Mercedes nose

Mercedes noseMercedes has offered a sneak peak at its 2017 car, set to be launched tomorrow.

"The first thing that stands out when you look at the 2017 cars is the striking delta-shape front wings," Mercedes says in a release. "Increased from a span of 1650mm to 1800mm, these swept-plane front wings, arrow-like in their design, are mandated across all cars this season and are designed to make the cars look quicker visually.

Mercedes2

"Aesthetics aside, however, the aerodynamic interaction between the front wing and the tires is critically important, one of the many things which teams absolutely have to get right.

Mercedes3

Watch the video below to learn more about the impact wider tires and stronger aerodynamics will have on the power unit.

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JuncosThe ideal Indianapolis 500 for Juncos Racing would be to field two cars, preferably one with a veteran and one with a rookie, and then run all day and stay out of trouble.

"We have the capability to run two drivers because we have three cars, but I'm not in the position to announce anything yet, maybe in a couple of weeks," Ricardo Juncos told RACER on Wednesday. "I've been getting a lot of calls and having one driver with experience is obviously better but I feel we will end up with two drivers."

Speaking from his gorgeous new shop just off Main Street in Speedway, Juncos – who purchased KV Racing's cars and equipment a few days ago for his IndyCar debut in May – is flat out trying to hire a crew with IndyCar experience and select drivers while also maintaining his Indy Lights program.

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"A lot of things are going on, and it's not easy but we have some good people in place and we need to hire more," said the 41-year-old native of Argentina. "I'm interviewing people every day. I got to make sure I can put together the best group of individuals to make the best of the situation.

"But everything is happening so fast. Two months ago I didn't know I would be getting ready for the greatest race in the world."

Since joining the Mazda Road to Indy ladder nine years ago, Juncos Racing has scored a pair of Pro Mazda titles with Conor Daly (2010) and Spencer Pigot (2014) and claimed the 2015 Indy Lights crown with Pigot.

Yet the newest owner in the Verizon IndyCar Series knows IMS presents his biggest challenge. A tandem of somebody with Ryan Briscoe's chops teamed with rookie Kyle Kaiser – the latter will run the Lights series for Juncos – would be optimum.

"We have the experience with Indy Lights but it's difficult for us to really, really understand around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," he continued. "It's a unique track that requires experience. Tough course with experienced driver can be a lot of positive for us that we can learn from. They can lead the engineers, they can lead the team as well.

"But sometimes you got to deal with reality, right? You can imagine if this was the optimal, what would be the ideal situation. Sometimes that cannot happen. So at the moment we're still looking. We are obviously trying to make the best decision possible."

Juncos will not operate a Pro Mazda team in 2017 but will have a two-car Lights team and possibly will do a little sports car racing. He's hoping he can run more than the Indy 500, but it's one step at a time for now.

"My goal is to go to the 500, and that's going to be our first experience ever, at least for me, for my own guys here," he said. "For me as a team owner, I have so many questions, but I don't have the answers because I going to find the answers myself. I don't want to listen to any answers. I just want to experience.

"So my expectation is to try not to make mistakes as a team obviously on the tire change and the pit stops. The strategy, if we can finish the race, to be honest, any position, that will be our goal."

Juncos Racing Film from ProRacingGroup on Vimeo.

Mallya ForceIndiaForce India team principal Vijay Mallya believes Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul may have to "eat his words" regarding how competitive Force India will be this season.

During the launch of the new Renault on Tuesday, Abiteboul stated his team's target is to finish fifth in the constructors' championship, believing the manufacturers to have a financial advantage when it comes to car development.

"I think most of the car build budget for Force India will be gone by now just to cope with the new regulations," Abiteboul said, claiming small teams will struggle this season.

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Having been made aware of Abiteboul's comments, Mallya hit back, telling RACER Force India has a development plan in place to keep working throughout the year.

"I don't see that [it will be a struggle]," Mallya said. "Cyril Abiteboul has been quoted as specifically mentioning Force India, so I have responded appropriately to him. Since he cared to mention my team, I have responded to him.

"Having said that, time will tell. He suggested in his comments that we are not going to be developing the car right through the year. Well, he's wrong. We have planned and will develop this car right through the year.

"What does he know about my budget and how I spend it? He may presume a lot of things; good luck to him, but he may have to eat his words."

And Mallya has set Force India's target of at least matching last year's performance of finishing fourth in the constructors' championship, while aiming to break into the top three.

"We had a very slow start last year. Those who asked me a question post-Barcelona were thinking we would be fifth or sixth. When we went to Hungary I think we were just one point behind or ahead of Williams. Nobody in the Formula 1 paddock would have believed that we would ultimately finish the season 29 points ahead of Williams. We did it. So nothing is impossible.

"You have to dream big, you have to set high targets. If we just sit down and accept what is, then nobody is going to be motivated enough to put their best foot forward. We need a fighting spirit, which we have in this team. I've said 'We can't go backwards, we have to finish fourth but we need to have a go at third,' and nobody came back to me and said 'Oh my God, third position means beating the likes of a Mercedes, Red Bull of Ferrari.'

"Everything is possible. Two years ago, didn't Williams beat Ferrari? They did. The bottom line is everything is possible. You need to set your sights high, go for it and see how it goes."

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Jeff Gordon Rolex win LATThe excitement from winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona has yet to wear off for Jeff Gordon. Nearly one month after sharing in the overall victory with Wayne Taylor Racing, the four-time NASCAR series champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner says he's riding a sustained high after capturing IMSA's big season opener.

"It's been overwhelming," Gordon told RACER. "I mean, it's amazing. People that really are friends of mine that don't really follow racing a lot have reached out to me to talk about it. The ones that do follow racing, whether it be social media or my friends that are on a race team or I have known for years, it's still an overwhelming response."

Gordon's win in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R came in his second try with Taylor's team. For a driver with more than 100 NASCAR wins – and an embarrassing number of trophies – his prize for capturing the Rolex 24 from the race's sponsor ranks among the Californian's favorites.

"Of course, everybody wants to see the Rolex watch," Gordon said of his new timepiece. "I went out and got it sized right away as soon as I got back to Charlotte. It was a fun experience walking in with that watch into a Rolex store. Obviously, it gets a lot of attention ..."

Rolex podium Champagne LAT

Returning to Daytona to cover this week's 500-mile NASCAR season opener for FOX gave Gordon the chance to connect with the Florida-based Taylor family for the first time since their Rolex 24 achievement.

"I finally got to speak with Wayne; we had not spoken – he was sick and then I got the flu about a week and half ago, and I was sick, so he and I hadn't spoken since we left the track," he said. "It was so cool reliving some of the moments, and his pride in that experience and what it meant to him and his family and his race team, it was a great conversation that we had."

It's too early to say if Gordon will return to defend his win with WTR, and whether it happens or not, he will cherish what took place in 2017.

"I feel like we have bonded in a whole new way as friends and teammates," he added. "Only the experience of going through the 24 hours, and all the challenges that come along with it, can bring you together in a whole new way like we had. I will always be a big fan of Wayne and the whole team, and look forward to following them for many years to come."

Gordon's next appearance at an IMSA race could come as a surprise. After his co-driver Jordon Taylor arrived at the Rolex 24 as his superfan alter ego "Rodney Sandstorm" wearing Jeff Gordon NASCAR gear from the 1990s, the 45-year-old could turn up in disguise at a WeatherTech SportsCar Championship paddock to get his revenge.

"I love the idea ... there is nothing I would enjoy more than being able to pull it off," Gordon said with a laugh. "Because he was so disappointed that I recognized him at Daytona. It would only make it that much sweeter if I could pull that off against him. He's going to find out that I have friends in a lot of places like makeup departments that I can put a nice disguise together."

mail 16x9Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD

Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

Q: Do you feel that IndyCar has finally hit a plateau under its current ownership in terms of growth and series development? I was a fanatical fan of CART back in the '90s and lost all interest during the years of The Split. I jumped back in at reunification and saw several signs of hope that this series was on its way back. But after several years of missed opportunities and lackadaisical effort by those at the helm, it seems as though IndyCar has settled into its new role in the auto racing world: a niche series.

Content to have IndyCar serve as a support series for the Indy 500, ownership just does not seem to have either the ambition to grow the series into a major player again, or the skills to do so, or both. In a sport whose M.O. has long been one of innovation and progress, I can't recall a more boring, stagnant off-season with so little to get excited about. Many will point to the cars being fairly evenly matched and ostracize any fan that can't accept that as being good enough. But since when were evenly matched cars the lone ingredient that made a series great?

I think barring catching lightning in a bottle in the form of landing a few drivers who resonate with the general American public on a superstar level, or the unexpected financial commitment from multiple companies into the series, IndyCar racing as we know it has peaked. IndyCar right now is the guy that's retirement plan is buying lottery tickets. Except I'm not even sure they're doing that.

The Frustrated Fanatic

RM: I'll answer a little out of order if you don't mind. Yes, IndyCar is a niche series and, except for the Indy 500, just a ripple in the water compared to NASCAR or Formula 1 in terms of audience and sponsorship. And it peaked in the '60s and '70s in terms of worldwide interest, star power and innovation. It peaked in the '90s in terms of attendance, big money and manufacturers when CART had Bernie and the France family concerned. Obviously, it needs more owners, better purses and more avenues of income. Having said that, I think Ricardo Juncos will be followed by Trevor Carlin into IndyCar and hopefully Brian Bilardi, and I think IndyCar understands it needs to help them.

IndyCar is courting a third engine manufacturer, which might ease two of those pressing problems. And evenly matched cars don't necessarily make the series great but it does make the racing damn good. As I've said for a long time, I'm not sure junk engine formulas or opening up the rulebook will bring a landslide of interest but it might be suicidal to change things and hope it works. I do think Jay Frye & Company have a five-year plan and a direction but no delusions of 45 cars at Indy or 30 full-timers in the series. I guess IndyCar is somewhere between breathing on its own and life support but aren't we all?

Q: Dale Coyne made a statement [in a recent RACER article, -Ed.] about the costs of operating an IndyCar team that is similar to your past comments. Can costs actually be reduced any further while also trying to remain a top-level racing series worthy of conducting the Greatest Spectacle in Racing? Seems to me that the focus needs to be (and has been under Miles) on increasing the TV ratings and revenues for both the series and teams. Isn't that really the only way to achieve a healthy series? By the way, how do sports car teams/series make it work? Their value equation appears to be even worse than IndyCar's.

Kirby, Indianapolis, IN

RM: Costs can be reduced to a point (IndyCar is allowing teams to make certain components in 2017 to save money) but television is the game changer. Whether it's fair or not, the Nielsens determine your fate in sponsorship and IndyCar has improved on NBCSN during the past couple years. And it's a pretty large percentage increase but it must be tempered with the fact it's still a tiny number compared to NASCAR. Sports cars have a lot of rich racers that pay the bills and don't really seem to care about a return on their investment.

Q: It's really sad that KV Racing will not be a part of the 2017 grid. What is Jimmy Vasser going to do? It also means that Dale Coyne will be the last car owner from Champ Car. Hopefully, Juncos will be full-time next year with Stefan Wilson being part of the team.

Alistair

RM: I talked to J.V. last week and he's going to miss it but he's got a car dealership and a winery so life won't be boring. And maybe somebody will get smart and hire him to call race strategy at Indy (along with Derrick Walker).

Q: With Kalkhoven's equipment being purchased by Juncos Racing and Carlin looking into ways to enter the IndyCar Series, what in your view, does the future holds for Indy Lights? Reaching certain level of competitivness the all-conquering Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has decided to pull out and concentrate resources on ICS... do you think Carlin and Juncos would take similar paths?

Marcin Bugala, Peterborough, England

RM: I think as long as drivers have budgets Carlin and Juncos will continue to operate in Mazda's Road to Indy but that's a good question to Ricardo at this week's press conference.


lat abbott Iowa 0716 7066Q: With Juncos Racing purchasing two of KV Racing's cars & associated spares, are they also getting the Leaders Circle $$ to help them launch into the series? If not, is Kevin Kalkoven able to sell it to the highest bidder or does it revert back to IndyCar?

Norcal Rob

RM: The Leader's Circle is only for full-timers but I imagine IndyCar will help Juncos for the month of May. And my understanding is that KV's LC money goes back into the kitty.

Q: Looking at Ricardo Juncos placing a footstep is really a nice relief that other teams are stepping up. But it is not easy unless you have the financial capital to run the team. It is a start and I really applaud him. But when it comes with Ricardo, it still reminds me of a driver who never had a chance that never had a chance to race in Formula 1. I would wonder if the two-time World Touring Car champion Jose Maria Lopez could make a jump to IndyCar? Ever since USF1 never placed their car on the grid, Jose's dreams went downhill. Lopez reminds me of former F1 driver and fellow Argentinian Carlos Reutemann. I hope Juncos could play his cards right, and possibly persuade Jose into joining IndyCar. As much as IndyCar needs new teams and drivers and U.S. talent, I believe that IndyCar would roll out the carpet for this champion.

JLS, Chicago, IL

RM: Lopez ran GP2, Formula 3000 and was an F1 test driver for Renault but that was over a decade ago. As you mentioned, he was supposed to be the USF1 team's driver in 2010, got out of that contract and tried for a ride with Campos but it didn't materialize. He signed on with a Formula E team last year but it appears his success in the World Touring Car Championship is perfect for a 33-year-old, so I doubt he's thinking about IndyCar.

Q: To be honest, last year's short oval races were pretty lackluster (apart from RHR spicing it up for two laps on restarts) so I had two questions. Is there a specific reason why the series opted to stay with the short oval/road course package for Phoenix and with Gateway this year? I assume that there is a reason other than faster lap time. As a cheap way to improve the Phoenix, Gateway, and maybe the Iowa shows, would it make sense to offer push-to-pass, maybe as five seconds worth of boost per push, not allowed on consecutive laps?

Justin Lee

RM: IndyCar says it's still sorting through some ideas for 2017 but it fairly limited due to the freeze but promises dramatic changes for 2018. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the test mule for this problem and seemed to think they found a solution to improve the racing.

Q: Took my girlfriend and her young son to the Phoenix PrixView last weekend and I think the kid is hooked. That said, I renewed my 11 tickets for my group after IndyCar said they would be working on the downforce so that people could actually pass without hitting the brick wall that drivers complained about but from what I saw Saturday, if they run what they ran on Saturday, it won't be much different. Do you know if they have any changes planned from what they learned at the test?

Spencer, Gilbert, AZ

RM: The drivers didn't think it was much different than last year and (see answer above yours) IndyCar believes it has a fix for 2018. But the danger is that it's only a three-year deal, so you want to try and put on a much better show this April so they'll want to return. Thanks for your loyalty.

Q: With new bodywork coming on board next year, what are the chances we see a repeat of the 2006 CART season where the teams and manufacturers run out of aero kit pieces? I am sure the teams don't want to buy any more than they have to and Honda and Chevy don't want any inventory left over. Potential part shortage?

Shannon Schmidt, Salt Lake City, UT

RM: Maybe I'm naive but I think since an outside manufacturer is building the kits for everyone and there's enough lead time, there won't be a shortage.


Mlevitt moore leads pruettQ: Can any championship with something as blatantly manipulative as a "double-points finale" really be taken seriously by hard-core fans of motorsport?

Anthony Jenkins

RM: Not sure the hardcore fan embraces any of the gimmicks used in NASCAR, F1 or IndyCar and as much as I detest double points for the finale and points for qualifying at Indianapolis, it's likely not going away. But if IndyCar would move the last race to Gateway or another oval, at least the elements of speed and the unknown are in play whereas Sonoma is usually determined in qualifying and is hardly a made-for-television thriller to decide the title.

Q: OK, time for some math exercises before the season starts. You often say the cost to run a competitive IndyCar team is roughly $5 million per season. If there are 20 teams, that is $100m per season. The TV viewership for IndyCar races (excluding the 500) averages around 500k fans. Divide $100m by 500k fans, and that amounts to $200 per fan per year to support 20 teams to go racing. I can't speak for the other 499,999 fans out there, but I would be willing to cough up $200 each year to propagate the best racing on the planet. I say this jokingly – who needs sponsors? Maybe IndyCar just needs a GoFundMe page.

David, Greensboro, NC

RM: Not sure you can contend for the championship with only $5 million (but Rahal might be the exception) and your idea is admirable but it would have to be a blind fund so certain drivers didn't get all the loot. But I'm kinda surprised no upcoming driver hasn't tried a GFM page – hell it might work.

Q: In the last couple years Roger Penske has hired Simon Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya and Josef Newgarden and I am happy for them. But every time I see a new driver get their chance with Penske I get depressed because its another reminder to me that I feel robbed of not being able to see what Greg Moore (pictured above in 1999) would have done for The Captain. No offense to Simon, Juan or Josef – as good as they are I don't feel like they are as talented as Moore. I thought he was in a league of his own and his last year of Indy Lights was just domination plain and simple.

I watched Moore take the Mercedes engine, which was not as strong as Honda, and blow by the Ganassi boys twice late in races at Rio and Michigan in 1998, which was a thing of beauty. If The Split never happened and Moore would have stayed his entire career in IndyCar with RP I am sure we would have got to see him pull a daring move going into Turn 1 in the last laps to take my breath away just like he did to Zanardi at Rio. If fate wouldn't have been so cruel and the split never happened do you think Greg could have been the first 5-time winner at Indy and would he have got to 50 career wins?

Ryan Mac

RM: Let's rewind a minute. Helio Castroneves took Greg's place (as he was on his way to sign up with Morris Nunn) and he's won three Indy 500s and twice finished second, so I think it's entirely possible that Moore could have been at least a four-timer. He was ferocious on ovals. Fifty wins isn't out of the question either (Dixon has 40, Dario 31 and Helio 29) when you consider Moore would have likely been a lifer with Penske and devoured the IRL before it became CART Lite. But don't discredit JPM – he's one of the finest racers of the past 25 years and certainly one of the most versatile. Pagenaud is no slouch either with a sports car and IndyCar crown on his growing resume and JoNew has just begun to scratch the surface of his considerable abilities.

Q: I find myself really looking forward to the start of the season! These long off seasons are a killer....but we all are in agreement there. My question is if there is any requirement for IndyCar drivers to pass an annual physical of any kind, be it at the start of the season, or perhaps when moving from one team to another? Do owners stipulate that requirement as a condition of employment? Yeah, I know drivers have to be in tip-top shape just to get through most races, let alone a full season...and most have very rigorous workout programs, but is it required?

Also, what about substance testing? Are drivers required to be tested by IndyCar as a condition of participating in the series? Are they subject to random testing? Not sure why any driver would take that chance just from a safety standpoint. Every once in a while we hear of drivers in other series being suspended for such issues, but can't recall any IndyCar drivers being caught up in all of that. Been a fan since the '70s and faithful reader of the mailbag.

Jack, Seattle, WA

RM: Yes IndyCar has a mandatory physical for the drivers every January but the drug testing is random. Appreciate your patronage of IndyCar and the Mailbag.

Q: After some initial skepticism, I'm a fan of the Indy GP – have gone every year. It makes sense logistically, gives some local buzz, and gives Indy 500-only teams to a chance to warm up if they participate. One thing has always bothered me and you're the only one I think can help answer this: why have that horses*** MotoGP infield section in Turn 1 when they could go flat backward around the oval Turn 1? Would seem to me to add a bigger chance to draft up to someone into the first turn of the infield road course. Going backwards around the oval Turn 1 always looked so cool and weird to me.

Paul S, Chicago, IL

RM: From IMS President Doug Boles: "We don't use the entire MotoGP corner (in fact, we removed the 'horse s***' portion of it – it was called 3-4) and we designed T11-T14 alongside feedback from many of the current IndyCar drivers after testing in the fall of 2013. Speeds are still reaching nearly 200mph at T1 and provide for a significant passing zone. And thanks for giving the GP a chance Paul."


lat ellman indy 0529 3652Q: What would be your predicted field of 33 drivers for this year's Indy 500? And how many Indy only entries are in the works or completed as of now?

Ben, Noblesville, IN

RM: Well you've got the 21 full-timers plus Juan Montoya, Oriol Servia, Spencer Pigot, Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves, Townsend Bell, Jay Howard, probably Kyle Kaiser, Pippa Mann and Stefan Wilson and possibly Matt Brabham, Alex Tagliani and Buddy Lazier (or somebody else in his car). Dennis Reinbold, Juncos and Lazier are Indy-only efforts and I count Larry Curry's entry (Chaves) as part of Reinbold.

Q: One thing that puzzles me about IndyCar in particular and racing in general is the reliance upon manufacturers to provide severely restricted, limited-availability, extremely expensive, purpose-built race engines. Wouldn't it be cheaper and easier to just let teams run production-based engines?

The new Hemi, LS, and Coyote engines are impressive pieces. I have no idea what Chevrolet charges for an Indy engine, but I bet it is more than they charge for a new Corvette. A Corvette engine with a little tweaking would be massively cheaper and could easily make the power of the current engines. There would never be a shortage of engines, teams' budgets would feel some relief, and fans could relate to the cars more. More manufacturers could participate because the cost of entry would be practically nothing. A company like Ford, who chose NASCAR and GTLM instead of Indy, wouldn't have to choose. Teams wouldn't even need manufacturer deals to race. We all want 50+ cars to show up at Indy, but the current engine rules practically guarantee this will never happen.

John Masden, Georgetown, IN

RM: Marshall Pruett will take this one, John:

"The big difference that would make a road car-based engine a bad idea is the size and weight in almost every case would ruin the handling, aerodynamics, and performance of an Indy car. I get the reason behind the attraction; there are tons of (relatively) low cost engines that could be made available, but an Indy car's high-performance capabilities are made possible by the use of light, narrow engines that fit within a streamline shape. That light, narrow engine placed at the back of the car also delivers exceptional handling balance and stability.

"Think of an Indy car like a cheetah, and then imagine that cheetah with a small refrigerator strapped to its back, and you'd have the effects of a production engine plugged into where the tiny 2.2-liter Chevy and Honda twin-turbo V6s sit. Handling and aerodynamics would be destroyed, and at that point, we're left with Indy Lights as the fastest, most dynamic open-wheel series in America.

"Production-based engines are wonderful solutions for IMSA's Daytona Prototype class where the carbon fiber chassis is twice as wide, much taller, and the minimum weight is about 500 pounds higher than an Indy car. As an engine formula, it just doesn't work in IndyCar."

Q: What are the annual budgets of Chevy and Honda in IndyCar and how does it compare to the OEM budgets in NASCAR or IMSA? I am surprised the people at Ford would say the reason they don't want to be in IndyCar is because the engines are not production based when what they run in NASCAR has no relation at all to any of its production cars. A small turbocharged engine like you have in IndyCar is what Eco-boost is all about. I'm guessing the real reason is money.

Thomas, Richmond, VA

RM: I have no idea and nobody is going to enlighten me but I can say that Honda's would be considerably more since it's the title sponsor of three races (compared to one for GM) and it spends a lot more money promoting and marketing the series on television and in print. Throw in its hospitality program for the media and teams plus what it had to give Ganassi to leave the Bow Tie Brigade and I'm guessing $25 million. But the only thing I've heard out of Ford is that Edsel Ford II said there was "no value" in getting into IndyCar racing.

Q: Now it's being reported that Honda/Penske will be joining the Prototypes next year at IMSA. I'm guessing that since there is more of a direct tie-in that can be made from IMSA to street cars, they can attract at the prototype level Cadillac, Nissan and Mazda. I must say as a gearhead I love it – high-tech racecars that some relation to the street cars and they can look cool (Mazda Prototype). I like the GTLM and GTD classes as well.

IndyCar needs to have some connection that people can make. I think that's a big part of the problem. Either they need to be more relatable or they need to think of the future, scrap everything and create a Formula E-type series if they are going remain pure racecars so they can fuel the imagination of the next generation of fans. The latter fits in with the innovation that was part of IndyCar's past. And I'm saying this as a 57-year-old. As a fan, if the IndyCar personalities were driving the IMSA cars then you'd have the perfect series where cars turn left and right!

David L.

RM: I guess the simple answer is that those manufacturers are already in IMSA and like the format, so why would they spend more money to come to IndyCar? I think people expect Indy cars to be the fastest animal on the planet and not so sure IndyCar fans have ever related to the cars or engines. I like the IndyCar/IMSA weekends – there just needs to be more of them because it's good for both groups.


rahal vidQ: I may be looking too forward into the future, but if Chip Ganassi is struggling for sponsors for Scott Dixon in 2017, what does that mean in 2018? Especially if Tony Kanaan retires and takes his sponsors with him? Would Chip dig into his pockets? Very troubling to see a champion on an iconic team with a white car.

Paul Hirsch, Erie, PA

RM: I don't know that Chip is struggling and I've already heard of one major company that's going to be on Dixon's car for the first couple races. Sure, replacing Target is going to be impossible but I think NTT Data (as much as it loves TK) will stay with Ganassi in 2018 regardless of whether it's with Kanaan or Dixon. And I do think Chip spent his own money to campaign Sage Karam in 2015.

Q: I am looking to go to the Pocono race this year. Don't know anything about the area. I am from Indy, where is best to fly into? Where is good place to stay? Are the hospitality tickets worth the cost?

Jim Hoffman, Seymour, IN

RM: You can fly into Wilkes-Barre Scranton or Philadelphia (probably more of a selection in and out of Philly) and it's an easy drive either way (it's just that Sunday traffic to Philly can be a bitch). You can stay in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Tannersville, Blakeslee or Long Pond. Expedia and Orbitz have reams of rooms nearby the track. As for as tickets, I think they have a good deal for a grandstand seat and a paddock/pit pass but I'd sit up high and close to Turn 1 so you can see seven cars wide funneling into the corner at 220 mph.

Q: Two things stood out to me at the Phoenix test. First, Bourdais and Co. seemed to be up to speed rather quickly. Am I being overly optimistic to think he is going to be one of the fastest Hondas all year? How much of the current Dale Coyne Racing is made up of ex-Newman-Haas staff? I know Craig Hampson, obviously, but with DCR being the other Illinois team, are there any other ex-NHR staff there?

Second, Graham Rahal had made reference to averaging over 5.1 G in the corners, despite the telemetry readout on the video posted by IndyCar (pictured above) showing 3 G's. That seemed way too high to me, and after a little research I found info on the 2001 CART race at Texas. Dr. Steve Olvey indicated that drivers were experiencing loads of over 5.1 G, causing drivers to experience blurred vision etc. This is what led to the cancellation. People started to question the number and IndyCar posted a reply stating that that's what Graham's data showed. I call BS on this. There is no way in hell that a curent spec IndyCar is creating loads at Phoenix in excess of what a proper 2000-era Champ Car was creating at Texas. And, if it was, why isn't everyone getting dizzy and smacking the wall?

Paul in Bradenton, FL

RM: I think Seabass showed at Milwaukee a couple years ago that if the car is right he can dust everyone on an oval and he's always been magic with Hampson so, yes, they can certainly be one of Honda's best teams. Ed Jones also seemed comfortable and Mike Cannon is extremely good with rookies. Todd Phillips was the crew chief for Newman/Haas with Bourdais in Champ Car and they're reunited.

As to your second question. here's an explanation from Jeff Horton, director of engineering and safety for IndyCar:

"The G forces shown on the YouTube video were from the GoPro camera itself, which looked like it had trouble keeping up at the speed Graham was going. This is not an uncommon problem for cheap systems. If you look at the attached data from one of Graham’s runs (19.44 sec lap), while he is loaded up in Turn 1 he is averaging above 5 g’s. In this lap Turn 3 and 4 are slightly lower.

"The biggest difference between this and CART at Texas (I was there working for CART at the time) is that at Phoenix he is not sustaining the G’s – he comes off of the load after four seconds in Turn 2 and after six seconds in Turn 4. I don't remember the exact number from Texas but it was sustained for a much greater amount of time. At Phoenix and also the way we run at Texas now, the inner ear has time to come back to somewhat normal between turns. In the CART days this did not happen because of the sustained G level."

Q: I'd like to pass along a compliment to whoever handles the YouTube account for the IndyCar Series. He/she is doing a great job in posting new content almost daily, which is great for keeping fans engaged during the long off-season.

While watching the 1994 CART Phoenix race recently, I noticed that despite the cool looks of the cars and the great sound they made, they were turning laps in the 160 mph range, which is 30 mph slower than the recent testing times for the current spec car (watching the visor cam footage from Graham Rahal's recent test is almost dizzying). I suppose this is all due to the increased downforce levels of the modern car, since the CART machines were making much higher horsepower.

My question is, since the series is supposedly moving in 2018 to a simpler design with less topside downforce, do you think the speeds and lap times on the road courses/short ovals will suffer much, if any? Do you think it will make the cars more difficult to drive and perhaps result in less competitive racing? Thanks and see you at Rusty's BBQ in Leeds, Alabama in April!

Anthony in Birmingham

RM: The cars and tires are much better at gripping the track than they were in 1994 and it's insanity watching them lap Phoenix at 190 mph plus. I hope the new changes for 2018 make the drivers have to use the brakes or back off going into Turn 1, because that will make the racing better than it was last year or figures to be in April. I don't care if they lose 20 mph if it makes it a better show – that's what the fans want.

Q: I've read several references to Phoenix having "ruined the dogleg," presumably to help NASCAR. What exactly was changed?

Roger, Wichita, KS

RM: The original dogleg was PIR's character. It was flat and such a challenge for so many years that it was very difficult to take flat-out until the '70s. But NASCAR tore it up, put in banking and now it's just another easy corner for a stock car.


fpw hamilton silvercrownQ: Glad to hear the Silver Crown cars will be back race weekend at Phoenix. Just like old times (ABOVE: Davey Hamilton leading in Silver Crown at Phoenix in 2001). How do you feel about the upgrades at the track? I am very happy about upgrading the facility, new stands and such. Not sure what I think about removing the front straight stands and I don't like moving the start/finish line. Looks like another attempt by NASCAR to make their races more exciting.

Joe Mullins

RM: I like USAC coming back but I worry there might not be enough Silver Crown cars to make a decent show. Phoenix was built in 1964 for Indy cars and was one of the great tracks for all open-wheel racing (Copper World). I prefer to remember it as it was with drivers sitting on the pit wall, everyone staying at Kon Tiki and eating at South Mountain. But I'm an old man and I'm sure the new changes will be well received and ISC will do a first-class job of making it fan friendly.

Q: I saw that Mario Andretti is going to be this year's Daytona 500 grand marshal. I bet he could give half the field a run for their money even at his age. I'm curious, do you think if his 1969 Indy winner were dusted off at the museum and run at Daytona for a few laps it could beat the pole time for this year's Daytona 500?

Bary B.

RM: No, as brave and talented as he was, I don't think that car could compete with today's sophisticated stock cars and the improved tires. But Mario did beat NASCAR's track record at Phoenix the other day in Honda's two-seater.

Q: Hypothetical: By 2020, IndyCar requires four-car teams to split into two, two-car teams with two separate engine manufacturers. If by some crazy twist of fate this were to happen, how would it help the sport, and/or how would it hurt the sport? As always, love the Mailbag. It keeps things interesting.

Josh Shimizu, Salt Lake City, UT

RM: Thanks for reading but I can't see IndyCar ever being strong enough to "divide" a four-car team and, besides, it makes absolutely no sense logistically or financially (unless each manufacturer gave millions of dollars). It's going to be tough enough for A.J. to have one car in Houston and one in Indy using the same engine.

Q: My nephew and I finally lived out our dream – we drove an Indy car at the Mario Andretti Racing Experience. We chose the Homestead Miami Speedway oval, and what a rush! I got up to 151 mph, and to my horror my nephew to 156 mph. I will never live it down. A couple of years ago we had the chance to ride in the two-seater, and this time we were on our own. I would recommend it to anyone who has the same dream. I just wanted to mention it here, because a lot of fans don't even know this option exists. Have you experienced it?

Mark Suska, Lexington, OH

RM: I was lucky enough to get to go around Laguna Seca in the Reynard-Honda two-seater with Mario in 1999 and he went quicker than Shigeaki Hattori had qualified. Montoya was sitting on the pit wall and said Mario was going to scare the $%# out of me and I told him he was looney because running Winchester and Salem in a midget was scary but driving around with one of the all-time greats would be nirvana – and it was. Glad you got to do it and I wish all the IndyCar mechanics and engineers could have gone around with Mario in that car just to experience the acceleration, braking, cornering.

lat nelson lb 04174896For all the concerned IndyCar fans that Long Beach could be snapped up by Liberty Media and return to Formula 1, Kevin Kalkhoven has a message: relax.

"We haven't heard from anyone in F1 or negotiated with anyone in F1, but it's really not practical for us," said Kalkhoven, who co-owns the iconic street race's rights along with Gerald Forsythe and has a contract through 2018 with IndyCar.

"The real issue is that, together with the tens of millions of dollars for physical reconstruction of the circuit, paddock and pits, plus the tens of millions of dollars for the sanction fee – I believe COTA pays $25 million and Texas taxpayers subsidize that – the cost of the race would make the entrance fees for the L.A. families prohibitive. Together with the fact that they would never be allowed to be in the paddock and the costs of the Paddock Club would be $2,000-$3,000 per person, this would hardly be a 'thanks' to all the race fans who have made this event so successful.

"Would we talk to Formula 1? Sure. But I think everyone is pretty happy with the IndyCar race and it's not going anywhere."

Preparing for it's 43rd running on April 7-9, Long Beach began as a Formula 5000 race and switched to F1 from 1976-'83 before founder Chris Pook shocked Bernie Ecclestone and replaced F1 with CART Indy cars for 1984.

Attendance sagged during the Champ Car/Indy Racing League war when Kalkhoven and Forsythe got the rights to Long Beach and most of the top teams had defected to the IRL. But after Kalkhoven unified open-wheel racing with Tony George in 2008, the longest-running street race in the world next to Monaco has made a strong comeback in recent years and is easily IndyCar's pride and joy after Indianapolis.

kalkhoven"Last year was the biggest crowd Long Beach has had in some 20 years, 186,000 over three days, and this year's ticket sales are up," said the 73-year-old Australian (pictured) who announced last week that he was shutting down KV Racing after 14 years. "It's a good race but it's a great event and it's become part of IndyCar's heritage."

Still sponsored by Toyota (despite the fact it has no engine competing in the IndyCar race), this year's non-stop weekend of action consists of IMSA sports cars, Pirelli World Challenge, SST races, drifting and vintage Can-Am cars are replacing the celebrity race.

"Wait until people hear those 1,000-horsepower motors coming down Lakeshore," said Kalkhoven, who also owns Cosworth which is positioned to badge an Indy engine if a third manufacturer can be secured.

He's enjoying his winter in Florida but plans to be at Long Beach and possibly Indianapolis.

"I enjoyed most of the last 14 years, met a lot of good people and winning Indy (in 2013 with Tony Kanaan) was the pinnacle. There's a photo of me sitting all alone in the timing stand while everyone was celebrating and I was staring at the scoring tower as if to say: 'We won? We really won?'"

aa2017IMSARoar MarshallPruett Jan6 016ACO sporting director Vincent Beaumesnil has offered a series of opinions ranging from praise to derision for IMSA's new Daytona Prototype international formula during a recent interview on French radio station RMC.

Beaumesnil, along with his counterparts at the FIA World Endurance Championship, established the new 2017 LMP2 rules package that will see the WEC use spec cars and engines without auto manufacturer involvement. Working with the ACO and FIA, IMSA collaborated on a second set of 2017 LMP2 rules to create the manufacturer-friendly DPi formula which launched with considerable success in January at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

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IMSA's DPi plans were met with immediate interest from Cadillac, Mazda, and eventually Nissan formed the third pillar to field multiple entries during DPi's debut season. IMSA's decision to stray from the spec LMP2 formula will also be rewarded by at least one more major auto manufacturer before the end of the year as Honda is preparing a new DPi program in partnership with Team Penske.

Initially embraced by the ACO for participation in its famed 24 Hours of Le Mans event, the inclusion of DPis was ultimately rejected by the French sanctioning body. Only spec LMP2s will be invited to race at the great endurance event, and with a diminished LMP1 grid after the loss of Audi at the end of 2016, the ACO and FIA will have just two manufacturers left – Porsche and Toyota – in its marquee class.

Filtered through the newfound popularity experienced by IMSA's top-tier prototypes, the ACO's disinterest in the DPi formula, and a defensive stance in relation to the decline in LMP1 manufacturer participation, Beaumesnil's answers are more easily understood.

"DPIs are a product which has been conceived [and] designed for the U.S. market," he told RMC. "Could it fit in Le Mans? It is hard for me to answer that question as DPi is so specific to the US market. It is an attractive formula as related costs are moderate: You take an LMP2 chassis and you add an engine which is produced somewhat extensively... it is not technology which is as pushed [or] cutting edge as what we have over here in LMP1."

VincentBeaumesnil LATThe Frenchman (pictured) also believes American sports car fans are less inclined to care about racecar technology.

"Also, in the U.S., I believe [DPi] is more about marketing," he continued. "You put a Cadillac sticker on the windshield ... Also, U.S. Fans are perhaps a little less interested than the Le Mans fans with what is happening underneath the bonnet of the car. The Le Mans OEMs with whom we talk [and] work [with] in Europe have a presence which is justified by bringing in new technology."

Faced with increasingly unsustainable costs for manufacturers to participate in LMP1, Beaumesnil says adopting IMSA's DPi regulations is not the answer to the problem.

"This has an unfortunate impact on costs – something we are looking at and something we are aiming at reducing – but looking on the other end at adopting the extreme solution of the DPI is not really a solution we dream of here."

Caddy 8 tight 1Like now, when Cadillac entered endurance racing in 2000, a street-car engine was at the heart of it all.

A half century after its first and only foray to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Cadillac dared to be different when it returned to northern France in 2000.

While others vying for victory in the world's most famous endurance race built highly specialized race engines to power their exotic prototype sports cars, Cadillac's contender had a twin-turbo version of a street-car powerplant, the 4-liter Northstar V8, at its beating, growling heart.

It's an approach echoed in the new Cadillac DPi-V.R racer, which uses the same 6.2-liter V8 that you'll find in the CTS-V or Escalade at your local dealer.

Then, as now, Cadillac goes racing to build better street cars. Through the two-way transfer of technology between road and track, and the uncompromising environment that competition provides, racing really does improve the breed.

Adding to Cadillac's challenges in 2000, its European-based competition not only had a head start in terms of experience, but in basic logistics, too. Based 4,000 miles and an ocean away, Cadillac called on the services of the French-based DAMS team, as well as U.S.-based Riley & Scott, to ease the steepness of its learning curve. It used the 2000 Rolex 24 at Daytona as a valuable warmup, yet its first Le Mans in 50 years still proved as tough as expected.

levitt cadillac night servi

Above: Debut for the Northstar LMP was the 2000 Rolex 24 at Daytona, one of the toughest races on the calendar. The No. 5 car started a respectable fifth and finished 14th, one place behind its sister car.

Four Northstar LMPs were entered, with the quickest qualifying a solid ninth. But with a best finish of only 19th, it was time to regroup and react to the lessons learned.

On its return to Le Mans in 2001, the updated Cadillac Northstar LMP01 showed its improved pace and reliability. Two cars were entered by DAMS, starting eighth and 12th. Despite losing one car in an accident early in the race, a 15th-place finish for the other hinted at progress. It was followed by a third- and fourth-place finish for the U.S.-based Team Cadillac squad in an American Le Mans Series race at Mosport Park, Ontario, later that season.

For 2002, the relentless pace of development saw an all-new Northstar LMP02 take to the track, with Le Mans once again the primary focus. Qualifying eight and 10th in France, Team Cadillac ran strongly in the race to record a ninth- and 12th-place finish. On its return to the States and ALMS competition, second place on the streets of Miami and a three-four result at the season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta pointed to an exciting 2003 ahead.

But we're left to speculate on what might have been. With GM concentrating its endurance-racing resources on the burgeoning Corvette Racing program, the LMP02 didn't compete in 2003. Instead, American sports car fans were left with incredible memories from an exciting adventure...and a whole lot of "what ifs?"

Wayne Taylor, whose eponymous team is one of two racing the Cadillac DPi-V.R in 2017, was part of the driver lineup for the three seasons the Northstars raced. Even now, he remembers the silver and black machines with affection and awe.

"That 2002 car was probably the best prototype I ever drove," he says. "It was fantastic, and had the program continued, I've no doubt it was a winning car.

"For me as a racer, it was unfinished business, and I always hoped that Cadillac would return to prototypes one day. So to be involved with the DPi-V.R program, with my sons, Jordan and Ricky, both driving for me, and with the exciting emphasis on technology transfer and relevance, it really is a dream come true."

THE LEGEND OF "LE MONSTRE"

Le Monstre

Above: "Le Monstre" sits alongside its relatively unmodified 61 Series Cadillac teammate at the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When wealthy American auto racing enthusiast Briggs Cunningham entered the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans with a pair of Series 61 Cadillacs, a rule allowing non-standard bodywork spawned a car so outrageous the French named it "Le Monstre."

Cunningham kept one Cadillac relatively standard, but tasked a Grumman aircraft engineer with making the other as light and streamlined as possible. The result, honed in a wind tunnel normally used for crop dusters, was a slab-shaped, yet effective body that proved some 13mph faster in a straight line. But despite its slipperiness, poor traction out of corners meant "Le Monstre" was slower around a complete lap than its unmodified teammate.

Despite that, "Le Monstre" finished 11th, one place behind the other Cadillac, becoming a crowd favorite in the process. It could have been higher had Cunningham, who shared the driving with Phil Walters, heeded advice and carried a shovel in the car. He was left to rue his decision after he went off the road into deep sand and was forced to dig himself out by hand, losing more than 30 minutes in the process...

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