We offered RACER.com readers the chance to send in questions for IndyCar's president of operations and competition, Derrick Walker, and we're serializing his replies, with similar questions being grouped together. Today, subjects close to many fans' hearts: more engine suppliers, and more power from the engines they supply…
Do you think that 800hp on the road courses is a realistic goal once the current homologation runs out and the manufacturers can make wholesales changes?
There is a balance between engine performance, reliability and cost. Do you plan finding more horsepower on road/street courses in the next few years without compromising the other two points?
Has there been any consideration to increasing the amount of horsepower for IndyCar engines? The reason for asking is that it seems to me that there could be multiple benefits to this: 1) Marketing – 800 or 850hp sounds much more impressive than 650hp to the average person and the serious race fan. 2) Attracting more top drivers to the series. 3) The incredible sound of bigger engines, which could translate very well to TV.
I know safety is No. 1 but what are your plans for increasing horsepower to put the drivers back in the game. Give them what they (drivers, fans) want!
Do you see the engines being able to produce over 800... preferably around 850hp anytime in the future, at least for the road and street courses? The racing is great at the moment but that's not enough for the 2013-and-beyond fan.
Would it be difficult for the engine suppliers to increase the horsepower of their current engines with only a modest overall cost to the teams? And can you quantify the anticipated cost increase this would entail assuming everything else relating to the engine lease costs, etc., remain the same? I appreciate the cost issue is critical to the teams, but I also know that from a fan's perspective the need for the drivers to control the throttle pedal will show relative skill levels more clearly on all types of racetracks.
DW: The engines can make more power as they are: they don't need to wait for homologation. We've limited the amount of power because we have to balance power output with how many miles we need to get out of each engine, for cost reasons. Currently, each engine has to reach 2,000 miles, so you run the highest power you can while keeping the costs in line. Could we run more power? Absolutely we could, and at the end of this year we will have a homologation review so that major components on the engines can change at that point. As a result, I'm sure we'll see an increase in power at that stage. For example, Honda could switch to a twin-turbo.
How do you respond that the cars are too easy to drive – that they have too much downforce in relation to torque and horsepower?
DW: I would agree.
How legitimate is Audi's interest in joining IndyCar and are any other manufacturers showing any interest in joining the series?
Any chance of getting Ford or Chrysler involved in the next few years?
Do you really believe that more European and Japanese manufacturers will join IndyCar, either providing engines or chassis? How far are we from that?
What's the possibility of adding a third or fourth manufacturer?
Any chance of the series allowing the new EcoBoost from Ford in the next seasons? It's new tech so shouldn't IndyCar embrace it and release it to the world ASAP? Put it under the IndyCar's engine limitations and let's have a third manufacturer. (And please put Dodge and Judd together: we could have four manufacturers easily.)
What are the prospects of another engine supplier entering the series? Specifically, I am wondering about Ford with their longtime former involvement through Cosworth. Ford already produces a turbo V6 for their road cars (EcoBoost) so it would seem to be a natural fit for them to come back to challenge Chevy and Honda…
Dwight E. Anderson
DW: As you can imagine, there's a degree of confidentiality in this matter, but let's be clear about this: we do not currently have manufacturers lining up to ask, “When can we run our engines in your series?” And now we've added an extra dynamic where a manufacturer would be expected to create an aero kit, which is an extra financial commitment.
However, not only is our door is very much open to other manufacturers, we're in the process of going back around and re-opening discussions with various manufacturers, because what is different now, compared with a year or so ago, is that we have a long-range plan put together to show where the sport is heading. So we want to know who's interested in joining us on our journey into the future. This is where we must be proactive, not just accept the status quo, not just expect companies to approach us. We must get into the habit of selling ourselves. And it needs to start now, because if a company said today, “Oh yeah, we're interested,” it's going to be two years before you see their product in the sport.
Is Cosworth allowed to build an IndyCar engine?
DW: Absolutely, it just requires money which may well come from a manufacturer, but Cosworth is a great company that has proven before that it can build a great IndyCar engine. It would be a great nod to IndyCar's heritage and Cosworth's heritage to see them back here.
I don't understand why everyone says that horsepower and a good-looking chassis are expensive. We had 850hp engines 15 years ago along with great-looking cars. Why can't we go back to the 2.65-liter V8s that Indy cars had since the '70s? I don't see why IndyCar wouldn't want to go back to the model they had when they were at their most popular point from 1990-'95? That just might help bring back the fans that were turned off by the split. Wouldn't it also be a lot cheaper to use proven technology?
Why not change the engine specifications to V8 turbos and increase hp to 900-1000? I know it will cost money, but every change to engine and chassis regulations costs money and it's sad when a production car's top speed, i.e. the Bugatti Veyron, is faster than an IndyCar. Let's see what it does to increase viewership and attract new fans when IndyCar can legitimately claim that it has the fastest cars on the planet.
To me the thing that draws fans to motorsports, besides great racing which we currently have, are the sound of the engines, the speed of the cars and the look of the cars. Right now I think IndyCar is lacking in those three areas. Agree or disagree?
The cars have to capture the imagination. Currently, they do not, in that they are not great to look at and they don't have the mind-bending acceleration of the CART-era cars. If one always pinches costs and the cars are not that great, then you don't put people in the stands or get people on the networks. If you spend too much, you go broke unless you get the sponsorship. How do we reconcile the cost of operation vs. product on the track?
DW: The reason IndyCar's engine formula is 2.2-liter turbocharged engines is because IndyCar needs to be relevant to what the manufacturers want to build and tie in with their road car technology. To change that formula to the old 2.65-liter V8…well, you'd have to have a damn good reason to do that and you'd have to have the current manufacturers say, “Yeah, that's good, bring it on.” That's not going to happen, because we're not suddenly going to rip up the current rules setting the specification of the engines after Chevrolet and Honda have spent millions and millions of dollars developing, building and supplying engines to fit those requirements.
As I mentioned earlier, things have moved on and it's not about just competition and branding – not in IndyCar, at least. Manufacturers have to justify to their boards why they're spending money in a certain type of motorsports. Having small-capacity turbo engines that have relevance to their current road cars is part of that.
As for the power outputs, they will increase, and so will speeds, as promised. Is the car uninspiring to look at? Well, I think that it does at least have distinctiveness on its side – there's no mistaking it for any other open-wheel car – and it looks more modern than what went before it. Looks will always divide opinion, according to taste. And the aero kits will bring variety.
As for Emmett's final question, that's a permanent aspect to our job because ideas are constantly evolving. I would say that there's not a lot wrong with the product on track in terms of racing. The way to make it good value for everyone involved is to get more fans in the grandstands and more people watching the sport on TV and yes, the cars need to look quicker and be more of a handful. But we also need to educate new viewers, potential fans, about what they're watching, so they can appreciate the hard work a driver is having to do in the cockpit. That way, they come back for more, and that in turn brings companies that want to get involved.
(Some of the RACER
readers' questions have been about marketing, and I'll address those in another set of answers coming next week.)
I know you previously stated that the cheapest way for the cars to gain horsepower in the near future is by raising the boost rather than the rpm, but the sound conveys a sense of power which the current formula lacks a bit. At some point could the engines be coaxed to give a higher-pitched sound by raising the rpm?
Attending motorsports events is not only about witnessing the excitement of close racing, but also enjoying the sounds generated by high-horsepower engines. Do you plan on bringing change to the engine format to allow additional horsepower and the sound of turbocharged engines such as what we had in CART?
DW: I agree: sound is important. I think it will partly improve with more horsepower but it's also to do with where the exhaust is, and I'm afraid that was tightly restricted so it didn't become part of the aero package. We didn't want either the Honda- or the Chevrolet-powered cars grabbing an advantage in that area and there are only a few places we can put the exhaust without opening up a window whereby the exhaust gases are used to create more downforce.
The other thing to bear in mind is that turbochargers are a natural silencer, giving a "turbiney" sound, and they need more revs in order to sound spectacular; if we were to allow 14,000rpm, you'd hear quite a different noise. But we're not likely to change up to that any time soon because increased revs will wear out an engine quicker than using a bit more boost. So we tend to go with the easy solution when we need more power by turning up boost pressure.
Is IndyCar looking at making the series more green?
A suggestion. Make IndyCar a hybrid series. Battery tech would be expensive, and I'm not advocating a KERS-like system, but requiring teams to run substantial distances on battery would really improve the innovation factor and increase the crossover for automakers. I have no connection to any of the industries mentioned. I just thought it would be a way IndyCar could differentiate itself and bring some commercial muscle back to the series. There are a lot of reasons why IndyCar can't. What about why they should?
DW: IndyCar is trying to be a greener series and it needs to be, because every racing series has to be conscious of where the world is going, where the car manufacturers are going, and how we all have to care about what's happening with the world's resources. A series that hides its head in the sand and thinks it can carry on indefinitely without any care for public opinion is ultimately doomed. I believe IndyCar can be a tremendous testbed for green technology, but without letting it dominate so that the series ceases to be a sport. We must open that door and have a place for it… and that's why we have plans to do exactly that in the future.
Why not define space, materials, max hp (example: 650 for all tracks) and rpm and then let manufacturers more free to develop their stuff? If they want a 4-cylinder turbo engine, go ahead; want an inline-6 or a V8, then if it fits, go ahead. Pretty sure some guys that like challenge would be interested.
DW: If you remember, IndyCar did not dig its heels in over a certain formula, aside from saying the engines should be a maximum of 2.2 liters and turbocharged. The manufacturers were free to choose the inline four-cylinder route but neither went for it, because of worries over the rev/mileage stipulation. Ultimately, we do want to evolve to a place where manufacturers can choose more varied routes toward the same goal. But at the same time, they must have the capability to meet the supply criteria. We can't have just one or two cars running around with super new-tech just because it wasn't available to everyone else; that would ruin the competition.
How can anyone defend spending $600,000 on a leased engine when there are engines producing 700hp-plus that are for sale for about $125,000 or less... IndyCar fans want innovation but on a budget.
DW: This engine was specially made for this application. Opening the rules to allow any 700hp unit in there – any size, any weight – well, yes, we could do that but we've evolved over the years to where we have engines that are very refined, very efficient and very powerful in terms of hp-per-liter. The manufacturers decided this is the formula they wanted, and so we're not in a position to open the formula up to every backdoor guy who wants to pull an engine out of a NASCAR Nationwide car and stick it in the back of an IndyCar. That's not what the formula is about, even if some people think it should be. We must be erring on the side of modern technology, and our current engine technology suits our application really well.