The RACER Mailbag, May 4

The RACER Mailbag, May 4

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, May 4

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Q: I really enjoy the race at Alabama and it seems that for a track that only hosts one major racing series, it puts on a good show. That being said is New Jersey Motorsports Park able to host an IndyCar race in the future and what changes needs to be made for that race to happen.

Alistair, Branson, MO

MP: It’s listed as a Grade 2 facility by the FIA which aligns with the other road course gradings on the IndyCar calendar, so there’s no issue there in terms of being able to host an IndyCar event. I’m sure the series would want various additions and changes made to suit its specific safety needs, so if NJMP wants to fork out the money for a multi-year sanction fee — a few million bucks, at least — I bet IndyCar would be willing to listen

Q: Setting aside who was right and wrong in the Grosjean/Rahal tussle, I’m curious about Rahal’s comment that he’s not the only driver who has issues with Grosjean. Is this something you’ve heard from other drivers? 

KJ from Philadelphia, PA

MP: Yes, I have, but in limited numbers. I’ll be writing about this in my post-race Cooldown column if you want more on the topic, so look for that on RACER.com.

Q: We know there are drivers that excel on ovals versus road races, and vice versa, but is the same true for engineers or crew chiefs? For example, would ECR use the same people to run point for Ed Carpenter as it would for Simona De Silvestro when the time comes? Curious to know if that’s a part of why some teams show such disparity between the two, or if the biggest difference is solely driver strengths.

Glenn in Houston

MP: Great question and well spotted, Glenn. There are engineers who have a special feel for ovals or road racing, but I’m struggling to think of any who work in IndyCar today where you’d say they are stronger in one and weaker in the other. It’s more a case of being good at all the engineering disciplines, but having some added wisdom — could be from many years of experience, or maybe from being a former driver — to apply is fairly normal. Keep in mind that some teams place a higher priority on ovals than others, or simply have more money to spend than most, and as a result, they dedicate more money on developing and perfecting their oval engineering efforts and the build quality of their speedway cars.

Q: What the hell happened with Rosenqvist? He was running fine in the top six during the first part of the race, and then after his first stop dropped like a stone. Same with Rossi in the final stint.

Jordan, Warwickshire, UK

MP: Felix was asked by his team to go on a massive fuel-saving adventure that confused him quite a bit since he and Pato O’Ward were running within a few seconds of each other inside the top six. He eventually came home 16th, which didn’t make a lot of sense since both cars were fast and capable of finishing towards the front.

Alexander Rossi also had to go into fuel-saving mode on the last stint and found himself surrounded by drivers on better tires, and from there, his top-four pace before pitting turned into a painful rearward march that left him in ninth.

If you could see Rosenqvist’s face in this shot, it wouldn’t look happy. Gavin Baker/Motorsport Images

Q: According to the IndyCar website, the Barber Motorsports Park track officially has 17 corners. However, when comparing my approach against this picture, I got slightly confused at how the corner numbering was made. First, Turn 2 and 3. To me, this is a single radius corner with no straight portion in the middle. So why the double score? Second, why wasn’t the left-hander between Turns 8 & 9 given a number? And third, Turn 9. It has at least two, possibly three different radii, yet it was counted as one single corner. This is even more confusing to me since Turn 14, 15 and 16 all have a unique and distinctive radius and are considered as separate corners. Is there an explanation for all the above? Am I missing something?  

Even though last weekend’s Alabama Grand Prix featured a decent amount of action, I though some passes could have been made earlier, had the track been designed slightly differently. Therefore, I’d like to suggest two (relatively) simple track modifications to improve the show.

First, the pit stretch is by far the longest on the track (1/3 of a mile, or 500-ish meters for my European eyes) and as far as I can remember, the braking zone going into Turn 1 has rarely really been an ideal overtaking spot. So, couldn’t we give Turn 1 a tighter radius? It doesn’t have to become a super sharp corner, but we could reduce its radius just enough to make it a possible out-braking opportunity.

Second, I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Turns 10 & 11 chicane. From a driver’s perspective, going 150mph through an S-corner is definitely exciting. But in the context of the Barber Motorsports Park track, it feels to me like additional fanciness to an already super-twisty circuit. I’m all for shortcutting it, which was suggested to Robin Miller back in 2014 (in The Final Word from last week’s Mailbag). However, instead of a Road America-esque kink, I’d make a flat-out sweep out of it (just like Turn 7). Not only would this make the track faster and simpler, but it could also create an additional drafting and overtaking opportunity right before Turn 12 (such as Lil’ Herta’s ’round the outside moves we saw on Sunday). What say you?

Xavier from France 

MP:  I’ll be honest, brother — I started getting confused before I finished the first paragraph. I couldn’t tell you how or why they came up with the corner numbering system 20 years ago, and doing a deep dive on the how/why sounds like an awesome personal project for you to tackle.

Knowing how Mr. Barber loves his track and has rejected all calls to make modifications, I doubt we’ll see any changes taking place. I did love the idea of the shortcut because it would create one of the greatest tests of bravery on the calendar. My main takeaway is how important it is for Firestone to create a significant difference between grip and longevity of its alternate tires for Barber.

With the Turn 5 hairpin as the exception, the track has so many chokepoints on entry to the faster corners that lead to a big reduction in speed, it ends up negating most of the passes drivers want to make because of the risks involved. If most of the corners discourage passing, a decent disparity in primary/alternate tire performance and life would fix a lot of the issue.

If it weren’t for Pato’s ballsy pass around the outside of Rinu VeeKay on Sunday, the race for the win would have been a snoozer.

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