Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
February 22, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Joining us today to discuss several technical aspects for the 2007 IndyCar Series season is Brian Barnhart, president and chief operating officer of the IndyCar Series; Roger Griffiths, race team technical leader for Honda; Al Speyer, motorsports executive director for Firestone; Les Mactaggart, senior technical director for the IndyCar Series; and Jeff Simmons, driver of the No. 17 Team Ethanol Rahal Letterman Racing car.
We'll start with Brian. The 2006 season was certainly one of the best yet. What can we expect in 2007?
BRIAN BARNHART: Good afternoon. Welcome, everybody. We certainly appreciate you showing up.
The 2006 season was one of the most exciting in recent history for the IndyCar Series. Obviously the well-documented last-lap pass by Sam Hornish, Jr. to win the Indianapolis 500, Sam went on to win the championship, as we took four drivers to the Chicagoland race, the season finale, within 21 points and a chance of winning the championship. Sam finished third. Dan did everything he could by winning the race. We had a tie for the championship. Sam wins on the basis he won more races during the season.
I don't think we can get it any closer than that in terms of the championship battle and a great last-lap pass at Indianapolis. It was the first time in the 90-year running of the Indianapolis 500 there's ever been a lead change on the last lap. Sam did it in the last couple hundred yards in dramatic pass of Marco Andretti. A great season. We're looking for more of the same in 2007.
Of course, our partners that helped us achieve that in 2006 included our exclusive engine supply from Honda. They did an outstanding job meeting every challenge that was put upon them. It was the first running in the 90-year history of the Indianapolis 500 without a single engine failure, which is just staggering in terms of Honda's capabilities to produce the high level of technology and the competitive environment of the IndyCar Series and to do so without any failures.
In fact, Sam Hornish won the Indianapolis 500, ran the entire race weekend at Watkins Glen, and ran the first day of practice and qualifications and set on the pole at Texas with the same engine in the car. That just speaks volumes to Honda's capabilities, what they've provided for us.
Of course, our great partners at Firestone, they make the best race tires in the world. We challenge them in the most diverse schedule in the world, running on street courses, permanent road courses, short ovals, concrete racetrack at Nashville, and the superspeedways, and of course Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Nobody builds a better race tire than Firestone. We're privileged to have them as our partners on the tire front, very proud of what they do in terms of competition.
Firestone is sometimes forgotten in the mix because they're so good, they're taken for granted. You never hear any of our drivers get out of the car and say, I got a bad set of tires. It's just so consistent, such a high level of quality, a great job from Firestone.
Of course, our 2006 season we ran a blend of 90% methanol and 10% ethanol, which prepared us well for the switch we're making in 2007, going to a hundred percent fuel-grade ethanol. That switch was seamless last year and prepares us well moving forward. Again, our great partners at Honda, Firestone and ethanol are preparing us for another great season in 2007.
THE MODERATOR: One of the most significant changes in the upcoming season is the transition in the Honda Indy V8 engine from 3.0 liter to the 3.5. Roger, talk to us about that, the transition over to the 3.5-liter engine.
ROGER GRIFFITHS: Back about this time last year we started running on hundred percent ethanol. We first ran a three-liter engine. It was really just to see how the engine would perform, what challenges were going to be ahead of us. One of the things we noticed fairly early on was a change in the performance level. We had some discussions with the IRL as to how they wanted to approach this. Particularly with the way the season, the balance of races is moving a little bit more towards some road course races, we have a couple more this year, less of the ovals, we wanted an engine that was very usable on both ovals and road courses.
One of the things we did with our engine ever since 2005 when we went road course racing is we had the same specification of engine, regardless of whether you're on a road course or oval. As Brian mentioned with Sam, you saw an engine that won the Indy 500, Watkins Glen on a road course, then went on to another oval. We were very keen to try and continue with that avenue of development.
There's many ways we could ensure we have the same performance level and make an engine more flexible. The ultimate discussion led to us deciding to increase the capacity of the engine. This gave us a much more flexible engine. It gives us an awful lot more torque through the midrange. Our top-line power number is exactly the same as where we were. There was a lot of discussion about what should happen with the performance of the engine in terms of outright power. Brian keeps reminding me I can't go too fast at Indianapolis. So we've produced an engine that has the same top-line power number but significantly more torque.
What we've had from -- the feedback we've had from the drivers has been very encouraging from the running at Daytona, some of the other road course testing that we've done in private, the engine is very, very flexible. They're enjoying it. They're having a lot of fun out there. They're saying it puts a lot of the challenges back in the drivers' hands.
The original Honda engine developed back in 2003 was an oval-based engine. Most of the ovals you're operating on a very narrow power band, somewhere like Texas, probably on 300 rpm between minimum and maximum rpm. You go to a road course, St. Pete, somewhere like that, you're all the way down to 4500 rpm, up to over 10,000 rpm. We need a very flexible engine. Having the increased capacity certainly gives us that.
THE MODERATOR: Firestone has been a key IndyCar Series partner since the league's inaugural season. Al, if you would, talk about your upcoming season, what we expect to see from Firestone in 2007.
AL SPEYER: We have quite a bit of new activity tire-wise for the 2007 season. We have a new tire for here at Homestead, basically the same construction as we used last year, but a new compound for improved grip. Most importantly we have a new tire for Indianapolis, the Indy 500. That tire actually goes back to a construction we used in the time period from 2003 to 2005. But the Indy tire also has a new left side and right side compound. We also have new tires for Nashville, the concrete track. That's a new right side compound for us.
We've got several other things under development. Iowa has been a challenge for us so far. We've been there twice and still not found the tire we want to use there. We're still looking at the tire we're going to use at Belle Isle, the track there, and also thinking about possibly making a change for the tires we have at Chicagoland.
In a nutshell I guess at least eight of the 17 races on the 2007 IndyCar schedule will have a new tire for that track. We've done some work in Indy Pro, as well, adjusted the stagger a little bit there, changed one of the compounds that we'll be using there just to make a little more drivability.
For the rest of our season, everything will be very similar to what you've seen from Firestone in the past. We'll continue to be the title sponsor at both the Nashville and Michigan races. We're very close to working on a major supporting role at an additional IndyCar race this year. We'll still continue our print win ad advertising. That will switch from Time into Sports Illustrated this year, but will continue also Auto Week and National Speed Sport News. We will be the official tire at several tracks in addition to all of that.
THE MODERATOR: Al, you touched on the advertising, the transition over to Sports Illustrated. You have had a pretty busy winter with your overall marketing plans. Do you want to touch on that a bit.
AL SPEYER: We have been quite busy, as I mentioned, some of the print advertising will also continue to support the television advertising as well on the different networks we have here: ABC, ESPN and ESPN-2. Over the winter we embarked on a pretty major move for the company to a new advertising agency. That new advertising agency does a lot of in-depth work with us to give us a feeling of what our brands are all about. Through that process they produced an essence video, which really essentially was for us to use internally, just for us to know what the Firestone brand is all about. But it has a lot of racing in it. We shared it with the IRL. They asked us to share a copy of that today.
I think if you're ready, this is what our new ad agency, the Richards Group, came up with our Firestone essence video.
AL SPEYER: That was kind of nice as the motorsports director to see the new ad agency come up with this essence video for Firestone. Most importantly here I think it really shows the very, very strong link between Firestone as a tire company and a brand and to IndyCar and what it's all about.
Apology, Jeff, to the reference to the gasoline. That's literary license from the ad agencies. They don't have everything straight. We all know it's ethanol now.
One other comment I'd like to make is I'd really like to thank Brian Gordon and IMS Productions. Most of the footage came from that, pretty obvious. Thanks, Brian. Lot of great help there.
THE MODERATOR: Les Mactaggart played an instrumental role in working with Honda and ethanol to develop the 3.5-liter engine. Les, walk us through the process over the course of the past 12 months.
LES MACTAGGART: I have to say really from a chassis standpoint, the transition from methanol to a hundred percent fuel-grade ethanol was really rather seamless for us actually. In the initial stages, really the burden was on Honda and HPD for them to run the engine on the dyno, probably as Roger had said, early as a year ago, to make sure that the characteristics of the engine were still suitable using the new fuel. After they had completed that, then it was down to us obviously to make sure the engine performed in the chassis okay.
Probably one of the major problems, and it wasn't really a problem, actually it was an adjustment, was the fact that Roger identified that the switch to ethanol, actually we increased the fuel rejection to the cooling system. We had about a 30% increase of heat going into the cooling systems. Fortunately as early as 2004 when we first realized we were actually going to change the venue or style of IndyCar racing, go back onto road courses and street courses, we made modifications to the cooling systems anyway. But it was important for us to make sure that the car would cool under all conditions.
Now, surprisingly, it's not the high-speed ovals, it's the road courses that would present the most problems to us, particularly places like St. Petersburg, et cetera. We evaluated the cooling system on the car to make sure that we'd be able to cool the car under all conditions. I'm pleased to say that seems to be fairly good, certainly on the Dallara car we don't have any issues with the car, with the new fuel.
As Roger had said earlier, the development of the engines, particularly we've had more than one manufacturer in the series, which meant the cars were optimized principally for oval racing, which meant that they produced all their power at the top end, almost no torque. When we made the transition to road courses, we needed a much more flexible package because we have custom-made built road courses like Mid-Ohio, for instance, which is simply quick, and you have the low-speed events like St. Petersburg. An adaptable package for us was very important. We're looking at new venues so we wanted a car that would be as adaptable as we possibly could have, and I believe we have that as a product now.
Other small issues that we had was, I'm sure you're all aware, a hundred percent fuel-grade ethanol actually contains 2% gasoline. Sadly that's to stop you drinking it, otherwise it would have been quite nice an event, we could have a party after each race. The ATF department insists we have a percentage of denaturant in the fuel. The most commercially available product is gasoline. We were a little concerned that the gasoline content would have effect on some of the seals in the car, but that's proved not to be the case because the concentration is so small, it doesn't really have much of an effect.
Really just to reiterate, we've had a very seamless transition changing the cars over. The major benefit that we've had from the fuel actually is that we actually use less fuel than we did last year. One of the benefits of using a hundred percent fuel-grade ethanol is we actually use 30% less fuel as an event than we did last year. This has resulted us in reducing the capacity of the fuel tank from 30 U.S. gallons to 22. We've done this because of two reasons. One, we wanted to keep the number of pit stops we have in an event constant with what we had in '06, and also Firestone have an optimum mileage which the performance of the tire is at its best, although it will run much longer than the mileage we subject it to during a race. So by reducing the capacity of the tank allowed us to maintain the same number of miles and frequency of pit stops during an event.
That's really as much as we've got.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff is driver of the Team Ethanol car. You've obviously had an opportunity to test the car with ethanol. You've become the face or the ambassador of the ethanol industry. Talk about that a little bit.
JEFF SIMMONS: First, one more suggestion about that video, if we can computer generate my car at the front of the Indy field as well as changing the reference to gas would be great (laughter).
The IndyCar Series, along with the technical partners, Honda and Firestone, have always been about innovation, technological and safety innovations. This switch to ethanol is another move in that direction.
This year I think is really groundbreaking. We're the first series, first major racing series in the world, to be powered by a renewable fuel source. That's something that I think we should all take a lot of pride in. When we roll off here in Homestead, that will be an historic moment as well as all 33 cars at Indianapolis running on a hundred percent or 98 percent ethanol.
I think the message really that will be clear is to consumers, and that's that if we can run around Indianapolis doing 230 miles an hour, even though Brian doesn't want us going any faster than that, 225 Brian tells me, the message to the consumers is going to be clear, that you can have high performance and environmental responsibility when you choose ethanol at the pump. That's the goal of Team Ethanol and the Ethanol Promotion Information Council, is to promote ethanol and try to get it blended into the gasoline throughout the country. Right now we're at about 46% of the gasoline has some component of ethanol blended to it.
I think other thing that Les was talking about with that 2% gasoline actually gives us a little bit of a safety advantage in the IndyCars where that 2% gasoline will give us a little bit of safety where we will be able to see the fire now a little bit sooner than if that wasn't there. Fire, as everybody knows, is one of the most dangerous things that we have in the pit lane. That's another move forward and I think another sort of hidden or positive aspect of blending that 2% gasoline into the ethanol.
From a driver standpoint this year, Roger has talked a little bit about the technical changes that happened. As a driver, I can say we feel that broader power band, we feel that torque, and we also see that improved mileage. We hope that all these things are going to be things that we can then develop further and will move into the automotive and passenger vehicle market.
THE MODERATOR: It's been a very busy week for Team Ethanol. Bobby Rahal was the keynote speaker earlier in the week at the Renewable Fuels Association meeting in Tucson and the Team Ethanol showcar today was with President Bush at an appearance the president had in North Carolina to discuss bio fuels.
At this point we can open it up to questions for anybody in the audience.
Q. Roger, how is Honda integrating the ethanol program? Are they moving it up into the automotive chain to move it onto the street?
ROGER GRIFFITHS: Unfortunately I'm really the wrong person to ask. I'm a diehard motor racing person and don't know too much about passenger cars.
All I can say is that Honda very much embraces new technology, very much part of improving the environment. Anything that Honda can do, we'll look at it, evaluate the properties, is it the right direction for Honda.
The direct answer to your question is I really don't know. But the Honda philosophy has always been about trying to improve on what we've got, not to sit there and look at what the opposition is doing. It's really to take the lead in technology. Certainly by being the first race car engine manufacturer to produce an engine that runs on a hundred percent fuel-grade ethanol is a big step forward.
BRIAN BARNHART: As well as in our conversations we've had from a league standpoint, Honda is one of the most environmental conscious car companies out there. They are very, very concerned about a green environment. Honda has the most fuel-efficient cars on the market now. All of that makes sense with the switch. They very much do embrace the change to ethanol because it's consistent with their thought process of being interested in renewable fuels, alternative fuel sources, especially fuel efficient.
As Les said, our mileage has increased dramatically, to the point where we've done a 30% reduction in the fuel capacity. It's very consistent with Honda's philosophies.
Q. Brian, we know about the changes as far as ethanol, how it's affecting the engines on the run. From the safety standpoint, we know it's going to have some color to it now. I wasn't at Daytona. You did a test. What about the extinguishing characteristics? Is there something different done in the pit lane we have to be aware of?
BRIAN BARNHART: There are differences. Any time you make a change of this significance, there's going to be a lot of changes. You always need to be cognizant of the laws of unattended consequences. We have very much tried to do our due diligence and thought preparations in making this change which didn't happen overnight, didn't happen last year. This came about two to three years ago.
In doing our research on that, some of the things that have been touched upon, it has a higher heat rejection so we had to alter the cooling system of the cars or make sure there's enough cooling system capacity in the cars. The gasoline additive certainly makes it burn with some color, which is a good thing should you have a fuel spill in pit lane and a fire let off. In the old days with the methanol, it was an invisible flame. You will now have an orange flame should that unfortunate incident occur, which is a good thing.
It does have a lower flash point than methanol. That's just a fact of the characteristics of the nature of the ethanol. It also burns hotter when it's on fire. There seems to be more temperature associated with it when it did burn.
Those are all issues we have addressed. All of our extinguishing capabilities are very similar to what we've used with methanol since the mid '60s. There's no significant change in terms of our fire safety crews, the trucks, the agents they use on the trucks to extinguish it. A little lower flash point and burns a little hotter when it burns.
Q. Brian, can you talk about the Panoz chassis. There's a little bit of lean towards not using it that much. Somebody is going to want to use that at Indy. Any problem for those one-off teams?
BRIAN BARNHART: It doesn't appear to at this point in time. Roger and Robert and everybody at Honda is going to continue to follow up with the Panoz Elan factory and make sure.
At Indianapolis the 225-mile-an-hour track that we run there, cooling is the least issue there. As Les touched on, it's more something of the short ovals and street circuits where you don't get a lot of air moving. You're mainly concerned when you're running behind the pace car at those places. It does not appear at least at this early point, of course we don't have any teams running the Panoz chassis on the full-time circuit anyway, the 19 cars here are all Dallara chassis. There still will be the one-offs at Indianapolis. Several of those teams that have run Panoz chassis in the past have indicated they'll probably bring those cars back again. The Playa Del Racing, Sam Schmidt, Kent Baker, Greg Becks of the world have those opportunities. All those cars should perform well at Indianapolis.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thank you very much. We appreciate your time.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|