IRL: 3-Liter IndyCar era begins at Indy 500

The Indy Racing League confirmed stories published last week about the change in engine dimension for the largest part of next year's IndyCar Series schedule, as Chevrolet/Cosworth, Honda and Toyota motors will go on diets, losing half a liter of power in time for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

The start: Helio Castroneves takes the lead.
Photo by indyracing.com/Ron McQueeney.
Since going with a normally aspirated powerplant in 1997, the League has [now] twice lowered engine capacity, from 4 liters to 3.5 liters and now to a 3-liter formula. The reasons for the decision to lower engine size are obvious: Mario Andretti's April flying machine at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kenny Brack's intense accident in the season finale at Texas Motor Speedway, Tony Renna's demise in testing at the Brickyard ten days later.

That Brian Barnhart, IRL senior vice president of racing operations took until today to acknowledge the changes is due to diligence. He heard all the suggestions and got all the manufacturers to agree with him. Bottom end revisions should take about 10mph off optimum qualifying times, Barnhart believes.

Additional aerodynamic adjustments will come into play at the start of the season. In July of last year, Barnhart and Co. advised engine and chassis makers to prepare for road racing.

Subsequently, Dallara and Panoz G Force chassis update kits for 2004 will include road-course radiators and sidepods, increasing drag on the cars and, hopefully, adding to the diminishing of speeds and forcing drivers to lift or brake in corners.

There's also talk, as yet unsubstantiated, that Firestone will produce harder tires that will complement the newly slowed racers.

Until the engine specs come into play next May, all three engine makers' current 3.5-liter engines will be on-circuit but there will be changes to these cars. Beginning at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 29th, all cars must cut away a 3-inch by 12-inch slot in the airbox and engine cover behind the drivers head. The slot will "decrease positive airflow to the engine, reducing horsepower and reducing overall speeds," the League stated. When the 3-liter engine is introduced in May, this slot will not be used.

"We have been gathering data and studying way to slow the cars down without compromising the highly competitive racing we have in the IndyCar Series," Barnhart allowed.

"We believe these changes to the cars and engines will accomplish that goal." Barnhart credited "our teams and drivers, as well as our engine suppliers, our chassis manufacturers and our official tire supplier have been extremely helpful and cooperative in assisting us as we make changes to the cars."