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.
Q: I know this is not a new idea but IndyCar and SuperFormula could look to align car specifications with the support of Honda and Dallara. This would potentially bring Toyota to the IndyCar series and GM to Super Formula. It might attract another engine manufacturer. It could reduce costs in terms of equipment. They would keep their own separate championships and maybe have a collective off-season championship or shoot-out.
This would be a number of years down the road, but feel it would have legs and be an attractive proposition for all concerned.
MARSHALL PRUETT: Thanks, Oliver. To recap what I’ve written when the same ‘just-copy-SuperFormula’ suggestion was made in the last Mailbag, and the one before that: No, it’s a terrible idea.
IndyCar needs to be IndyCar, not a lame copy of somebody else’s series. And it needs to come up with better and more compelling reasons for more manufacturers to join and more teams, drivers, and sponsors to join in the coming years. Copying another formula is the same as giving up, and I’ll push back on any belief that says giving up on having its own identity is what’s best for IndyCar.
Q: I don’t want to be the harbinger of doom for IndyCar, but I want to relate a small bit of info how much IndyCar has slipped from the U.S. sports scene. My wife (a fan of both Jeopardy and IndyCar) mentioned that on today’s Jeopardy show, one of the questions related to “the Borg Warner Trophy is awarded to the winner of this Memorial Day Event.”
No one got it.
To make matters worse, even the commentator on the Jeopardy Fan Club website had to stick in a zinger, copied below from the website:
“The fact that SPORTS TROPHIES $400 was a Triple Stumper (about the Borg-Warner Trophy and the Indianapolis 500) just points to the increasing irrelevance of IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 in the American consciousness. And, no, IndyCar’s recent exclusive partnership with the Russian company Motorsports Games — at the expense of iRacing, to the extreme anger of many in the auto racing community — is not going to help with IndyCar’s future relevance.“
John Becker, Downers Grove, IL
MP: Sure, but it’s been that way for at least 20 years, brother. “NASCAR” has been the average person’s default answer for everything since it overtook CART/IRL/Champ Car many moons ago, and if there’s been a recent change, it’s in seeing more folks in America default to ‘F1’ as their main point of reference for anything related to auto racing. I asked my wife quite some time ago to avoid telling people what I do (unless they ask) because there’s only so many times in life you can say “I work in IndyCar” or “I report on IndyCar” and have the person stare back at me in a confused state like I misspoke, and say, “NASCAR?”
Q: A few observations from a 60-something race fan who lives for IndyCar and the 500 each year, but has watched F1 for years because Jim Clark and Dan Gurney were early heroes.
1. Hooray for Andretti and Cadillac, and as Marshall said in his commentary, to staid GM for taking a chance and joining the big leagues. I hope it works out, but my oh my, the dislike for Americans in F1 seems to remain strong as the reactions to the announcement seems mostly negative from current F1 teams. Obviously the Haas team is a U.S. player, but so far is about as successful as Minardi was.
2. Ford, via Cosworth, ruled F1 for a long time, so one would think F1 would be more open to a U.S. manufacturer being involved, but maybe it’s just the perception of Cadillac being so American. Maybe if GM still had European brands, like Opel of Vauxhall, it could enter using that name to placate the European F1 establishment. But, those brands have sailed!
3. As pointed out in various RACER stories and columns it appears F1, IMSA, and NASCAR, and maybe electric racing, are the dominant players attracting the major car manufacturers to invest in them and support the series. IndyCar is on the outs and unable to garner any attention or traction with the big boys, now even infuriating its iRacing crowd. I thought Penske and crew were going to be able to help, but so far, no.
All that said, I appreciate that Penske bought IMS (and made huge investments) and the series, and I still hope for great things. I love IndyCar racing as it’s close, and I never know who will be fastest at any track or who will win. But please find a series sponsor who will pump money into marketing IndyCar as the exciting, competitive series that it is.
I know others have said similar things, but each week I feel a bit more desperate about IndyCar. Now, I see Andretti and Cadillac (GM) moving on to F1 with no doubt enough money that combined they could buy the IndyCar series and boost it in whatever way they see fit.
My overarching question is, can IndyCar survive without a miracle of some sort?
Mark in Milwaukee
MP: It is surviving and will continue to survive as auto manufacturers and small business owners — the team owners — find value in IndyCar, either from a profit standpoint or a marketing and promotions standpoint.
When CART was a raging success, it had four or five manufacturers involved (and lots of giant corporations), but if we stick to the auto companies, they loved the formula, loved the exposure, and spent zillions on advertising, buying and handing out free tickets, etc. They were the ultimate marketing and PR outlets for CART; they helped make the country aware of the series and were instrumental in creating its explosion in popularity. This is all well-known to older IndyCar fans, so I mention it for the simple point of illustration that with more manufacturers involved, today’s IndyCar series would reap similar benefits.
Look, we’re never going back to the time where tobacco, beer, and big box stores flooded CART and the country with its IndyCar messaging, so if I’m looking at the best way to make IndyCar less of a best-kept-secret-in-racing situation, I’m focusing most of my energies on coming up with a new or revised engine formula ASAP that makes manufacturers want to jump in just like we’re seeing the new formulas do in F1 and IMSA GTP. No miracles needed. Just give undeniable reasons for more manufacturers to join IndyCar.
Q: With F1 looking to introduce its new engine formula in 2026, I think IndyCar can now, after hybridizing the current formula, announce the same engine formula as F1 will be using for 2026, but for use in 2027 or 2028. This could entice new OEMs to consider IndyCar. Honda would have that engine in some form due to its involvement in F1, and GM could have an engine of that kind by 2028. Since it would be the same engine formula, this could entice other F1 manufacturers to participate in IndyCar. This would almost be a no-brainer, but it would need IndyCar to have that vision and announce this as a strategy.
MP: Starting to feel like a broken record here, but no, IndyCar announcing it’s going to copy F1’s (then-former) engine formula isn’t the answer. Maybe I’m losing my mind, but I swear IndyCar is its own sovereign series and has been for 100-plus years, and along the way, sure it’s had crappy formulas (the post WWII ‘junk formula’ is the first to come to mind), and it’s fractured and had two series with different formulas, and gone spec, and done all kinds of things that have ranged from amazing to seriously lame, but other than in the first few years of the Indy 500 where its formula wasn’t full formed as uniquely its own, we’ve been our own thing.
It’s also possible that I take more pride in IndyCar being ours, and of our own making, than others who don’t seem to care about such things. But like the let’s-just-copy-SuperFormula suggestions, if the best IndyCar can do is copy F1’s old engine formula, there’s no need for IndyCar.