Unfair advantage? Not everybody is thrilled with Chevy’s new Ford IRL engine
By CURT CAVIN
MEMBERS OF SCOTT Dixon’s Ganassi Racing crew couldn’t let the moment pass Sunday at Kentucky Speedway: As they pushed their second-place car past a crowd of happy Sam Hornish Jr. fans, they pointed out that the race winner is powered by a Ford, not a Chevrolet.
The Indy Racing League is something of an uneasy paddock at the moment. Some of the participants on the Toyota and Honda side are miffed that IRL officials permitted General Motors to slide a new Cosworth engine into competition in midseason. That Hornish, who announced he is leaving the Panther team at the end of the season, has led 307 of a possible 400 laps in two races with the Gen IV engine is salt in the wounds.
Hornish only lost the Michigan race July 27 by about four feet. He got that distance (and more) back Sunday in dominating the Belterra Casino Indy 300, lapping everyone but Dixon and leading 181 of 200 laps. Yes, the margin of victory was a mere 1.17 seconds, but Hornish was on cruise all day. No one challenged him for the lead and Dixon trailed by as much as 16 seconds, the equivalent of about a mile, until a late caution flag came.
The win put Hornish in the championship hunt, and with three of the final four races of the season on tracks where Hornish, Panther Racing and the new Chevy should excel. Let the ire flow.
Count Dixon, teammate Tomas Scheckter and their car owner Chip Ganassi among those who have seen enough of this Chevy. Others feel that way, too, but refuse to talk publicly for fear of rocking the IRL’s otherwise fairly stable boat. Kentucky was Chevy’s full-scale rollout, with Hornish grabbing the pole and four Chevy drivers qualifying in the top-10.
“There’s no way his car was superior in handling,” Dixon said of Hornish. “If you’re Toyota and Honda, you’d be pretty pissed. Someone at Chevy obviously dropped the ball, and I don’t see why [the other manufacturers] should be disadvantaged.”
Bryan Herta said he was stunned when his Andretti Green Racing crew told him Hornish was about to lap him on the 76th circuit. But Herta, the race winner at the similarly shaped Kansas track last month, was baffled when Hornish blew past him like John Force.
“That was a little disheartening,” Herta said. “I think that’s a little scary for the rest of the season.”
Robert Clarke, the general manager of Honda Perfor-mance Development, continues to think the IRL didn’t do itself a favor by allowing the new Ford to run, no matter how much Chevy needed it. Of course, IRL officials say it did what had to be done to keep GM and its defeated teams in the series.
Besides, like NASCAR, the IRL insists it has the right to do what has to be done to keep the racing competitive—each of the three engine manufacturers had a podium finish Sunday.
“The rules allow you to make changes to your existing engine, which suggests some flexibility [from the league office],” Clarke said. “But I don’t think a new engine is at all in the spirit of the rules. I don’t think it’s what the [IRL] had in mind.”
Clarke said Hornish did not win the Kentucky race with superior horsepower, although 14th-place finisher Sarah Fisher ran the fastest lap of the race with a Gen IV, despite being two laps down.
“If you look at the in-car cameras, that team has something special with its handling, because Sam never moved the wheel,” Clarke said. “Everyone else was fighting the wheel, especially with all those bumps in the track. They’ve got something special going over there.”
Hornish did his best to fire back at his detractors. He pointed out things like his two IRL titles, the eight wins he had before Sunday’s record-breaking day, and that his car handled as well over the bumps in Kentucky’s second turn as it did in the longer-way-around high lane.
“If I hadn’t run as well as we did, [Dixon] would have pretty much done the same thing,” he said.
Then Hornish began taking the pointed words of his critics more seriously. He said he didn’t complain when his engine was getting whipped by the Toyotas and Hondas.
“I guess the wins they got this year were with a horsepower advantage, too,” he said. “Whenever somebody else wins a race, it’s how great of a driver they are. When I win, it’s because [the IRL] gave it to me. It’s not like some no-names went flying by them. If Chevys were first through sixth, then they’d have a right to complain.”
He paused briefly and smiled. “If I’m in their head, then that’s good,” he said.
Michael Andretti tried to rise above the dispute. He said Chevy had a right to ask for a change, the IRL had the right to grant it, and Toyota and Honda had a right to complain.
“As a competitor, I’m not happy about it,” the first-year team owner said. “But if you look at the big picture, none of us could afford to have Chevy even think about pulling out. Them being here is good for all of us, no matter how the race goes.”
(Photo)Sam Hornish completely ruled the IRL's Kentucky round, and Honda and Toyota wondered out loud if the IRL bent the rules in letting Chevy's Ford engine run. (Photo by LAT Photographic)
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....