Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to email@example.com. We can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for length and clarity. Questions received after 3pm ET each Monday will appear the following week.
Q: I thought it was rather ironic that Romain Grosjean said in an interview, “I’m actually excited to discover something new and maybe putting a little bit of my sauce on top of it.” I bet he will! His history of crashes cannot continue with Juncos Hollinger Racing, especially if it is with his teammate. I can see this venture turning into a trainwreck before the season is half over. Now that he is signed with JHR, does his litigation with Andretti cease or does it continue?
MARSHALL PRUETT: His pursuit of money he believes he’s owed from Andretti is completely separate from his signing with JHR, so the legal wranglings continue.
My hope for Romain is we see a return of the loose and easy version of himself that drove for Dale Coyne, because if the season with JHR goes sideways, it will be the end of the road for him in IndyCar. And he knows that, so I’d like to think he’ll take a different approach to the new season that will benefit both sides.
Q: I flew into Sebring last week and saw the No. 30 Mi-Jack Honda turning laps. It was unusually quiet. Can you shed some light on that, and also advise who may have been driving this for RLL along with what testing was going on?
MP: From the video you shared, the sound was exactly the same. The difference was having one or two cars on track, rather than 20-plus, which makes a lot of combined noise. Modern IndyCars aren’t obscenely loud, so in isolation on a test day they don’t sound super impressive, but there is no loss in decibels from last season. You were watching Pietro Fittipaldi doing his first test for RLL.
Q: With Andretti Global running only three announced cars next year, what will happen to Marco? Will Dad pull out the fourth car since Honda has a fourth engine by lease, will Marco find another team, or will Marco not run the 500 in 2024?
MP: I expect Marco to give the 500 another try with Andretti Global, but I do wonder if this might be his final attempt.
We likely haven’t reached the final chapter of Marco’s Indy 500 career just yet. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
Q: The motorsports season is over in my mind and 2024 can’t come quick enough. To cure my racing jones, I’ve watched a few old documentaries about Le Mans in the 1960s. I must say the pit stops had a lot of rules that we would deem odd today. I was seeing officials using metal zip ties to seal the fuel fill and oil fill caps any time a team had to add fuel or oil, so if the seals were found to be broken it would mean disqualification. I did know about the cars having to carry a spare tire, which had to be taken out and put back in during a pit stop. I can’t imagine the Toyotas or Corvettes carrying a spare tire.
Do you know if rules regarding adding fluids during pit stops still apply today, and what other strange Le Mans rules you know of you can add to this list?
MP: Fluids are added as needed; quick-disconnect fittings are used to make it easy to add fluids. One of my favorite rules involves going behind the wall to work on the car. Once it’s ready to continue racing, it cannot be driven onto pit lane and then out onto the track. The car must be returned to its pit box, and even then, it cannot continue; the engine must be turned off, and then refired, before it can go racing.
Q: I watched with interest the videos of Rossi, Kanaan, and O’Ward driving the vintage McLarens at Sonoma. Being a Midwesterner, I am not usually tuned into motorsports events in California. Was there a vintage event at Sonoma? Were the cars brought in specifically for this event? Do they permanently reside in the USA? Also, what tires were used? Were they modern-day racing rubber, modern-day vintage car rubber or other?
Rick, Lisle, IL
MP: Yes, there was. It was the fourth edition of Velocity Invitational. Yes, they were. The cars live in the UK and belong to McLaren and are part of McLaren’s Heritage collection. All used Avon tires, which is the predominant vendor for modern vintage road racing tires.
Q: IndyCar’s video game adventure felt doomed from the beginning. To quote yourself, “Although the deal ended in failure, which was predicted by many upon its announcement more than two years ago.” I’m not the only one that felt this way. Penske Entertainment, in all of its experience, intentionally chose an absolutely pathetic partner. Is there a rhyme or reason from your view why they didn’t pursue a partnership with a better business model and proven track record?
Care to share your favorite memory of 2023?
Dave M., Milwaukee area
MP: I’ve been told by quite a few folks that at least one decision-maker in Penske Entertainment’s leadership team has deep ties to the company in question which, if true, would explain how they got themselves into this mess.
Favorite memory from the competition side would be Abel Motorsports and RC Enerson qualifying for the Indy 500; most of the teams I worked for were underdogs, so I’m a sucker for stories like Bill Abel and team manager John Brunner stunning the field and making it into the show while some big veteran teams were left to fret over who would fail to make the show.
Favorite from the personal side would be the new digital video initiative I pushed for with RACER that brought CoForce into the family and produced something new at quite a few of the events we covered.
Q: In a RACER story about the IndyCar game last week, Mark Miles was quoted as saying: “We are in regular communication with Motorsport Games to get the information that we need to decide what’s best for us going forward. We’re not at the place yet where we have chosen which path that will be, but it is a top-of-mind question that we’re engaged in.”
Not 24 hours later, Miles was “disappointed” to learn — at the same time the rest of us did, it seems — that Motorsport Games had run out of money and pulled the plug on the IndyCar project. So much for IndyCar being a position to “decide what’s best” about an issue that was apparently “top of mind.”
I probably wouldn’t have played the video game either way, but am I wrong to feel that this symbolizes the current culture in IndyCar management? It’s the same attitude that ran all the way through the Jay Frye Mailbag a few months ago, which came off sounding arrogant, condescending and clueless.
I’ve followed IndyCar for a long time, and I always used to roll my eyes when I read Mailbag letters to Robin about how the sky was falling in on the series. But now I look at a series with old cars, a stale schedule and apparently no plan or vision beyond the next 12 months. Is it finally time to be scared for real?
Patrick, South Bend, IN
MP: The sky isn’t falling, but you aren’t wrong to question where the series is headed when all of its main rivals have dreamed big and been rewarded for it through new cars, new TV shows, and grand new venues that have drawn greater interest.
Q: Thanks RACER for the interesting read on the Foyt team’s early lead in the 2013 championship and its victory at Long Beach. This made me wonder about what happened with the Brazil track once the race was run for the last time. Are the guardrails of the Sao Paulo Sambodrome Circuit maybe still around somewhere over there? That was a pretty cool track, even though at first glance, it felt like rather a waste of money to run a street race in the same town where they also have a perfectly suitable road circuit with Interlagos. Is there anything new about another try at a Brazil race at this point, with the Argentinian idea seemingly having fallen through?
Also, IndyCar better be quick before NASCAR gets its foot in the door permanently in Mexico.
MP: I was excited when RACER.com editor Mark Glendenning mentioned he was going to approach the team about doing the feature, and it didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, tracking the movement of guardrails from a temporary street circuit that was last used 10 years ago isn’t among my hobbies.
I believe an inquiry was made from a group in Brazil, but I’ve not heard of it moving beyond just that — an inquiry. Although I’d love to go to Argentina for an IndyCar race, I’m not sure it’s something most teams are keen to do. Not with a busy offseason of hybrid testing and bust season of racing ahead, and the limited financial reward — and the one-time visit — that’s been proposed.
IndyCar returning to Brazil would be fun, but it’s probably not on the cards any time soon. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
Q: After reading your article about the split between Callum Illot and Juncos, is it possible that the team waited to cut ties with him after all the seats had filled up out of spite? Maybe I’m just reading between the lines and becoming a conspiracy theorist, but if the relationship had soured that much, why wait until they did to part ways?
MP: As I understand it, Callum had the option to continue if he agreed to the team’s amended contractual terms, so I don’t believe there was an attempt to ruin his chances to sign elsewhere.
Q: With the Le Mans/ACO news about hydrogen-based combustion and hydrogen fuel cells for Le Mans in 2027 and WEC as early as 2030, does a hydrogen ICE along the lines of the Toyota GR H2 seem a direction IndyCar can move towards for its engine platform? Would there be potential to marry a hydrogen ICE with the ERS systems debuting in 2024?
Gordon in Dallas
MP: It would be a direction to go if the series had buy-in from manufacturers. It’s about a year too late for hydrogen ICE to be implemented for next season. Given ample time, it could happen and would be a really interesting development.
Q: If Andretti decides to outsource the potential Tatiana Calderon entry to Bryan Herta Autosport, where would that put Bryan himself? Would he leave Kirkwood’s timing box to focus on this entry?
MP: We won’t have to answer that one, Joe, as the team has made the wise choice to trim its for-hire car and focus on three no-compromises entries.
Q: With all the talk about whether Andretti will run three or four cars next year, where does that leave Marco’s annual Indy ride? Is he done?
MP: The team wasn’t interested in answering the Marco question when we spoke on Monday, but I’ve heard he’s likely returning for another run in May.
Q: It makes me sick to think that Kyffin Simpson has a ride, Sting Ray Robb may have a ride and Callum Ilott doesn’t. Is there any hope for Callum in 2024? If not ’24, would he likely get one in ’25?
MP: The sport has relied on funded drivers for longer than I’ve been alive, so while I agree that Callum being left on the sidelines is terrible, I don’t hate the paying drivers who help employ dozens of people and keep teams afloat. Unless Dale Coyne signs Callum, I can’t find an IndyCar seat for him to fill next year and that would mean 2025 is the next best opportunity, but who knows where he’ll be racing by then.
Q: I am a long-time IndyCar and IMS fan. One of the facts I have been looking for is the number of workers who worked on the laying of the 3.2 million bricks. I know the quantity, time when it happened (late in 1909) and 63 days, but have never been able to find anything about the large number amount of people it must have taken to complete the job in such a short time. I have asked several very knowledgeable persons associated with the track and have come up with nothing. Do you know?
The truth is out there.
Stuart, Pittsboro, IN
MP: I most certainly do not, Stuart. Consider this a public plea for information that only Mailbag readers can solve.
Q: If an F1 driver/team could be fairly sure that they wouldn’t finish in the points (e.g. post-first lap damage Oscar Piastri at Interlagos), what benefit do they get from sending the car back out to finish the race as a doomed backmarker? Is it about gathering data? Giving the driver more track time?
CHRIS MEDLAND: In the Piastri case, it was because the team only needed a safety car in the race (don’t forget how early the red flag was — so there was basically the whole race still to go) for Oscar to be able to unlap himself. Even with damage, the car was quick enough to threaten the points, so if he’d got back on the lead lap he’d have been in the mix. Had there also been another red flag then there would be a further chance to make repairs, so you never quite know if the circumstances will give you a shot of finishing in the top 10.
But McLaren did make the point that Piastri had never driven anything at Interlagos, and it is a slightly unusual track, so it was good training just for him to get to know it for his own experience. Track knowledge and fighting a damaged car will help him in future, and given we’re near the end of the season with the team clearly comfortable with its wear life of parts, all it cost was the fuel and tires it will have already paid for!
Interlagos effectively turned into a test session for Piastri. Simon Galloway/Motorsport Images
Q: My mind was wandering while reading all the news on the F1 cars exceeding track limits. Why not move more of the foam signage boards to better define the track limits?
It would provide more advertising space for sponsors, and provide a more real and visible penalty for drivers who exceed it! With the halo and windscreen, I’m guessing the driver would be pretty safe from the shattered foam, although some of the myriad of winglets on the cars might not.
And if F1 or IndyCar really wanted to put some added teeth in the penalty, they could add a time penalty to the driver in question equal to the length of the yellow flag required to replace the sign(s). I’m guessing that would get everyone’s attention!
Bill Vincent IV
CM: I was about to question what would happen once one of the boards was destroyed but you’d clearly thought of it already, Bill! But I fear that at a track where track limits are a problem, the whole race would be under yellow flags and you’d pretty quickly get bored of watching people replace the boards.
But I do agree that in as many cases as possible there needs to be a physical deterrent, one that means there is no argument if someone was on the track or not, and that means they will be highly likely to lose time so you don’t have to punish them retrospectively. The more of those you have, then the more you can invest in policing the places that it’s not possible to have gravel/grass/big curbs/foam signage, and the more closely you can monitor and quickly deal with infringements.
I know the Haas petition decision annoyed some people, but it was good to see the stewards basically tell the FIA the current track limits situation is not good enough for a global championship, and I’m hearing there will be plenty of discussions to try and find better solutions for 2024.
THE FINAL WORD
From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, November 11, 2015
Q: When answering a question about 1960s Indy drivers Jochen Rindt and Masten Gregory, you mentioned talking to Eamon “Chalkie” Fullalove. I recall he and his pal “Rabbit” (don’t remember his real name) compiled quite a resume of cars they either built or wrenched for some top IndyCar teams of the ’60s and ’70s, an era of huge innovation.
Do you have more info on their accomplishments? It would be fun to learn about other famous designers and builders from those times. Builder names such as Watson, Kurtis, Chapman, Kuzma, Meskowski, Epperly, Edmunds, Salih, Stapp and Finley; and designers such as Terry, Southgate, Slobodynskyj, Riley, Timbs, Barnard and Philippe. Have you thought about future articles to educate us on any of these legends?
Bruce Selby, Magnolia, TX
ROBIN MILLER: Graeme “Rabbit” Bartils and Eamon “Chalkie” Fullalove first worked together at Brabham in 1968, where Bartils built the Repco-Brabham engines that Jack Brabham and Jochen Rindt raced at Indy, and Fullalove was a mechanic about to turn fabricator. Rabbit got his nickname because when he took out his false front teeth he looked like Bugs Bunny, while Chalkie got his moniker for cheating at darts. They were working together at McLaren in 1971 when Gene White hired them away to build Indy cars that became known as the “Atlanta cars.” Then they went to work for A.J. Foyt in 1972 and on to Eldon Rasmussen before the Rabbit headed south for NASCAR and Chalkie began building wings at Jackie Howerton’s shop.
Today, Bartils still works in Dawsonville, Ga., while Fullalove resides in Old Windsor and is one of the last great aluminum men — still making wings for vintage F1 cars and creating daily hell on Facebook. Chalkie managed to avoid any long-term jail sentences despite driving a rental car into the Holiday Inn swimming pool, making acetylene bombs, and verbally abusing all of IndyCar racing. He and some of the original Lotus team are coming back for the 100th Indianapolis 500 — provided they clear customs and I can get them pit passes.