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Honda prefers V6 engine format UPDATE #2 Honda talks more about future engine plans:

One of the first major things newly appointed Indy Racing League CEO Randy Bernard did upon joining was to form a committee to recommend a future chassis and engine formula for the Izod IndyCar Series.

With the unveiling of the Delta Wing concept car, as well as renderings of potential designs from four other manufacturers, the public focus has been on the new chassis. But the IRL intends to introduce new engine specifications, as well, and designing and developing an engine is a more time-consuming process than creating a new chassis. With high hopes for a 2012 introduction, the seven-man ICONIC (Innovative, Competitive, Open-Wheel, New, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective) committee certainly has a lot on its plate.

Although little official information has emerged with regard to the future engine formula, it is clear that even the basic format of the engine is still very much in question. Three brands from the Volkswagen Group (Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche) have indicated potential interest in participating in the IndyCar Series if the IRL adopts a modular inline 4-cylinder "Global Racing Engine" (GRE) layout similar to the one being worked on by the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, the sanctioning body for Formula One and for the World Rally and World Touring Car championships). Meanwhile, Honda, which has been the exclusive engine supplier for the IRL since 2006, is strongly in favor of V-6 architecture.

Given the amount of talk circulating about fuel efficiency and relevance to production cars and technology, Honda has been perceived as out of step with regard to the engine formula of the future. At Long Beach, Honda Performance Development president Erik Berkman explained Honda's rationale to ESPN.com.

What it boils down to is that HPD (as well as Honda corporate in Japan) has not gotten on board with the FIA GRE concept. Instead, HPD has aligned itself with the ACO (Automobile Club de l'Ouest), which sanctions the 24 Hours of Le Mans and, indirectly, the American Le Mans Series, which HPD has participated in using the Acura brand for the past four years.

"We don't have a GRE design -- we have not put one ounce of engineering effort into designing a GRE," Berkman said. "For us to start on a GRE and have it ready for 2012, I don't know that that's possible, though I don't want to underestimate the power of Honda or HPD. In the old days, we would just call Japan and they would make it happen. But we [HPD] are standing on our own two feet now. So it is important to know which way we're going so I can put my energy into that direction.

"We have not wanted to take the time, energy, bandwidth and start delving deeply into GRE because it was going to distract us from what we thought we had an agreement in principle with the [IRL] to do," he added. "I'm not saying the league's rule package that we've been proposing and dialoguing on is exactly ACO-compliant spec, but it's close enough that we can find a way to connect the dots between an Indy car, top-level bespoke engine and the pinnacle P1 [Le Mans and ALMS] class, should we ever want to go back, with architecture that connects. We've definitely connected the dots between an Indy Lights-level spec and a P2-class spec with a mass production-based V-6 engine -- think Odyssey, Ridgeline, Accord, Acura TL. That's already under development, and someday we'll roll it out and show you guys what it is."

The advent of the Delta Wing car, which is projected to require only 300-325 horsepower to achieve 220 mph on superspeedways, has complicated the issue. The IRL's original stipulation was for the future engine to produce 550-750 horsepower, with output adjusted via turbocharger boost to tailor the cars for road racing or ovals.

"Once the Delta Wing came out, we asked the league which way they were leaning," Berkman said. "We told them our strong advocacy is for a bespoke, custom-designed jewel of a race engine using all of the technology that we can bring to bear so it meets the three tenets that we set at the first roundtable. We said it had to be socially or environmentally responsible; there's got to be production linkage; and it's got to be cost-controlled. We have to bring the costs down for the competitors and for all the stakeholders.

"With the engine design we've conceived, it's not easy to scale it down below 550 horsepower. If all we need to make is 300 or 325 like Ben's [as in Ben Bowlby, Delta Wing designer] talking about, it needs to be a different engine. I've got a 1.5-liter Honda Fit engine, and I could probably put a turbo on that and make the power that Ben needs, but not the power that Dallara, Swift or Lola needs. None of those manufacturers have provided us with drag targets, much less any simulations they have done about why they think their targets are achievable."

“ We're standing still, marking time. We've told the league that June 1 is a hard date for us, as an engineering company, to get to our objectives for 2012. ”

Berkman's main concern at this point is the lack of progress made in the past year by the IRL in terms of finalizing the 2012 engine formula.

"At the end of 2008, the process had broken down and we were also into a serious recession and everybody was stalled for making commitments, including Honda, for 2011, which up until that point was our goal," Berkman said. "Now that was off the table and 2012 was the earliest we could consider something new. And frankly, the first half of '09, there was radio silence. It was all about 'Are we going to survive?' We put on a pretty good show in the first half of '09, but there were real pains in the economy.

"We've been continuing to march along a path, but we are now at a point where we've stopped marching," Berkman continued. "We're standing still, marking time. We've told the league that June 1 is a hard date for us, as an engineering company, to get to our objectives for 2012. It should have been April 1. But we respect and appreciate that Randy needs these two months to be able to do his process. It's a complicated and important thing to decide, but now's the time. Everybody can't be happy because everyone can't win, but hopefully he can strike the right balance."

The next 60 days should be extremely interesting as the ICONIC committee makes its final decision on the IndyCar Series' engine and chassis formula for 2012 and beyond. Given that Honda has pretty much carried the engineering (and marketing) load for the IRL for the past five years, it seems unlikely that the league will do anything to upset such a strong and loyal partner.

In that regard, the ICONIC committee's decision appears to boil down to this: Delta Wing versus Honda. Choosing the Delta Wing -- which has strong support from a group of team owners who believe the sport needs a radical shake-up -- would force Honda to either go back to the drawing board or pull out of Indy car racing. That wouldn't be a total shock; Honda pulled out of the CART-sanctioned Indy car series at the end of 2002 after losing faith in CART's ability to fairly manage competition between engine manufacturers.

For the time being, Berkman and HPD remain committed to their V-6 and have little doubt they can produce an engine that meets all of the IRL's pre-Delta Wing objectives in time to supply part or all of the 2012 IndyCar Series field.

"We haven't built any prototypes or ordered any tooling," Berkman said. "We've started the design process, and we're ready to pull the trigger on building and actually making something and start proving it out.

"But for me, it's getting a little uncomfortable from a timing perspective."

04/26/10 Honda talks more about their V6 position in this Gordon Kirby article: Gordon Kirby - Auto Racing - The Way It Is

We still think that the Global Racing Engine format is the best way to go for the sport as a whole however. It seem to be the direction manufacturers are heading for their products. As we have been saying for some time now, racing is no longer relevant. It has become pure entertainment, and subject to the whims of the consumer and marketplace. Racing needs to be relevant to the manufacturers and the vehicles people drive, or we will not keep their interest and popularity of the sport will be cyclical and hard to sustain among so many different types of racing that exist today.

04/17/10 In speaking with some Honda people here at the track, Honda prefers a V6 for the new engine format, and for numerous reasons. One of the biggest is safety, as a V configuration distributes load much better in a collision. They also said that it would be more reliable, keeping engine failures to a minimum. They made it very clear that if the Delta Wing were selected, they would support it fully, but an unstressed engine would not be their preference. Honda is obviously a big supporter of the series and would like a competitive environment. Honda is not one of these sponsors/partners that seems to tout their victories when they are guaranteed one, unlike Goodyear, who loves to talk about all of their victories when they are the only tire on the track.

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