The last time a Chevrolet engine powered an IndyCar was in 2005, during the height of the battle between Tony George’s IRL and the tattered remnants of the ChampCar series. Now that IndyCar has agreed on a new chassis and a new engine formula for the 2012 season, it appears that Chevy will be the second manufacturer to announce an engine for series. Long term IndyCar partner Honda has already confirmed their intent to build an engine for the 2012 specifications, ensuring that they remain an essential supplier to the series for the foreseeable future.
The new competition rules allow turbocharged engines with up to six cylinders, having a displacement of no more than 2.4 liters. Manufacturers are free to choose the number of cylinders and the layout, and the amount of boost allowed will likely be determined by engine size. Although I doubt anyone will build a 1.6 liter four cylinder motor running fifty pounds of boost, I imagine it would be impressive to watch until the motor grenaded. What formula Chevy will adopt, assuming they confirm rumors of their return to IndyCar on Friday, is anyone’s guess.
Does it make sense for Chevrolet to return to open wheel racing so soon after emerging from the brink? I say the answer is yes, because racing pushes the envelope of development better than any lab bench test possibly can. The future of performance cars will be forced induction and smaller displacement; in other words, the big V8 will eventually go the way of the dinosaur, which makes development of smaller high performance engines essential to a manufacturer’s success. New CAFE standards require a fleetwide car average fuel economy of 39 MPG by 2016, which doesn’t give manufacturers a lot of time to develop and refine power plants. Racing will certainly help to escalate development and testing, and having multiple manufacturers return to the series can only increase viewership. Ford, are you paying attention?