Friday, December 13, 2002
Jack Arute answers user mail
By Jack Arute
Special to ABC Sports Online
What happened to the other Unser family members in open-wheel racing (i.e. Robby and Johnny)?
K Gaske, Island Lake, Ill.
Jack Arute: I saw both Johnny and Robby during the IRL's West Coast run. In both cases, sponsorship funds were their reason for not having a ride. I would not be surprised to see Johnny make an appearance at Indy, possibly taking a flyer on the last day in a Hemelgarn entry.
When it comes to the IRL, what am I missing? I just can't share your enthusiasm for the series. The technology, the depth of talent, the racing venues ... Despite CART's problems, the IRL just can't compare. Apparently the majority of fans agree. CART is actually getting stronger. If Honda comes back to CART, and Audi comes in, and Chris Pook continues the trend he is on, IRL just cannot make ground. At what point does the IRL stand on its own and not depend on the Indy 500 for recognition?
Brad Van Swol, Milwaukee, Wisc.
Jack Arute: Brad, the IRL will never stop depending upon the Indy 500 for its definition and recognition. That's what the IRL was built around. You can't argue with the on-track product that the IRL is producing. Is it low-tech when compared to CART? I always thought so, but some of the CART regulars who are currently in the IRL (Penske, Ganassi, Mo Nunn) insist that the IRL specs present their own challenges. If you are looking for the ultimate in technology, that is over in Formula One. That doesn't mean that CART's technology is inferior, it is just a different set of variables. You are right about Chris Pook. He has done a great job righting CART's ship and I enjoy their races. What are you missing in the IRL? That's hard for me to answer. I enjoy it because it produces close, exciting oval races.
Why are you such a shill and a hack to Tony George? Why are you such a big fan of low-rent unsafe racing like the IRL?
Alex Ardussi, Bantam, Conn.
Jack Arute: Why are you such a venomous individual? My accusation is just as outrageous (and unfounded) as yours. I enjoy the IRL. I also enjoy CART, NASCAR, USAC and World of Outlaws. Calling the IRL low rent and unsafe is so inaccurate that it is not worth my time to try and respond. I suggest that you go back to a chat room that encourages "flames" instead of sensible dialogue. If you are interested in why I like the IRL, read my answer to Brad.
Is Penske going to change engines for the Indy 500, or is Ilmor going to do something about the lack of horsepower?
Benjamin Jong, Baton Rouge, La.
Jack Arute: Benjamin, seeing how Roger Penske and Tom Kelley are financial partners in the Ilmor venture, I don't think you will see them switching to another engine assembler for Indy. They both will be switching to Toyota engines (as I am sure will Ilmor) next season. I have been told that the Chevrolet GenI engines -- used by both Kelley and Penske -- offer more reliability. At least, that's the reason they give. I have also been told that both teams will switch over to the GenII editions of the Chevy at Indy.
What criteria does the IRL use for their race day driver pay?
Gary Taylor, Buckeye Ariz.
Jack Arute: Financial arrangements are made on an individual team-by-team basis. Some drivers take a retainer (as high as seven figures). Some take a retainer and a percentage of the purse monies they earn. Others take only expenses and a small percentage based upon certain finishing positions. Still others race for expenses only. And others pay for their ride.
When are you going to give credit to the pit crews and mechanics? When the driver crashes, he goes to the hotel, while that crew stays up all night at times to get the car ready for the next day. Let's give credit where credit is due. Without their dedication, there would be no car.
Linda Milless, Canal Winchester, Ohio
Jack Arute: Linda, I could not agree more with you. The credit the pit crews get is when they pull off a single nine-second pit stop. We try to spotlight outstanding crews (did you see Phoenix's Indy Racing 2Day?).
There are some people on our production staff (no announcers) that fail to recognize the TV value of crew members. I am taking your e-mail to them!
Why aren't car owners putting America's top short track drivers in their cars?
Mike Gibson, Oswego, N.Y.
Jack Arute: Mike, a lot of those short track drivers are more interested in a Winston Cup ride. It is difficult to make the jump from short tacks -- even if you are a supermodified, modified, midget, sprint or Silver Crown driver -- to Indy Racing League machinery. I think that is why the IRL has started the Infiniti Pro Series. Besides providing a support show at selected venues, it also is a nice bridge from the short tracks to the IRL cars.
Money is also a factor. Joe Gosek certainly showed all of us that an Oswego hero could get the job done at Indy. He just didn't have the $$$ that some foreign drivers can bring to a struggling team.
Is the IRL losing big money, or is the series financially stable?
Mike Jones, Indianapolis
Jack Arute: I have never seen the IRL's books nor would I want to. That's a question that could end up creating as much controversy as Bud Selig's comments and Forbes Magazine's report on Major League Baseball.
How is Davey Hamilton doing in his recovery from last year's wreck at Texas?
Curtis Minatre, Lodi, Calif.
Jack Arute: Curtis, I spoke to Davey recently and he is up on crutches and recovering well. He still has a long way to go. He originally hoped that his progress would be far enough along for him to try Indy this year, but that seems to be a real long shot now. He still wants to return for a full 2003 season.
What determines what a "rookie" is in the IRL?
Richard Lee, Charlestown, Ind.
Jack Arute: The IRL classifies a driver as a rookie if he has not started a maximum number of Indy Car races in his career. That's why guys like Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves were not given "rookie" status this season. I remember when Al Unser Jr. joined the IRL, he tried (with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek) to argue that he should be an I+RL Rookie
Why do pit reporters wear driver's suits?
Bob Crosby, Charlotte N.C.
Jack Arute: That is a rule that both CART and the IRL instituted many years ago. It is for safety purposes. Crew members also are required to wear fire suits. I remember when the rule was first instituted, Roger Penske didn't want to wear one, so he had his pit attire tailored out of nomex. He still does not wear a firesuit and is allowed to do so (as is A.J. Foyt and other owners who remain on the team's timing cart).
What are the IRL teams saying about the 2003 CART chassis and engine specs?
Steve Foster, Menlo Park, Calif.
Jack Arute: Much the same as what they are saying about their '03 chassis and engine specs. They are all trying to figure out what they will need to succeed.
Jack Arute writes a column every Monday for ABC Sports Online.