Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to email@example.com. 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: Do IndyCar drivers use spotters around the course that will help them know when other drivers are around them? In NASCAR at Road America (and probably other road courses, as well as ovals) they have spotters positioned all around the course to help the drivers know when other cars are getting next to them. Perfect example, the pass at Long Beach where Pato O’Ward went down the inside of Scott Dixon and they made contact — would Dixon have had a spotter at that moment that could have helped? If not any idea why not? A simple “inside, inside” from a spotter could have been a huge help in that instant.
Craig C., Slinger, WI
MARSHALL PRUETT: It’s more a case of one spotter placed strategically on road and street courses, instead of multiple. And not every team uses spotters outside of the ovals.
The Dixon/Pato deal was a tough one because if you know O’Ward, he’s always going to fire his car into the gap, but even knowing that wouldn’t have prevented what happened because he cut to the inside so much later than anyone expected — including Dixon — and from so far back, it wasn’t something Scott or any other driver would have anticipated.
If Dixon had a spotter right there, and was on the radio button leading into the corner, I’m guessing they might have had time to say a word or two as Pato lunged down the inside, but this was more of a surprise than something we saw coming the entire time.
I don’t blame O’Ward for trying, but it was a risky attempt that really needed Dixon to know it was going to happen so he could have moved to the left to save the two of them from making contact. Sometimes that happens — the driver on the outside catches a last-second glimpse in their mirror and adjusts to avoid being hit. That didn’t happen here, and we got the outcome at hand.
Q: Back in 2017 (I think), I heard that the long-awaited book about the history of the Newman/Haas team was put on hold right before it went to the publisher at the request of Carl Haas’s widow. I have not seen any more information on it. Do you know anything about it, and can you check with Gordon Kirby?
MP: I spoke with a friend about it at Long Beach and was told the same hold remains in place by his widow. Prospects of seeing the book appear in print didn’t sound promising.
Q: I’ve been wondering something about the upcoming IndyCar hybrid engines for a while now, and recently I haven’t been able to get it out of my head, so I might as well ask.
Electric motors are very torquey, and we all know torque figures have a massive impact on how cars drive depending on how much torque there is and where in the rev range they hit. A lot has been made of the added power, but little talk of the added torque. Do we have an idea of how this is going to influence things? Do they expect it to be in the middle of the rev range? Do they expect to be tuning the engine to hit its power band at higher or lower RPM and having the electric motor handle the other side? Or is it expected to be a more consistent increase across the rev range?
I’m mainly curious because of Indy NXT. I worry that if the added torque comes in too low, hitting hard out of corners, we may end up in a situation where Indy NXT does not adequately train its drivers for the jump to IndyCar, not unlike how it was often said the older Lights cars didn’t sufficiently prepare them for the DW12. And if that happens we have to ask ourselves how to solve that conundrum.
PS: Last week you had a question about if TMS had a road course, and you said you didn’t know. I am happy to inform you that yes, TMS has a 2.3-mile 10-turn infield road course. The ALMS used it in 2000 and 2001, with the 2001 race being the site of the only podium ever achieved by the stylish but fragile Panoz LMP07. Whether or not it has been maintained in a usable state, however, I cannot speak to.
MP: Definitely understand the training concern, but we trained Indy Lights drivers in the 1990s with flat-bottom cars that made limited downforce and had 420hp and sent them to CART where they had underwings and lots of downforce and 900-plus horsepower, and the Kanaans and Hertas and Helios and Dixons of the world did just fine when dealing with the jump to light speed.
Indy NXT and all of its previous iterations have fluctuated heavily when it comes to speed, technology, and relevance to what those kids would drive in the big series. And yet, each era has seen phenomenal talent emerge and thrive in IndyCar, so I’m not worried about a turbo motor from Chevy or Honda, which already makes prodigious torque, being aided with an extra dose of electric torque. Considering the extra weight the cars will be carrying, the ERS units won’t give drivers the explosive acceleration that made the former LMP1 Hybrids disappear out of the corners like they were dragsters.
Great note about TMS; I’d forgotten about it being part of the early days of the ALMS when half of its schedule seemed to be on crappy rovals. I’m struggling to recall the old infield section as being something the track has preserved; in walking and driving around the infield, nothing stood out as being maintained and utilized, but I could be wrong.