Q: This past Christmas I received a couple of great racing books. One of them was a Dick Wallen book called “Seventies Championship Revolution.” In the section of the Sprint Car Championship, there was mention of a driver named Jackie Howerton. I must admit that up until I read the book, I’d never heard of him. What can you tell of him, and is he still around?
Skip Conner, Dayton, Ohio
RM: Jackie came from Oklahoma and was a good fabricator that wanted to drive Indy cars. He was competitive in USAC midgets and sprints and scored his biggest victory in 1974 when he held off Mario and Big Al at the Hoosier Hundred. He got to test an Indy car at Phoenix, but never got to race one.
Q: Regarding the traction compound at Texas, one thing I did not hear was if anyone was thinking about how to remove it to some extent. Everyone seemed predisposed to complain about it. From what you heard, is anyone looking at ways of dealing with it?
Don Hopings, Cathedral City, CA
RM: I heard IndyCar would make sure it was gone before they raced there again, but with no testing and a track that sat silent for months, it obviously caught everyone by surprise.
Q: In light of the issues faced by the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team with Takuma Sato at Texas, wondering if you could elaborate on how teams prep their back-up cars. Are the backups configured to match the primary exactly, in that the teams continually apply adjustments to the back-up cars during the weekend as applied to their primary? What is the typical decision tree that determines if a team would go with the back-up car, or try and ready the damaged primary for a weekend/race?
Doug S, Indianapolis
RM: From Ganassi Racing director Mike Hull: “If a team has a spare car that’s complete, it’s by rule not allowed out of the trailer, unless required as a replacement. The pre-event preparation of the car is a team decision. Some teams carry a complete spare, a common team spare, or a complete car in spare parts. If the spare car is ready in advance with a basic Texas setup, that would includes aero, transmission, and suspension. It would need a fresh engine. The engine supplier would roll the engine, undressed to the team, who would then install it, hopefully find time for a setup, go through an IndyCar safety inspection and find the grid. If it’s a multi-car entry such as RLL, I would think that they carry a common spare, so could also include livery change, and driver fit (think about those pedals between Sato and Graham).
“The second option is to repair the damage. The team would assess the chassis itself for structural damage. Honda in this case would inspect the engine, plus look to see if in the accident, the engine turned over for a period of time in a reverse! If it’s OK, then as in Rahal’s case, it’s all hands on deck vocationally to change the suspension, bodywork, and the rest. That’s no easy feat. You would include the pre-built components that are carried as spares, plus multiple trips to the Dallara Parts Supply trackside. It could include underwing, sidepods, radiators, exhaust, front and/or rear suspension, electrical components, complete transmission, and much more. It also requires the cooperation between the team and IndyCar based upon the time frame to cooperate to make it happen.”
Q: I am confused about something regarding the Texas race. I recall the announcers describing the 35-lap limit on the Firestone tires as being 35 green flag laps. When the field pitted around Lap 160, I expected that someone would stay and out and stretch the stint until Lap 195, hoping someone else would bring out the yellow flag for at least five laps (which Rosenquist did). Instead, everyone split the stint 20/20. Since everyone acknowledged that Dixon was uncatchable, why did no one try the alternate strategy? Are any teams kicking themselves for not doing so?
John Campbell, Oregon
RM: Let’s go back to Mike Hull. “First, hindsight is always 20/20. So why did people decide to short-pit? It was a play to best improve their finishing position versus the people they were racing – it was very unlikely that anyone could catch Felix and Scott, and they knew it. The next-best thing was to try and beat the guy in third. Sounds arrogant, but that’s how it played out – anyone who stopped before the yellow went two laps down to P1 and P2.
“Taking it a step further, Scott and Felix were far enough ahead that someone who stayed out would’ve only put them one lap down, not two laps. Then, that driver would’ve had to stop under the Lap 191 yellow and the field, including Scott and Felix, would’ve gotten a lap back. Given the 2020 IndyCar rules, that should have led to the lead lap cars restarting without any lapped cars between the front-runners. Again, given Felix and Scott’s pace, it wasn’t a race-winning strategy unless there was another, immediate yellow that ended the race.
“Was it an opportunity missed? Perhaps, but we’ll never know – that’s why most strategists lament the ones that got away more than they revel in the times they nailed it!”