IRL: Hemelgarn/Speedway Engines press conference, Part II

Indianapolis 500 Hemelgarn Racing/Speedway Engines April 11, 2002 Hemelgarn Racing, Indianapolis Part 2 of 3 King: So if we could have the four of you here and that's what we will do, just raise your hand and I will repeat the question. Q:...

Indianapolis 500
Hemelgarn Racing/Speedway Engines April 11, 2002
Hemelgarn Racing, Indianapolis

Part 2 of 3

King: So if we could have the four of you here and that's what we will do, just raise your hand and I will repeat the question.

Q: Really a two-parter, Mike. One what is the Toyota entry coming up. How is that going to affect you guys, if any? And two, is there anybody else on the horizon, maybe rumor-wise that may be coming in?

King: The question is how will the entry of Toyota next season affect, I guess, the Chevrolet development. And number two, do you see any other engine manufacturers coming on board in the near future?

Long: Well, Toyota's program will force GM to step their program up. Basically, as far as Speedway Engine is concerned, that's a good thing because competition drives the bar up, and so we're very positive about it. I mean, sure, Toyota is a very good company and has very strong resources behind us -- behind them, and we will just have to step our resources up to compete and stay competitive with them. And the second question was?

King: The other part was Toyota will be the third engine manufacturer on board. Do you foresee any other engine manufacturers coming on board in the near future?

Long: I mean, it's all strictly rumor. For 100 years Ford and Chevrolet have always had a running gun battle going. I could see some interest from Ford, whether it be may be under another brand name, one of their parent companies -- or one of their other sister companies, or whatever, but I could see. And I don't know if Honda is going to join. I don't think they're going to do anything, to be honest. I think Penske signing with Toyota, that sort of showed maybe Honda doesn't have that much interest anymore. But I would say that's about all you're going to see. But I definitely see something from Ford in the future. It may be 2004, but that's always been a bitter rival between Chevy and Ford.

King: Rick, you mentioned that you guys service five teams right now. Could you tell us -- we know Hemelgarn, we know Panther. Who are the other three teams?

Long: Hemelgarn, Panther, Sam Schmidt Racing, which is Anthony Lazarro, and Ricky Treadway, and probably the big one, which is just the month of May deal, we have an association with Team Green. Those are the five.

King: All right. Questions? Mark.

Q: What does Speedway actually do to the base?

King: The question is what modifications does the Speedway Engine Development make, which of you want to handle that one, to the standard package? We will start with you and go to Milt.

Long: Basically, we work on reliability side. That's number one area that we work on. And the rules, to a certain degree, are limited to cylinder head modification. You can do very little there. But as far as valve train, cam shafts, piston, reciprocating weight, internal parts in the engine, that stuff is pretty wide open. So, in other words, we have our own package, like a crankshaft, connecting rods and piston. We have a specific package, like we actually have two piston manufacturers. We own the rights to the piston forging dies. So, in other words, those particular pistons that we run only -- they have to come through Speedway Engines before anywhere else. There's some performance and those areas. Then one of the biggest things we always worked on the hardest is our track support and strength of our track support people and being able to address issues at the racetrack, whether it's fuel mileage, or the big thing now, of course, the IRL rev limiter, what's called a soft rev limiter. A lot of times at Fontana you could hear that well there. You hear the car in the front straightaway, engine sounds like a song, that would be the soft rev limiter trying to keep the engine out of the IRL rev limiter. That's been one of the issues in the last year to really make a big difference between the top six or seven guys versus the back six or seven guys. And a lot of it has to do with the relationship between the engine people, the track support people and the race team and then the gearing of the engine. That's very critical nowadays. That's some of the big stuff. I mean, we actually take a little bit different approach. We sacrifice a little bit of fuel mileage for performance. Like at Fontana there's no doubt about it, Penske cars had extremely good fuel mileage. They also drafted each other all day long. Where our cars with Hemelgarn and Panther went okay. Lets get up there. Cars good enough, let's lead the race. Lets go on.

Kunzman: They did.

Long: But anyway. So in that respect, we've kind of taken a little bit different approach, and any more, a lot of the races are somewhat dependent on tires. Your pit stops are decided around your tires basically. And so we worry a little less about fuel mileage than we probably should, I guess.

Q: That soft limiter, is that an electronic thing? Is there a simple explanation? I don't want my head to hurt after you tell me about it. Is there a simple explanation?

King: The question is, could you explain what a soft limiter is?

Wood: One of the things that has made the IRL successful is the fact that there are some very specific guidelines regarding the operation of the engine, which is, in turn, playback to the fact that the engine is not as expensive as it might otherwise be. The rev limiter, in order to turn the engine faster, you have to have more and more costly components. So we limit the revs to 10,700. And when he gets to 10,700, the engine essentially shuts off, but it will turn back on again as soon as the RPMs drop. That's a very abrupt change. And the abruptness of that change upsets the balance of the car. It certainly is hard on the engine and a lot of the internal engine components. So what we do with the soft rev limiter is as we get closer and closer to 10,700 RMPs, we begin gradually robbing the engine of certain cylinders. So by the time you get to 10,700, we shut the engine off completely. On the way up, we're shutting off one, two or three cylinders. That makes it softer. Feels softer to the driver. But it's something that the engine builders are totally responsible for. GM provides us with the black box that runs the engine. But the way in which we use that is a part of what makes what Speedway Engines does different than perhaps somebody else. We primarily rely on Ron at the track to tell us what he wants. We try and be a part of the team at the track. And Ronnie will tell us the type of interaction he would like to have the engine have with the car, and we go off of his lead. One of the cardinal rules is you don't do anything without telling Ronnie what you're doing first. That's what we try and do. We try and blend into the operation of the team.

King: Questions?

Q: Do each of your customers get the same engine?

King: The question is do --

Q: Does each team.

King: Does each Speedway Engine customer get the same Speedway Engine.

Long: Yes. It's amazing. We kind of have a standing joke around the shop sometimes that, oh, we better take and switch the number on this engine, this engine is a good one. I mean, but no, all of our customers do get exactly the same engine. There is no proprietary stuff between teams. The only thing that will vary is one particular team may want a little bit different fuel mileage combination or a little bit different pit lane speed, or like Milt was just saying, a little bit different soft rev limit. We stress very hard that we keep that with that team. I mean, like if -- like for example -- I'll give you a good example here. The Panther Racing soft rev limit combination which we developed with both Hemelgarn and Panther, Buddy does not like it, so Buddy's is completely different than what Sam Hornish's is. That's a personal preference of the driver. That's the big differences there. It's kind of ironic because there's been a few times where some people have given me kind of a rough way to go on that -- just what you're asking, but how come Hornish is getting the better stuff, or how come Hemelgarn is getting the better stuff. It's kind of funny, we have two shop engines, Speedway Engine has two shop engines, Hemelgarn run them, Panther run them. We've actually taken the shop engines before, gone out of one car that just went 225, and went into another car where it only went 218. But there is -- they are the same product. We do not offer anybody anything any different. If that answers your questions.

Q: Lee, there has been a lot of focus on teams running the 500 only, cherry picking the race, today John Barnes says that's really not much different when Andy and Colon ran because he said a lot of USAP guys did it. Do you view it that way, or see it a little bit different?

King: The question is, there are teams that will only run the 500 this year. With that being the case, is it really any different now than it was several years ago when there were several teams that ran the only 500?

Kunzman: I don't personally like when people do that. I like to see them support the whole year. Certainly it has been that way for as long as I can remember. Let's face it, that's where the money is. That's where the publicity is. That's where you've got to go to grab it. You can't beat the 500. That's why CART has a problem. I think it's been proven over and over there's nothing like it and you can find sponsor money so much easier for the 500 than you can for the whole series for the whole year. It's happening. It's going to happen, as far as I can tell, in our future. I would like to see it limited a little bit to help the people that support the yearly -- all the races throughout the year. I don't know how you put a handicap on it or how you help the people that do support the other races. But it's very difficult to say you can make the race and you can't because you support us the rest of the year. I don't know quite how you do that. it's the fastest 33 cars, or couple years ago fastest 35, as I remember. And so that's what -- when we added the other two cars, it was 35 of the fastest 33. I think it's going to continue to happen. I would like to see the people support the series all year long and don't make the race get some advantages somewhere or financial support, so they can continue. I think that's the big thing is try to help them with their financial thing.

Q: Lee, you had said earlier that this team needs to at least break even each year. What's a typical budget to run up front in the IRL now and how does that compare too 1996?

Kunzman: Well, I think the big thing here, Dave, is of course it's going to be a lot higher now 15 races versus 7 was it, or whatever we had. The cost per race I'm going to guess has gone up in the neighborhood on a per race basis about double to six years. To be up front in IRL, like Panther or us, or somebody like that, you're going to spend 5-6 million a year, not counting your capital compensation, such as your facility, fixed assets. It's about a 5-6 million end of program which is going to keep going up every year. No way to contain it. Hopefully IRL will be able to control it to some degree and not let it escalate to the point where corporations just can't afford to do it. I think the point we're looking at is about 7-8 million a year. Over and above that, we've eliminated just about any corporation that can market their programs accordingly.

King: Yes, sir.

Q: For this gentleman, how do you support the race teams when they're away from Indy, say, Fontana or Homestead, you've got five teams that you're supporting, do you have backup engines or truckload of them? That's one question. The other one is you say the engines are built for at least 500-600 miles. If you go 800, do they turn to mush? What happens if you go --

King: So you want to -- basically to define track support and what happens to an engine after it's maxed out on its mileage.

Long: Basically, all of our teams have at least six engines in that neighborhood. So like while they are at Fontana, for example, they have a motor in each car -- an engine in each car, and they'll have, say, two spares in their transporter, and then there will be like an engine or two back at the shop being overhauled and freshened up for after Fontana. We keep a strong rotation going from race to race. And as far as each one of our teams has at least one person from our shop that's assigned to them. And like for example, Brian, which is one of our guys, he is not here, Brian is with Hemelgarn. So whenever Hemelgarn -- whenever they're on the road, whether testing, racing, whatever, Brian is with Hemelgarn Racing as a representative from Speedway Engines. And so each one of our teams has a representative with them all the time. And then as far as the engines, they don't turn to mush or whatever, but what we find is usually the neighborhood of 500-550 miles the power will sag off a little bit. And what I mean by that is, they'll be down 10 horsepower from what they were at 200 miles or so. And the other thing is, one of our constant issues is always valves, valve springs and then like pistons. That's when it become as problem after about 500 or 600 miles now. If, say, for example, the Indy 500, two years ago I think it was, I think we had 80-some laps of yellow or something like that. So at the end of the race, did the motor really have 500 miles on it? No, it had 500 miles of running, but it really only had 380 miles of hard running or 350 miles of hard running. So that isn't a problem to take a motor like that and say Hemelgarn Racing wants to go test at Fontana and run it another 200 or 300 miles. We actually do that quite a bit. Hemelgarn and Panther and -- for race weekends they always want to keep their stuff as fresh as possible, so 99% of the time we will put a fresh motor in for the race and run. In fact, a lot of times -- in fact, with you guys at Fontana there unfortunately the acci morning with Buddy, but that motor was a fresh motor for practice and qualifying that morning and they were going to run it the whole rest of weekend just the motor was slightly damaged on that crash. So it goes back to the intent of 500-600 miles is where we like to run the things. And after that, we like to overhaul them, which mainly is because of pistons and valve springs are the big issue. Does that answer?

King: Milt had something he wanted to add.

Wood: Just to kind of give you an add, in the course of 500 miles at the speeds these engines turn, these cylinder will fire about 6 million times in the course of 500 miles. The individual pistons will actually travel up and down 2000 miles in order to move the car 500 miles. So you are asking all of the components to perform at their peak for that length of time. As you get close to the end, you would like to get it back to the shop and take a look at it and see how they're doing.

-ims/irl-

Part III

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sam Schmidt , John Barnes , Sam Hornis
Teams Panther Racing