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Marshall Pruett's Tech Mailbag for March 7

Marshall Pruett
Friday, 07 March 2014
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My question has to do with dumbing down the cars. It occurs to me that giving the cars more power and dumbing down the high-tech stuff would make it easier for teams to get into IndyCar because the cars would be cheaper to build and operate.

How much could be saved by making the cars out of metal vs. carbon fiber? Would this make the cars less safe? Do the teams really need all the high-tech electronics to have exciting racing? Something has to be done to get more teams involved. This seems like a way to make it happen.
Doug Mayer

MP: You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Almost every new car sold today is loaded with technology, so drumming it out of racing would go in the opposite direction of where automotive industry is at the moment and continues to head.

It does cost more to make a tub from carbon than steel tubing, no question about that. I had one DP constructor tell me at Daytona that they’ve brought the manufacturing costs down to below $20K per chassis. That’s staggering when compared to a carbon P1 or P2 tub.

As much as I love technology, I’ll admit that I care less about the materials used to make the cars, provided safety isn’t compromised, and am more concerned about the costs to go racing. Like you, I do want to see costs reduced, and if carbon-for-tubeframe replacements help, I won’t argue, but I think it’s just a small portion of a greater problem.

Costs continue to increase, sponsorship levels continue to decrease in many series, and the value required to increase sponsor dollars – through better TV ratings, especially – seems about as tangible as Bigfoot riding a Unicorn.

Stemming the use of technology to keep costs within reason isn’t a bad idea, but you can’t eliminate it altogether. Going back to former state-of-the-art chassis construction methods could help reduce costs, but series like IndyCar and the TUDOR Championship need to ask the bigger questions: Why does it cost so much for our teams to go racing; how can we change our rules and formulas to emphasize speed and entertainment at a more effective price point; and how long can we afford to wait to make a change before our series are written into the history books?

When Honda changed from single to twin turbo, how much of the installation changes? What pieces of that installation come with the engine lease, and what does the team source itself? How much does it cost the team to change? Can you explain what an over boost penalty is? I have not seen penalty flags on the track. In IndyCar, are turbos included with the lease payment? Is IndyCar using different turbos this season?
Ed Joras

MP: Starting me off with a 19-part question, eh, Ed? Well, I did ask for it.

What pieces of the installation come with the engine lease, and what does the team source itself?: Teams source the air scoop, air filter, input shaft, bellhousing and turbo inlet/outlet ducts from Dallara. The lease includes the mechanical fuel pump, ECU, engine wiring looms, direct-injection electronics driver box and O2 sensors. The manufacturers serve as the source to provide turbos from Borg Warner, while teams buy the exhaust headers and the AP clutch directly.

How much does it cost the team to change?: That’s a hard number to determine as some items are included in the lease.

Can you explain what an overboost penalty is? I have not seen penalty flags on the track. Nor have I. The ECU handles boost penalties on its own, lowering the engine revs until the boost drops below the limit or the driver lifts off the throttle for a certain period of time. Short boost spikes are allowed, and they’re also fairly common, but it’s the ones that last too long that earn boost penalties.

In IndyCar are turbos included with the lease payment? No, teams buy their turbos and can go through as many as three sets per car per season.

What's up with Mazda? Why isn't their P2 car competitive yet? Is it a lack of funding?
Ismail Ruiz

MP: Time and money, Ismail. The other TUDOR Championship P2 engines make between 450-500hp, and with this same engine in Grand-Am Rolex GX trim, it was closer to 380. Extracting an extra 25 percent from the same powerplant from 2013 to 2014 is a tall order to begin with. The program started later than they wanted, with the diesel P2s hitting the track in late October, and it’s expensive to develop a new engine in any class.

The SpeedSource team is new to prototypes, as are most of their drivers, so as a whole, you can attribute their lack of speed to 2014 being a year of learning and development. Mazda has nothing but passionate fans, which makes the waiting period for the P2 program to get up to speed somewhat hard to accept, I imagine.

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