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 length and clarity. Questions received after 3pm ET each Monday will appear the following week.
Q: To gear up for the 500, I watched a DVD this week from Rare Sportsfilms about the 1972 race. One segment featured Harlan Fengler riding around the Speedway in a street car showing off IMS’s brand-new caution light system, which featured lights and numbers to keep the race cars going at a constant pace of 80 or 90mph while under caution. At first thought, this seems like a pretty good system compared to the pack-up we see today, which results in what seems to be some unnecessarily long yellows. Why was the caution light system abandoned? Are competitors happy with the system we have today? I guess there’s added excitement upon the restarts, but on the surface the practice of keeping cars at a constant pace under yellow seems to be a more pure approach. What instigated the pack-up method? What’s your preference?
Mark Founds, Mason, OH
MARSHALL PRUETT: Well, there was that whole lawsuit by Roger Penske with the PACER lights system that took months to reconcile the winner of the Indy 500, then took Mario’s second win away and awarded it to Uncle Bobby that answers the first part. (Rather than rehash the whole thing in the Mailbag, my pal Dave Scoggan did a nice piece on it here).
I haven’t heard the current crop of drivers complain about Indy 500 restarts since former series president Randy Bernard had them going double-file. Unless we’re talking about a restart with one lap to go, we tend to see the driver in second or third catch the leader and a bit of back-and-forth take place. I’m fine with single-file.
Q: Do you think McLaren is having second thoughts about Herta, considering he’s made so many driver errors this year? Meanwhile, O’Ward is shining.
What’s the problem with Daly? It was always thought he just needed a full season with one team to put it all together. I noticed while VeeKay became your No. 1 free agent in your silly season update, you didn’t even mention Conor. Is he in the mix for a seat next year?
MP: It does seem to be a case where Colton hasn’t been the same 100-percent locked-in-and-focused guy we’ve seen the last two seasons. Despite doing our end-of-day videos, I haven’t had the time to do a deep dive with him on the subject, so more to follow there.
I did, however, connect with Conor after Barber and he was amazingly honest in his assessment of why the year has not gone the way he’d hoped. Look for that story this week. He signed a multi-year deal, so he’s good beyond 2022.
Q: I’ve never once watched a sporting event based on who the announcers were. And never didn’t watch one for the same reason. And I am willing to bet that’s true of everyone watching. I’m a huge fan of Jr. And we all agree Danica is a polarizing figure. I don’t know if I understand why NBC feels the need to jazz up the set list of the 500. Is someone on the top floor of Rockefeller Center thinking more people will tune in to the most-watched motor race based on the talking heads?
MP: I’ll watch an NBA game just because Kevin Harlan is doing the play-by-play, but I hear what you’re saying. It’s our biggest race, so while I agree that it seems highly unlikely the event will see a noticeable ratings boost by having Dale Jr. and Danica back, I understand why NBC wants to add pieces of flair to the broadcast.
Q: I was watching one of the F1 pre-race shows and they were talking about a hole on the nose of the car that directs the airflow from front to the drivers cockpit area. I am wondering if Indy cars are doing the same thing, as it might possibly provide some relief due to the aeroscreen?
MP: Racing in high ambient temperatures with radiators positioned on both sides of the cockpit that run at 200F or more will always make for a toasty cockpit experience, with or without an aeroscreen. IndyCar has used “nostrils” in the DW12’s nose since 2020.
Q: I read your latest silly season article. I think you should included two current F1 drivers: Nicholas Latifi and Lance Stroll. There are reports that Latifi will be dropped by Williams at some point of the middle of the season. With the backing he has, I could see him getting a better ride in IndyCar. Then there is Lance Stroll and his father Lawrence — there are reports that he will put Aston Martin up for sale and sell it to Audi.
If that happens and Lance Stroll is dropped from the team, dare I say that Lawrence Stroll could help Lance by buying an existing IndyCar team like Dreyer & Reinbold and maybe bring Aston Martin as the third engine in IndyCar? By the way, IndyCar and IMSA should add a race at the new Miami Autodrome.
Alistair, Branson, MO
MP: IndyCar could definitely use more Canadians. I’d rather see Alberta’s Parker Thompson get the nod than Latifi or Stroll, but the kid doesn’t have family money to propel him into the series. Maybe young USF2000 race winner and Quebecois Thomas Nepveu will get there first.
Q: What is the attraction to DRS? You can’t get the car to go faster through raw power so you do it by reducing drag? Is 200mph all an F1 car can do? In the pre-race, Danica said these are the fastest cars. I’m confused. The breathless commentator said DRS gave an additional 12mph. How many HP of push-to-pass does that take in the current IndyCar?
I get these cars are overwhelmed with aero and all that downforce means drag. But really folks, either get some of that drag off and test the drivers ability to keep the car under them, or get some more horses.
There were a couple of incidents that seemed to me to be the fault of the trailing car. Now, these guys have super licenses — you know, the ones that IndyCar drivers don’t ever seem to be able to earn — and they don’t know they’re next to another car in the middle of a decreasing radius turn? Really?
I watched the race because I was curious. At the end, what I felt was disappointed and anxious for IndyCar to get back to racing.
John Maggitti, PhD
MP: Well, F1 had this thing where passing was sighted about as often as Bigfoot, so DRS was the answer to F1’s passing problem. They are doing 200-plus in a straight line, which impresses me; thought I saw 208mph on one on-board last weekend.