Racing Lines Archive

0723 Racinglines 1

Sam Hornish: A great driver in need of a great engine.



AS THE ENGINE TURNS

It's just another gunk-y soap opera for race fans.

Chevrolet Racing had to do something. They were getting their asses whipped by a couple of Japanese automakers just off the sinking ship known as CART. When Honda and Toyota joined the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series everything changed.

Where once motors came from the elite backyard builders, per owner Tony George's desires, now there are leases on sealed engines to deal with. Chevrolet's Joe Negri said his group was ready for enhanced competition at the IRL's Test in the West in February, but it was apparent right from the start of the season in March that they weren't.

A look through box scores for the first nine races of the 16-event IndyCar Series season tells a more potent story. No Chevrolet led any IRL race until Nashville last weekend, when savvy Sam Hornish Jr. bulled his way to the front with inside/outside passes on the 1.33-mile tri-oval that no one else could make. He is one cool dude.

So Sam led four laps—including the halfway point—and then pitted just in time for caution to come out and bounce him back into the pack; he finished 11th. It's a story we've seen all season. This great driver, this great team, this boat anchor of an engine.

Something had to be done to save the year for GM Racing, which has supported the Indy Racing League since 1997, the start of the naturally aspirated engine period that continues to this day.

Which begs the big question: Why couldn't giant GM come up with its own fix for this dilemma? Why did Joe Negri's engineering crew have to go out of house to get the necessary power and expertise to compete with the Japanese? Why did GM have to go to Ford-owned Cosworth Racing?

In addition to its travails in Formula One, World Rally Championship and CART, Cosworth Racing is now supplying the Indy Racing League's premier IndyCar Series with Chevrolet-badged engines and that's cool, if it works.

Cosworth is selling Chevrolet the engine developed for CART when it was going to naturally aspirated motors. When CART decided to stick with its trademark turbo engines—constructed and maintained by Cosworth, the aspirated block got tuned to IRL specs, but Cosworth lacked the necessary manufacturer's badge to compete.

0723 Racinglines 2

Hornish, with Chevy's lackluster Indy V8.

The Gen III Chevy Indy V8 must be some kind of slug when Chevrolet makes up the long caboose of a 21 or 22-car IndyCar Series grid. Must be, when two-time IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr. can't get into the lead until race #9 of the 2003 season. Must be when the best Chevy finish is Hornish's fourth place [at Richmond]. Must be when GM Racing turns to Ford for help.

The reasons Ford Motor Co. bought Cosworth Racing are elementary: to make money from this halo division and to bring fame to the family name. Where's the glory when you sell your design parameters to the highest bidder without your name on it?

Who is to say the teams running GM Racing's Gen IV Chevy Indy V8 will be any closer to the front?

Of course it all remains to be seen, and proof of the (Northampton?) pudding comes this weekend at Michigan International Speedway in the Irish Hills outside Detroit. Isn't that site appropriate?

Sam Hornish and Pennzoil Panther Racing will be first to test the machine under racing conditions; Red Bull Cheever Racing's Buddy Rice gets it for Gateway and everybody else gets the highly touted fix in time to race at Kentucky.

Hornish has more than 1000 miles testing the Gen IV Chevy Indy V8 engine in three separate encounters. The two-time IRL champ expressed pleasure with the performance and drivability parameters, according to IRL VP for competition Brian Barnhart.

So another new IRL era begins at the Firestone Indy 400 at MIS July 27th.

CART is looking more like the old Indy Racing League every day, with handouts for borderline teams and a spec engine/chassis series for Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.

The Indy Racing League looks more like the old CART with Honda, Toyota and Chevrolets nurtured by Ford-Cosworth battling for motive supremacy. Even Lola Cars is trying to get into the League after managing to talk their way in and out in 2002.

What is up is suddenly down and vice versa. Race fans can vote with their remote controls and by putting their butts in seats. It'll be interesting to see what transpires this weekend. As for me, I just don't know what to think anymore. I'm just gonna watch.

—Anne Proffit

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