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The tale of the turbo in IndyCar: let’s all just get along

Derrick Walker, the IZOD IndyCar Series president of competition and operations, recently announced that both Chevrolet and Honda have agreed to move to a twin turbo engine for the 2014 IndyCar season. The press release says in part, “In an effort for parity throughout the turbocharger range, mandating only a twin turbo system simplifies our efforts to ensure even closer competition.” What a sound political statement. Allow me to translate: “Because Chip Ganassi won’t shut up about performance, Honda has decided to scrap their single turbo to make life easier.” Or something like that.

Look, I’m not a gearhead. I have a general understanding of how things work, and I’m a pretty good listener if you explain something to me. Concepts might have to be dumbed down a little (OK, a lot) to help me truly grasp the intricacies of an exotic racing motor, but even I get what a turbo does: it increases horsepower by using exhaust gases to spin a turbine injecting more air into the cylinders. More oxygen into the cylinders equals a bigger explosion when fuel and compression are introduced. The bigger explosion equals more horsepower. Simple enough. But why all the fuss?

Basically, the IZOD IndyCar Series is tired of refereeing the pissing contest between Honda and Chevrolet and the teams using the two engines. In 2012, when Honda was allowed to upgrade its single turbo, Chevrolet issued tersely worded press releases with veiled threats of doing something about it. In 2013, Chip Ganassi publicly questioned whether Honda was working hard enough to be competitive. All this is about regulating how much turbo boost (the amount of air) to allow the different turbos. It’s like two garden hoses with different nozzles and two neighbors complaining about which one creates more pressure to wash their cars. Both neighbors want the pressure to be equal as long as their nozzle works better. Anything else is unfair. And yes, I understand that does not make sense. But then again, we are dealing with the IndyCar rule book.

So there we have it. In a series that has identical cars and identical tires, the rules now stipulate that one of the differences in the two motors used in the series must be changed to make them more identical. Not only has team innovation been stifled in every area other than shocks and dampers, one of the areas of engine development that was significantly different has died a quiet death. Our sensitivity to political correctness and creating an even playing field for everyone has led to another decision to just keep everyone happy.

In the end, I’m torn. The competition with the DW12 has been superb. If you want exciting racing with passing for the lead, the IZOD IndyCar Series is the nonpareil. If you want a series that lacks innovation and legislates conformity, then this is the series for you. Somehow the slogan “IndyCar: the series that simplifies its efforts to ensure even closer competition” just doesn’t seem to send the right message.

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3 thoughts on “The tale of the turbo in IndyCar: let’s all just get along

  1. Mike Hare on said:

    After hearing the Chipsters VERY thinly veiled threat to Dinan about the performance of the new 4.5 liter BMW engine introduced for GrandAM (they were p1 and p2) at the Brickyard I would have to say his arrogance is just about the most destructive thing in motor sports today. I really hope his “bad luck” continues or gets much, much worse.

  2. sejarzo on said:

    First problem…one of the “founding principles” of “engine competition” was that an “underdog engine” would be allowed to make up the lion’s share of its proven power deficit a couple of times per year…so we don’t have true, unrestricted competition in any case.

    Next problem…the existing engine suppliers were told that they had to use a specific BorgWarner turbo with associated parts if they wanted to run a twin setup, and another if they were going with a single turbo. My guess is that the engineers at BW were provided the basic parameters for the 2.2L V6 design and spec’ed what they **thought should be** units that would perform “essentially equally”. As far as I know, none of the 3 makers had actually built an engine by the time those particular turbo specs were set in stone. And apparently BW didn’t get it completely right…

    Turbogate didn’t result in a change in the single turbo itself, but rather a cover on the intake side of the turbo which had restricted the amount of air that could flow through it to less than what could flow through the spec twin turbo setup. There appeared to be no disagreement between Chevy, HPD, and Indycar on that…the issue for Chevy was their claim that the rules didn’t permit Indycar to allow HPD to change that part. Honda’s notes corroborated Indycar’s notes and claim that it had been agreed the intake cover(s) could changed to provide parity if it were proven that there was an inequality in actual performance of that system.

    So now, it seems HPD has loads of data on single turbo performance, and has opted…as has been their right all along…to shift to twins for the 2014 engine.

    Here’s the rub: With only two players in the game, and both opting for twin turbos as the configuration of choice based on a season and a half of data, how could Indycar and BW jointly specify a particular single turbo setup (with all associated parts) for only potential future use by a new engine maker that should provide essentially similar performance to the twin setup? They’ve gone down that road already and, IMHO, this decision simply shows that they don’t want to do that again.

    • Great, detailed engineering info. It’s appreciated. From my less than scientific perspective, the new rule still limits options for current or new manufacturers. It seems that new regs for the single turbo could be written, now or in the future, that would not prohibit that style. The public perspective, if anyone actually cared, is IndyCar taking another step toward homogenization.

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