Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for Marshall Pruett or any of RACER’s other writers can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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: Robin always hated the idea of motorsports going all-electric, and I concur that much of the attraction would be lost with quiet cars.
However, if the consumer auto industry is ultimately going all-electric, with announced plans not that far in the future, is IndyCar looking to get ahead of that curve and leapfrog F1 to embrace electric motors and re-establish some innovation leadership, plus possibly its survival? Maybe the transition could be a mixture of engines like the good ol’ days such as the turbine vs Offys, aspirated vs turbo, etc.
Perhaps Penske is already starting these conversations as he foresees the industry revolution firsthand.
Roger in Greenwood, IN
MARSHALL PRUETT: Based on every conversation I’ve ever had with IndyCar president Jay Frye on the topic of whether the series will go all-electric, the answer is a firm and loud no. Time will tell, though. If most of the world’s new cars in the next decade or two are electric vehicles, IndyCar will need to modernize its approach or face the risk of becoming a vintage racing series. But count me among those who need to hear roaring internal combustion engines.
Q: If every driver in IndyCar had a livery as snappy as Simon’s Australian Gold livery, race attendance would skyrocket.
Janis from Tampa
MP: You raise an excellent point, and I do think it’s a shame we haven’t seen that slick livery return. A thing I don’t miss? Simon Pagenaud transforming himself into French Elvis…
Q: How about Gabby Chaves in the No. 11 Foyt car for the ovals? No-one better at Indy.
Dave, Traverse City, MI
MP: Ryan Hunter-Reay might ask you to check his Indy 500 credentials after that last statement, but overall, yes, there’s plenty of talent to consider if the Foyt team is looking to hire an oval ace. I’d love to see Gabby back where he belongs.
Q: I have a couple of questions about driver line-ups for the Daytona Rolex 24. I’m intrigued by the purpose of the fourth drivers that are in nearly all the line-ups at Daytona. Why do teams insist on four drivers, when at Le Mans it’s three? I get that Daytona is often referred to as the tougher of the 24s due to the longer dark hours and constant traffic, but also unlike Le Mans there are many full-course yellows that could render a big proportion of a driver’s stint being spent trundling around behind a safety car, so I’m not sure four drivers are really needed for fatigue reasons. Doesn’t it just add more complexity with seat/pedal position, car setup preferences and also cycling four drivers through practice etc so they are all comfortable? Where is the benefit?
Also, what are the usual drive-time splits between the drivers? Obviously some of these fourth drivers are barely in the car (looking at you Jeff Gordon, McMurray, Larson), but then I recall JPM running nearly half the race in his early Rolex 24 days post-F1.
MP: I might spin this the other way, and ask why Le Mans limits its driver rosters to three rather than four. Taking the approach that Le Mans does things the right way and IMSA does not is the part that’s curious. The moment a second driver is introduced, you have complexity, so a third or fourth really doesn’t create undue complications.
The most basic answer here is freshness and readiness. I’d rather have four drivers who’ve gotten more opportunities to rest and focus than three who are busier and less recharged. Hard to say on drive-time splits as it varies on skill, who’s paid to drive and who’s paying to drive, whether a driver is better/worse in the dark than the others, etc.
Q: I just read with great pleasure your response about the Cicada IndyCar chassis. I have a huge interest in the “bespoke era” of Indy racing. I enjoyed your all-too-brief Argo retrospective years ago.
Robin indicated that a book was being written similar to “A-Z of Formula Raving Cars.” Would you happen to know about that? If nothing else, features on the Argo, Theodore, Ligier and other chassis would be great for helping to preserve their history.
P. Worth Thompson
MP: An encyclopedic book on Indy cars partying and going to raves would be a blast to read! Haven’t heard about the book Robin apparently mentioned, but I do have an interest in documenting as many of the one-offs and oddball cars that I can, either online or in book form.
Among my favorite books on the topic is Alex Gabbard’s “Indy’s Wildest Decade,” which is well worth picking up.
Q: Thank you for last week’s thorough response to my question about the Cicada. Since you appear to share my interest in the obscure and the odd, I’d like to get your input on two somewhat related cars from 1971-72.
The Antares-Offy appeared at Indy in 1972. It was used by both the Patrick team and Lindsey Hopkins. Only the latter choose to deploy this weapon in battle, however, and it was quickly discarded.
Interestingly, this car, designed by Don Gates who had just penned the Chaparral 2J, featured a boat bow-like nose intended to direct air around the car to the rear wing. That’s noteworthy because modern F1 cars are sculpted to have the same affect while contemporaries of the Antares generally used the bodywork surfaces to create downforce. Oddly, considering the intent of this design, there were lots of odd things blocking the airflow including pontoon tanks and a cluttered front suspension that bordered on steampunk. Then there’s the bizarre radiator inlet on the front… I’m pretty aware of the history of this car and how it was eventually received conventional bodywork and qualified at Indy as late as 1979.
My question is, what was the designer thinking? What a great aerodynamic idea that was well ahead of its time yet seemingly no effort to design the rest of the car to make it work. Where was the disconnect?
Secondly, I have always been interested in the one-off Chaparral GS111. It’s history as a F5000 car is well documented in John Zimmerman’s excellent book “Lost In Time” as well as on the Oldracingcars.com website. My questions have to do with its ancestry. Gates, the Antares designer, conceived it as a Chevy-powered IndyCar back in 1966 for Smokey Yunick to run. It had a less pronounced version of the boat bow nose used later on the Antares. It also – when it appeared in public, anyway – had side radiators. Very unusual for the 1960s. I have found very little information on this part of the car’s history. I know that Gates worked for Chevrolet at the time. Was this a serious plan for GM to tackle Indy? How much was GM corporate on board? If so, was this in response to Ford providing engines to top teams in that time? Finally, Did the laps done at Indy by Jim Hall in a Chaparral Can Am car have any connection to this? Why did GM abandon the project and how did the car end up in Hall’s shop in Midland Texas?
Steven Meckna, Long Beach, CA
MP: Thanks for the great Cicada question, and I enjoyed the time-sink to learn more about a car that was mostly a mystery to me over the years. I also hope I didn’t give the impression this would be a regular occurrence, though. I’ll likely do one or two old-car research deals each year in the Mailbag, since this isn’t meant to be a place where in-depth reporting takes place each week.
I spoke at length with the owner/driver of the Antares last August and will spool that up at some point in the future when an abundance of free time appears.