Second-Generation Indy Car Engine Powers Dozen Oldsmobile Drivers in Indy Racing League Open Test
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Oldsmobile rang in the New Year with a celebration of speed at Walt Disney World Speedway in the Indy Racing League's first open test of 2000. A dozen Oldsmobile drivers completed 1084 laps on the roller-coaster one-mile oval in the first day of a scheduled two-day test with new 3.5-liter versions of the undefeated IRL Aurora V8 racing engine. The smaller, faster-revving engines racked up another strong reliability record, with only one minor mechanical problem reported.
Reigning IRL champion Greg Ray continued to set the pace in pre-season testing, lapping the three-cornered oval in 21.372 seconds at 168.445 mph in Team Menard's primary Conseco Oldsmobile-Dallara. Ray also turned the second fastest time in his backup chassis at 167.707 mph. Both marks bettered Ray's 165.624 mph fastest lap in December's open test.
Scott Sharp was third on the speed chart at 167.333 mph in Kelley Racing's Delphi Oldsmobile-Dallara, followed by Oldsmobile-powered drivers Buzz Calkins (167.069 mph), Mark Dismore (166.752 mph), and Robby McGehee (166.520 mph).
"We're just working around the edges of the envelope," said Ray, 33, of Plano, Texas. "There aren't many days left until the first race."
The ten-race IRL series will kick off with the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on January 29th. Team Menard engine builder Butch Meyer echoed his driver's sense of urgency. "We'll test again next week," he reported. "That will be my last chance to work on the engine combination before the season starts. I don't expect any problems turning the motors to 10,700 rpm on a one-mile oval.
"I was trying some new parts in one engine, and we did break a valve spring at the end of the day," Meyer revealed. "If you don't keep pushing, you won't run faster. The other car ran flawlessly."
Renowned Indy car engine builder VDS joined the ranks of Oldsmobile engine suppliers, providing IRL Aurora V8s for Galles Racing driver Al Unser Jr. The two-time Indy 500 winner ran 149 laps on Wednesday in his first public appearance in an IRL car, posting the ninth fastest speed at 162.111 mph.
"I really like the IRL formula," said Unser. "The IRL chassis gives me a feeling of security in the corners because it has a lot of grip and downforce. The normally aspirated engines have a little narrower power band than a turbocharged engine. They're built to run on ovals exclusively, so the power is concentrated at the top of the rpm range. My IRL car really hauls the mail - it's a fast race car. "Thirty-three of these cars are going to sound great at Indy," Unser declared. "I just hope and pray that I'm driving one of them!"
Six independent engine builders supplied Oldsmobile IRL Aurora V8s for the open test: Comptech, Team Menard, NAC Engines, Brayton Engineering, Roush Technologies, and VDS. The majority of the engines were equipped with new optional 180-degree "flat" crankshafts that produce a high-pitched exhaust note, while two teams opted for the proven 90-degree crankshaft design used since 1997.
"I think the 180-degree crank is the way to go," said Jim Wright of Brayton Engineering, the engine supplier for the McCormack-Byrd IRL team. "On our dyno, it's worth about ten horsepower over a 90-degree crankshaft - and ten horsepower is significant in these cars. The performance will only improve as we develop a package for the new 10,700 rpm rev limit."
Mickey Nickos of NAC Engines installed conventional 90-degree crankshafts in the IRL Aurora V8s he built for Mid-America Motorsports driver Doug Didero. "It's really all about economics," Nickos noted. "It was less expensive for us to convert our engines to 3.5 liters using 90-degree cranks because we could use the same camshafts and other components that we used previously. The 90-degree design produces a slightly different vibration frequency that may be easier on the valvetrain."
Comptech Machine supplied 3.5-liter Oldsmobile engines for six drivers at the Walt Disney World test, including Sharp, McGehee, Calkins, Dismore, Sam Schmidt, and Donnie Beechler. "We're concentrating on rock-solid reliability for the first race of the year instead of sheer horsepower," confided Comptech co-owner Doug Peterson. "We have a new camshaft profile that makes more power, but I think we'll stay with our current engine specification for the opening race. The difference in performance between the 180- and 90-degree crankshafts is negligible on our opinion, but I definitely feel that the flat crank produces a more high-tech image. A full grid of Indy cars will sound very impressive."
Team will test privately at Walt Disney World Speedway in the coming weeks as they prepare for the first major auto race of 2000. General Motors engineers are also continuing to refine the performance and reliability of the new-generation IRL Aurora V8 to extend Oldsmobile's perfect 29-0 record in IRL competition.
TOP FIVE TEST SPEEDS -- Wednesday, January 5, 2000
Driver Entrant Engine Speed Laps 1. Greg Ray Team Menard Oldsmobile 168.445 mph 44 2. Greg Ray (T) Team Menard Oldsmobile 167.707 41 3. Scott Sharp Kelley Racing Oldsmobile 167.333 22 4. Buzz Calkins Bradley Mtrspt. Oldsmobile 167.069 31 5. Mark Dismore Kelley Racing Oldsmobile 166.752 70