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: I want to revisit the notion of why new chassis manufacturers are not allowed in the name of containing costs when even the IRL, at its inception, allowed multiple manufacturers — where Dallara, G-Force and Riley & Scott were all in the field. Are things so dire in IndyCar compared to that time that this can’t be done?
I can’t understand how chassis competition was regulated with the limited scope of IRL — although CART had a wider variety of chassis manufacturers competing at various times. Why not go to the times of how chassis competition was managed? The Indy 500 became famous because of the fact that the specs were so open that people brought new chassis, new concepts and fostered innovation that drove interests at all levels of society. People have the false impression that Indy 500 will get to the same level of the 1970-’90s period now, when there is nothing to look forward to in terms of variation in the field.
MARSHALL PRUETT: I hear what you’re saying, Shyam. Like you, I came up in the sport at a time where the concept of spec open-wheel cars didn’t exist. Everything was different or custom, all the way down through what we, today, call the Road to Indy.
To your question — the reason is super simple as to why the kingdom has been given to Dallara: Teams don’t want options. It’s the spec racing equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome. Owners have been so accustomed to spec racing and spec thinking that they’ve fallen in love with not being able to make the wrong decision. Other than not knowing whether it will be a Chevy or Honda year at the Indy 500, every other purchase or lease decision is protected. Everyone has the same Dallara DW12, same gearboxes, dang near identical engines, same tires, same fuel, same oil, etc. Granted, teams can make the wrong decisions on dampers, but all of the top teams manufacture the majority of them in-house, so even the one big and free area of development has been largely saved from the risks of buying the wrong off-the-shelf solution.
I don’t see how we ever go back to the days where different cars, tires, and the rest will be wanted and welcome. The only point I’d push back on is the notion that IndyCar won’t get back to its glory days because of the identical cars. I don’t know what the number is, but there are a lot of new and engaged fans who weren’t there in the 1970s through 1990s and have only known spec cars. As time goes by, those of us who lived through and loved the non-spec days will become a smaller and smaller number, so we can’t tie the series’ future growth potential to chassis variety.
Q: With Alexander Rossi moving to AMSP and a team with Chevy power, does that mean he will not be part of Acura’s future sports car plans? Could we see Alexander and Pipo Derani in a Caddy? Chevy power in IndyCar, Cadillac power in IMSA — all the GM boxes checked. That would be an awesome team — even if it is for endurance races only.
Jonathan, Ventura, CA
MP: A really smart Cadillac team should certainly consider our guy Rossi because, if history is a guide, Acura/Honda is not keen on welcoming Chevy-powered IndyCar drivers into its sports car programs and vice versa with GM barring the door to Honda IndyCar aces climbing into its prototypes and GTs.
The only issue for Alex is the limited number of endurance seats on the Cadillac GTP side. It’s one car apiece for Chip Ganassi Racing and Action Express Racing, and based on their well-developed line-ups, I’m not sure there will be any openings to take.
Q: Hope all is going well and you are enjoying the season so far, with the many different pole and race winners — looks to be a lot of parity.
Besides the Rossi and Kirkwood news for next season, I’m curious if you are hearing of any other news for 2023 drivers, either in, out, or new to the series? Additionally, with the current 26-car-count and several teams talking of possible expansion, and one or two new teams possibly joining, what do you project to be the full time entries next season?
Appreciate all that you do to keep the IndyCar community updated!
Rod, Fresno, CA
MP: We had a similar question in last week’s Mailbag that covered most of the first question. The main thing I’d add — and I’ve had this conversation with a number of IndyCar drivers and team owners — is the lack of proven talent available for hire. That ties into your last question, and yes, if a few plans work out as intended, we could see 28 cars on a full-time basis, assuming Foyt stays at three cars. We know AMSP is adding one and JHR is also keen on adding a car.
Where things get interesting is the likely need for teams looking to fill a vacancy to look outside of IndyCar for solutions. Just as Callum Ilott was a relative unknown to IndyCar fans, I wouldn’t be surprised if more drivers like him—front-running F2 pilots, F1 test drivers, etc. — find their way into the series. RLL’s Christian Lundgaard is another perfect example of this.
Most of the best IndyCar drivers are under contract for 2023, and all but one or two Indy Lights drivers will be ready to step up and shine, so with the relatively empty talent pool to draw from, looking across the Atlantic is the next obvious step.
Q: Have not seen or heard anything about A.J. Foyt this year. Any news (hopefully good) on how one of the all time greats is doing?
Dave Seaton, Indy
MP: I’ve seen Super Tex a few times and he looks as good as I’ve seen in many years. I wanted to do a feature on him in May and he declined, saying he hates all racing magazines, including RACER. Oh well.
Q: A question this week about sponsorships: AutoNation sponsors both the Rossi and Castroneves/Pagenaud teams. I don’t recall seeing one cross ownership lines in the past. Is that unusual?
Phil from MI
MP: It is unusual! I believe they’re completely unrelated, with Meyer Shank Racing and Andretti Autosport having their own deals with the company.