Q: Question about Sato. I returned to watching IndyCar about three years ago. Even before the questionable mess at Pocono, it seemed like he took a lot of drivers out of races often; same this year. On Sunday it was Andretti and Askew who both needed good days and were delivering. Listening to Ericsson’s radio comments from the Harvest GP that were posted by IndyCar was telling, too. He seems to ruin the day for so many other drivers/teams, and the announcers are usually laughing about “wild man” Sato. To me, nice guy or not, it doesn’t even seem like he should have a ride and that he should have at least some penalties or probation. It seems that he’s not just a wild card, but reckless and selfish at all costs. What am I missing that he never seems to be corrected?
RM: It’s a fair question. Every time we think he’s smoothed out (like his performance at Indy), Sato will have one of those days like Sunday at St. Pete. He’s fast, races hard and is good for the series but remains a “wild card,” because that’s just his style.
Q: Scott Dixon is the Alain Prost of IndyCar; prudent, smart, fast and successful. Takuma Sato is the Pastor Maldonado of IndyCar; rash, dumb and fast enough for the occasional win, but a menace. I guess I should ask that in question form. Would you agree? Thanks for a great season of Mailbag.
Anthony Jenkins, Toronto, Canada
RM: I don’t think Maldonado rates with Sato’s accomplishments, but obviously both were and are prone to unhooking their brain at times. And Dixie and Prost seem to have that same sensibility in a race car.
Q: A common theme for every race is getting your pit stops timed correctly. You don’t want to stay out to long and get caught by a yellow. Not to take anything away from Dixon, but early in the year there were three races where Newgarden was running well and Dixon had troubles. And in every one of these races an untimely yellow came out and flipped the field and results. That was a huge bonus towards Dixon’s championship. Not really fair. IndyCar could take a page from Formula 1 and use a virtual pace car – if there’s a caution everyone on track the pits remain open and on-track cars are limited to 50mph. This would eliminate getting caught out by yellows.
Mark, Niagara Falls, NY
RM: There was talk of a virtual pace car a few years ago and I can’t recall why it lost momentum, but I think most drivers would agree that untimely yellows have helped them as much as hurt them if they drive long enough. Newgarden admitted he needed some cautions to help him get to the front on Sunday, and I’d much rather see the pits remain open all the time than a virtual pace car.
Q: A long time ago, at a Star far, far away you waged a campaign to urge Champ Car to reload with the exceptional crop of 2002 Formula Atlantic drivers. Regrettably, none of them, except for RHR, made it to The Show. As you wrote not too long ago, this season the equation flipped in favor of promising new faces. However, most recently you and Marshall are reporting that a number of those new faces are losing their rides and are confronted by “need to bring money” challenges in landing new ones. How does IndyCar solve this problem?
RM: Not sure there is any solution to buying or financing rides because it’s the reality of today’s racing, but I think it’s better than it’s been because Herta, O’Ward, Askew and Rosenqvist didn’t have to bring money this season. And Conor Daly was hired by Carlin as well. Palou, VeeKay and Ferrucci were funded but all three showed their chops and got some interest from the IndyCar paddock although they’ll likely have to bring money to keep their seats for 2021. [ED: VeeKay has re-signed for 2021]
Q: Do you think that if IndyCar teams were offered incentive money to field teams in all three developmental series, would that be enough to get some interest since teams could graduate drivers into IndyCar rides similar to what has been done on occasion in NASCAR and other factory series?
Matthew, Jackson, Ohio
RM: Absolutely, but where is that money going to come from? IndyCar announced that Indy Lights purses will be higher next year, and I think Roger Penske has some more ideas on how to get teams interested but hasn’t shared them yet.