Which Will Be The Engine Of Choice?
With all of the discussions going on about who has engines and who doesn’t, we seem to be losing focus on what we should be debating about. With the new 2.2 liter V-6 engines that will finally be competing next month, the biggest issue should be – which one is fastest?
The general consensus is that it won’t be the Lotus. For whatever reason, Lotus got a late start in their development and has been decidedly behind Honda and Chevrolet from the beginning. Honda got a slight jump ahead of Chevy and hit the track in early August. Chevy hit the track several weeks later, but I don’t believe Lotus actually turned a wheel until January. In the racing world, lagging that far behind is an eternity.
Although the Lotus engine came in several pounds lighter than the competition, officials in the IZOD IndyCar Series saw fit to punish Lotus by forcing them to make up the difference in weight by adding ballast to every Lotus car on the grid. Of course, series officials allowed them to go unpunished for their most egregious offense – not being able to meet their quota as an engine supplier, but I think I’ve addressed that inequity enough lately.
So that leaves Chevy and Honda to vie for the title of “coveted engine”. Remember those days from the late eighties, when only a select few were lucky enough to have a Chevrolet engine in their car? The rest of the field was saddled with a Porsche, Judd or Cosworth (or a Buick at Indianapolis). It ended up where the haves were the Chevy teams (Penske, Newman/Haas and Galles) and the have-nots were everyone else. That domination lasted until Ford entered the fray in 1992 with the Ford-Cosworth XB. Then suddenly, the Chevy-B, then Chevy-C engines were passé and Ford was suddenly the engine of choice. That is, until Honda finally figured things out by the 1996 season.
Will that be the case with the current versions of Honda and Chevrolet? Will one be a clear choice over the other? It could be. The problem is, I think most – if not all – teams signed three-year agreements with their respective engine lease deal. Whichever team comes up short, can expect some intense pressure from their teams to figure out a way to develop more horsepower – quickly.
So who is it going to be? In an ideal world, Chevy and Honda would split the amount of victories with a few thrown the way of Lotus. But that’s not going to happen. One of the engines will be woeful; one will probably be above average and one will likely end up being far superior. For argument’s sake, let’s assume Lotus is the woeful engine. That leaves Chevrolet and Honda.
Most are leaning towards giving the early nod to Honda, since they have been in the series since 2003. That would suit me just fine. I always owned at least one Honda (sometimes two) from 1981 through 2009, when I stepped away for a Nissan. Next week, that will change. My name is on a Honda that is due into the dealership in a few days. I’m glad to be getting back into one, especially since Honda has been such a loyal partner to the series for so long. That being said, my suspicion is that the new Honda engine will not be that strong at the beginning of the season.
Remember that the Honda engine that ran Chevy and Toyota out of the series after the 2005 season was built by Ilmor Engineering – the same company that built the dominant Chevy powerplant of the late eighties. Ilmor will not be building the new Honda engines. They will be built directly by Honda Performance Development (HPD), who built the last Honda engine to run in CART.
Ilmor will be building the new Chevy engine, reuniting the bow-tie with Ilmor for the first time since 2002, when the Oldsmobile engine Ilmor began building in 2001 was re-badged as a Chevy for ’02. In 2003, Ilmor began their association with Honda that lasted until this past season. Prior to the 2002 season; Ilmor Engineering had not been associated with Chevrolet since 1993, when Chevy announced they were leaving CART. What would have been badged the Chevy-D engine simply was known as the Ilmor D in 1994, before Mercedes-Benz joined forces for the 1995 season.
For whatever reason, the Ilmor-Mercedes CART program was underwhelming, at best. There were a few race wins, but no championships. It was considered the third best engine to have, behind Honda and Ford and just ahead of Toyota. Then Toyota caught up and passed them by 2000 – the year that Mercedes left the series at the end of the season.
These are all-new engines for 2012; different size, fewer cylinders, turbo-chargers. I am not an engineer, so take what I say with the proverbial grain of salt. Very little will translate from last year’s engine to this year’s. Honda engineers surely had access to the data but Ilmor owns the data. What little use last year’s data can be, I have this gut feeling that it will benefit Ilmor more than it will HPD – at least in the first half of the season.
My theory could be all wet. Remember, most “experts” seem to think Honda will prevail. Experts usually have earned the respect that they garner by being right in their chosen profession most of the time. I, on the other hand, am an amateur blogger who blogs at night and has yet to earn a dime from this site. My opinion is worth about as much as I’m paid to give it – nothing. If you’ve paid any attention to my race picks, you know what I’m talking about. But if you ask me – when the 2012 season is finished, Chevrolet will wind up being the engine of choice.
Shameless plug: Tomorrow night is Blogger Night on Trackside on 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis. I will be interviewed along with many of my fellow IndyCar bloggers. The show runs from 7:00 to 9:00 (Eastern). I am told that I’ll be the first blogger interviewed somewhere around about 7:20 Eastern. To listen live, click here and then click on the link that says "Click Here to listen LIVE to 1070 The Fan!". It’s usually good to relate a voice to a name – except in my case where my incurable southern accent makes for good fodder. But Blogger Night is always enjoyable. This one should be no different.