New brands could join Chevrolet and Honda, but not before 2016
When the Shell Pennzoil IndyCar Grand Prix of Houston takes the green flag Saturday and Sunday for this weekend’s doubleheader, there should be 23 starters – 13 of them powered by Honda engines, 10 by Chevrolets.
It’s no secret that both manufacturers would like at least one additional engine manufacturer to join the series, and they have since the financially-strapped Lotus pulled out. And IndyCar President of Operations and Competition Derrick Walker (pictured) told Motorsport.com that he is in serious talks with two more engine suppliers.
There’s a caveat: “Even if we were to announce another manufacturer today,” he said, “it would be two years before we saw them on the grid.” This is, in part, to give Honda and Chevrolet an opportunity to prepare for, if needed, the added competition.
Walker said that both Chevrolet and Honda have made it known that they are willing to listen if new manufacturers propose an engine that advances the sport – such as one powered by diesel. “I’m not saying IndyCar will ever run cars on diesel,” Walker said, “but that’s the sort of technology that’s conceivable.”
IndyCars presently run on E85, which is 85 percent alcohol, 15 percent gasoline, with a 60-gallon allowance per race. But while renewable ethanol was once touted as a genuine solution to rising oil prices, enthusiasm has cooled among multiple manufacturers for building vehicles that are “flex fuel,” meaning they can run on E85 or gasoline.
The EPA has also been less than enthusiastic about increasing the ethanol level past 10 percent for conventional engines, and many new vehicles contain a warning in the owner’s manual that if the vehicle is operated on fuel that is a greater percentage of alcohol than E10, the warranty could be voiced.
Conceivably, this could be one reason additional manufacturers might be hesitant to develop a race engine fueled by E85, when they may or may not build cars or trucks that operate on it. General Motors has long been a driving force behind the use of ethanol, which is one reason why NASCAR uses E15.
Indeed, IndyCar has embraced more conventional off-the-shelf suppliers when it comes to engine oil – IndyCar teams must use an oil that is available commercially, over the counter. Many other series, such as NASCAR, allow constant oil development, with different blends supplied to different teams, even those running the same brand of engine.
Still, it seems probable that sooner rather than later, at least one new engine supplier will announce an intention to join the series, though the 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engine could be built by a performance company like Cosworth, in partnership with a new manufacturer, creating a relationship similar to the one Chevrolet has with Ilmor. Cosworth was purchased by KV Racing team owner Kevin Kalkhoven, back when he was the driving force behind the last iteration of ChampCar.
Likely, that new manufacturer won’t be Ford. Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing, told Motorsport.com that his company’s research suggests that with the exception of the Indianapolis 500, Ford is already reaching a major percentage of its marketing target audience through NASCAR, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the other series it’s already involved in. And building an engine just to reach the Indy 500 crowd isn’t cost-effective.
One thing is clear, though: Chevrolet and Honda would welcome at least one more supplier, who could help publicize and grow the series and ease the burden on the two companies to supply the entire IndyCar field.
“Plus,” said an executive with one of the two companies, “beating two or three other brands is always better than beating just one.”