IndyCar 2012 project manager Tony Cotman discussed today's announcement of Chevrolet's return to IndyCar in 2012 a supplier of engines – and possibly of aero kits as well – with RACER editor David Malsher.
How long have you known this Chevrolet deal was in the works?
To be honest, there were three or four potential deals out there, but this one has only come to fruition recently. I've only known it would be confirmed within the past few days
So could there be more yet to come for 2012?
At this stage, I'd say we're still having conversations for 2012, but the deadline is Nov. 16 – next Tuesday – so basically the green light would have to be given this weekend and then signed by Monday. But once it leaked out that Chevrolet was involved, it certainly fired up the other companies, so there's a lot going on out there. However, the reality is that I'd be surprised if someone now committed to 2012 – it's pretty late now. For 2013, absolutely.
If Chevrolet had planned for an inline-four-cylinder engine, could the chassis plans that you're currently formulating have handled that?
Yep, no problem.
What is the final date by which Honda and Chevy have to supply you and Dallara with final dimensions of their engines?
Well, their dimensions will be based around the chassis design, the parameters we set out earlier. X by Y, 60-90 degree vee, so there's not a problem. We've already got it covered.
Will it be imperative for Dallara to be building two chassis simultaneously so that both engines can start testing as soon as they're completed? For example, if both units were ready on the same day, you couldn't show favoritism by allowing one to be installed when the other was still waiting to be installed.
I don't know right now. Testing plans need to be thought about. I think it's fair to say that Honda may currently be a little bit ahead of Chevy, but we need to think about it long term, and get it right. Both require testing and obviously we need to be testing a new chassis as well, so it comes down to making a decision as to how we go about it.
What's the situation regarding the supply of engines to other teams? The announcement left the impression that Team Penske was going to get an exclusive deal, such as was the case with the original Ilmor-built Chevrolets of the 1980s. (AT LEFT: Rick Mears winning Indy in 1988 with a Penske PC17-Chevy.)
Yeah, and that's inaccurate. Chevy must supply engines to any team that signs up and wants a Chevrolet. The specification must also be the same for all participants, and although we haven't finalized how the selection process will work, at the end of the day, it's imperative that we have roughly 50 percent of the teams in the current case, and 33 percent if a third manufacturer comes in.
And just to clarify, teams won't be allowed to run a two-car team with one using Honda, one running a Chevy?
Correct. If you're a Chevrolet team, you're a Chevrolet team. Also, let's clarify, Roger Penske was instrumental in bringing Chevrolet back to the series and so it's only natural that he will run Chevy engines. If somebody else brings an engine manufacturer to the series, then they will be assigned with that manufacturer. So it's good for all – good for the teams, good for the series, good for the fans. And if that's something that works between the fans and manufacturers, then good, let's go ahead.
The only caveat to that is that the same specification engine must be available to all other teams at all times. We cannot afford to go to the Speedway and see Penske or somebody else use the same engine to go 3mph faster than another Chevy runner. We need to learn from the mistakes of the past. We've all been through this stuff and we don't revisit the political problems that were caused, because what caused issues in the past would cause issues again, we can be sure of that.
Chevy has said it might be interested in building an aero kit. That, too, would have to be made available to other teams, right?
Yeah, absolutely. The rules we've laid down already will apply. Having said that, although I haven't finalized this yet in writing, I don't think Chevy would be happy to see its aero kit on a Honda-engined car. So I think the process will have to include that, yes, you must be able to supply 30-40 percent of the field with your aero kit, but engine manufacturers must be allowed to retain veto power over their aero kits to a certain extent. Chevy couldn't stop a team from having a GE kit or a Boeing kit, but they need to be able to prevent teams from having a competing engine manufacturer's aero kit. That wouldn't do anyone – including the public – any good, because you can't have a Chevrolet-Honda.
Could you get around that by having the Chevy kit badged as a Penske?
Well…I think the reality is that it will be badged as a Chevy. For instance, Michael Andretti might not have a problem with a Chevrolet logo on his bodywork, but he might have an issue if it said Penske instead! Seriously, we need to put some real thought into this issue, because whichever way you turn, there are implications for somebody. We just need to think it through and check that it's beneficial to the parties spending the money also.
Has Honda shown any interest in building an aero kit?
Not to this point, no. I think they're full on with engine development.
Regarding fuel, why the change?
The change to E85 ethanol for 2012 made sense from a marketing point of view. It's more relevant to what you can get from the pump. That will give the fuel supplier more ammunition for marketing what it's doing with IndyCar to the public.
Is there a chance of this relationship with Chevy going further? For instance, could the 1.6- or 1.8-liter inline fours used in the Cruze be the engine to power a new Indy Lights car in 2013?
I don't know, to be honest. There are four or five companies that have expressed interest in that, and funnily enough, no two of those companies have suggested the same engine architecture! But IndyCar is pushing efficiency and strong horsepower per displacement, so it would make a great deal of sense for Lights to mirror that.
There's an owners' meeting next Wednesday. Will some of the decisions you mentioned above be made?
No decisions are going to be made in the meeting: we will make the decisions. But I'm sure there will be a lot of questions now!