Editorial

CART Franchise Board fails to ratify new engines
by Mark Cipolloni
December 5, 2001

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It's been 60-days since the CART Franchise Board announced that they had chosen an IRL-like 3.5L normally aspirated engine for CART to use beginning in 2003.  At that time the board charged John Lopes and Derrick Walker to come up with the details of those engines for CART.  Those details were presented at today's Franchise Board meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. The details needed to be agreed upon now for the manufacturers and teams to be ready for 2003.

From what I understand, Lopes and company presented four companies that agreed to supply the 3.5L engines - Toyota, Ilmor, Judd and TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing).  However, of those, only two, Toyota and TWR, are car manufacturers. Nissan does not want their name on the engine in CART I am told (probably to not piss off Tony George), so it would be badged TWR in CART races and Nissan for the Indy 500.  Indy 500 rules prohibit any engine from competing that does not have a car manufacturers name on it.  Hence, only the Toyota and TWR/Nissan CART teams would be any closer to going to the Indy 500, which means this entire concept has hit a major roadblock.  If all the teams don't get closer to making Indy with the 3.5L engine, how do you get the votes needed to win approval?

At the meeting, Bruce McCaw and Jerry Forsythe made a strong pitch for the 'spec' 2.65 Liter 750 HP Turbo Cosworth deal, priced at around $1.5 million per car per year.  With different Franchise Board members in favor of one or the other package, the meeting quickly became chaotic and Chip Ganassi stormed out.  With Chip gone, apparently there were not enough members present to get the 18 necessary votes to approve anything, and the meeting was adjourned around 1:00 PM with no decision made.  I don't ever see that group getting 18 of 21 votes to agree on anything, and I was shocked when they got it when they voted on the 3.5L N/A engine in the first place.

Time is quickly running out for anyone to be ready for the 2003 season.  The final details for 2003 really should have been completed by now.  Therefore, like it or not, CART may have no choice but to take the Cosworth offer, as those engines can be essentially ready tomorrow. Frankly, most of CART's fans would be ecstatic if that were to happen, as most prefer the 2.65L turbo and its wonderful sound.

I learned today that CART is even entertaining the idea of buying Cosworth Inc (i.e. just the Torrance, Ca. rebuilding facility) and buying all the engines (150 or so) for $15 million.  CART would then lease the engines to the teams for the same $1.5 million annually.  By the 2nd year CART would be close to break even, and by the 3rd year of the deal, actually be making a small profit.  It's assumed the engine would have the 'CART' name on it, i.e. it would be a CART Turbo Engine, or they could sell the naming rights to just about anyone I suppose.  By buying Cosworth, CART would have absolute full control of their engine destiny for at least three years and the teams would be assured of low-cost race engines, as cheap or cheaper than IRL engines.

As I have alluded to previously, I have information that another deal is in the works whereby the teams would get Cosworth engines essentially free, however, I am not at liberty to reveal those details at this time until all the loose ends are tied up....it's still possible it may not happen, but I am told it's 90% real.

However, although the Cosworth offer is very attractive, as I have written in the past, having a 'spec' engine means zero engine manufacturer involvement.  That means no companies buying print advertisements, TV ads, hospitality, ticket giveaways, etc.  In essence, CART loses out on the millions of dollars these manufacturers would spend, and the overall 'wealth' of the CART series would be much lower.  Hence, I would keep the Cosworth deal in my back pocket as a last-ditch resort until, say, June.

If I were CART, I would seriously recommend they entertain my previous proposal.  Either buy Cosworth's Torrance, CA rebuilding plant, or do the deal with Cosworth, to supply just the bottom half of the engines, the turbo system, and the electronics. This 'partial' engine would not have the Ford name associated with it at all, it would be strictly a 'CART' bottom end that they contracted with Cosworth to make for them. Then offer to any car manufacturer who wants to participate in the CART series, the opportunity to design just their own heads, intake manifolds and fuel injection system, and by doing so, would be entitled to call the engine their own.

With this proposal, it's estimated that all the engines would be within 20 or 40 HP of each other, regardless of the company doing the heads and intakes, because there's only so much one can do with the bore, stroke, turbo, and electronics being fixed. Also, if the Cosworth bottom end of the engine is fixed, the manufacturers who design the top end of the engine would not be able to significantly bump up engine RPM (this is the #1 factor that raises engine costs) because the bottom end would not be designed for it, and would fail.  In essence then, you have 1) an easy and cheap way for any manufacturer to enter the series, 2) pretty close performance on all the engines for good competition, 3) car manufacturers involved, thereby, spending the millions of dollars in the CART series that would otherwise be lost with a purely 'spec' engine.

I propose this engine formula for a period of just three years, maximum.  Then by 2006 CART will have grown their series into something much stronger than it currently is (because of Chris Pook's new leadership), and CART will have engine manufacturers who would be willing to spend the gazillions of dollars needed to do an entire engine from scratch, be it normally aspirated or a 1.8L turbo.

Meanwhile, with any of these proposals, the teams will see the current engine budgets cut drastically, meaning they will save plenty of money to also be able to lease equipment to run the Indy 500 each year, which was their goal when they adopted the idea of a 3.5 L N/A engine in the first place.

At this point, time is running out folks, a decision has to be made.  Perhaps Pook will be installed as President within a week (I hear) and hit the ground running and ruling with an iron fist.  It's time to lay it on the line - tell everyone (don't ask) what the engine formula will be, make sure it's a viable one, and open it up for takers.  If you get no takers, we will have 100% Cosworth engines for a couple of years, and go from there.  It's time for the procrastination to stop......now!

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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