The RACER Mailbag, June 8

The RACER Mailbag, June 8

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, June 8

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Q: Just want to comment on having the Mayor in the TV booth. I thought he was getting better as the season was going along, but it was at Indy during a practice day that really caught my attention. He pointed out so much that I never knew/understood throughout the day, and really added to my appreciation and love of the sport, which has been a lifelong passion of mine. He has such a different take/outlook than Townsend Bell (and Paul Tracy) — without the ego need to top anyone. Townsend and Tracy were fun together, but I think that Hinchcliffe has really added substance to the broadcasts, without time-worn cliches. I will be happy for him if he gets back into the IndyCar cockpit, but will really miss him in the booth.

Jon Wright

MP: I might have called him at the end of that same day, Jon, to tell him how much I appreciate the insights he’s brought to a growing fanbase that want to know more, get smarter, and feel like they are experts. That hasn’t been the culture among driver analysts, so he’s doing divine work in tuning up IndyCar’s growing audience in meaningful ways. And yes, if all goes according to plan, he’ll be racing full-time next year, most likely in IMSA, and we will miss him like mad.

Q: First, the groaning about Peacock and the Indy coverage does get tiring and while there is always room for improvement, I don’t think I’m alone in being grateful for Peacock and the talent. Overall I think it’s excellent and I would hate to be without it. I think folks forget where we were before we had it. I will say the amount of commercial time in a race is remarkable and the content is curious. Most of the ads that ran during the 500 really seemed out of place. Count me as one of many who would gladly pay a premium to be able to watch select marquee events commercial free, as floated by you in last week’s Mailbag.

My never-going-to-happen solution to the Monaco “race”: Qualify in F1 cars to set the order, then race in identical 250 shifter karts or ones with some room for team enhancement. (Maybe divide up points between qualifying performance and the race result). I would love it if a top F1 driver would proclaim that what they do at Monaco isn’t sport, “go Alonso” and say they are going to run the 500 instead.

Do you hear anything about IndyCar moving to the more universal halo for the next chassis or staying with the aeroscreen? No real preference here and both have their merits even if they both look like toilet seats strapped to the car. I hope whatever the route is that they become more integrated with the design of the rest of the car.

George, Albuquerque, NM

MP: I wrote a story last month, that outlined IndyCar’s work on a second-generation aeroscreen that will be deployed in 2024. We had a unique scenario with Alonso in 2017 where his F1 car and season were so bad, skipping Monaco made no difference. With all that’s changed in F1 since then, I can’t imagine a team allowing its driver to do a Fernando and skip off to Indy. Might be the only time we see it in our lifetime.

Who knows how the aeroscreen will evolve in the future, but let’s take a look at how far it’s already come. Here’s the first public test of the prototype at Phoenix in 2018. Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Images

Q: 1. For Snoop Medland: On F1 gearboxes, what can be changed before invoking a gearbox change penalty? I assume ratios can be changed as Spa and Monaco ratios have to be way different. Is it mainly the gearbox casing?

2. For all three of you” What is the rationale for unsafe release penalties for a wheel coming off? The real penalty is obviously messing up the team’s race. The fines/suspension just seems to add insult to injury. Is this just the sanctioning body flexing and lining their coffers, or is there something more?

Doug Farrow, Plymouth, MN

CHRIS MEDLAND: Ratios can actually only be changed once in-season — after having been nominated pre-season — but this year there is a lot more that can be changed compared to 2021. Previously a gearbox had to do six consecutive events (Saturday and Sunday) but now the gearbox is split into two elements — the gearbox case and cassette (we’ll call element one), and the gearbox driveline, gear change components and auxiliary components (element two).

Teams can now use three of the parts in element one across the season without picking up a penalty, and four of the components in element two. They can use them in any order, so they don’t have to be consecutive, and they also get four exemptions on a Friday to test components that are not included in that pool. Once those maximum number of elements are exceeded though, they will pick up a five-place grid penalty.

KELLY CRANDALL: For the second question, blame Tony Stewart. OK, not really but sort of. In 2016, Stewart and a few other drivers started to loudly complain to NASCAR about not feeling safe because teams were intentionally not tightening all five lug nuts to try and gain time on pit road. As a result, NASCAR implemented stiffer penalties, including the suspensions (side note: NASCAR did so after fining Stewart for his criticism. The driver council paid the fine for Stewart).

The penalty is still in place today despite the cars only having one lug nut because NASCAR feels the message still needs to be the same — the sport cannot have a tire come off a car and fly into the grandstand, a crowd in the infield, or back onto pit road. Remember, at COTA the tire that came off Bubba Wallace’s car bounced off the track and over a fence. NASCAR very much wants to avoid anyone getting hit by a tire. Now, it can be argued that the penalty is too stiff since the crew chief is no longer calling for the team to leave a lug nut loose since they only have one. Or that it makes no sense to suspend experienced crew members to be replaced with perhaps less-experienced crew members who may make the same mistakes. But NASCAR isn’t going to completely do away with these penalties. If drivers and teams keep talking about how they aren’t fair, though, maybe a happy medium will be reached.

Q: There was talk about Andretti purchasing Alfa Romeo and a little about Haas, but I’m curious to know if Williams was an option? As I understand it, and I could be wrong, the team is owned by a VC firm (Dorilton). I thought VCs do purchases, clean up the mess and then sell for more money. Since Dorilton is a U.S. company, wouldn’t/couldn’t Williams be an option for purchase by Andretti?


CM: Theoretically, yes, but this is where part of the issue with the Alfa Romeo purchase came to be. Once the Concorde Agreement was signed and all the teams were essentially franchised, their value went up massively. And most teams still see their value as a bit of an unknown figure, because no sale has taken place in the last 12-18 months to set the market average.

Williams is in the weeds, but Andretti is probably not the answer. Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Williams is one where Dorilton has put a number of people in place that Andretti would probably want to change just to have its own levels of control — another issue that led to the Alfa deal collapsing — and that would come at significant cost above and beyond the purchase price of the team. There would also still be plenty more work needed to bring the team up to the level of some others on the grid as it lacked investment for many years, but there is a capital expenditure limit under the budget cap that means that can’t be done quickly.

Add in the fact that it would be very difficult to change such an iconic team name to Andretti without backlash from partners and fans, and it’s just not quite as attractive as either of the two examples you mentioned or starting their own team.

From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, June 4, 2014

Q: Pre-race this year at the Indy 500 revived a very fond memory for me. My first view of the Speedway was Pole Day in 1968. As I was walking to my seat, Graham Hill was making his qualifying run in the turbine. It was great to see all three cars in running condition and on the track prior to the race with Parnelli, Mario and Vince Garantelli driving them. My question: as the only surviving driver of that team, was Joe Leonard at the track this month? I’d be curious to hear his thoughts on seeing No. 60 prepped as it was for the ’68 race. Would have been great to see him drive on Sunday.

Frank Buczolich, Bloomington, IN

ROBIN MILLER: No, Pelican Joe suffered a massive stroke two years ago and is pretty much confined to his rehab/nursing home but I speak to him every couple of months and he’s still got a tremendous spirit and sense of humor. A couple weeks ago I told him I was going to dinner with Uncle Bobby and Rutherford and asked whom he thought would pick up the check: “You will,” he laughed. I sent him a Bobby Unser sweatshirt and the nifty turbine brochure that Steve Shunck, Brad Hoffman and the IMS museum produced last month and Joe was ecstatic to read it. A.J. nicknamed him Pelican (for swooping down and winning races) and calls Joe on his birthday every year. He was one of the true badasses on both two and four wheels.

Editor’s note: Leonard passed away in April 2017