There’s good news on the horizon for fans of American open-wheeled racing: as of 2012, IndyCar will no longer be a single engine spec series. Instead, changes to the competition rules are meant to attract a variety of engine manufacturers and add a new dimension to the series, absent since Honda was announced as the sole engine supplier in 2007.
Indy cars currently run Honda badged, naturally aspirated 3.5 (edited, courtesy of Dude) liter V8 engines built by Ilmor. In 2012, the series will limit the maximum number of cylinders to six, return to forced induction (turbocharging) and reduce displacement to 2.4 liters. Here’s where it gets interesting: there is no specification for type of engine, opening up the field to inline fours, V fours, inline sixes and V sixes. Power will remain comparable to today’s levels (between 550 and 700 horsepower), and reference engines will be required to set fuel and airflow restrictions. IndyCar officials will try to maintain as level a playing field as possible, regardless of which configuration teams choose.
Since Honda took over the engine contract, there hasn’t been a single engine failure in competition. That will change quickly once teams start running four cylinder motors with lots of boost, or newly developed V6 motors derived from street cars. It’s too early to tell if manufacturers will line up to participate (racing is expensive, and hasn’t always paid dividends for automakers), but I’d sure like to think the new rules will draw in more companies. It’s the best shot American open-wheeled racing has at long term survival.