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The RACER Mailbag, September 27

Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to mailbag@racer.com. 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: If they were all in their prime, who would be champion: Zanardi, Montoya, Dixon or Bourdais?

Geoff

MARSHALL PRUETT: I see you’re trying to get me in trouble with these legends…thanks, Geoff.

I’ve been fortunate to witness the complete IndyCar careers of all four, and only one jumps out as the easy No. 1, and that’s Monterrier, aka, JPM. I’ve never seen talent like his since he arrived in CART, and if we took all four at their peaks, Juan’s on pole by 0.2s and wins on any circuit — road, street, or oval. I’m not saying he’d run away from the other three, but I don’t think it would be super-close.

Also, I can’t wait to get punched in a few weeks when I see Dixie and my French Fry at Petit Le Mans…

Q: Even though I only become a fan in 2019, when I think of IndyCar, my mind is drawn to high-speed ovals. It’s where the cars shine the brightest and have the most thrilling speeds. I didn’t start watching IndyCar early enough to watch races at Michigan or Fontana and I only caught one race at Pocono. Now with Texas not on the schedule, I’m more and more disappointed that we don’t get to see IndyCar at a high-speed oval regularly. Once a year at Indianapolis is nowhere near enough! I hope not just Texas comes back for 2025, but also Michigan and Pocono. Please give the cars more chances to look awesome!

Josh Eichholz, Peoria, IL

MP: I’m with you. Of the circuits on the calendar, few incite fear and terror like Texas. We get to see the best IndyCar drivers of the day do things at speeds that are frightening, and specific to Texas, the ballsiest drivers can assert their wills in ways that just don’t leave you in awe at other ovals.

Newgarden destroying the field at Iowa is a sight to be seen, but watching he or Pato fly around and play with people at Texas like they’re strapped to rockets while the others are seemingly standing still is just wholly unique to that crazy-ass place.

Texas and Indy are the only stops left on the calendar where I leave each year and think, “I can’t believe they still let us do this here.” Now that list is down to one.

Q: Some stone-cold truth: No IndyCar race in Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston or San Antonio equals no race in four — five, if you want to add our cousins up in NYC — out of the top 10 U.S. population centers. But hey, we got a race that +99% of the fans can’t attend even if they want to. Have another glass of milk, you brainless old farts.

Stephen Archer

MP: As my father used to say when I offered takes like this, “Who peed in your Cheerios this morning?” Also, is this the point where, after my wife tried in vain for 10 years to get me to make the change, I acknowledge I’ve finally switched over to almond milk?

The wow factor was real at Texas. Brett Farmer/Motorsport Images

Q: Was a fifth Ganassi car a surprise? I hadn’t heard any mention of that possibility during silly season.

Dave K., Michigan

MP: It was! To wind things back a little bit, there had been rumblings about a fifth car all summer, but I never thought it was credible because the only fifth driver option I knew of was Kyffin. And despite winning the pole at Road America where he then proceeded to blow it into Turn 1, fly off track, and finish eighth, the rest of his season was a portrait of boom-or-bust performances, which is the hallmark of a young driver who needs more seasoning.

Chip told the media at Laguna Seca that he was set on four cars and wasn’t inclined to run a fifth at Indy, and within a week, plans for a fifth full-time car were in motion. The team refused to explain how this turnaround happened, but it sure looks like something changed in a short time span. We’d mentioned in the early stages of the season that Kyffin would be going to IndyCar with Ganassi, but it was a question of whether it would be 2024 or 2025 and was dependent upon if the team felt he was ready.

There were no indicators that I saw to suggest he’s ready, so it might just be a case of Simpson wanting to go now instead of spending a third year in Indy NXT. Since his family has the ability to fund his career, the choice of when Kyffin would leap to IndyCar was strictly in their hands.

Q: Any news on 2024 plans for Nikita Johnson? I’m very excited to see his next step. Seems like he could be the next American star driver that nobody’s talking about.

Mark, Niagara Falls, NY

MP: I’d expect him to be in USF Pro 2000. Rocking up and taking a win and another podium in the last four races was just the kind of statement you love to see from a young breakout talent.

Q: We just got back after a weekend at IMS for the IMSA Battle on the Bricks. What a great event! More racing than you could ever imagine, spent 13 hours at the track on Saturday, over seven on Sunday and the price for tickets was an absolute steal! Everyone had access to Gasoline Alley, two grid walks on pit road, seating almost anywhere you desired, autograph sessions, and access to the teams.

The people we met and talked with included Roger Penske, Michael Andretti, Scott Goodyear, several IndyCar drivers, tons of IMSA folks, Robert Wickens, Sebastien Bourdais and the list goes on and on. Every single one of them stopped for photos and autographs. My favorite moments included Doug Boles approaching us Sunday morning while handing out donuts to the fans, watching the engine swap at the AO Racing garage on Rexy the Porsche, and getting an in-car tour from Tom Sargent and his father of their 911 GT3. I highly recommend adding this event to everyone’s racing calendar.

Allen Smith, North Muskegon, MI

MP: I’m so glad you got to see what makes IMSA racing, and its counterpart at SRO America, so special. It’s a big culture shift from IndyCar, which often (but not always) keeps fans at a distance to the cars and garages unless you pay for special access. There’s another element to IMSA races that tends to differ from IndyCar, and that’s the welcoming mindset so many teams have; if you ask — assuming they aren’t thrashing to get ready for a session — most will welcome you under the tent or in the garage to take a closer look at the cars and answer your questions. Add in the open grid walk where every fan is welcome to pack pit lane prior to the race, and it’s unlike anything you’ll find at pro racing events.

Q: With more auto makers focusing on SUVs and crossovers, some of them lacking cars that fit some series’ rules (like Honda putting a Civic in Super GT), isn’t the time for IndyCar to consider a move to single-seater prototypes? Or would it be the creation of this category?

Wouldn’t that help attract some manufacturers to the series? You know, spec underbody, spec rear wing, engines specs required by the series (everyone on V6 as now for example; no multi-engines) but manufacturers being able to put their face on the car, like GTP/LMDh but cooler. That Solus GT looks amazing at least.

William Mazeo

MP: Why doesn’t IndyCar abandon its open-wheel DNA to become a sports car series because there are a lot of SUVs and crossovers in the world? Last week it was asking if IndyCar has considered changing its engine formula to what’s used in Japan’s Super Formula series. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest you’re tired of IndyCar’s current cars and formula.

Q: Just curious what you think about Askew and Rasmussen being considered for ECR and what they bring to the team that Conor Daly does not? I would think that the team needs someone with experience. Sometimes it seems like everyone is chasing the young guns, but on the other hand I’m not a team owner.

I have to say I was embarrassed by the start of Laguna Seca. I just don’t understand how these allegedly “best drivers in the world” can’t make it through lap one without carnage. I don’t know what the solution is, maybe more severe penalties or sitting repeat offenders out for a race, but it just makes IndyCar look like amateur hour.

Jim Doyle, Hoboken, NJ

MP: Very much a case of ECR searching for something exciting and new. Rinus is still developing, so he’s by no means a finished product. There’s more to come from him. With Conor, I think there was a feeling that they knew what they had and were going to get, but with Askew and Rasmussen, there’s huge potential and a bit of the unknown that adds an air of intrigue.

Askew and VeeKay went 1-2 in the 2019 Indy Lights championship, and there’s been a belief that Askew has a lot more to show in the right environment, which he didn’t have at Arrow McLaren. Rasmussen’s a badass, and I think he’ll be a rocket.

But ECR needs to make themselves a hell of a lot better if they want to give these drivers a fighting chance at all the races. VeeKay was impressive to close the season, and if ECR can hold onto that form, there’s a reason to believe Rinus plus Oliver or Christian will be highly competitive.

As for Laguna, I remain convinced the decision-makers in race control were at the beach in Monterey during the race because “control” was nowhere to be found.

Daly has experience, but for a team like ECR, the appeal of a driver like Rasmussen (above) is his untapped potential. James Black/Penske Entertainment

Q: I know Ganassi is getting money from Kyffin Simpson’s father, but I find it hard to believe that he’s a good enough driver to move to IndyCar next year. What is your opinion? Could IndyCar block him if they don’t think he’s ready? I’m not a fan of this move. Very disappointed in Simpson and Ganassi, and IndyCar if they let him race.

Patrick, Indianapolis, IN

MP: Simpson will impress us on occasion, because he is undeniably talented, and he’ll make a bunch of mistakes, because he lacks the demonstrated experience to run hard and fast and clean on a consistent basis in NXT. Kyffin’s nothing new in that regard, so unless he’s hitting everything but the pace car in the opening races, I doubt IndyCar will intervene. The kid is quick, but he’ll spend his first season or two in IndyCar filling in a lot of gaps that most would have preferred to see him fill in NXT or F2 or Super Formula.

Q: Why is the Leaders Circle like Fight Club? The first rule about the Leaders Circle is you don’t talk about the Leaders Circle. That’s absolutely absurd. I don’t care if they don’t disclose the money. I don’t care if they don’t disclose what does or doesn’t make a team eligible. During the season though, they should disclose who is competing and what the cutoff is. It is absolutely a storyline worth following, and if someone from the series is reading this I hope they provide their broadcast partners and the media a little bit more information next year. Imagine if MLB didn’t tell anyone about the extra wild card and held a playoff game in secret.

Ryan, West Michigan

MP: There was a sharp change in the policy when Penske Entertainment took over. Everything related to business is treated like a national secret, which conspires against the suggestion of making Leaders Circle-related content a storyline that’s embraced and welcomed by the series.

Q: I believe Andretti’s $250 million is from a SPAC, i.e., a Special Purpose Acquisition Company. So, its money intended to acquire another company, not money for current operations. The SPAC’s name is Andretti Acquisition Company.

Steve Rosaaen, Ellsworth, WI

MP: Two different things here. The SPAC is the SPAC. The giant investment into the team is what created and fuels Andretti Global.

Q: Now that we have an IMSA race on the Indy road course completed, I’m very curious to know how the GTP lap times compare to IndyCar lap times. I’m assuming the GTP cars are slightly slower, but by how much?

Thomas B. Rentschler Jr.

MP: The gap was about 3.5s. Graham Rahal’s August pole was a 1m10.1132s lap tour around the 14 turns in the No. 15 RLL Honda and Matt Campell fired the No. 7 PPM Porsche 963 around the road course with a lap of 1m13.672s to snare the GTP pole.

Q: I watched the USF Pro 2000 race at Sebring and was hugely impressed with the raw talent of Myles Rowe. He, of course, has since won the title and is now moving up to Indy NXT. However, since Indy NXT 2024 season doesn’t start for another five months, he will have a long layover with no racing activities. I think he could benefit from more off-season racing with series that are still active (e.g., in Europe) or are winter series (e.g., Formula Regional-Oceania or Middle East), or even sports cars. This would also expose him to foreign racing competition.

Has Myles ever discussed this with you? Is this something he would be interested in doing? Has he ever had an opportunity? Do you think this would be helpful to give him a head start to 2024?

I’m sure your response will be “if he had the money” but don’t you think IndyCar, a team, or a sponsor, would be willing to invest in their future star? Especially the most promising African American open-wheel race driver in a generation?

Scott, Miami

MP: Not sure why folks here love to tell me what my responses will be since those predictions are almost always wrong, but yes, he’d benefit massively from adding sports car racing — endurance racing, specifically — to his education, and he’s talented enough to not need to bring money.

Roger Penske has a long-term plan for Myles that will have him in IndyCar by 2025 or 2026, provided he continues winning when he gets to NXT. I know Myles has a desire to do more races, but he’s under the career direction of Penske and Force Indy leader Rod Reid, so if he’s going to pop up in IMSA, it would be as a result of what Penske or Reid arrange or bless.

Other junior open-wheel talents like Nolan Siegel and Bijoy Garg have been busy in IMSA this year, and I just saw Kevin Lee’s son Jackson will be making his SRO debut at the Indy 8 Hour event, so just like Pato O’Ward used a season of IMSA racing to rapidly advance his skills before returning and claiming the Indy Lights title, there’s no credible argument against limiting USF Championships or Indy NXT drivers to open-wheel series.

Rowe’s doing all the right things for a driver aiming at IndyCar, but some IMSA seat time could still offer a valuable experience boost. James Black/Penske Entertainment

Q: I was talking to a buddy of mine a few weeks ago about racing and the subject of push-to-pass came up. He asked how it worked. Obviously I understand the driver pushes the button on the wheel to get the extra power but what controls it? The ECU? And could it ever be stuck open or act up?

Lastly, Helio is now part-owner of MSR. Did he put any of his money into it, or is it more of an ambassador/figurehead role?

Cory, PA

MP: The cars use electronic turbocharger wastegates, which limit how much boost is fed to the engine. Pressing the P2P button sends an instruction to the ECU to allow for a higher boost pressure — and the added power it allows the engine to make — while it’s engaged.

I’m not aware of Helio having to buy into the team, but he is engaged in finding new sponsors and maintaining the team’s sponsor relations — something he’s made for — and will profit from both activities.

Q: It’s about 12:30pm on Sunday May 26, 2024 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Rain has been falling on and off all morning. IndyCar officials have decided to push back the start of the Indy 500 as track drying efforts continue.

Luckily, it’s not a huge delay and the race gets underway at 1:30pm, but an hour later rain starts falling again. After nearly three hours of the red flag being out, the rain has stopped and the track is dry. IndyCar is ready to throw the green flag again.

Kyle Larson has so far run a solid race, looking comfortable in the top half of the field. Is he strapped into Arrow McLaren’s No. 17 ready to go at the restart, or is he on a private jet headed to North Carolina?

Zac, Melbourne, Australia

MP: You win the “Most Creative Way To Ask A Question” award for this one, Zac. Since we’re having to guess about a hypothetical situation, I’d say Larson will complete the 500 since so much money and effort has been invested and it has Rick Hendrick all the way in on its creation. Missing one of dozens of Cup races won’t affect his ability to make it into the Chase.

Q: Will IndyCar pit stops be longer next year with the hybrid engines? How will they be different?

Lee

MP: I can’t think of anything that would be any different during pit stops. Same fuel tank capacity of 18.5 gallons, and there’s no interaction with the energy recovery system during the pit stop that is planned.

Q: I felt disappointed and frustrated to see my thoughts about the abuse sustained by Callum Illot, and those close to him — published in the September 20 Mailbag — dismissed as “fear-mongering” and “precious.” I had assumed that since I was writing with an IndyCar/racing related concern, it would be understood that the “Argentina” I wrote of concerned the potential future event to be held there, not the entire country.

That being said, the level of abuse sustained by Ilott, someone significant to him, and — choosing to consider unverified assertions made on some message boards — members of Ilott’s crew, is at a level not experienced by the IndyCar community in a long time, if ever. A very significant, if not overwhelming, number of the “fans” hurling threats towards Ilott have been Argentine. It seems remiss to not openly acknowledge that fact when considering the potential event held in Argentina.

Why attempt to minimize things by dismissing death threats as “nasty things on Twitter and IG?” Would we feel the same way if they were made to Ilott’s face?

Fans, drivers, teams, tracks, IndyCar leadership, and our media can and should be as proactive as possible in addressing hate and threats. My contribution is to send these concerns to you, hoping they will be considered by others in our community.

Marshall, while I felt negatively about your response to my letter as a whole, I do agree that the larger issue transcends a single fan base. During Portland, James Hinchcliffe spoke with a driver who expressed reservations about his daughters pursuing a similar career path due to the unconscionable hate he is concerned they would receive. It was sad to hear.

Is there any time this off-season for you to speak with drivers, family members, and crew members (anonymously if they wish to remain so) about online and real-world abuse? What have been their experiences? Their concerns? What do they think or hope can be done?

Kristopher, Seattle, WA

MP: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kristopher. I was equally disappointed in the tone of the submission, which was expressed in my response. You and I have differing opinions on the matter; your concerns at such a high level are not shared. I have concerns, but not to the point of being an alarmist. Yes, death threats made to Ilott’s face are something I receive in a much different way. Both forms of threats are bad, but I would never say they were equal.

There’s plenty of time for this to be explored during the off-season, but I just don’t know if there’s anything unique about what we’ve seen with a-holes running their mouths on social media in racing that would qualify as unique or different from any other sport, or daily life.

What’s unique here is the fact that we don’t see this happen in IndyCar to the degree that it struck Ilott in April and again in September. But is this a mystery that needs investigation or in-depth reporting? Or is it a monster we’ve known exists, have seen for years, that decided to pay IndyCar a visit, just as it’s visited every other corner of online life? It feels like the latter.

Sounds like there’s no end of the road in the debate about online toxicity. Karl Zemlin/Penske Entertainment

Q: Count me in as a supporter of the proposed non-points races. I’m assuming the main race is run like normal without gimmicks. It’s just more IndyCar races to watch. Unlike pre-season NFL, all of our favorite drivers will be running, and maybe a few part-timers. As far as non-points, I watch races for on-track battles for position, not what points they might get at that point in time. I’m also fine with the Thermal Club and Argentina locations. We attended six 2023 IndyCar races, which means we watched the majority of the races on TV. We do try to get a new track every year or so. Seems like a win-win.

Ralph, Indianapolis, IN

MP: Hope to see you at Thermal, Ralph!

Q: I wrote in couple of weeks ago asking if Jack Harvey was showing up on anybody’s radar, and at that time you said not that you knew of. Since you recently did that interview with him at the last IndyCar race, he said he was at the race to talk to some teams about possible opportunities. Has there been any interest in him since then, or for that matter Conor Daly?

Kasey, Indinapolis, IN

MP: I’ve heard Jack’s had some dialogue with Dale Coyne, but can’t say if that’s the direction the team will lean. I’ve heard Coyne and Foyt mentioned for Conor.

Q: There are lots of flips and wrecks of sprint cars and midgets in their races, even during qualifying. They are often able to fix the car and return to racing, sometimes in the same race they flip or wreck in. Seldom are drivers hurt badly. I have seen a few flip and continue racing in the same race. Why do you think this is?

Pete Pfankuch, Wisconsin

MP: I asked my friend and former driver Davey Hamilton to answer this one, since he knows all about such things from crashing sprints and midgets, and was just announced as taking part in his son Davey Jr’s $50,000-to-Win event in these machines:

“One, most sprint car races are with wings and the wings work as a cushion when they flip, and it absorbs majority of the impact and slows the car down. Two, over the years the car builders have learned how to build the frames with rigidity and now are making the bolt on pieces like axles, radius rods, nerf bars and wheels to take the hit, and they are all really easy things to replace. Finally, seat development has been outstanding over the last 10 years, which helps to keep the driver extremely safe.”

Q: Since the IndyCar event at Thermal is a non-championship exhibition, let’s have some fun with this and really go nuts. I propose having the teams dust off some ’90s-era CART monsters for a one-off methanol-fueled million dollar showdown in the desert. Please?

Rob, Rochester, NY

MP: I will pour 10w40 oil on my knees to get them working to perfection and gladly jump over the wall to change tires or try and remember how to engineer a car. But since it would be a challenge to find almost 30 race-ready CART cars to use, my vote is to bring in the Global MX-5 Cup Mazdas and let IndyCar’s finest go wild in their favorite support series. They’d be retrieving MX-5s from trees, mountains, and rivers after that race.

Q: Will Indy NXT be the only series that Force Indy will run for 2024? Do you have any information on what Ernie Francis Jr.’s plans are for 2024, and any thoughts about where things went sour for him for 2022-’23?

I assume that Jamie Chadwick will be back with Andretti for 2024. I did expect that she would be a bit higher than 12th for the final points total. Any thoughts about what happened there?

There hasn’t been any noise about a third engine supplier for a while in IndyCar. Is it safe to say that nothing is on the horizon?

Is Mario a partner in Andretti Autosport, now Andretti Global?

What can IndyCar do about all of the hate mail and threats leveled at Callum Ilott? Not sure if they can do anything really effective, but this certainly reminds me of what happened to Timo Glock in 2008 and Nicholas Latifi in 2021. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of loose cannons out there that call themselves fans.

Don Hopings, Cathedral City, CA

MP: Force Indy is only scheduled for NXT in 2024. I don’t know where Ernie will land, but hope it isn’t Trans Am. He has nothing left to prove there; IMSA is where he needs to be. The Andretti team is working to retain Jamie. She readily admitted from the first test that the heavy physical demands of the NXT car pushed her to — and beyond — her limit, and duly spent the rest of the year working to increase her muscle mass and muscle endurance to suit the car.

I don’t know on Mario. Thanks to free will and the intent to be terrible, there’s nothing IndyCar can do to stop such things, but it can be a loud and proactive and consistent voice to parry each instance of such abuse when it happens.

Does Francis have an IMSA future in his sights? Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

Q: I attended the Battle On The Bricks race and was really excited for there to finally be an IMSA race in my hometown after traveling to Daytona for the past five consecutive years. I am disappointed in a couple of key things from this event, however.

What was with the big price for tickets? $100+ for two days in GA is more than a full weekend at Petit ($95) or even D24 tickets ($75). Saturday felt like almost a ghost town for the Michelin Pilot Challenge race, which would probably have benefited with more spectators if it was $50 to watch.

Why not just allow anyone to sit wherever they want in the grandstands like they do for every other IMSA race? My favorite part about IMSA races is being able to explore the venue and find some really fun viewing areas that typically I wouldn’t have the chance to. Daytona will let you sit literally anywhere in the grandstands other than the suites.

Daniel, Beech Grove, IN

MP: We are talking about Indy, though, Daniel, which has a very strict and specific pattern of behavior and isn’t likely to change anytime soon. My guess is the track didn’t expect an overwhelming response for the first IMSA weekend since 2014, and set the costs higher because it knew diehard fans wouldn’t stay away. Pricing was the one consistent complaint I heard about the Battle event, and that extended to the costs for camping, which is probably what led to a bunch of unused plots.

Q: I see a lot of people expressing discontent at the loss of Texas on the 2024 IndyCar schedule. Since it happened at the last minute and was caused by NASCAR, I think IndyCar did a decent job of making sure we had 17 points paying events. IndyCar did what they had to do given the last-second Texas debacle.

Teams need a schedule so they can plan their sponsor events and lock in their sponsor promotions. That takes a lot of planning with all the food vendors, tent vendors, etc. I view it as IndyCar doing the best it could given the issues with the Olympics and the last second Texas problems not of its making. I’m going to stay positive. But then, I live close to the Milwaukee track and will likely be there. Even put it on the shared family calendar. My kid will either have to get back to college on their own or move in early.

John

MP: It wasn’t NASCAR’s fault. The track, according to my sources, was the central point of negotiations. Glad you’ve got your kid sorted and aware where they fall in terms of importance.

Q: I think as IndyCar fans, we all acknowledge the rise in popularity of F1 in the U.S. over the last several years, which is routinely attributed to Drive To Survive. While I don’t disagree that Drive To Survive introduced many people to the sport, I think it is the F1 digital offerings keeping people there.

For one example, just look at the F1 TV streaming product. I can watch a race and actively switch between the international broadcast, the F1 broadcast, or individual onboard cameras and team radios-live or on replay. More importantly, I get access to F2 and F3 with similar quality broadcasts to the F1 race; not to mention all of the other content like historical races and documentaries. It is just a first-rate product, and weekends featuring all three (F1, F2, F3) really are something for a race fan to look forward to during the work week.

I have no idea how to watch Indy NXT, and I while I catch U.S. F2000 on YouTube, it is such a poor production with sound only at the announcers booth; so you hear car engines on the TV that don’t coincide with the pictures you are watching. (If you don’t think that would bother you, try it). I realize IndyCar doesn’t have the resource to produce its own F1 TV product, but how about putting their feeder series on YouTube with a decent broadcast? See Formula Regional European Championship for an example.

And yes, I have tried Peacock several times. I sign up for the Toronto race weekend every year, only to cancel it afterwards because the rest has nothing of interest and IndyCar is an afterthought on it. Does IndyCar even need a full-blown product of its own? Couldn’t it just stream and archive races behind a pay wall on YouTube or something similar?

Mike, Bermuda

MP: The mention of the disparity in resources is the answer to everything here, Mike. IndyCar owns NXT, but not USF2000 or the other USF Championships run by Andersen Promotions. I had a number of fascinating conversations at the recent Brickyard IMSA weekend with the series’ new head of Brand and Digital content, and he’s busy reshaping the sports car organization to be as digital-first as it can be. For everything you’ve mentioned here, it serves as a reminder of how IndyCar faces an identical need but lacks the staff to facilitate such a far-reaching plan.

As I wrote on Monday, IndyCar and its teams need strong TV ratings under its existing business model, which makes a YouTube plan a move that would kill the series.

Q: There’s more to the Texas story, isn’t there? “Scheduling conflict” is a lot like “leaving to spend more time with family” or “mutually parting ways.” PR talk for fired/cancelled. How much could Texas Motor Speedway have going on? Flea Market? Swap Shop? Indy looks to have a few gaps in the schedule also. Just as it was starting to turn around too. Not quite yet, but it was getting back to the thrill ride it once was.

Shawn, MD

MP: The dates being offered just didn’t work or didn’t match the rest of IndyCar’s Olympics-affected schedule. The first offer was to join the NASCAR weekend, but IndyCar would have been paddocked outside of the facility since Trucks, Xfinity, and Cup are there together next year. The next pitch was to run the week after NASCAR, but the track didn’t want to do its two biggest events on back-to-back weekends. As a final Hail Mary, IndyCar asked about running in September, but like the first two attempts, I’m told the third wasn’t successful, so here we are. I called the track to get their take but didn’t hear back.

Q: Nice to see Iowa on the schedule for next year (and one being a night race!). How much of a setup change on the cars are necessary for the differing conditions of day/night events? Massive changes, or just some aero adjustments?

Ryan

MP: Cooler, denser air makes more downforce, as we know, so that’s a cause to alter ride heights and possibly springing and damping, depending on the predicted changes in ambient conditions from day to night. If it’s not a giant change in weather, there won’t be massive setup differences.

Running under the stars at Iowa will require some setup tweaks. Barry Cantrell/Motorsport Images

Q: Judging by the comment sections immediately following the IndyCar schedule announcement, there’s no shortage of hot takes from the sport’s fan base. And while I certainly don’t want to overshadow Milwaukee’s return, which should absolutely be celebrated, I do admit to having some mixed feelings over the loss of Texas. It’s hard to not feel bummed by not only losing an oval (an extra Milwaukee race doesn’t really make up for this), but also losing what was once the poster child of American open-wheel oval racing aside from Indy.

The event has been in decline for a while now both in terms of attendance and spectacle. It’s embarrassing watching IndyCar look like an afterthought at one of the sport’s most harrowing circuits. And the circumstances surrounding the surface has made it clear that IndyCar is only an accessory event to TMS’s suite of premier stock car races and that has always left a bitter taste in my mouth. In some ways I hope this is our chance to just move on from there, but at the same time I’d hate for 2023 to be the last time we see Indy cars at Texas.

In regards to Thermal, I know there’s been a lot of negative feedback, but I give a hopeful applause to IndyCar’s willingness to try something a bit creative here (something that seems to be in maddeningly short supply for Penske Entertainment). Just like every race doesn’t need to be a pass fest, a to-the-line-showdown, a strategy exercise, or crash mayhem, not every race needs to be a fans-in-attendance event.

For a non-points race that kinda/sorta/not really fills a gap in the schedule that may present an opportunity for owners to create some future partnerships and connections, I’m fine with it. For a lot of the fan base, we weren’t going to make the trip to SoCal anyway so I think it’s fine. Long Beach fills that market anyway. Cheers to hoping it finds success by some measure.

Michael Hart

MP: I just wish we had something as a backstop for Texas — another 1.5-miler that bridged the gap between Indy and all the short ovals on the calendar. My statistician friend Scott Richards told me this is the first schedule since 1964 with only one oval over 1.5 miles in length, which drives home my point. Breaking traditions, and that’s what’s happened with Texas after IndyCar went to TMS since 1997, is the part that’s unsettling.

Will the tiny (but appreciated) crowds that turned up for Texas in recent years return at the same volume if it’s back on the schedule in 2025? Will Texas feel like there’s money to be made in 2025? It might only be a one-year absence, but what will that do to the event’s future?

The main takeaway here is IndyCar wanted to be back at Texas and tried to orchestrate it in multiple ways, but wasn’t met with the same enthusiasm. Texas had as many as two IndyCar races and two or more Cup races per year, and now it looks like it has a single Cup weekend in 2024. That’s worrying.
It’s not like there’s an OvalAirbnb.com IndyCar can use to book itself for an April date at another oval, so this is an adventure we’ll need to follow until a proper resolution is found.

Q: With 2024 being the final year of IndyCar’s current TV deal, when do you expect the new deal to be finalized? Sometime in the middle of next summer?

Joe

MP: I don’t know, Joe. If I was a smarter monkey, I would have asked Mark Miles when we spoke earlier this week. I’ll be sure to inquire on our next call.

Q: My prediction is Logan Sargent gets canned by Williams and Andretti puts him in his fourth IndyCar. While it seems Andretti is otherwise poised to go with only three cars in 2024, particularly with Ganassi getting another Honda lease, it would seem good business to get Sargent onto his team as a potential driver for if and when Andretti gets approved by F1. What say you?

Andrew H., Chicago, IL

MP: I’m happy that Logan has gotten a chance in F1, but the last thing Andretti needs, after getting smoked by Ganassi, Penske, and Arrow McLaren — plus RLL — in the drivers’ standings, is to add a project driver in a fourth entry. And I’m not saying Logan wouldn’t be really good, but having to go through the oval learning curve, and learning a bunch of new tracks that weren’t part of his junior open-wheel progression, isn’t what the team needs to succeed.

It’s got a pair of next-generation stars and race winners and a new veteran and Indy 500 badass in the building, and I hope they just run three and level up instead of taking on an incomplete driver of any kind — even a highly talented one like Sargent — in a fourth. One thing Andretti has demonstrated in recent years is its ability to get less out of more. Focusing on getting more out of less is the path forward.

CHRIS MEDLAND: I still think Sargeant ends up staying with Williams, because it’s not like there’s a load of experienced drivers knocking on the door for that seat (unlike Nico Hulkenberg at Haas last year, for example). Williams could opt for another rookie but then could well face the same issues, and it has invested in Sargeant through F2 and this year, so the team will want to give itself a good chance of some form of return.

The team also is keen to highlight his progress when it can, but admits the crashes are overshadowing all that at the moment. I also think Andretti is planning on Colton Herta being an F1 driver if it gets in, so I think the second seat would more likely be someone with more F1 experience. It’s not a silly idea that Sargeant could fit that bill in future if Andretti gets an entry, but that would come further down the line rather than lining him up this early by grabbing him for IndyCar.

I do reckon Sargeant would increase his reputation with an IndyCar stint though if he did lose his seat — he was really quick over one lap at times in F2 as a rookie, and won some good races last year, and we’ve seen how well F2 can prepare drivers for a move to IndyCar.

Sargeant for IndyCar? Not impossible but in the short-term, not likely. Glenn Dunbar/Motorsport Images

Q: How about this? We already know that Honda will provide the power units for the Aston Martin F1 team beginning in 2026. Honda also powers several IndyCar teams, including powerhouse Ganassi. We know that Alex Palou wanted to go to F1. He is the current champion in IndyCar, has the required Super License points, and is the best and most F1-like driver there. What if Ganassi (and possibly Honda) take partial ownership positions in the Aston Martin F1 team, and Palou joins them as a driver? This could provide an explanation for Palou’s abrupt about-face amid the contract saga between Ganassi and McLaren. And perhaps Honda could provide some of its Acura GTP cars to be branded “Aston Martin-Honda” as a WEC home for Lance.

You heard it here first.

Bruce 

CM: I’m not sure about Ganassi taking partial ownership. To be honest I just don’t see that being a move on Chip’s radar, but I also don’t see Stroll giving up any more control of his team. But the idea of Palou being considered for a future move with Honda backing does make some sense.

I still feel like Yuki Tsunoda could be lined up for a seat at Aston in 2026 if his development continues to go well, but Palou’s in the right place to keep his stock as a driver rising, even if he does keep upsetting those he has contracts with! So if he wins another title or two, then he’ll still be attractive for a crossover once Honda joins up with Aston.

That said, the impression I got was that the about-turn on the McLaren deal was because he knew there was no seat in the next few years opening up there, proven by the announcement of Oscar Piastri’s recent deal to the end of 2026.

Can’t see the WEC part, though, with Aston already invested in sports cars and set to announce its plans for the future next week.

Q: As Ben Sulayem is close to two years in his tenure as FIA president, what is the F1 paddock’s opinion of him now? It always feels like every time he’s in the news in regards to F1, there’s always some sort of conflict or differing point of views between him and F1/Liberty. Has this always been the relationship between the FIA president and F1? I felt Jean Todt had a hands-off approach for the most part, but Max Mosley (from what I read, as I was too young to watch at the time) had conflicting views with the paddock as well.

Andrew

CM: He’s definitely kept his head down a lot more in recent months. There was a proper battle between F1 and the FIA for much of last year and Ben Sulayem’s comments and attempts to be involved were rubbing people up the wrong way. He was finding himself being targeted by F1 in an attempt to show that the FIA wasn’t fit to run the sport and to try and take full control. That wasn’t possible, but he was smart enough to step back a bit and take on a wider overall view of the sport earlier this year (I think after he was burned by making comments about the value of F1 that led to a legal letter heading his way).

You’re right that this isn’t always the relationship — F1 and the FIA need to be able to work together and Jean Todt was a lot quieter on that front and actually didn’t prioritize F1 himself. I’d still say it’s not a stable working partnership yet (Stefano Domenicali isn’t afraid of the conflict, either, to be fair) but it seems to have improved over the last few months.

Q: Since the $150 million spending cap is arguably the most critical aspect of the current F1 rules package, and this year no team has been found to exceed the cost cap for 2022, it seems the numbers are not always adding up based on casually seeing how the teams operate.

If Mercedes or Red Bull employs 1000 workers at, say, $100,000 as an average salary, that leaves $50 million to travelling cost, material, tooling, development and manufacturing cost. Is this a realistic budget to cover for all that?

If a team raises more than $150 million in sponsorship money, what happens to the excess income from that if teams cannot spend it on other than team principals, drivers or the selected top talent — or whether it really gets spent on them and is not pocketed by investors? How much money (or service in kind) do the current top F1 teams actually raise in sponsorship?

I understand that buildings and wind tunnels are exempted, but how much money can a team in need such as Williams spend on factory expansion and on new tooling? Are there any limitations that do count towards the spending cap rule preventing improvements? What is James Vowles specifically worried about not being able to spend on when he says other teams are preventing him doing so?

How much money per year can Audi spend, since it plans to improve the Sauber/Alfa Romeo factory to achieve competitiveness for 2026? An unlimited amount? Can other teams spend that much money to improve their own performance at the same time? If not, why?

Why fans are expected to be satisfied that no team had breached the spending cap limit, only if the FIA says so? How can the public believe that, and that the FIA is not using the acquired accounting information for private negotiation /blackmail down the line?

Adam Lipcsey, Toronto, Ontario

CM: It’s not quite that simple Adam, as the cost cap has numerous exemptions and exclusions. For example, the power unit departments are under a separate cost cap so a chunk of those hypothetical employees don’t come under the cap you’re referencing, and nor do travel costs, marketing costs, entry fees, bonuses, non-F1 or road car activities. It’s quite a long list.

That answers where some of the excess money goes if enough sponsorship is raised above the cost cap limit, as there are other areas not related to car performance that can prove very expensive. But also teams are now meant to be profitable rather than money pits that often left them struggling financially and at risk of disappearing. It’s up to the team ownership how and where they spend that money in terms of top salaries or their own earnings.

There are capital expenditure limits that allow teams to spend some money on facilities, but that’s a blanket amount of $36 million spread across four years, so essentially you’re locking in the current disparity as Red Bull (for example) is able to update at the same rate and to the same cost as Williams, despite having far better facilities already from prior to the cost cap. That’s where Vowles wants to have more scope to invest in infrastructure as a team that fell behind years ago.

Audi can build up its own facilities, and has been doing so on a power unit front, but development will be restricted by the same power unit cost cap due to the team having already signed up to those rules as a supplier from 2026 onwards. But no, Sauber can’t spend unlimited amounts on its factory even if the money comes from Audi.

On the last point, you can only trust a governing body on what it says and then reflect on how those involved react to it. Teams are more interested in how each other submits their figures because they are still learning about how the financial regulations can be applied and policed and looking for their own loopholes everywhere. The FIA has invested even more this year to try and make it a more robust system, and there have been no protests raised by any of the 10 teams.

Private negotiation and blackmail would be an immensely dangerous game and, to be honest, is massively far-fetched. If anyone suspected a team was being allowed to spend more than any other, it would threaten the entire standing of the FIA, and conspiring to use the position of the governing body to blackmail an entrant would likely be a criminal offense.

F1’s cost cap is supposed to help level the playing field between the backmarkers and the powerhouses, but teams like Red Bull have a built-in advantage through having better infrastructure in place before the cap was introduced. Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Q: I started paying pretty close attention to F1 back in the ’90s and I don’t recall multiple teams digging themselves out of a ditch like McLaren and, to a lesser extent, Mercedes have since the beginning of the season. Can you comment on that? Especially McLaren, which I was sure was lost for the season when it kicked off.

Andy R., Detroit, MI

CM: I’m with you Andy, it’s one of the most impressive turnarounds I’ve seen. I remember Ferrari and McLaren being off the front-running pace in 2009 and then both becoming race winners later in the year — McLaren became one of the fastest teams by that stage — but that was in an era without a cost cap, so it could spend its way out of trouble.

The fact that McLaren has made such a step and then we’ve not seen others hit back later in the season is what surprises me so much. I expected it to be a case of following a concept and getting it right but that others would do similar and limit the overall gain by now, rather than McLaren appearing to get even stronger.

You mention Mercedes but it is rarely the second-fastest car anywhere, unlike the McLaren, which is testament to the work done. McLaren has scored 155 points in the past eight races, compared to 17 in the first eight. Only Red Bull (302 points) and Ferrari (163) has scored more, with Mercedes picking up 138 and Aston Martin 67. But perhaps more tellingly, McLaren has the most second-place finishes of any team outside Red Bull this year. And they’ve all come in the past seven rounds.

Q: Whatever happened to the GP of Vietnam?  Do they have any plans to hold the race, or is it a casualty of the COVID era?

Walter Fox

CM: It was initially COVID that stopped the race being held, but then it was political developments that ended that race. Hanoi’s ex-mayor — Nguyen Duc Chung — was a huge driving force behind the event, and he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges.

Without Chung, there was no clear momentum to ensure the race would take place, and F1 itself picked up significant money for the contract not being honored by the race organizers, so I doubt there were too many complaints as it simply sold that space on the calendar to one of the many other bidders.

I actually visited the circuit when it was being built and as because was all private money behind it, I can’t see it being rekindled anytime soon despite the track being there now.

Q: When do you think we will see international races in the NASCAR Cup series?

Chris Fiegler, Latham, NY

KELLY CRANDALL: While I can’t give you a specific timeline, I believe NASCAR is moving toward that more today than ever before. Having a presence in a foreign country is a big deal to the sanctioning body, and they are very proud of the international series they have, such as NASCAR Mexico and the Euro Series. But if they were able to bring their top stars to another country, it would be a massive win. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors about potentially going to Montreal next season, and while that might not be as signed and sealed as many expect, it’s on NASCAR’s radar. It was also rumored that Mexico might be in play sometime in the future as well. Time will tell, but it does seem to be something NASCAR is seriously considering as it continues to find ways to evolve its schedule.

Q: Almost three-quarters of the 2023 Cup season is over. Who is the driver of the year? What was the race of the year? Why is it taking so long for NASCAR to release the 2024 schedule?

Kurt Perleberg

KC: William Byron is my driver of the year. Between the wins and his continued development as a weekly contender, Byron should be considered a legitimate top-five driver in the Cup Series.

It’s hard to pick one race, and that’s not a cop-out — it’s just that everything runs together, and individual races become easy to forget. But I really enjoyed the Cup Series races at Darlington and Kansas this season.

Your guess is as good as mine on the schedule. I’ve been hearing “two weeks” for what has felt like two months. It now seems like it’ll be October, and my guess is that some of what NASCAR was working on for next year must have had some hurdles, which has caused the delay. The rumors about what the schedule is going to look like continue to change on a weekly basis.

This is the exact moment that Hendrick’s No. 24 crew learned that Kelly named Byron her Cup Series driver of the year. Lesley Ann Miller/Motorsport Images

Q: In light of the Brennan Poole crash directly into the pit wall at very high speed at a high-speed racetrack, tragedy was narrowly averted.  

Had the car dug into the grass and start barrel rolling, as so often happens at high speed, and it could have vaulted over pit wall. Worse, maybe a round of green flag pit stops are underway and there are dozens of pit crew workers totally exposed to a car coming at them near 180mph.

What will NASCAR do? Surely it just cannot sweep it under the rug, as a very serious flaw in safety was exposed for everyone to see.  

Concerned in Colorado

KC: From Elton Sawyer during his weekly SiriusXM NASCAR Radio call:

“It’s great to know that no one was injured… All in all, things went as well as you could expect in that situation. But as we said before, safety is not a destination, it’s a journey, and that doesn’t just account for the vehicles that we race, but it’s also the facilities that we race at. We’ll take a much deeper dive on our facilities on the NASCAR side as well as our partners at Speedway Motorsports. We’ll look at that particular incident. Is there anything we can do different?

“If you look at some of our other facilities where we have a pit wall, if you will, between the pit road and the racetrack, and there are some facilities that are just not an option. But we will, as we always do, go back and take a much deeper dive into that at that facility and look at all facilities, as we’ve said numerous times. Whether it’s adding tire packs or SAFER barriers or additional walls or close out where cars can get in there and make contact with other areas of the racetrack that we don’t need vehicles. We will take a much deeper dive on that …”

THE FINAL WORD
From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, September 23, 2014

Q: Remember when Senna was undecided whether to drive for McLaren in 1992 and he tested one of Penske’s Indy cars at Firebird? Just speculating, how do you think Senna would have done at Indy?


Late Apex

ROBIN MILLER: Emerson Fittipaldi was trying to convince him to come race in CART, at least the Indy 500, and he seemed keen on the idea after the test. Driving for Penske with his talent, I think he’d have done just fine. Can you imagine having Mansell, Senna and Fittipaldi at Indy that May?

Story originally appeared on Racer