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Stressed Engines Put Stress On IndyCar Drivers

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 8 2012

Scott Dixon needs to make it through today's race in Toronto with his engine in tact. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

This has been a season of high-profile firsts for the IZOD IndyCar Series. Almost a complete rebirthing season in terms of people, places and things. And while some of the newly launched nouns have to be considered success stories, there have been some that have caused rebirthing issues.

One thing that has produced concern – and could become championship-affecting concern as the season builds toward a conclusion – has been engines. And not just because of the controversy that arose from differing turbocharging systems and the way INDYCAR rulemakers have dealt with the  related issues.

IndyCar engines are blowing. And – as the series gets ready to take to the track today for the Honda Indy Toronto event on the 1.75-mile, 11-turn Canadian street circuit (1 p.m. Eastern, ABC) – with alarm-sounding regularity.

And that’s new.

When, by default, Honda became the lone engine supplier for IndyCar in 2006, engine reliability problems all but vanished. It’s 3.5-liter, normally aspirated V-8s were bullet proof. Failures were not just rare, they were virtually non-existent.

But they were decidedly unsexy and dated, so, prior to the current season, the engine landscape was bulldozed.

Both General Motors and Lotus entered the competition. And, the engine formula was revamped as the series switched to 2.2-liter turbocharged V-6 configurations.

The new engines have been at the center of a sizable number of controversies this season; from Lotus’

Dario Franchitti will start from the pole today. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

struggles with finding power to Honda and Chevrolet bickering about rules and rule revisions and rule re-revisions.

And then there have been the reliability problems. Problems which have affected even the top teams. Like the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team of reigning champion and three-time Indianapolis 500-winner Dario Franchitti.

Franchitti, who will start today’s race on the pole, says the engine problems are the result of the power plants’ newness and also, of competition.

“All teams are coming to terms with the new cars and the engine manufacturers are coming to terms with the new specs, too, and I think that adds to the excitement of it,” he said.

“When it was one manufacturer, the engines didn’t have mechanical problems. You didn’t need to think about it. Now that the manufacturer competition is back in, as people push, one of the byproducts of that is sometimes things fail, and that’s something we definitely had before with manufacturer competition. It’s something that I think you’re going to continue to see, and it’s just a by‑product of everybody trying to just get the upper hand I think.”

Franchitti said that even though engines are letting go at a concerning rate, drivers cannot let potential problems affect their driving habits.

“It’s not a case of if you drive it 95 percent, you’re not going to have these failures,” he said. “So I think judging, certainly the way I’ve driven, and from what I’ve seen, everyone is driving in the same old 100 percent way, and I don’t see that changing.”

But there are some teams and drivers out there today that may have to start thinking more about reliability and, prehaps, the way they are treating their engines.

IndyCar has set a limit on how many “fresh” engines a car can use this year:

Pursuant to Rule 15.1.4, each Full-Season Entrant will be provided with no more than five fresh built engines throughout each year covered by an engine service agreement. Using more than five fresh engines in a season will result in a penalty. Engines beyond the fifth fresh engine may be fresh or part-used. Pursuant to Rule 15.6.2, using more than five fresh engines in a season will be considered Unapproved Engine Change-Outs.

This week, INDYCAR released data on the “fresh engine” situation. Several drivers will be using their fifth – that is, last – fresh engines this weekend.

With six races still remaining on the schedule, one or more of those on their final engines will likely start being penalized – which means starting-grid spots. One of those on his final engine is Scott Dixon, Franchitti’s teammate at Ganassi.

Franchitti was asked this week if he thinks the situation could affect the championship.

“You know,” Franchitti, who has one fresh engine left, said, “it very well could. I think certainly Scott, being on his fifth, it’s a worry for him.”

This weekend, push-to-pass has returned. That means, drivers can summon up more power with the push of an in-cockpit button.

Hitting the steering-wheel mounted button will increase boost from the turbos. Increased boost and power means more short bursts of stress on engines. And, more to think about for teams, drivers and engineers.

The return of competition among engine makers has certainly added spice to the IndyCar Series this year. No doubt about that.

Just not totally in the way that series officials, teams and drivers had hoped for.

The staring lineup for today’s Honda Indy Toronto IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.755 mile(s) Streets of Toronto, with starting position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 59.3510 (106.451)

2. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 59.3757 (106.407)

3. (18) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 59.4506 (106.273)

4. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 59.4721 (106.235)

5. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 59.5140 (106.160)

6. (98) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 59.5616 (106.075)

7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 59.4829 (106.215)

8. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 59.5476 (106.100)

9. (27) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 59.5958 (106.014)

10. (77) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 59.6650 (105.891)

11. (15) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 59.8197 (105.617)

12. (38) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 59.8966 (105.482)

13. (14) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 01:00.0718 (105.174)

14. (2) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, 59.9888 (105.320)

15. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 01:00.1557 (105.027)

16. (22) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 01:00.0004 (105.299)

17. (4) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevy, 01:00.4508 (104.515)

18. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 01:00.1207 (105.089)

19. (19) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 01:00.5440 (104.354)

20. (8) Rubens Barrichello, Dallara-Chevy, 01:00.2043 (104.943)

21. (78) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Lotus, 01:00.6709 (104.136)

22. (67) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 01:00.2199 (104.915)

23. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 01:01.0333 (103.517)

24. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 01:00.6145 (104.232)

25. (5) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 01:02.5280 (101.043)

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 8 2012
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