Q: Thanks for your continuing insight on IndyCar. This season especially, it’s really disheartening to watch the A.J. Foyt team perform so poorly. As such, I’d like to put you on the spot for a minute – if A.J. et al, came to you and asked for three bullet points that you felt would provide them more success next season, what might you come up with?
Bob Kehoe, Oregon
RM: Put both teams in the same city. Spend big bucks on a damper program and specialist. Hire a driver with technical savvy.
Q: I am intrigued by the role tire choice and degradation plays in IndyCar race strategy. When did IndyCar implement the current tire rule where teams must run at least two laps on each tire compound (blacks and reds) during a race? Also, when did IndyCar begin using tires designed to degrade, rather than last as long as possible? Lastly, did tire choice play as important a role back in the days where there were multiple tire manufactures?
Mike, Midland, TX
RM: Firestone’s Cara Adams and Dale Harrigle were kind enough to provide the following: the two-lap minimum was put in place when the primary and alternate tires were introduced in 2003. Before that, Champ Car had primary and optional tires, with teams allowed to run either tire at will. Before she became the lead engineer, Cara was in charge of road and street course tires and recalls drop-off was always a target; to have a tire that was quicker initially but had some degradation. She says there has been more of a drop-off on alternates over the last several years.
Q: It’s perhaps why I have been in therapy and getting nowhere for years and losing my shirt, but I don’t believe in loyalty. There, I admitted it. Is there something wrong with me? Maybe I should clarify. I don’t believe in loyalty if and or when someone like Roger Penske can change your life by offering more money and a better car and chances than Andretti if your name is Alexander Rossi. What makes you think beyond loyalty that he wouldn’t bolt to The Captain, SPM or the rumored third big outfit if offered a plumb gig?
Turning Roger Penske down if he made an offer is career suicide. Rossi’s future seems like Josef Newgarden’s in a lot of ways. He was loyal to Ed Carpenter and before him Sarah Fisher for having him in IndyCar, but put that aside and signed with Penske. I would expect Rossi to do the exact same thing if it were offered and Honda didn’t object and NAPA migrates with him. You’re a journalist with a lot of sources, so maybe you know something we don’t yet about his leanings.
Geoff Roberts, Unionville, Canada
RM: RHR turned down The Captain and won Indy and a championship for Andretti, so it was hardly career suicide. He was loyal because Michael gave him a lifeline when it appeared his career was over. And staying kept DHL in the family as well. Rossi has been just as quick as any of the Penske drivers the past two years and almost as successful, so if the money was comparable, and I’m sure it was close, why not stay at the team that’s built around you instead of being the fourth spoke in the biggest wheel in IndyCar? I wrote the saga of his contract negotiations on Monday and R.P. made it sound like if it was only three cars maybe he’d have been a Penske driver in 2020. But I think Alex felt loyalty to Michael and Honda, and likes his four-car chances better.
Q: I was curious, when did Roger Penske become Roger Penske? What I mean is I’m 45 years old and remember Mears sponsored by Pennzoil and being a favorite at the Indy 500. I remember the unbelievable when Penske missed the show in 1995. So I’m curious: when did he become the dominant team owner everyone wanted to drive for, and the favorite to when the 500 and championship every year?
RM: The first time was the Can-Am days with Porsche and Trans Am series, because you could see what a first-class effort he ran. Then at Indy he showed up with a McLaren in 1971 and that set the tone for the next five decades. Building his own winning cars further enhanced his reputation. He was Roger Penske a long time ago, but began his Indy domination in the ’80s.
Q: I understand the reason for starting the Mid-Ohio race at 4:05 was so NBC could show their Tour de France coverage… oh wait, no I don’t! In what world do people actually want watch a bicycle race more than IndyCars? Starting the race that late put IndyCar in direct TV competition with the NASCAR Cup race in Pocono, which is obviously more popular. If the point of putting the race on network television is to attract more viewers, why start it so late? Also, the race looked very well attended on TV, and for the people who don’t live in Ohio, the late start time must have contributed to them getting home at an unreasonable hour.
Tom, Newark, NY
P.S. I’m looking forward to attending the Pocono race in a few weeks, and I hope it’s not the last one.
RM: In order to get eight network races, IndyCar has to pretty much take what time slots are available in a schedule crowded with golf, track & field, swimming and NASCAR. The Tour de France had an audience of seven million for its final stage in 2018, so let’s not compare ratings with IndyCar. I think we all agree that 4 p.m. is way too late to start any race and it no doubt kept some fans home (although it looked like the best turnout in five years), but national television is a valuable partner for IndyCar, and a couple late races a year are likely going to stay in the rotation.