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.
* Note: We had to move the cutoff time for questions up this week, but any submissions that missed the cut are in the pool for next week’s Mailbag – Ed.
Q: Any chance of bringing back the LED position indicator panels? I found this very helpful when at a race and not having access to the television coverage. And speaking of LEDs, do you remember one of the old CART teams (Newman/Haas, I think) had LED advertising within the car’s rims? I try to tell people about this and they look at me like I’m crazy.
Buffalo Bills (and IndyCar) fan
MARSHALL PRUETT: I’ve asked IndyCar president Jay Frye about this, and he said it’s something they will consider with the new car. IndyCar genuinely liked the panels, but the move to a smaller and more feature-rich second-generation model proved to be a constant problem. I would love to see the series put out a bid for something new and different — how about a full OLED panel that shows car position, serves ads, and shows team-selected tweets — during the race?
Q: I realize that Devlin DeFrancesco is a rookie in IndyCar and that rookies make mistakes. That being said, he’s made a few enemies including Will Power, who wants IndyCar to park him for a while. We’re used to Power sounding off, but do you think he’s right in his assessment? How does the rest of the paddock feel about DeFrancesco? While I take forum posts with a grain of salt there seem to be plenty of people who think that both he and Dalton Kellett shouldn’t be in the series. I don’t think that’s too fair with Kellett, but he does have a lot of one-car off-track incidents.
MP: Will Power had every right to be angry. Devlin’s nerf-from-behind was inartful, at best. Power had a terrible time in qualifying and was buried in the back of the pack, and this exact scenario — getting knocked about by drivers the (now former) championship leader rarely encounters — was the big concern. I’d say that if this was DeFrancesco’s first big mistake of the year Power would be just as angry, but it wouldn’t venture beyond that anger — no threats of retaliation, etc. The fact that Devlin’s Texas mistake was sitting there over the plate for Power to swing on and knock out of the park is where his condemnation was made easy.
As for the folks who say Devlin and Dalton don’t belong, it’s nothing new. The same thing’s been said for decades across all forms of racing. It’s the laziest take to make. Every sport has its highest achievers and its lowest achievers; the common thread is they’re all in the top one-percent in the world in their profession. There’s always going to be someone — or a small cluster — of those who frequently run last, and they catch hell from fans. Meh.
Two other things get forgotten. The first is how the money brought by the DeFrancescos, Kelletts, Latifis, Strolls and so on, are what place or keep teams on track and employ tens to hundreds of people. The second is that if a team had the budget to hire a better driver it would, but in most of these cases, it’s a situation where the team needs the money and whomever is in the car is the best option it could find. But those are nuanced things, and nuance is rarely involved in the “they don’t belong here” comments.
Q: Will Power, talking about Devlin being parked, needs to take a hard look at himself. He crashed out his teammate at Nashville, and there are lots of other times he’s taken out other racers with boneheaded moves. Iowa 2011 in pit lane comes to mind.
Mark, Pasadena, CA
MP: Thanks, but none of those past instances matter or have any bearing on what’s taking place in 2022. Never understood the “You hit people before, so you shouldn’t complain about being hit” line of thinking. I rear-ended someone at a stop light many moons ago in my old 250,000-mile Volvo From Hell, so if I understand this correctly, if I get hit from behind by someone today, I’m supposed to just sit there with no anger and nothing to say because I once rear-ended a car? Who on earth would hold themselves to that unrealistic standard? And if none of us would behave that way, why would we expect racing drivers to be any different?
In the context of a rookie taking out a veteran at Road America and veterans — plural — at Texas, it’s not exactly a surprise to hear Power drop the hammer on Devlin. The hope would be for DeFrancesco to take the heat and put more thought into his racecraft and get through the rest of the year without earning a third strike.
Q: While looking online at older Indy cars during a lull in business, I came across the BLAT Eagle again, Dan Gurney’s 1980-81 Eagle. I knew about this Eagle but I could never figure out how it stayed on the ground, because it either had no wing or just a tiny rear wing, and no skirted side pods. It was quite different for its time. Nothing like the F1 Lotus 78 or the “Yellow Submarine” Penske.
So I started digging into the BLAT theory — Boundary Layer Adhesion Technology – and found it quite mysterious, until a blogger I read mentioned that the Eagle was similar to current F1 cars in that air entered through two small areas behind the front tires and close to the bodywork, and then ran through two tunnels under the chassis, around the drivers compartment and the engine compartment, to exit under a very large diffuser. These channels grew larger as they ran from the middle of the chassis to the rear of the car.
Was Dan Gurney ahead of his time? Is this what current F1 cars are using?
MP: If we’re giving credit, it goes to Lotus and 1978’s 79 chassis (also, the yellow submarine was a Chaparral Racing product, not Penske) for using the sides and rear of an open-wheel car to generate crazy downforce with large and long wing profiles built into the sidepods. All American Racers’ 1981 Eagle Indy car chassis took the Lotus 79’s ground effects concept in an entirely different direction, but it was the same general principle of utilizing the sides and rear of the car to make big downforce.
Where BLAT was an advancement was in the removal of most of the sidepods — creating a smaller and narrower shape to cut through the air — as Dan and John Ward, the car’s designer, sought to exploit the lower cost/lower weight option in the rules for stock-block non-turbo V8 engines.
The best thing to know about the Eagle and its BLAT innovation is the whole thing came from a vast lack of budget. AAR had no real sponsors at the time, couldn’t afford the standard-setting Cosworth DFX turbo V8s, and had to go to the alternate formula where overcoming the lack of horsepower through a radical approach to the chassis was a necessity. That’s why we have this arrow-like car that stood out visually and in its performances. Today’s F1 cars are direct descendants of the Lotus 79, not the Eagle.