At the announcement at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today of the new Chevrolet IndyCar engine, Chevrolet's vice chairman for global product operations, Tom Stephens, and Chris Perry, U.S. vp of Chevrolet marketing (with Roger Penske, LEFT), explained the rationale for General Motors' decision to return to the sport in 2012, and what it aimed to achieve from a technical and marketing standpoint. Roger Penske, whose team was the only one confirmed to be running Chevy engines for 2012 at the announcement, related the view of Ilmor on the partnership.
"Why return to IndyCar? There are several reasons," said Perry. "First, this series opens up a new, distinct fan base for Chevrolet in the motorsports community. These fans are passionate about IndyCar and the technology that drives the sport and these teams. A return provides an important opportunity to expose our product and our technology to this well-educated, highly desirable audience.
"Second, the series is growing in interest and popularity. In the past year, male viewership in the 18 to 34 age demographic has raised 40 percent. At the same time, the growth of sponsorship investments has more than doubled in one year's time. The advantage of motorsports for the auto industry is obvious. It provides some of the highest return on investment on any promotion that we conduct.
"The third reason, we know that the technology learnings we acquire by participating on the track with IndyCar will translate to the vehicles we produce today, and vice versa, creating a strong production technology relevance.
"Those are all sound and important business reasons to get back into the series. But there's one reason that drives us more than any other: we are competitors and we are returning to IndyCar to win."
Stephens explained that Chevrolet's new Indy program will be aimed at showcasing its technical versatility.
"At GM, our vision is to design, build and sell the world's best vehicles. Racing is one of the best ways to learn, as well as to showcase what we can do. Reentering Indy-style racing lets us take our advanced engine technology to the upper bounds of what's possible. It will provide a dynamic training ground for our engineers who will transfer the technologies we develop for racing to the products we sell to our customers.
"Racing will also help us with some of the major challenges facing the industry. Among the most critical are new fuel economy standards, CO2 regulations and petroleum supply and demand volatility. Developing a portfolio of solutions that allows customers to choose the vehicles that best meet their needs while addressing fuel economy, CO2 and energy concern is the focus of GM's advanced propulsion engine technology strategy. We're working on alternative fuels like ethanol and electricity, and we're also improving the efficiency of our power trains, using new technologies like direction injection, small displacement engines with turbo charging, reduced friction and many others."
Stephens added that partnering with Ilmor Engineering, which built Chevrolet's CART and Indy 500 winning engines in the 1980s and early '90s, positioned the program for rapid advancement.
"Our partnership with Ilmor will help us quickly push the state of the art with these technologies and will apply the knowledge we gain to our production engines," he said. "For example, Chevrolet is already a recognized leader in implementing direct injected four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines. We've launched a number of segment-leading VI powerplants. Now we're looking to expand this technology to even more production applications. Turbocharging and smaller-displacement engines are other areas where we can apply improvements from racing to our high-volume passenger cars.
"One great example is the 1.4 turbocharged engine in the Chevrolet Cruze, which offers best-in-segment highway fuel economy. This engine can drive small when you want the best efficiency, but it can also drive large when you need the best performance. It's like having two engines in one. Now, building on this foundation, our partnership with Ilmor will help us accelerate our advanced propulsion strategy. We'll develop the most advanced engine technologies. We'll work on further increasing performance while using the least amount of fuel. We'll learn how to get the most out of E85 ethanol. We'll put all this knowledge into our new IndyCar engine for 2012. It will be an efficient, high-performance twin-turbo V6 with direct injection and have a displacement of 2.4 liters or less.
"Beyond engine improvements, we'll also compete at the cutting edge of aerodynamics, safety, electronics, and materials innovation to make our IndyCars and then our production vehicles even more efficient, safer, more innovative and especially more fun to drive."
Penske, one of the original founders of Ilmor, credited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar's 2012 project manager, Tony Cotman, as well as the ICONIC Committee that decided the new rules package, with helping lay the groundwork for the series revitalization since the IRL/CART split, leading to Chevy's return.
"It's terrific to see the cross-pollination of engineering and certainly driver and track ownership that have come together to make this change," Penske said. "Tony, you helped bring this league together. We've seen the benefits of this with more people racing, more teams. We've seen new rookies who have come in. We have four ladies running in our series, which is just terrific. I think the demographics are different.
"At the time, I had the opportunity to talk to Mark Reuss [president of GM North America] about the opportunity to maybe come into IndyCar racing, he wanted to know what is the momentum, people thing, team thing, can Chevrolet come back and be a winner? Obviously, there were a lot of discussions about that in the ensuing months.
"As Ilmor, we're in the racing business. Ilmor has partnered with Honda to build the current engines we've been running. Not one failure in the 500 over the last five years – what a track record. I think a level playing field. Many of us are competing head to head with the other teams. I would say that Ilmor and Honda provided that level playing field and we expect with Chevrolet, and obviously with a competitor on the racetrack, we're going to see the game move up, but we're also going to see more competition.
"What does that mean? More customers, more dealers, more employees, more fans are going to be involved in supporting this sport. That's what we need. We need to fill the grandstands every May and fill the tracks around the country."
Perry said that GM remained interested in participating beyond the engine side with an aero kit, although he said discussions remained ongoing.
"We're working right now with the league to finalize the rules package," Perry said. "We do expect to work on an aero package. We have a lot of capability in our shop, in the tunnel. Also be working with Roger Penske and his team getting the best aero package we can within the rules. Once we get set by IndyCar, we'll be off and running."
Penske indicated he expected the new engine to be available to all teams – a key issue that helped pave the way for the CART/IRL split.
"I think as we've seen in the past when we've had multiple engineer manufacturers, each team has the opportunity to pick a manufacturer. I think this is what makes the level playing field as we go forward," Penske said. "The goal of the league is to have engines from the two manufacturers throughout the field. I've not seen exactly how that's going to be put together. I can tell you anything that we have, has been in the past when we provided engines. The same thing had been from the aero kit. This is going to give Chevrolet, General Motors, the benefit of not just one team but multiple teams throughout the field. I think that's exactly what the league wants."
Cotman confirmed that "factory" teams will be specifically prohibited by the 2012 rules, although he admitted that specific issues like testing opportunities will require some fine-tuning by the league.
"I think we need to get a little deeper into it when we're talking about testing," Cotman said. "But I think I'll just reiterate what Roger said. Obviously, there's heritage here with Ilmor, Chevy and Penske. Any other team who runs a Chevrolet will have exactly the same specification that Penske will have. When we get into a test program between IndyCar and Ilmor, we plan on having a car on track mid next year, anyway, and that will develop. Hopefully, we can develop a pattern which we can put together with a test program.
"I'm sure we'll get to a point when teams have decided which engine manufacturer they're going to choose. There will be on-track testing. I think on-track testing is just an evolution. You're constantly evolving, updating, trying to fine-tune into a certain period before the race. I think it's fair to say that everybody will be involved or participate all the way up to the end. As we've said before, this is about competition. It's about controlling competition within certain aspects. But it's about being in it together.
"I think it's in Chevy's best interest they have more teams participating in what's going on. I think it will lead to a far more level playing field in the long term."