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: If they were all in their prime, who would be champion: Zanardi, Montoya, Dixon or Bourdais?
MARSHALL PRUETT: I see you’re trying to get me in trouble with these legends…thanks, Geoff.
I’ve been fortunate to witness the complete IndyCar careers of all four, and only one jumps out as the easy No. 1, and that’s Monterrier, aka, JPM. I’ve never seen talent like his since he arrived in CART, and if we took all four at their peaks, Juan’s on pole by 0.2s and wins on any circuit — road, street, or oval. I’m not saying he’d run away from the other three, but I don’t think it would be super-close.
Also, I can’t wait to get punched in a few weeks when I see Dixie and my French Fry at Petit Le Mans…
Q: Even though I only become a fan in 2019, when I think of IndyCar, my mind is drawn to high-speed ovals. It’s where the cars shine the brightest and have the most thrilling speeds. I didn’t start watching IndyCar early enough to watch races at Michigan or Fontana and I only caught one race at Pocono. Now with Texas not on the schedule, I’m more and more disappointed that we don’t get to see IndyCar at a high-speed oval regularly. Once a year at Indianapolis is nowhere near enough! I hope not just Texas comes back for 2025, but also Michigan and Pocono. Please give the cars more chances to look awesome!
Josh Eichholz, Peoria, IL
MP: I’m with you. Of the circuits on the calendar, few incite fear and terror like Texas. We get to see the best IndyCar drivers of the day do things at speeds that are frightening, and specific to Texas, the ballsiest drivers can assert their wills in ways that just don’t leave you in awe at other ovals.
Newgarden destroying the field at Iowa is a sight to be seen, but watching he or Pato fly around and play with people at Texas like they’re strapped to rockets while the others are seemingly standing still is just wholly unique to that crazy-ass place.
Texas and Indy are the only stops left on the calendar where I leave each year and think, “I can’t believe they still let us do this here.” Now that list is down to one.
Q: Some stone-cold truth: No IndyCar race in Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston or San Antonio equals no race in four — five, if you want to add our cousins up in NYC — out of the top 10 U.S. population centers. But hey, we got a race that +99% of the fans can’t attend even if they want to. Have another glass of milk, you brainless old farts.
MP: As my father used to say when I offered takes like this, “Who peed in your Cheerios this morning?” Also, is this the point where, after my wife tried in vain for 10 years to get me to make the change, I acknowledge I’ve finally switched over to almond milk?
Q: Was a fifth Ganassi car a surprise? I hadn’t heard any mention of that possibility during silly season.
Dave K., Michigan
MP: It was! To wind things back a little bit, there had been rumblings about a fifth car all summer, but I never thought it was credible because the only fifth driver option I knew of was Kyffin. And despite winning the pole at Road America where he then proceeded to blow it into Turn 1, fly off track, and finish eighth, the rest of his season was a portrait of boom-or-bust performances, which is the hallmark of a young driver who needs more seasoning.
Chip told the media at Laguna Seca that he was set on four cars and wasn’t inclined to run a fifth at Indy, and within a week, plans for a fifth full-time car were in motion. The team refused to explain how this turnaround happened, but it sure looks like something changed in a short time span. We’d mentioned in the early stages of the season that Kyffin would be going to IndyCar with Ganassi, but it was a question of whether it would be 2024 or 2025 and was dependent upon if the team felt he was ready.
There were no indicators that I saw to suggest he’s ready, so it might just be a case of Simpson wanting to go now instead of spending a third year in Indy NXT. Since his family has the ability to fund his career, the choice of when Kyffin would leap to IndyCar was strictly in their hands.
Q: Any news on 2024 plans for Nikita Johnson? I’m very excited to see his next step. Seems like he could be the next American star driver that nobody’s talking about.
Mark, Niagara Falls, NY
MP: I’d expect him to be in USF Pro 2000. Rocking up and taking a win and another podium in the last four races was just the kind of statement you love to see from a young breakout talent.
Q: We just got back after a weekend at IMS for the IMSA Battle on the Bricks. What a great event! More racing than you could ever imagine, spent 13 hours at the track on Saturday, over seven on Sunday and the price for tickets was an absolute steal! Everyone had access to Gasoline Alley, two grid walks on pit road, seating almost anywhere you desired, autograph sessions, and access to the teams.
The people we met and talked with included Roger Penske, Michael Andretti, Scott Goodyear, several IndyCar drivers, tons of IMSA folks, Robert Wickens, Sebastien Bourdais and the list goes on and on. Every single one of them stopped for photos and autographs. My favorite moments included Doug Boles approaching us Sunday morning while handing out donuts to the fans, watching the engine swap at the AO Racing garage on Rexy the Porsche, and getting an in-car tour from Tom Sargent and his father of their 911 GT3. I highly recommend adding this event to everyone’s racing calendar.
Allen Smith, North Muskegon, MI
MP: I’m so glad you got to see what makes IMSA racing, and its counterpart at SRO America, so special. It’s a big culture shift from IndyCar, which often (but not always) keeps fans at a distance to the cars and garages unless you pay for special access. There’s another element to IMSA races that tends to differ from IndyCar, and that’s the welcoming mindset so many teams have; if you ask — assuming they aren’t thrashing to get ready for a session — most will welcome you under the tent or in the garage to take a closer look at the cars and answer your questions. Add in the open grid walk where every fan is welcome to pack pit lane prior to the race, and it’s unlike anything you’ll find at pro racing events.