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’m writing this hot on the heels of the announcement that IndyCar is stopping the plans to introduce the new engines in 2024. As a deeply invested fan, that’s quite disappointing. I’ve read your articles on the situation, and I think you and I feel pretty similarly — it’s a shame this is the situation that unfolded for the series, but ultimately it was the prudent decision to make. To plow ahead likely would have done greater harm to IndyCar as we know it.
Having said that, I think things still hurt for a number of us invested fans. We’ve been dealt a lot of blows recently. Third OEM going nowhere, no set plans for a new chassis, the whole Iowa ticket price stuff, and now this. I get it. It sucks. But, in almost every case, I see some legit business decisions being made. Doesn’t make the pills easier to swallow, but in the name of fairness, I typically “get it.”
I want to close with an ask of my fellow invested IndyCar fans. As difficult as it probably is, can we keep our negativity in house, and among ourselves? Despite some of the recent disappointments, IndyCar still has a number of positives going for it, and those are the things we should focus on highlighting if we hope to bring aboard our online followers, friends, and family as new fans. And if we’re successful in doing so, perhaps that means we will have done our part in helping to erase some of the disappointment we’re feeling today.
MARSHALL PRUETT: I hear what you’re saying Matt and can’t disagree with the general note of continuing to accentuate the positives. So, as fans, keep building a wider base and use all the good stuff IndyCar has as the rallying point. And as a reporter at an independent outlet, I’ll keep highlighting not just the good, but also the bad and the in-between, because that’s the job.
Q: I just finished reading the devastating article than the 2.4-liter engines are delayed yet again or canceled.
Reading the tea leaves, it sure seems like Chevy and Ilmor’s hands are all over this cancellation. Honda has tested its 2.4L engine on track and has had it dyno for a long time. It is also running a version of it in the IMSA series. Am I off-base here, or should Honda be asking Chevy and IndyCar to be reimbursed for all the money it already sank into the 2.4L engine?
Bill, Dublin, OH
MP: The word “ultimatum” was spoken to me more than once in regard to the taking-over-the-ERS-project-to-save-hybridization situation while I was developing the story last Monday and Tuesday, and again after the 2.4L/2.2L stories went up on Tuesday from a few more people in the paddock who I trust.
On the refund topic, I’m sure it would be appreciated, but since the series’ owners are never wrong, there’s nothing to give back since no problem exists. I just hope this budgetary cluster-bleep doesn’t result in good folks at the series and manufacturers losing their jobs.
Q: After reading your article “IndyCar’s made the right call, for the wrong reasons,” I’m now legitimately concerned for the future of the series. What HPD President David Salters said honestly scared me, and I hope it got IndyCar’s undivided attention. If I may, the quote was: “We’re not here to make a racing series. We’re here to promote through a racing series. But we’re not here to make the racing series. That’s not our job. That’s somebody else’s job. We’re here to support it, but only if it gives us something back. And we have to also show a return on investment, and that needs to be people watching.”
The last part of the quote could be the epitaph for IndyCar. The rest of the article was eye-opening, but when an OEM is putting their name to public statements like this, IndyCar needs to use this as an immediate call to action. The series should thank their lucky stars for these two OEMs — I know I do!
Rob, Rochester, NY
MP: I’ve come to appreciate the honesty and clarity Salters brings to the sport from his vantage point as a highly influential person atop a major auto manufacturer’s racing programs. I’d say the same thing about his VP, Kelvin Fu, Honda/HPD’s Chuck Schifsky, etc. (Big nod to GM racing boss Jim Campbell in that regard and to Chevy IndyCar program manager Rob Buckner, as well.)
Granted, amid being told off by Roger Penske in the Daytona paddock last week (the morning after my 2.4L/2.2L story and commentary went up), he also said everything I wrote was wrong and everything Salters said was wrong, so there’s that.
My main takeaway from the latest in an extensive line of ongoing IndyCar engine delays and changes is the series should be calling Chevy and Honda every day to thank them for being the best friends they have. Without their collective intervention to keep IndyCar from missing its pushed-back shift to hybridization in 2024, at least one would have been gone at the end of next season.
This entire exercise that’s about to happen leading into 2024 is a result of Chevy and Honda demonstrating a level of care and love for IndyCar that deserves unparalleled gratitude, not derision and dismissiveness.
Q: I know there is currently a fee that IndyCar gets paid for a manufacturer to be involved in the sport. Typically the break-even point is then through a combination of the engine leases and the marketing revenue generating the ROI for the company. In the case of the third manufacturers continually backing out, how much did the fee to the sanctioning body hinder budget allocations from the manufacturers versus the excitement over the package? If the budget was the hinderance for all three, were there any discussions of IndyCar taking more of the hit to get the package up and rolling and then rolling back in the sanctioning fees as the R&D costs started to go down?
On the other front, did the package still not enthuse a manufacturer to a point that they would have invested, at which point did the series make any attempts to try and harmonize the wants of the third manufacturer with the wants of Honda and Chevy? At a certain point there is a reality that one uniform engine package is not going to work for IndyCar anymore the way it has worked for NASCAR. Every manufacturer is looking to get different ROIs out of their powertrain programs.
If I were working as a chief engineer for a big powertrain manufacturer deciding whether to invest, I would anticipate a large emphasis on KERS deployment schemes, electrical power integration, and electric powertrain development in order to make the investment a valid return for the company. Hence, I can understand why IMSA’s platform took off while the IndyCar one has run to a standstill.
Lastly, how much is the DW12 chassis hindering any other potential design options for motors/powertrains that would be more enthusiastic at this point?
George, Prince Edward Island
MP: I’ve not heard of IndyCar having an interest in absorbing any costs related to the 2.4-liter TTV6s that were in development for nearly two years. Prior to the start of designing and building those 2.4s, Chevy and Honda said they were open to making adjustments to the formula — within reason — if that’s what a third manufacturers really needed to join the party. There were no takers.
If there’s the potential of a positive with sticking with the 2.2s for a few more years, it’s the opportunity to re-imagine IndyCar’s future engine formula. It’s been clear for all to see for a good long while that sticking to a single formula with rigid specifications — must be the same exact displacement, V-based layout, cylinder count, and be twin turbocharged — simply hasn’t worked in terms of attracting new manufacturers after Chevy, Honda, and Lotus opted in back in 2010.
Tricky times ahead. One thing’s for sure: The single-formula-that-fits-all approach will need to be retired if IndyCar wants to have more than two manufacturers.