CHAMPCAR/CART: Manufacturer's Forum: The Mid-Season Report

Below is the transcript from today's Manufacturer's Forum, an open press conference featuring representatives from CART's four engine manufacturers. CART Manufacturer's Forum Engine Manufacturer's Mid-Season Report July 21, ...

Below is the transcript from today's Manufacturer's Forum, an open press conference featuring representatives from CART's four engine manufacturers.

CART Manufacturer's Forum
Engine Manufacturer's Mid-Season Report

July 21, 2000

Jim Aust, President, Toyota Racing Development
Robert Clarke, General Manager, Honda Performance Development
Bruce Wood, Program Director, Ford Racing
Paul Ray, Vice President, Ilmor Engineering (Mercedes-Benz)

Could each of you give us a brief overview of your season so far, and what you see for the second half of the season?

Wood (Ford): We're fairly happy with our results so far. We proved to ourselves that there's no testing like racing. We tested something like 14,000 miles which is an unprecedented amount for us for introducing a new engine. We're fairly happy with the engine performance-wise. The big thing where we've gained over the past few years is in engine driveability. We've had our first road-course wins in recent years. We've got quite a few road courses and street circuits coming up, and we're hopeful that we'll be okay there. In the past we've started off the season well, but drifted off after that as the road course season came upon us. We hope this season it will be different. It's our first time since 1995 that we've been leading the championship at the halfway mark. Our reliability hasn't been as good as we'd hoped, certainly the first couple of races, we suffered badly and at the end of the day, that cost us some points in the championship.

Aust (Toyota): We've had a good first half of the season for Toyota, obviously, with Juan's win in Milwaukee. We've also had some races that we thought we should have won, but we got caught up with some mechanical problems. Motegi was one big disappointment for us early on, because Juan was leading the most laps only to have the wire came off the pop-off value. Nevertheless, it's been a good season thus far. Once you get that first win, there are all kinds of possibilities. With the podium finishes and where we stand in the standings, we're right in the hunt for the championship. Overall, we're very pleased with how the engine has performed thus far and we're looking forward to the second half of the season.

Ray (Mercedes): To be fair, it's not the best start we've had to a season, but we knew coming into this year that we had a hell of a lot of work to do to make up some lost ground. So we set out to come out with a new engine that was powerful to begin with, and work very heavily on reliability, which is basically where we are today. We're on top of the reliability issues, even if it doesn't always look that way. From where we sit, we're fairly confident in the engine itself, and now we're starting now to introduce various components that allow us to increase the performance of the engine. That's what everyone saw in Cleveland. It's anew specification that is much more powerful than the existing race spec, so slowly but surely we're working on getting that to the point where we can begin racing it. This year is a rebuilding year, we feel we're on our way. Ton Kanaan getting injured was a setback, but it gave us a chance to test two different drivers in the car and give us feedback on where we were with the driveability of the engine, and we've made some big gains just losing those two guys. Hopefully, we can start showing on the race track what we know we've got on the dyno.

Clarke (Honda): It's a little frustrating in that we haven't won as many races as we'd have liked to have won. The engine development part of the program has been going well. We've hit all of our targets. The durability of the product is very good; we've lost only two race engines this year in races, which is a very good record. Our focus is to get back on top. Typically, we've done our best on road course circuit, so we're looking forward to the second half of the season.

What do you think about Bobby Rahal's interest in reducing horsepower; can it be done easily or is it going to be a big technical headache?

Clarke (Honda): We're very aware that the quality of the racing is not what it should be. The viewership of the series and the marketability of the series is a concern for all of us. Whether reducing power will in effect mean make for better racing and mean better viewership is a big question. My personal opinion is that it won't. I think there are some bigger issues that CART needs to address. Reducing power will not guarantee better quality racing. Wings, tires * the entire package has to be considered, not just the engines. Honda is very supportive of the series. We wouldn't be here if we didn't believe in it. But having said that, we feel CART's thinking of reducing power on short notice as they're suggesting is very irrational and irresponsible on CART's part, to impose that would require us to react within 3 ½ months' time. There's a stability rule in CART for just that reason. We feel it should be upheld and supported.

Ray (Mercedes): Robert has put it precisely as I would have put it. At the beginning of this year, when Mercedes created a new engine, we set out a 24-month plan as to how that engine was going to be developed. We're part way through a very expensive and very time-consuming carefully planned out development program, and to suddenly change direction, for us, is a huge headache, particularly when you're trying to catch up. Suddenly changing direction is very damaging. We fought very hard with CART to get the stability rule in place, and once it lapsed the last time and we were very uncomfortable without a stability rule. Now we seem to have a stability rule that CART seems to be willing to totally ignore. You have to question that very carefully when you're thinking about what the future looks like. Philosophically, reducing power could potentially make the racing better, but will making the racing better watching on TV? I don't know the answer, but I doubt that on its own it will get the job done.

Aust (Toyota): The easiest thing is to leave the formula the way it is. Obviously, it costs money to change. In support of the series, from Toyota's perspective, getting fans in the seats and a TV audience is of the utmost importance. Whether reducing to 700 horsepower is the answer, I don't think any of us know, but if that is seen as important, then Toyota is in support of that.

Wood (Ford): I agree with what Jim says. We need to see the racing get better. No one at this table really knows that reducing power alone will get us back to where we need to be. Reducing power as part of a package of other things might get us back there. That will require a commitment from all of us to do it. If we could feel comfortable that it really will get the viewership up, then we'll be supportive of that. We need a little more information from CART to feel really comfortable enough to make that decision.

Did Ford experiment with reducing the boost pressure at Chicago? Is it the cheapest way to reduce power?

We did run some laps with Max Papis with the boost reduced to 34". It reduced top speed by about 12 miles per hour. With a little more optimization of the car, we could get that down to a 9-10 mph difference. Yes, everyone here agrees that reducing boost is the cheapest way of reducing power.

Some of you are trying some new things, different systems which others are thinking about (single turbo). Why not just run what you have? Is that development beneficial? Should it have been stopped?

Aust (Toyota): Is that one for me? (laughter) Competition drives the engine manufacturers to make changes regardless of what they are. Since its very competitive sport, we're looking for victory number 2 and to optimize whatever we can to give us that competitive edge. Changing the specs, if that will do it, that's where we're headed.

Clarke (Honda): It should have been stopped, in our opinion, and we voiced our opinion to CART to the technical committee. It's a consensus that the manufacturers (except Toyota) that there's very little value in that system. But there's a feeling from the owners and drivers -- users of the engine -- that we should be pursuing every possible ounce of performance that we can possibly find. Even if we're talking about something in the range of two or three or four or five horsepower. Basically, to protect ourselves from ourselves, we recommended to CART that we ban this device so we don't send ourselves down this road of development. It was not banned, so we looked at the device and basically confirmed to ourselves that it has very little performance. But we're running it on one car this weekend to get feedback from the driver on how it feels and how it performs.

You're all here to do technical development, but we're talking more and more and more about restrictions. Seems to me that the road we're heading down a road that's antithetical to why people go racing. It seems we don't have a long-term technical plan. Do you agree? Should there be one? How do we enact it, and if we continue down this road is it going to push you out because the motivation won't be there?

Clarke (Honda): I agree. I've voiced very clearly to Andrew Craig, Bobby, to Kirk, that CART needs a long-term business plan * not a marketing plan * a business plan. All the companies we deal with do it this way. That business plan needs to include every aspect of the business, including the technical rules, the marketing plans, the tracks you run on, and every possible aspect of the series. They need to look at where they are today, where they believe they need to be in the future, and then set out that we're going to do these things in '01, these in '02, these in '03 with the ultimate plan of reaching those objectives. We haven't seen anything that closely resembles that type of plan.

Ray (Mercedes): In the past when we were asked to put together an engine formula, the 1.8 liter formula was actually a 10-year formula. The reason we went to that size engine, was that we could lift the boost and gradually reduce the boost level without obsoleting it every time the boost was changed. When you make draconian changes like the one that's being proposed, you technically obsolete the equipment. While you could continue to run it with the lower boost, nobody here within 12 months will be running the same engine as before the rule was made. Whereas, in our previous plan, you had a one-inch reduction, that would leave you with an engine that was quite useable he following year. We've tried to push in that direction, but that advice obviously is not being taken on board.

Aust (Toyota): There are long term plans but they get adjusted based on circumstances that come up. The loss of the fan base, etc., is necessitating someone to take a look at where we are. Things have been done with aerodynamic changes haven't seemed to work, so they're looking at the engine formula. Ultimately, things have got to be done to improve the series, or sitting here talking about technology just won't be a concern.

Wood (Ford): It's been three years, and nobody's come back to us to say why that's unacceptable. Maybe the attempts to get back to Indy could have been a fly in the ointment. But it does seem that nobody wanted to hear that answer. From Ford's point of view, we're involved in NASCAR as a low technology series, so we want to see CART retain that high technology, it's very important to us.

Would you want to go to a 3.5 liter engine and keep it high tech for CART and then you could run at Indianapolis?

Ray (Mercedes): You can't. The IRL rules are restrictive enough that you can't have a CART engine that was usable at Indy. Either you adopt IRL-style rules or you go in your own direction. There isn't an engine that will do both, that you could refer to as today's high-technology CART engine. The block height dimensions, the bore, the rev limiters, preclude that. So CART has got to decide if they want to go in that direction, and we as manufacturers get to vote on whether to stay or not, if that's CART's feeling If we're asked to decide, then the four of us would sit down and go through it once more to determine the best approach.

Is it the technology transfer and development that's the priority or is it selling cars that you seek from your participation in CART?

Aust (Toyota): I think it's a combination of all of those. The technology is important. We have a dual role to market the product that we represent, which is selling cars that we manufacture. While technology is great and to be best among competitors is ideal, we need to sell the cars we manufacturers. Making the series exciting for people to watch is also a high priority.

Wood (Ford): None of us would be here alone.  The competition between us
is very important.  The technology transfer is important to us, marketing
is important.  So the key thing for us is the opportunity to compete.

Clarke (Mercedes): As Bruce said, the competition between us is what ultimately drives us. Very little of the technology ends up on a production car and in some ways the technology on a production car is already superior to what we use here. Competing against each other and Honda beating Ford, Mercedes or Toyota is what sells product. Obviously we can race in other series and achieve those same images for our customers. The key reason for us to be in CART is training. Not so much the technology itself, but the process that leads to that technology. Not fooling around with getting friction out of an engine as you would do with a low-performance IRL engine. Dealing with technology at a higher level is what's a bigger challenge for our engineers, and that's what's important to us.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Robert Clark
Teams Toyota Racing