Q: Waiting for the season finale, I figured I’d put together my list of demands for the next car. None of this stuff will happen, but figured I’d email you anyway. Get rid of the fuel map button on the steering wheel. If someone needs to save fuel, then let them use their foot. Bring back clutch pedal and hand shifting. Way better with in-car camera than paddle shifting. V8 turbos. You wanna talk about fast, loud, unforgiving? That’s the way to go, and no fan cares about anything hybrid in racing. If you cause a wreck and get penalized, then the next race that driver starts from the back or pit lane.
No need to worry about cost on any of this stuff, including the V8 turbo. These teams aren’t making any money so let’s build something we’d all like to see (well, me that is). Please forward my demands to Jay and Mark – I was going to use old paper clippings and paste ’em to a sheet of paper to really give it that old school ‘meet my demands’ letter, but this was easier.
RM: In order: No chance (fuel button is here to stay). No chance (although I wish they would go back to shifting with a clutch since it’s part of a driver’s race craft). Who would supply the V8s? I kinda like your suggestion for anyone starting a pileup, but that won’t fly either.
Q: Just to add to my previous email, another Northeast slight. Rapid Response is not showing in NYC. How is that possible? Isn’t this promotion? Are we not a big enough market? They show every little thing in this city – not Rapid Response.
RM: I’m sure it’s simply a personal preference of your theater and racing movies in NYC would not be in much demand. But I imagine it will be out on DVD soon.
Q: Went to the theatre and saw the movie Rapid Response. Every true IndyCar fan should see this flick. The contributions Steve Olvey and Terry Trammel have made to IndyCar is absolutely amazing and priceless. I think IndyCar needs to do more to recognize these guys that have dedicated their life and passion to making a dangerous sport less risky for the drivers. What do you think?
Troy Strong, Kansas City
RM: I helped Steve proofread the book and it was very good, but the documentary is so compelling because it’s got footage we’ve never seen before and shows how primitive racing was in terms of safety before these two and Wally Dallenbach and Jeff Horton came along. And they helped all of racing, not just IndyCar.
Q: With the announcement that the IMS dirt track is now permanent, is there any chance they will run more than the BC39 ? It would be awesome, being a local racer myself, if they would run some sort of speed fest like the Kokomo Klash. It would be amazing, and I think I’m not the only local dirt racer who would jump at the chance to say I ran something at the Speedway.
RM: I asked Levi Jones the other day and he said USAC may test a sprint car on it, and I think USAC might like to figure out a way to include IMS in midget and sprint week if possible, although the BC39 will likely be July 4th with the Brickyard.
Q: While on a recent RV trip out west, we passed by the hometowns of two iconic Indy drivers. One was Fresno, CA, which most of us old-timers remember as the home of the great Bill Vukovich and his family. The second was Medford, OR and it brought back thoughts of your friend Art Pollard. Can you share some of your memories of Art?
RM: Alley Oop was his nickname, and there was no finer person on the planet. Art got started late in racing (in his mid-30s as a rookie at Indy) but he stood on the gas and was a tough hombre. He loved to play basketball, poker and hang with Pelican Joe Leonard. The lovely lady he married in 1971 got tired of his running around when they were dating so she took all of his clothes and locked them in a couple lockers at the bus station and threw the key in a cornfield. Art got the message and proposed.
Q: I’ve been watching a lot of older races lately, and noticed everyone’s significant other used to wear corresponding fire suits with their spouse. What moved everyone away from that?
RM: If you sat on the scoring stand I believe CART made you wear a fire suit. No room for partners anymore on scoring stands.
Q: My question this week is so complex and technical that you might want to ask for some help (ideally from a few drivers): When driving an IndyCar, what could one estimate to be the part of driving skills involved vs car setup? In the case of this particular race car, how important are they in comparison to each other? Which one makes you faster: a big lap or a great setup? On one hand, every time I hear a veteran driver (let’s say my fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais) being interviewed about how he’s doing with his race weekend, he always seems to point out how vital the car setup is, how “you’re not gonna go anywhere if the car’s not set up just right!”
Also in a previous Mailbag, you replied to Rob (from London, ON) that negotiating the bumps at Iowa is “about handling,” “more about getting your chassis right” (than engine power) and of course the infamous dampers. Honestly, I can’t help but get a little crazier every time I hear such things. I mean, why in the world are these cars relying so much on the setup? I’m here to watch some racing, not some engineering contest! I’ll admit I’m a mechanical designer myself, so I love the technical stuff, too. But regardless of that, this is not really what I’m here for. I’m getting tired of all the “My car is too tight, I can’t go any faster! I need more front wing!”
I’ve heard too many drivers getting frustrated and not being able to move through the field as they’d want to just because their setup wasn’t good enough. Seriously, if all you need to be at the front in IndyCar is a perfectly set-up car, then there’s no sport involved in that! Just brains. And on the other hand, if you watch younger drivers like Rossi (“Mr. Aggression,” like Leigh Diffey said) or Newgarden or Ferruci or Colton Herta, there does seem to be room for the driver to make a difference and be braver than his competitors, especially with this new car.
Also at the 2013 Indy 500, Carlos Munoz, who had never driven an IndyCar before, ran at the front all day long and finished second. Having said that, being brave is not all about the youngsters: Taku seems to have a great season this year, making awesome moves at every race (except for Pocono of course…). And JPM was phenomenal in his first couple of years at Penske and I don’t recall he was worrying a lot about his setup. But earlier this year, Marco said something quite interesting: “Being a veteran now, it’s easy to get too in tune with the engineering aspect of it. I need to actually step away and just drive the car. The reason you see a lot of fast rookies is because ignorance is bliss sometimes. They’re just driving the car.” Now, I’m gonna guess every track requires different skills and drivers all have a different approach to that. So what do you think?
Xavier from France
RM: I think there are technical drivers like Pagenaud and Dixon and feel drivers like Montoya and both can be successful, but some tracks require more mechanical grip than aero and the trick is to find that happy medium. But dampers have become so key to success, and ask Conor Daly about Andretti’s program compared to others he’s driven for, and it’s night and day. When 22 cars are separated by 0.8s on a road course, your setup better be spot on.