The RACER Mailbag, June 7

The RACER Mailbag, June 7
The RACER Mailbag, June 7

Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to [email protected]. 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.

ED’s NOTE: Chris Medland was on leave when this week’s Mailbag was in production, so we’ve saved the F1 questions for next week.

Q: Currently, the IndyCar series is a spec series. Using the RLL team which won the 2020 Indy 500 as an example, what is the main differentiating factor that caused the poor qualification? Yes, cars can change slightly. But the core DNA has not, so there should not be an issue for a team like RLL.

Steve

MARSHALL PRUETT: Easiest answer to start is, if the rest of the field were using their 2020 Indy 500 setups and all the ideas/tech developments from 2020, RLL would be in an advantageous position. But since every team works like mad on an annual basis to come up with better ideas to find more speed and more efficiency for their Indy 500 cars, an RLL can make great speedway development choices and maintain their place, or make poor choices and go backwards.

Or, as often happens, a team like RLL can come up with some fantastic speedway R&D ideas while their main rivals come up with even better ideas, and in an instant, RLL goes backwards without having done anything wrong. So, I’m not saying they did nothing wrong in May; that was obvious. But every team’s Indy downturn isn’t necessarily a result of swinging and missing; sometimes, the other teams hit home runs when you’re delivering a double.

Q: I’m a fan of the Rahals, David Letterman, and Mike Lanigan (heck, he was a Champ Car owner), so I hate to pile on, but wondering if there is any more insight into their rapid decline at the Speedway?

I read your story about RLL triggering their recovery plan. Obviously there are myriad factors that impact qualifying speed, such as track temperature, wind speed and direction, tire compounds, but with spec cars, an old chassis and engine formula, and aero kits that are locked in, I’m surprised RLL dropped out of contention so quickly over the past few years.

Trevor Bohay

MP: The team has gone through an engineering change or three in the last year, hired a new technical director whose first oval race experience came this year at Texas, and when compared to a rock-solid engineering structure at a Penske or Ganassi, this is a team in transition. The team was slow at the April Open Test and slow again in May. The lack of progress from the test to the start of practice is what stood out; whatever fixes stood out and were tried clearly did not make much of a difference. Teams get things wrong in every session — from the best team to the worst — so that’s not unique. But what is unique is a team’s ability to recognize where it’s coming up short and craft a plan to fix it for their next outing. Again, that didn’t really happen for RLL, so it tells you there are some greater issues to work out internally.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan is on a mission to rediscover its oval mojo. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

Q: Just for perspective, I am a 21-year-old college student studying Mechanical Engineering at a tech school, so I think I fit into IndyCar’s new target demographic. I haven’t seen much input from the mailbag from people my age (been reading for years now) and although it’s my opinion, I think my opinions can hold value since I am the type of person IndyCar wants to have watching its races. I am an interesting case because I have been following motorsports for probably 10 years now, started out with sports cars and F1 because that’s what was on TV, got frustrated with F1 and started watching IndyCar more regularly a handful of years ago and I’m about to go to my first IndyCar race since they left the Glen, in Toronto with a friend, who is new to the series.

I would say IndyCar is having a tough time marketing itself to younger people because it isn’t investing in the right areas. A lot of my friends have gotten into racing recently because of F1 and DTS. F1 has done a great job marketing itself through social media, whether that be Twitter, Reddit or YouTube through content creators (which IndyCar has very few of). However, while I do think IndyCar needs to invest in those platforms, I feel that a lot of the current new fans of F1 will get bored in a few years when they realize the racing isn’t too exciting. IndyCar needs to capitalize on these people and advertise an exciting product. I think it has that. What it doesn’t have is the “cool factor.”

A lot of my friends have been getting into IMSA recently because while the on-track product isn’t edge-of-your-seat exciting, the cars are freaking cool. It’s so cool to see race versions of sports cars from esteemed brands battling it out on track (a lot of these people were street car enthusiasts before they got into racing) and the prototypes are awesome pieces of machinery. They got into F1 because of the team branding and the clout and personality the drivers have. If IndyCar wants to capitalize on the younger fanbase — which is there — it needs to do two things.

1. Capitalize on the drivers and their personalities through newer media channels. As great as the new show on The CW is, nobody my age watches The CW. The reason Drive To Survive is successful is because it’s on Netflix, which pretty much everyone my age has. Either post the full episodes (and races!) on YouTube like IMSA does (and gets 1m+ views on) or make them available on common streaming platforms like Netflix, HBO Max (or now just MAX), Paramount, etc. That way more younger people can see the excitement and personality the series has.

2. Make the races accessible to attend. I can guarantee you will get a fan for life if you get them to a race. The issue with IndyCar races is they are expensive for people my age. They would rather spend $100 on a football game or other sports game than a race. I have gotten many of my friends hooked on IMSA and sports car racing because they can buy a weekend teen pass for the 6 Hours of the Glen for $20 and have an amazing time. I’m not saying IndyCar should offer $20 tickets (if it wants to, I’m not protesting), but a youth or student discount to races would definitely encourage more younger folk (<25yr) to come fill the stands.

I apologize for the essay, but I feel that this is important insight that the older fanbase is missing out on. (No offense to you guys).

Dan, Rochester, NY

MP: Always great to hear from young fans like yourself, Dan. Please keep writing in.

Q: Who do you predict is driving at MSR in IndyCar next season?

Geoff Branagh

MP: Tom Blomqvist and either Pagenaud or Rosenqvist.


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