Setting sponsorship aside (which is the most laughable statement I’ve ever written, sponsorship is the lifeblood of INDYCAR and if you want to read up on it, you can find my recent blog post here) the next biggest culprit to drivers not getting seats is: there is a set amount of seats. If I were to start yet another economics lecture (I won’t after sponsorship and ROI – which you can read about here – I am done) I would start talking about finite resources. The two current engine manufactures for INDYCAR can only provide so many engines and so there can only be so many seats. We recently discussed the number of seats left in the regular INDYCAR season (give a listen here) and the mathematics show that aside from the revolving seats in the two Juncos cars – all full-time spots are full, bringing the count to twenty-six seats. If you are looking ahead to May, we’re going to have a considerable amount of bumping this year for the Indianapolis 500. Bumping is a good thing (well once we all comes to terms with the cost of bumping, something that was traumatic and I wrote about last season here) but that we’re out of seats and a lot of good racers don’t have seats is a bad thing. The solution? We need another engine manufacturer, which is easy to say, but not easy to do.
Nowadays it seems like it’s been Honda and Chevrolet engines. That’s all we talk about because those are the two engines that are currently in the series. I’m sure some older fans are starting to feel their blood pressure rise because INDYCAR is a series of innovation and “back in the day” there were thousands of engines. Don’t worry old-timer you are correct there have been countless types of engines to come through INDYCAR. Like how there was a time when the tires weren’t just Firestone. I’m not going to go all the way back to the beginning of time, just back to the IRL start.
So back in 1996 for the very first season of the Indy Racing League, the cars had engines built by Buick and some were using the Ford-Cosworth engines that were also supplied to CART teams. The following year, 1997, Oldsmobile and Nissan supplied the engines. It was 2002 when Chevrolet entered into the picture, following the switch of Oldsmobile to Chevrolet. Next year (2003), Honda entered the game along with Toyota. However, in 2005 both Chevrolet and Toyota backed out of their engine programs saying it was too expensive to carry on. So Honda was the sole supplier of engines for INDYCAR through 2012. In 2012 Chevrolet came back and now it’s the duel of Honda v. Chevy engines we’ve come to know and love.
To get a grasp on how things have changed, the engines back in 1996 provided by Menard-Buick were V8 with 22.1psi and 700 hp. Since 2012, per the regulations, the engines provided by Chevrolet and Honda are V6 and put out 750bhp. Both Honda and Chevrolet, with INDYCAR, are working on the development of an upgraded engine that may be capable of 900hpb and an increase from 2.2 to 2.4-litres. Testing is slated to being in the summer of 2020 and if another manufacturer wants to join, they need to step up by mid-2019 to get involved in the testing process. Otherwise, it’ll be shut out until the following round of engine spec changes.
To understand why the OEM would be shut out, you have to realize that it’s not a slap-and-dash type job to get these new engines. Both Honda and Chevrolet will be working closely with INDYCAR on these designs and tests. Putting on my legal hat, to have another manufacturer step in at the last minute, take the designs from all the testing/sharing of information and waltz into the series would ring so many alarms I’m sure that the contracts in the process now are making sure that doesn’t happen.
So who could it be? Well, the rumours are rampant. Chrysler, through Alfa Romeo, is one of the strongest rumours as their CEO recently discussed joining INDYCAR. BMW is heavily involved in SportsCars, including working with Rahal Letterman Langian’s team and with Andretti Autosport in Formula E. Plus look over to all the engine manufactures in Formula 1 names like Mercedes and Ferrari. Plus Chrysler, despite their misgivings, may come back. One of them needs to pull the trigger, or I suppose since we’re talking engines, stick the keys into the ignition and turn it over.
The series needs another engine manufacturer to join. Now is maybe one of the best times as we’re seeing upticks in viewership, the new aero kit will now be a year old and teams are used to it, and the series is seeing growth also in international markets (hellooooo Australia race!). We’ve all ready seen the writing on the wall. When Harding Steinbrenner Racing announces they were going with Honda, Honda gave a wink and a nod that they are nearly out of engines.
The clock is ticking, we’re shy of six-months out from the next Indianapolis 500, and that seems to be the hard line in the sand.
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