Editorial

Is Premier1 positioned where CART should be?
by Mark Cipolloni
November 22, 2001

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Premier1 Reynard
Click for image of full car

Cost is on everyone's mind these days.  One way to reduce cost is to have a spec series, like the Premier1 series is trying to do.  Even NASCAR is a spec series.  Sure they say they are not, but the rules are constantly changed to make everyone equal, so isn't that just another way of making all the cars 'spec'?  Absolutely!

The IRL is very much modeled after NASCAR, an open wheel NASCAR, where everything is very controlled, to level the playing field and keep costs in check.

Some people say Formula One's unbridled competition and liberal rules will someday price it right out of existence.  The Prost team is bankrupt, Minardi is not very healthy, and the engine manufacturers are starting to question the extremely high cost. This article points out how the small F1 teams are hurting.

Some people argue that a spec series, or one very near spec, allows the best driver and team to excel.  It removes the technological and mechanical differences and accentuates the human element.  After all, every true sport is all about the athletes, in this case the drivers, and crew (the drivers teammates) that service the car.

As was noted in this article by Steven Levinson, Premier1 is poised to steal some of CART's thunder in Europe and the below interview points out there are plans for Premier1 to race on ovals too.....just like CART.  In fact if CART doesn't firmly establish itself as a true international powerhouse by 2003 (Shanghai and one more European race must be on the schedule by then), Premier1 might cut the legs right out from under CART, just as the IRL and NASCAR are trying to do in the USA.

Second, Premier1 is positioned exactly where CART should be, just below F1 but at a much lower cost.  It's rather ironic that CART is dumbing down their cars to become more like the IRL, a series with little success and no international following, instead of raising their game to appeal more to their biggest following - outside the USA in places like Canada, Mexico, Japan, Europe, China and Australia.  

Because CART has floundered so badly these last few years through gross mismanagement and lack of clear direction, it opened the door for the new Premier1 series, rumored to have full, behind-the-scenes support of none other than Bernie Ecclestone, positioned perfectly to grab the extreme demand for global top level open wheel motorsports that's too big for Formula One to satisfy alone.

Therefore, should CART go with the 3.5 liter normally aspirated IRL engine to ward off the inroads the IRL is making, or should CART standardize on one engine like Premier1 is doing with the 750-HP V-10 Judd?  Should CART level the playing field and reduce cost by going with the standard Cosworth 2.65 liter turbo engine?  The turbo engine will keep the Champ cars nearly 40-year heritage, keep it unique as the only top open wheel formula with a turbo engine, and possibly just as important, retain the fantastic turbo sound everyone likes.

As I pointed out previously, it's possible for CART to standardize on one base Cosworth turbo engine and still allow multiple engine manufacturers to compete by allowing them to just put their own electronics on the engine and call it their own.  An almost 'spec engine', with a twist, if you like.

The engine formula I propose will result in lower engine costs than the IRL formula, where a company has to design the entire engine themselves.  When companies design the entire engine, there is a better chance of seeing one engine with an advantage over the others.  It also means there are more pieces on the engine that a company will need to continually R&D, thereby driving up costs.

CART is already standardized on one tire like Premier1 will be.  Therefore, the only main difference in the two series will be that CART would allow multiple chassis makers, while Premier1 will have just one.  CART would allow ground effects, Premier 1 will be flat bottomed. Champ Cars will weigh more than Premier1 cars.  Premier1 engines will be 'spec' V-10's, CART's 'near-spec' turbo V-8's, both making about 750 HP.  Premier1 will allow paddle shifters, whereas CART would retain its current sequential gear shifter.

The bottom line is that most racing series are closer to being 'spec' than people would like you to believe, F1 notwithstanding.  The above proposal would allow CART to marry the best of both worlds, a near-spec formula with manufacturer participation, at a lot lower cost than manufacturers would spend if left to their own devices.

To make it easier for CART teams to participate in the Indy 500, I would make the 2003 Champ Cars, from the rear bulkhead forward, the same as an IRL car.  The sidepods, front wings, and the rest of the car would be unique to CART.  Come May each year, if a CART team wants to go to the Indy 500, they would strip the car from the rear bulkhead back, bolt on the entire rear assembly of an IRL car, IRL sidepods, and IRL front wings and go race in the Indy 500 using leased engines.  After the 500 is over, the cars would be reconverted back to Champ Cars and the leased engines returned.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, CART must decide what it wants to be. So will CART raise its game and lower costs in one fell swoop, or lower its game with dumbed down IRL-like cars that cost as much or more and don't appeal to the global customers?  Is CART positioned where it needs to be, or is it in no-mans land, a Stranger in a Strange Land, not sure what it really wants to be?

I have a feeling we haven't heard the last of this yet, especially when CART's management realizes the obvious - that if it adopts everything IRL, it isn't CART anymore.  If it isn't CART anymore, does CART cease to exist? Brand identity - how can it be a Champ Car when it is an IRL car?  I don't know, you tell me!

Reynard Premier1 car details revealed

As Premier1 Grand Prix gears up for its first race in July 2002, Reynard Motorsport is preparing to design and build the 50 Formula 1-style single-seater race cars that will contest the eagerly-anticipated new series representing many of the world’s top football clubs. Robert Synge of Reynard Motorsport, answers questions on the technical and logistical challenges ahead and explains why he believes the new Premier1 Grand Prix formula will provide spectacular on-track action. 

Question 1: What does the Premier1 Grand Prix contract mean to Reynard? 
Answer: As a company, we're very excited about the concept of Premier1 Grand Prix as a way of presenting exciting, high-powered motorsport to a new audience so we worked hard to land this contract. Linking the worlds of football and motor racing is an idea that deserves to succeed and we wanted to support the idea as far as we could. Clearly an order for as many as fifty cars is highly significant to any race-car manufacturer and the Championship fits in very well with our current products in ChampCar, Formula Nippon and 675 SportsCar. 

Question 2: Will the Premier1 Grand Prix car be based on either your current ChampCar or Formula 1 chassis? 
Answer: No. The Premier1 Grand Prix car will be a brand new design with a new monocoque and aerodynamic package designed to deliver the type of performance required. 

Question 3: Who will be designing the Premier1 Grand Prix car? 
Answer: James Bolton is our designer in day to day charge of the project, answering directly to John Thompson , our Chief Designer, and Nick Wirth, our Technical Director - both of whom are very involved in the design concepts for the car at this stage. 

Question 4: What will be the main technical features of the Premier1 Grand Prix racer and what kind of performance levels are expected from it? 
Answer: The car will feature a six-speed gearbox with a pneumatically-operated, paddle gearshift and will run with carbon brakes. The performance we expect from the car - dependant obviously on driver skill, engine and tire performance - will be as close to Formula 1 as we can make it. The regulations have banned the use of electronic aids so there will be a performance deficit in that area but the overall objective is to design a car that produces close, exciting racing where overtaking is possible and driver skill is paramount. 

Question 5: How far advanced are you with the project and what are your future timings and plans for design sign-off, testing and delivery of cars? 
Answer: The design processes have already begun and we will shortly be starting to wind tunnel test a scale model (photo available) of the 2002 Premier1 Grand Prix car. We are on target to have two cars testing in early April. Thereafter we will produce cars at the rate of six per week in order to deliver all 50 cars to Premier1 Grand Prix by the end of June 2002. 

Question 6: We are promised close and exciting on-track racing, how will your design encourage this? 
Answer: The significant fact here is that, unlike Formula One, all the drivers will be using an identical car, engine and tires. The car will be very powerful with a 750 horsepower engine and the races will be short, sprint-type events with a pitstop purely to change tires. The lack of driver aids will reward driver skill and encourage overtaking. 

Question 7: Will the Premier1 Grand Prix car meet all F1 safety standards? 
Answer: Yes, Reynard prides itself on producing cars that meet, and where possible, exceed the statutory safety regulations and this product will be no exception. 

Question 8: Premier1 Grand Prix has said that it might also consider to race on ovals, how will this affect your design? 
Answer: The car will be built with safety very strongly in mind and our ChampCar experience will be very useful when Premier1 Grand Prix takes to the ovals in future years. 

Question 9: What kind of technical support will you provide at race circuits? 
Answer: Reynard will provide a full technical and spare parts support package at all the races and tests. Our engineers will be on hand to assist the teams wherever necessary but we don't envisage getting directly involved with engineering the cars on behalf of the teams - our role is that of supporting the teams and advising them on operating the car whenever our help is requested. 

Question 10: We understand you have received many interesting phone calls since signing the Premier1 Grand Prix partnership? 
Answer: Yes. There are many teams and drivers who have expressed an interest in getting involved with and supporting the Championship. There is certainly no lack of teams or credible drivers available to race in Premier1 Grand Prix and we've been very pleasantly surprised by the quality of both teams and drivers who wish to be involved. 

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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