Archive for May 24, 2012

By: Wm. LaDow

Published in the Post-Tribune, a Chicago Sun-Times Media Publication — May 24, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS — Over the course of the last decade, IndyCar had evolved into a single source engine racing series.

It was not by design.

Several driver safety engineering chassis improvements and an effort by series officials to contain engine costs led to what had developed into a “spec” racing platform.  But soon IndyCar fans demanded change and series officials responded with a complete overall of IndyCar’s chassis and the development of a new, 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engine that generates 550-700 horsepower, now being produced by three separate suppliers.

The most talked about change has focused on the engine war that has developed between the new, multiple suppliers. The stakes are so high that we’ve already had a legal opinion settle the ongoing acrimony. Retired Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm was brought in to rule on Chevrolet’s appeal against allowing Honda’s utilization of an upgraded compressor turbocharger cover.

Currently IndyCar is being supplied by Chevrolet (in a partnership with Ilmor Engineering), Honda-HPD (through their Honda Performance Development subsidiary) and Lotus (through their partnership with Judd Engine Development).

The three suppliers all have rich racing histories. Chevrolet has dominated stock car racing for years and Honda supplied racing engines to the full, 33-car Indy 500 field from 2006-2011. For a record six consecutive years the Indianapolis 500 ran without a single engine failure.

Lotus, whose legendary Indy cars over the years were driven to the checkered flag by the likes of Jimmy Clark, has been suffering of late. It started the IndyCar season with a handful of teams, only to see an exodus occur based on its engine’s poor performance, leaving it with only two cars in this year’s race driven by IndyCar regular Simona di Silvestro and F1 Jean Alesi (R), who are several miles per hour off the pace and are unlikely to finish the 500.  The “Black Flag” likely looms for the seriously slower cars.

Chevrolet, with 15 entries — and eight of the first nine spots on the grid — along with Honda’s 16 entries, leaves the last two cars in the field powered by Lotus. Penske Racing & Andretti Autosport will lead the Chevrolet contingent, with Target Chip Ganassi Racing being the cornerstone of the Honda effort.

What has always made the Indianapolis 500 the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” has been its unexpected finishes. Last years race being decided in the final turn of the 500 mile race a classic example.

This year look for the new, powerful Indy engines, relentlessly pounding up against their 12,000 rpm limit, on the brink of failure, as one of the keys to another astonishing Indy 500 finish.

Photo courtesy of Honda Performance Development.