Chevy teams await benefits of new engine plan
Saturday, August 9, 2003
MADISON, Ill. -- Sam Hornish Jr. has seen the future and he likes it -- a lot.
As the top team in the IndyCar Series standings using Chevrolet engines, Hornish's Pennzoil/Panther Racing got to race two weeks ago in Michigan with the latest edition of the Chevy motors.
After going through more than half the Indy Racing League season with considerably less horsepower than the cars powered by the new Toyota and Honda engines, Hornish found himself racing at the front.
Only an inspired effort from Alex Barron, in a Honda-powered car, relegated the two-time defending series champion to second place by 0.0012-seconds -- the fourth closest finish in IRL history.
Now, heading into Sunday's Emerson Indy 250 at Gateway International Raceway, Hornish must go back to the previous version of the Chevy engine while Red Bull Cheever Racing and driver Buddy Rice -- the second-ranked Chevy team in the standings -- get the chance to work with the Gen IV Chevy Indy V8.
"We've led races with the Gen III this year and we had our opportunities to win," Hornish said Friday. "We'll get through the weekend, keep everything intact and try to get a top five here.
"Then, we'll see what we can do in the last five races."
All of the full-time IRL teams will get the newer version of the engine for the race at Kentucky on Aug. 17, but Rice is delighted to get a head start.
"I think it would have been nice for everybody to have it at one shot, but I think with what Chevy needed to do was test it in race trim, and the prime spot to do it was Michigan because it's the longest race we run all year.
"So, it was good to get a big, 400-mile hard run on it to make sure it was going to last the whole distance."
Rice said that Chevrolet, which has contracted with Cosworth to build the new version of its engine, has done its homework well.
"There might have been a small concern, like any other time with a new engine, to go the whole distance," he said. "But, really, they hadn't had a problem. and they didn't have any problems."
Joe Negri, GM Racing's IRL program manager, said Sunday's race will give the company a chance to test the new engine-electronics package under very different conditions on Gateway's 1.25-mile oval.
"The 2-mile Michigan oval required that the engine run at maximum power over a very narrow rpm range," Negri said. "Gateway has much tighter turns, so the engine will accelerate over a wider rpm band. This test will give us valuable data."
Rice tested here with the new engine last week and said, "As soon as you let the clutch out, it's a whole different animal."
He said the difference in the new engine might be as much as 60- to 80-horsepower.
"It should have given new life to everybody in the Chevy cam because it showed" at Michigan "the car could run up front," Rice said. "Now, everybody can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"Now we'll be competitive and we'll be able to save our sponsorship and our year."