Bryan Herta Autosport's Alex Tagliani got his first test of the 2012 IndyCar DW12 earlier this week. RACER editor David Malsher asked him about the Lotus engine, the handling characteristics of the new car, and more.
R: Are you satisfied with how your first test went?
AT: Yes, I am happy, but I think we've all come to realize how easy we had it in the past! In the old car, the engine had been developed as far as it could – it was reliable and so that was one variable that had been eliminated, and so you could just focus on the car and the setup, the pit stop practices and the best team lineup. The engine was not one of the headaches. Now, it is a huge piece of the puzzle, with so many new features to improve and work on. We're becoming a lot more dependent on the engine in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
In Formula 1, every team has their own engines but there's a big car difference as well. So, if your engine isn't great at high revs and your top speed is, say, five miles per hour down, but you have better torque or your chassis is better handling and your car's making up for the top-speed deficit in the corners, then you're going to be quicker over a lap. That's what we saw last year with the Red Bulls: their Renault engines were not great on the straights compared with Mercedes and Ferrari, but the chassis made them quicker over a lap.
In IndyCar in 2012, the cars are the same, the aerodynamics are identical, so if your engine gives you a 5mph advantage, either you keep the same downforce and keep the top-speed advantage, or you put more downforce on. That pulls your top speed down to the same level as everyone else, but you now have more grip in the corners, you look after your tires better. The other side of the coin is if you are 5mph slower: then, you can trim out the downforce to get your top speed up for the straightaways, but then you have less grip in the corners.
So, it's important that IndyCar try and equalize the engines, leaving the manufacturers to try and gain an advantage through driveability, through alternative mapping or through fuel mileage. That will create enough differences to create passing.
R: How different is the turbo power delivery compared with the CART/Champ Cars you raced before the open-wheel merger? Does the boost come in more progressively these days?
AT: Well, it's different. There is the horsepower and there is the turbo effect. The CART car had more horsepower but it was also revving a lot higher. The Ford Cosworths I had went up to 16,800rpm and the Toyotas and Hondas were almost at 18,000.
Well, the more revs you have, the more progressive your power band is going to be. The rpm of these new 2.2-liter engines is only 12,000, so it's a short burst of kick before you need to shift up. The rev limit is set where it is for the sake of reliability and mileage, in order to contain costs: the higher you rev, the more often you're going to need new parts, the more often you're going to have to invest money. But it's strange, because you have a short range of on-boost revs to work with. It will be interesting to see how we can create alternative patterns of delivery.
There are still so many things that are undecided with the McLaren ECU and what's within the regulations. Some manufacturers want certain things and, at the moment, the electronic box doesn't have them. To make a proper evaluation, we need to know the tools we'll have to work with and I think the series is still deciding a lot of them. There is so much that could change within a month before the engines are homologated. We're working with the engine we have, but there may be a lot of differences for the engine builders and their strategies depending on what IndyCar decides is in the rules.
R: Are you confident that Lotus can match Honda and Chevrolet?
AT: Yeah, I've gotta say, I'm pretty pleased with what I've seen so far. It was great that Simona [de Silvestro] and HVM Racing went to Palm Beach and Sebring and ran 900 miles in the Lotus car. It was basically to put miles on the engine and see the wear and tear, and that unit was then sent back to Judd in England for an evaluation and another engine was sent for me, and that will be the same one Oriol [Servia] runs next week at Sebring.
So far, we have no real issues with the engine. There have been little hiccups here and there with the electronics, but again, you want to know what you're allowed to do – what's legal and illegal. The Lotus engine itself is fine. We haven't run it full power yet, but I don't see why it would be second to Honda or Chevrolet. There's a little bit of experience difference; maybe the people from Judd will have to come to the races and view how our race weekends unfold and get themselves acclimated with IndyCar racing. But they're no dummies: they know how to build engines. Judd builds engines for Le Mans prototypes and those engines are good on fuel and good on reliability, so this is not their first rodeo. With the way they came out of the box with very few problems, it shows that although they took their time because parts supply was delayed, they knew exactly what they were doing. A very good sign from the get-go.