Chevrolet penalties raise a lot of questions

Chevrolet was hit with some big penalties following St. Pete.

Chevrolet penalties raise a lot of questions
Team Penske
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Sage Karam, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Caution period
Luca Filippi, CFH Racing Chevrolet
Josef Newgarden, CFH Racing Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Race action
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet

The news that Chevrolet is faced with a deficit of 192 points after either offing the cam cover on 11 of its 12 engines and/or breaking some or all of the INDYCAR imposed seals after the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener at St Petersburg more than a week ago calls for a bunch of questions.

It also reopens the memory bank of all Chevrolet-equipped racers forfeiting their qualifying positions at Long Beach in 2012 after the manufacturer opted to change every engine due to durability concerns. At that time, an unauthorized engine change resulted in a loss of 10 grid positions for the team/driver, who had nothing to do with engine problems, provided they didn’t cause it through driver/team negligence.

In 2012, Chevrolet opted to change every engine after making a discovery of an internal problem and take the 10-place grid spot penalty; the results show that penalty had little meaning then as Will Power won the race for Team Penske/Chevrolet, followed by the Honda of Simon Pagenaud and James Hinchcliffe in an Andretti Autosport Chevy-powered car. Seven of the top 10 finishers were Chevy-powered after the engine swaps.

Change for 2015

The 10-place rule was later rescinded, with points and penalties in the engine manufacturer championship being decided in engine use and being achieved or denied for the manufacturer itself. This year, for the first time, there are points rewards for making the 2,500-mile distance without difficulties; it was an idea posed to INDYCAR last year by engine makers. In essence they said, “Don’t just slap our hands; reward us when we get it right.”

On April 6 INDYCAR announced that Chevrolet had been docked 20 points per engine for a non-minor engine repair to 11 of its 12 engines. There are four engines allotted to each car for covering 10,000 miles on a season. While Chevrolet initially earned 128 points for the race, based on its top-three result, an added point for Will Power’s pole position and leading all but five laps of the contest, seventh-placed Honda (led by 2012 champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay) achieved 70 points. Following the sanctions here, Honda holds a 162-point advantage in the manufacturers’ championship heading into the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana on April 12.

We discovered an issue in durability testing after these race engines were built

Chevrolet's Chris Berube

The current rulebook states that a non-minor engine repair is one where the cam covers are removed and/or the seals affixed by INDYCAR on various parts of the engine are broken. In this case the seals were broken and INDYCAR was apprised, throughout the process. Seals are attached to just about every cover on the engine: from the sump to the block, from the block to the head, from the cam cover to the head and front cover to the block, just to give a few primary locations.

While certain items on the engine are “free”, such as pistons, they can only be changed on a rebuild, according to our sources at Chevrolet. And with seals located throughout the engine, just a simple look at a part that might - or might not - have an issue results in a penalty. Chevrolet decided to make these repairs to 11 of 12 engines, believing the 12th engine is in sufficiently good condition to race this weekend at NOLA. Chevrolet would not release the identity of the team running engine No. 12.

“We discovered an issue in durability testing after these race engines were built,” noted Chris Berube, Chevrolet’s program manager for the Verizon IndyCar Series, “and we decided to make repairs as a precaution.” Chevrolet did ask INDYCAR, per the rules as stated, and were granted permission to make repairs. They were fully aware of the penalties attached to this process: “Delivering dependable and fast engines to our teams and drivers, giving them every opportunity to win races and run for the championship is the goal of Chevrolet and its technical partners.”

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