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: One bit of information I really, really wanted to know all day during qualifying was who was in line and the order of that line. Would that not be a great addition to the coverage?
MARSHALL PRUETT: Some folks love the minutia like that, Craig. I’m not one of them, but a friend of mine was in charge of capturing exactly what you’ve mentioned, including the time they pulled into the line, for their team’s leadership in real time so they knew how and when to react while in the garage.
Q: Since the IndyCar app updated earlier this season it’s been full of issues. It’s 2023 and it’s hard to imagine an app that doesn’t work, especially after IndyCar was promoting their “updated” app before the season opener. Any info on when the app will be fixed? During qualifying, the app was showing a handful of car without speeds — just one of many issues.
MP: Sorry to hear, Craig. I use the IndyCar App approximately twice a year, and haven’t so far in 2023, so I’m useless here and don’t keep track of what is or isn’t happening with it. If I find out, I’ll mention it on my podcast.
Q: Do you think Graham Rahal will leave his father’s team? I think he should. Clearly this team will be backmarkers for next couple of years. He deserves better.
MP: He does. Time for another rebuild, and most veterans — in any sport — are loathe to burn their final years waiting for their team to get their **** together. I’m confident Graham could bring a ton of funding to any team with an opening, and it’s not that he’d need to pay, but he does have some very committed sponsors who are there because of him.
I’m more concerned about Graham retiring if the rest of the season is a downer.
Q: It’s pretty clear that Team Penske is missing something that other teams have known for a while. It’s the fourth year with subpar results in Indy 500 qualifying. Same car, same engines, same conditions yet others are able to find speed but not Team Penske. Any ideas why?
MP: I don’t, and yet, in Monday’s two-hour practice session, DJ Willy P was P1. But ECR and Arrow McLaren have had Penske’s number recently in Indy qualifying. From 2015-19, Penske won Indy three times. Since buying IMS and IndyCar in 2020, Penske’s been on an 0-fer. Does that streak end on Sunday? Dunno, but if so, my money’s on McLaughlin and Ben Bretzman.
Q: My question is about the “evil” chassis of Callum Ilott/JHR. What will happen to that? Does it go back to Dallara to be inspected? Does the JHR shop crew inspect it? I would imagine something that unfit to be raced doesn’t just go back into the team’s chassis rotation.
MP: My guess is there was something wonky happening with the floor/underwing while at speed. Callum said they did torsional rigidity tests and found no issues. His main complaint was the erratic handling, which, in the absence of a broken shock, sounds like a non-linear aero issue. Listen to the good crew chiefs, and they’ll tell you that some floors are problematic. That’s my guess here, and as for the chassis, I’m not sure what will happen to it. I feel confident in saying Ilott will pass on using it again…
Q: Great action during qualifying on Saturday. Couple of questions for you:
1. Can you explain Penske’s strategy of dropping Newgarden and McLaughlin from their original qualifying spots? Cindric’s explanation about waiting for better weather and more tinkering with the cars made sense to the broadcast team. Not sure I bought that explanation after watching others post better times than Power later in the day. Would’ve thought the No. 2 and No. 3 cars were ready to go and didn’t need any further tuning. And with all the activity toward the end of the session, the No. 2 car really gambled to set a time. Was the strategy sound, or did Penske swing and miss?
2. My wife noticed during David Malukas’s first run that he had the car in fourth gear for most of the lap (except for a short fifth gear run from the start/finish line to the Turn 1 entry). In later runs he was running in fifth and sixth gear. Didn’t notice any others running that long in fourth. Any reason why you’d keep in a lower gear for that long on a fast circuit?
Darrin, Brentwood, TN
MP: There’s a lot of pressure on Team Penske to be the best, so even in something as relatively unimportant as qualifying for a 500-mile race, there’s immediate embarrassment — or the perception of it — within the team if they aren’t the best. Also, they’re filled with highly competitive personalities, so with those two combined, you have a group that won’t accept decent runs to P15 or wherever. Add in how they had no ready answers for how to find another 2mph, and I didn’t see the confidence and clear strategy on how to overcome their issues. Inaction isn’t something they embrace, so giving it another go was a fitting response that just didn’t have the outcome they wanted.
Choosing the correct gearing is never an exact science, and all it takes is an increase in wind or the wind disappearing to take you out of the right rev range. My guess is the team made a gear change after his first run.
Q: Sorry, but I’ve seen and heard enough. I need to rant. The entire NBC broadcast crew should be summarily fired. After watching for the past week, their incompetence and ignorance is incredible. Case in point, the discussion about taking parts off Katherine Legge’s car to put on other RLL cars was totally false. I’m no IndyCar rulebook person, but I know enough that that is illegal. Both Bell and Hinchcliffe exhibited their ignorance of the rules. Diffey fell right in with them. It’s akin to just winging it. It is a dismissable offense.
Letarte is a NASCAR guy, period. He knows little to nothing about IndyCar. His standard response is, “in NASCAR we would do this.” Earth to Letarte, this is IndyCar, not NASCAR. I really don’t care what Stewart, Gibbs or any other NASCAR team would do. This crew needs to go. Now.
Dale, Chesterfield, VA
MP: If we’re going to bin the full-time crew because they made a collective mistake about a rule, we’ll be firing broadcast teams on a nightly basis across all major sports.
I get it. We want our TV people to know everything and to always get it right. But that’s never happened, ever, in any sport.
Hell, I spent two or three months towards the end of the 2021 season getting some major aspects of the Leaders Circle eligibility completely wrong, and yet, I’ve been spared the electric chair. Maybe NBC will send its IndyCar and IMSA experts to call some of NASCAR’s biggest races and make those fans super happy (kidding).
Q: My heart really goes out to the RLL team. They’ve been struggling ever since Takuma Sato won his second Indy 500. What happened? Are they spending too much effort on the IMSA prototype program? I feel RLL needs to cut back to a two-car team. I also think that even though Graham Rahal has been somewhat successful in IndyCar, he is going either hang it up or race in IMSA.
Alistair, Springfield, MO
MP: Strange to see the last two teams Taku drove for, in the last two entries he piloted — the No. 51 at Coyne and No. 30 at RLL — stuck in the LCQ…while he was battling for pole with Chip.
The team took a big swing with a new engineering structure and it just hasn’t worked. That was apparent well before we got to Indy, but the season is still young-ish, so you give it the benefit of time. If it weren’t for Lundgaard and his engineer shining on occasion, we’d be in Colonel Jessup “Code Red” territory. After Graham’s DNQ, I fear we’re headed towards a house cleaning.