Smaller Engines for IndyCar, NASCAR

Roger Penske

IndyCar and NASCAR may see a resurgence in smaller-engine cars within the next five years as racing leagues try to keep pace with changes in the auto industry, said Roger Penske, whose team holds the record for Indianapolis 500 wins.

“We’re going to see four-cylinder, turbocharged engines maybe at Indianapolis as we go forward over the next four or five years, rather than V8s," Penske, 71, said in a Bloomberg radio interview from the Detroit Auto Show to be broadcast tomorrow. “I think you’ll see that migrate even into NASCAR because that’s where we are today."

Concerns about the environment and the cost of operating large vehicles led to a slump in sales of V8-powered sport utility vehicles last year that forced General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Holding LLC to seek funds from the government to stay in business. The automakers have pledged to develop more fuel-efficient hybrid and electric vehicles.

Penske, whose NASCAR team won the Daytona 500 last year, is also the distributor for the Smart, a mini-car that sold about 25,000 units last year. IndyCar uses ethanol to power cars in its top series. The open-wheel cars use fuel-injected V8 engines produced by Honda Motor Co. NASCAR uses carbureted V8s that run on unleaded gasoline.

The Indy Racing League last year started talks with other carmakers to provide engines for its top series that could include smaller models. Offenhauser, which built the last four- cylinder engine used in IndyCar, won the Indianapolis 500 24 times between 1934 and 1960 before it dropped out in 1983. A four-cylinder design is among the engines being considered.

‘On the Table’

“It’s definitely on the table," said Indy Racing League spokesman John Griffin. The racing league is in talks with about five automakers and may make an announcement about new engines by the end of the month.

Some NASCAR competitors used six-cylinder engines in the 1940s and 1950s. Brian France, chief executive of the stock-car racing league, said at the end of the 2008 season that no major changes have been planned for its cars in an effort to contain costs.

The American LeMans Series, an endurance-racing league that acts as a feeder to the 24-hour race in France, allows cars that use a variety of fuels. It plans to run a “Green Challenge" competition this season for low-emissions cars. Bloomberg

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