IndyCar vp of technology Will Phillips answered questions Friday related to engine changes and whether any rules changes will be made as a result. Ultimately, the IZOD IndyCar Series rule requiring the 10-spot grid penalty for non-race failure engine changes will be upheld, and not changed before 2013. Phillips explained his reasoning below.
Q: Has there been any frustration now that the rule is in place?
Will Phillips: I think once the precedent was set with Pagenaud taking a 10 grid spot penalty at St. Pete, the precedent has been set and we will carry on through that process. It might seem very harsh now, but looking four-five years down the road for setting the regulations, the engines being built now, the basis would be same for next couple number of years. We can't be “let this go, let that go” to start with, because then you can't tighten it up. It's far better to set the ground rules, have consistent penalties, let you know where you stand.
Q: It was in the process? It was agreed to and manufacturers agreed to?
WP: Yes. It shouldn't be the differentiation it seems to be of the team and manufacturer who's taking the penalty. I think that's an incorrect view of what's happening. If there are no teams, the manufacturer can't run their product, and if there are no manufacturers, the teams have nothing to run. The teams and manufacturers came together as a team, as has been shown in all the testing that's happened. You have all the GM cars running together, and you share their information. That was part of what they sold to the teams to attract them to be in their stable. When a driver goes back 10 spots on the grid, it's also an engine – a GM, a Honda or a Lotus – going back 10 spots on the grid. So it affects both.
Q: This is though, the teams receive the engines randomly? In terms of the engine they get?
WP: The engine is homologated, and picked by IndyCar. We pick from a pool of engines and we designate what engine goes in what car. It isn't really the manufacturer.
Q: The issue is that fans come to see a driver, and theoretically a pole winner could be starting back in 11th.
WP: As long as we put that message out clearly, and they understand what that message is, it's up to us to do that. Yes, they could still win pole, but if they happen to be a running a GM car, could be 11th. He gets the point and everything that still goes with it but that starting position. Going back to the long-term, there's 10,000 miles a team pays its lease for. And they're supposed to do on five engines. If a manufacturer comes in with short-life motors, it will cost an awful lot of money to do that, and it's about cost containment. If they want the lease at $690,000, it's not because you're getting 25 engines, not short-life. The manufacturers need that template to come back in.
Q: Do you see any alternative going forward?
WP: We've set the precedent, and we need to stick with it. We need them to make their engines last the length that we have (established). We had two good races, a seven percent failure rate, and this weekend was something different. GM had one failure at Sonoma, and have chosen as put out in their press release they were all changed in a pre-emptive measure. None of them might have gone, or all of them, so that was their choice.
Q: Has there been any mention about exempting testing from mileage limits?
WP: The trouble there is, testing can almost be more expensive than going racing. If you don't control the mileage, the costs spiral again – and it's about cost control.
There are mileage limits. Does that mean I can use those 250 miles I didn't use if I dropped out? There's a limit on tires, number of test days for team and manufacturers. They have to balance everything.
Q: How do you describe the correlation between a test at Indy and a street race at Long Beach?
WP: It can be hard for them to see why someone, who blew an engine at Sonoma, would take a grid penalty at Long Beach. Once they understand, they had an engine in their car, that has to last 1,850 miles. It was a team test. They made that choice.
Q: Have any of the engine issues come close to being something without a penalty?
WP: No. I think we're just seeing new engines and people seeing what they can get out of them.
Q: If a team has a problem at Indy, any day, and change an engine, that penalty is assessed at Detroit?
WP: We'll put out something soon that will clarify Indy. Everyone will have a new engine for the race at Indy. For Carb Day and then the race, everyone will check a new engine into the car, and assign them that way. Going into Brazil, we looked at reducing the 1,850 miles down to 1,200, because we didn't want to go to Brazil with the cycles running that cost. In big picture, because of where everyone is, it wasn't enough of a problem.
Q: Do we know whether Lotus will have five or six engines for Indy? Anything yet on the other two manufacturers?
WP: I hope we have six. If they all turn up, there will be six. I don't have a number yet on the other two manufacturers.