March 10.

They didn’t fire out of the offseason with a ton of momentum, so that’s a disappointment, but the season is young. And they add Craig Hampson next month, and that will only help to accelerate their progress.

On the MSR side, I’m due to interview the drivers and Shank for a feature on the topic. I can say this: We’re seeing the best Rosenqvist since he was a rookie, and a lot of it has to do with his new role as the team leader among drivers.

Q: I’m the kind of IndyCar fan that’ll look at the weather and consider driving four hours one-way for the open test in April  I’ll be at a practice day at least once this year along with the 500 itself and hopefully another race. I am a hardcore fan, I think. I don’t understand all the angst against this past weekend. I didn’t pay close attention to it, but I did watch all of qualifying and I had NBC on for both heats and the main. I also saw things shared by someone who was there, and I think if that event had been at IMS I would have spent $500 to go. I can take four people to the Indy 500 for the cost of one weekend ticket for Thermal, but it sure did look like a fun adult weekend for those who decided to make the trip.

Here’s another interesting twist for it. Instead of a race, make it a time trial. Throw Herta’s joker into the time trial idea and let drivers decide when to use that and the impact it may have on push to pass allotment and tire degradation. Make it a shootout-style race against the clock. NBC gets to box the driver on the hot seat holding the best time and build the drama in reverse order of some sort of qualifying for the shootout. That said, the racing was a bit better than I expected. Kudos to the drivers for making any on-track passes.

Ryan in West Michigan

MP: Thanks for writing in, Ryan.

Q: For a smaller team like Meyer Shank, how big of an impact does the $250k payday from Thermal make? I’m very happy to see them and Rosenqvist performing well out of the gate.


MP: None. I’m not supposed to tell you this, but instead of pocketing half of the prize, the team will get some really nice bonuses. MSR isn’t lacking in sponsorship, so when they have a nice payday like Sunday, you use that money to reward the men and women who made it possible.

After a tough couple of years, the Thermal result in itself probably felt like a pretty nice bonus to the MSR crew. James Black/IMS Photo

Q: On one hand, I can appreciate IndyCar trying something new. I understand the scheduling troubles with NBC and the Olympics played a part in this event’s existence this year. I also understand that this facility isn’t a regular facility for regular fans. I also understand it’s better than nothing. However, what a turd.

The optics from my seat were just bad. It felt weird watching it. The commentators going on ad nauseum about the millionaire houses, on-site sushi chef, showing exotic cars, etc., while hyping up the race that had no actual feeling of hype was weird. You want people jazzed up about a sprint race when there’s basically no one there to celebrate it and essentially nobody can go? I didn’t see excited Thermal Club members watching from their balconies (or they weren’t shown), which was odd. It simply was strange.

I saw folks online saying, “Well, this is a business opportunity. This is probably to help get rich people interested in investing in a team or creating a team.” I say there’s already plenty of rich people interested in starting a team. And, if more wanted to, they couldn’t get an engine lease if they tried. IndyCar is already trying to figure out how to limit teams with charters and such, and they’ve already complained that some facilities can barely handle 27 full-time entries. Plus, was this oddly formatted, processional race with no fans really the way to hook an interested business person? Take them to the 500 for that.

The whole thing just came off as off-putting with a feeling of, “Why are you doing this and for whom? We didn’t ask for this.” And was it actually better than the schedule gap when it seems lots of people watching were put off by the whole thing?

Ross Bynum

MP: This was the first time I can recall getting on a plane with no feel for what I was about to encounter at a motor race, and by late morning Sunday, wishing there was an earlier non-stop flight home. We showed up, hoped for the best, and returned home. Since it counted for nothing, I just wanted to get back to spending time on things that matter.

Reminded me of a concert my wife and I went to a long time ago — she loves Donna Summer — where we drove two hours north to see her at a smoke-filled casino. Small room, sat towards the front, Summer came out, did about three songs, walked off stage, and shortly after, someone came out and told us she was ill and the concert was over. Might have lasted 15 minutes.

Stunned, we got up and left and drove the two hours home, took showers to wash off the stink, and wondered what the hell just happened. That’s what Thermal felt like for me; a lot of time and effort invested by everyone, a miniscule payoff with the main event, and folks packing up and putting the strange encounter behind them as quickly as possible. The catering was great and the fans who participated were great, but as racers, and to borrow a line from Bill Shakespeare, it was a lot of sound and fury that signified nothing,

If it returns, and it’s for points, I’ll show up knowing what it is. Whatever that thing was last weekend wasn’t a motor race as it computes in my brain and wasn’t worthy of the teams’ time. I wish I had a different takeaway, because I certainly wanted the event to be a winner, but you take what you’re given. Such a confusing event.

Q: Please keep in mind this is coming from a fan of Palou/Wanser so their dominance was fun to see, but I really don’t understand taking the full IndyCar, NBC broadcast, and AMR Safety Team to Thermal and not having an actual race. If tires were a topic and they wanted to put on a show for SoCal race fans, then have a race with actual tire strategy, pit stops, points and still award the money. The new eyes, existing fans, and teams deserved better than this. The history of IndyCar deserves better than to be told to prance around for some rich people. Creating buzz only make IndyCar look like a dog and pony show and not a legitimate series. The track was great and NBC ensured we knew how great the place was, so let’s make it a real race stop each year.

John Lee, Siloam Springs, AR

MP: Thanks, John, and say hello to my family in Lee County, AR.

Q: Paul Tracy posted on his social media account on how bad the podium looked at Thermal, and also how cheap the trophies and champagne were. I had to go back and watch the replay because I didn’t even notice it. But damn, PT has a point. My 3-year-old could’ve built a better podium out of his magnetiles. And the trophies looked more like drinking mugs to me. Kind of the cherry on the top of what could’ve been a better planned weekend.

There are positives. The almost 10 hours of practice being streamed was nice to watch. The heat races were a great idea, too. This race also filled in the long gap between St. Pete.

As with anything new. The first run is never perfect. I hope the folks at Thermal can make it better next year. If it is on the calendar next year.

Handsome Jo

MP: Yes, PT texted me and I texted back showing him the same podium post I’d made around the same time. I had an unimpressed team owner text me more or less the same thing — IndyCar podium vs a karting podium — a few hours later, which tells you how poorly this landed. Least they could have done is filled the trophies with ice cream, since that’s what all the drivers wolfed down throughout the weekend.

Fingers crossed that something positive comes out of the event.

Q: You see references to “gardening leave” in F1 all the time, and lately with Craig Hampson in IndyCar. I have a simple question: When someone serves out gardening leave, who pays for the actual “gardening”?

Does the acquiring team pay the individual? Or the team than is enforcing the non-compete agreement? Or are the defecting staff members on their own? I can’t imagine someone like Craig Hampson is salary-less, or substitute teaching, until the new gig with Andretti starts.

And I don’t remember ever seeing this in NASCAR. Maybe they call it something else? Garage leave?

Ed Joras

MP: It would be “Fishing Leave” in NASCAR. Gardening leave tends to involve the departing person receiving pay or some sort of severance package, if it’s done on good terms. I know of a few friends in the IndyCar paddock in recent years who abided by the team’s wish to sit out for however long, and in return, they were well compensated. That’s not always the case. Then you have some situations where the person leaving, who tends to be in the higher dollar roles, will have a nice sum saved up to live off of if the team treats their exit in a hostile manner and enforces the non-compete and is not contractually obligated to keep those big dollar flowing into the person’s bank account.

Gardening leave, Mansell-style. Studio Colombo

Q: Thankful to see racing this weekend! Made me think of a way to jazz this event up. Make it a team event. Match two drivers together. This is done by a random draw. So, say Dixon is teamed with Kirkwood.  One driver starts the race and races the first 10 laps and then there is a four-lap window to make a pit stop. As soon as the first driver come to a stop in the pits. The second driver takes off and runs the final half. So in total the race would be 24 laps. No tire saving and no laying back. This I feel would be so different that it would draw massive attention.

Tom Harleman, Carmel, IN

MP: An open-wheel endurance race. Interesting. Whose cars are used for this, since no team would allow a rival to drive their car and report back with all of the intel on how it handles?

Q: Joel M.’s question in the last Mailbag was, “Why did everybody just follow along” with saving fuel to make it to the end of the St. Pete race?  I watched Graham Rahal’s on-board feed through the IndyCar app.  Since they were in the back of the pack (18th), they actually tried doing something different by pitting very early into the second fuel run on lap 48. He then drove 1-2 seconds per lap faster with no one in front of him, which was fun to watch.  However, after getting up to seventh place on lap 69 when others pitted, the caution came out for the Grosjean incident with Lundqvist. That ruined Graham’s projected top-10 finish if it had stayed green. After the caution, there was no alternative strategy that could pay off and he finished 16th. TV never showed or mentioned this was going on.

Second, Chuck N., also in the last Mailbag, had the same thought I had about using ballast weight until the hybrid system is implemented so the weight of the car matches the harder Firestone tires. Won’t the ERS be inside the bell housing? Couldn’t the ballast weight go there? Or was adding ballast not feasible due to the time required to design, etc., and there was no time for that since the decision to delay the ERS was so late?

Finally, was the main purpose of the Thermal event to give people and their associated companies an experience that would, hopefully, turn them into sponsors and team owners?

Travis W.

MP: Yes, 100-130 pounds of ballast could be placed in the bellhousing, but I doubt the series or drivers would want to make the cars many seconds slower. The purpose of Thermal was to turn a six-week break until the next race into a four-week break.

Q: Will from Indy mentioned the ad breaks on Peacock being out of sync with the broadcast ads. This is something that’s been a frequent issue in the past year or so, including the VODs for the Thermal broadcast.

While annoying, it’s still less of an issue for me than the problem of “non stop” ad breaks on the broadcast having full-screen ads overlaid on top of them for Peacock. This has been the case since the start of 2022, and it’s especially annoying when the commentators explicitly tell us we won’t miss anything because we’ll still be seeing the race side-by-side with the ads. Because of this, I ended up buying an antenna for my TV purely so that I could watch the broadcast instead of Peacock if I’m able to watch a race live.

On Peacock we did get side-by-side ads for the Iowa races last year. I have to assume we can thank Hy-Vee for that since most of the advertisers in those breaks were for products you can find in a grocery store. Hopefully IndyCar can find other advertisers willing to cover both platforms.

Mike, California

MP: Thanks, Mike. I watch most IndyCar sessions and races via Peacock – even when I’m at the races, using my phone and ear buds on pit lane, or trackside and haven’t experienced the syncing issue. Or maybe I’m too dumb to have noticed it’s happened for me as well (which is likely).

Q: During the network St. Pete broadcast, the race analysts pointed out treacherous areas of the track where tire marbles had accumulated. This seems to come up a lot during IndyCar coverage, and I gather that they pose significant peril at a lot of tracks. I don’t seem to notice this coming up much during F1 or NASCAR races (though to be honest, unlike IndyCar races, I tend to fast-forward through F1 more than any other series). Are tire marbles more of an issue in IndyCar than in other series, or is it simply what our particular analysts focus on?

LA Racing Fan

MP: Marbles are found in every racing series, so they aren’t unique to IndyCar. But we do talk about them quite often in IndyCar, which is well spotted.

Q: To Pat in Indy: You should check out the pits at Barber and for sure go to the museum. It has the greatest collection of motorcycles you can see anywhere, along with Lotus cars. Tell us how you like all the giant animals spread around the place.


MP: Thanks!

Q: Everyone always talks down on the film “Driven” from 2001. I was watching it last night and thought the film really wasn’t that bad. The story was lousy but the cast was pretty good. The film quality was also first rate. Can we agree that at the very least it was great promotion flick?

Jon L., Chicago, IL

MP: Sadly, no. It’s the worst racing movie ever made. CART died two years after its release, so it was an epic failure as a promotional tool.

And the Academy Award goes to…

Q: I am writing this only minutes after reading the March 20th Mailbag in direct response to Tim Davis from Detroit’s letter suggesting banning refueling. I say to this: No. No, no, no, no, no no. Have I said no enough times? Because no. Very no. Let me count the reasons why IndyCar must not ban refueling, and why F1 needs to bring it back.

1) Strategy. While fuel saving strategies aren’t always exciting, they do add an element to the overall picture that can, and often does, spice things up. While F1 once did a study saying bringing back refueling made things worse, that study was based on going back to the old ways of letting teams start on whatever fuel load they want instead of the IndyCar way of always starting on full tanks. If the lap count makes interesting strategizing difficult, then maybe some laps should be added.

2) Safety. The immobilizers in modern IndyCar address the most serious concern about refueling in the pits. Since these immobilizers were implemented, we haven’t had a car take off with a fuel shoe attached, and the few fires we’ve had have been incredibly minor thanks to the safety systems in the hoses.

3) Safety Part 2: Think about Pipo Derani’s crash at Sebring if a fire occurred. Thirty-some seconds may be a decent response time, but if there’s a fire that’s still enough time to cause harm.

4) ROMAIN GROSJEAN: Do I even need to say this? The sheer amount of fuel feeding that fire was a major factor in how bad that was and how hard it was to put out. I’d been raising the alarm about something like ever since F1 implemented the refueling ban, but was always dismissed. And annoyingly my points are still dismissed solely because Romain survived it.

I don’t know about you, but the possibility of a fire like Grosjean’s occurring while a car is in a position like Derani’s is a possibility that terrifies me. Fire is scary enough without adding even more fuel to it — Grosjean’s fireball should have been a wakeup call to F1, but they’re ignoring it the same way they did the spring to Massa’s head, or the tire to Henry Surtees’.

Until you find a way to make fires effectively impossible, we should not even be thinking about the notion of banning refueling in any long-distance class of motorsport.

Teal deer: People need to stop proposing things that create needless risk for benefits that are both minimal and highly situational.

Rant done.



MP: The next time I take a vacation from the Mailbag, you’re my guest contributor.

Q: You have mentioned many times in the Mailbag that owners and drivers have fears of repercussions if they were to publicly complain about the series or the owner. I do not recall ever hearing what exactly these repercussions that they fear would be? Or if anyone has actually had repercussions from speaking out?


MP: Fear comes in all forms. There’s nothing Penske can take from the owners, so it’s more a fear of disappointing someone they respect, fear of being yelled at by someone who is important to them, fear of causing Penske to close his mind on something they want to see changed, etc. Being dressed down by Penske is an unpleasant experience, but that’s a dumb thing to say since I can’t think of a dressing down that would qualify as pleasant…

Q: I have a concern about ticket sales for this Labor Day Milwaukee Mile doubleheader. Since the event was announced I have been talking with the Wisconsin State Fair ticket office weekly about purchasing tickets. Presently the only tickets being sold are for the main straight grandstand. The ticket office has been told by the people from IndyCar that they will not allow corner seats sold until the main grandstand seats are sold out.

I grew up in West Allis, where the Milwaukee Mile is located, and have attended IndyCar races since the ’60s. Back then we had two IndyCar races every year, plus multiple stock car races during the week of the fair. I always sat in the first corner where the racing was spectacular.

Having been a corner marshal at Road America for over 30 years, mostly at Turn 14, I know where the race fans congregate. Spectators at the “National Park of Speed” go to Turns 1, 3, 5, 8, 12, not on the main straights.

Race fans like me like to plan well in advance to get the best seats and make other travel arrangements. I have my trailer site at the fair’s campground already. With this event on the Labor Day weekend, all plans, including seat selection is a priority now.

I have made multiple calls and left messages to the IndyCar offices about their ticket policy, and as of yet have not received any calls back. If IndyCar is wishing to have a successful Labor Day doubleheader weekend, I hope that they open up the best seats soon so fans like me can make plans well in advance.

Bill, West Allis

MP: IndyCar, please take care of a time-honored fan of The Mile.

Q: I am really starting to get back into IMSA with the wide-eyed enthusiasm I last had in the early ’90’s, and it has now risen to the top of my Maslow’s Hierarchy of Auto Racing.

While I realize the meat and potatoes of the schedule are the short “sprint” type races, do you feel there is room (or better yet…the infrastructure and/or desire) to take some of the two-three hour races and bump them closer to a 10- or 12-hour race like Sebring or Road Atlanta? Is “6 Hours at the Glen” sacred if it could be 12 hours instead? I know it has been six hours forever, and perhaps it is for a reason? I find what I enjoy most is watching the transition from day to night, and how differently everyone is affected by it or has to adapt to it.

Just in typing this out, I’ve made the decision tonight to pull out my copy of IMSA 1969-1989 and see if the answer may be within, but I would like your thoughts as well.

Brad in Seattle

MP: IMSA says it’s mindful of the costs for its teams to go racing, and costs go up with every hour of racing that’s added with the consumables like tires and fuel, and in the mileage and wear placed on the cars.

Q: Have you seen the HBO documentary “The Lionheart” yet? If so, what was our reaction to it?

Mike, Holland, MI

MP: I have. Really sad. Really, really sad. The parts where Dan’s friends like Tony Kanaan treated the boys like surrogate fathers brought a few tears to my eyes. I can’t say I cared for how Randy Bernard was positioned.

Q: Watching the St. Pete race, a semi-serious question came to mind. What kind of tires are used in the tire barriers? New or used? Radial or bias ply? Tire size?

And what happens after the race? Are they put back in a warehouse? Shipped to the next street course stop? Or big tire sale at MP’s Slightly Used Tire store?

Rick Smith, San Diego, CA

MP: Used, in most cases. A lot of the racing-specific things like tire barriers and fencing gets rented and used at other events.

Q: With Honda’s threat to IndyCar about finding a third engine supplier by 2026, it seems like they already have one foot out the door with all the talk of Honda going to NASCAR as a fourth engine supplier, and the lack of performance at St. Pete. Roger Penske said he wanted to expand the schedule to a 20-race season, then Mark Miles said he was content with a 17-race season. Sounds like the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. Kind of reminds you of how USAC fell apart in 1978-1980 and CART was formed in 1979. The schedule does need to increase — 17 is not enough. After all the talk about Mexico it has never happened, and whatever happened to Richmond?

Frustrated AE, Danville, IN

MP: Change in leadership at Richmond, plus COVID, meant the deal IndyCar struck to race there with the former leader was no longer in place afterwards. I sure hope that changes. I love that place.

So close, yet so far for IndyCar’s Richmond return. Matt Thacker/Motorsport Images

Q: The Mailbag has been poking fun at some of the IRL cars and sponsors such as Rachel’s Chips the past few weeks, so I thought I would send this query.

I must say I got a chuckle when I received the UPS shipment notification email for my Indy 500 tickets from the “Indy Racing League” last week. At first I thought it was an oversight from the Penske organization to not update the name on their UPS account. However, I was told that is still technically the name of the legal entity operating the IndyCar Series. Is that true? If so, I would think it would make sense to change it at this point or at least use the “doing business as” name on their shipping. Kind of funny that they are still using Tony George’s company name.

Fred M, St Louis County

MP: I’ll have to look on the series’ trucks, but I do recall still seeing “Indy Racing League” on their doors.

Q: As a fan since ’75, why is it crazy of me to think it is time for Mr. Penske to ask Liberty if IndyCar can be the Saturday race at the three USGPs?

Gary, Urbana, OH

MP: He could ask, but I’m not sure F1 is interested in trying to promote a rival open-wheel series to its partisan audience.

Q: Car financier Don Cusick has owned at least three properties around the track at The Thermal Club. One real estate listing shows one of his homes with a garage stocked full of all kinds of toys including exotic sports cars, purpose-built race cars, go karts and dirt bikes. There is even a DW12 IndyCar which I believe Townsend Bell drove in the Indy 500. What influence did Cusick have in bringing IndyCar to The Thermal Club? Also, are there any other IndyCar-related people that own homes on the track?

Bob Gray, Canoga Park, CA

MP: As the story was told to me, it was conversations between the Penskes and Thermal’s founders, not Don, where talks began. But since then, Don has become the most visible proponent for the IndyCar+Thermal relationship, which fits his warm and boisterous character.

Q: In previous years I watched practice, qualifying and the race on the IndyCar timing screen. It’s really great info for what’s not on the screen at any given moment, especially during the race. On Friday I watched the timing screen and it’s been completely screwed up. Instead of viewing nearly all the field at once and seeing all the data at once, you now only see the top seven before needing to scroll down and lose that data. Also, you have to scroll left and right as one third of the screen is taken up with data on the proceedings, which leaves me baffled. Is this meant to be progress? Whoever thought this up needs to go to the back of the class, as a really good service has been badly depleted. Another Penske own goal. It’s as if they want us to stop following the series.

Oliver Wells

MP: I’d hope something bigger than a wonky new timing and scoring screen isn’t the thing that makes you quit IndyCar. But I can say I’ve had the same thoughts about the strange sizing of the T&S screen.

If you’re a user of Chrome as your browser, assuming you use a browser to view T&S, you might visit and consider using its pop-up T&S software. You get a prompt on the top right of your screen asking if you want to launch its tool when you open the IndyCar T&S, and I quite like its simplicity.

Q: Two items I am looking for clarification on. First, what happened to the No. 3 Corvette at Sebring, and why was there no penalty if another car was involved? Next, why does NASCAR feel the overwhelming need to manipulate tracks and race formats so much? The sport is about drivers competing with others in essentially equal race cars, and it did quite well for a long time. The car of the future and compounds being applied to tracks has only created problems not solutions, as evidenced by Bristol. Thanks for your thoughts.

Craig Nelson

MP: The Corvette was hit from behind and spun out of contention; the No. 3 finished three laps down to the GTD PRO winner. I don’t know on the penalty part of the question.

KELLY CRANDALL: NASCAR makes decisions it feels will help competition and put on the best show. The same reason Marcus Smith of Speedway Motorsports has come up with ideas like The Roval. It’s about helping the racing product for the race fan. If some folks want to take exception and call it manipulation, they are entitled to that opinion. I do, however, disagree that “the sport is about drivers competing with others in essentially equal race cars.” The race cars aren’t and shouldn’t be equal. It should come down to talented drivers behind the wheel and the talent of each race team and organization. Yes, the cars might be spec, but resources and talent should equate to how the field separates itself.

Q: First, I’m going to start off with, if anyone had doubts about Shane van Gisbergen’s full-time endeavors in NASCAR, perhaps they should be put to rest. In terms of the Xfinity Series, he’s got two top 10s in the first four races on ovals. He dominated at COTA and would’ve had two top fives and three top 10s in the first five races of this season had it not been for his penalty. Not to mention, he very well should have won that race had it not been for the multiple cautions that flew. My point in that is that SVG is showing that he belongs in NASCAR!

Now to William Byron. Obviously as a lifelong fan of the 24, it is putting a smile on my face seeing him park that number in victory lane consistently now. But I used to label William as a “quiet contender” in my mind who you wouldn’t always expect to be in the mix for wins, but he would find himself there. Now he’s becoming a “loud dominator,” as in you want to keep an eye on him as a favorite at nearly every race now. A testament to his driving ability and his adaptability, I think. Can’t wait to see what more comes from William over his career!  
Kevin, Arizona

KC: Shane van Gisbergen is doing a heck of a job getting his feet underneath him, and I’m not sure many people who have expected him to be off to this good a start. It wasn’t a question of talent, but just adapting to everything being thrown at him very quickly. Think about the races that started the season: superspeedway (Daytona), superspeedway hybrid (Atlanta), a fast intermediate (Las Vegas), a short track that doesn’t race like a short track (Phoenix), and then a road course (COTA). But van Gisbergen has been a sponge and that, combined with his talent, is already producing results.

Since being paired with Rudy Fugle in 2021, Byron has flourished. The potential was there all along, but his first few seasons were underwhelming at the Cup Series level. I completely agree that he went from someone that put himself in position throughout the course of a race to now someone who can dominate and manage a race from start to finish. There is no reason to believe that there will continue to be successful seasons for Byron and Fugle like they’ve had the last few years.

Seems like van Gisbergen might be pretty good at this NASCAR stuff. Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images

Q: I think it is safe to say that Williams doesn’t have much faith in Logan Sargeant. I know for a while that F1 teams would bring a third car with them to races, and that practice was eventually banned. I was assuming that the teams were bringing everything they needed to build a third car for most races. Is Williams not having a spare chassis/tub a common thing to have happen in the cost cap era of F1? Also, if Sargeant leaves Williams mid-season, is Mick Schumacher the likely replacement? 

Will, Indy

CHRIS MEDLAND: No. it’s certainly not common to happen in the cost cap era. In fact, many other teams were stunned that Williams started the year without one, let alone reached round three. But there will have been occasions that teams didn’t have a spare ready for Bahrain, which is less risky given the track layout and lower chance of a heavy contact with a wall.

I genuinely don’t think we’re likely to see a situation where Sargeant leaves mid-season. In fact, I think the fact he’s been hamstrung in this way will make Williams a bit more lenient over the next couple of races. He’s missed out on valuable track time as one of the drivers with the least amount of experience on the grid, and has to deal with the psychological blow of being withdrawn.

As much as I don’t think that would happen, to answer your question about Mick, I think he would be a consideration — but so too would Liam Lawson.

Q: The Williams team is some combination of being so poorly run and/or poorly funded that they don’t have a backup car in Australia, and may not have a second car ready in time for Suzuka. And they were using Excel to manage their part inventory. Good grief.

Is there any chance this makes F1 reconsider the value of an Andretti team with support from GM?

I can’t imagine F1 has any control over which driver Williams puts in their single functional car, but the fact that an American is being forced out of his ride in this situation is just icing on the cake. It’s really hard to shake the feeling that F1 wants dollars while not-so-subtly hating American fans, drivers, and racing.

I’ve decided to not renew my F1TV subscription this season. I know F1 won’t miss the $80, but it’s the principle of it for me.

Kyle, Stokesdale 

CM: The Excel spreadsheet approach is remarkable but they made it work for so long, and now changing to different software and the whole new approach is what has caught Williams out as it tries to adapt this year.

There’s definitely not a scenario where this leads to a reconsideration on the Andretti front, though. If anything, it’s likely to be used as an example of just how tough F1 is, when one of the most successful teams in the sport’s history — now with strong funding from Dorilton Capital and an existing infrastructure — struggles so much to just adapt certain elements of the way it works.

It would be great to see Andretti join in 2028, but if that happens, the Williams situation should serve as a warning to fans about just how complex and challenging F1 is to be involved in, and what an incredible task Andretti and GM will be taking on.

I’ll flip the point about Sargeant around, though. It was an American driver in a team that has American ownership and backing, and yet those U.S. dollars were risked by Williams because it made the decision solely on a sporting basis and not on what was going to keep the driver or ownership happy. It was a cold, hard decision based on which driver was likely to get the most out of the car.

Q: The lack of a spare chassis for Williams got me thinking about Paddy Lowe’s short tenure the second time around. It appears there has been a lack of capital investment into structure and processes for the teams for at least a decade. 

So having said that, has there been any rethink about just who screwed up the Williams team? Somebody dropped the crystal. 


CM: You’re spot-on about when Paddy Lowe was in charge, as Williams missed the start of testing because its car wasn’t ready that year. Claire Williams was effectively team principal at the time (officially deputy to Frank), but it was long before the cost cap era and the team was sticking to its guns of wanting to be a full constructor and not be too reliant on partnerships.

That led to a huge divide in working practices and facilities as the biggest teams could spend endlessly, while Williams regularly had to take pay drivers to keep funding itself to a decent level. I’d argue from the late 2000s it was slipping far behind in terms of its resources, and only now does it have the capacity to try and catch up under the cost cap.

What has happened recently, though, shows how delicate that process is. James Vowles asked the team to run before it could walk when it came to the way of manufacturing a new car for 2024, and pushed the team beyond breaking point. One of the items that then fell through the cracks was the third chassis (the first ones were barely ready for Bahrain).

So I don’t think it’s all on one person that screwed the team up; it’s more a consistent lack of resource as F1 budgets grew that put it so far behind, and now it can try to catch up it has made a mistake in how far it reached over the winter.

It’s interesting to ponder what the team would have done if the other car had been wiped out in an accident during the race. Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images

Q: Given his performances to start the season, why wouldn’t Red Bull go after Carlos Sainz to replace Checo?

Ed Joras

CM: Funnily enough, I had this very chat with Carlos Sainz Sr. on Sunday night. Mainly from his side, the point was that no bridges had been burned at Red Bull, but he didn’t suggest there had been any talks. I’m with you though, that I think he makes a very good candidate for both the Red Bull seat (if Perez is replaced) and the vacancy at Mercedes.

Audi is definitely interested too, but a spell where there appeared to be a lack of investment and the way that team is currently performing suggests it would be a really tough 2025 for anyone going there.

Q: Josef Newgarden is the best American driver right now. He should be talking to all Formula 1 teams (and to Liberty and to Formula 1 Management so they can apply pressure). Mercedes would be a great fit, and what a great marketing boost for F1 and for Josef. He deserves it. If only… I can dream.


CM: Josef definitely has evolved through his career to the point that it would be fascinating to see him in an F1 car. I haven’t got the outward impression that he’s that desperate for the chance, but he’s someone I’d have liked to see getting a test at some stage to show what he can do.

McLaren has been really good in putting Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou in F1 cars for testing analysis, but I wish others would do similar because as different as the cars and tracks are, it could really click for some of the IndyCar guys. The only way you find out is by running them.

Q: Any update on the Andretti F1 bid? Any talk or chance of purchasing an existing team? Or is it officially over for Andretti Cadillac?

Mark, Buffalo, NY

CM: No update at the moment but it’s definitely not officially over. In all releases around the topic and about the new factory, Andretti has made it clear that its work continues apace ahead of a potential entry,

The FIA is also still actively involved as it had submitted Andretti to FOM as a suitable entrant, so discussions continue. But as FOM stated in its recent decision saying 2025 and 2026 were off the table, 2028 isn’t, so there are still multiple doors that are open.

There was a bit of noise surrounding further interest in buying the Haas entry over the winter, but I was told firmly from a Haas POV that the team is not for sale. And that’s the problem in terms of buying an existing team (that F1 and other teams seem to keep suggesting to Andretti as a route in) — there are no teams keen to sell, and certainly not at a price that is deemed acceptable.

From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, March 29, 2016

Q: What is the reason/tradition of not having any racing on Easter Sunday?

James Ambrosia

ROBIN MILLER: Well, in 2007 Champ Car staged a race on Easter Sunday in downtown Las Vegas. It was the raciest, coolest, fastest street circuit on record. But if you counted the team personnel, ticket takers, street beggars and showgirls, there might have been 4,000 people in attendance. I remember David Phillips and I counting the seats and then the people occupying them. The promoter lost millions and decided to cancel his scheduled street race in Phoenix.

Story originally appeared on Racer