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Economic pressure impacts IRL engine talks

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indy Racing League is shifting gears as Series officials acknowledged Tuesday that economics has made cost-cutting a top priority.

"We've got to create a sound business model in this competitive environment, or we won't be in a competitive environment very long," IRL president of competition Brian Barnhart said.

A planned engine change, scheduled for 2011, could be delayed one year, and the traditional three-year engine cycle may be extended to five years.

Honda has been the sole engine supplier for the IRL since 2006.

Although the new engine specs have not yet been agreed to, series officials have adapted to financial concerns by considering more affordable options.

-- Replacing the current V8 engines with a smaller, lighter V4. The decision could improve fuel mileage for the cars that now run on ethanol.

-- Extending lifetime engine requirements from the current 1,100 miles to 3,750 miles. Barnhart believes that would lead to fewer engine changes and lower costs for teams and manufacturers.

-- Lengthening the engine agreements to lower costs for research and development.

-- Adding turbochargers, last used in the 1996 season, so series officials can better control power on the different courses. Series officials believe it would reduce the money spent on redesigning engines for competition on superspeedways, smaller ovals, road and street courses.

Those proposals have generated enough interest among engine manufacturers to keep them at the negotiating table since May.

In Tuesday's conference call, series officials said Audi, Fiat, Honda, Porsche and Volkswagen remain interested in making IndyCar engines. Firestone, which makes IRL tires, and Dallara, IRL's chassis-maker, also have been included in a series of round-table discussions.

"The fact that we've got five (engine manufacturers) involved in this global economy, I think, speaks volumes about the interest in the IndyCar series," Barnhart said. "We're not going to get all five of them, but if we get two, to go along with Honda, we'd be thrilled."

Honda Performance Development president Erik Berkman said his company would embrace competition from other engine makers. Although Honda would prefer running a V6, Berkman said it was not a deal-breaker and suggested it might be possible to let V6s run against V4s if they were competitive.

"The world has certainly changed since we started this process, so we're working through all kinds of economic changes," said Terry Angstadt, president of the IRL's commercial division. "That's why we're trying to work through this and, maybe, get a little more competition in the process."



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