IRL: St. Pete: Chevy preview

Chevy and IRL Take a Turn in St. Petersburg GM Racing Prepares for First IndyCar Series Road Race in St. Petersburg ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Chevy Indy V-8 scored its first victory in open-wheel racing on April 5, 1987, on the streets of Long...

Chevy and IRL Take a Turn in St. Petersburg

GM Racing Prepares for First IndyCar Series Road Race in St. Petersburg ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Chevy Indy V-8 scored its first victory in open-wheel racing on April 5, 1987, on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., with Mario Andretti at the wheel of a Chevrolet-powered Lola. Now 18 years later, Panther Racing drivers Tomas Scheckter and Tomas Enge are aiming to achieve another racing milestone for Chevrolet on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

As the only engine manufacturer that has been a part of the IRL IndyCar Series since the introduction of the series' naturally aspirated race cars in 1997, GM previously has focused its development program on the high-speed ballet of oval track racing. Now with the first road race in IRL history poised to begin in St. Petersburg on April 3, GM Racing faces a new set of engineering challenges as drivers add right turns to their racing repertory.

"There are many unknowns going into the IRL IndyCar Series' first street race, from brake pad compounds and transmission gear ratios to aerodynamic setups," said Kevin Bayless, GM Racing's IRL aerodynamics and chassis specialist. "Although it is a temporary circuit, the St. Petersburg track appears to be relatively fast and wide, with some high-speed corners and opportunities for passing. It has some of the characteristics of a natural road course that you might not expect on a street circuit."

Chevrolet's IRL program is tightly focused on the two-car Panther Racing team in 2005. Drivers Scheckter (Pennzoil Chevrolet) and Enge (Rockstar Chevrolet) both have road racing backgrounds in Formula 3, Formula 3000 and Formula 1. That experience will be an advantage in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

"The goal is to give the drivers consistent aerodynamic balance over the course of a lap," Bayless explained. "Simply adding downforce isn't the solution. They need a car that is good under braking, good in the middle of the corner and good on exit. A setup might excel in one of those areas, but it needs to be good in all three for maximum speed and driveability.

"A lot of effort will go into tuning the suspension to maximize mechanical grip while minimizing changes in the aero platform," Bayless added. "From an aerodynamic standpoint, you'd like a stiff setup that maintains a consistent ride height. Mechanical grip generally requires softer springs, which allow the chassis to move and therefore produce variations in aerodynamic downforce. Finding the best compromise between these conflicting requirements will keep the engineers and mechanics busy."

The 14-turn, 1.8-mile St. Petersburg circuit comprises an airport runway, downtown city streets and a bayside drive. This diverse layout will require far more gear changes than the ovals that have hosted the previous 105 IRL events.

"Fortunately the transmissions have performed reliably in the IRL's two open tests on road courses," Bayless reported. "It should be a case of selecting the proper gear ratios for the circuit and fine tuning the shift-without-lift software when the cars get on the track."

While the move to road courses has required changes in the chassis and suspension, the Chevy Indy V-8 engines that will power the two Panther Racing entries are not significantly different from the motors that put Scheckter on the pole and Enge third on the grid in the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"Our approach is that if you have a powerful and reliable engine, you can race it on any track," said Joe Negri, GM Racing IRL program manager. "We are continuing to make improvements in the engine, but we haven't developed a unique road course specification for the Chevy Indy V-8. Some of the changes that were made for St. Petersburg are designed to tailor the engine's throttle response to the drivers' preferences, but the basic package is very similar to what we raced in Homestead."

The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is the third round of the 17-race IRL IndyCar Series. The race will be televised live on ESPN at 3:30 p.m. (EST) on April 3.

General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), the world's largest automaker, has been the global industry sales leader since 1931. Founded in 1908, GM today employs about 324,000 people around the world. It has manufacturing operations in 32 countries and its vehicles are sold in 200 countries. In 2004, GM sold nearly 9 million cars and trucks globally, up 4 percent and the second-highest total in the company's history. GM's global headquarters are at the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit. More information on GM can be found at www.gm.com.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Tomas Enge , Mario Andretti
Teams Panther Racing