IRL Notes: Honda To Stay With IndyCar

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 8 2010

Honda announced it will remain an engine supplier to the IZOD IndyCar Series. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Any engine supplier ramping-up plans for the IZOD IndyCar Series’ next generation of power plants in 2012 will be competing against the power of Honda.

Honda Performance Development became the first manufacturer to commit to the new engine package Saturday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Erik Berkman, HPD president, announced before qualifications for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio that the racing arm of American Honda Motor Co. has extended participation in the open-wheel series beyond expiration of its current supply agreement at the conclusion of the 2011 season.

HPD will continue to provide the Honda Indy V-8 engine to all competitors during the 2011 season, after which a 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 power plant designed by HPD will debut when new engine specifications take effect in 2012.

“Through both robust and trying times, our commitment to open-wheel racing in America has never wavered,” Berkman said. “With today’s announcement, we are pleased to reaffirm that commitment, and extend it deep into the current decade.”

In keeping with the budget-slicing goals of the Indy Racing League’s ICONIC Advisory Committee, the cost of a season-long lease for the 2012 Honda IndyCar engine will be reduced by up to 40 percent. According to Berkman, this follows a number of “significant” cost reductions Honda has implemented since taking on the challenge of supplying the entire field of teams in 2006. HPD has provided engines to the series since 2003.

“With a passionate and energetic new title sponsor in IZOD, dynamic new management at its helm, and plans to significantly reshape its on-track product in the near future, the IZOD IndyCar Series is poised for significant growth,” Berkman said. “We are delighted to take a role in that promising future.”

IndyCar Series officials announced on June 2 that the 2012 engine platform will allow manufacturers to produce engines with a maximum of six cylinders and maximum displacement of 2.4-cubic liters. The ethanol-fueled engines will produce between 550 and 700 horsepower to suit the diverse set of tracks on which the series competes and will be turbocharged to allow for flexibility.

Founded in 1993 and located in Santa Clarita, Calif., HPD is the technical operations center for American Honda’s high-performance racing cars and engines. Domestic and foreign manufacturers have been invited to join Honda in supplying engines for 2012.

“The ICONIC Advisory Committee has researched future engine platforms with manufacturers, teams, drivers and fans, and they felt this strategy best highlights key attributes of the sport – speed, competition and diversity,” said Randy Bernard, IndyCar Series CEO. “We feel this open and all-inclusive platform will make our sport an attractive option to engine manufacturers, while allowing development of a relevant and innovative platform to the current and future automotive industry by highlighting efficiency, performance, durability, quality, environmental responsibility and safety.”

Bernard announced on July 14 that the ICONIC Advisory Committee had selected Dallara Automobili of Parma, Italy – like Honda, a longtime series partner – to supply the series’ new chassis package also set for introduction in 2012. Dallara will manufacture and sell the basic “IndyCar Safety Cell” at $349,000 each. In an effort to break away from the series’ current all-Dallara “spec car” platform, the ICONIC group approved the idea of allowing interested suppliers from the racing, automotive and aerospace industries to manufacture aerodynamic kits to “clothe” the basic tub.

Dallara’s aero kit, set for manufacture in a new facility to be built in Speedway, Ind., will cost $36,000. Kits manufactured by any team, auto manufacturer or aerospace company must be made available to all competitors and not exceed $70,000 apiece.

Wilson to play hurt: Justin Wilson of Dreyer & Reinblold Racing reported suffering a sprained thumb Saturday, the result of contact with the car driven by Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske during qualifying. Briscoe heatedly confronted Wilson after the incident in Turn 5, which prevented both from advancing into the Firestone Fast Six.

“We were making progress in qualifying,” said Wilson, who will start 11th in the 27-car field in his No. 22 Z-Line Designs Dallara/Honda. “We weren’t as quick as we wanted to be, but the last change that we made felt like a good improvement and the times were coming down. Unfortunately, I ended up coming together with Ryan Briscoe in Turn 5. I thought that he was letting me go, because he was on a slow out-lap and I was on my quickest lap of the weekend.

“It was the last lap of qualifying and it was going to be really close to make the Fast Six. I was shocked when Ryan turned in because he didn’t expect me to go on the inside. We touched and brushed into the wall. Unfortunately, I sprained my thumb. I’ve got to ice it down, and hopefully it will be strong enough for (Sunday).”

Briscoe, meanwhile, will start seventh in the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda.

“It’s a bit of a frustrating qualifying result because we know we have a quick car here and I was hoping to fight for the pole,” said Briscoe, who started on pole last season at Mid-Ohio and led the morning practice session. “After our spin, we had to hustle to try and get one more lap to try and make the Fast Six. After I came out of the pits, there was a car that went off in front of me, so I was watching him and being a little cautious. I didn’t expect (Wilson) to be driving so aggressively with the car in the grass and we just got together.”

De Ferran to remain retired: With only two driver retirements on his resume, Gil de Ferran hardly is a threat to unseat NFL quarterback Brett Favre in the comeback department. De Ferran, the 2003 Indianapolis 500 champion while driving for Team Penske, initially retired from the IndyCar Series at the end of that season. One year ago at Mid-Ohio, de Ferran announced his retirement from sports car racing to pursue ownership of an IndyCar Series team.

“Last year at Mid-Ohio seems like a century ago, so much has happened since. I’ve never stopped running,”  said de Ferran, in his first season as managing partner and team president of de Ferran Dragon Racing. “Obviously, we had to finish the (American Le Mans Series) season with Acura and try to pull a deal together during the winter for IndyCar. I ended up coming into this partnership with Jay (Penske) and Steve (Luczo) and I’ve been on a treadmill ever since.

“Part of why I stopped driving is because I wanted to dedicate myself fully to the business of team ownership, and that’s an activity that if you want to do well you have to be dedicated, creative and disciplined. I don’t feel I could accomplish everything I wanted to do on the business side of motorsports while at the same time being a driver.”

De Ferran took on added responsibility this spring when Randy Bernard, IndyCar Series CEO, appointed him as team-owner representative to the seven-member ICONIC Advisory Committee charting the series’ engine/chassis futures. “It’s been a busy year, becoming part of the committee, being involved in such big decisions regarding IndyCar racing,” de Ferran said. “But it’s been really fantastic.”

De Ferran closed his IndyCar career in 2003 with a victory from the pole during the season-ending Chevy 500k at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. De Ferran said he has learned to resist the temptation of returning to the cockpit this season while overseeing the career of fellow-Brazilian Raphael Matos.

“I regard that as a kind of fantasy,” de Ferran said. “I have, of course, great memories of driving racing cars. But I feel that for you to be at the level that it’s actually gratifying to drive a racing car you need to dedicate a lot of time, effort and practice. You can’t do both.”

Tech-it-out: Sunday’s race is scheduled for 85 laps/191.25 miles around the 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio layout, where Honda’s overtake assist option _ or push-to-pass _ will be used for the second time. The ECU system is activated by the driver via a button on the steering wheel and provides an extra 200 RPM (about 10 horsepower) to the Honda Indy V-8. Parameters are updated before each race weekend to meet the circuit layout. At Mid-Ohio, drivers will have 15 uses of 20 seconds duration each, with a 10-second recharge period between each use.

Each entrant began the weekend with six sets (24 tires) of primary Firestone Firehawk tires and three sets (12 tires) of the alternate (red-sidewall) tires. Firestone Racing has prepared a new primary tire specification for Mid-Ohio based upon results from a tire test at the track last September. The updated spec features new compound formulas and a slight tire construction change designed to mimic the grip and durability of last year’s primary Firehawks. The Firestone alternate tires pair the same left-side alternates used at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., and Edmonton City Centre Airport circuit with new right-side alternates. The rain tire is the “softer” rain, the only rain tire in use for the 2010 season.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 8 2010
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