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’ve seen video of the Alpine Hypercar/LMDh and the engine sounds properly angry — reminiscent of a Porsche 911. Off-throttle it makes that funny noise similar to the Acura GTP. Acura has been pretty tight-lipped about what that sound actually is. Any guesses? Will the new IndyCar hybrid powerplants make a like note?
Jonathan and Cleide Morris, Ventura, CA
MARSHALL PRUETT: I’ll answer your last question first: What’s coming to IndyCar in 2024 is the same exact engine we’ve had since 2012, so to overstate the obvious, there are no new internal combustion engines on the way next year. There were, of course, until those 2.4-liter twin-turbo V6s were scrapped almost 12 months ago so Chevy and Honda could take over the energy recovery system project, apply the big budgets to the ERS that they’d set aside for the 2.4-liter motors, and save IndyCar’s behind.
To commit those budgets to fixing and mass producing the ERS units, Chevy and Honda said it would only be possible if they kept the old 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6s, because other than their usual searches for annual performance improvements, there wouldn’t be a huge cost to build giant pools of 2.4Ls and support those new engines. So, same motors, now entering their 13th season of service, just like the Dallara DW12 chassis.
The only new items are the ERS units, the lightweight structural components to manage weight, and second-generation areoscreens, which also reduce weight. There are sundry other items that are new for 2024, but these are the main ones to know.
As for the hybrid Acura ARX-06 which makes use of HPD’s 2.4L IndyCar design, the Chewbacca impersonation it does under braking and on corner exit is a symphony of electronic systems working in unison like anti-lag to keep to turbo spooled up while the driver’s off throttle, and traction control to manage wheelspin leaving the corners, and other measures to manage oscillations that would otherwise cause driveshafts and the rest of the related “spinny bits” to break.
All of that was explained to me in January by HPD president David Salters, who I hope to catch on film in the coming months doing a recreation of his amusing answer to my, “Why does your car sound like Chewbacca” question at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
It’s wall-to-wall wookies at Honda, apparently. Fortunately, these ones don’t rip their opponents’ arms out of their sockets when they lose. Michael Levitt/Motorsport
Q: IndyCar has been trying to court more manufacturers into the series. With that goal, why are they sticking with this 2.2-liter twin turbo and soon-to-be hybrid system? Would it not be more beneficial to have a “bring what you have” engine formula? An engine that would of course fit in the bodywork on the current IndyCar, but would this not allow more manufacturers to move their race engines from GT3, GT2, or other racing series into IndyCar and then let a Balance of Power take over?
Second, every other open-wheel series, including Indy NXT runs the halo. Why keep this heavy and frankly unattractive aeroscreen on the IndyCars?
Third, most of the rest of the world falls under the FIA. Why does the USA not have a sanctioning body that can provide standardization, safety, marketing and access to resources?
Finally, the FIA moved the WEC to COTA, and it was mentioned that “Sebring was no longer viable.” Can you provide more context of those reasons? My speculation is the quality and consistency of the racing surface and the lack of a proper garages on the pit lane. Why do the tracks in the USA not have proper garages when this is common across the rest of the world?
MP: I’m hoping the “why are they sticking with the 2.2L” question was suitably answered in the last question. I might need to write a Mailbag 101 response to the “Why don’t they let engines from GT3 and GTP and wherever else run in IndyCar?” item that we get a few times per month. Unlike a GT car or a prototype, an IndyCar chassis is narrow, and only fits motors of a certain width and length, and because of that narrow and short block, the car has a lot of room on both sides of the engines to fit large tunnels that make a ton of underbody downforce.
Sure, you can cram a bigger and much heavier motor in from a GT or GTP car, but you sacrifice aerodynamics, downforce, weight distribution, and performance in nothing but negative ways. Said another way, if it was an easy fit, it would already be happening, but it isn’t — by a mile — so it isn’t.
I’d ask why every series that runs a halo isn’t using an aeroscreen?
IndyCar sanctions itself, as does IMSA, and NASCAR. Why would any series want to give control of itself to someone other than itself? Makes no sense to me.
The WEC was not keen on being the warm-up act to IMSA in every way — location in the Sebring paddock, and billing as the Friday feature ahead of the main show, Saturday’s 12 Hours of Sebring — so it found another option where it will be the star of its own event.
Q: I got a kick out of a letter someone sent to the Mailbag about the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race where the Rebel Rock team lost the championship due to a couple cars exiting the track on the last lap. I remember a previous race (the Petit TV coverage was good about replaying it) where the Rebel Rock Camaro clearly rammed a Mercedes into another car, which resulted in the Mercedes suffering a lot of damage and forced to run off track. If I recall, it was a last-lap incident.
At the time I thought it reflected badly on IMSA, because no penalty was given, and I don’t think I’ve seen a more clear-cut case of a car ramming into another and gaining position.
Then, watching the Merc driver give the bird to the Rebel Rock driver (Liddell, I believe) was one of the best scenes I’ve seen in racing for a long time. I thought it was a great bit of schadenfreude. I cannot believe there is any infraction by the Mercedes team unless there was some pre-determined agreement, financial or otherwise, with the winning Turner Motorsport team, which doesn’t seem likely. I think it was a spur of the moment decision to pit, and a good one. I must say the whole thing was quite enjoyable to see play out. It would really be a bad look if IMSA were to alter the results.
Travis, Kansas City
MP: The results were made official last week, so no penalties — at least in public — were handed out.
Q: I’m sure that this will not go far, but here we go. I really enjoy the IndyCar coverage that NBC produces. I think there are three very knowledgeable announcers on these broadcasts, and they allow each to have his say while still allowing Leigh Diffey to his job as the main announcer.
Now for NASCAR. While I like all forms of racing, IndyCar and NASCAR are my favorites — except when NBC takes over the coverage. Rick Allen is supposed to be the main announcer while the others add what they can. Unfortunately, Steve Letarte didn’t get the memo. He talks almost nonstop, tries to explain why something happened on the track without any idea what really happened and then beats the story like a dead horse. I’m sure that he has some real insights on occasion, but he should take a cue from Larry Mac and add color, not just to hear himself talk.
Barry, Fort Wayne, IN
MP: I might catch three or four combined hours of Cup broadcasts per season, so I’m useless when it comes to coverage insights. The main thing I struggle with is telling who is speaking when Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Letarte are on the broadcast. It’s not the accents; it’s something about the pitch that my ears struggle to separate.
Q: Thank you for responding to my thoughts about F1 last week. I consider ours to be a friendly disagreement. Since the turn of the century, F1 has almost always had a dominant driver — Schumacher/Ferrari, then a brief free-for-all until the Vettel/Red Bull era, then Hamilton/Mercedes, now Max/Red Bull. The Schumacher and Verstappen eras have been particularly difficult for the British press to digest, and that’s the origin of most English language F1 reporting. They appear to approach the sport as the rightful possession of Lewis (whom I happen to agree is as good as they come).
Still, world-wide popularity grew immensely, even in the years preceding Drive To Survive, not withstanding these periods of one team/driver superiority. I suppose that’s why Liberty bought it. F1 doesn’t rely on corner-by-corner, lap-by-lap lead changing for its following, and I suspect a good part of the appeal is waiting and hoping for some team to knock the current dominant team off its perch, which I have most recently enjoyed especially as an independent F1 team has shown a global OEM how to do it.
MP: Yep, all appreciated and understood. The fight to the line for third at Interlagos was great. Nonetheless, F1’s riding a giant wave of popularity, just as CART did, and just as NASCAR did, before the product began to wane and the wave got smaller. It’s inevitable for F1 as well.
Q: Thanks for the story about the Ilott/JHR split. Could you shed some lights on Callum’s future?
MP: It’s all about Dale Coyne Racing right now. And if that doesn’t come together, I’m not sure where he takes his services.
Q: Will IndyCars be self-starting next year with the new hybrid system?
Brad and Shawna Heuer
MP: That’s the goal. Self-starting was used for the first time at a recent hybrid test.
Not a single external starter to be seen. Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment
Q: A World Cup of racing returns. In two weeks, Formula 3 drivers will return to Macau after a three-year absence due to COVID and Formula 4’s best will be on the bill for the first time. But I do not understand why North America has a Formula 4 series and the FIA Formula Regional Americas and no one from these series are part of this end of the year event. How long before these FIA series have a U.S. entry in the future?
MP: I don’t have the foggiest notion. Other than observing when a F4 or FR A driver has moved to the USF Championships or Indy Lights/NXT, I don’t pay a ton attention to those series because they aren’t connected with IndyCar and aren’t looked upon by IndyCar team owners as a place where talent is developed in the strongest environment.
Q: If Roger Penske had asked for an F1 team, the red carpet would have rolled out instantly. Excellence is the added value that F1 team bosses speak about, or at least their goal is to bring someone that is the absolute best at what they do. No disrespect to Andretti, but there is room for them to continue to grow before F1. I felt that through time they were more focused on marketing their drivers than being the world class racing team that they achieved on several occasions. Am I wrong? Regardless, I think that IndyCar still has a driver’s championship, and F1 does not.
MP: I wanted to agree with you at first on this, but I’m not sure Penske would get the green light. And I say that because for most of the last two years, far too many F1 team principals have appeared to take pride in acting like bouncers in front of racing’s most exlcusive club. They don’t want anybody new in the club and hide behind all manner of quaint excuses to keep everyone that isn’t a member on the other side of the velvet rope.
Their behavior is centered on protecting their profits, so unless Penske came in waving a few billions of dollars in front of them in the champagne room, I can’t see him getting a permanent invite to the club. Sure, Andretti would probably do a few things differently if he could go back in time, but there’s no reasonable argument to be made to keep Andretti Global out of F1. And for the sake of clarity, I don’t particularly care about who would become the 11th team. If there was a better bid than Andretti’s, that’s the one that should be on the grid.
Q: Were details announced about the new IndyCar Toronto deal? Obviously Toronto is on the 2024 schedule, so something was worked out, but I don’t remember seeing details anywhere about the length of the new deal.
I also seem to recall a line in one of your articles, or a previous Mailbag, about some improvements coming to Toronto’s pit lane situation. Am I mis-remembering, or is that in the works? Hope the final sector gets new pavement, too.
MP: I sent your questions to Green Savoree Race Promotions, and it did not respond.
Q: Grosjean seems like the perfect antidote to last season’s drama at Juncos. He’s the consummate team player to bring calm and order. Do you think they should have tried for someone more vocal, who’s willing to stir things up with teammates and call out management? Attracting attention is so important for the smaller teams; seems like Juncos could have done more.
MP: To think Noah Gragson was sitting there waiting to take the call from Juncos, but it was never made…
Q: I don’t understand why the polesitter was on the outside for the Brazil sprint race. Why weren’t they on the inside?
CHRIS MEDLAND: The simple answer is the polesitter is regularly on the outside. It’s because that’s the usual racing line ahead of opening up the next corner, so it is the grippier side of the circuit that is cleaned by drivers running over it multiple times during a weekend. The only way the car starting P2 gets a good chance down the inside into Turn 1 at any track is if they get a better getaway, which is less likely from the dirty side of the grid.
Q: I was intrigued by George Russell’s statement about the FIA proposal to raise the maximum driver fine to $1,000,000. To quote Russell from RACER.com, “In my first year of Formula 1, I was on a five-figure salary, and actually lost over six figures in that first year for paying for my trainer, paying for flights, paying for an assistant, and that’s probably the case for 25% of the grid.” Is this really the case, or is George embellishing to make his point? I was under the impression that making the grid meant instant wealth for a driver.
Ed, Virginia Beach, VA
CM: I know it’s surprising, but that’s really the case! I was told a few years ago of the salary that all Red Bull drivers start on at the junior team — then Toro Rosso — and it was just over $250,000. To that end, five figures does surprise me for George, but then Williams would be far less likely to directly pay him given it’s Mercedes wanting to place him there for him to get experience.
But plenty of other drivers get a seat with financial backing too, so very rarely get a big salary as the team needs that income, and they receive the majority of their wage — even if indirectly — from the sponsor or backer. If that deal involves costs being covered for them then it might actually mean a relatively small salary, and therefore the fines would definitely be an issue.
Q: I think Alonso should take a page out of the late and very great Ayrton Senna’s playbook and offer to drive the Red Bull for free in 2024. (Senna approached Sir Frank Williams with this offer for 1993 F1 season.) After watching Fernando wring the Aston Martin’s neck during the final laps in Brazil, it would be something to see what the old fox could do in the same car as Verstappen!
CM: This would be incredible, I’ll admit, but Red Bull also thinks in marketing terms and that’s why Sergio Perez remains important beyond his talents behind the wheel. It’s the same thing that makes Daniel Ricciardo even more interesting than just being a good driver, because of the marketing value Red Bull would get out of him, too.
While Alonso would have some marketing draw, the majority of the interest he’d bring would be in a sporting sense going up against Verstappen, potentially rocking the boat in a way Red Bull wouldn’t want.
But you’re right that Fernando should be the one trying to make it happen, because he’s shown he’s still got it if given a winning car. On that front, fingers crossed Aston makes another step over the winter and he’s in the mix even more often next year.
Red Bull could have Alonso for free — probably with a few fireworks thrown in as a bonus, if history is any guide. Motorsport Images
Q: It’s kind of fun watching F1 get flummoxed by this whole traffic problem. Has the topic of using IndyCar’s qualifying start/finish method ever come up in all this? It seems to that if the cars were not forced to do an in lap after their hot lap, most of the problem would fade away.
Just swallow your pride and try this at one event:
Move qualifying start/finish to a point ahead of pit-in, where the cars could dive in to pit in after crossing the qualifying start/finish.
That way, every qualifying stint is shortened by one full slow lap: Car leaves the pits. Hot lap starts just before the cars get to pit in. Hat lap ends at qualifying start/finish, and cars duck into the pits.
One of the things I like best under the current F1 regime is the willingness to try things. Seems to me you could easily trial this at Bahrain, especially if preseason testing is there. You could use the DRS detection zone before Turn 14. Same with Melbourne and Suzuka. Since most tracks have a DRS detection zone before the main straight, this would be a likely choice.
This would end about 75% of the “slow lap” issues in qualifying. And this is one of the things that IndyCar gets right that F1 could easily adopt.
CM: You’re not the first to suggest this, Ed, and I’ve actually previously said I can’t see a reason why it wouldn’t be possible. I think it’s an area F1 has always done it a certain way and not thought to change.
But I don’t think it solves the problem, because the issue is getting a clear lap and finding clear air for that lap by slowing down significantly on the out-lap rather than the in-lap. The big complaint with traffic is always about cars trying to find a gap to start their lap, so that would still exist.
That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be an improvement, though. Better to have more flying laps and less slow laps in my book, as well as preserving tires a little better for use in the race.
THE FINAL WORD
From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, November 12, 2014
Q: I have a question regarding Porsche’s effort back in CART during the 1987 season. What were your initial thoughts on the effort and why was it so short-lived? What do you remember Al Holbert’s and Al Unser’s thoughts were at the time in trying to get the Porsche effort up to speed?
Don Gregory, La Palma, CA
ROBIN MILLER: In 1987, Porsche started with Big Al, a Porsche chassis and engine. It was almost a flat-bottom car, very uncompetitive and by 1988 it was a March-Porsche. They contracted March for a special Porsche-fit chassis for 1989 and Teo Fabi won a race at Mid-Ohio.
Derrick Walker joined the team late in 1988 and said by ’89 the engine was well ahead of the competition. Porsche planned a carbon fiber car for 1990 but it got vetoed by the CART owners because they didn’t have one and got caught with their pants down. So Porsche became disenchanted, packed up and moved on to Formula 1. Walker bought the assets and started Walker Racing. Holbert lost his life in a plane crash in 1988, but never drove the Indy car to my knowledge.