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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It is/ Chevrolet returns to IndyCar racing

by Gordon Kirby
Last week's announcement that Chevrolet will return to IndyCar racing in 2012 to compete against Honda is the best news American open-wheel racing has enjoyed in years. Chevrolet's return will provide much-needed competition with half the field expected to switch from Honda to Chevrolet for the start of IndyCar's new formula. It's also hoped and believed that Chevrolet will pump marketing and promotion dollars into the series to help expand media coverage and sell tickets.

Chevrolet's 2.4 liter twin turbo, direct injection V6 Indycar engine for 2012 revives the partnership with Ilmor Engineering that produced the Chevy Indy V8, winner of 104 Indy car races from 1987-'93, including six straight Indianapolis 500s from 1988-'93 and six CART driver championships. Ilmor was founded back in 1984 by Roger Penske, Mario Illien and Paul Morgan before Penske sold General Motors on buying a quarter interest in Ilmor that resulted in the successful Chevy Indy V8. Starting in 1994 Mercedes-Benz replaced Chevrolet as Ilmor's Indy engine partner and the Mercedes/Ilmor pairing ran through 2000 until Mercedes-Benz decided to pull out of CART.

In recent years Ilmor's American operation in Michigan has built and maintained Honda's Indy car engines so the company is entirely up to speed on the latest IndyCar technology. As Penske pointed out at last week's announcement, Honda's Indy engines have been amazingly reliable with an almost perfect record of reliability in recent years.

Penske is racing's most successful entrepreneur well beyond even Bernie Ecclestone and Ron Dennis with a tremendously successful, broad-based corporation with interests in an incredibly wide-range of industries and businesses employing more than 40,000 people. Nobody compares, Ecclestone and Dennis included, because their businesses are tied almost exclusively to racing and cars.

The Penske Corporation has interests in everything from GE Capital to producing diesel engines and components around the world to Penske Truck Leasing whose yellow trucks are as familiar across the United States as any brand. Roger is also one of the world's leading car dealers with more than one hundred and forty dealerships around the world selling almost every conceivable brand of car.

© Paul Webb
When Simon Taylor met Penske for his extended 'Lunch with' feature in Motor Sport's August edition, the meeting (it turned out to be 'Breakfast with') happened at Maranello Concessionaires, the UK's Ferrari distributor which Roger owns. That was a surprise for Simon but he also learned during the interview a fact I didn't know that Penske also owns the company that produces the diesel engines that power London's legendary fleet of taxi cabs.

RP's power and influence stretches far and wide and it's long been debated whether it's a good or bad thing. Years ago Penske was driven away from having an active role in CART's board of directors by a cabal of 'little guys' who constantly protested his role. Later, Tony George's fear of RP's power and influence was a big factor in the creation of the IRL. In fact, grumbling about Penske's 'Unfair Advantage' goes back more than forty years through the original Trans-Am and Can-Am series before arriving in Indy car racing.

The fact is Penske's rarified role in the sport is well-established through good business practices and a tremendous record of on-track success. He will continue to be a key player in the sport until he retires--an unimaginable eventuality.

"I have to be honest with you," Randy Bernard remarked at last week's announcement of Chevy's return to IndyCar racing. "I wouldn't be standing up here today with this announcement if it hadn't been for Mr Penske's help with this whole process."

Some people will say that Penske's team will get the best Ilmor/Chevy engines but Tony Cotman emphasized that it's his job to write the rules to quarantee all teams get equal engines and are involved to some degree or another in the development program.

"Any other team who runs a Chevrolet will have exactly the same specification as Penske will have," Cotman declared. "We plan on having a car on track in the middle of next year and we will get into a test program with IndyCar and Ilmor when the teams have decided which engine manufacturer they're going to chose. There will be on track testing and I think it's fair to say that everybody will participate.

"This is about competition and about controlling competition in certain aspects," Cotman added. "It's in Chevy's best interests that they have as many teams as possible participating in the development program. I think that will lead to a far more level playing field in the long run."

Tom Stephens, GM's vice-president Global Product Operations, made the announcement.

"We're proud to once again partner with Ilmor Engineering," Stephens said. "For over two decades they've been one of the world's best racing engine developers. Our partnership with Ilmor will help us quickly push the state of the art and accelerate our advanced propulsion strategy with these technologies and we'll apply the knowledge we gain to our production engines."

© Paul Webb
Stephens emphasized GM's role in developing new small capacity, turbocharged, direct injection engines, pointing to the 1.4 liter turbo four cylinder engine in the new Chevrolet Cruze.

"Chevrolet is already a recognized leader in implementing direct-injected, four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines," Stephens said. "Turbocharging and small displacement engines are areas where we can apply improvement from racing to our high volume passenger cars."

Jim Campbell, Chevrolet's United States vice-president of performance vehicles and motorsports, expanded on Stephens' statement.

"Technology development and transfer to our road cars is a key part of this program," Campbell told me. "There are really three reasons to compete in IndyCar. One, we think there is a distinct fan base for Chevrolet at Indy. The fans are passionate about IndyCar and the relevant technology. We are seeing growth in the 18 to 34 male viewership. It's up forty percent from a year ago and we're seeing momentum in the series. For any series and business it's been a challenging three or four years, but we're seeing some good signs.

"The transfer of technology from the track to the production side is very important," Campbell added. "As we look four or five years down the road the standards we have to hit as far as fuel economy standards and CO2 emissions and greenhouses gases are very stringent. To accomplish that it's going to take a lot of key advanced propulsion technologies."

Campbell said the opportunity to develop a modern, small capacity tubocharged, direct injection engine was essential to GM's decision to return to indy car racing.

"When you look at the IndyCar series," he observed, "the technologies that we're going to run in 2012 are the same that we need to apply to our production vehicles. The key things are smaller displacement, turbocharged and direct injection, which is a key technology. It's all about developing technologies that will allow us to achieve more efficient combustion and reduced friction."

Campbell added that working with ethanol will be useful for improving the efficiency of Chevy's expanding number of ethanol-fueled road cars.

"Running E85 is a good thing because we have that technology in many of our production cars," Campbell said. "We're using a lot of biofuel-capable engines now. Ethanol is certainly one of those and continuing to learn how to be really efficient with ethanol is really important."

© Indianapolis Motor Speedway
During last Friday's announcement Roger Penske said Chevrolet and Team Penske will collaborate to produce a distinctive Chevrolet 'aero kit' for its Indy cars in 2012. Campbell joined Penske in confirming that Chevrolet and Penske will work together to develop a Chevrolet 'aero kit'.

"IndyCar has to set the final rules and it seems like they're well on the way to getting there," Campbell said. "Once they settle on the final rules we'll know exactly what we can and can't do. But if the rules allow we're preparing to be able to create our own aero package. We have a lot of aero capability and CFD capability inside the company and teams like the Penske organization and others have tremendous aero capability. So we're going to put our best thinking together to produce a very competitive aero kit."

Penske said he hoped Chevrolet's announcement will serve as an inducement to other manufacturers.

"Hopefully this will bring in other 'Big Three' manufacturers," Penske commented. "We also need to see that this becomes a worldwide series with competition from around the world. This is the first step. With the new rules and the way they're going to structure the League in the future I think we'll see some other people come in."

Indeed, there were rumors over the weekend that Cosworth will build a 2012 IndyCar engine for Alfa-Romeo.

"While Cosworth cannot provide a comment regarding specific manufacturers," said a Cosworth spokesman. "We are working actively with the IRL to expand the number of engine manufacturers in the sport."

Meanwhile, Chip Ganassi was rumored to be a key man in Chevrolet's IndyCar initiative but Ganassi was absent from last week's announcement. Ganassi said he has been talking to Chevrolet about their plans for 2012 but has yet to make a decision about whether he will depart Honda for Chevy.

"I haven't made any decisions," he said. "We'll be talking about it over the next few weeks. Chevrolet has shown they're ready and committed. Now, I've got to think about it. I've got to look at all the technical aspects and the plusses and minuses and add them up and make a decision. There's no rush."

Ganassi had nothing but good things to say about Chevy's announcement.

"I think it's a great thing for the sport and for the series," he said. "It's a great thing to have competition back in there. In many ways, it's huge."

Chip added that he's happy to see Chevy commit to producing an 'aero kit' to compliment its new engine.

"I think that's great too. Again, it's competition. So it's great to see."

Congratulations to Chevrolet, Ilmor and Roger Penske. We join all of you in hoping that last week's announcement was the first of many steps leading to a thorough rejuvenation of IndyCar racing.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2010 ~ All Rights Reserved

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