Exclusive INDYCAR Nation News

Engine longevity vs. competition: Big changes may result

by
Steph Wallcraft
| Jun 22, 2011

 

There was a small bit of information at the end of the press conferences from The Milwaukee Mile on Sunday that was largely overlooked but will be of interest to the gearheads of the INDYCAR Nation.

It turns out that the engine that Dario won with this weekend was the same engine that he ran ragged while driving from 28th to 7th in the second race of the Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway. By natural extension, it was the same engine that he drove to the win for the first of those races.

But this engine goes even further back than that: it's also the one that Dario ran for the full distance and led 41 laps with in this year's Indianapolis 500.

"I should have asked [the team] before I got out," Dario said. "I asked them when I got out of the car. Otherwise, I would have done some steamy burnouts because I won't be using that [engine] again. But it was 1,400 and something miles that has done and just never missed a beat. It's pretty cool."

That performance is a great testament to the reliability of the engines that Honda has now been delivering to the IZOD IndyCar Series as its sole supplier for more than five years. It's something that teams and fans alike often express an appreciation for but that many also have come to expect, possibly even take for granted.

But with manufacturer competition returning the Series in 2012 under new engine specifications, this point also has the potential to raise a great number of questions.

Honda currently provides a naturally aspirated V8 that produces 650 HP and hits a Series-mandated rev limiter at 10,300 RPM while actually being capable of quite a bit more. This shouldn't in any way be taken as a knock on Honda, but those are hardly taxing specifications for a racing engine.

Next season, INDYCARs will carry twin-turbocharged V6s that need to be flexible to be tuned from between 550 to 750 HP depending on the type of track being raced. And, more importantly, they'll be doing it under competition, which means a constant push to find more speed and improved performance.

In the past, this traditionally has meant reduced reliability. With rumors swirling that we may begin to see speeds creep up again as safety allows, particularly at Indianapolis, how often should we expect to see blown engines as manufacturers push their products to their limits? Will fans perceive this as a good thing in that INDYCARs may once again push the limits of technology, or will they be perturbed at the unfamiliar sight of favorite drivers losing races and championships due to external factors beyond their control?

After years of spec racing producing starting grids with ridiculously small differences in speed, will fans understand the greater intervals produced by multiple manufacturers as a good thing or as a decrease in the overall competitiveness of the drivers in the field? What if pack racing on 1.5-mile ovals goes away? Will more passing be greeted with open arms, or will the thrill of the danger of wheel-to-wheel action be missed?

What if one engine clearly dominates and only a select few teams ever have a serious shot at winning? The common complaint in today's Series is that Penske and Ganassi don't have consistent competition. But if, for example, Honda's experience with INDYCAR means that they create an engine that gives the four Ganassi cars and the other Honda teams a distinct advantage, will fans perceive that as being any different from the way things are today?

And will INDYCAR be able to step up to the challenge of maintaining specifications that don't cause the manufacturers to spend themselves out of competitiveness? It's very difficult to strike the right balance between an environment that allows failing manufacturers to catch up and one that allows one company to spend so much that the others no longer see INDYCAR as a good business proposition. It's been years since INDYCAR has needed to be concerned with this -- can the sanctioning body achieve it? And given the many questions above, will fans want it to be achieved once they see the effect it has on the on-track product? Is a return to spec racing an inevitable part of the motorsports cycle, or can competition be maintained?

Now that the centennial running of the Indianapolis 500 is behind us, the attention of the INDYCAR community is about to shift heavily forward. Interesting times are ahead, and decisions are about to be made that will be pivotal for this sport's growth potential going forward. What does the engine competition about to be reintroduced mean for the future of INDYCAR in your eyes? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Steph Wallcraft (@99forever) is co-editor of MoreFrontWing.com (@MoreFrontWing), your source online for blogs, photos, podcasts and more covering the IZOD IndyCar Series and beyond. Steph can be reached at steph@morefrontwing.com.

12 Comments

  1. 1 Stew 05 Nov
    Great cmoomn sense here. Wish I'd thought of that.
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  5. 5 Chyna 24 Oct
    Shoot, who would have tuhgoht that it was that easy?
  6. 6 Shawn Kendall 24 Jun

    I believe the teams will all have their work cut out for themselves in the years to come. 

    With three new engines there will be tuning aspects you will have to deal with.  Finding the correct combination will be only the half of it. With the failure that may come, will be the opportunity to learn from the failure, and design stronger more efficient parts for the next time. Then when you mix in the aero packages... I think you'll find more of a variety to our sport with the additions.  Teams will once again have the capabilities to work on aero aspects of their cars as well as the possibility to tune your engines to better suit the driver needs.

    As far as the fan aspect of things, I personally enjoyed my childhood growing up with names such as Lola, Cosworth, Goodyear, and Firestone.  As far as cost to the smaller teams. . .  well the cost of the cars has dropped considerably so maybe we shouldn't jump to any kind of conclusions quite yet, especially when there based on opinion.

  7. 7 Randy 24 Jun
    Sure would be fun to have 2 or more tire suppliers...
  8. 8 Gray Gibson 23 Jun

    Steve,

    The only time in the last 30 or so years that the winner at Indy has been "laps ahead" at the end of the race, was in 1994 when Al Unser Jr. won at the wheel of the Penske PC-23 with that notorious 1000hp+ Mercedes pushrod engine that bent the engine regs, but somehow managed not to break them. 

    While the bigger, more powerful teams do typically have an advantage no matter what the circumstances, their advantage increases dramatically when they are in a spec series. When everyone has the same stuff, you're right, it's all about preparation, but when everyone has different stuff, it comes down to having the right combination, THEN the preparation. Think back to the old CART days of 2-4 engines, 2-3 chassis, and 2 tire companies. There were multiple winners representing multiple teams every year. Ganassi and Penske dominated after the split (Ganassi from '96 to '99 while Penske struggled terribly with their own chassis and Merc engines, but switched to Reynard-Honda for 2000 and won back-to-back titles), sure, but before that, it was anyone's game. Innovation is what drives interesting racing. Before the split, and eventual resulting spec series that we have now, IndyCar racing was second in the world of motorsports only to F1. The races drew HUGE crowds because the racing was excellent, the cars were wicked fast, and technology was being pushed to it's limit.  

  9. 9 Ken 22 Jun
    I think it is going to be difficult when we have multiple engine manufacturers competing to be better than the next, and race officials will have their work cut out for them creating an even playing field. In the past, there has always been some little tweak that allowed one engine to be better than the next.  Often this leads to new rules or restrictions placed to prevent over achievers from getting too far ahead of the pack.  Enter restrictor plates, or rev limiters... All we can do is wait and see.  History has this nack of repeating itself, but hopefully, the engines will be closely matched and every weekend will have a new winner.  Otherwise 2012 will be dominated by a single engine, and in 2013 every team will scramble over to that manufacturer... Only time will tell.
  10. 10 Steve Jarzombek 22 Jun

    Sorry Ted, but I can't buy your logic on this one...

    Better drivers tend to win more often, even in spec racing, and both Ganassi and Penske have the top talent at the moment, in addition to the ability to fastidiously prepare their cars versus the smaller teams "adequate" prep. If you look at the qualifying speeds and times, gaps are ridiculously small now compared to what they were in "the good old days" when the winner at Indy was often laps ahead of the majority of the field (if the majority were even running by the end of the race.) 

    Minute details in aero prep--very precise fitting of body parts, for instance--that make a "big" difference in the qualification order because they produce a 0.02 sec/lap advantage are often beyond the resources of the smaller teams. On the other hand, 20 years ago that sort of advantage would have been largely irrelevant.

    Veteran drivers with the top teams should have developed superior racecraft over their careers, and cars and engines being equal, should win more often.

  11. 11 Ken 22 Jun
    I think it is going to be difficult when we have multiple engine manufacturers competing to be better than the next, and race officials will have their work cut out for them creating an even playing field. In the past, there has always been some little tweak that allowed one engine to be better than the next.  Often this leads to new rules or restrictions placed to prevent over achievers from getting too far ahead of the pack.  Enter restrictor plates, or rev limiters... All we can do is wait and see.  History has this nack of repeating itself, but hopefully, the engines will be closely matched and every weekend will have a new winner.  Otherwise 2012 will be dominated by a single engine, and in 2013 every team will scramble over to that manufacturer... Only time will tell.
  12. 12 Ted Wolfram 22 Jun

    Innovation always brings people...."spec" racing has failed...the idea that since no engine failed makes for close racing is nonsense. The same two teams have won 90% of the time..so some cars are more "equal" aren;t they? See what happens when you come to a false conclusion based on faulty logi!. If having spec cars and engines truly made things equal..we'd have mutiple winners.

    What made open wheel racing great was seeing something new...even when it failed..think Novi, turbine cars, twin engines, side pod car,....think Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes with Fangio..all failed. Think of Offy versus Ford...think roadsters...dominating until a little rear engined car appeared.....think of 70 entries. My problem with the new rules?   They didn't go far enough. I'd love to see a Delta Wing at Indy next year...Oh, I will at Le Mans!

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