Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

NASCAR

IndyCar not budging on unapproved engine changes

IndyCar is not considering changing its policy against unapproved engine changes, even though 14 drivers will be penalized before the start of Sunday's race at Long Beach.

IndyCar vice president of technology Will Phillips said all teams that change engines before permitted will be dropped 10 spots on the starting grid.

"Just because there's been a lot of them this weekend, how would the people who have already served that penalty feel if we changed our minds?" Phillips said Friday. "So we've set our precedent and we'll follow it through, because that's what the teams want. They want firm rules and they want to know where they stand.

"As long as a rule is enforced the same for everyone, they will accept it."

Chevrolet pulled the engines from all 11 of its drivers when teams arrived Thursday for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The changes were a pre-emptive measure based on something officials found after James Hinchcliffe blew an engine during a Monday test at Sonoma.

Lotus drivers Sebastien Bourdais, Oriol Servia and Katherine Legge also have changed their engines. Bourdais' engine was changed after the April 1 race at Barber, while Legge and Servia made engine changes Friday.

Now, more than half the field will be shuffled right before the start on Sunday.

The engine rule was designed as a cost-containment measure this season as IndyCar welcomed competing engine manufacturers for the first time in seven years. Honda had been the sole series supplier, but Chevrolet and Lotus entered competition this season.

The engine leases are provided to teams at a nearly rock-bottom price of $690,000 for the season, and all teams are only allowed five engines for the year without incurring further penalty. But, IndyCar also has required that all teams use the same engine through Sunday, the third race of the season.

A change is permitted after Long Beach, but engines will be required to run 1,850 miles before they can be changed again. Phillips said he's presently finalizing how engine changes will be handled during the monthlong preparations for the Indianapolis 500.

There's been some grumbling that penalizing a driver 10 starting spots isn't fair for an engine change, and the manufacturer should be the only one to suffer. Phillips said it's not an individual effort.

"The manufacturers come here to get their engine in first place, so we feel they do take a penalty and it's not one-sided," he said. "The manufacturer and the team are in this together. Chevrolet lost an engine in Sonoma, and they made a choice: Rather than lose any engines here and risk not getting any points here, they chose to take the penalty for fitting a fresh engine.

"If they start in 10th, or 15th or 25th, they still have a chance to win the race and score the points. Had they not chosen to do that, and had a problem in the race, they'd have got nothing. So we do feel the entrants and the manufacturers are in it together."

And what about the initial penalty levied against Hinchcliffe, who had his engine failure in a test session separate from a race weekend?

"I can see being penalized if it happens during a race weekend, but what does testing have to do with it?" asked team owner Chip Ganassi, who fields Hondas for his four cars. "That's why you test, to find things out."

But Phillips said there is no distinction between racing and testing, and he doesn't anticipate IndyCar ever allowing separate engines for the two programs.

"There aren't separate testing for budgets. It's one package," Phillips said. "Creating separate budgets will destroy the principle of cost containment."

All told this season, Honda has had just one major engine issue, when Simon Pagenuad changed his engine before the opener. Lotus has now changed five — Bourdais, Servia and Alex Tagliani at Barber, and Servia and Legge at Long Beach. Servia is now on his third engine, with only two more allowed before his Lotus DRR team will be penalized again.

But Lotus is admittedly behind the other manufacturers this season, while Chevrolet has been the decisive winner through the first two weeks.

Will Power and Helio Castroneves won the first two poles of the season, with Castroneves winning the season-opening race and Power winning at Barber. It's given Chevrolet the lead in the manufacturers' race with 18 points to Honda's 12.

"I believe the engine battles are going to heat up from here," said four-time series champion Dario Franchitti, a Honda driver. "I think we're about to see the end of the backslapping friendliness and a very competitive race from here on out."