IndyCar Series: The Miss in the Engine Bay

Andy BernsteinCorrespondent IAugust 1, 2010

Here's a parallel universe scenario for you to contemplate:

Kenny Brack, winner of the 1999 Indianapolis 500, crosses the finish line and takes the checkered flag. He has just won the 2009 Rally Car gold medal at the 15th edition of ESPN's X Games.

Those are the facts. Imagine Kenny's postrace interview went this way:

"My Ford Fiesta was unbeatable today. I have to thank Ford Racing and Olsbergs Motor Sport for the 800 horsepower muscle they gave me to win this medal. And next year, this same engine will be fighting for victory at the 2010 Indy 500."

The engines I am familiar with are normally aspirated, unlike the Ford Duratec 2.0L turbo built by Olsbergs MSE and pictured above. Last January I read that the IRL was contemplating a 4 cylinder turbo engine platform, and that a similar alternative had been suggested for use by the Delta Wing Group. Time for homework, not dreaming.

The Olsbergs development program was the second such engine I came across and recognized as a candidate for installation in an IndyCar. There wasn't much information on the Ford Duratec I could find, and several weeks passed while awaiting a response to some inquiries.

Brent Maurer of Ford Racing talked to me about the Duratec in mid-April. At the time, he said that Ford had little interest in IndyCar racing, and was waiting to see how the future would take shape under new IRL leadership.

On the subject of the Olsbergs MSE development, Maurer said that the engine was the real deal but was under the control of what he described as a very small, independent engine builder. He then recommended a bar where I could meet with other passionate IndyCar fans, and bid his farewell. Tanks, buddy.

Recently I corresponded with an IndyCar fan in Sweden, home of Olsbergs. I asked if he could navigate the language barrier and direct a few questions to Olsbergs about the engine architecture, cost, and availability. Here are the replies.

From Mr. Pink, July 22:

I sent Andreas Eriksson an email with the questions.

Meanwhile here are the specs for the rallycross engine:

Engine: Ford Duratec HE 2030cc Olsbergs MD Design. Four cylinders, 16 valves. Carillo conrods, JE-pistons, ARP-bolts. Camshaft Ultra Motors. Olsbergs MD head. PWR intercooler. KN Air filter. Stainless steel pipe with HJS-catalysator. OMSE/Ultra Motors manifold.
Power: 550 bhp at 6400 rpm.
Torque: 820 Nm at 4000 rpm.

At Pikes Peak they produced over 800hp.


From Mr. Pink, July 23:

Here's the reply I got from Andreas Eriksson:

We sell race ready engines

We've been building on standard blocks but heavily modified and with our own top [cylinder head] for increased cylinder pressure and better cooling at high power output.

At the moment we're building a new block to lower cost and get better qualities.

All engines have the same base:

RC 45 mm restrictor ca 550 hp 850 nm

PP no restrictor ca 850 hp 1100 nm

Rally America 34 mm restrictor 320 hp 780 nm

Cost around 600000-750000 sek (ca 80000-100000 usd) incl. everything ready to start, in car! New model block should reduce the cost but isn't ready yet.

Running the engine is at reasonable price since everything, such as crankshaft, block, top [head], is built for re-use after renovation.

Best Regards,

Andreas Eriksson

[Mr. Pink added:]
(There might be a couple of missed translations since I translated it all myself)


To me, that set of parameters sounds every bit as good as the information I had collected on the GM Ecotec 2.0L turbo, and the Mazda MZR-R 2.0L variant built by Advanced Engine Research (AER) in England. 

Of course modifications to the fuel injection and engine management systems would be required to run it on Ethanol, or an E85 blend. Of course reliability and service life would have to be determined for sustained WOT (wide open throttle) runs for several hours. That's why God gave us engine dynos. It's noisy and fun, trust me.

And detuned to a maximum output of 575HP, perhaps there is 1,000 miles of full giddyup in the Olsbergs Ford Duratec? That's enough for an equivalent power to weight ratio in a 2012 Dallara chassis. That's enough for an equivalent power to weight ratio in the current chassis once the associated weight and drag reductions are factored in, in my opinion.

This is why the "Engine Roundtable" discussions started in 2008 never produced a sound. This is why I wrote on April 2 that independent builders should have been given an invitation to come to the dyno room in six months, to run what they brung. And why I sent Brian Barnhart all of the similar data I had collected on the GM Ecotec.

That didn't do much good, so we'll slip into parallel universe land again.

Along with the existing racing engines to be tested, representatives from the IndyCar team owners are invited. So are reps from Ilmor, Cosworth, Menard Competition Engines, and any other major supplier who doesn't have a mill to test. Also invited are the auto manufacturers, to see if a Ford or GM or another company wants to recognize what development work has already been done on their product. 

And that's when you head to the roundtable, when the noise and fun have concluded. Each builder presents their spec sheets, cost estimates, production capability estimates, service life projections, etc.

That's when the business to business deals that power IndyCar today are negotiated. Who wants to badge which engine? Who wants to buy the design rights from a small-time builder and mass produce their product for a lease program?

We don't know what could move across that table. Nobody asked.

Looks like Kenny Brack didn't succeed in the reality of this year's X Games competition. Looks like some IndyCar fans think the whole event, and the cars which compete in it, are a trivial pursuit.

Is that what you think? The engines aren't worth a look? The crossover demographic of X Games fans and the tuner market aren't worth appealing to? The 60 percent of new car buyers who drive a four cylinder engine every day won't appreciate any relevance?

No, it's all a parallel universe that exists in my mind. What a waste of time.

If you want to waste some more of yours: instead of reading blogs about who to bitch-slap next, you can retrace all of the steps I wasted (and a lot more) on the link below. It will be a lot of work for you, as it includes eight months of fact and opinion.

For me, the sad part is that it didn't make any noise, and it wasn't much fun.

Thankfully there is Youtube, so at least I can find some X Games videos to watch instead. Stay parallel, my friend. There is more than one line to follow.



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