Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus Veekay wins the pole for the inaugural IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix.
Just moments before noon Saturday, a hoard of black-jacketed officials waltzed onto the fourth floor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center. Reaching a set of socially-distant chairs laid out for guests, the crew parted like the Red Sea, as men with golden bowties on the backs of their jackets on the left and red-lettered “Honda” logos to the right.
Up on stage, IndyCar president Jay Frye was flanked by two of the biggest names in American motorsports. Notably, it was a picture without any new faces, but all the familiar characters present.
Fans with eagle eyes on the sport since the spring had been hoping for a third section in Saturday’s seating chart, ideally filled by Italian sun-tanned faces with the legendary Prancing Horse logo of Ferrari featured somewhere prominently on their jacket or polo.
For now, that dream of adding a global powerhouse like Ferrari as the series’ third engine manufacturer is on hold, but Saturday’s news of multi-year extensions with both Chevy and Honda, along with the delay of the series’ move to hybrid power until 2023, lays the groundwork for stability that could welcome such a move down the road.
“We know where we’re going and what we’re doing, and we’ve got good partners lineup,” Frye said during Saturday’s news conference. “I’m excited about the future and what that’s going to look like down the road.
“This has been a huge challenge, and one of the things we talked about the other day, this all feels good with some more clarity with the schedule announced this week, and now with this going forward for a long time. That’s rewarding. It’s been a challenge, something we’ve worked on for quite some time.”
Put simply, Saturday’s news means this: since 2012, when Chevy returned to the series after a six-year hiatus, IndyCar teams have run 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engines. Back in May of 2018, the series announced a jump to a 2.4-liter twin-turbo V6 set for 2021, but a year ago bumped that back to account for the addition of a hybrid component that would begin simultaneously with the new engine design.
Because of pandemic’s affect on the sport, Frye said another delay may be necessary to allow suppliers and their own partners the proper time to make the jump in hybridization and engine design at the same time.
“Entering Round 13 (of the 2020 season), it feels like Round 40, with how many times we’ve scheduled and rescheduled. It’s been a very long year and season, and we were all basically shut down for months at a time,” Frye said. “It became very clear that we needed to delay this for a year, but simultaneously, what was great was to be able to work on something that goes beyond that year.”
The multi-year extensions with Honda and Chevy take the pair’s partnership “well into the end of the decade”, according to the release”. Though Frye, nor Honda Performance Development president Ted Klaus or General Motors president Mark Reuss elaborated on the exact extension length, Frye has said previously that this engine plan that has been delayed twice spans a five-year outlook, which would make it through the 2027 season, at least.
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And both Klaus and Reuss stated several times that it was important to them both, as well Frye and IndyCar, to come to Saturday’s news together and in union, united to take this next major step for the series as the Roger Penske era begins to unfold and IndyCar makes some serious technological jumps.
Though serious competitors on-track, Honda and Chevy are serious teammates in pushing this sport forward, together.
“If you have a race series you’re in and out of, you can’t get some of the great engineers to come to Honda or Chevy,” Reuss said. “The fact that we’re committed to reinvesting in this series for years to come should say everything there needs to be said about how (Chevy) feels about it. Electrification technology fits well with GM’s vision of moving the automobile industry to election for the future, and we couldn’t be happier to be part of that, and we’re happy that Honda is part of it too.”
Added Klaus: “When you compete, you learn things. Mark and I are going to keep working hard to grow something that is already a national treasure, in terms of the Indy 500, and IndyCar racing should be that too.”
That partnership, they said, certainly has room for another seat at the table. “I think it’s absolutely needed, and I think it would be fabulous, whatever manufacturer that may be, we would love that,” Reuss said.
And bumping this engine progression one more year down the road makes adding that illusive third OEM that much more possible. Not only does the new agreement allow a chance for a new partner to hop in during the middle of the transformation, but Saturday’s news also allows someone like Ferrari an additional year to mull things over, gather research, scour their financial books and decide if such a move fits with their long-term outlook.
Though there certainly are limits, both Reuss and Klaus, who announced last week that he is retiring from HPD effective Dec. 1 after 30 years with the company, said they would jump at the opportunity to help spark a new INDYCAR relationship that would not only lighten their financial responsibilities and workload, but foster another layer of excitement and competition the series hasn’t felt, in terms of three or more manufacturers, since its heydays of decades ago.
“We’re very committed to getting value out of motorsports in North America together with anyone that wants to come play with us,” Klaus said. “They’re going to find out how committed we are.
“There’s a true opportunity for a level playing field as we take on this new formula in a little over two years from now. We’d welcome them with open arms to try and understand the risks and de-risk some of the changes they’d have to take on that are unique to the series. And we hope they would appreciate the value we see in it. We’ve earned for other manufacturers to really look at us seriously.”
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.