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The ramifications of INDYCAR’s Turbo-Gate

April 27, 2012

It started simply enough. Decisions were made, promises were made – and it was nearly a year and a half ago that Tony Cotman pledged to keep engine manufacturers competitive. Last October, Honda’s HPD staff and Chevrolet’s Ilmor operatives were full of praise and gifts for one another as they went from being partners to competitors.

They even did cooperative demonstration laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to show off their new engines in the Dallara chassis that would soon be named for Dan Wheldon, who died the next day.

Now Chevrolet/Ilmor and Honda/HPD are at war.

Chevy has won the first three pole positions and first three IZOD IndyCar Series races; Honda won in the court of unpopular opinion with the decision to allow a compressor cover on its Borg Warner EFR9180 of A/R 0.74, rather than the 0.57 A/R compressor cover it had been using through testing and from the start of the season.

It’s fair to note that the first four races of  2012 are conducted on road and street courses which aerodynamically favor the twin-turbo setup preferred by Chevy/Ilmor and Lotus/Engine Developments Ltd (EDL). Honda, in part chose to go the single turbo route because of the inherently better aero of the single on ovals, significantly the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the biggest cheese of the Indy car season – the Indianapolis 500.

What’s more important then? Winning Indy or winning the championship? From a financial and marketing standpoint, it’s got to be Indy, the largest single day sporting event in the world – still. From a competitive standpoint, winning a season-long title gives a manufacturer bragging rights for an entire year.

Following the decision to allow the new compressor cover A/R, Chevrolet reacted as expected – and within the hour – by stating that, “While we are disappointed with today’s decision, we are prepared to continue to compete at the highest level in the IZOD IndyCar Series,” according to Jim Campbell, VP for performance vehicles and motorsports.

After Honda’s initial draft went through its proper channels, Steve Eriksen, vice president of HPD acknowledged, “The new compressor cover helps to offset the performance disadvantage of the current IndyCar single turbo hardware as measured by INDYCAR’s turbo supplier. This correction was designed
and provided by the turbo supplier under the direction of IndyCar and was approved prior to
the 2012 season.”

The war of words and actions continues, but we won’t know until Monday night – well after the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 presented by Nestle – whether Chevrolet will take this to another level of protest. If they do, perhaps they might call upon John MIddlebrook to mediate? He did a swell job for Hendrick Motorsports in their NASCAR quibble…

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