IRL: GM Q&A on Indy Car Rules

GENERAL MOTORS Q&A ON INDY CAR ENGINE REGULATIONS August 3, 1999 (In response to news media questions, the following comments are for attribution to Joe Negri, IRL/Road Racing Group manager, GM Raceshop Engineering.) Q: Recently there has...


(In response to news media questions, the following comments are for attribution to Joe Negri, IRL/Road Racing Group manager, GM Raceshop Engineering.)

Q: Recently there has been considerable public discussion and speculation about engine specifications for American open-wheel racing. Has General Motors participated in meetings with IRL and CART sanctioning body officials, Nissan and the four CART engine manufacturers - Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota - to discuss the potential for a common engine formula?

A: Yes, we have. But all of the participants have agreed that these discussions should be confidential, so I am not at liberty to talk about specific details.

Q: Generally speaking, what is GM's public position on how much influence engine manufacturers should have on the future of Indy-type racing?

A: We believe that it's best for racing when sanctioning organizations independently formulate rules that benefit all of their various constituencies - race fans, promoters, teams, drivers, sponsors and manufacturers. Input from all of these groups is important to create a balanced environment. It can be unhealthy for the sport as a whole when any one group exerts undue influence on the rules.

Q: What is GM's current commitment to the IRL engine formula?

A: General Motors strongly supports the IRL rules package announced in November 1998 for the years 2000 through 2004. Through its Oldsmobile Division, GM has extended its agreement to supply engines for the IRL series through at least 2001. GM Raceshop Engineering, its associated engine builders and several IRL teams have already started development of a naturally aspirated, 3.5-liter version of the IRL Aurora V8 engine to meet the new rules.

Q: Could the IRL engine formula be changed to make it better?

A: Anything can be improved. The current IRL engine formula was carefully crafted to balance the often opposing areas of performance, technology, cost and availability. A free and open market encourages manufacturers and engine builders to compete on the basis of performance, reliability, durability, quality, price and service. This type of system has proven successful for NASCAR, and it has helped re-establish the importance of independent engine builders, mechanics and aftermarket suppliers in Indy car racing. Significant changes in IRL engine technical specifications, pricing or availability requirements could upset this balance. For instance, changes in IRL engine rules could have a potentially devastating economic impact on independent engine builders, IRL team owners and sponsors who have planned and budgeted their programs based on the expectation that costs would be contained within reasonable limits.

Q: Is there any concern at GM that there is not enough advanced technology in IRL engines?

A: GM believes that the current IRL engine formula provides a reasonable middle ground between NASCAR and Formula One. Multi-valve, overhead cam engines with electronic engine management represent a technology level similar to our most advanced production engines. They clearly raise the technology level over NASCAR specifications, while the general availability of engine components preserves the successful NASCAR engine distribution system. Limiting engine speed with a rev limiter considerably reduces the potential for Formula One-level expenses related to continuous development to make engines run faster in order to produce more power.

Q: What is GM's position on leasing versus purchasing racing engines?

A: We have first-hand experience with engine leasing through our previous involvement in CART. We also have extensive experience with series such as NASCAR in which manufacturers supply major components for engines that are assembled and owned by teams. We believe that equal access to engine technology for all competitors is a cornerstone of NASCAR's long-term success. Based on this experience, we are confident in the ability of teams and independent engine builders to produce reliable and competitive engines at reasonable prices. The only issue we see about buying versus leasing is when leasing is the only option, and it is used to restrict availability or to prevent teams from working on their own engines. By having the option to either lease or to buy, sell, rent, maintain and modify their engines, team owners are in control of their own destinies. A leasing-only system gives control over production, distribution, development and pricing exclusively to manufacturers.

Q: What about the issue of protecting GM's proprietary engine technology?

A: We are not concerned about anyone examining and copying GM's current race engines because we are constantly working on new technology. Any engine manufacturer that is more focused on copying someone else's technology than developing their own is always going to be a step behind the leader. One of the benefits of the IRL's open engine availability is that we have been able to learn things from the independent engine builders even as they have learned things from us.

Q: Can a manufacturer learn more about production engine technology when there are fewer restrictions on the level of technology used in their racing engines?

A: Not necessarily. It is important to General Motors for both engineering and marketing reasons that the rules allow our vehicle divisions to base their motorsports programs on the basic architecture of GM production engines. Recognizing that the rules in every major form of motorsports impose some restraints on technology and costs, GM supports rules that encourage manufacturers to produce engines which are relevant to their core business.

Q: Would GM welcome the opportunity to compete against additional manufacturers?

A: Yes, but not at inflated costs. GM carefully evaluates the cost/value relationship of all of its programs. We are constantly looking for the best return on investment. You don't automatically get twice as much value from a program that costs twice as much. The current IRL engine formula provides a good return on investment for GM. If there were rule changes that resulted in a substantially higher cost structure without a comparable rise in value, we would have to re-evaluate our program.

Q: Can the overall popularity of Indy car racing be improved through changes in technical rules?

A: By itself, an agreement on technical rules would not address all pressing concerns, such as attendance and television ratings. For example, rule changes that don't adequately address cost containment could drive up the cost of competition without necessarily improving the popularity or marketability of open-wheel racing.

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