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IRL could add new engine, look by 2011

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- IndyCar racing could undergo a major overhaul by 2011.

The cars are expected to be redesigned. Multiple engine manufacturers could be back in the game, and even turbochargers may be back on the track.

It's all part of an attempt by Indy Racing League officials to remake the look of open-wheel racing, and this week's roundtable discussion with engine manufacturers has prompted Brian Barnhart, the series president of competition, to ponder all kinds of changes -- from engine specifications to the sounds cars make.

Barnhart is intrigued by the possibility of reintroducing the powerful turbochargers that helped speeds and popularity in the sport soar from the mid-1970s until they were banished in 1997. The former Champ Car series used turbochargers throughout the bitter split of the two rival-car series, which lasted from 1996-2007.

"The only con associated with turbochargers is going to be the additional costs from something we're not now running," Barnhart said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "We need to be careful not to allow the cost in development to get too out of hand. But it's a great power control and also, something you can't underestimate is the sound. It sounds like a regular muffler."

This week's discussions are yet another move by the series to capitalize on unification.

Since the rival circuits began racing together again in March, the IRL has seen more interest from potential sponsors, gotten a publicity boost from first-time winners Danica Patrick and Graham Rahal and now appears more attractive to manufacturers.

How far the series has come in four months was evident during Tuesday's roundtable discussion, when nine manufacturers and six engine builders met with IRL officials.

The series has run with only one engine, Honda, since 2006, and Barnhart would prefer more competition between engine builders.

"We're probably looking at going to three, maybe four. That would probably be the ultimate situation," Barnhart said. "We're running 26 or 27 full-time cars now, and I think it would be a challenge for a 26-car field to support five manufacturers. But I don't think we'll limit it."

The IRL must start making decisions quickly.

For the second consecutive year, the series showed reporters scale models of what the new cars might look like and among the potentially dramatic changes were wing design, some of which were curved, and the shapes of the cars, including one that looked more like a tube than a race car.

League spokesman John Griffin said series officials must still determine how well the redesigned cars would race.

Series officials also have not yet announced what the engine specifications will be, and Barnhart acknowledged there was debate over the number of cylinders cars should have and whether they should use turbocharged or normally aspirated engines.

All of this must be settled in just a few months.

"We'd be thrilled if we could take a couple of more interested parties the distance," said Terry Angstadt, president of the IRL's commercial division. "But we need to make a decision this fall to stick to our stated goal of 2011."

Barnhart plans to keep all options on the table before holding a second meeting with manufacturers that are interested in joining the league.

But how far will the series go in making changes?

Barnhart said the IRL, which was founded primarily to race on American ovals, reduce costs and elevate the profile of young, American drivers, was willing to consider just about anything.

"We've been more willing to discuss that (turbochargers) than we had been in the past," he said. "Obviously, the devil will be in the details. But there was a lot more commonality among us than disagreement. We're going to go in it with an open mind and listen to their ideas."

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