Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for Marshall Pruett or any of RACER’s other writers can be sent to email@example.com. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for style or clarity.
Q: How loud is it for IndyCar drivers while they are racing in the Indy 500 (or any race for that matter)? How much protection do helmets give their ears? Do the earbuds they wear to communicate with their pits make the noise better or worse?
Janis in Fishers
MARSHALL PRUETT: He’s Canadian, and kind, and he still has his hearing, so I asked the Mayor of Hinchtown to help with an answer:
“The earpieces we wear are custom molded, so they offer really good protection from the sound, on top of obviously wearing the helmet. It’s still pretty noisy, but you appreciate how much protection you get when the earpiece shifts in your ear and you lose the seal! The volume for the radio comms to the team is adjustable, so you find the right level for you at the start of each weekend.” – James Hinchcliffe
Q: With Mike Shank having made the successful expansion from sports cars to IndyCar, do you know if any other IMSA teams are considering a similar move?
Scott C., Bargersville, IN
MP: Pretty much a one-way street these days, with IndyCar teams returning/expanding into IMSA, and not the other way around. I keep waiting for Ed Carpenter to make the leap, and Dale Coyne poked around a few years ago. Trust me, the moment I hear about something serious from an IMSA team looking at IndyCar, you’ll read about it.
Q: I see Santino Ferrucci and Conor Daly are both entered in January’s Chili Bowl. Why do you feel Kirkwood, Rossi, O’Ward, etc., don’t give it a go?
MP: Guessing it’s mostly an invitation thing. Rossi said he’s trimming his calendar, so we know that part, but if they aren’t prevented from doing so by their contracts, I’d imagine most IndyCar drivers would be driving at the Chili Bowl if seats were available.
Q: Might be pic for the Mailbag. Note the banners and top billing above Sonny and Cher. Seems cool you could watch the 500 after the fact in a theater. From my research this theater was in L.A.. I found this picture in a forum for VWs. Looks to be early ’60s since the bus is pre ’61.
Aaron Smith, Medford, OR
MP: I’ve had some of my elders tell me about watching major races like the Indy 500 and Monaco on closed-circuit feeds in movie theaters. Somewhere buried in storage, I have a poster promoting the 1966 Indy 500 closed-circuit deal (I think it’s for ’66 — seem to recall Jimmy Clark’s Lotus in on it) which I need to find…
Could you imagine this happening again today at an IMAX theater? Sign me up!
Q: I asked Robin Miller a similar question to this a while ago, and I wanted your take. I was wondering if there would be a situation where a driver would have to lend a hand to the mechanics working on a race car (perhaps grab a hammer to bash out crash damage, or buy the guys donuts and coffee after pulling out an all-nighter)? While I’m on the subject, who was the most mechanically-inclined driver you knew in your years in motorsport?
MP: I wouldn’t position it as “have to” but yes, there are situations where having an extra pair of hands to handle some of the menial tasks will help speed up the repairs. But unless the driver is an experienced mechanic, crew chiefs will keep them away from the wrenches for the sake of safety.
You have to be able to trust the people disassembling or reassembling and IndyCar, and that line won’t be crossed, even if it’s the person who drives the thing. Had a few – but not many– drivers on teams I worked on stay and assist, grab dinner, coffee, etc., which was always awesome. Others, not so much. Once or twice, we had to force the driver to leave – they felt terrible about the wreck and wanted to stay in a show of unity – but we needed them to be fresh and ready to drive the thing to its limit in the morning, so they got the boot before midnight.
The most mechanically inclined would likely be sports car legends (and former Atlantic open-wheel badass) Bill Auberlen, who drove for my little team at an endurance race in 2005. Having one of your drivers sit next to you on the pit wall, stare at the car you’ve built, and point out things he would have done differently – and those suggestions being better ideas than my own – was both embarrassing and illuminating. Bill’s the best.
Q: With so many racing series, I know the cars look different, but can you please explain what really makes them all so different? IndyCar to F1 to NASCAR to Formula E to Supercars to Le Mans to IMSA (and what all those divisions mean in IMSA). Thanks a bunch.
Mark, Altadena, CA
MP: OK, off we go:
IndyCar: Open-wheel series, spec cars, nearly spec engines, heavy emphasis on cost containment so the tech and creativity involved is limited, races on the most diverse set of circuits imaginable. More about the people running and driving the car than the car being the biggest contributor to its competitiveness. If a team or engine manufacturer finds an advantage, it won’t be taken away.
Formula 1: Open-wheel series, limited emphasis on cost containment, every team build their own cars (for the most part), highest tech of any racing series, brutally fast, circuits are nowhere close to matching IndyCar’s diversity. The gearbox on an F1 car costs about the same as a complete IndyCar.
NASCAR: Take whatever we think of as spec with IndyCar and multiple it times 10. All about the show, less so about the cars, although the new next-gen machines do take Cup out of the race-tech dark ages. Mostly ovals, with a modicum of road racing. If you like the WWE, you just might wonder if Vince McMahon has a hand in scripting some of the races as “sports entertainment.” Teams or manufacturers finding an advantage won’t be allowed to last for long.
Formula E: Open-wheel series, all electric, and has migrated from being 100 percent spec, slow, and lame, to less spec with the motors, more speed, etc. Big marketing series, runs in a bunch of new city street venues throughout the world, and team owners have made a ton of money off their entries. Lots of auto/EV manufacturers involved, but we’re also seeing a steady migration of OEMs bid farewell.
Supercars: Once a touring car series, now a purebred GT series with cars built from scratch to very tight regulations. They look like production muscle cars, but follow a NASCAR-ish tech script, which makes for great road racing.
IMSA: I won’t be explaining all the different classes because there are too many resources online to gain that deep degree of education. Purebred prototypes and production-based GT cars, racing together with a mix of professional and non-pro (but very good) drivers. Factories and privateers play in the WeatherTech Championship, with endurance road racing as its main tenet.