Editorial

Why CART and F1 must, and will, share a common V-10 engine

 

 by Mark Cipolloni
January 17, 2003

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Renault V-10 F1 engine

Somewhere around the middle of 2002, CART President Chris Pook sent shockwaves through the CART community with the notion that normally aspirated V-10 gasoline engines would be used starting in 2005.  That news came as a surprise to many, some questioning who on earth would build a new V-10 engine for CART, a series then in serious disarray. 

In September I predicted that in order for CART to get anyone to build V-10 engines for them, somehow Chris Pook and Bernie Ecclestone would have to come up with a way for both series to share a common engine platform.  Most stock car racing series share a common 5.7 liter pushrod engine platform - standards are always good.

Everyone thought it was preposterous to think that CART teams could ever afford F1 engines. Think again.  With this weeks sweeping changes to the F1 engine regulations, the cost of F1 engines will be significantly less in 2005 and beyond (see sidebar).  The stage is now set for CART to announce similar, if not exact engine specifications for their new V-10 engines for 2005.  There just isn't any reason to justify CART going off and developing their own unique engine formula.  Absolutely none.

Announced F1 engine changes

  • eliminate pit to car telemetry;

  • eliminate car to pit telemetry;

  • eliminate all radio communication between team and driver;

  • allow only two cars per team (ie no spare car);

  • place cars in parc fermč between final qualifying and the race (teams will be unable to work on them, except under strict supervision);

  • eliminate traction control, launch control and fully automatic gearboxes (possible derogation for all or part of 2003 to be followed by absolute enforcement in 2004, if necessary by means of standard electronic control units - you heard that here on AR1 too);

and that for 2005 it intends to bring in further sporting rules to require

  • engine life to be extended from one to two races; (sounds like CART)

  • a further extension to the life of major components;

  • new penalties for engine or component changes outside permitted times;

and that for 2006 it intends to bring in a further sporting rule to require

  • engine life to be extended to six races;

and that it will seek the agreement of the teams to introduce a new technical regulation to

  • eliminate the use of expensive exotic materials in any part of the car, including the engine.

Let's examine why this has to happen.

Back in April of 2002, at a racing summit held in Indianapolis, Tony George let it slip that his goal was to grow the IRL into the biggest, most popular racing series in the world, bigger than NASCAR Winston Cup and bigger than F1.

At the time everyone just snickered, thinking there was no way the IRL was going to knock Winston Cup and F1 off their high perch.  Since that time however, things have changed.  While NASCAR continues to grow at a precipitous rate, F1 has fallen on relatively hard times, having priced itself out of the market so-to-speak.  CART, meanwhile, had been run down to a shadow of its former self by poor management and boring follow-the-leader racing at many venues.

It also became quite evident, from comments made by the oval track camp (IRL, NASCAR, Penske, George, France et al) that they were going to work hard to grow their oval track business.  After all, they are all in the same business, the oval track business, and it behooves them to work together to grow every aspect of that business.  Who can blame them?

As they say business is business, and sometime business can be fierce and ruthless.  If there is a way to eliminate your competition, you do.  Hence, the comment from Tony George back in May that he brings his hammer to work everyday, when asked if he was close to nailing CART's coffin shut, was really a hint that the largely road racing series of CART was a competitor that needed to be eliminated to help the IRL gain market share and whatever sponsors CART had left.  At the time, he was basking in the thought that his mission was almost accomplished.

Meanwhile, stories began to leak that Honda and Toyota were headed to Winston Cup.  Japanese manufacturers in NASCAR?  Surely this couldn't happen.  Now it appears the stage is set for American companies Dodge, Ford, Chevy and Pontiac, to go up against Toyota, Honda, and whoever else.  NASCAR has made all their cars identical sans the paint job and decals, making it easy for any manufacturer to get into NASCAR.  All they need is an engine. 

Make no mistake, NASCAR sees the real possibility that it may have reached market saturation in the USA.  It needs to start expanding outside the borders of the USA and become an international company.  We saw a Japanese driver for the first time last year, and the pump is now primed to make NASCAR into a product that can be sold around the world, and take the IRL along for the ride.

Some have even suggested that the current 3.5 Liter overhead cam IRL engine could replace the carbureted pushrod engines NASCAR currently uses.  Honda, Toyota and Chevy already make one for the IRL, and Ford was close to making one as well.  Ford decided not to play the game in the 11th hour last year, instead sticking with CART.  If they had jumped ship, NASCAR (Winston Cup, Busch, and Trucks) and the IRL would have been poised to share a common engine platform.  Common tracks, common engines, a common racing philosophy (low-tech, tightly controlled rules, side-by-side racing in tight packs), and a common fan base.  That strong oval-track product featuring close side-by-side racing, could and would be sold on the worldwide market.

NASCAR had tried to expand overseas years ago in Japan, but that experiment was largely a flop because NASCAR was too American.  It wasn't ready for the worldwide market.  But with Honda and Toyota joining the fray, and Mercedes indirectly through Dodge, with drivers from Japan and Brazil (Fittipaldi) that stage is being set.  The possibility of getting Frenchman Alain Prost (former F1 champion and former F1 team owner) to field a Winston Cup team must have the strategists in Daytona rubbing their hands with delight - another international component.  All the pieces were falling into place.

I am sure none of this was lost on Chris Pook and Bernie Ecclestone. Both run road racing series, and I am sure both could see the threat to their existence that this mighty oval track cartel poses.  It was time to band together and form a "road racing" cartel to counter the oval track cartel.  Divided and they would eventually fall victim to the oval track juggernaut, but together they could strengthen their core product and protect their market share.

Getting back to the rules changes this week by F1.  In order to invite more teams and manufacturers into F1 and CART, costs had to come down drastically.  After all, the oval track cartel has a cost-effective package, and any good businessman knows, if your competition is pricing their product way below yours, they are eventually going to drive you out of the market.

Hence, the new rules, both in CART and F1, are meant to take cost and technology as much out of the equation as possible, and make the driver and pit crews (the athletes) the single most important element in winning races.  And if your competition is selling close racing, you had better as well.  Looking at the new F1 and CART rules recently imposed, the road racing powerbrokers clearly understand the need for total reform.

And if your competition has banded together and are racing on a common cost-effective engine platform, you had better as well.  Hence why I believe CART must, and will, adopt an identical 3.0 Liter V-10 engine platform with F1 in 2005 (engines lasting two race weekends in 2005, and six race weekends in 2006).

With a common engine platform, Bernie, Chris and Max will instantly make both series more attractive to engine manufacturers, the lifeblood of any successful big-time racing series.  This will enable any engine manufacturer who builds an engine for one series, to, with only an incremental cost increase, participate in both series, thereby enabling them to race in far more markets where they sell cars - Europe, NAFTA, Asia and Australia.  With costs reduced, and the potential to reach more markets with about the same investment, the chances of the F1 engine manufacturers creating a breakaway series as threatened, is greatly diminished.  And besides, Bernie and Max are too shrewd, and will cut their legs out from under them should they try.

Between CART and F1, they pretty much will have the world covered in terms of race markets.  By 2005, both CART and F1 will have expanded their global reach even further, with new venues in Turkey, China, perhaps Russia, and perhaps South Korea.  With one fell swoop the road racing cartel will 1) secure road racing's market share,  2) make their racing affordable and competitive, and 3) head off any attempts by the oval track cartel from making any meaningful inroads into markets outside the USA.  After all, oval track racing is really an American thing, road racing a rest-of-world thing, and the road racing cartel would like nothing better than to keep it that way.

If you think about it, the strategy developed by Chris, Bernie and Max behind closed doors over the past six to nine months is nothing short of genius. While the complete strategy has yet to play itself out, and while it's possible my predictions may be wrong, somehow I don't see it coming down any other way.

One F1 team owner put it best, "at the end of the day, when all the competitors have played their best hand, Bernie ALWAYS finds a way to win."  And this time the USA fans come out winners as well.  When they hear the scream of high-revving V-10 engines rushing down Shoreline drive each April in Long Beach (and other cities) it'll bring smiles to their faces, and nods of appreciation for Bernie, Chris and Max.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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