The RACER Mailbag, October 5

The RACER Mailbag, October 5

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, October 5

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Q: Has RACER thought of doing a series of interviews with track promoters? It would be interesting to get their insights on plans for the physical facility, the value of having an IndyCar race, and their thoughts for future events, including undercard races and other promotions. Selfishly, I think it would be great to start with John Narigi or someone in the Laguna management. I know you have a lot on your plate, so I just put this out there for thought.

Tom Hinshaw, Santa Barbara, CA

MP: Thanks, Tom. RACER.com editor Mark Glendenning wrote a feature similar to what you’re asking for a couple of years ago, but I’m sure it will be worth revisiting with some of the new events/promoters in the near future.

Q: Having had the pleasure to attend the last two IndyCar races this year, it seems testing worked for the winning teams at both venues. Penske at Portland, and Ganassi at Laguna Seca, recently tested prior to both and it was to the detriment of the actual races. Both races were not the most exciting. Are teams free to test during the season? If limiting testing is the case, when are the teams required to announce when and where they will be doing so?

David B.

MP: We filed a story or two in August and September on IndyCar’s testing regimen and rules for 2023. Might be worth searching for those. Teams aren’t required to announce their testing plans to other teams, but they must seek approval from IndyCar beforehand, and once approved, it goes onto an internal testing schedule that is accessible by teams.

More importantly, since track rental costs tend to be extremely high, teams will either reach out and invite a few others to share the day and costs, or have teams that see one has reserved Track X on a date that works for them reach out and ask if they can join in.

Q: Great article on Swift in RACER magazine. I have always been curious about Hiro Matsushita but have never seen him interviewed. Did you reach out to him for the article? Is he around? Do you know him? I think a serious interview with him about his entire career would be fascinating.

David Turner, Las Vegas, NV

MP: Hi David, no, I did not reach out to him because outside of commissioning the project, which the car’s designer David Bruns described in the opening to the piece, there wasn’t anything I needed him to cover off in the story, which already featured four voices.

He appears on occasion at the Indy 500 and has been on my deep-dive podcast interview list for a few years, along with 100 other drivers and racers that interest me.

Q: Have you heard of a possible return to IndyCar in 2023 for Oliver Askew? I think he would be an interesting driver for Juncos Racing or Ganassi. He probably learned a lot during his year in Formula E, where he was the rookie of the year.

Yannick from France

MP: Heard his name mentioned as a possibility for the second car at Foyt, but the team faces the same need for the ride to be funded, which isn’t Askew’s deal. I’d really love to see it happen for him — he’s matured a ton since his IndyCar debut in 2020 — but there’s nothing jumping out at the moment with a paid seat for the 2019 Indy Lights champion.

Askew learned plenty during his stint in Formula E; now he needs to find somewhere to put those skills to use. Simon Galloway/Motorsport Images

Q: Most IndyCar drivers have to secure millions of dollars and a sponsor to land a ride on just about any team save for the Big Three. How does a driver make any money or have a salary? Who’s writing them a check? After all, these guys are risking their lives on high speed ovals, let alone road and street courses. Are IndyCar drivers the millionaires people may perceive them to be, or are they receiving peanuts? The owners are obviously billionaires but they aren’t the ones cheating death at 220mph lap after lap.

David Colquitt

MP: All depends on the age and talent of the driver, David. The veterans who’ve won championships and/or Indy 500s are millionaires, and in select instances, the ones who’ve been at the front of the series for a decade or more have been high earners for a long time and had the ability to save, invest, and grow their wealth. Think of someone like Dixon, who’s commanded a healthy salary forever, and isn’t the type to fill his driveway with the latest Lamborghinis and throw money away on private jets and whatnot to turn his annual salary into pennies.

But for most of the pros who are being paid for their talents, they’re making at least $1 million per year which, after taxes, can take it down to not much more than $500,000. That’s not a small sum of money by any means, but it also isn’t enough to spend wildly or to build generational wealth at a fast rate.
One good thing, however, is we’ve had an appreciable rise in driver salaries over the last year or so to expand the pool of those who are around or over $2 million per year. Being over $2 million was once the rarified air for all but the best of the best — those big-name championship and 500 winners — but that has changed to include more of the young title contenders like Herta and Palou, etc.

Q: Seeing that no manufacturer is very interested in plucking down millions to build an engine for IndyCar, I have to ask: did IndyCar, Honda and Chevy miss the mark on the new engine specs? Are the upcoming specs not an enticing/relevant power unit? Manufacturers seem to be flocking to the new GTP; what makes that so enticing?

Steve

MP: I don’t think they missed the mark for one main reason, Steve: This is the formula Honda wanted in order to stay in the series. And I’ve heard that while Chevy was resistant to the notion of going hybrid for many years, they obviously changed their minds. Keep in mind that both brands also opted into IMSA’s new hybrid formula, so that’s two major series with commitments from Acura/Honda and GM/Chevy/Cadillac where hybridization is the key new aspect of the engine formula.

So, if IndyCar stuck to its non-hybrid formula, I think we’d have reverted back to being a truly spec series, with Chevy/Ilmor handling the entire field. By going hybrid, we’ve preserved the two manufacturers that were in play.

Two other quick things to consider: If you were in charge of a manufacturer’s budget, would you commit it to a hybrid IndyCar engine program while the series continues to face delays in testing the ERS units on track and doesn’t want to name the ERS manufacturer in case there’s a need to delay things again? And there’s no truly clear picture as to when new cars will be arriving? These are the kinds of things that would lead me, if I were that manufacturer rep, to sit and wait until IndyCar gets its house in order.

As for why IMSA has so many manufacturers, it’s always been easier to get a manufacturer of road cars to spend money on racing series that feature vehicles that come from their production lines and are modified for competition or, in the case of GTP, look like fantasy versions of the road cars they sell which feature road-to-race body styling cues that link the prototypes’ styling in ways that connect back to what they sell.

Always been that way. Manufacturers who choose IndyCar have a tougher time justifying the expense to the same boards of directors who have a sports car option to consider that offers things they’re more familiar with in the sport.

The real issue here is IMSA announced it was going hybrid with its prototypes when IndyCar was still playing around with its new formula being non-hybrid. So, two major American racing series, with one offering manufacturers a chance to go hybrid in their preferred arena of sports cars…IMSA was always going to win that decision-making battle with IndyCar.

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