What a difference an engine makes. Reading veteran journalist Gordon Kirby’s latest column for Motor Sport Magazine, I was reminded of just how disparate F1 and Indycar are. Sure, they are both open-wheel racing series but that’s, by some measure, where the similarities end.

F1 recently announced its plan to return to a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbo engine in 2013 while Indycar has taken a more robust road in their quest for more horsepower with a 2.4-litre twin turbo 6-cylinder specification. Both engines are to produce approximately 700-750 bhp with F1’s spec targeting 12,000 revs while Indycar’s lump will contain a boost button for oval versus road course work.

Two engines producing similar performance in two different series. If I’m honest, I would rather have seen F1 go with a twin turbo V6 instead of the 4-cylinder turbo but I understand that F1 and the FIA’s goal here is to lure manufacturers back into the sport and using a ubiquitous engine specification that many car makers are already producing is better bait than Indycar’s V6 option. While car makers are certainly still making V6 engines en mass, it is the 4-cylinder that seems to be the most cherished amongst several of the marques as they combine these with their hybrid technology. Weight and performance are key to a hybrid succeeding in the global market or not.

Indycar, as evidenced by Kirby’s story, is desperate to find horsepower in the series. Many drivers claim it is the missing element to exciting racing returning to the series but some drivers, such as Scotland’s Dario Franchitti, suggest that this isn’t the magic bullet that some may believe it is as he shared with Kirby:

“Having more power obviously makes the straights shorter so it’s harder to pass,” he observes. “That’s the downside. It’s easier to pass on tracks we’ve been going back to with today’s car that we used to race on with 900-1000bhp CART cars, because you get a longer draft with this car. With the CART cars the straight was over so quickly that you couldn’t make those passes.”

You’ll deduce from Franchitti’s statement that Indycar has its own “passing” struggles similar to those bemoaned in F1 and while more power is certainly desired from the Indycar camp, it is the ill effect of sweeping change Franchitti is prophetically speaking of that pragmatism is usually bereft of.

F1 has argued less wing and more ground effect to combat the wake left by a leading car which makes a trailing cars hopes of passing near impossible. It remains to be seen what Dallara’s new Indycar chassis will provide but suffice to say, F1 may have a better angle on this subject. Ultimately you can suggest it is a parallax at best and both series are looking at the same object from galactically different positions while the object remains the same.

How do we interpret the two approaches? Indycar is not wooing manufacturers as ardently as F1 and the use of a twin turbo V6 is purely intended to increase the value of the racing within the series. It is attempting to fix a wound that has been festering in the series for quite some time. To those ends, Indycar may be rounding the corner of tedious, wrist-cutting racing and I am the first to support that notion. I would love nothing better than to see Indycar rise from the flaming heap of ashes to return to its glory but I would be remiss in not mentioning that I am optimistically cautious.

As for F1? They have their own cross to bear in the goose chase that is exciting racing. Passing, aero-effect, downforce, power plants, weight, fuel, rubber compounds, money and politics will always be a part of the series and depending on which side of the coin you have chosen, it either marred the series irreparably or it is an exciting part of the machine that is F1.

If I juxtapose the two decisions, I sense that F1’s message is that to improve the F1 entertainment value, the series need serious participation from serious car manufacturers and will change their milieu in order to accommodate even the most persnickety of car makers in order to get their cash, engineering prowess and sponsors in the sport. This has been ignobly labeled as being “Green” and “technologicaly challenging”. A nice bow and ribbon on an otherwise brown paper box.

Indycar has chosen to shoe-gaze by seeking to suture the wound regardless if it is a car maker-friendly specification or not. It doesn’t seem as important that the V6 twin turbo may not be as ubiquitous of a specification as the 4-cylinder because what Indycar really needs is a power plant that fits their chassis and produces the horsepower they feel they need to improve the show. A noble cause but I would be shortsighted if I suggested there weren’t politics, money and manufacturer wooing involved as well.

And before we leave this notion, we also can assume F1’s rebuke could easily be argued that the V6 doesn’t allow room for the KERS unit and thus renders F1 less environmentally conscience and that is antithetical to their entire notion…it has nothing to do with wooing car makers. Sure, whatever. Maybe this story will help shed some light on where car makers are heading with subcompact, small engines and why F1 is seeing the trees, forest and all the peat moss in between.

An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • brianpmack

    F1 is doing their best to go green, and this article clearly points out what type of green they are aiming for. What color is the money in your country?

  • Monad

    Well Indycar is more free to go to it’s activities because unlike F1 is not a global sport so it doesn’t have to worry about giving a bad picture universally.
    Does 4 cylinders sound lame? Yes they do but we already went over this and no matter what we say that’s what we are going to get. Maybe if the racing becomes awful that engines sound completely horrible resulting in the TV ratings falling to the bottom, maybe they will changed it. But don’t get your hopes up.

    • Anthony Malin

      No one really watches F1 in the U.S.. They already sound like Kawasaki’s so they should just call it what it is, a motorcycle race. I used to respect F1 until I found out that half the driver field pays to get a ride. How can anyone worship a sport that depends more on Duddies Trust Fund and less on talent. OK, I realize that the other half of the field are drivers with real talent, but what does that say about the series.when your wallet can buy you a spot on the starting grid. This kinda of reminds me of the Chevy Corvette versus some Ferrari, almost no one in Europe will ever afford a Ferrari but in the states, a working man can still be able to buy a Corvette and still run the pants off of a 300,000 quid car. Is the Corvette cruder then some Ferrari, Lamborghini, or a Mercedes S class, Hell yes, but I can drive a Corvette and not just masturbate to some poster of a car I could never afford. F1 is simply made up of some elitist class so I will still take NASCAR or Indy car over a Bourgeoisie racing circuit. By the way, NASCAR teams also build their chassis from the ground up for 15 million and not 500 million like F1.

  • ubergreg

    As someone who grew up in North America, but has been living in Europe for the last several years, I see this partly as a cultural thing. In N. America, it’s incredibly common to specify a car/minivan/SUV with a V6 engine. So perhaps for Indy car, anything less than six cylinders might have presented the sport with a serious credibility issue (especially with a competitor series like NASCAR running V8s). Since F1 will be making the same power from an I4, there’s no reason Indycar can’t do it as well… except that in America, four cylinders has often been seen as the under-powered preserve of the poor or eco-inclined and thus antithetical to racing.

    Your article comes at the issue from a very North American perspective. That’s no rebuke; a land- and resource-rich culture that is built around relatively cheap fuel is bound to see things a bit differently. Its citizens are more skeptical of the whole ‘green’ issue, not least because what it’s asking for would require a deeply uncomfortable amount of change. But in Europe – where F1’s decision makers reside – sustainability and carbon reduction (a.k.a. ‘Green’) has long since gained widespread acceptance and is taken more seriously, so it’s more likely to be reflected in their decision making. Yes, wooing manufacturers may be a huge part of this (perhaps overwhelmingly so) but ‘being green’ over here is seen as very good business, as well as good politics and good PR, so the two aims dovetail extremely well.

    Outside of N. America (and places like the Gulf States and Australia) where fuel is far more expensive, a four cylinder is the only sensible choice for the masses. Even in wealthy Western Europe, virtually all top-spec ‘non-premium’ cars run four cylinders as the most powerful engine – including minivans and 4x4s. If you want V6 power in Europe, you get a diesel (and they can be satisfyingly quick, if not as aurally satisfying). Even BMW 5-Series/Audi A6/Merc E-Class cars are mostly sold with 2.0L four-cylinder turbo diesels (when I first came to the UK, I found that shocking). In AsiaPac and all the emerging economies, where Bernie is pushing F1, the four-banger (and even the three!) is the lump of the masses.

    My point is, this could be the difference between what F1 has chosen and what Indycar has settled on, especially as Bernie continues to view V6- and V8-powered America as a marginal audience. I’m not saying that a 1.6L four is an awesome engine for an F1 car (especially considering what’s come before) but it’s easy to understand why F1 stakeholders are confident it won’t harm viewership or acceptance of the sport, come 2013.

    • Downforce1

      Just to be clear IndyCar is going with both 4 and 6cyl engines-2.2l spec not 2.4 and not just v6. There is options with both engine and areo packages. I love both series but the pure racing is better with IndyCar and it has do do with it being more of a driver rather than a machine series.

    • Anthony Malin

      Ubergreg, a few comments on the green thing, In the U.S. most 4 cylinders do not get great fuel miles as one would think. I am not just saying U.S. engineered cars but Japanese and German cars also. I know this is going to sound condescending but it is true, Europeans buy cars because they are fast, Americans will buy a car and make it faster by tinkering and making adjustments. Just look at some of the 4 bangers kids will bring to the drag strips. Some will be putting out as much horsepower from a old Toyota as F1 is currently getting. These are just kids with limited budgets getting 750 horses from cars that should rightfully been in a junkyard years ago. As far as the green thing goes in regards to F1, it is like a rich movie star driving a Toyota Prius to their mansions that have $20,000 a month electric bills.

  • galerna

    In Europe we have the problem of the petrol price. So we have devenloped for many years, more compact engines with less consuption and high power perfomance. The result of those yeears devenloping these high efficient technology is that, our cars don´t need as petrol as Americans but of course, are more expensive.

    As Ubergreg said, in America a motor less than V6 160CV 3.5 litres is more or less ridiculous, while in europe to get the same power we use (My car spec) a 2.5 Litres 4 cylindres, 160CV and diesel, not gasoline.

    The conclusion is that the same phylosophi is applied to the F1. F1 spends a lot of money developing high technology and of course more expensive. But don´t forget that F1 is more than a simply race, F1 is a testing bench where the car manufactures, test the latest technology that will be equiped in some years in our cars. So if you think about this, the mony that F1 spents in researh goes back again in earnings for the car manufacturers.ASO19970823

    • Anthony Malin

      Let me know when F1 starts racing those fuel efficient diesel engines. Oh, yes, kudos to the Germans for developing such efficient diesels, lets face it, it not the French or British that are coming up with these engineering marvels let alone the 4 mile to the gallon Italian cars, Ok, to be fair, Fiat does make a car with fairly good MPG. To say in America that a engine that is less than a V6 160VC 3.5L is ridiculous tells me your knowledge of Americans comes from TV or the internet. Perhaps you get your cues from Jeremy Clarkson. Americans are very conscious of fuel mileage but remember that your petrol prices are base more on taxes and not the actual price. This buys you many social programs in which Americans have to pay for out of pocket. In the end it may even out although I do prefer the European model. One last comment, the Chevy LS motor produces over 620 BHP with around 550 Torque that gets around 27 MPG highway so why should anyone settle for less than a full V8. The LS motor is build in Detroit and not in Kentucky but two blokes named Bob and Bubba. They are not build in Australia as some on the BBC keep trying to claim.

  • Matt

    Not all Americans feel that way. Typical motorsports fans are blissfully unaware of Indy. The “no replacment for displacement” crowd are very focused on NASCAR. These people don’t want to talk about aero, tire management, fuel management etc. They are in it for the roar, the soap opera that is NASCAR, and sorry to say but the crashes. Are there more sophisticated fans? Of course, but if you look at a packed NASCAR crowd on race day maybe 1 out of 10 could tell you the displacement of a NASCAR motor. Maybe. Americans tend to gravitate to the extremes of everything. If you show them two open wheel cars they will ask which one is faster and pick that one. The learning curve and investment in becoming an F1 fan is steep but rewarding for people who like cars and racing. Indy needs to find its “thing” to hook fans. I don’t think shoving a V6 under the hood and grunting more will do it.