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: Have the rules changed regarding grid drops for unapproved engine changes? Seems there have been quite a few failures (especially Hondas) but no grid penalties that I have noticed.
MARSHALL PRUETT: Not to my knowledge, Ed. Once an entry goes beyond its fourth engine provided in the four-engine lease, the grid penalties begin. Since we’re only nine races in, it would be too early for fifth or sixth engines to be needed, but it isn’t far away.
Q: I realize it’s a very, very big ‘if’; however if Alex Palou stays with Ganassi, are we witnessing a changing of guard where Scott Dixon no longer the main championship threat on the team?
Matt, Dallas, TX
MP: Palou’s gone from Ganassi after he drives out of the Laguna Seca paddock on Sunday evening, September 10, so that’s happening. But in the absence of Palou, no, I don’t think Dixon would be unable to deliver another title before he retires. Where Palou’s had the same race engineer and crew chief since he arrived at Ganassi in 2021, Dixon’s on his third race engineer and second crew chief over the same period, and that can’t be ignored. By 2023, the combination of Palou, Julian Robertson, and Ricky Davis is finely tuned and devastating.
Dixon and crew chief Tyler Rees — new in 2022— have formed a powerful duo, and after they torched Team Penske in the Indy 500 Pit Stop Competition, we can say that side of the driver/drew relationship is super strong. With new race engineer Ross Bunnell, there’s tons of potential that’s been shown, but they’re still searching for their first win together. They have the potential to reach title-winning heights and they’re on the clock to get that maiden win and then keep building on it.
Q: I was sitting in Turn 4 at Mid-Ohio and noticed that when USF2000 and USF Pro 2000 came into Turn 4 on the parade lap they slowed way up, coming very close to running into the back of the car in front of them. Why did they slow up so much? I was curious to know if they were testing brakes, or what the reason was.
MP: Since I didn’t see it, it’s hard to say if there was an issue that caused a knock-on effect with one driver slowing unexpectedly and the rest reacted in a panic. If that wasn’t the reason, it’s common for drivers to go hard towards the end of a long straight during the parade lap(s) and brake hard to generate heat from the brakes that radiates into the wheels and tires to build tire pressures and temperature.
Q: An incredible drive by Shane Van Gisbergen in Chicago in an unfamiliar car and track he’s never seen before. It was reminiscent of Rob Wickens at St. Pete in his debut. Do you think Chip and ‘The Captain’ took notice?
MP: I’m sure NASCAR team-owning Roger Penske did, and Chip loves all forms of racing and likely watched the race as well. But I doubt either of them came away with a plan to hire Shane. The next IndyCar vacancy Roger will have is when Power retires, and unless Andretti covers him off with a long and lucrative extension, I’d bet Kyle Kirkwood will be at the top of his shopping list. Chip’s looking to hire race-ready drivers or sign those who can completely fund the car. The patience to sign and develop SVG into an IndyCar driver, which existed when McLaughlin came over, doesn’t seem to be there these days.
Q: How did the TV broadcast not bring up Michael Andretti’s nearly identical crash into China Beach back in 1998? I was there, sitting in the Esses, and it was horrifying.
Brian in Ohio
MP: The broadcast did show Michael’s 1998 crash.
Q: Regarding RLL, is this real progress or a false dawn? They have made a step, but will it continue?
Don Hopings, Cathedral City, CA
MP: Well, IndyCar races on five unique types of circuits, so we’d need to go back to Texas or Indy to know if RLL’s terrible Speedway showings have improved. They were good at the first two street circuits, but dreadful at the most recent one in Detroit. They were good at Barber and the Indy road course, decent at Road America, and really good at Mid-Ohio, so they have a strong road course package. They haven’t been on a short oval (Iowa) or an intermediate oval (WWTR), so there’s more data required before we can make any claims about where RLL stands across all disciplines.
But, and this is important, Bobby Rahal has been taken a bigger role in fixing RLL’s issues, and there’s a direct connection between Bob lighting fires beneath people and the gradual rise in competitiveness.
Q: First, my condolences to the family of the driver who was killed at Spa, but before we go into making knee-jerk changes to the track, we should look at the circumstances. The race should never have been restarted as the visibility was so poor that following drivers could not see his stopped car. I have also noticed from this incident and from watching other racing videos on YouTube that a lot of drivers are not slowing for yellows. When I raced SCCA club racing, a waved yellow meant slow down; now, drivers are barely lifting as they enter the crash scene.
Maybe we need better training of the drivers and a new flag like a red/yellow on a diagonal that indicates a crash with cars or debris blocking the track and drivers need to be able to stop quickly. Racing is dangerous, but accidents can be prevented. What are your thoughts about this?
Mark B., Floral City, FL
MP: Some corners have a much higher potential — and history — of calamity than others, and the Eau Rouge complex (including Raidillon, where this latest accident occurred) has been on that list for decades and decades. All four turns at Indy are on that list. About half of the 156-turn ‘Ring would qualify. The potential is there for about half of the 8.5-mile Le Mans circuit. Sections of Road America and Laguna Seca are terrifying to ponder in the event of a stuck throttle or brake failure. Finding a stopped car sitting broadside while flying over a crest at VIR or Road Atlanta is the stuff of nightmares.
Obvious statement — we should always search for improvements in safety, and at the most dangerous corners, a higher level of vigilance is required. But if we start to neuter the Eau Rouges, I’m not sure the sport holds the same appeal. We do this for many reasons, and one of them involves the thrill of danger. Golf exists. Soccer exists. They’re both extremely popular, and yet, motor racing is also hugely popular because it’s so radically different in ways that are exhilarating and slightly scary. We choose to do this, despite the grave risks that tennis and basketball players never need to contemplate, and I hope we don’t give into the calls—which have also been around for decades and decades — to alter what makes us who we are.