Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s 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: What do you think about the girl that A.J. signed for the ’22 season? Do you think that she will run Indy, and if she does, will she qualify?
MARSHALL PRUETT: Tatiana Calderon is signed for the road and street courses, so we’ll see someone else to be named in the No. 11 Chevy at the Speedway and the other ovals. At 28, she’s one of the most experienced rookies we’ve seen in a long time. By my informal math, she’s raced in 21 different series since she got her start as a teenager in 2009, and there’s some major plusses and minuses to consider.
Calderon has something like 300-plus races under her belt, which is amazing. She’s battle hardened from more than a decade of racing in the Road to Indy, every level of European open-wheel that feeds to Formula 1, and she’s raced at the top in Japan. Jumping from series to series – sometimes doing multiple series in the same year – has given her tons of opportunities to quickly adapt to new machinery, teams, and circuits. Those are things that will help as she visits new tracks with a new team in a new car this year.
The downside of all that constant change is she’s rarely had opportunities to stay in one series for more than one season and focus on honing the finer aspects of her driving talent. Her super adaptation skills were evident last week in testing at Sebring; she was within a half-second of teammate and reigning Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood. That was impressive since he’s tested an IndyCar four times and she was doing her second test after a six-month wait.
There’s no question that Calderon has something worth developing in IndyCar. I’m hesitant to place many expectations on her to deliver fireworks in her first year; my biggest hope is she gets a second and third season to build on what she has and find out where the full measure of her talent compares to the Newgardens, Dixons, Hertas, Palous and O’Wards.
Q: I saw the press release about Foyt going to three teams this year. I think it’s great, and good for the sport. But what immediately popped into my head is, how are the teams doing for finding needed employees? Are they, like the rest of us, struggling to find people?
MP: Yes, indeed. Consider how IMSA is going through a growth spurt with more teams in its top series and its many feeder series, and there’s a huge demand for crew with across all major series where road racing experience is prized. From what I’ve heard, the Foyt team was looking to fill some holes in its two-car operation, and with Tatiana Calderon’s new third entry, there’s a lot of work going on to find a full complement of personnel.
It could be offers to good Road to Indy mechanics, or reaching out to local technical/mechanical schools to hire the standout student, and however it happens, each car must have the right people to put forth a proper effort.
Q: Many years ago, I was told by John Tzouanakis, the Newman/Haas team manager, that painting a CART-era IndyCar cost $60,000. With vinyl wraps in use today, have costs to livery a modern IndyCar come down from this price range?
Shaun Fagan, Berwyn, IL
MP: That sounds like an annual budget for a multi-car team for an entire season!
From what I’m told from those I’ve spoken with in the paddock, it’s close to a financial wash. Going to an outside vendor for a wrap can cost between $5000-$7000 and takes about a day to complete. As many IndyCar teams do all of their graphics – and now wraps – with in-house staff and printing equipment, I’m sure the number is lower. Some teams still prefer to paint their cars and have in-house staff and bodywork/booth resources. Painting, from the time the prep process starts to having the car back on the shop floor, takes about three days in most cases. Add up all the labor involved and the materials, and it’s said to be close to the same as wrapping.
Why do some paint versus wrap? Preference, for sure, as some like the finish quality of paint over a vinyl wrap. And to a larger degree, the entries with one or two main liveries for the year might steer towards painting compared to some who run through a half-dozen liveries or more per season and might opt for the faster changeover option that wrapping offers.