The RACER Mailbag, April 24

Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to 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 from Turn 1 at Long Beach. The vibe from the crowd is insane. The IndyCar chassis may be old, but the public still love the races.

By the way, the positive reception of IMSA is getting bigger and bigger. This weekend is special, as always!

Daniel, Brazil

MARSHALL PRUETT: The racing is almost always great. That’s never been a problem with the Dallara DW12 chassis. IMSA’s on a continual rise. I’m so happy to see the series attracting the love it deserves.

Q: Long Beach. What a race, especially the last 10 laps. I don’t care what kind of engine is under the hood (as long as it sounds good, of course), or how old the chassis is, that was a great, nail-biting race.

Jim Hannon, Mount Sterling, KY

MP: Like you, I love a good dueling strategy race like the one we got with Dixon on fuel-saving, Newgarden on fuel-burning, and Herta and Palou on a charge and keeping Newgarden on his toes. It was nothing like St. Pete where almost everybody was locked into fuel saving and the drama was missing altogether.

Q: The Long Beach race just finished but I had to comment on the hysterical complaints from Josef Newgarden and Tim Cindric. Newgarden — if that isn’t a penalty, nothing is. Cindric — anybody can take anyone out of a race. Then Newgarden confronts Herta post race. He claims he got lifted up. I didn’t see it, nor did the announcers.

One incident comes immediately to mind: Newgarden doing a dive bomb on Romain Grosjean and punting him into the wall at Nashville. In that case, Newgarden wasn’t beside Grosjean yet, I didn’t hear any apology or an acknowledgement that the move was “slightly” optimistic. Newgarden’s comments are B.S. and the Penske driver appears to believe his poop doesn’t stink. Newgarden is a great driver but loses respect in not acknowledging that **** happens in races that isn’t a penalty. Finish the race then discuss the matter when the emotions aren’t so high. Dumb move.


MP: Not sure I saw anything that qualified as “hysterical” from Josef or Tim. Josef was hit by Colton, who acknowledged the mistake, and the back of Josef’s car was lifted up and did go into anti-stall mode, which left him sitting idle for a few moments where he lost two positions. Through no fault of his own, he went from second to fourth, and his hunting of Dixon and a possible win were taken away. I’d be pissed if it happened to me, so I wouldn’t expect Josef or his boss to react in a different manner.

Q: Do you have insight as to why IndyCar merely shows the time (seconds) behind the leader of the race, rather than between cars (as F1 does after a few opening laps)?

I would suggest that it’s far more interesting to know that P12 is 0.453s from P11 than it is to know that P12 is 45s from P1. Of course, one can do the rough math, but it would be so much easier to do it F1’s way.

This allows one to scan the pylon to look for close racing and to follow incremental gains and losses in each fight. I cannot tell the difference between 0.453s and 0.552s via the video, but the fact that the delta is expanding and contracting is interesting.

Gerry Harrison

MP: It’s been their practice for a while now. These are the graphics chosen by NBC. NBC doesn’t broadcast F1, nor do they want to be seen as copying what people see coming across on ABC/ESPN.

I’d love to see them copy everything we see with F1’s graphics, but I just do the math in my head (scary, I know) when I watch IndyCar.

Can’t really blame Newgarden for feeling bummed out last Sunday afternoon in Long Beach. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

Q: Please educate me on why there is a drive-through when Pato O’Ward hits Alex Palou’s car, but Colton Herta doesn’t get one for hitting Josef Newgarden? Also, what is the anti-stall for and what does it do?

Steve Coe, Vancouver, WA

PS: Thanks for explaining what it would take to get Robert Wickens into an IndyCar.

MP: I wish I had the answer, Steve. I would have been fine with no penalty for O’Ward, but since one was given, a precedent was set and it needed to be adhered to with Herta. I explain anti-stall in my post-race column, which should be going online shortly.

Q: I know rumors are flying around about David Malukas and his job security at Arrow McLaren right now. I know that Gavin Ward and Zak Brown have made statements in interviews, but I want your personal take, Marshall.

If Malukas is unable to race in the 500, do you think this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Possible mid-season replacement or do they finish him out for 2024?

Alex, Michigan

MP: No need for us to debate the rumors. Let’s go with facts: David did significant damage to his wrist/hand when he crashed on his mountain bike, and for the sake of clarity, he wasn’t doing anything reckless or dangerous. It was a rather mundane and unspectacular incident, as he told me. But he still went over the handlebars and his left hand/wrist bore the brunt of the crash.

The problem he’s dealing with today and has been dealing with since the mid-February surgery, is there’s been a limited amount of healing taking place. For reasons unknown, the affected area isn’t responding on any kind of timeline that was predicted, and as such, there’s no timeline to offer on when he might drive again.

For David’s sake, I truly hope he’s is in the car for the 500. He’s excellent on ovals, and it would be the perfect place to debut for the team and show them he’s a talent worth holding onto. But based on the slow healing/no timeline realities, I’d put my money on Callum Ilott, who really came to life on ovals in 2023, and put in a starring drive at Indy, as the most likely driver in the No. 6.

As Kanaan told me in a Friday interview at Long Beach, the thing an injured driver worries about and needs to defend is a replacement driver doing big things while they’re sidelined and piquing the interest of the team. Pourchaire has no oval experience, so that’s not a role they’d ask him to fill right now.

But again, if the young Frenchman impresses this weekend and becomes a frequent road/street solution between his Japanese Super Formula commitments, and the team has Ilott as a road/street/oval solution, I’d think Malukas could be in trouble.

Nobody at the team has said that to me, but having worked on IndyCar teams where multiple drivers were used to stand in for an injured driver, I can tell you that each new driver is usually viewed as a potential full-time driver if they deliver a breakout performance.

Malukas signed a one-year deal, with a second year as an option the team can execute. If the team feels like they’ve found someone who could be better, it would be silly to park them. But David’s also quite popular, and the team probably wouldn’t want to invite a wave of criticism if Malukas wasn’t given a chance to defend his seat. It’s a brutal situation for all involved.

If David’s on the free agent market later this year, I’m sure he’ll draw some interest from a few teams because he’s quite good and will only get better. Pourchaire’s run this Sunday and all of the potential ramifications will be an important one to follow.

Q: A local radio station here in Grand Rapids let people call in and give their opinion on what is the most exciting moment in sports. As you might expect, the usual ones came up like the Super Bowl, a game-winning home run in Game 7 of the World Series, the winning goal in the Stanley Cup, a heavyweight championship fight, etc. I called in and said that final pace lap at the Indy 500 in front of 300,000-plus people all on their feet watching 33 cars all in 11 rows of three going close to 200mph coming out of Turn 4 and waiting for the green flag to be waved.

I can hardly wait for that scene to be here again on May 26. One guy if you can believe it called in after me and said that was not as exciting as scoring the winning goal in a World Cup soccer game. I kid you not, a soccer game.

Don, Grand Rapids, MI

MP: Maybe we need to have all the Indy 500 play-by-play announcers yell “GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLL” when the winner crosses the finish line.

Q: Seeing Robby Gordon drive a truck at Long Beach brings back memories of a great era of IndyCar. Any chance we see him getting back involved with series again with his son?

Ben, California

MP: It was fun listening to Robby do his usual schtick at Long Beach after the Saturday Super Stadium Trucks race where he ****s on IndyCar and raves about how SST has more followers on social media, etc. His son Max was with him and was asked about his future racing interests, and he did mention getting to IndyCar as a serious goal. He’s something like 15, so that’s a ways away, and if Robby wants to make it happen, he needs to get him on the USF Championships ladder now.

Q: Is there damage like pitting and scratches to the windscreen from sand and small rocks, or do the tear-offs add enough protection to make the windscreen last the whole season?

J.P., Las Vegas

MP: From an interview I did with IndyCar about the first-gen aeroscreen in December, I was told six screens had been retired among the 60 or so that were made (factoring the extras for spare cars where aeroscreens were fitted) due to wear or damage from hard impacts. The tear-offs do an amazing job, but the PPG laminate screens are also tough as hell.

IndyCar’s aeroscreens are built to last. Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

Q: Should Liberty Media buy the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series? If it does, here is what would happen. Indy NXT would merge into FIA Formula 2. There would be crossover weekends between IndyCar and F1. F1 drivers would compete in IndyCar series races. More constructors would come into IndyCar (Aston Martin, Ferrari, Ford, Mercedes-Benz). And F1 would return to IMS as well.

Kurt Perleberg

MP: Should they? Yes. Have they tried? Yes. Have they been turned away? Yes.

Q: I know the drivers use in-ear monitors for hearing their team. Where is the microphone so the team can hear them? Is it built into the helmet?


MP: Helmet specialists install microphone systems in each new helmet and use a flexible mic that is placed right in front of the driver’s mouth. I’ve done many of those installs over the years along with the HANS posts and whatnot for drivers, and on occasion in a helmet or two of my own. I’ve always enjoyed the process.

Q: Why does IndyCar continue to do the prayer before the race? It is the opposite of inclusion and I would hope the series would rather be more open and inclusive rather than close-minded and mandating one religious belief over another.

Bob, Topeka, KS

MP: Because it’s a tradition that nobody within IndyCar has considered ending. I believe it happens at most professional motor races in the U.S.

Q: I’ve realized the direction of IndyCar racing on street and road courses, and it’s reliance on winning by fuel strategies over racing skills. That is not of interest to me nor many others. To watch a driver have to slow his pace to reach a fuel mileage number must be as painful for a driver as well as some fans. This tedium is not nearly as noticeable on ovals, and you can actually witness racing talent instead of driver-less drone-type strategies.

IndyCar has had some spectacular racing finishes when drivers rely on their racecraft rather than fuel consumption. You still can see race drivers and the technology of the car in action, with no holds barred, during qualifying for sure. In that case I’m glad for Peacock’s coverage of practice and qualifying for us IndyCar snobs out here!

Bernie Stapleton, West Milford, NJ

MP: But Newgarden and Herta and others on the same strategy weren’t doing big fuel saving while chasing Dixon, so I’m a bit lost here. Strategy is part of every race and has been for longer than any of us have been alive. Not sure why a race of differing strategies, which was won by the greatest driver of his generation and one of the greatest to ever do it, is being criticized, but I’m probably missing something.

Q: Since it seems IndyCar charters will be a go in some format whether we like it or not, I’ve tried to come up with an idea that may work better. It seems like IndyCar is stuck on 25 charters where you buy in somehow and races are capped at 27 making the field, so there would only two open spots each race. Additionally, with the charters, they want a “buy in and you’re in until you sell the charter”-type deal.

What about this: Take the Leaders Circle and reduce the number that get it down to around 18. Increase the amount of money the 18 get. The 18 in the Leaders Circle are guaranteed a spot in every race the next season, including the Indy 500. Cap the race grid at 27. So, you have nine open spots to qualify for each race. The top 18 are from the previous year’s entry points (not driver). The top-18 spot can be sold by the team to another in the offseason if they want to. And there you go… you have some guaranteed year-over-year, you have more spots open to qualify for at each race, the 500 still has 15 open spots for drivers to qualify for, you haven’t completely eliminated the ability to for new teams to break into the series, and it’s based on performance. Plus, the Indy NXT champion still has a pretty decent shot of making races if they put together a part-time schedule with their NXT winnings.

In this idea, we avoid a situation where a team like A.J. Foyt Racing pays into a charter and until the end of time we see the likes of Robb/Pedersen/Kellett two or three seconds off pace riding around for a decade, while a world-class organization like PREMA shows up every weekend with an all-star driver and sponsor qualifying on-pace but getting sent home every other weekend because they’re competing for only two spots each weekend. Also, the likes of Dreyer & Reinbold aren’t essentially locked out forever since they could race back into the series if they get the funding to go full-time again.

Now, I’m sure this doesn’t make the owners thrilled because it’s not some eternal guarantee forever, but it’s more than they have now. The value should come from your team being good, not from your team simply existing at the right time.

Ross Bynum

MP: I was told last weekend that IndyCar has come to its senses and will not be charging for the charters. I also listened to a fascinating idea on charters from an owner who wasn’t ready for their plan to be shared with the world, that would radically alter the way the series does business, that wasn’t a million miles away from what you’ve presented. But I wouldn’t expect to see anything other than the basic plan of 25 charters with 22 Leaders Circle contracts being solidified to start the deal.

Q: IndyCar’s tech inspectors need to take a closer look at Dixie’s car — they’ve got an extra five gallons of fuel stashed in there somewhere!  NBC announcers missed an excellent “PT chrome horn” reference. The nose of Colton’s car is chrome! It was nice to have an exciting finish to an alternate strategy race.  I’ve been an Andretti fan since the Mario/Michael/Newman/Haas era, so I’m cautiously optimistic this year.

I’m going back to Indy for the first time in 30 years — Carb Day through the race.  Any suggestions for what to do on Saturday, since the Museum is closed? I would like to visit Robin’s favorite BBQ joint but forget the name.

Steve, AL

MP: I’m struggling to recall Miller referencing local BBQ haunts, but go get a burger and fries at The Workingman’s Friend in his honor. And if you’re a quart low, go top up on oil at Mug-n-Bun; burgers, fries, chicken tenders, and a pork tenderloin sandwich were among his favorites there. And bring cash and enjoy the line at Long’s Donuts, another Miller dietary staple.

Q: I attended the Long Beach Grand Prix and witnessed yet another amazing fuel-savings victory by Scott Dixon. I watched carefully his second pit stop on lap 52, which would mean he needed 33 laps on one tank of fuel to get to the finish (lap 85), which he did. I was amazed he made it — I felt certain he would need a third pit stop to get to the finish line.

The race announcers all agreed that the typical IndyCar fuel window was 24-27 laps at Long Beach. I think the next best fuel performance was 30 laps on one tank of fuel, which would imply Dixon is able to perform 10% better on fuel than the second-best driver in the field. A 10% advantage over the rest of the competition in IndyCar (in any category) is enormous.

My question is, do you think Dixon’s unique driving style is reproducible on a high-fidelity IndyCar simulator? Would his driving technique, his braking, shifting, driving line, use of push-to-pass, ability to avoid being passed, and ability to save his tires all be something that would also translate into similar fuel savings on a simulator?

Kevin P., Los Angeles, CA

MP: I was wondering the same thing after the race. Dixon turned fuel saving into an art during the 2005 IndyCar season — the first year it was no longer called the Indy Racing League — when Toyota’s motor was an underpowered liability. All he and his Ganassi teammates could do was go into major fuel-saving mode at every track to then hope for cautions that would allow them to stay out and gain positions because their motors weren’t capable of making it happen.

With the heavy restrictions on testing these days, the rest of the field simply doesn’t have the available time to try and replicate what Dixon forced himself to learn for thousands and thousands of miles in one season. He discovered methods 20ish years ago that, clearly, can’t be replicated on a simulator, or during the brief chances where others try to mimic whatever they think he’s doing inside the car.

Q: Has Dixon or Ganassi ever hinted at how they get such great fuel mileage compared to their competition? Otherwise, if you had to guess, is this more so because of Dixon or something they know about the car? I imagine it’s Dixon…

Stu, Wisconsin

MP: It’s Dixon. He’s done it with Toyotas and Hondas that were naturally-aspirated, and with Chevy and Honda with their turbo motors in the current formula. He’s the constant.

Any Ganassi driver will tell you that understanding how Dixon saves fuel from looking at his data is one thing; being able to replicate it on the track is something else altogether. Josh Tons/Motorsport Images

Q: I have been watching IndyCar and other forms of racing for over four decades now. I was absolutely convinced Dixon would run out of fuel if he used push-to-pass in defending against Newgarden and later Herta at Long Beach. I know Dixon is known for driving with excellent fuel economy, but this was beyond belief. He used some 60 seconds of PTP in the last stint alone! I have a hard time believing he can save fuel that much, use that much PTP and still win in a spec series. Other forms of racing from NASCAR to F1 to sprint cars have found ways to increase fuel mileage beyond the rules — do you remember any IndyCar/IRL occurrences or tricks regarding pushing the legal limit on fuel capacity and/or fuel mileage?

Bill, Austin

MP: Not in modern times with spec cars and monkeying with fuel capacity limits, but we did have Goodyear, at the end of their time in the IRL, make front tires that were notably smaller — a shorter sidewall — than Firestone’s fronts, which reduced aerodynamic drag and in turn improved speed and fuel economy. Back when the cars weren’t made by a spec supplier, sure, there were always rumors about extra bottles hidden here or there that would increase fuel capacity by a modest amount.

Q: I think IndyCar handled the contact between Herta and Newgarden well on Sunday. God help us the day we penalize every little thing. This was great hard racing by four cars to the checkered flag and we should all be thankful for what we witnessed.

To his credit, Herta took blame and Newgarden seemed to be better with it once he got out of his car and cooled down.

Your thoughts?

Jeff, State College, PA

MP: I hate it when games are overly officiated. Watching a basketball game where the whistles are used every 30 seconds is just painful, and I apply the same mindset to racing. I don’t want or need every little touch or tiny misstep to be met with a drive-through or, in the case of sports cars, a visit and stop-and-hold in the penalty box being standard fare.

I wouldn’t have penalized O’Ward for his rear hit to his teammate, and would have followed that non-call by not penalizing Herta. But since the series did go after Pato, they should have gone after Colton. Be consistent.

Q: What did you think about Zak Brown’s ideas for IndyCar? I think he should be running the series. What did he and McLaren think about Theo Pourchaire?

Paul, Indianapolis, IN

MP: I’ve been saying on my podcast for a few years now that IndyCar needs to hire McLaren/Zak as primary marketing consultants because no other team, nor the series itself, comes close to making the impact generated by Arrow McLaren or McLaren as a whole. That’s a long way of saying I love the idea because it’s been needed for a long time.

Pourchaire was a revelation within the team. We’ll see how things go this weekend in Barber, and if he’s faster — which is to be expected in his second race — I think the team will have some hard questions to answer. They loved everything about him, and his cheery, humble, and gracious nature brought a new dynamic to the group. As one Arrow McLaren staffer told me last weekend, “He might be the nicest guy I’ve ever met.”

That kind of person makes everyone else root for them, so if he’s strong in Barber, I wonder if the team will ask itself if there’s a need to take him out of the car on road and street courses.

Q: I enjoyed your article on Zak Brown joining the IndyCar marketing taskforce. Any idea who else is on the team or is it still forming?

I may be reading too much into it, but with an extensive list of marketing failures I’d like to suggest they change the name to Fan Engagement. A lot of sports franchises have embraced not just the name, but the difference in focus from old-fashioned marketing. I’m just a fan, not pretending to be any kind of marketer, but there’s a lot of literature on the subject.

Growing the sport in a competitive environment is a lot more than just selling ads. I’m sure you aren’t aware that IndyCar just disenfranchised a bunch of fans when someone decided to disable their app on all Android tablets with the excuse that it wasn’t “optimized,” which also cuts us off from in-car video during races. Not exactly the best way to engage fans — don’t tell them what they want, ask them and then give it to them.

John, Madison, WI

MP: I read that Meyer Shank Racing co-owner and former SiriusXM CEO Jim Meyer was on the list. We had another marketing failure last weekend.

A friend in the media who’s involved more on the promotions side sent me a text and asked for a contact at IndyCar who could help connect him with a friend he was bringing to Long Beach, and I happily obliged.

His friend, the host/star of “The Mannii Show,” is an influencer with 36 million combined followers across YouTube (10.8M), TikTok (24m), and Instagram (1.2m).

He would have been excited to collaborate with IndyCar and do his comedic skits in and around the series while at Long Beach. But that didn’t happen. Because IndyCar never responded.

Multiple outreaches were made to IndyCar over three days (which I’ve since seen) and no replies were received or found in his SPAM folder. Nothing was asked for — no money, etc.

An email was then sent to IMSA and a reply was received 41 minutes later and the collaboration was on.

So, he and Mannii then spent their time filming in the IMSA paddock, where they were welcomed with open arms. Mannii was given full access to the paddock, shot inside transporters, put on race suits, and so on. His social posts from the event will place a large and influencing spotlight on the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and its teams and cars, rather than on IndyCar.

According to my friend, Mannii was mobbed everywhere they went by kids who were blown away to see him at the race.

I’ve got to be honest here: I don’t follow any influencers or care about such things. It’s not my generation and I’d never heard of Mannii. But those things don’t matter. What does matter is someone like Mannii, who is young and has a massive base of followers who are of a similar age, is precisely the demographic IndyCar needs to recruit to survive.

It’s not like having Mannii on their side at Long Beach was going to double IndyCar’s social followers, but when you’ve got someone who can reach 36,000,000 people who might not know about the series, it wouldn’t have hurt to make a new ally. Imagine if IndyCar hired McLaren to help with marketing and promotions… I’d bet Mannii would have been front and center all weekend.

Good on IMSA for making the effort, making a new friend, and reaping the rewards.

Q: In response to Jerry from Houston:

Jake Murray

MP: Firehawk isn’t just for the kids.

Also, is this the place where I should acknowledge the presence of Firehawk’s evil twin, Murderhawk? And you can also follow Jerry from Houston who might not actually be Jerry from Houston.

Q: What is wrong with Jerry from Houston?


MP: Good old Jerry got hammered pretty hard in the responses I’ve seen in reaction to his call for Firehawk to be put down. The fine folks at Firestone, and Firehawk, hated to see the harsh reactions, so they sent me this to share.

And Jerry, if you want, they’ve offered to mail you the signed hero card, so just share your address and Firestone will get you sorted, introduce you to Firehawk at a race and show you inside their trackside racing tire operation.

Q: Listening to your latest podcast, you mentioned you expect the first couple of days of official practice for the 500 to be very busy due to the open test being cut so short. Any chance IndyCar increases the number of tire sets allowed for the 500 event to allow teams to run more to make up for the lost track time? I doubt it, but you never know.

Don Weidig, Canton, OH

MP: It’s a great idea, but that’s not a decision IndyCar can make in isolation. That would be for Firestone, all due to the fact that teams sign annual leases with the tire company that cost a fair bit and comes with a fixed amount of tire sets in the same way they sign engine leases that provide four motors for the year. With the heavy amount of running available in practice, I wouldn’t expect any extra tire allowances.

Q: In your April 10 Mailbag you mentioned that “Mario penned the forward to an upcoming A.J. book.” Do you have any more information on the book, author, publisher, date it is coming out?

Joe Mullins

MP: Of course. It’s said to be an exhaustive biography, and I’m told it should be confirmed and announced in the next month or so.

Q: I saw an interview with Jeff Gordon in which he said Hendrick Motorsports is looking to diversify its racing footprint (especially following the Garage 56 project). What are the chances that Hendrick takes over the Cadillac IMSA/WEC programs?

Jonathan and Cleide Morris, Ventura, CA

MP: It would be an amazing future development, but not one that’s happening now.

Q: Have you heard any plans for the Toronto Indy in 2025 and 2026? BMO Field will need extensive renovations to prepare and host the FIFA World Cup.

Andrew Hancock, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

MP: I shared your inquiry with the event’s promoter and they did not respond, Andrew.

Q: I’m responding to Jerry from Houston in last week’s Mailbag. Living about 90 minutes from the track, trust me, I’d love IndyCar return to The Glen! However, Watkins Glen would not be viable in early April as it’s just too risky weatherwise. It was still snowing up here until a couple weeks ago. The cold in this part of the country can linger into May at times — way too cold for IndyCar. Maybe we can crowdfund a dome?

Rob, Rochester, NY

MP: The WGI Biodome would be insane.

Q: Jerry from Houston suggested multiple places for IndyCar to hold a race in between St. Pete and Long Beach. The first race listed was Watkins Glen, which is a suggestion I found rather amusing. Watkins Glen in late March or early April could have great weather with 60 degrees and sunshine, or it could be the opposite with snow/ice/freezing rain. With average daytime high temperatures in the mid to upper 50s, the crowd turnout would be poor at best with most people opting to watch from home. Not to mention the challenge of Firestone making a tire that works at 30 degrees and 70 degrees. Yeah, not going to happen. I look at his other suggestions and they have all been covered by you well enough that I could probably recite the words you used.

Also, who hates on the Firehawk? Firehawk is a great brand ambassador and kids and adults alike love him. Hating on Firehawk is unAmerican and the equivalent of putting mayonnaise and green olives on chocolate chip cookies.


MP: I will vomit the next time I see a chocolate chip cookie.

Also, true to form, I was walking back from pit lane after the Saturday morning practice session down the main funnel that leads to the paddock and saw a father and his young son — he was maybe five or six — standing about 30 feet away. The kid started to go wild while pointing behind me. Then he started yelling, “It’s Firehawk, it’s Firehawk!” while looking up at his dad and trying to get Firehawk’s attention. Firehawk walked over and interacted with him and made his life. Everything Firestone hopes to achieve with Firehawk was encapsulated in that one exchange.

Q: I watched qualifying for Long Beach. NBC said numerous times that this is the second-biggest race after the Indy 500. So why is the race on USA, not NBC? Doesn’t make much sense.

Gary B

MP: I know. It also wasn’t readily available in Canada. Last year’s race on NBC delivered 1,026,000 viewers. This year’s on USA Network? Try 307,000, or minus 719,000 from 2023.

Q: In response to Gary Fowler’s question about Kyle Larson’s comments. I’m pretty sure Kyle was referring to NASCAR’s SMT data. My understanding is that it allows teams and drivers to see every other driver’s data. Not just drivers from the same team but all drivers in the field. That is something that isn’t available in IndyCar, where drivers only get access to their own team’s (and technical partners) driver data.

Maybe it’s something that can be discussed between MP and Kelly Crandall to compare/contrast what data drivers do and don’t have access to between the two series?

Joe, Minneapolis

MP: Thanks, Joe. As I wrote last week, IndyCar teams can see select channels from all cars, and live, so no, it is incorrect to say such a thing isn’t available in IndyCar.

Sounds like a great post-season story to assemble.

Q: Seeing Alex Zanardi’s name mentioned in the Mailbag makes me wonder about his status. I’ve said prayers for the man for many years. There hasn’t been any substantive reporting on his condition for a few years. Have you heard anything on how he is doing, and if some recovery is expected or even possible from his handbike crash? What an inspiration his life has been.

Bob P., Downers Grove, IL

MP: I have not, and to be honest, I don’t want to pry. His wife Daniella has been handling the sharing of info, and she hasn’t posted anything for a good while.

Forza Alex. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Q: I’m curious. What with Little Dave missing Long Beach and maybe he’s ready for Barber, what is in the contracts with drivers with regard to participating in activities that might be hazardous and keep them from honoring their contracts to drive the car? We see what mountain biking can do. They might break a leg skiing. If a parachute doesn’t open… well in that case, coming back won’t happen and the seat goes to someone else. Can you enlighten us on any contract restrictions for drivers, or are they free to do whatever on their own time and live with the consequences?

Jeff, Colorado

MP: He won’t be ready for Barber. I have concerns he won’t be in a car before June. There have been plenty of stipulations over the years that prohibit drivers from riding motorcycles and all kinds of other fun vehicles and adventurous things that could result in injuries. And others do not. You tend to get three dynamics: The younger and powerless drivers who are paid to drive who agree to whatever the team wants. Then there’s the highly-paid veteran who is treated like precious cargo that has a contract that surrounds them in virtual bubble wrap to keep the team from losing money on its big investment. And then you have the highly-paid and highly-vocal veteran who tells their team that they can either delete the restrictions or delete their relationship.

Q: Regarding the discussion pertaining to the ability of Jim Clark as a racer in comparison to the entire field. You would have to be a racing idiot to question the ability of The Great Scot on track in comparison to other drivers. I remember someone asking Parnelli Jones about Jim Clark, and his answer was to go check out his corner speeds at IMS (which apparently J.C. Agajanian Racing had done).

My only complaint with Clark was his constant complaining and bellyaching about how much time he spent at Indianapolis during the month of May. In 1965 I told Mr. Clark that as far as I knew, he could show up to qualify, go back to Europe and return to Indy for May 30 and then leave again.

It is an absolute surprise I did not get fired for running my mouth to a customer, but I was sick up to here with it. As politely as possible, I informed him that as a general rule those who were on track every day available for practice had better results on May 30. It is also a fact that the better racers usually end up with the better race cars every race day of every year.

Glenn Timmis

MP: Great story, Glenn!

Q: I’m curious as to how much similarity exists in design and components between the 2.65 Cosworth Indy engine and the original DFV F1 engine from 1967?

The original was pretty remarkable considering it was drawn up largely by one man in his library at home without the use of computers on a comparatively small budget.

Mark Kidson

MP: All depends on the era and version of the Cosworth in question; there were many 2.65L turbo V8s made by Cosworth. If we’re talking about the original which Parnelli Jones developed, they were the exact DFVs Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing used in its F1 cars and repurposed for Indy car racing through turbocharging. Cosworth eventually got involved and branded them as DFXs.

Q: I was wondering the status of Simon Pagenaud? Will he ever race again? Or has he retired from competition?

J. Scott Chandler

MP: Simon has not retired. He’s controlling the messaging on his status and hasn’t provided one in a few months.

Q: During SQ3 in Shanghai, the majority of teams were struggling on the inters. Would you please explain why none of the teams chose to pit one of their cars halfway through the session for full wets to see if that tire could have produced a faster lap time?


CHRIS MEDLAND: With apologies to Pirelli, the full wet is not a realistic choice at any stage. If you can generally keep the car on track then the intermediate is comfortably quicker than the full wet tire. F1’s basically reached the point where the full wet will clear so much standing water that it makes it impossible to see, so it almost never gets run. It’s only needed to navigate the most treacherous of conditions.

Every now and then that does happen in a qualifying session, but it’s extremely rare and it would need to be absolutely pouring down with plenty of standing water on the track before the wets would come into play.

The intermediate is by far the quicker tire, and there was very little aquaplaning going on in SQ3, but the bigger problem was the tire was cold — many drivers sat at the end of the pit lane before the start of the session wanting to get out straight away — so it wasn’t offering any grip. Once you got some heat into it, you went a lot faster.

If you’re still thinking “but why not just try one lap on the full wet?” there just isn’t enough time. SQ3 is only eight minutes long, so you have to commit to one option or the other. Mercedes managed a quick pit stop for a new set of inters for Lewis Hamilton, but that was with the knowledge of exactly what it needed to change, and even then that risked Hamilton not getting everything out of the session because drivers build up confidence in the conditions and get quicker and quicker with each lap.

Q: Apologies if this has been asked before, but is there a published criteria for what determines if it will be double yellows, VSC, full safety car, or a red flag in F1? There seems to not be a lot of consistency week to week for the calls, and putting out one call and then changing to a different call screws over drivers every time it happens.

Is there an explanation from Sauber about what has changed from last year to this year on the lug nut design? It seems like that part of the car doesn’t have much change year over year

Will, Indy

CM: For the criteria on what’s used, there are a few entries in the Sporting Regulations that roughly outline the requirements.

For a safety car: “It will be used only if Competitors or officials are in immediate physical danger on or near the track but the circumstances are not such as to necessitate suspending the sprint session or the race.”

For a VSC: “It will normally be used when double waved yellow flags are needed on any section of track and Competitors or officials may be in danger, but the circumstances are not such as to warrant use of the safety car itself.”

For a red flag: “If Competitors or officials are placed in immediate physical danger by cars running on the track, and the clerk of the course deems circumstances are such that the track cannot be negotiated safely, even behind the safety car, the sprint session or the race will be suspended.”

The most simple way they’re usually applied is it’s double waved yellows if the incident might clear itself — if a driver sits in their car and is trying to restart it or move it somewhere safe, basically. That’s why it often stays that way for a while until a VSC might be called upon for marshals to intervene.

The incident with Valtteri Bottas was a good example, because he went off with a mechanical issue and might have been able to get the car to safety, then when he got out the marshals were needed so it went to VSC. That then got upgraded to a full safety car because the car was stuck in gear and after attempts to move it by the marshals they needed to bring a recovery vehicle out from the behind the barrier.

And regarding Sauber’s issues, teams do redesign parts regularly, and in this case had done so with the pit equipment and wheel nuts as well as the wheel assembly over the winter. That could be intended for quicker pit stops, but also just for aerodynamic and weight-saving reasons for when the car is running on track.

So it is all part of a major redesign, and something within that (the team has been coy on specific details) is leading to cross-threading of wheel nuts that are then require to be removed again and replaced with a new one.

Probably the only time this year that we’ll see Max stuck behind a Mercedes. Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Q: With what used to be Toro Rosso being a Red Bull junior team and Haas a Ferrari spec team, why are they so bad?

Bernardo, TX

CM: I love how blunt you are with this question, Bernardo! But I’d argue that they’re not bad by any stretch…

Firstly, they still need to design and manufacture the majority of their own cars — the chassis and aerodynamics — but take as many parts as allowed from Red Bull and Ferrari. That does lead to slight compromises on certain things like power unit integration, because you’re receiving that from the company you’re buying from, but it’s the works team that those items are being tailored perfectly for. Tiny differences on items like that add up.

Then look at qualifying in Shanghai. In Q1, the fastest Red Bull was only 0.7s quicker than the fastest RB, and the fastest Ferrari just 0.3s quicker than the fastest Haas. The differences are very small.

The bigger teams with more money and resources then have the ability to take those small performance advantages and extrapolate them over a race distance with tire understanding, strategy, etc., but Haas still scored points.

Then if you start in clean air at the front or in a dogfight in the midfield, your performance is going to be severely impacted accordingly. Look at Lewis Hamilton as an example of that, finishing second in the Sprint when he could have clean air for most of it, but then only ninth (and 2.5s ahead of Hulkenberg) in the GP having to fight through from 18th.

Nico Hulkenberg was 37 seconds behind Charles Leclerc at the flag of a safety car-interrupted race — just like the Long Beach IndyCar race was — and at Long Beach there was a bigger gap between cars from the same team if you look at Scott Dixon and Marcus Armstrong as an example. Setup, driver performance and the race situation in traffic, etc., can play such a big role even with the same machinery.

It’s all relative, but these cars are so complex that it’s amazing how closely-matched they actually are.

Q: I can see why the top teams may want to sign and develop a young driver prospect, but a mid-pack or lower-ranked team should be looking for the best driver possible — a driver that gives them the best chance of scoring points regardless of age. So why hasn’t Josef Newgarden been given a shot? Yeah, I know he’s up there in years, but so are several current F1 drivers. He’s gone head-to-head with ex-F1 drivers (in equal equipment) and outperformed them.

My opinion is that Newgarden gives you a better chance of scoring points then Tsunoda, Ricciardo, Ocon, Magnussen, Guanyu, Stroll, Hulkenberg, Bottas…

Mark, Lockport, NY

CM: It’s always tough to know for sure, but the uncertainty is more about preparation now. F1 is so different to IndyCar in terms of the sensitivity around tires, the tracks they race on, the systems, etc., that you’ll have noticed how all drivers that reach F1 have been through the European junior categories that prepare them for it.

Put any of those drivers you list in an IndyCar and on average Newgarden comfortably beats them while they build up experience, but by the same token then they all likely outperform Newgarden in the same F1 car, at least initially. It’s nowhere near as simple as just jumping in without preparation.

We do have some more clear examples with the testing and FP1 sessions that Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou got to do with McLaren as part of that preparation. They did really good jobs, but nothing that had any teams clambering to sign an IndyCar driver to a race seat — not because they don’t have the ability, but because they would take time and investment to get used to the completely different environment. Instead, that investment is made in junior drivers and they have them race in Europe.

In IndyCar, Newgarden’s one of the best there is, and you’re right he’s beaten ex-F1 drivers. But at the time he was trying to stand out in the European junior ladder he struggled and finished his sole GP3 season in 18th place in the drivers’ championship. He was comfortably outperformed by Robert Wickens and Alexander Rossi when teams would have been looking at him for a future F1 ride.

That he then returned to the U.S. helped him build that experience and show what he can do in IndyCar machinery, but it definitely doesn’t guarantee performance in an F1 car. If Josef had a full F1 preparation and testing program and could get to the point that he was performing at the level he does in IndyCar in F1, then yes, he’d be extremely competitive, but that takes a massive commitment on all sides with no guarantee of success.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see more crossover and certainly wish we had IndyCar drivers getting runs in practice sessions to really see for sure — either I’d be proven wrong, or the boring points above would hold true and at least there would be less frustration at F1 teams not picking up someone out of Indy.

None of this is a dig at IndyCar, by the way, as it works both ways. Nico Hulkenberg’s test with Arrow McLaren at Barber a few years ago showed he didn’t fit with the car or team at that point, and it wasn’t something he was willing to commit to trying to adapt to at that stage of his career.

One other point as well that I think Newgarden himself has flagged up, is that when you’re used to winning races and championships in IndyCar, it would be a tough mental switch to then race in a midfield F1 car that never offered a chance of anything better than a few points even if you have the race of your life.

Newgarden has the upper hand on Rossi in this shot from GP3’s visit to Hungary in 2010, although Rossi ultimately finished several spots ahead of his now-IndyCar rival in the championship. This might also have been the weekend when the series finally bowed to Newgarden’s pleas for a new engine after he suspected that there was something wrong with the one he’d been randomly allocated, and he went on to score his only top-10 finishes for the year in the races that followed. Drew Gibson/GP3 Media Service

Q: What went wrong with Bernie Ecclestone in the last few years of his ownership of Formula 1?

Kurt Perleberg

CM: Are you trying to get me in trouble, Kurt?! I think in general it was just that the way Bernie managed the sport — maximum profits for the owners at all times rather than long-term investments and divide and conquer among the teams — started to become outdated.

Don’t forget Bernie’s age, or the fact he didn’t own the sport — CVC Capital Partners did — but he was the one running it. He was still extremely savvy, but when you’re in your late 80s and have done something for so long it can be tough to adapt to the way the world changes quickly enough to appease everyone involved.

As teams started to evolve from a marketing point of view and actually wanted to collaborate on certain aspects, Ecclestone’s ability to control them slipped a little.

Q: When viewing the WEC race from Imola, I thought I saw Adrian Newey talking to Roger Penske before the race. In rewatching the GP later, I did not see Newey on the Red Bull pit box, nor I did not see him after the race in his customary position next to Horner when Max exited his car immediately after the race for the winner congratulations. What gives, and did I miss something?


CM: It could well have been Adrian, because he wasn’t in China. But that’s not unusual — he doesn’t attend every single race, and China was one that a number of people didn’t travel to. There was no upgrade on the Red Bull last weekend, so less need for his presence in that sense.

Adrian was in London on the Friday for a Salon Privé event, as an owner of the Valkyrie that he helped design. His was among the 14 Aston Martin Valkyries that attended, setting a world record gathering of that car.

As a big racing fan, though, it would not be a surprise if he went to Imola for the WEC race, too. He’s been in Italy driving himself recently, and he has a lot of friends in U.S. racing so Roger Penske would certainly be someone he’d know and speak to. I wouldn’t read too much into it though, other than there’s every chance your eyes weren’t deceiving you!

Q: During last Sunday’s Texas NASCAR race, a car spun during the last 10 laps, barely touched the wall, and kept going at speed. NASCAR threw a three-lap yellow. Why? After getting the green with about six laps left, another car spun, kept going and another yellow was thrown causing the race to go into overtime. Why these unnecessary yellows? Total nonsense!

Jerry, Houston, TX

KELLY CRANDALL: NASCAR will tell you that no two incidents are the same and every incident is looked at differently. There are certainly times when it appears the tower is quick on the trigger. As to why those particular cautions were called, I can’t give you an exact reason because I wasn’t in the tower and don’t know their reasoning. But officials were either quick to hit the button because they thought the incident was going to be worse than it was, or they saw debris or something that was warranted to slow the field down.

Q: First, I will say that the weather gods were with NASCAR this past weekend in Talladega. Looking at the forecast on Friday morning, it looked like odds would be more in favor of a Monday race. But whatever nasty weather that was forecasted all weekend appeared to move out quick, as it was blue skies for this past Sunday’s race.

And second, I would assume that the folks at Ford are probably not yet over what could’ve been on Sunday. The Blue Ovals dominated and were up front all day, and were just a couple hundred yards from their first win of the season. Now they must wait yet another week to seek that elusive first win of 2024!

Kevin, Arizona

KC: The forecast didn’t look good all weekend and yet everything was on track as scheduled all three days. It’s why NASCAR doesn’t make decisions early in the week when people look at a weather app and think they know what’s going to happen. As for the last lap, it could not have gone worse for Ford and a fellow media colleague and I said that to each other on pit road. There were three Fords clear of the field coming off Turn 4 and a Toyota won. But it’s been a theme with Ford at the superspeedways — they are dominant and fast but it’s someone else going to victory lane.

Fords were up front at Talladega — but not when it mattered. Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images

Q: I’m planning on going to Talladega for the fall race. I’ve been to the Indy 500 25 times so familiar with parking, places to stay, getting in and out of the track, pit passes, places to sit…

Any suggestions for a first visit to Talladega? Where to stay, where to sit, parking, getting in and out, local bars and restaurants?

Big Possum 

KC: Talladega Superspeedway is a great experience. The crowd and atmosphere are always fun and there is plenty to do in the fan zone. A lot of folks stay in Birmingham during race weekend, but it honestly comes down to how much you are willing to spend. There are plenty of options from Anniston to Oxford to Pell City to Birmingham. And all of those areas have plenty of restaurants — local and chain. One of my favorites is a Mexican restaurant (El Patron in Lincoln) off Route 77. As for seating, Talladega Superspeedway is huge, so my suggestion (having never sat in the grandstands there) would be high up so you can try and see as much as possible. And judging by where most of the crowd sits, I would lean toward the trioval or Turn 1 since the start/finish line is after the pit exit. The parking situation is pretty straightforward because the property is so huge there are plenty of options that use the main entrance.

From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, April 22, 2015

Q: Recently on Australian TV they showed highlights of the 1964 and 1973 Indy 500s. It was interesting to see all the names you often mention in your articles for the first time. My question is, did you get to have any of Mother Unser’s chili?

Mark Scriven, Brisbane, Australia

ROBIN MILLER: Oh yeah. They rushed me to the Hanna infield medical facility with third degree burns.

Story originally appeared on Racer