Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for Marshall Pruett or any of RACER’s other writers can be sent to email@example.com. Due to the high volume of inquiries received, we cannot guarantee that every letter will be published, but we will answer as many as possible. Published questions can be edited for style or clarity.
Q: Robin always hated the idea of motorsport going all-electric, and I agree that a lot of the appeal would be lost with quiet cars.
If the consumer car industry eventually goes all-electric, with plans announced not too far into the future, will IndyCar want to get ahead of that curve and skip F1 to embrace electric engines and restore some leadership in innovation, plus be possible survival? Perhaps the transition could be a mix of engines like the good old days like the turbine vs Offys, aspirated vs turbo, etc.
Perhaps Penske is already starting these conversations because he foresees the industrial revolution firsthand.
Roger in Greenwood, IN
MARSHALL PRUETT: Based on every conversation I’ve ever had with IndyCar president Jay Frye on whether the series will go all-electric, the answer is a firm and loud no. However, time will tell. If most of the world’s new cars are electric vehicles in the next decade or two, IndyCar will have to modernize its approach or risk becoming a vintage racing series. But count me among those who need to hear roaring combustion engines.
Q: If every driver in IndyCar had a livery as punchy as Simon’s Australian Gold livery, race attendance would skyrocket.
Janis from Tampa
MP: You make an excellent point, and I’m sorry we didn’t get to see that slick color scheme again. Something I don’t miss? Simon Pagenaud transforms himself into French Elvis…
Q: What about Gabby Chaves in the No. 11 Foyt car for the ovals? No one better at Indy.
Dave, Traverse City, Michigan
MP: Ryan Hunter-Reay might ask you to check his Indy 500 credentials after that last statement, but overall there is plenty of talent to consider if the Foyt team is looking for an oval ace. I’d like to see Gabby back where he belongs.
Q: I have a few questions about the driver lineups for the Daytona Rolex 24. I’m intrigued by the purpose of the fourth drivers that appear in almost all Daytona lineups. Why are teams on four drivers when at Le Mans it’s three? I understand that Daytona is often referred to as the tougher of the 24s due to the longer dark hours and constant traffic, but also unlike Le Mans there are a lot of full course yellows spending much of a driver’s stint on scurrying around behind a safety car so I’m not sure four drivers are really needed due to fatigue reasons. Doesn’t it just add more complexity with seat/pedal position, car setup preferences and also four drivers cycling through practice etc so they are all comfortable? Where’s the benefit?
And what are the usual distribution of driving time between the drivers? Obviously some of these fourth drivers are barely in the car (looking at you Jeff Gordon, McMurray, Larson), but then I remember JPM drove almost half the race in his early Rolex 24 days after F1.
MP: I could turn this the other way and ask why Le Mans is limiting its driver rosters to three instead of four. Taking the approach that Le Mans does things the right way and IMSA doesn’t is the part that’s curious. The moment a second driver is introduced, you have complexity, so a third or fourth really won’t cause unnecessary complications.
The most basic answer here is freshness and readiness. I’d rather have four drivers who have had more time to rest and concentrate than three who are busier and less charged. Hard to say about driving time distributions as it varies by skill level, who gets paid to drive and who pays to drive, whether one driver is better/worse than the others in the dark, etc.
Q: I was just delighted to read your comment about the Cicada IndyCar chassis. I have a huge interest in the “custom era” of Indy racing. I enjoyed your all-too-brief look back at Argo years ago.
Robin indicated that a book was being written similar to “AZ of Formula Raving Cars.” Do you happen to know anything about that? If nothing else, features on the Argo, Theodore, Ligier and other chassis would be great for preserving their history.
P Worth Thompson
MP: An encyclopedic book about Indy cars partying and going to raves would be a great read! I’ve never heard of the book Robin apparently mentioned, but I do have an interest in documenting as many of the one-off and odd cars as I can, either online or in book form.
One of my favorite books on the subject is “Indy’s Wildest Decade” by Alex Gabbard, which is definitely worth reading.
Q: Thanks for last week’s comprehensive response to my question about the Cicada. Since you seem to share my interest in the obscure and the strange, I’d like to have your input on two somewhat related cars from 1971-72.
The Antares-Offy appeared on Indy in 1972. It was used by both the Patrick team and Lindsey Hopkins. Only the latter chose to use this weapon in battle and it was quickly discarded.
Interestingly, this car, designed by Don Gates who had just written the Chaparral 2J, had an arc-like boat nose intended to direct air around the car to the rear wing. That’s remarkable, as modern F1 cars are designed to have the same effect, while Antares contemporaries generally used the body surfaces to create downforce. Oddly enough, given the intent of this design, there were a lot of odd things blocking airflow, including pontoon tanks and a messy front suspension that bordered on steampunk. Then there’s the bizarre radiator intake in the front… I’m quite aware of the history of this car and how it finally got conventional bodywork in 1979 and qualified with Indy.
My question is, what was the designer thinking? What a great aerodynamic idea that was way ahead of its time yet seemingly made no effort to design the rest of the car to make it work. Where was the connection?
Second, I’ve always been interested in the one-off Chaparral GS111. Its history as an F5000 car is well documented in John Zimmerman’s excellent book “Lost In Time” and on the website Oldracingcars.com. My questions have to do with his origin. Gates, the designer of Antares, designed it in 1966 as a Chevy-powered IndyCar for Smokey Yunick to drive. It had a less pronounced version of the boat’s bow nose later used on the Antares. It also had – when it came out in public – side radiators. Very unusual for the 60’s. I have found very little information about this part of the car’s history. I know Gates worked for Chevrolet at the time. Was this a serious plan for GM to take on Indy? How much was GM corporate on board? If so, was this a response to Ford supplying engines to top teams at the time? Finally, do the laps Jim Hall did at Indy in a Chaparral Can Am car have anything to do with this? Why did GM stop the project and how did the car end up in Hall’s shop in Midland Texas?
Steven Meckna, Long Beach, CA
MP: Thanks for the great Cicada question, and I’ve enjoyed the time learning more about a car that has been largely a mystery to me over the years. I also hope I didn’t give the impression that this would happen regularly. I’ll probably do one or two old car research deals in the Mailbag every year, as this isn’t meant to be a place of in-depth reporting every week.
I spoke at length with the owner/driver of the Antares last August and will be pushing that to the fore in the future when there is an abundance of free time.