The RACER Mailbag, February 2

The RACER Mailbag, February 2

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, February 2

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Q: In response to the question of IndyCar fuel mileage in the 1970s, it has been a while but as I recall the fuel tank volume was reduced from tanks on both sides to a single side, and then they limited the boost to (I think) 80 inches. At that time, we went to 40 gallons max, but I don’t remember if it was mandated at 40 or that is just what we could do.

Then they put the 80-inch pop off valve on us, and somewhere in that timeframe we had to make 1.8 mpg. I remember that well because we (McLaren) could qualify at 80 inches but had to race at 76 inches to make the mileage.

I don’t remember this bit for sure from a timeline standpoint, but then the boost went from 80 to 76 inches, then to 60, then to 48 inches with the fuel tankage staying at 40 gallons.

Steve Roby (McLaren Chaparral IAM MMR)

MP: Thanks, Steve. With turbo power soaring in the 1970s, all I’ve been told by folks like yourself and others who were in the middle of the cat-and-mouse game of USAC trying to keep things under control with pop-off valves and fuel capacity changes is it was one of the more intriguing themes going on behind the scenes.

Q: It’s great to see Juan Pablo Montoya back for another shot at the 500. However, I see he’s taken Wickens’ old No. 6, meaning with Pagenaud’s MSR entry, we’ll have No. 06 on the grid as well. Nope, don’t like that.

Can you ask Pag and Monty to decide between them who gets to be No. 6, because they can’t both have it.

Rikki, UK

MP: No disrespect to Robert, but he used the number for one season; I wouldn’t attach theft to the team’s continued use of it with another driver. JR Hildebrand used it from 2015-16 at Ed Carpenter’s team, and before that, Townsend Bell had it for the 2014 Indy 500 with KVSH Racing, etc.
Simon’s in the No. 60 MSR car and defending Indy winner Helio Castroneves is in the No. 06 MSR car.

So at this year’s Indy 500 we’ll have No. 6, No. 06, and No. 60. Shame Alonso’s not coming back… Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Images

Q: Let’s pretend for a minute that you were given the job by IndyCar to draft the design requirements for the new chassis. We know that the DW12 has been a great success in its various iterations, but it has gotten pretty heavy, some of its fundamental issues were never fully resolved (like weight distribution), etc. What would your design requirements look like, and why?

Richard, Flower Mound, TX

MP: That’s the stuff of nightmares. But if we’re going to wander down this rabbit hole, I’d have a basic requirement that starts with weight distribution. Ask Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, and any of the drivers who raced the 2007 Panoz DP01 Champ Car, and they will tell you it’s their all-time favorite because it handled like a dream.

The chassis balance is what gets referenced over and over again as what made the DP01 darn near perfect, and since it wasn’t overly heavy, and had good power, they fell in love with it.

We don’t think about it as much in IndyCar design as much as, say, a GT design, but since our future is loaded with aeroscreen weight (60 pounds up front) and ERS weight (120 pounds out back), IndyCar and Dallara might need to consider moving some items systems forward just for the sake of improving the weight distribution. It’s pretty common when building a front-engine race car to take heavier items like the battery and cooling systems and move them to the trunk for no reason other than to move weight rearward to improve the weight distribution percentage.

Since IndyCar isn’t able to make the new weight disappear, it just might need to task Dallara with getting creative with where it might relocate some things to keep the DW25 from popping wheelies on the straights.

Q: Not sure if you have ever watched this on YouTube, but it is a very cool watch and probably something Robin Miller would have enjoyed as well. It has audio from the TV crew during what would have been the commercials, and it is funny to listen to Paul Page, Bobby Unser, Sam Posey, Jack Arute, Gary Gerould and Dr Jerry Punch’s interaction during the TV breaks. You get a better idea of their true personalities and the chaos that happens with coverage of a live sporting event. I miss the cars and engines from this era!

Sean from Cincinnati

MP: Thanks for the share, Sean. While I haven’t done a ton of TV, I can confirm the banter between commercials is some of the truly fun stuff that takes place. Also worth noting that the private interactions here, while the cameras are off, is what it’s like when we see each other in the paddock, over the phone, etc. Glad you got a taste of what it’s like from the YouTube video.

Q: Long time reader, first time writer here. I see questions about whether IndyCar will ever go electric popping up regularly in the Mailbag. Here’s an idea – how about a separate “Electric 500” that runs as a support race to Indy, maybe on qualifying weekend? This could be an open development event in which the only rule is that the cars have to be fully electric, and whoever crosses the finish line first wins. A marathon race on a big oval with no regenerative braking is a mountain of a technical challenge for electric cars, and that could be used to market this as a major tech prestige event.

The first few years would be chaotic for sure (slower speeds than IndyCars, charging delays, weird strategies, etc.) but there’s an element of intrigue in that, and I think the racing would get better as technology develops. Cars could be fielded by manufacturers, current IndyCar teams, tech-focused universities, privateers, or whoever.

This sort of event would seem to have a lot going for it. Formula E has had a ton of investment from manufacturers, but only has a tiny following in the U.S. An Indy event would give EV manufacturers a marquee showcase in front of American consumers that is currently lacking. You also get open development for those who long for the pre-spec days of Indy, or who think Formula E is too locked down. It gives the speedway another event with great growth potential and relevance to current automakers, and any attention it grabs would raise the profile of the traditional 500 in the process. What’s not to like?

Jimmy from Ypsilanti, MI

MP: I grew up in an era of IndyCar racing and Indy 500s where innovations were still allowed, so my first thought isn’t to create an electric sideshow, but to see IndyCar allow it to happen again with all manner of technology, not just EV. Creating a dynamic where all of the cool, new developments are seen in one Indy race, and the comparatively tame and far less remarkable developments are seen in the “traditional” 500 is where manufacturers step away from the old-timey race and invest their money and resources in the high-tech race. Easier to make them one and the same with IndyCar allowing more freedom for all EV manufacturers — Chevy and Honda included — to push the boundaries with new tech.