The RACER Mailbag, May 31

Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for length and clarity. Questions received after 3pm ET each Monday will appear the following week.

Q: Michael Andretti is continuing to pursue his quest to get U.S. drivers into Formula 1. With the new venture into establishing a new European open-wheel series, I would rather see Michael to take over a struggling series that has less than 14 entries on the field. What are the chances of Michael taking control of the Euro Formula Open Series rather than starting one from scratch? 

Juan Solano

MP: I think we’re confusing Michael telling me he planned on entering cars in European open-wheel series if he gets into F1 for what I’ve never heard him say, which is he’s starting a European racing series.


Q: Regarding the aeroscreen 2.0, it doesn’t sound like it will be any safer than the present aeroscreen. Yes, it may be lighter, but so will the wallets of the owners after they (must) purchase it. So what’s the benefit? Every car will be lighter by the same amount. Will the racing be better? Not likely. I can understand incorporating it into a completely new car, but why the retrofit?  Spend the money on better race promotion, etc.

Rick, Lisle, IL

MP: Less mass in a crash is a good thing. The aeroscreen 2.0 will offset some of the weight being added with the energy recovery system, and therefore, reduce the mass/energy in crashes. That’s why it’s a good thing. It’s already a marvel of safety, so there’s no real room to improve in that area that comes to mind. If the argument is “why try to improve something on a race car,” I fear we might fail to understand the basic premise of the sport.

Q: Another DNF for Grosjean, this time at Indy. He has race-winning potential, but how much more time does Michael Andretti give him? 

Rob, Rochester, NY

MP: His season has gone pear-shaped of late, hasn’t it? The one thing Romain’s struggled with throughout his career is consistency; lots of highs and lows, and while the lows haven’t always been his fault, it’s hard to ignore how he’s crashed on his own at both ovals this year. After six rounds, he has two podiums and four finishes outside the top 10. I hope the warm and fuzzy feelings Michael had after Long Beach haven’t soured since they were supposedly going to get a contract extension worked out this May.

Q: I watched the entire Indy 500 from the pre-race show through to the final interview. First of all the race was 500 miles and there were at least 500 commercials. And second. I have never heard of Jewel, I don’t know anything about Jewel, and I don’t care if I ever hear the name Jewel again. But I thought her “version” of the anthem was different but not the worst I have ever heard. Most of the time for these big events they bring out someone who sounds like they are experiencing stomach cramps while they are singing and I turn the sound off. But I was not offended by Jewel and was more offended that they no longer have the balloon spectacle due to “ global warming “ or whatever the reason they used.

Don, Grand Rapids, MI

MP: Usually when I don’t know about someone or care about someone, I don’t take time to write a letter that is mostly about that person, but that’s me. I don’t think Jewel did a poor job with the technical aspect of singing the song; I took issue with it being the most low-energy rendition I’ve ever heard at a major sporting event. 

Great song to raise spirits, raise anticipation for what’s the come, and send the crowd into a volley of cheers right before a race. Felt more like she was singing at a funeral, which makes me think IndyCar would be wise to consult with those who might sing the anthem to find out if they’re leaning toward putting 300,000 people to sleep or not. 

Maybe they can bring Jewel back next year and have her release some balloons? (Kidding)

Red flags at Indy breed excitement, chaos, anger, conspiracy theories or some combination of all that, depending on your perspective. Motorsport Images

Q: The Indy 500 just finished. Worst NASCAR-style decision I’ve ever seen in Champ Car/IndyCar since I started watching in 1985. No one wants a race to end under caution, but sometimes it happens. A red flag with two laps to go is gimmicky BS.

Between that and the Nothing But Commercials broadcast that only showed about 180 of the 500 miles between commercials, really makes it hard for me to ever watch another race. I can’t help but feel that this red/white/green finish was either manufactured by NBC to get more commercials, or by Roger’s team to get Josef a 500 win.


MP: Let’s start by nipping the conspiracy theory BS in the bud. It became apparent to me around the halfway point of the race that Newgarden was onto something special as he was among the only mid-pack qualifiers to march forward — and consistently so — during the race. 

Starting P17, he was P12 on lap 25. He was P9 on lap 50. Lap 100 and he was P5. Lap 150 and he was P2. But the race was fixed, right. GTFOH.

I get it, you didn’t like the finish, but making up nonsense about the last red flag being manufactured to air more commercials or the race being a fix is just lame. 

Q: The whole last-lap shootout came about because of how mediocre the cars raced this year. And it happens every year — when IndyCar’s aero souffle won’t rise, and desperation to pass kicks in, the race turns into a late-race bloodbath. It was a great race, but in the drama department, and maybe less so in the racing department.

IndyCar tried to avoid conspiracy, I think. The question of “who the hell was ahead when the light was on” a la 2002 would be more damaging than F1-esque one-lap shootout. The decision to throw the red might have been influenced by Ferrucci seemingly challenging the position, and the A.J. Foyt factor. All of the 33 should probably internalize that the white-flag lap at Indy means all rules are out, and just how deep one can get into the pit lane entry breaking the draft is your own responsibility, at least until someone crashes. I think that’s better than IndyCar’s version of the yellow-lane rule — that would be a conspiracy fodder! 

But I doubt anyone can reasonably claim the fix was in. Newgarden is in the history books now, and forever will be. 

Filip, Maastricht, The Netherlands

MP: Significant aero changes are on the way for the race next year, and I really hope IndyCar enlists one car from every team to participate in a few days of aero testing at the Speedway to do whatever’s needed to establish an awesome package

Q: I think the “dragon move” needs to be outlawed next year. Crossing over the pit entry line is playing a dangerous game with the pit wall attenuator looming large. An accident of that type would be horrible.

Do you think that move will be cracked down on next year?


MP: I hope. But IndyCar seems to like a less-restrictive approach to the 500 and they welcome what we saw, so I wouldn’t bet on it.

Q: First, I am relieved that the rogue tire didn’t hurt anyone. Second, congratulations to Josef on a hard-fought win. He kept his head down and avoided most of the trouble. But I was not as happy with the win. I felt like IndyCar ditched a lot of protocol to set up a last-lap shootout.  

What are your thoughts of how the red flags at the end played out? For me, the win didn’t feel authentic.

Stefan Johansson (Not the 1997 Le Mans winner) 

MP: You do an excellent job of managing drivers, BTW. I’ll return to the point of how the win would have been problematic for some whether it was Marcus or Josef. Finishes under yellow after going red twice — on lap 185 and 193 — but not 198, and Ericsson wins? Folks leave asking why a third red wasn’t used and why Josef was robbed of a chance to fight for the win and Josef being upset and quoted saying he didn’t think staying yellow was the right choice.

Or, we get the red, Newgarden uses P2 to his full advantage, wins, and we get Marcus being quoted saying we should have stayed yellow and shouldn’t have gone red. It was just one of those years where unhappiness was going to be the response, red or yellow.

Q: Another compelling and exciting Indianapolis 500. However, yet again the ending for me is slightly soured by a ridiculous and dangerous amount of weaving by the lead driver at the end of the race. I am very surprised that IndyCar hasn’t made any noticeable effort to enforce higher standards of driving. I get that these are all professional drivers each trying everything to get the biggest win of their careers, but is there nothing IndyCar can do to limit the number of lane changes a lead driver can make while defending?

At the very least, I can think of one rule that needs to be added for next year’s race. This rule applies only during green flag racing and applies as soon as the green flag is waved. Any driver that crosses the inside white line with all four wheels in between the exit of Turn 4 and the pit entrance and then does not enter the pit lane should be instantly penalized by deducting one lap. Surely that rule is enforceable?

Jules, Edinburgh, Scotland

MP: It’s absolutely possible. IndyCar has the freedom to create a rule and enforce it, if that’s what they want to do. The question here is on the “want” side of the equation.

Q: Have we reached the nadir of using red flags to manufacture green-flag finishes? 

Jordan, Warwickshire, UK

MP: You win this edition of the mailbag for the use of “nadir.”

Q: My vote is this race should have ended under yellow. As an IndyCar fan forever, this was a typical NASCAR manufactured finish. Every past winner of the race should now be replayed using artificial intelligence to determine who got screwed and who gets rewarded. If race control is still Arie and Max, I do not approve. Time to change direction.

Dave, NW Indiana

MP: I do wonder what would have transpired if the first red was left as a yellow and the field circulated while a full cleanup was done. I’m guessing we’d have had a few laps left to run under green, and if so, this week’s mailbag would be a lot shorter.

Q: Can you please tell me the last Indy 500 that finished under caution and why? I have been to over 40 500s and can’t recall the madness that happened this year. Are the IndyCar officials turning into that stock car series in creating what they feel is “excitement?” Is stage racing next?

After the Rosenqvist/Kirkwood accident, it should have been yellow until the accident was cleaned up and track cleared for racing. If that goes to lap 200, then whoever is leading is the winner. It could have been Ryan Hunter-Reay or any of the other drivers gambling on fuel strategy, but that may not be good enough for all the big-name, big-money front-runners.

I follow IndyCar and support it at the 500 and other tracks, but I am not a fan of what transpired this afternoon. Who are the officials making these decisions?

Old school Indy 500 fan

MP: Your race director is Kyle Novak. IndyCar president Jay Frye is a common presence in race control. The two driver stewards are Arie Luyendyk and Max Papis.

Q: The application of the red flags at and after about 25 laps to go by IndyCar is a new phenomenon race control and management should not engage. IndyCar does not need to ensure that the race ends under green flag in order for spectators to have a good time. Formula 1 has fallen into this trap (2021 Abu Dhabi), NASCAR since the green-white-checkered and overtime rules. At least NASCAR has a rule for this. IndyCar does not, as far as I know.

If the track is not blocked by debris and the recovery crew is not endangered under full-course yellow, the cars should roll and the laps should count down. This has been the custom for decades and decades. 

The last two laps should have finished under yellow flag with Ericsson being the rightful winner.

The starter and the pace car had no opportunity to show the one lap to go signal. This contravened everything before from the past, even in this race!

IndyCar did not want a Swede to win, let alone back to back, while two Americans who never won the 500 were breathing down his neck, with American sponsorship, flag, and carrying the names of Foyt and Penske instead of an obscure chocolate company!

Even the NBC broadcasters did not understand the restart procedure at the end. 

I am hugely disappointed in the process and how IndyCar made up the outcome at the end, knowing that the leader up to the green flag was the sitting duck. Ericsson seemingly had this in the bag two laps to go, but IndyCar robbed him.

Adam Lipcsey, Toronto

MP: Ericsson did more to raise the profile of the Indy 500 on a global level over the last year than anyone that comes to mind in a long while. Come on, man. 

How tall could/should the fences at Indy be? Josh Tons/Lumen

Q: Will the series make any adjustments to the wheel tethers after Kirkwood’s wheel went over the stands? Will IMS look into a taller catch fencing? That was a super-close call.

Joey Selmants


IndyCar confirms no injuries from fence-clearing wheel at Indy

MP: I’d be shocked if IMS doesn’t look different when we return. A tether failure occurred, which means IndyCar will dive in to find the root cause and determine if and what improvements can be made.

Q: I thought the race was pretty entertaining. But 1) Thank God that Kirkwood’s wheel did not hit anyone in the stands. Just a guess R.P. will need to have a look at that; maybe a higher catch fence? 2) What is up with the starts and restarts? I’m pretty sure I saw a lot of passing before drivers were crossing the start/finish line. Several drivers indicated they were confused about whether start/restart rules exist anymore, and if they do, they are not enforced. 3) Has Indy ever had a no-warmup-lap restart, ever? That sounds fishy, even though one of my favorite drivers won.

John Becker

MP: Higher fencing seems like a guarantee, to me.

Q: I’m not convinced a one-lap shootout is the way to finish a race, especially on a track where we know the second-placed car has a distinct advantage and a lot of dangerous situations can — and did — occur. IndyCar has always been my favorite sport, but I’m pretty disappointed with the decision. if there’s not time for at least two laps, it should not even be considered. 

Brian, Joliet, IL

MP: That’s an adjustment IndyCar should consider for next May.

Q: Officials played a major part in Sunday’s outcome. Choosing to finish the race with a one-lap shootout guaranteed that whoever was in first would not end up in first. It was like NBA officials telling a team losing by 10 points with two seconds remaining in the game that the free throw their star player is about to shoot will count for 11 points. 

Bill Branagh

MP: I hear you, but they created an opportunity for anything to happen, even if the odds were very small in favor of Ericsson blowing the restart, Newgarden having a technical issue, or some other factor emerging. Again, whomever was second was primed to pounce, but I’d rather have that than the result guaranteed under yellow.

Q: Seems some of the major gripes are how race control handled Ferrucci’s nearly-errant tire, and the multiple red flags with a handful of laps to go. I had a few thoughts. First, Ferrucci’s team was penalized, just not the race-wrecking NASCAR-style penalty people expected. It’s my understanding that IndyCar traditionally does not penalize team infractions in-race the way NASCAR does. Granted, IndyCar does not pit 8-10 times a race like they do.

As for the red flags, look, to quote Danica, it’s about entertainment. The crowd roared with approval. On the last one, they should have made the call a lap earlier, but it’s tough to do that quickly. In retrospect, the sheer mountain of recriminations that IndyCar would have had to dealt with would have been colossal. For instance, why did they allow Marcus Ericsson to seemingly jump every restart they had? When the yellow light came on could be established, but to decide the race between three drivers, in which the leader didn’t even get to lead the actual restart at the line, would have been quite messy. That’s a rule that makes no sense to me. 

Greg in NJ

MP: Pit lane procedural errors are usually handled with a fine. Leave your visor open while refueling? It’s a fine, not a drive-through. The Foyt fine was perfectly in line with the standard.

Q: I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the broadcast of the Indy 500…on radio. I just couldn’t take another minute of Leigh Diffey. But this isn’t a rant about how horrible I think Diffey is; there’s another reason why he needs to be dropped from IndyCar broadcasting. 

The chief announcer on a broadcast is the conduit to the audience viewing or listening to the event. We invite him into our homes (or tablets, phones, etc.) for a few hours. He should be a pleasant guest or more importantly, a star. Now this may seem xenophobic, but it’s more common sense: he should also be an American (or Canadian). We’re trying to grow the audience here, and in all big American sports, the announcers are Americans. It’s not just us — can you imagine the uproar if Jim Nance were to be the chief announcer on British television for the FA Cup soccer final? Or Joe Buck announcing the Aussie Rules Grand Final on Australian television? It’s the same everywhere.

If we’re trying to build a broadcast audience for IndyCar racing, a top American announcer needs to be brought in. As I was watching the broadcast from Indy (with the sound muted and the radio on), my thought was: why was NBC Sports’ biggest star, Mike Tirico only the studio host? I know he’s not a racing guy, but he is intelligent and a total professional and could probably pull it off.  

He would need to rely more on the analysts during the race, which would in turn highlight their performance (rather than just shouting over them) and make it a true team effort. Having NBC Sports’ biggest star calling the action would bring a ton of gravitas to the broadcast, and the sport. In the olden days, ABC had their biggest sports announcers calling the Indy action, Jim McKay (11 Olympic Games) and Keith Jackson (the voice of college football). Their presence told the audience that this event is of the highest importance. 

Having non-Americans as analysts, working with the chief announcer is just fine. Jackie Stewart and David Hobbs gave us decades of great insight and brought lively entertainment to their broadcasts.  

I spent many years in the broadcast industry, and one great lesson I learned is that it’s the product that goes out over the air that matters, not how much the insiders might like an announcer as a person or how easy they are to work with. In my memories, I still revel in the broadcast booth duels between Sam Posey and Bobby Unser (and more recently, anyone with Paul Tracy). They might be a producer’s nightmare, but it was entertaining as hell. 

In the end, that’s what this is all about. Sports is an entertainment business. If they’re putting the best out on the track, we should have the best and biggest stars in the broadcast booth bringing the races to the audience.  

Greg, Santa Rosa, CA 

MP: What you’ve written doesn’t “seem” xenophobic. It is xenophobic. Diffey is an American. Became one many years ago. But only real Americans speak with an American accent? The guy who moved to America from Australia to pursue his dream and loved America so much that he became a naturalized citizen and is raising American children with his wife isn’t worthy of calling the Indy 500? Right. Good to know the American dream only applies to those who are born here. 

Meanwhile, only 13 of the 33 drivers in the race were American, so we should only interview them and not the other 20, as not to offend the real Americans watching at home? Come on, man.

Q: I have been a die-hard fan of the Indy 500 since 1988. And believe me, it was not easy to be an Indy fan in France back then! No TV coverage, no internet and limited press.

I have a very bad feeling about yesterday’s race and the way it ended. I am convinced that if Newgarden had been leading at the time of the last crash, the race would have ended on yellow. What’s your take on this? I like Josef Newgarden, and he is a deserving winner, no doubt about that. But all this left me a very bad taste in my mouth.

Mathieu, Mulhouse, France

MP: That would mean race director Kyle Novak is a pawn who fixes races. Is that really the rabbit hole we’re wandering down?  

Close, exciting racing or desperation moves? Another aspect of the current Indy 500 formula that stirs different reactions. Motorsport Images

Q: Congratulations to Josef Newgarden and the No. 2 Penske crew. It was special to see just what an Indy 500 victory meant to him. But I’m growing concerned about the chaotic late-race restarts that many series are adopting. Other examples are this year’s Cup Series race at COTA and Australian GP. Restarts didn’t affect the winner in those cases, but they all saw multiple drivers eliminated from strong positions they’d held all race.

It can make the first 99% of a race seem not worth watching, with fascinating storylines shattered by a silly move with one to go. Yes, we get action, but the moves are just desperate. It puts drivers in a difficult position, with prolonged stress and with pressure to chase a good result or else have one snatched from you.

Enforced green-flag finishes are meant to add excitement, but I think they can be anxious, draining and potentially dangerous. Would it be fairer if we let a race end organically under yellow? What are your thoughts?

Dan, Norwich, UK

MP: I’m fine with the way it ended. Even though it was a single lap, the series did have time to halt the race and restart it to let the drivers settle it among themselves. If we’re going the “organic” route, the Speedway has an apron that would allow the pace car and driver to circulate in all but the worst crash scenarios, and they can go down pit lane if the front straight is blocked, so in reality, there’s never a need to go red if the track isn’t blocked or emergency services aren’t required or major repairs to the barrier are unnecessary. There was no enforced reason for any of the reds, but I do appreciate race control’s commitment to saving laps to give fans a race to the checkered flag.

Q: This last-lap snaking that Pagenaud started might well end in tears. As it is the first two cars, at a minimum it could wipe out up to, say five cars — the top five! Maybe a rule should be introduced saying that cars cannot have either of their left wheels over the pit entry while line. Maybe all four wheels. That could be on the last lap only or for each of the 200 laps, however I feel it would reduce the dragon danger to some extent.

Santino’s day will come!

Oliver Wells

MP: I’ll keep saying it and hope it’s heard: The day IndyCar outlaws the stupid “dragon” maneuver will be a day to rejoice. Move a lane to the left or a lane to the right? No problem. Turning a 2.5-mile lap into three miles or whatever it is by weaving left and right? Just stupid.

Q: I’m here to defend the red flags. Don’t even know if it’s needed, but it’s my belief all races should finish under green. This might make me a simpleton, but if I ran the world, it would be the law. 

More seriously though. Are there not tethers to hold the wheel on? I couldn’t even imagine what would have happened if Kirkwood’s tire went into the stands.

Shawn, MD

MP: There was more than one lap left so I’m good with the decision to have the race finish with a one-lap battle, even if that battle had a foregone conclusion before it started.

The wheels spin at crazy speeds and are changed many times per race; I’m not sure how the wheels would rotate if they had a cable attached. The tethers connect to the suspension uprights where the wheels are affixed with a threaded stub axle and nut. As I understand, the entire upright sheared from Kirkwood’s car, which is a concern since it did have a tether connected to it.

It’s also worth mentioning that there’s no way a safety device will work 100 percent of the time. That’s not an excuse, but more of a reminder that even amid the safest period of IndyCar racing we’ve ever had, things still break, malfunction, and pose risks. This was a frightening jog to the memory.

Q: On the last restart of the race, Ericsson was P1 and Josef P2. It was discussed in post-race interviews that Ericsson was a sitting duck. Would it have made any sense for Ericsson to let Josef pass him going into Turn 1 in hopes of setting up a winning pass into Turns 3 or 4? 


MP: The driver with the draft has the advantage while Indy cars are winding up to speed at Indy, and it takes more than one lap for a car to get all the way up to speed. That’s why whomever was P2 going into the red flag was all but assured to win. Yes, in hindsight, the smartest move Ericsson and his team could have made was to accelerate and lift to allow Newgarden to take the lead into Turn 1 and take advantage of the tow to try and win. Trying to out-run whomever was in P2 was not the answer for reasons that have nothing to do with the drivers and everything to do with aerodynamics.

Q: As an old-timer, I certainly do not want to go back to the days of the winner being one lap ahead of the entire field. However, I also do not think what happened on Sunday was a good thing. The red flags made the ending feel manufactured and potentially more dangerous, with racers taking more risks to win an all-out sprint. Will there be any fallout from this, or am I in the minority (along with a justifiably unhappy Marcus Ericsson that this was not a good look for the series?


MP I was good with either outcome, Chris. As they went by me under yellow, I knew it would be an unpopular win for Ericsson if it stayed yellow and he’d be picked off by whomever was second if it went red, which I thought was Ferrucci at the time. 

I’m good with the call to go red since the precedent was set with the first and the second reds. At least that was consistent.

Q: My first concern is with the massive weave that has taken hold on the last laps of the race. I don’t care about the backstretch, as the fans have catch fences. But I care about the crews on the front stretch that only have a concrete wall. We don’t need another Kevin Cogan incident. I’m concerned about a car losing it and spinning onto pit lane at 200+ mph because drivers were being jackass aggressive with the weave off Turn 4. Are you hearing any rumbles in the industry about this?

Regardless of what people think about the red flags, the energy of the race came across on the broadcast. It was a good race with changes in strategy, drivers losing their cool and doing stupid things (VeeKay), and unpredictable changes in fortune. If you can watch the actual broadcast, there are points where Hinch and Townsend are going at it which had us laughing hard. Diffey was ever the professional and moved the conversation on. I loved it. Not sure if someone is going to get in trouble during coverage of the Snake Pit in the middle of the race when they said, “Not many families down there right now. Probably some families starting there.” All in all, still ridiculously better race coverage than ABC.


MP: I woke up the morning after the race and was thinking about how this edition of the Indy 500 had the biggest “boys (and Katherine Legge) have at it” tone I can recall. What really stood out was how differently it was managed compared to the other races this year where strict control and penalties have been levied for poor driving, but here, it was a blend of professional and amateur standards going unchecked. The crazy weaving coming out of Turn 4 — also sanctioned by the series — was further proof of how the refs are quick to blow the whistle everywhere else but Indy. 

If they’re going to holler at a driver for doing something stupid on the Indy road course, why would the whistle get swallowed most of the time when we’re on the oval? Katherine Legge made a massive error when she hit Stefan Wilson in practice. The reaction from the series? Nothing that I know of. Scott McLaughlin drilled Simon Pagenaud from behind in the race, leading to his crash and Agustin Canapino’s crash. The penalty? Nothing that made the official race results. If it’s “have at it” at the 500, it should be that way everywhere else or nowhere else.

“He says since we’ve tried all the things we thought would work and they didn’t, we want to try some things we thought wouldn’t work and see if they do.’” Motorsport Images

Q: On the Indy 500 LCQ practice broadcast, one of the RLL engineers said that they were going to try some of the things that they learned in the wind tunnel but didn’t think would work in real life. With wind tunnel time being extremely expensive, why would they waste their time and money in there if they believe they were not getting real-world data that could be used? Seems like the wind tunnel learnings would be the first thing to try at the beginning of the week to use as a baseline of where to go.

Joey, Boynton Beach, FL 

MP: There’s a practical aspect to this, right? They went to the wind tunnel, learned some things that were beneficial, learned some things weren’t — according to the controlled environment they were in at the tunnel — and likely worked through all of the “yes” items and were left to give the “no” items a try because they had nothing left to try and nothing to lose since they were already losing.

Q: I am curious to know why current IndyCar drivers “snake” along the straightaways when running solo. Do current tires have a lot more stagger with the right-rear tire’s diameter? Does the Dallara IR18 create a lot more dirty air (that bounces off the walls) that today’s drivers are trying to avoid than older Indy cars? During Arie Luyendyk’s 1996 record qualifying run, he didn’t come away from the walls nearly as much as today’s drivers do.

Here’s a link to Arie’s record run.


MP: It’s the suspension setup to help the cars turn left. Rather than hold the wheel firm and fight its natural tendency to turn left down the long straights, drivers let the car turn and in doing so, reduce friction/scrub that would otherwise slow the cars on the straights. They then turn to the right to get setup for the proper line to carve through the corner. If you’ve ever had a shopping cart with a wonky wheel that made it want to pull to one side, it’s a fight it to make it go straight down the aisle. Same exact principle here where, while running solo, it improves speed if you avoid the fight.

Q: Could Stefan Wilson’s height made him more vulnerable to injury than, say, a driver that is 5’9″?


MP: According to one Indy 500 star who I spoke with, the answer is yes. To fit their helmets below the aeroscreen, the tallest drivers — ones with long torsos — must hunch forward into something that looks like the letter C while making their seats. That curvature creates an issue in some crashes where the built-in bend creates a weak point for the energy to exploit.

Q: Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I believe that in most racing series those behind the scenes are doing everything they can to eliminate weight from the cars to make them lighter, and therefore faster, without compromising rules and safety. Is this true in IndyCar?

All of these cars are identical spec-wise, so I presume that they are all likely to be pretty much the same weight. If that is true, as I watched Graham Rahal lack the speed to make the 500 during qualifying, I was wondering if he was possibly being handicapped by his body weight relative to the other drivers.  

For example, Santino Ferrucci at 117 pounds is hauling around approximately 70 lbs less than Rahal, who weighs in at approximately 189 lbs. I know that the RLL team was way off the mark compared to other teams, but could this weight variance have been a factor in Graham not even being able to outqualify his own teammates (who weigh in between 130-154 lbs)? Maybe I missed it, but I heard nothing mentioned nor did I read anything about the extra weight being a factor in the speed.

Duke, Buckeye, AZ

MP: It’s informally referred to as the “Danica rule.” She was indeed the lightest driver in the field during her full-time IndyCar career, and the series back then did nothing to equalize its drivers until enough complained and a ballast system was adopted.

Drivers are required to get to IndyCar’s scales within 15 minutes after the end of the first practice session at each event to get weighed, and with that official number in place, crews then add or remove ballast to make sure a Graham isn’t at a weight and performance disadvantage compared to Jack Harvey by bringing everyone up to the same minimum weight. There’s a limit, of course — the series won’t ask teams to ballast everyone up to make a 250-pound driver equal, because there’s only so much room for ballast at the leading edge of the tub.

Q: Regarding Callum Ilott and the change to the car, you wrote:

“My guess is there was something wonky happening with the floor/underwing while at speed. Callum said they did torsional rigidity tests and found no issues. His main complaint was the erratic handling, which, in the absence of a broken shock, sounds like a non-linear aero issue. Listen to the good crew chiefs, and they’ll tell you that some floors are problematic. That’s my guess here, and as for the chassis, I’m not sure what will happen to it. I feel confident in saying Ilott will pass on using it again…”

That is great insight, and it made me wonder why, in the era of a chassis that is a decade old, it requires desperate moves like it was 1993-95 IMS vibes.

If it’s an aero/undertray issue, why would a team swap out an entire car instead of attempt a simple undertray replacement first? Did JHR try that along the way first? I get variances in manufacturing can create issues for a component but seems a drastic change to dump the entire car in this era.   

Full disclosure: I’m also old enough to barely remember a Duracell/Marlboro livery, but that was desperation at its finest and honestly I think we can all agree Harvey’s “buzzer beater” may be the closest to that that we have seen in nearly 30 years.

Am I missing any other attempts that smacked of a Hail Mary between those two?

Ed, Westfield

MP: Not sure why the floor swap wasn’t tried sooner, and by the time the poop hit the fan, making smallish changes seemed like a waste. They did the big change and helped themselves by doing so. There were a few head-scratchers from Ilott’s team during the opening week of practice.

Jack’s got balls, which I’ve never questioned. Happy for him, and happy for Graham with his surprise chance to avoid his dad’s fate in 1993. Kyle Kaiser dropping Fernando Alonso in 2019 is the all-timer of the modern era, I’d say.

Tires might only have to last four laps on a qualifying run, but that doesn’t mean there’s any less stress on them. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Q: During Indy qualifying, the tires seem to fall off quite a bit over four laps, which makes sense as they are being pushed to the limit. In race trim, tires also fall off over the course of a stint — just not as rapidly since the speeds/forces are lower. Curious to know just how much greater the degradation is when at the limit. If a new tire is 100/100, how much is left after a four-lap qualifying run? How much is left after a full green-flag race stint?

Wesley, Summerville, SC

MP: Main difference here is the absence of comfy downforce in qualifying in order to make all that extra speed. There’s barely enough downforce on most cars to get them through the corners and as a result, they’re sliding and scrubbing a lot more than they would in race trim with all that downforce piled on to extend their life by avoiding the scrubbing and grating that takes place in low-downforce trim.

Q: IndyCar has a product to sell to promoters of racetracks. Over the years venues have come and gone: Houston, Baltimore was a great venue… Why not reach out to cities like Baltimore, Richmond, new venues, Road Atlanta, Sebring, and expand the schedule before F1 makes a larger footprint on American soil? IndyCar has a much better product to sell.

AE, Danvill, IN

MP: We’ve been to Baltimore and it failed. Been to Richmond and it failed, although we were going to return, but then COVID. The cars are too fast for Road Atlanta and Sebring — the full circuit — is unsuitable for IndyCar.

IndyCar goes to more than a dozen domestic tracks and one in Canada. If it could add a downtown street race in New York or another giant metro, that would be great, but if it’s just another longstanding racing circuit, the chances are it will be a modest success, at most.

Q: It’s been a while since I’ve heard anything about our friend Robert Wickens. Any updates? 

Kevin, Boise

MP: Spoke to Bryan Herta about their desires to run Robby at Indy and there’s nothing new to report, but they haven’t lost interest.

Q: 100 Days To Indy has been great. Well done by The CW, IndyCar, and the drivers. No surprise there are a lot of good characters in the series. I would love to hit the links with Scotty Mac. But to me, the stars of the show have been Will and Liz. Always had mad respect for Will as a driver, but was never a guy I rooted for or against. Well, going forward, count me in as a full member of the Will Power Fan Club. Glad Liz is recovering and able to be back at the track! A lot of deserving drivers, but would be great to see Will and Liz celebrate another Indy 500 win.

Jeff E, Piner, KY

MP: They’ve long been my favorite couple. Having known Liz in her pre-Power days as a PR ace in IndyCar, their union has been a blast to watch as they’ve become everything to each other. They’re not just loving among each other, but also share that love with others. I’ve gotten a number of calls from Will or texts from Liz in recent years to check in on my wife while she’s been through the wars with cancer, which speaks to who they are. I’m probably sharing too much, but they sent her an amazing care package and when Liz got sick, my wife sent a sweet card and flowers to her because that’s what they deserve.

Q: Seeing all that happened with the 2024 engine plans being canceled, then Chevy now considering its own F1 engine, made me wonder what makes an F1 engine so expensive? Is that only the materials? If so, can’t IndyCar jump ahead of F1 and use some rule set requiring cheaper materials that would give a result (design and power) similar enough to make Chevy, Honda and all the manufacturers involved in F1 2026 at least think about supporting it?


MP: It’s not just materials, it’s the power and technology and durability F1 engines must make that costs a fortune to achieve, and to do that, you also need an insane amount of people to design, create, test, and build such things. The labor costs alone are insane.

Manufacturers spend those crazy pounds, euros, yen, and whatever other denomination because F1 is a global marketing giant. That’s not us, unfortunately.

Maybe they could bring back leather helmets for the Pit Stop Challenge? Doug Mathews/Penske Entertainment

Q: Watching the Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge, good fun and great crowd. Why don’t they let the drivers drive this without their helmets on? It would be cool to see their faces in the cars.


MP: Why stop there! Shorts and a t-shirt with flip-flops seems like a lot more fun. Seriously, though, we have the slight issue of wheel nuts being undone each year during the competition and while the odds are low, the possibility of a car hooking left or right and stoving into the wall does exist, hence the need for a helmet and HANS. But since we don’t do refueling during the competition, I think my idea about drivers in beach attire is perfectly valid.

From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, May 28, 2014

Q: ESPN Classic has been showing old Indy 500s, and I just finished the 1971 race. Several things caught my eye. I saw few cars with sponsors. Where did teams get money? For example, Al Unser’s Colt just had lightning bolts on it. Who was Johnny Lightning, anyways?

The pace car wasn’t deployed during cautions. What tools did drivers have to know they weren’t gaining an unfair advantage under yellow?

I’ve seen you write that some drivers did have an unfair advantage over others under yellow. Did USAC really trust drivers to “maintain spacing” under yellow? Under one caution, Jim McKay commented that Al Unser’s mechanic was complaining to the flagman about second place catching Unser. At the end of the race, there were five cars on the lead lap. There may have been five total lead changes during the race. In terms of on-track action, is today the golden age of IndyCar?

Kyle, Raleigh

ROBIN MILLER: First off, racing was not that expensive back then and sportsmen like Bob Wilke, Tassi Vatis, Al Dean, Lindsey Hopkins and J.C. Agajanian could pay for it out of their own pocket. Johnny Lightning was a popular toy car from Mattel that got lots of mileage from Unser’s back-to-back wins. The second-place car Unser was complaining about was brother Bobby, who was cheating the Pacer lights right in front of USAC’s eyes with non-stop pit stops. Today’s racing is much closer because of spec cars and much more reliable because of engine leases. But the ’60s and ’70s were the golden age for many, and they still matter to some of us.

Story originally appeared on Racer