Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Honda Wants More Manufactures and IndyCar Should Oblige

Part of IndyCar struggle for the last five seasons has been the strain on Chevrolet and Honda to supply the entire grid. While both manufactures have met the demands, they are at maximum capacity and that leaves little room for the series to grow in terms of entrants. The series needs to spread its eggs around and Honda is willing to help find another partner to get in the IndyCar bed. 

Honda Performance Development president Art St. Cyr wants more competition in IndyCar and it sounds like he is willing to make concessions if it means adding a manufacture or two for IndyCar and that is very important. No manufacture is going to enter with the current technical regulations. Chevrolet and Honda are on year five of this engine cycle and no other manufacture is going to spend the time or money to make up the difference in year one. No one tests like they once did. Teams don't go out and test every day for a month over the winter and that wouldn't change if a new manufacture were want to enter IndyCar.

Think about when the DW12 was being tested for the first time. It wasn't tested until August 2011, about seven and a half months before its first race at St. Petersburg the following March. When you compare how much was gained in terms of time on track, the pole-time at St. Petersburg from 2011 to 2012 went from a 61.9625 to a 61.3721. This year the fastest time in St. Petersburg qualifying dropped to 60.0658 seconds. I just can't see why a manufacture would decide to jump into IndyCar now and start an engine program from scratch when they will be years behind and struggling to compete for top tens. People were complaining last year when the Hondas were a quarter of a second behind the Chevrolets and the entire field was covered by a second or 1.2 seconds. Imagine how people and teams would feel when the fastest car from a third manufacture would be at best a second back. 

However, instead of forcing a manufacture to develop a 2.2 L, twin-turbo V6 engine, which the manufacture likely doesn't make, IndyCar can be open to something that is different but not radical from the current engine package. IndyCar needs to have wiggle room and to be honest, no body cares if engine manufactures different slightly. We were all ok when Honda ran a single-turbo and Chevrolet ran a twin-turbo at the start of the DW12-era. The first Indianapolis 500 was a hodgepodge of engines. You had four-cylinder and six-cylinder cars. You had 4.65 L to 9.78 L. While the range of displacement probably can't be that great in this era, the range of cylinders is doable. 

If IndyCar were to relax the engine regulations, the door could be opened for many manufactures that are already making engines slightly smaller and slightly larger than the current IndyCar engine formula. Toyota's Super Formula engine is a 2.0 L turbocharged inline-4 and it has been whooping Honda's Super Formula engine. Mazda's IMSA prototype engine is also a 2.0 L turbocharged inline-4 and Mazda would be a great addition for IndyCar considering how invested the manufacture is in the Road to Indy ladder system. It makes too much sense for Mazda to be involved in IndyCar as well. Porsche's LMP1 engine is a 2.0 L turbocharged V4. While a Porsche return to IndyCar would be phenomenal and highly unlikely, the series should at least leave the door open. Another LMP1 engine that should be in play would be the AER's 2.4 L turbocharged V6. AER currently builds the Indy Lights engine and this could be an engine that is badged by another manufacture, just like how Mazda badges the Indy Lights engine. 

The problem would be finding a balance between these newer engines and the current IndyCar engines and after seeing the struggles IMSA and other sports car series have had with Balance of Performance, the question would be if IndyCar wants to go down that road. I think it could be figured out and some toes might be stepped on but that is the nature of motorsports now. As long as IndyCar can be fair, I am sure it could be figured out. 

These are just four examples of engines that exist already and are developed. What IndyCar needs is for one or two or more of these manufactures to enter the series and take the load off Chevrolet and Honda. Think about what Chevrolet and Honda have had to do the last four seasons after the Lotus debacle. Each has had to supply about a dozen entries and then add almost another half-dozen for the Indianapolis 500. When it comes to Indianapolis, Chevrolet and Honda are fielding IRL-size grids. You have to give them credit but they need some of the weight taken off their shoulders. 

IndyCar can't grow in the current climate and it needs to grow. Think about it. The only team that tried to enter IndyCar during the DW12-era was Michael Shank Racing and he was rejected like a shot by Hakeem Olajuwon. The series hasn't recovered from that and it makes the series seem insular. IndyCar needs new blood but it needs somewhere for new blood to go. Indy Lights teams Juncos Racing and Carlin have each expressed interested in expanding to IndyCar and so has GP2 team Racing Engineering but despite their ambitions Chevrolet and Honda couldn't take either on any of those teams. 

In an ideal world, a manufacture or two would enter, Chevrolet and Honda would drop to fielding about eight-nine full-time cars with say Toyota and Mazda entering and taking on four-five full-time entries. That would give IndyCar about 24-28 full-time entries and if each manufacture could add three-four entries for the Indianapolis 500, you would have bumping and lots of it. Bringing in a manufacture or two would allow teams like Juncos, Carlin, Racing Engineering and others to come into IndyCar while taking the load off Chevrolet and Honda. 

IndyCar needs additional manufactures and it shouldn't be stubborn. The series should have the more the merrier mindset especially if the engine is similar to the current specs. It should be a series where an outsider could potentially bring its own engine package and not be living on one or two manufactures. Honda seems willing to new competitors and competitors bringing what they are already producing. IndyCar should be willing as well.