Op-Ed – Making a Case for the World Engine

The recent concept from Lola of using the same tub for both the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Firestone Indy Lights series got me thinking. Why stop there? One of the most often used reasons for why multiple chassis and engine manufacturers are impractical for the IZOD IndyCar Series is that the loss of the economy of scale would drive up the costs too much for participation to be either attractive or profitable. Its a powerful and very well founded argument. If a manufacturer can spread the costs of development and tooling over more units, the less they have to charge for each unit. Simple arithmetic, that. So if you have say four manufacturers in IndyCar, then they may have only six (+/-) cars to which they can sell products. There’s no way for them to be profitable selling to so few clients without charging a serious premium.

So the problems with multiple manufacturers are clear and insurmountable if one is unwilling to allow costs to skyrocket, yet fans (self included) continue to clamor for more variety, more participation, more competition. The only solution to the cost problem is to somehow increase the economy of scale. That’s it. The Delta Wing group have a good concept on how to do this, but their idea of having a master design and outsourcing the fabrication won’t attract genuine manufactures, just various fabricators. IndyCar isn’t alone in this dilemma, however. ALMS is also suffering an exodus of manufacturers as are many other series. A way to entice manufacturers back to motorsports is to increase the value of their participation. To do this, racing series will have to cooperate and coordinate their engine formulas.

no images were found

I’m not saying that every series will have to use the same exact engine, but agreeing on a standard block size will go a long way. Next year, the WRC is moving to a 1.6L I4 turbocharged engine. Why not utilize this format for other series as well? ALMS and IndyCar could use a twin-turbo high-rev version, and the same engine architecture could be used by the junior series with single turbo or normally aspirated, rev limited version. The same core engine would be capable of producing a wide range of performance based on the needs of the series. This would give manufactures the economies of scale they need for their involvement in motorsports to make good business sense, while at the same time allowing competition between manufacturers in the top-tier series. Rather than someone like Cosworth, Honda Performance Development, or Ford Racing trying to sell engines to only six or eight cars, they can sell the same core engines to a few teams in the IZOD IndyCar Series, the WRC, Rally America, Le Mans (European, Asian, and American), and various junior leagues.

The counter-argument to this is that a series will lose its identity if the same engines are used in other series. I would ask, though, how many people actually point to the engines as the differentiation between what an Indy car is versus a Le Mans prototype versus a rally car? The chassis formulas and style of racing are what differentiates one series from another, not the powerplant. So for my part, I would encourage the leagues to start talking soon about coordinating efforts toward a common core engine architecture. Call it a world engine or whatever, but it would be a positive move forward for the entire sport of auto racing. And how neat would it be as fans to be able to close your eyes and hear the different cars race down the front stretch at Indianapolis? Ah, pleasant memories! Unfortunately, for the time being, that’s all they are, memories.

Related posts