Q: Now that Team Penske is fielding only three cars for next year’s IndyCar campaign, would it still be open to having a one-off team for the Indy 500 or possibly some select races if the funding was there?
MP: It’s a staffing thing. When Roger Penske took on the Acura IMSA DPi program from 2018-2020, he ran three IndyCar entries, and used the extra staff to run those two IMSA prototypes. For what he’s doing with the new Porsche Penske Motorsports IMSA and WEC LMDh program, he’s doing four total cars — two in each series – which requires a ton of employees here in North Carolina and at a new base in Germany.
Another thing to consider is the size of the contract and who the contract is with. Team Penske is administering an F1-level contract with Porsche; huge pressure and expectations from the most famous brand in the history of sports car racing. For that reason alone, there’s no reason to risk the proper setup of that PPM team and proper testing and development of the new Porsche LMDh just to run an extra Indy 500 entry or part-time car.
Q: When the new hybrid cars arrive in 2023 for IndyCar, will the Xtrac six-speed transmissions be carried over? Will there be any other major components carried over to the new chassis? And thanks for keeping the Mailbag!
Rob Peterson, Rochester, NY
MP: Great questions with no immediate answers. The current Xtracs have been strong and reliable, but they were also targeted to handle 550-750hp. With where IndyCar says it’s going with the next engine package, something like 900hp is meant to be fired through the gearbox, with 100 of the 900hp meant to come from hard-hitting electric torque from the KERS system.
I’m curious to learn about whether the existing transmission can be uprated to handle the extra power and torque, or if something new — maybe with 7 or 8 speeds — will be commissioned by IndyCar for 2023. The other questions fall along a similar line of strength and durability; with the extra power/torque, plus all that extra weight from the KERS units, will bigger brakes, beefier drive shafts, stronger suspension components, and more be needed to handle all the speed and increased forces? I’ve heard conflicting notions here, so when I get firm answers, we’ll have some fun items to discuss.
Q: What’s up with Foyt for next year? I assume Kellett is out. (Nice guy, but just not fast enough?) Seb in part-time while picking up young driver? Sponsors will be…?
MP: Why would Kellett be out? Like hundreds before him, his family’s highly successful business makes it possible to pay for him to race in IndyCar, and at the moment, he’s the only one willing and committed to fund a Foyt entry next year.
The rest of the puzzle is missing important pieces. If ROKIT comes back, the company will have a big voice in who drives the No. 14 Chevy. Is it my French Fry, Sebastien Bourdais? Is it Tatiana Calderon, who ROKIT loves and helped to get a test day in the 14 car? Is it RHR? Kyle Kirkwood? The team got better with Seb in the car, but he hasn’t been re-signed, and when things that make too much sense to not happen… haven’t happened, I begin to worry.
The team also has an interest in adding a car, but that that seems like a distraction until the primary car’s business gets sorted out. The new season feels like it’s right around the corner.
Q: If you had to guess how IndyCar was going to progress to fully electric, what do you see as the phases? Looks like we have the first phase coming; what comes next?
MP: I’d say that if we look at the 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engine formula we’ve had since 2012, there’s a good reason to believe what’s coming in 2023 with the 2.4L TTV6 hybrid will be around longer than the five-year duration that’s spoken of. I’d assume it’ll be here into the next decade, and if there’s anything new that comes along, I’d expect it to be with changes to the KERS units and increasing the power they contribute to the total output number.
If the new package is meant to have 800hp coming from the combustion engine and 100 electric horsepower, could we see the 800/100 numbers tilt in the direction of electric when we get to the end of the decade and into the next? That’s what I’m expecting.
Are we talking 500/500 by 2030? Hard to say, but keep in mind that not so long ago, the LMP1 Hybrid prototypes were making something like 500/700 at Le Mans, with the KERS units being the most powerful motors in those amazing machines. IndyCar as a fully electric series? Only if our engine manufacturers demand it.
Q: We will be attending the upcoming IndyCar race at Barber for the first time. Can you recommend a race fan friendly bar in the area?
JRW, Maricopa County, Arizona
MG: It’s not a bar, but you’d asked Robin he’d have recommended Rusty’s Bar-B-Q in Leeds, just a few minutes from the circuit. I haven’t been to any bars close to the track, but there are some good ones in downtown Birmingham. Try Back Forty.
Q: How about someone put a bug in IndyCar’s ear to name the Indy 500 pole award after Robin?
Joe Z in Naperville
MP: I love the sentiment, but you might need to help me understand why a journalist’s name would be attached to a driver’s award? Why not ask IMS to name a new veggie burger after Miller? Plus, Miller hated what Pole Day has become for the last decade-plus as prize money for the biggest risk takers and crowd sizes plummeted. All that being said, it would piss him off to no end, so for that reason alone, it has my full endorsement!
Q: Sooner or later the internet will blanket IndyCar live race coverage. What innovations does NBC plan next year in terms of race coverage such as in car cams, drone footage and pit area coverage? The days of fixed camera shots seem doomed.
Pete Jenkins, Upper Sandusky, Ohio
MP: Our friend John Barnes (no, not the former Panther Racing co-owner) who serves as the coordinating producer of NBC Sports’ IndyCar broadcasts helps with an answer:
“We have planning calls scheduled with our partners at IndyCar to review and preview 2021 and 2022. We added new cameras around tracks this year and hope to keep adding more drone cameras at select tracks besides the Indy 500.”