IndyCar Motoring Into Future

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 8 2010

The Indy Racing League is considering big changes to its cars – inside and out. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – By the end of June, Indy Racing League officials will have decided upon the look and sound of the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2012 and beyond.

Led by Randy Bernard, the IRL’s chief executive officer, the nine-member ICONIC (Innovative, Open-Wheel, New, Industry-Relevant, Cost Effective) Advisory Committee has spent the last three days discussing chassis proposals in Indianapolis. The league has received chassis proposals from BAT Engineering, Dallara, DeltaWing Racing Cars, Lola and Swift Engineering that range from evolutionary to radical.

Meanwhile, Bernard announced last week the ICONIC Advisory Committee had approved an unprecedented move from normally aspirated V-8 engines to a more flexible, turbocharged-powered formula beginning in 2012. The turbo platform allows for a maximum of six cylinders with displacement of 2.4 cubic liters. The ethanol-fueled engines will produce between 550 and 700 horsepower, in order to suit the diverse set of tracks on which the IndyCar Series competes.

Honda currently is in its eighth season as an engine partner with IndyCar. This is the fifth consecutive season the manufacturer is supplying its Honda Indy V-8s to every team. Honda joined the series in 2003, competing then against General Motors’ Chevrolet brand and longtime Japanese industry rival Toyota.

In addition to Bernard, ICONIC Advisory Committee members include Brian Barnhart, the IRL’s president of competition and racing; Gil de Ferran, former driver and current team-owner; Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, and industry technical representatives Tony Cotman, Rick Long, Tony Purnell and Neil Ressler. The panel is mediated by retired Air Force Gen. William R. Looney III.

“We feel it’s very important to maintain our position as the fastest and most versatile racing car in the world,” Bernard said Saturday during a news conference at TMS, site of the Firestone 550k night race. “We want to pose relevant challenges which the automotive industry faces today.”

Here is an edited version of a news conference, during which Bernard, Barnhart, Cotman, de Ferran, Gossage and Looney discussed the proposed engine package.

Question: How did the ICONIC Advisory Committee arrive at the turbo-powered formula?

Barnhart: “We listened to fans, we listened to the participants, and particularly to the owners and the drivers and the manufacturers.  While there was no clear consensus on the direction to reinvent the IndyCar Series itself, there was one overriding clear mandate, and that’s to make the series attractive for manufacturers to enter and bring back the variety to the engine and the chassis for manufacturers participating in the series.

“Several details remain to be determined.  We didn’t want to establish criteria that prematurely eliminated any manufacturers who we felt the IndyCar Series would be a great platform to showcase their automotive technology. We feel developing the rules in conjunction with the automotive manufacturers is a more rational approach.  We feel it’s more inclusive and welcoming rather than creating a rules package that is an obstacle to participation.”

Q.  Gil, maybe Randy, how did this go over with some of the other team owners? Some of them wanted a completely different type of engine regulation.

de FERRAN: “Well, I will tell you across the board on the team owners, I made a point of speaking to a lot of them personally and trying to understand their opinions. The team owner group is a very diverse one itself. It’s interesting that one of the two, I would say two key things that came across, that were common across the board, were that they all desired to some extent a level of participation for different engine manufacturers.  I think that was a key point. And the other key point was the issue of being more cost-effective. So those were the two thoughts that I certainly carried with me into the committee.”

Bernard: “Well, I think when Gil was placed as the representative from the team owners, one of the first things he did, which I was very impressed with, was his extensive questionnaire that he gave to all the team owners. Some of them answered it impeccably well, and there were probably 10 or 15 pages worth of answers to those questions. But I think that Gil has reached out to the team owners. I think the team owners will be very happy when they see the end result.”

Q. Brian and Tony, how closely are you planning to monitor the engines? Provided there are multiple manufacturers, how close do you expect them to stay before you start instituting rules? Is 10 horsepower close enough or do you expect the engines to be exactly equal to keep somebody from getting ahead?

Barnhart: “I think some of that depends on the racetrack you’re on, too. We run places like here at Texas that are more a drag-limited type of racetrack and the horsepower differential is very important around here.  It’s less so at some of the road and street courses that we run at. I don’t know that we have a specific number in mind or a target other than we feel an obligation and a priority to make sure that we maintain a level playing field and the performance parameters are met and maintained.”

Q. Brian, you said there were some things about the rules you’ve not decided yet. What about like cost, lease-to-own? Where are you with a couple of those things? Independent builders?

Barnhart: “We’re going to probably stay in the same area that we are now and the engines will continue to be leased. The biggest reason for that, certainly anticipating manufacturer competition, is the protection of intellectual property. The priority has been mentioned sitting up here, there is a focus from the owners to reduce the cost of participation. I think it’s going to be a mandate by us when manufacturers sign-on that there will be a significant reduction in those costs to participate. The leasing will continue on it.”

Q. It has been suggested that no manufacturer, other than Honda, could be onboard before 2012. Is that what you say?

Barnhart: “The principles and strategies are written that someone could be. They’ve got three or four remaining months they could still notify for participation by 2012. It’s our intention certainly, now that the strategies and principles have been announced, to continue. The burden is on us to attract manufacturers to the series.  Now that we’ve got the general principles and strategies out there, we’re going to continue to make contact with multiple manufacturers out there.  We’ve had some ongoing dialogue. Certainly there’s been some interest generated by what has been put out publicly right now. It will be a matter of hammering out those details and attracting somebody. Whether or not that can be done by ’12 or not, I don’t know.”

Q. Eddie, as a promoter, the engine package, if there are two other manufacturers that come in and the new chassis, should they decide to allow more than one chassis, is that something as a promoter you can harp on. That the IRL has competition between whomever the manufacturers are? Is that good for what you do?

Gossage: “What we’re hearing from the fans is they like an engine package that opens the door for others to participate. At the same time, you know, they’re very cognizant that Honda has made a commitment to the Indy Racing League and that they appreciate that and they’re going to continue to support Honda for supporting their favorite sport. But what we know is that if there are more manufacturers, there are more people marketing, advertising their involvement in the sport, that kind of thing. That just pays off dividends across the board.

“I’m sure the Honda guys, they love winning the races, but they want to beat other people and stand on top of the hill and say, ‘We’re king of the hill.’ That gives them something to even do a better job with their marketing support. That, of course, brings more people to television sets, more people through the ticket gates and makes IndyCar racing all the more stronger.”

Q. Brian, if there isn’t another competitor ready for 2012, how will you make it open so somebody can come in for 2013?

Barnhart: “It’s open for the duration of these rules. The rules are set out. We’re applying these rules from 2012 to 2015. There will be notification dates, which are basically the last race of two preceding offseasons before that for the year of competition. So, up until Homestead-Miami of this year, any manufacturer would have the ability to notify to participate in 2012, up and through the last race of next year would be their deadline for participation in 2013. It carries on that way throughout the duration of the term.”

Q. Eddie, this past year there seems to be a lot of change in the IndyCar Series, kind of stepping it up with the Advisory Committee. Talk a little bit about how you feel _ the sense of direction the series is going in now.

Gossage: “I think Gil was talking about this a little earlier. The word I would use is ‘inclusiveness’ to have a voice. At the end of the day, the Indy Racing League can choose to listen or not listen to this committee’s recommendation.  That’s certainly their role and function, is to administer this sport fairly and evenly for everybody. But it’s great as a stakeholder to have an opportunity to be able to say your piece and be heard.

“I appreciate that, you know? I can tell you, I mean, to cut through what you said, Randy is the new guy here. I’m looking forward to more and more things that Randy is going to bring to IndyCar racing because he’s slowly _ I don’t mean that in a bad way, Randy _ he’s slowly getting his feet wetter every day and able to bring more to the table. I like what I’ve seen from Randy so far. I look forward to working with him for a long time.”

Q. Brian, if other engine manufacturers come in, I know I’ve talked to a couple of the car guys that are proposing cars, they say, ‘If we supply all the cars, the cost is one price. If there’s more than one, it’s going to cost a little more for each car.’ How will that work if you get two or three other engine manufacturers in instead of supplying as they do now with Honda supplying everybody? Will that raise the cost?

Barnhart: “The price structure is yet to be determined on it. With or without competition, our goal is to significantly reduce the cost of participation to our owners right now. I think we’ll be able to achieve that whether it’s a sole supplier or competitive environment. There will be a significant reduction.”

Q. Brian, you’ve got basically a bulletproof package right now with Honda. Have they committed to this new formula or is this just a clean sheet?

Barnhart: “We’ve certainly had ongoing dialogue with Honda. They’ve been an absolutely tremendous partner for us. We just concluded the fifth consecutive Indianapolis 500 without an engine failure.  That’s unprecedented in any form of motorsports at any level. There’s a lot to be said for what they bring to the table in terms of performance, durability, reliability, what they bring right now in the support of the series, marketing and activation. They’ve made it clear to us over the years they welcome and encourage manufacturer participation and we’re going to try and provide that for them.

“This has had a lot of conversation with them, leaning in this direction. I think they’re onboard with the general principles and strategy, that this is an open and inclusive environment that will hopefully attract the manufacturer as the stated goal.”

Q. Brian and Gil, after you hear these presentations this week, what is your time frame? Don’t these chassis all have to be tested on the track by somebody? Gil, are you going to get in one of these and drive one yourself?  Isn’t there a lot of actual physical testing that will have to be done no matter what you choose? How long is this process?

Barnhart: “Well, maybe some testing more than others depending on which direction you go, which chassis are chosen. That’s why I think Randy from Day One has stated we’ll have a decision by June 30th on the chassis, and for a 2012 implementation that gives him 18 months.”

Q. When and if new manufacturers come into the league, is there a concern maybe the discrepancy between the haves and have-not’s, the more established teams, maybe are greater? If so, how does that get mitigated to promote competition?

de FERRAN: “Well, I think the league, the IndyCar Series, has done a great job over the years of providing a level playing field for all the competitors. I certainly don’t feel disadvantaged, even though we are a very young team relative to all the other teams that have been more dominant during the past several years.

“Personally, I feel right now my job is to do a better job as a team and to try to get my team up front.  But I know that the equipment that is available to me is the same as everyone else’s equipment. I’m OK with that scenario. I think the vision that we have discussed is to continue with this scenario where any team has the availability to the have the good equipment, but obviously for you to become successful you still have to do a good job as a team and you have to have a driver that does a good job as well.”

Q. Randy, did bringing in title sponsor IZOD for the series impact this whole committee process? Having the title sponsor, does that make you want to do something to increase viewership, attendance, et cetera? Does that make that a greater need than before?

Bernard: “I think first and foremost, when IZOD became involved in the sport, I was blown away with their passion and drive, which I’ve said many times, to see where they want to take the sport. I think of the momentum we’ve been able to create.  I think every one of these people up here have a huge weight on their back because they have a huge responsibility. They have to determine what the next car is going to be, if it’s going to be a success or a failure, bottom line. That’s a huge, huge task that these folks are working with right now.

“I’m very proud to have picked these guys because it’s been an unbelievable process. I know we’re a better IndyCar property today with this team than we were three months ago, still just trying to figure out what our plans were.”

Q. Brian, you’re headed towards multiple engines. Do I understand there will be only one chassis? Why not open it up to several manufacturers when you’re opening up the whole program?

Barnhart: “I think we’re in a position we can’t talk about the chassis at this point with the ongoing process with the ICONIC committee coming in the next week.”

Q. General, coming in and leading this group or keeping it organized, how different are the discussions from what you were involved with in the Air Force?  Is this a similar situation? When anybody said something you didn’t like, you could tell them you had four stars, whereas here you might need boxing gloves.

Looney: “To tell you the truth, in the Air Force, you’d be surprised how well four stars don’t work sometimes. There are a lot of similarities. But instead of being at 30,000 feet and determining how we were going to operate this machine, I was down here at ground level.  Instead of going Mach II, I’m going about 220 miles an hour.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 8 2010
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