Kent and Walker talk IndyCar engines

Mark Kent

THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with today's Verizon IndyCar Series press conference. We are pleased to be joined by MARK KENT, director of racing for Chevrolet, and also Derrick Walker, president of competition and operations for IndyCar. Chevrolet has clinched the manufacturer's championship for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series. Mark, 10 wins this season, all four Chevy teams have seen victory circle. Tell us a little bit about the equality that you see through your drivers and teams en route to this championship.

MARK KENT: Well, I think the whole IndyCar Series offers tremendous competition. This is our third consecutive manufacturer's championship. We won the first race when we came in, and we won the last race, but everything in between has been an absolute dogfight. Honda has been a very formidable opponent, and it's really because of a lot of hard work, determination, dedication from a lot of different people that made this championship obtainable.

A lot of those people are in the room with us today. A lot of them aren't here, but the ones that are here today have really been instrumental in making this all possible. I'll start with our own internal Chevrolet team, Chris Berube, our program manager for the last three years, has worked tirelessly with all of our partners to make sure we always had the best combination on the track and the right teams on the track. Ilmor Engineering, Ltd., and Ilmor Engineering, Inc., were responsible for the development and building these engines, these Chevrolet V6 twin turbo engines. Behind the scenes, Pratt & Miller Engineering was responsible for a lot of the vehicle attributes of our programs, so really there's a lot of people behind the scenes. Everybody sees the drivers and the teams, and as you pointed out, we got some tremendous teams with Chevy Power, and this year a driver from each of our teams has won a race, seven drivers across the four teams. Every driver has contributed manufacturer's points, so really it's been a great team effort.

We have really enjoyed our participation in IndyCar. It's been a real opportunity for us to showcase our technology and work with some great people.

THE MODERATOR: Derrick, the relationship between the series and its engine partners is such a valuable relationship. Can you tell us a little bit about Chevrolet as a partner of the series?

DERRICK WALKER: Well, first I'd certainly like to add my congratulations to Chevrolet and Ilmor for another win. Very well done. And I certainly would be remiss if I didn't recognize the runner up in the competition in Honda and their efforts. It's one thing when you get involved in IndyCar and you get to sit through endless meetings on engine issues, you realize very Quickly how competitive both groups are and how seriously they take it, and the championship sometimes gets missed with the driver focus or whatever, the Indy 500 winner or whatever, but below the surface is a real tight competition going on between manufacturers, and I think that really enhances our series, and we're very grateful for both manufacturers to be involved. Congratulations. Well done.

THE MODERATOR: And Derrick, from a competition standpoint, there was a little alteration to how the manufacturer's championship was decided this year from a points standpoint. Can you tell us a little bit about the goal behind that and how you feel it's contributed to the competition this season?

DERRICK WALKER: Yeah, well, you know, to arrive at the new system was many, many conversations on how to do the new points system, and what we all wanted to do, that's IndyCar and Chevrolet and Honda, we all wanted to achieve a championship that actually meant what it was all about.

So performance is the winning component, but because there is a limited engine and every engine has got to make the miles, there's a huge reliability issue, and there's penalties when you don't reach that reliability and there's gains when you do.

After a lot of work, we came up with the collectively came up with the scheme. I'm sure we'll go back in the wintertime and try and tweak it a little bit more just to try and make it even closer to what we need. But it's tough to draw the line and say who one actually constitutes the final result, but I think the formula we've got right now, Chevrolet certainly did what it took to actually win under those circumstances, and performance and reliability were what it was all about in my opinion.

MARK KENT: I'd like to add that we really like the current formula, so I don't know who's going to be in that meeting with you, but we really like the way it is right now, Derrick.

Q. It's been three years. You've won three championships, and you've made it look pretty easy. How hard is it to come back and actually do this after seven years of being away and not the easiest rule book to stay within, very strict?

MARK KENT: Well, as I said earlier, it has not been easy, and it's really the result of great partners, great teams, great drivers, and great technical partners. Ilmor was here during those seven years, so they were engaged in the series, and they've been a great partner with Chevrolet through the years. It was great to get back together with them, develop this all new twin turbo V6 direct injected Chevrolet engine. We started off good, and they worked tirelessly. There's not a day that goes by when someone in the back of the room isn't up 24 hours a day to try to figure out what to do next to stay ahead of the competition.

It's just like everything General Motors does, we're in racing to win, and we try to develop the best race cars. We're also trying to develop the best production cars in the world, so we always strive to do the best, and this collective team has been able to do that for three years in a row, and we're looking forward to next season and trying to make it four in a row.

Q. The compressed season this year, has that made it tougher for you and your testing and being able to make modifications to the engine through the season?

MARK KENT: I don't think the compressed season has been that big of a challenge as has been the need to basically go 25 percent longer on each engine. As you recall, last year we could use five engines to get through the season or 2,000 miles apiece. This year the team was challenged by IndyCar as a way to try to keep things under cost control to do the entire season with four engines. There's a lot of tradeoffs that teams have had to make, this team has had to make to try to balance performance with reliability.

As Derrick pointed out, part of the manufacturer's championship is based on reliability, getting points for having an engine go 2,500 miles, and I think our reliability of the Chevrolet engine has been one of the key elements of us clinching this championship here today.

Q. The reliability clearly is something you can take to the street. How much are you getting I don't know if pressure is the right word, but how important is it that the engine you're running here is something that can translate and you can learn from for use in street cars?

MARK KENT: I'm glad you asked that Question because I overlooked one of the partners we have on this engine, and that's Hitachi. Hitachi is one of our technical partners on this engine as well as our technical partner in our production engines on the fueling system, so Hitachi has been actively involved in this process, and they are learning things on direct injection that has been pushing them in an area they've never been before, and we hope that pushing them to learn new things will eventually translate down the road to some of our production programs, as well.

But just the whole IndyCar engine formula, smaller displacement, direct injection, turbo charger, Z85 fuel, those are all things that we as an automotive manufacturer are focusing our engine portfolio on, so a lot of the learnings we're getting here were taken back to our production side of the house and explaining to them what we've learned here, again, in hopes of making better street cars in the future.

Q. Are there any other manufacturers on the horizon for IndyCar that want to jump in?

DERRICK WALKER: There's ongoing discussions. I mean, it's a tireless effort to seek them out. We're talking to probably two interested parties, but it's a long lead time for those decisions, and you know, I think really rather than focus on which manufacturer will win, what we have to continue to be aware of is keep working on our product so the product becomes attractive enough they want to come. They're looking at us, they're interested in it, and we give them everything they need to know or want to know about the series.
We have a system right now which is probably not a written rule, but it's an understanding between our current manufacturers and the league, that if somebody comes along, another manufacturer, and wants to get in the series, they're probably looking at a two year ramp up period, develop the engine, test it, and then come into competition.

For the manufacturers that are already in the series, they know a two year window is probably what's going to happen when somebody turns up on the scene, and of course the last thing you want to do is to have any manufacturer sitting there and there may be another manufacturer that comes in and takes advantage of what's already been done and has an advantage.

If you look at a new manufacturer coming in, you get with our current partners and you'd say, okay, is there time for a reset, should we look at the formula so we're all building to a new formula? It's a good opportunity to consider, enhancing the formula we've got right now. Or they can just come along and build what we've currently got.

We've got all sorts of scenarios to welcome them in, and there's one good thing for IndyCar is both of our manufacturers say we'd like more competition, so there's no opposition on the part of Chevrolet and Honda saying, you know, everything is just fine, just leave it here. They want competition, our teams want the competition, the fans want the competition, so we've just got to keep building our IndyCar Series up one step at a time, one year at a time, so we become a good alternative just as Honda and Chevrolet saw it when they came and looked at it and said, yeah, we'll do it.

Q. Mark, for 2015, the performance of the engine will be intertwined with the performance of the aero kits. Could you address that with your design partner with testing for the manufacturer starting in early October?

MARK KENT: Well, we're really excited about the introduction of aero kits in 2015. We've been a supporter of aero kits since the concept came up. We've been working on it since the concept came up, and we're looking forward to it, getting on the track.

We know that our car looks significantly different than the current car, and we hope that Honda's car looks different than ours. So we hope at the end of the day we've got some distinctive cars out there that the fans can readily identify with, and from a competition standpoint, we all love competition. We're looking forward to seeing what we have and what it does.

THE MODERATOR: Mark, before we let you go, I'd love to ask, not only have you clinched this manufacturer's championship but also a very strong chance to win a driver's championship with Team Penske or another team this year, whoever it might be. Do you feel the same sort of pride that a team or a driver does as the engine manufacturer for clinching the driver's championship?

MARK KENT: Absolutely. If you look at our score cards every year, we race to win championships. We race to win the manufacturer's championship and the driver's championship. Teams put a lot of faith in us as an engine manufacturer, so if we can in turn help them out with the driver's championship, it's a great feeling. We hope we come out of here with a big enough points lead that I can give my ulcer a break here and not have to worry about it between now and next weekend.

But we've got some great drivers in contention for the championship, and we're looking forward to not only this weekend but the finale next weekend.

Q. You participate in a lot of racing series. Is it nice to bring them all together in a weekend like this?

MARK KENT: It is. This weekend we're all across the country. We're in NASCAR at Bristol and we're in Virginia with Corvette Racing, and here this weekend we have the Chevrolet IndyCars as well as our Cadillac program, which is just going to get going here. It is nice to get these weekends where we can have two or three of our series competing. It allows us an opportunity sometimes to reach a bigger audience than standalone events and allows us to show our technologies and our products to a wider audience.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you. Congratulations, Mark, and good luck for the rest of the season.

Leave a Reply