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New IRL car remains in concept stage

Six months is millennia in motorsports, so the car the Indy Racing League has been using since 2003 might as well be a chariot.

"It has some long white whiskers," league technical adviser Les Mactaggart said.

But the old Dallara warhorse must hold on for at least two more years until the IRL and designers hash out the aesthetics and mechanics of a new-age car executives hope to debut in 2011.

Meanwhile, president Brian Barnhart hosted a summit this week with as many as nine automakers and several engine builders to begin what he hopes is the process of making the IRL less of a spec series. The IRL now has one engine and chassis supplier. Honda has been the lone engine provider since Chevrolet and Toyota withdrew during the past three years.

"It was a great opportunity for us to listen to what the manufacturers had to say about the future direction of automobiles that they manufacture and what their thought processes were on what the specifications should be for race engines," Barnhart said.

Among the topics were alternative fuels — the series employs increasingly controversial ethanol — and engine specifications, including a possible switch from normally aspirated back to turbocharged for the first time since 1997.

Erik Berkman, president of Honda Performance, said his company welcomes "multimake, multimanufacturer competition," with a caveat.

"We better be careful in figuring out what that new car should be," he said. "It's an opportunity, a great opportunity. If multiple engine manufacturers can be part of that program without wildly escalating costs or creating some other instability, we'd be happy to discuss that and be part of that."

Mactaggart called this IndyCar's tenure "probably a world record" and said the IRL ideally would deploy a new model every three years.

Safety improvements, such as side-intrusion panels, have extended its functionality, he said. The addition in 2005 of street and road courses such as the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to an all-oval schedule has required other modifications in chassis and brakes.

"If you started again from scratch, you'd build a road-course car first and develop that for oval racing," Mactaggart said. "But the car itself is quite adaptable."

The IRL is attempting to exploit the momentum gained after unification as it approaches next year's centennial of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Barnhart has waxed about again making the Speedway a proving ground for new technologies, but some wonder how that would mesh with competition.

"I'd be all for (innovation)," Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said. "But it depends on whether you're there for the entertainment value or the technical innovation of it. And my guess is the majority of the fans are there to be entertained and to watch numerous people compete for the win rather than determining which one of the three or four are going to win."

The amalgamation of the folded Champ Car series into IRL would have made a perfect point to switch equipment, but a year is required each for design and production.

Apparently, no consideration was given to adopting the stylish Champ Car DP01s, the 1-year-old now-obsolete cars teams spent $221,000 to buy from Elan Motorsports Technologies and another $110,000 to make race-ready. Instead, the IRL will spend as much as $1.5-million designing and implementing a sound car with what Mactaggart calls its own "iconic look."

"If you could have something that looks like it's going 400 mph," he said, "that's what you want."

New IRL car remains in concept stage 06/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 27, 2008 10:25pm]
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