Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of the RACER authors can be sent firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the large number of questions we receive, we cannot guarantee that every email will be published, but we will respond to as many as we can. Posted questions can be edited for length and clarity. Questions received every Monday after 3:00 PM ET will appear the following week.
Q: The bombshell for me at the end of the Nashville race was when Dixon said he did 45 or 50 laps on the tires and didn’t do any at the last stop. I completely missed it and apparently so did the guys in the NBC booth and their reporters. (Not complaining, there was a lot to keep track of in that chaos and we weren’t focused on Dixon during that stop.) Any info on why he didn’t take the tires? Was there collateral damage from his incident that made it difficult to change the tires?
Tom Hinshaw, Santa Barbara
MARSHALL PRUETT: Well, if I was less of an idiot, Tom, I would have asked Dixie when we talked for about 20 minutes on Friday. He opened the race on a series of new primaries, on laps 22-24 he cautioned to go mandatory laps on the alternates, ran them until lap 26, pitted and replaced them with another series of primaries, and yes, from there, he finished the race on this sets. The only caveat is that with all the cautions from lap 28 to the checkered flag on lap 80, there were only 25 laps of green, so the tires weren’t required to go all 52 laps with maximum attack.
Q: Kevin Lee said during the Nashville telecast that McLaren is trying to become the first non-Big Three team since 2003 or 2004 to win three races in a season. FYI, Newman-Haas and Forsythe Racing did this within the stated time frame. Thanks for the opportunity to correct – I think it’s important to remember some of our great teams of the past.
Bob in Detroit
MP: I hear you Bob, but in CART/Champ Car, Newman/Haas and Forsyth were the Big Three. I would probably look at Ed Carpenter Racing in 2015 when Mike Conway won two and Ed won one, giving ECR three on the season as a non-Big Three entry.
Q: Has any other Penske driver behaved in a public forum like Joseph Newgarden has over the last few weeks on Twitter and in interviews after the race at Nashville? From the “Joseph” tweet to the multiple replies on small accounts after the race, it seems very odd, especially from the Penske driver. It’s usually very corporate and buttoned up.
MP: Well, we had Will Power and the famous double bird scenario after Loudon. We had Helio go nuclear and want to attack Brian Barnhart at Edmonton, but he was replaced by ex-IndyCar safety chief Charles Burns. We got Power in June at Road America, where it took me three tries to get an answer to the DeFrancesco incident that wouldn’t get him suspended, so they’re all from the last decade or so.
I have to admit, I’m a little surprised at how much Josefppphhhppffff confused people with his Ferrucci “Find my name right” tweet and clapback to one person on Twitter who called him “white meat” and his salty response to NBC’s broadcast of the incident with Grozhan. Honestly, they are as low-key as it gets.
On a scale of 0 to 10 “get a call from RP and tell him to chill,” Newgarden is a -10. I’m not here to defend Newgarden, but geez, the guy acted human a couple of times and got beat up for it. It makes no sense to me.
Question: Mario Andretti has been conspicuous by his absence from the races since taking off with a basketball player in a two-seater before the start of the Indy Grand Prix last May. The two-seater, which he usually drove before each race, is not seen or talked about. What happened?
Along with that I also wonder what happened to the cars I always enjoyed seeing at the IMS museum and also what happened to the Hallman house that was by the stands near turn two at IMS? I’ve never read or heard anything about it being torn down, but now the former site of this historic building has a grass lawn on the track. An employee who might know told me that Tony Hallman used this house when he visited the track in his early days there. I know his daughter used it every year to race at private events for her charities.
So, do you have any ideas about these oddities? I would greatly appreciate the enlightenment.
MP: I swear I saw Mario once or twice at the July races, so I don’t know if that’s the case. Without knowing which cars you liked in the museum, it is impossible to answer this question. The person at IMS who will help with the Hallman house is on vacation, so he can be sent back for the next edition.
Q: There are two major controversies in motorsport: Palou-Ganassi-McLaren and Piastre-Alpine-McLaren.
The common thread here is McLaren, or rather Zac Brown. I think this less positive media attention is something the McLaren board would like to avoid. What do you think are the chances that the McLaren board will turn against Zac Brown?
Don Hoppings, Cathedral City, CA
MP: I think the chances are slim. Zach is McLaren’s golden goose. He brought them more sponsors than they had in ten years, so there was almost nothing he could do that would get the board out the door. However, I was wondering what would happen if Zach was no longer CEO of F1. Let’s say a car manufacturer takes a controlling stake in McLaren and installs its leader. Take all the teams like Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, Aston Martin etc that don’t need a rain making CEO and will Zach get good respect for a veteran team manager?
Q: On Nashville’s defense, most of the yellows were called by guys you’d expect:
* Dalton Kellett, who was supposed to be right there with the big boys, dropped about 10 places in two laps and then decided to make it back against the potential race winner for the predicted result.
* Devlin DeFrancesco, it’s no wonder how many people he’s taught this year.
* Jimmie Johnson who has improved but really struggles on road/street courses.
* Kyle Kirkwood, who is at least fast, but ruins almost every race.
Add in that a huge crash could have been indirectly caused by Johnson being out front and collecting everyone, another crash due to Graeme Rahal in a damaged car, and another due to Helio Castroneves, who is largely suspended at the moment, and the Overwhelming most of the problems were due to the guys who usually ran behind, getting stronger while driving on a very tough racetrack.
As for my question: Relatively minor impacts have either broken or severely damaged the gearboxes of three championship contenders. Can you explain what is broken there, how the “emergency mode” can still work, and is there anything that can be done to prevent this with a current or new machine if this happens?
Tim Wu, Madison, WI
MP: We can definitely point to certain characters that are responsible for a lot of contact, but since most or all of them will be back next year and the years after that, I’m not sure if any of the people who caused it are important because the same drivers will be in the mix when we return.
Hitting the rear and sides of the transmission resulted in one of several things: the gear position potentiometer was broken or damaged, and with that, the shift system was missing key information about which gear was selected. We’ve also had a hit or two – Pata O’Ward being a prime example – where the shifter on the left rear of the gearbox was ruined and from there the GCU and air shifter couldn’t shift. Teams often go to great lengths to protect gear housings and drivetrains with shrouds, but heavy impacts break these critical parts.
We have a new gearbox for the 2024 cars and although I could be wrong, I haven’t heard anything to suggest that the location of either has changed.