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: A ways back you had an article on TV ratings where Knoxville, Tennessee was the second-biggest market for the Indy 500. I paid attention because that’s where my family is. There’s Barber in the Deep South, but not much in Appalachia/Mid-South. Now, only two hours away is Bristol. That might be too NASCAR-y. Would Charlotte be a nice track to add an oval? Or maybe the Roval? Sure, it’s NASCAR’s home, but those that own Indy teams own NASCAR teams. And Josef looked good on the Roval a few years back.
MP: I seem to recall there being a fairly good crowd for the inaugural IRL race at Charlotte in 1997, but it went away after 1999 when a crash early in the race coming out of Turn 4 sent heavy parts and debris into the grandstands that killed three fans. It was an eerie and sad thing to witness from our timing stand on pit lane, and after the deceased and the others who were injured were tended to, the rest of the race was cancelled and interest in having high-speed open-wheelers at CMS was gone.
The renovated CMS infield road course is great for Cup cars and IMSA GT machinery, but it looks like it’s too tight and twisty to let a pack of 26-plus IndyCars do captivating things.
Q: The doubleheader at Iowa seems to have been a success. A doubleheader seems like a great way of making an oval race into a proper, full-weekend event since the suitable support category options are limited. Also, when watching on TV, I don’t feel like two races per weekend is too much. Sometimes when I’m missing Sunday’s race, I’m happy there’s a race already on Saturday.
I wonder how much of an additional expense it is for teams to run two races per weekend, and if it would be feasible to expand the calendar by having more doubleheaders? I could imagine the cost of a doubleheader is less than two separate single-race weekends. To clarify, I’m not suggesting this as an alternative for adding new tracks to the schedule, which I would really like to see.
From the standpoint of the weekend schedule, IndyCar doesn’t really have the kind of support categories to have a “headline” race for Saturday like NASCAR has with Xfinity or Trucks. I just don’t see the qualifying as a match for what a race would be on Saturday. And a race surely gets better TV ratings than qualifying.
I’m not saying every event should be a doubleheader; shared weekends with IMSA already have a headliner for Saturday and IndyCar is Saturday’s co-headliner in NASCAR’s Brickyard weekend. The 500 will surely never become a doubleheader, but I don’t think Saturday races at some tracks would dilute the value of Sunday’s race. The two races should just be different in the distance to make a difference in race strategies (e.g. a tightly doable two-stopper and a certain three-stopper).
Kalle from Finland
MP: I like your way of thinking, Kalle. I know R.P. and IndyCar wanted to get away from doubleheaders, with Iowa as the only exception, and yes, holding two races at the same event does come with cost savings, but only if cars aren’t being trashed in those races. Ovals can be messy in that regard, but then we get a mostly clean event like WWTR and the argument is made easier for doubling up while there.
The only thing stopping IndyCar from doing more doubleheaders is a willingness to do them!
Q: In your interview with David Salters at Monterey, you pressed him on whether the new Acura motor was a monoblock. If your suspicion is true, will the new power unit be a stressed member as well?
From a logistics standpoint, Meyer Shank Racing would benefit from IndyCar/IMSA engines that share common components, but I’m guessing it’s not that simple (with engines leases and all).
Jonathan, Ventura, CA
MP: It’s true. I do my best to only ask questions like that when I know the answer beforehand. It’s a rarity these days to have a motor in a big prototype that sits unstressed in a cradle, so yes, semi- or fully-stressed would be the expectation. I’ll know more when I get a look at the ARX-06 in testing in October. Or so I hope! I believe the turbos and plumbing, at a minimum, are different, and I’d expect fueling to be different as well, so a direct swap from a MSR GTP car to an MSR Indy car wouldn’t be possible when we get to 2024.
Q: How do you feel about the job the not-so-new-anymore management team is doing at Laguna Seca? As I remember you were not a fan of the move to replace SCRAMP with the team led by John Narigi.
MP: I was not a fan of the bidding process that was a sham, and with that sham in mind, I was worried about the capabilities of a racing newbie in John Narigi to lead Laguna Seca out of the dark ages. The bidding process aside, Narigi’s been a man of action and has not been prone to following the direction of those within the county who installed him as the track manager. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with most of what he’s gotten done and love the fact that he’s fought the county — against some of the same people who awarded him the managerial contract — when it was in the track’s best interest.
Still have some big hurdles to clear in generating revenue, promoting major events like IndyCar and IMSA to the point of bringing more than a tiny amount of fans into the facility, etc., but overall, I’m encouraged by what Narigi’s accomplished so far.