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 read your article about Penske’s takeover of Indy Lights, and it got me thinking about the next generation of IndyCars. What is going to happen with the surplus of the current IndyCar chassis in 2024? Is it too much of a beast to hand the leftovers down to the Indy Lights teams? Not necessarily give the chassis away, but sell them — or lease them — at a discounted rate so that some of the IndyCar teams (especially new teams with recent investments) can get a return on their dollars spent, and the Indy Lights teams can also step up their engineering programs. Might be a dumb thought; just spitballin’ here!
MARSHALL PRUETT: I don’t foresee the Dallara DW12s going away for another three or four years, and when they are mothballed, keep in mind that IndyCar is comprised of independent business owners who count the cars, wheels, dampers, and everything else as assets. It’s not like IndyCar owns 60-plus DW12s and can give or sell them to others (with Penske being the exception; he’s free to do with his cars as he desires, but he’s not known to let many go).
Most of the cars are long paid for — thanks to amortization — so they’ll make more money for teams as show cars where their sponsors pay extra to have those cars displayed in their colors, than if they sold them off at whatever someone might pay. No disrespect to Dallara, or any other mass producer of spec cars, but those cars have yet to become hot sellers that command high dollars on the vintage market. And in the big picture, ancient hand-me-down IndyCars aren’t the answer for Indy Lights.
Q: With the lighter aeroscreen coming up in 2024 along with the larger-displacement engine combined with the ERS, meaning less weight on the front end and more on the rear end, is it safe to say that the next-gen IndyCars will be more oversteery than they currently are? I’m aware that this is a matter of taste (and/or driving style) and that some drivers can deal with loose cars while some don’t, but as far as watching the drivers wrestle the cars around corners on the onboard footage, I would tend to think that this might actually be fun to watch. What say you?
MP: Having worked on, built, and/or run a lot of racing sedans, GT cars, prototypes, and open-wheelers, there are some fun handling characteristics to deal with when one end of the car is significantly heavier than the other. On the front-engine road car side, you tend to get an understeering pig — more of a bull, actually — that wants to keep charging and plowing forward when you turn the steering wheel because all of that mass tends to overpower the front tires.
Drop a bunch of weight onto the back of an open-wheel car, and oddly enough, you tend to get the same response with an understeering mess, but with powerful front wings, it can be managed by dialing in downforce up front to help cornering when the cars are running at a high rate of speed.
In the slower corners, though, where mechanical grip (instead of downforce) does most of the work, it’s the part where the car is saddled with a bunch of rearward weight that makes it squat down on its haunches that is problematic.
When a driver’s off the throttle, the weight distribution shifts to the back of the car and lightens the weight on the front tires — that’s where the problems are found. I always think of it like a see-saw with the small weight on one side (the front) and the big weight on the back (the rear).
Where you tend to get the oversteer is when the rear tires give up after trying to manage that excess weight, and it can come as a snap oversteer as the initial understeer gives instant way to the rear tires sliding. Bottom line is an imbalanced IndyCar is not fast or a lot of fun to drive.
Q: Will Alexander Rossi drive the No. 6 car that Robert Wickens drove — which at one time was being reserved should Robert return to IndyCar — or a different number?
Dan in Arizona
MP: As I understand it, Rossi is stepping straight into the No. 7 that Felix Rosenqvist drove last season with Felix’s race engineer Craig Hampson continuing with the car and Brian Barnhart serving as the entry’s new race strategist, just as he did last season at Andretti Autosport. Felix would move to the No. 6 Chevy and have Chris Lawrence as his new race engineer.
Q: 1. Push to pass: I hear TV announcers say they can use PTP for 20 seconds. Is that per lap, or in a single burst, or something else? If it’s in a single burst, is there a cooldown time before they can use the next burst? Assuming anyone would want to, could a driver use 20 seconds, cooldown for one second, then do another 20 seconds?
2. I read the story about the Road to Indy prize money cut. My understanding is an Indy Lights program costs $800k-$1m. I have seen that same cost to run the Indy 500. Why would someone pay to run a season in AAA when they could spend the same money to run the 500? I get it is a season vs a race, but winning the race is life-changing while winning Lights isn’t even a sure full season proposition (see Kyle Kaiser or Sage Karam). Even with the old prize, why spend $1 million to run a series no one watches just to win a $1 million scholarship when instead you could run and win the biggest race/prize in the sport?
Ron K., Baltimore, MD
MP: Let’s go in reverse, Ron. If we’re talking about a kid coming out of USF2000 or Indy Pro 2000 and having $1 million to spend, the reason they’d go to Indy Lights instead of doing the Indy 500 is because they’d be drastically unprepared and unqualified to participate in the Indy 500. And for those reasons, there’s no way IndyCar would approve their license. Of the other practical matters, no quality teams would want to waste their time running a crash waiting to happen, nor would Chevy or Honda waste a lot of their money on such a driver.
On the first question, IndyCar sets a limit per use. Here’s what they put out for the last race at Laguna Seca: 150 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 15 seconds per activation.
You tend to see drivers use it in a strategical manner, meaning they’ll use it for seven seconds on a straight, for example, and then deactivate it just prior to braking and coasting through a corner, and then, if there’s another decent straight coming out of the corner, reactivate for that stretch of road. But since there are so few road and street courses where a straight or connected series of high-speed sections run together, it’s rare to see it activated and left engaged for the maximum time.
Q: After all of this year’s paddock shenanigans, perhaps we could add some extra spicy pre-race entertainment by letting the IndyCar team owners loose in Spec Miatas or Spec GR86s for a race of their own. It may well degenerate into something akin to a local figure-eight race once Zak and Chip figure out which car each other are driving, but this feels like the cathartic experience we all need. We could even get the Bus Bros to do the commentary and Malukas to be the pit reporter.
Anyway, just something to mull over in the off-season.
Duncan Butcher, Ottawa
MP: Our new champ, Will Power, is one of the biggest MX-5 Cup fans in the paddock. And as a former entrant in the series during its debut season in 2006, I’d love to see it!
On the Chip and Zak part, let’s be real. There would be two completely demolished Mazdas after the race and a proper recreation of the legendary 1979 Daytona 500 punch-fest where Donnie Allison mollywhopped Cale Yarborough. Who wants to bet on the winner of that scrap?
[ED’s note: A one-make Ford Escort race for F1 team managers actually happened at Brands Hatch in 1971, complete with the grand prix drivers giving the pit signals. I’d have run a photo if I’d been able to find one, but you can see video of it here – MG]
Q: I didn’t see any coverage of the battle for the last spots in the Leaders Circle. Who is in and who didn’t make it? Why isn’t this reported on?
Scott in Michigan
MP: I lost interest after seeing all the Foyt entries and the 48 CGR car circling the LC drain towards the middle of the season, and in the end, that’s precisely how it played out. Technically, the 48 car placed 22nd in the entrants’ championship, which is the last eligible position to claim a LC contract. But it wasn’t counted due to the LC rule that says only the top three cars from each team are eligible for LC contracts, and since Jimmie Johnson and the 48 car were CGR’s fourth-place entry, CGR doesn’t get a contract for the car.
But, and here’s a fun one, when the LC was being formulated years ago, Andretti Autosport was grandfathered in as a four-car team, so it’s the annual wild card when it comes to LCs. Andretti’s Devlin DeFrancesco, who placed 23rd with the 29 car in the LC — —the team’s fourth-place entry in the LC — would, therefore, take 22nd from CGR’s ineligible fourth-place 48 car, and get that $1 million contract.
That leaves CGR’s 48 plus Foyt’s 14 and 4 entries on the outside of the lucrative guaranteed-prize-money payouts from IndyCar in 2023.