IndyCar Series: ICONIC Watch

Andy BernsteinCorrespondent IJuly 6, 2010

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 20:  The courtside clock displaying the time of the morning and how long the match took at the end of the match between Lleyton Hewitt of Australia and Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus in the third round match on day six of the Australian Open 2008 at Melbourne Park in the early morning hours of January 20, 2008 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

No need for concern, the delay of the IRL  chassis strategy won't make much difference. The ICONIC decision will be announced on July 14.

We might see a narrow set of specifications that awards the contract to a single supplier. That has been the financial model for all of the race car constructors' proposals.

We might see a more general formula that encourages participation from several chassis suppliers. That doesn't get the orders placed, or the prototypes built. Unless specific production agreements are already in place, that just extends an open invitation to potential builders.

And that means an invitation for competition, and all the dysfunction to the financial model as a result. Which supplier does a team order from? Do customers insist on prototype construction and competitive testing before making a commitment? Does a constructor follow the Falcon footprints, and begin the process with no clear end game?

Follow the money, and we'll see what chassis comes on the market. Open regulations are a guarantee of nothing. So the chassis announcement isn't really too important, other than to find out what the IRL  mandate will be for the value of the current Dallaras . At least one new chassis constructor will be "all in."

But the engine formula, that is the big deal. It's the one that was supposed to net major auto manufacturer involvement. And according to Erik Berkman of Honda, that decision is still on the clock too.

The announcement on June 2, and the subsequent press conference in Texas on June 6, revealed a fair amount of detail about the proposed engine formula. The 2.4L V6 that Honda had proposed to the IRL in 2009 is a perfect fit for the ICONIC guidelines. And the news broke one day after Honda's deadline.

In the month that has passed since, no other auto manufacturer has expressed public interest for submitting an engine proposal. Brain Barnhart stated on June 6 that the deadline for 2012 eligibility was Homestead: October 2, 2010.

That puts a lot of other people on the clock, but not Honda. They got a green light to proceed with their design phase, right?

Not according to Erik Berkman of Honda, who was quoted by Gordon Kirby in today's installment of "The Way It Is:"

"But that's not going to happen for a while because I refuse to green light the expenditure to issue drawings and so forth until we know the specifics of the rules. Right now, it's very roughly speaking. There are three or four bullet points. It's a far cry from a full rules package."

That's the concern for me, and one that is difficult to understand. If Honda's proposed engine is the one that the IRL had been presented with, and theirs is the only hard offer on the table, why have they not been given carte blanche approval?

June 2 to July 14 is another month and a half of suspense for Honda. Berkman's reaction is somewhat hard to follow, in that he later goes on to state: 

"We had a design and we are now marching forward as opposed to marking time. I don't want to be to specific about when we're going to be on the dyno and when we'll be producing a targeted power output and targeted life. We'll have some kind of a coming out party later in time, but we're moving forward."

A clear set of specifications on June 2, or approval of Honda's preliminary design, would have set the wheels fully in motion. Perhaps an engine on the dyno in January or February. Whether a timetable is in place is unclear, as is the date for the additional specifications that Berkman has requested from the ICONIC panel.

Why does that matter? Honda won't have any difficulty building a pool of fresh V6's for 2012 competition. They probably have provided the chassis constructors with enough preliminary data so that dimensions/weight/center of gravity/cooling requirements are pretty well locked in.

The IndyCar engine will be a fresh jewel, but is similar in configuration to the ACO -approved V6 turbo that Honda has had on the dyno for months.

However, delays to Honda's progress impedes the schedule of the chassis builder. If you follow the Swift history of the N.017 Formula Nippon construction, they had an existing engine a lot sooner than ten months after approval of their submission.

Brian Barnhart has stated that an 18-month timetable is a reasonable one, from chassis approval date to race cars. If you want to know what he based that estimate on, look at the Formula Nippon history. It was a straight development line, with one existing engine platform to draw the car around. No competitive testing required. Sole supplier contract.

The ICONIC delays, as relatively minor as they have been so far, might start to compress a similar schedule even more.

The chassis are promised for 2012: crash tested, prototyped, sorted, and mass produced. From more than one builder? With design flexibilty for more than one engine platform, and with alternate components available to install them? When no other engine has been specified, and no orders for chassis have been confirmed?

Honda is the de facto engine supplier for 2012, and any delays to their schedule will fall back onto the chassis builder(s). Accommodating an alternate engine platform for 2012 will add to the design and construction phases of new chassis, and to the production costs.

One chassis builder or more, there is a big job to be done. January 2012 isn't that far away.

That's about the time 25 cars should be nearing completion, with 25 more and a spares inventory next on the clock for March/April. And 66 total for May, right?

One thing is for sure: there isn't any reason to hold Honda up another day. The sooner they are permitted to proceed full bore, the sooner the first new chassis can be fitted with an engine. What is the alternative?

Another engine platform will require the submission, construction and presentation of a "reference engine," and IRL deliberation to establish equivalency with the Honda. If that happens, great. But there is no reason to impede Honda's progress, or bend the straight line that must be drawn if the 2012 chassis is to become a reality.

And still, no word on the fate of the Honda V8 beyond 2011. Or the cars already built to race them.

Full text of Gordon Kirby's article:

http ://www .gordonkirby .com/categories/columns/theway /2010/the_way_it_is_no242.html


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