(Originally posted by Paul to Planet-IRL.com.)
The Indy Racing League, sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series, announced today that the engine specifications for the 2012 generation IndyCar machine will be open to multiple platforms. Engine manufacturers will be able to develop and race engines with a maximum of six cylinders and a maximum size of 2.4 liters. This openness of engine formula will allow engine manufacturers the option of a V6 or an inline 4 cylinder engine. Engines will be equalized based on air and/or fuel intake.
For the past several years, it has been a well-known fact that Honda has wanted competition in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Though they have done an admirable job making their engines the most reliable in the history of open-wheel racing (including 46,412.5 trouble-free miles at Indianapolis last month), Honda has been open about their desire to compete against other engine manufacturers.
Honda spokesman Dan Layton says this formula is in line with the desires of Honda and will encourage competition. Layton also says the use of turbochargers will allow the flexibility to increase or decrease horsepower as necessary to keep speeds at safe, yet exciting and raceable, levels. “Our current engines produce about 630 horsepower,” says Layton. “That is more than enough for the ovals that we run, but more horsepower will help on the road and street courses. You can see now there is a lack of acceleration coming out of the corners at places like Watkins Glen, and higher horsepower will help with that [issue].” Asked whether the reduced engine capacity will have any effect on the reliability of the engine, Layton says that those issues will be addressed and does not see reliability being reduced.
The V6 engine that Honda will build for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series will be designed, tested, and manufactured by Honda Performance Development (HPD) of Santa Clarita, California. Layton says that he is not sure at this point whether the maintenance contract that HPD currently has with Ilmor Engineering will continue beyond 2011 but did not rule out an extension of that relationship. In regards to branding of the new engines, it is Honda’s desire to compete against other name-plate manufacturers, such as Porsche or Audi, rather than against independent engine builders such as Speedway, Menard, and Brayton.
Layton reports that Honda has not participated in formal discussions with any of the five chassis designers that have submitted proposals to the Indy Racing League’s ICONIC Committee and that, to this point, Honda has been working independently from those designers in development of their engine. Once a finalized engine specification is released, HPD will require approximately 18 months to design, test, and manufacture their engine for competition in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar season. Layton says that estimate is reduced from the 24 months that engine development required during the 1990s and early 2000s and that Honda has insisted to the Indy Racing League for more than a year that June 1, 2010, was a desired date for release of an engine formula.
News of this open engine formula is welcomed by most all fans of the IZOD IndyCar Series and should go a long way toward cultivating many new fans. While the Indianapolis 500, under the sanction of USAC, allowed for various engine configurations to remain competitive until 1997, engines that ran under the remainder of the CART schedule as far back as 1979 were almost exclusively 2.65L turbocharged V8s. The thought of seeing a V6 compete directly against an I4 is a foreign concept to many in the current generation of race fans. My hope is that the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series aggressively uses equivalency formulae so that one engine platform does not become clearly dominant and squeeze the others out of competition. Furthermore, now that the Indy Racing League has acquiesced to the fans’ desires for more competition, it is imperative that competition between engine manufacturers be conducted such that costs do not skyrocket out of control, as has happened with nearly every other engine competition in racing history. Finally, if the Indy Racing League allows chassis competition, which many are beginning to believe is a real possibility, the fascinating combinations of engines and chassis will be a double-edged sword that will need to be closely monitored by the League. While a nice variety of engine and chassis combinations seems desirable, a team on shaky financial footing that hitches their wagon to a non-competitive ride could quickly find sponsors unwilling to support their hopeless endeavor and pulling the plug altogether. While engine and chassis competition is desired, sponsor support is essential to the growth of the IZOD IndyCar Series. Controlling the former in an economical and competitive environment is key to ensuring the latter does not vanish.