Frank views on engine rules changes

CART's Engine Manufacturer's Discuss Expected Reduction in Power for 2001

Frank views on engine rules changes

Representatives of CART's four engine manufacturers discussed the ChampCar organisation's plans to reduce horsepower by 150-200 BHP next year.

CART is expected to mandate an air restrictor that will go into effect for next season and 2002 prior to a possible introduction of an all-new 1.8 litre V8 turbo formula for 2003.

"We're very aware that the quality of the racing is not what it should be," said Honda's Robert Clarke. "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," Clarke went on. "Wings, tyres -- 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 three months time. There's a stability rule in CART for just that reason. We feel it should be upheld and supported."

Paul Ray, vice president of Ilmor North America, builders of Mercedes-Benz's CART engines agreed with Clarke. "Robert has put it precisely as I would have put it," Ray said. "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," Ray continued. "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 increase people watching on TV? I don't know the answer, but I doubt that on its own it will get the job done."

Toyota's Jim Aust said he prefers to see the engine formula remain unchanged. "The easiest thing is to leave the formula the way it is," Aust said. "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."

Bruce Wood, program director of Ford/Cosworth's CART program added his general agreement to the debate. "I agree with Jim," Wood said. "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."

The four engine manufacturers said they believe CART needs to adopt a much more rigorous long-term approach to it's technical rules. "I've voiced very clearly to Andrew Craig, to Bobby and to Kirk (Russell), that CART needs a long-term business plan -- not a marketing plan -- a business plan," said Honda's Clarke. "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."

Mercedes' Ray agreed. "In the past when we were asked to put together an engine formula, the 1.8-litre formula was actually a 10-year formula," Ray noted. "The reason we went to that size engine, was that we could lift the boost and gradually reduce the boost level without making it obsolete 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."

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