"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman
The Way It Is/ Revolution rocks The Speedwayby Gordon Kirby
Twelve months ago the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was fully occupied denying rumors that Tony George had been deposed. In sharp contrast the days following this year's Indy 500 saw an announcement of an August 2011 date for a new IndyCar street race in Baltimore followed by the announcement of the long-anticipated new engine formula for 2012. It was also confirmed that the 2012 chassis formula will be determined by June 30th. It's great to see that the feckless torpor of the old regime has been dramatically and excitingly replaced by movement and action.
As everyone knows, IndyCar will return to turbo engines in 2012 with a 2.4 liter turbo V-6 formula which may or may not turn out to be a transition formula to the FIA's 1.5-liter four-cylinder 'Global Racing Engine' which is expected to debut in F1 in 2013. IndyCar made it clear in its announcement that it expects to see 'GRE'-like in-line four cylinder engines competing in the category in the coming years. But it's too soon for any manufacturer to commit to building turbocharged four-cylinder engines for Indy car racing in 2012.
The day before this year's Indy 500 I talked with Mario Illien about his views on the best way forward for IndyCar. Illien was the co-founder with Paul Morgan in 1984 of Ilmor Engineering. Illien and Morgan were Cosworth engineers who convinced Roger Penske to bankroll a new engine company called Ilmor. Based in the UK, Ilmor built winning Indy engines for Chevrolet and then Mercedes-Benz. For many years Ilmor also built Mercedes-Benz's Formula One engines. Today, Ilmor's Plymouth, Michigan-based American division builds and maintains Honda's Indy V8 engines. Seventy-two people work at Ilmor USA.
"I think the concept of downsizing and making a smaller, more efficient engine is good," Illien said. "I regard the V-6 concept as a good way forward. You can downsize it. You can control the power with the turbo and it will make a good installation. It probably can reduce the costs slightly. If the rules are restrictive in certain areas then I think you can control the costs of development."
Illien is a fan of IndyCar's concept of varying power output between 550-700 bhp to suit different tracks by turning the boost up or down. Like many of us, Illien would like to see more power on ovals.
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Illien believes that the added bursts of power from employing energy recovery systems can be very useful. He also thinks intercooling can be used successfully on road courses to add power and reduce the need for costly internal specification changes to cope with the range of power outputs.
"With a turbocharged engine you've got the option to vary the boost within reason," he remarked. "But energy recovery will help you as well in that regard. It depends on how they allow you to use it. You could probably compensate by saying that for ovals there's no intercooling, but for road courses you're allowed to intercool. With intercooling you can increase the boost without changing the engine internals."
IndyCar's CEO Randy Bernard has declared unequivocally that he wants multiple engine and chassis manufacturers competing in the future. Illien is a firm believer in competition but cautions that the more competition the more costs will go up.
"Of course, competition will push the price up every time," Illien said. "That is the other interesting aspect. You need competition. That's what drives the sport forward and pays for the development. But of course, unless it's controlled in the right way, it can get out of hand."
According to Illien the poor worldwide economic climate remains the biggest impediment in attracting new engine manufacturers to IndyCar to build either 2.4 liter V-6s or 1.5 liter 'GRE' four-cylinder engines.
"Most of the auto manufacturers are still struggling commercially and not very many of them are ready to commit to a five-year program," Illien observed. "I think right now the commercial issues are bigger for anyone to decide that's what we want to do. That's where I see the problem is at the moment."
Illien worries that a four-cylinder may not be structurally sound for the heavy accidents common to oval tracks although it's worth nothing that the Offenhauser four-cylinder in naturally-aspirated and then turbocharged forms was a mainstay of Indy car racing for forty years.
"I have some doubts about running a four-cylinder installation on ovals," Illien commented. "My theory is that if you hit the wall with a four cylinder you're going to break the car in two because the lateral stiffness is not great and the torsional stiffness is not that great. That means you've got to have a subframe which is never as stiff as an engine installation and at such high speeds I just don't think it's good. You'll have to make the subframe as big as the engine and I see that as an issue."
But Delta Wing designer Ben Bowlby refutes Illien's contention that a four-cylinder is not strong enough for oval crashes. In the Delta Wing the engine is an unstressed member.
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"How will it handle impact? By being a non-stressed member in a carbon chassis it's cocooned a bit like the driver is in the main monocoque. I think if you were trying to make a structural member with no extra support out of a four-cylinder its layout and the inertia of the engine is not at all suitable. But we wouldn't dream of doing that. So I don't think it's really an issue. I'm not concerned about being able to make a successful non-structural member.
"And of course, you've got to remember that for many years the Offy four-cylinder ran as an unstressed engine in the back of a variety of Eagles, McLarens, Lolas and other cars and won the Indy 500 many times. So a four-cylinder engine itself is a very sound design and would be a very good fit for the Delta Wing."
Bowlby also points out that the Delta Wing can happily accept a 2.4 liter V-6 and many other engine types, not only a 1.5 liter 'GRE' four-cylinder.
"In terms of the packaging requirement, the V-6 would fit the car, no problem," Bowlby remarked. "The whole point about the car is that it can accept an enormously wide range and variety of power trains, all the way from full electric to an electric hybrid to a gas turbine or a lightweight, direct-injection two-stroke. That is part of the concept.
"The question of course, is what the sanctioning body decides the rules actually are. We are ready and willing to work with IndyCar on whatever direction they feel ultimately meets the goals of the teams and sponsors. We've designed a car concept that can achieve the speeds and performance that will be impressive to the spectator. By being extremely efficient the concept resonates with the auto industry trend, not to mention the federal government's trend, toward achieving performance with less energy.
"If indeed the engine is required to deliver 550 bhp on ovals the Delta Wing will go over 300 mph because it's such a hugely efficient machine. In fact, in our simulations with 500 bhp at Mid-Ohio it was doing 228 mph at the end of the backstraight! Of course, that's massively over the top in terms of performance. So presumaby that will be considered too fast.
"We have built a car that will perform more than adequately in the 300 bhp range so it's a bit unnecessary to have that much potential horsepower and it doesn't entirely make logical sense to have such a powerful engine in the Delta Wing. It might make sense in a more traditional car. If we have 700 horsepower on street and road courses that's considerably more power than we have today. In fact, it's very close to Formula One.
"It's all a question of what you want," Bowlby concluded. "We proposed an option that is highly efficient, reduced the engine costs dramatically and produced a new and exciting look to get people talking and get the buzz going."
Meanwhile, Mario Illien is convinced that a variety of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) will become an essential part of both Formula One and Indy car racing. He believes IndyCar should develop a plan to introduce these systems in 2014.
"I think in Formula One it's an absolute must, especially if you're downsizing the engine," Illien observed. "I think it's an absolute must for Formula One. You look at a Formula One car and you see glowing brake discs and that's all energy. There's a lot of energy to recover. The combustion engine is no longer the differentiation between manufacturers. I think the manufacturers can differentiate themselves with the various energy recovery systems. I think that's where the effort has to go into in Formula One."
However, Indy car racing is a different kettle of fish.
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"IndyCar should have the option to bring in these energy recovery systems. Not initially. If you try to do that right from the beginning the workload and the cost will be too much. So let's introduce a recovery system two years after the formula has started. I think it would be a very useful thing to do.
"I think they should keep the rules as far as energy recovery systems as open as they possibly can. They should allow engineers to be innovative rather than try to restrict it to the same system so there would be no progress. You have to keep the window open and pick the areas where you can really recover energy.
"On the ovals it would be a way of overtaking. It would be like having additional boost. I think that would be a very good thing. But it will push the costs up. You've got to keep it simple."
Illien is convinced that the much reduced drag and weight of the Delta Wing design is also the right way to go in contrast to today's antiquated cars.
"I think the future formula should contain some of these fuel-saving areas," Illien said. "They should reduce drag significantly and they should reduce horsepower and the weight of the car. The current cars are dragging far too much weight around. So the Delta Wing has some very good aspects. I think from the drag reduction point of view and fuel economy it makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of good ideas in that car."
Illien also believes it's time for a big change in Indy car racing and that the Delta Wing would provide IndyCar with a very clear identity separate from any other racing category.
"It would be good for IndyCar if they could differentiate themselves from the rest of open-wheel racing. Right now, so many open-wheel categories all look the same. They're all spec car formula and people ask, 'Which one is which?' The Delta Wing would define itself as an Indy car.
"I think it can work and it's different," Illien added. "I like that. I think the time has come to make something different. Why do the same thing again?"
During race weekend at Indianapolis I bumped into Steve Horne the former Tasman Motorsports team owner who ran the Truesports team in the eighties when Bobby Rahal achieved so much success with that team. Before that Horne ran the successful VDS Can-Am team. These days Steve is retired, splitting his time between Columbus, Ohio and his native New Zealand and indulging his passion for flying light 'planes.
Steve usually shows up at Indy and this year he was drafted by old friend John 'Ando' Anderson to help call the strategy for Tony Kanaan's car on raceday. Horne said while he was at the Speedway Roger Penske asked him if he would ever return to the sport.
"I told Roger I had no interest in running what everybody had today or any spec car-type formula," Horne remarked. "I told him if they went for something new and different I might come back.
"The only thing that would bring me back was if they picked the Delta Wing. I've been away from it for the fifteen years and I occasionally come back here to the Speedway for a day or two. And really, it's just the same. It's unchanged. Everybody's running the same stuff year after year. It all looks the same and it is the same."
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"They should just write the rules and say to the car builders, come on in and build your cars to these rules," Horne said.
Of course, the guys who've really stirred things up in recent months are Chip Ganassi and Ben Bowlby and I take my hat off to Bowlby not only for creating the Delta Wing concept but for working his tail off during this year's Indy 500. Bowlby spent many hours for a full week at the Speedway talking to the fans about his car. The full-scale Delta Wing wind tunnel model was rolled out on a daily basis on the Plaza directly behind the Pagoda and Ben, one of his engineers Zack Eakin, plus Dan Partel and other Delta Wing folk were extremely generous with their time in talking to the fans about the car and concept. Bowlby, Partel and Eakin were very encouraged with the enthusiasm they heard from the fans.
"Nobody wants a spec car," Bowlby remarked. "Nobody says a spec car is the right thing. They are fed up. They want to get rid of spec cars. It's got all of the wrong connotations, all the dumbing down, all the memories of the split and everything that's associated with spec racing.
"They want to see the wide auto industry slugging it out with each other at the Speedway. They want to see Ford, Chevy, Honda, Mazda and Mercedes. You name it. They would love to see that. So it was very interesting.
"They also want to see true innovation. They want to see year on year innovation. From what we saw at the Speedway the fans are actually quite good at spotting the different parts on the cars and different engines. They're very knowledgeable people."
Bowlby says most fans were much more attracted to the Delta Wing when they saw the car at the Speedway.
"People found that seeing the car in real life was very different from their expectation of what it was having only seen the photos. They came away saying that it's much cooler than they thought. That doesn't mean they've turned the corner but they do find it much cooler than they thought and they are highly intrigued as to whether it will work or not.
"I will also say that the people who were absolutely dead set against it and ready to voice that opinion didn't stop by because everyone we spoke to said they could see what we were trying to do. Many of them said aspects of what we're doing are brilliant. They had maybe reservations about other aspects but we had a much, much more positive response than I was expecting based on the initial responses we heard and saw on the fan forums.
"They were entertained by hearing about why it will work and our reasons for doing different things. The fans had a great time talking to us. Nobody walked away saying they didn't have time to listen. Everybody that we spoke to kept asking another question and then another question. We were fielding questions all the time."
For my part after closely examining all the contenders I am convinced the Delta Wing is the way to go. It's forward-thinking, unique and, as Mario Illien observes, it would give IndyCar a clear identity. The Delta Wing offers low drag, low weight (a mere 840 pounds), plus greater efficiency in all ways and is designed specifically for the 'GRE', which is coming, not in 2012, but starting for sure in 2013 when it will be adopted by Formula One.
The Delta Wing is also the only car among the contenders for IndyCar's 2012 formula that is designed to be built not as a spec car but by multiple car builders. If selected, Delta Wing will serve as the technical clearing house and approval station for new developments as discussed in previous 'The Way It Is' columns.
I have no doubt that if IndyCar chooses the Delta Wing, two or three of Lola, Dallara, Swift or BAT will decide to build their own versions of the Delta Wing design. These four car builders have been pitching for the job because Indy car racing provides the only major category in which they can build cars and make money. Their only other options are to build cars for any one of the plethora of spec car categories circling the globe and none of these possess the potential money-making capabilities or prestige to help sustain any of these car builders.
Another point is that the Delta Wing has caught the attention of many thousands of young fans around the world. Kids from five to fifteen have seen the Delta Wing on the web and learned from their dads or their own accord that this unique-looking machine is the potential Indy car of the future. In a time when all forms of racing are searching for ways to appeal to young people the Delta Wing has established a connection that should be nurtured and catered to rather than rejected. The Delta Wing's radical look is sure to attract many young people to the sport.
"I think we're in good shape," Bowlby adds. "I think it's coming our way. One of the things Randy Bernard has said he wants is for anybody to be able to clearly pick the Indy car from a line-up of different cars. And there's only one of the contenders that fits that requirement."
On Wednesday I will post part two of this week's column in which I will discuss a question many people have asked--will the Delta Wing work on road courses and in tight corners? This discussion features renowned F1 and Indy car designer John Barnard plus Firestone's racing boss Al Speyer and top tire engineer Dale Harrigle who designed and developed the Delta Wing's tires. Skeptics will be well-served to read Wednesday's follow-up column.
Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2010 ~ All Rights Reserved
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