Q: Although not a fan of Danica, I am OK with her being part of the Indy 500 broadcast. At least she has open-wheel history. Dale Jr is a classy guy, but he has no business being in the booth during IndyCar’s biggest race. This move seems like something ABC would do. Is NBC already panicking about IndyCar ratings?
RM: Not at all. Junior is still the most popular person in American motorsports and it makes perfect sense to being him in with Mike Tirico and Danica. NBC shines at big events, and it’s treating Indy better than ABC ever thought about. I enjoyed Dale’s take on the Rolex 24 and his enthusiasm is genuine – just like him.
Q: Seems the Dale Jr announcement was a good barometer for people’s reading comprehension, or lack thereof. I think he will be a great addition in his role, and hopefully you’ll be able to shoot a piece with you taking him through the museum. Perhaps with some guests like Mario or A.J.
RM: Junior came to the BC39 midget race last year and loved it. He has a great appreciation for IndyCar history (Gordon Johncock was his favorite driver growing up), and is stoked about coming to Indianapolis.
Q: The month of May will soon be here, and there is much chatter about Danica being on the Indy 500 commentating team. But what of Sarah Fisher? She was a fixture at the 500 as a serious driver and personable owner far longer than Ms. Patrick. I know she owns a go-kart complex near the track, but what happened to her race team ownership, even as an Indy-only outfit?
RM: Sarah and her hubby Andy O’Gara hung in there as long as they could with help from Wink Hartman and partnership with Ed Carpenter, but when Wink bowed out, that was enough. Their karting center in Speedway is awesome, and I think they’re holding their own. As for her career, Sarah was the first female IndyCar driver that passed her male competitors, and she never had the rides Danica did or I think she would have won a race as well.
Q: Wanted to bring up Monster Energy not being the main Cup Series sponsor next season. I read that Monster Energy could partner with Chip Ganassi in fielding a new car in the Indianapolis 500. If that were to happen, who from the stock car side from Ganassi would you like to see in a CGR Monster Energy Indy 500 entry? Kurt Busch or Kyle Larson?
RM: Busch did an excellent job in 2014, but I’ve been beating Larson’s drum to come to Indy for a decade so he gets my vote. But I hear that Kyle Busch’s new contract would permit him to run Indy, so I’d love to see both Kyles.
Q: I’m confused by the IndyCar shock/damper issue. It seems this one piece of equipment is in general what separates the top tier teams from the rest. I know Penske manufactures world-class dampers, but they don’t seem to be available to everyone – or they are just too expensive for the smaller teams to afford? Are there comparable dampers available to the smaller teams?
Jonathan and Cleide Morris, Ventura, CA
P.S. A number of people have written to Robin’s Mailbag (including myself) regarding Pipo Derani. His drive in the first 10 minutes of Sebring (in the pouring rain) was Senna-like. I know pay drivers are important for the bottom line, but I think someone needs to give him another test.
RM: You can buy Penske shocks, just not the ones he runs. But teams spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on developing dampers because it’s the only open area of the car. Somebody said why doesn’t IndyCar just make stock dampers for everyone to save money, and the answer is that supposedly Roger, Chip and Michael were adamant it remained open, so it does.
Q: In last week’s Mailbag you’d mentioned that the Foyt cars are behind in the shock/damper program on road courses; can someone in your tech department help us ‘fans” understand the difficulties/particulars/variables involved in getting this subject matter correct on an IndyCar? Are not the parts and pieces within said shocks and dampers available to all teams? Or do the rules allow proprietary parts and pieces?
Jesse, Franklin, IN
RM: From Marshall Pruett: “You’ve struck upon the one major areas IndyCar leaves open to its teams for development. Think of dampers like the 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engines made by Chevy and Honda: They’re the same basic thing, with blocks, heads, cranks, pistons, etc., but the choices on how to make the items, the materials used, the unique design approaches taken, and all manner of choices and processes on achieving a finished and successful motor are completely different. Same goes for dampers.
“There are a few vendors – Ohlins, Dynamic, and Penske are common choices – but only in rare instances are those shocks true off-the-shelf units that get bolted onto a car. The internals, of which there are many pieces and options, are subject to the choices made by each team. Damper engineers have different philosophies on how to deliver the ride and handling characteristics that will best serve the car and driver, just like race engineers have preferred ways of setting up a car. All of this comes into play with a Foyt team, for example, where the choice of damper model, damper engineer (it’s occasionally the race engineer or assistant engineer who oversees this area), and the quality of ideas for how to design and build what goes inside that makes a team competitive or uncompetitive. Lots of variables to consider, and whether it’s the damper or the damper tech, getting things wrong is just as possible as getting it right.
“As an aside, there’s also a reason why the best damper people are well-paid and prized members on the best teams. A final thing to consider that’s often mentioned: Penske Racing Shocks sells its product to the public. Some IndyCar teams buy them and modify as desired. Those commercially available shocks are not the same items used by Team Penske. Those are quadruple top secret, and have nothing in common with those found on rival IndyCar entries. That’s how serious the business of damping happens to be in the series…