Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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: New cars, new engines, new teams, new venues, incredible fan access, etc… this year’s IMSA season was spectacular! Peacock offers coverage that is so far beyond what we ever experienced, for a very reasonable price.
F1 TV app is the best ever. Hinch made it even better. No complaints from me. OK, maybe one. A certain TV personality saying the car did a “full 360.” Is that where the nose of the car spins around and the points in the same direction it started? Is there a partial 360?
MARSHALL PRUETT: That’s a good one. A partial 360 would be a 274 or whatever it ended up being. It’s right up there with ‘new track record’ (every record is new) and ‘front nose’ and ‘front splitter’ and ‘rear diffuser’ and ‘me personally.’ [ED: You forgot ‘most unique.’] As commentators, we do our best to avoid those ‘department of redundancy department’ idiocies while on the mic, but it’s hard to get through an entire broadcast without at least once being let loose.
Q: With respect to D. Mason of Crawfordsville last week, that is not the answer to how long and how many it took to lay the bricks. That is the information for moving the dirt to build the track and putting down the first surface, which broke up so badly they then had to use the bricks. I looked and looked and could not find the answer so maybe another reader can find out for us.
MP: The quest continues.
Q: I’m becoming more and more of a midget racing fan. What motors do they run in midgets? Displacement? Horsepower?
Pete Pfankuch, Wisconsin
MP: I’ve been to two midget races in my life, with the last being in 1998, so I’m the last one to ask. Here’s an interesting link I found.
Q: During one of your Week in IndyCar podcasts aired shortly after the Meyer Shank Rolex 24 tire-pressure cheating debacle came to light, you alluded to the possibility that IndyCar officials might be paying a lot of extra-laser-focused attention to Meyer Shank cars during pre- and post-race tech. To your knowledge, did this happen this past season?
Chris Pericak, Charlottesville, VA
MP: Not that I know of, but the team paid an ongoing price for the cheating in IMSA by being moved to end of the line to load-in, last to go through tech, extended inspections in tech, and so on.
Q: So last weekend while most were worried about the Vegas GP, I was actually worried about the Macau Grand Prix, which the FIA graciously streamed for free on its official YouTube channel (and can still be watched there). The race was run only for the second time with the current FIA F3 cars after being an F4 race for three years in a row due to the pandemic. And as I watched the event unfold, and awaited the end of the very long red flag, I was hit with a very strong realization; These cars are way too fast for this circuit.
The old pre-Formula Regional cars were already really pushing it, but the faster FIA F3 cars just go way over the line. So do I think Macau should remain F4? No, but it certainly should not be using the modern F3 machinery. A certain poorly-animated YouTuber once referred to Macau as “the most farcical grand prix,” and with these cars he is not wrong. The F4 prelim race (also viewable on YouTube) allowed a great direct comparison, with the F4 cars looking amazingly zippy despite being so much slower, and actually able to do some decent battling.
So should Macau have remained an F4 event? I don’t think so. I think Macau needs to drop down to running Formula Regional. They’re a sliver slower than the F3 classes they replaced, but they should be much more suited to the track than the current F3 cars, and should be able to battle nearly as well as F4.
Whatever class is chosen, the current batch of F3 cars needs to be permanently booted from the event.
And going from the realm of something necessary and actually possible, let’s go into the realm of unlikely but brilliant and sweeten the deal by making it an open event – any FR-legal car/engine combination can enter.
MP: I share the same feeling about today’s GT3 cars racing there; the speeds and crashes are spectacular, but I wouldn’t want to see them traded for GT4 or TCR. It’s one of the few truly insane circuits left where seriously fast cars compete on a professional level. If the Isle of Man TT had a little brother, that’s Macau.
Macau’s ludicrousness is the whole point. Alexander Trienitz/Motorsport Images
Q: Who from F2/European formulas are the leading candidates to race in IndyCar in 2024?
MP: Well, considering the only true vacancies belong to Dale Coyne, I’d suggest Enzo Fittipaldi is on his radar, having recently tested the younger brother of RLL’s Pietro Fittipaldi. Enzo is also known to have options to return to F2, so there’s that to consider. New F2 champ Theo Pourchaire has expressed interest in IndyCar, and I continue to hear 2022 F2 title winner Felipe Drugovich really wants to race in proper open-wheel cars. I’d also look to Florida’s Logan Sargeant, whose F1 career might be one-and-done with Williams, as someone whom Coyne would welcome.
CHRIS MEDLAND: There’s not a massive amount of obvious movement to this end this year, despite the lack of change in the F1 ranks that’s preventing any of the F2 guys from moving up. Theo Pourchaire could be an outside bet as the reigning champion as he can’t stay in F2, and Robert Shwartzman enjoyed his test but he’s very likely going to be racing a Hypercar for Ferrari in WEC next year.
Obviously Pietro Fittipaldi has already made the full-time switch and his younger brother Enzo tested recently so looks to be on the radar, plus I think Felipe Drugovich interests a few teams but doesn’t appear ready to give up on the European ladder and a potential F1 chance in future just yet.
I believe Logan Sargeant has also received some interest while his future remains unconfirmed, but the likelihood is he remains with Williams for 2024.
Q: As we unravel this Andretti Global/F1/greedy nonsense, I’m wondering if you can describe how the FIA, FOM, and F1 organizations all play into this? Who approves what? Who has final say? And anything else you’d care to add would be appreciated.
Mike Talarico, Charlotte, formerly Riverside, CA, home of no raceway.
CM: So, the FIA hands out the licenses to race and approves whether a team is competent enough in terms of their expertise, backing, resources etc. Essentially it judges the racing operation and it’s chance of actually being able to build a serious F1 car.
FOM (Formula One Management) is the commercial arm of F1, so the two are used interchangeably but mainly to differentiate from the FIA – they are the same thing. But FOM/F1 approves a commercial contract with any new team, in terms of the share of prize money they would get, how they would then receive all the logistics support from DHL to get their stuff to races and so on.
Technically you could race without a commercial contract, but then you’d not be earning tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars in terms of prize money, would really struggle to get everything to and from each race, and it wouldn’t be a viable project.
Because the FIA opens up the process and analyzes a team’s ability to enter, only approved potential entrants get passed to FOM/F1 for commercial talks, so in that sense the final call rests with FOM/F1.
Q: Infringements. I’m not just thinking of Formula 1, these could also be applied to any road track hosting any racing series.
The first solution was mentioned by a few people, including Stuart “Chainbear F1” Taylor in this video. In a run-off area that is prone to track limits infringement, put a two or three-meter-wide grass (or gravel) strip at the corner exit, directly behind the outside white line, where you’d usually put the curb (although you could have both: first the curb, then the grass strip). The rest of the run-off area can be made of whatever the track and the sanctioning authorities require, but for a fast corner where a high-speed crash is a possibility, grippy asphalt would be the best choice. The grass strip would act as a deterrent, so if you go too wide, you’re immediately punished. But if you lose control over the car, you’re only going to ride over the grass for a fraction of a second, before the asphalt slows you down.
The second solution was proposed by former F1 driver Marc Surer, in a Q&A with Formel1.de.
Instead of a grass/gravel strip, Surer suggested using wide curbs with a curved, convex upper surface. Not as steep or harsh as a sausage curb, but with just enough curvature so when a car drives on it, it automatically sits on it, touching the top of it with its underfloor. The idea is to have the car not just lose a bit of grip; but also to wear out the underfloor or plank, which may cause a post-race penalty (a disqualification in F1, a points withdrawal in IndyCar, etc.) if a driver goes over it (and therefore beyond the track limits) too often. Also, for tracks hosting both Moto GP and F1, Surer suggested making these curbs removable, bolted on to the track surface, just like those used on street courses.
As a mere racing fan, both proposals make sense to me on paper; my personal favorite being the grass strip. But I’m aware that these are purely theoretical, at least for now, and I’m neither a track designer nor an FIA employee, so I don’t know if these would actually work in the real world. Also, since every corner is different from the next one, some tweaking will definitely be needed in every individual situation. What do you think? And do you know of anyone who could share some thoughts about these?
CM: The first solution is one that has regularly been brought up but isn’t realistic, because of the risk of causing a bigger accident through cars digging in and then hitting where that strip ends, or more importantly, something similar happening with bikes when they run over them. One of the reasons these solutions hit trouble is because they don’t work for other series, and require permanent installation.
And that’s why the curbs idea from Marc Surer does seem to make more sense, especially if they can be safely install temporarily. The only pushback I can see here is from teams complaining that it would damage their cars too much and be very expensive. Austria’s harsh exit curbs were criticized for that reason.
The FIA is actively looking at the way it polices track limits, so I’ll see if we can get an update on that process in the coming weeks over the off-season.
The FIA has some homework to do in figuring out how to make curbs more car-repellent. Motorsport Images
Q: If Leclerc’s strategy of allowing Perez past to try and build a 5s gap over Russell had worked, would Mercedes have protested on the basis of race manipulation? Would they have had a case?
Ryan in the victorious state of Michigan
CM: Nope, I’m pretty sure there would have been no protest, and no grounds for it either, even if Leclerc had slowed to hold up Russell. Remember Lewis Hamilton backing up Nico Rosberg years ago here, trying to get a few cars between himself and his teammate in order to win the 2016 title? It’s still a racing tactic, as long as nothing you do is erratic or deemed dangerous.
There’s nothing in the rules that says you can’t let another driver go past. And Toto Wolff actually commented that it says a lot about Leclerc’s character that he didn’t try and back up Russell himself, and just left it to see if Perez could get 5s clear through his own pace.
THE FINAL WORD
From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, November 24, 2015
Q: I see a lot or requests or suggestions from IndyCar fans to reduce the downforce and increase the horsepower. Didn’t CART do this in the last few years of the 1000hp engine war? If memory serves me right, the rules package kept reducing the size of the wings and at one point, they were running super-speedway wings at the short tracks and drastically reducing the underwing tunnel exits at Michigan and Fontana. During those races, the passing become non-existent. I’m not a mechanical engineer, but perhaps someone (Mike Hull?) has the downforce data from both eras and could weigh in on this? I would hate to see the close racing that we have go away, just to watch a parade on the short ovals.
Matt Fraver, Columbus, OH
ROBIN MILLER: Mike Hull was kind enough to respond:
“First, in total agreement that the close racing is full of entertainment. The skill set to race close is also dependent upon the trust that drivers have for each other. The cornering speeds of the cars can be altered by IndyCar tweaking of the aero package, as we have seen, to effectively change the race balance. If they get it right (and normally do), it’s still really good two-abreast racing. If over-downforced in combination with tires that maintain grip for an entire run, you will see what happened at Fontana.
“In 1999 when we ran the speedway wings at short ovals even with the big tunnels, we were at exactly half of the downforce level we have available now. The mid-corner speeds were significantly reduced but the lower drag of the wings meant the speeds at the end of the straights were higher – going over 200mph into T1 at Phoenix in testing – (in testing, we are at 185mph with the current car) – with only a small amount of downforce to try and handle the corner.
“The CART races in this low-downforce spec at times became processional as with the additional loss of downforce by being greatly affect by the wake of the car in front. There was not enough grip to make a pass even with almost twice the HP that we have now. The only way this low downforce level of racing would work is if the level of grip was so low that tire degradation became significant (like we have now at Texas) with the result that the difference between new and old tires creates the overtaking opportunities.”