RACER: For years, Mario Andretti has been saying that to make oval racing more reflective of driver talent, there needs to be a bigger difference between a car's top speed on the straights and its speed at the apex of a turn. And I cannot find any reason to disagree with him – nor can anyone I've talked to about it. If that state was achieved, that would have the natural consequence of spreading the field out. Even at Indy, it's ridiculous how little difference there's been between terminal speeds on straights and apex speeds. Alex Tagliani's pole position was 227mph. I suspect he was going 230 down the straights and 223 in the turns.
JW: Yeah, I think that might be a big part of it: make us a little slower through the corners because we've got to lift but a little quicker at the end of the straights. That would produce slingshot maneuvers and keep the racing interesting. It would be cool if everyone, no matter what their downforce levels, had to lift at Turns 1 and 3 at Indy. That would be very interesting. But that probably only works with Indy and other flat ovals. Making that happen on banked tracks would be far harder.
RACER: And, in the case of Vegas, there was no way anything you did to the cars could have made it a track where you have to crack the throttle in an IndyCar.
JW: Right. And that's why the drivers are saying, “Let's go to tracks without much banking like Loudon or Milwaukee." On Wikipedia it says Phoenix is 10-12 degrees in Turns 1 and 2 and 8-9 degrees in Turns 3 and 4. But because of the track's shape you would still get separation, and you wouldn't have these three-abreast packs lapping together endlessly.
RACER: On another note, those bumpers behind the rear wheels of the Dallara DW12: Are they going to be any help in preventing cars from touching wheels?
JW: I don't know. I think they look ugly, but if it reduces the likelihood of cars launching, then I'm all for it, and drivers and fans have to accept it as part of the evolution of the sport. We're no longer driving front-engined roadsters with giant fuel tanks hanging out the back, either. So as much as some of us don't want to necessarily see those kinds of changes, it's going to happen. Change is part of racing, part of all sports and part of life.
RACER: Do you think that increasing safety reduces a drivers' feeling of vulnerability and causes him or her to be over-aggressive?
JW: I think it is important that drivers race with discipline and understand the consequences of what they're doing. Were we too complacent about that before Vegas? Possibly. But for sure we aren't now.
RACER: Something that worries me about the new car, given what appears to be a larger surface area underneath, is whether it will be more susceptible to getting airborne and flying farther. We've seen some lurid sports car shunts over the past couple of decades.
JW: Yeah, and that is a question that's been asked a number of times. I asked IndyCar what happens with the new car when we go backward or sideways, and they said they've gone through and improved it and sent me a document that kind of answered the question. Put it this way: IndyCar is definitely aware of our concerns and are working on improving it.
RACER: As far as the tracks are concerned, what changes can be made?
JW: I read somewhere the idea that where there are no grandstands, why not build a high wall like at Motegi in Turns 3 and 4? There are no grandstands there, so where the catch fencing would be, there's a tall wall above the regular white wall, and it carries sponsor banners. First time I saw that, I thought it was a good idea. Where the grandstand ends, a lot of tracks have a big advertising hoarding 20 feet high and 40 feet wide, but they're behind the fencing. Why not bring the banners closer to the track, and build them onto into a high wall and remove the catch fencing there? I'd think a flying car will ricochet off them a lot better than off the catch fences. Obviously, that's more to do with worst-case scenario: the important thing is to keep the car on the ground in the first place.
We need to make sure that any ideas we have work for both IndyCar and NASCAR, because there's no point in bankrupting all the tracks. It's got to make sense but safety has got to be improved. We need to use this time to be smart and make the right choices, not panic and make wrong choices. And simply saying IndyCar shouldn't race on ovals is the wrong choice. A schedule with a diversity of track layouts is what separates the IZOD IndyCar Series from other series. We have to find a way to keep that unique status.