A blue oval wrapped in a bow tie wouldn't end Cosworth's relationship with CART. But a new engine formula might
By J.P. VETTRAINO
THE NEWS MADE FOR A load of smirks and quips at the CART race at Laguna Seca—and no doubt at the IRL race at Pikes Peak. Anniversaries like the one Ford is celebrating come about as often as Chevrolet asks Ford to develop its race engines. Maybe the world has to smirk when GM asks Ford’s Cosworth Racing for help fixing its hopelessly underpowered IRL engines.
At Laguna, anyway, Ford marked its 100th anniversary by winning the race. Of course, Ford being CART’s sole engine supplier, it has won every CART race this season. If the Chevy-Cosworth deal happens, Ford won’t turn and bail on CART. Indeed, Ford, and Cosworth, would like nothing better than to continue as CART’s exclusive supplier of methanol-powered turbo-charged 2.65-liter V8s beyond 2004, when today’s contract expires. The CART deal has the fires stoked at Cosworth’s North American wing, and it’s one of the reasons Cosworth is in a position to explore a relationship with GM.
“I think it would be the best thing for everyone involved,” says Ian Bisco, vice president of Cosworth in Torrance, California. “It’s working well.”
The deal appeals to CART, too, because it offers both stability and cost containment, two commodities the series needs desperately. Yet CART also has good reasons to want to switch: A spec engine is not the preferred power source for any major-league race series; and while CART CEO Chris Pook concedes the current arrangement is as good for CART as it is for Cosworth, he says the starting point for a 2005 engine formula remains what it was when CART signed its exclusive two-year deal with Ford: a gasoline-powered V10.
“We have to align ourselves more with the automobile industry as it exists today,” says Pook. “We need to bridge that gap to real, usable technology. A V10 is fairly sophisticated, and you’ll see that the world’s manufacturers are moving toward V10s. Ford has made a big issue about building a V10. Chrysler has a V10. You’ve got Volkswagen making V10s.”
So why abandon methanol, long the fuel of American open-wheel racing?
“We’ll go to gasoline for two reasons,” he said. “No. 1, because that’s what real cars run on. And No. 2, the money from oil companies now is not in lubricants as it once was. It’s in gas, and we want gasoline companies in our series, because when they come, they bring their retail stores with them, and when they bring their stores, then retail products like potato chips and Pepsi-Cola can come, too.”
Implicit, at least to some observers, is another potential advantage with a V10: If some of the seven manufacturers building V10s for Formula One can get more mileage from a huge investment there, with minimal incremental costs to detune the engines and make them last longer, then CART might look like a more attractive business proposition. The problem with that theory is that the efficiencies don’t really apply, or at least not to Cosworth engineers and others.
“You might be able to start from a five-year-old F1 block, I don’t know, but in any case it would be expensive to make it suitable to CART,” contends Bisco.
Another problem is that so far there seems to be little interest from manufacturers in CART’s V10 idea, even in deep background conversations. The Audi brand most frequently flows from the rumor mill, but nothing has come from within the VW-Audi Group to support the rumors.
Granted, Pook is one of auto racing’s better salesmen, and he’s been banging on manufacturers’ doors on three continents. He’ll neither kill nor endorse the Audi speculation, but he insists there is interest in CART’s V10 from auto companies. “I can’t really talk about it in specifics because there are some very delicate things going on here,” he says.
Still, the most pressing problem is time. If CART wants a new engine formula for its 2005 season, it would need commitments—well, right about now.
“We need to know by the end of July if there is going to be a V10,” says Bisco. Pook says CART will decide on its next engine plan on its own time. But at Laguna he made a point of being flexible.
“I think we’ve got to know by the end of August, September,” he said. “Everybody wants to know, but with all due respect, it’s our company and we have to get it right. We don’t want to repeat the knee-jerk mistakes of the past.”
Pook won’t explain the basis for his time frame, but here the specter of F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, or rather speculation that Ecclestone is about to take an active role in CART, looms large. If Ecclestone were to take an active role, he might use his influence to bring some manufacturers with him, and CART might be back to detuned F1 engines.
Ford Racing boss Dan Davis would prefer Cosworth not build IRL engines for Chevrolet. Yet the decision ultimately lies above his slot in the management chart, and there’s opposition in Ford’s North American sales division. A wholly owned Ford subsidiary would be helping Ford’s No. 1 rival improve—indeed, save face—in a racing league that competes with the open-wheel series in which Ford has chosen to participate.
Asked if Ford would ultimately sign off on a Cosworth relationship with Chevy, Bisco thinks, speaks, then stutters. “I think it’s... I don’t know,” he says. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
Ultimately CART’s decision will depend on how much interest it gets from other manufacturers, and how quickly. The longer it takes to decide, the more likely CART will remain a Cosworth spec series.
(Photo)Ford's racing boss Dan Davis likes his deal with CART. He'd prefer Cosworth not cut a deal with Chevy, however.
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