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INDY RACING LEAGUE MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 7, 2007
TIM HARMS: Our guests today are Les Mactaggart, the Indy Racing League Senior Technical Director, and Roger Griffiths, the Race Team Technical Leader for Honda Performance Development.
Les is responsible for the design and development of the chassis, engines and transmissions for the league, while Roger oversees the work of more than a dozen engineers and technicians for Honda Performance Development and Ilmor Engineering. That trackside engineering team is responsible for all aspects of Honda engine performance and maintenance at the circuit and the implementation of new engine developments as they take place. So good afternoon, gentlemen. Appreciate you taking the time to join us.
Roger, let's start with a couple of questions for yourself. Last year, obviously a big year for Honda as you transitioned into supplying the entire Indy Car Series field with engines. This year there are more changes in the works. Tell us about the work that's gone into getting ready for the biggest change being the change to 100 percent fuel grade ethanol.
ROGER GRIFFITHS: I guess once we were made aware of the change, we ran some initial performance tests just to see where we are or were with the 3.0 liter engine. We also did some simulation work to back up our performance studies.
And very critically, it became apparent that the performance of the engine was going to be a little bit down on where we had been running with the 90-10 methanol/ethanol blend.
Whilst we weren't particularly concerned about the performance of the car in the oval, told we were too fast. Anyhow, we were concerned with the general transition to more oval courses, that perhaps the cars would be a little bit slow.
So we put together a variety of proposals to the Indy Racing League of what we thought was the most cost-effective way of bringing the performance level back on par with where we were in 2006. And ultimately we made the decision to increase the capacity of the engine back to 3.5 liters.
This had other benefits which we weren't initially looking at, one of them being that the mid-range performance of the engine was significantly increased over where we were for the 3.0 liter engine.
And that has given us a much more drivable engine on the road course. The initial design of the 3.0 liter engine was very much geared towards ovals as it was conceived back in 2004, when we were predominantly an oval series.
And it just kind of worked on the road courses, now we're switching to a series that got more road courses and we took the opportunity to maximize performance of the engine in its mid-range.
The other thing that we were concentrating on, and along with the league and other changes we were sensitive to the cost of this series. And we were doing everything that we could to produce a much more cost-efficient engine.
We were no longer in competition with the likes of Chevrolet and Toyota.
So we didn't need a lot of the whiz bang technology, if you like, that was on the engine and we could simplify a lot of the components and produce an engine that was more suited to the direction that the series was taking.
So we made the change, the biggest change really was to the induction system, which was a much simpler system than we used in the past.
So with the mechanical design changes to the engine, we obviously had to do a lot of durability testing to confirm that the engine would be good for our target mileage of 1400 miles, and then to ensure that with the new electronics package that we introduced for this coming year, that the calibrations and the strategies were suited to both oval and road course racing.
Q. You mentioned being cost-effective and simplified various things. One of the things that factors into that, too, is the increased, as you mentioned, durability and engine life. Maybe you can expand a little bit about that?
ROGER GRIFFITHS: Yes, if you look through the history of the Honda engine, in 2005 we were typically rebuilding engines at five to 600 mile increments and through last season we set ourselves a modest target of 1200 miles.
And we achieved that through attention to detail and looking at what the engine specification needed to be for a one make series engine.
With the experience that we gained over the 2006 season, we were able to identify areas of the engine that were perhaps the weak link in the chain and make some improvements there.
I mean with the change to 3.5 liters, obviously we've been at 3.5 liters a couple of years earlier, and we made a change on the crankshaft design to the 3.0 liter to everything we learned during that period and going back to the 3.5 liter where we've got another two more years experience of crankshaft design and (inaudible) design, which are really the big changes. And we were able to produce a package that we hope is you know destined to last 1400 miles and beyond.
Q. Well, and we now recently we had our first test down at Daytona, all 17-car field down there and almost 1700 laps on the road course without any problems. Tell us about the results of the test from your perspective.
ROGER GRIFFITHS: We were very pleased. As you say we didn't have a single mechanical issue related to the engine. We've been running the 3.5 liter engine now on the racetrack since September. You know the performance has been very good. The reliability has been very good.
We're still working a few little bugs out in the control system, whenever you make a significant change to the control system of an engine. It's always a long process, and we do a lot of work on the test bench and then on the Dyno and then ultimately in the car. And the drivers provide us tremendous feedback on the way the system works.
And we've got a great group of software engineers that have been working on this and we're able to react to changes very, very quickly. I mean we actually ran through a couple of different iterations of strategies down at Daytona and you know the progress we made on things like pit lane speed limit control was quite significant.
We still have a little bit of work to do. But we're confident. The comment we've had from many drivers, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves, that the system is raceable. We could go and race tomorrow if we wanted to. But we set ourselves some extremely high standards, and we're going to keep working at it and keep improving on things to the point where people don't go well it's just raceable, it's now this is a great package.
Q. Thank you. Les, let's get your perspective on a couple of things as Honda has worked for the changes with the change to the ethanol fuel and the 3.5 liter engine, tell us a little bit how the process works from your perspective and how actively involved you are with Roger and the others at Honda as developments are made?
LES MACTAGGART: Well, principally Roger is really my principal point of contact with HPD. And, frankly, he's a pleasure to work with. He's a good communicator. He keeps me abreast of everything they're doing on an ongoing basis.
He probably covered most of the ground actually we discussed before. Most of the burden of change the grade, going to 100 percent fuel grade ethanol, engine related, relatively few changes we had to make to the chassis to accommodate it because one of the major advantages running with an alcohol fuel methanol in the past meant we had taken all the precautions we needed to in terms of plating the system, et cetera, so we didn't get any corrosion.
So going from methanol to ethanol was fairly painless for us. But just to recount some of the things that Roger had said. Obviously this change of the process started probably before Indy of 2006, where they were obviously carrying out some Dyno testing, et cetera, on the then current 2006 engine to see what challenges we'd have when we did in fact change over to 100 percent fuel grade ethanol.
One of the issues, obviously, was as he said before, was we would suffer a little bit from power loss. But principally one of the reasons for changing to 3.5 liter was because we were going more and more diverse, to more and more diverse venues, for instance, different road courses, fast road courses, slow road courses, street courses, et cetera.
The requirements from the engine were becoming much greater than they had been in the past, because the engines being consistently refined so they were optimized purely for oval racing as Roger said. Therefore we had a narrow power band really.
And also the torque was very peaky, so the principal advantage of going to 3.5 gave us a much more adaptable engine to cope with ever-increasing diversity of racetracks. We're still looking at other venues now.
So it gives us a much better product to move forward with. The only real challenges we had, frankly, was one of the things that Roger flagged very early to me was the fact that we've experienced probably 30% higher heat rejection into our cooling lubrication systems than we had been in the past with the change over to ethanol.
This obviously meant that we had to make sure that the cooling systems on the cars were adequate for 2007 because basically it was the same configuration as we run in '06 and here we are now faced with perhaps up to somewhere slightly over 30% increase heat going into the water.
So between ourselves and HPD and Delara, we look to the cooling systems on the cars to ensure that we had sufficient in reserve to cover all our 2007 venues and didn't get into a situation where the cars would actually be getting too hot.
So without actually changing the basic configuration, we've come up with some recommendations for the teams to make sure that we operate within Honda's predetermined limits for cooling temperatures, et cetera.
Q. One of the other changes I know we looked at for this year and are implementing is reduction in the size of the fuel cell. Can you tell us about how that will play a role in 2007?
LES MACTAGGART: Yes, that was one of the other consequences of obviously changing to 100% fuel grade ethanol. We found we were actually using something like 30% less fuel than we were last year.
Firestone produced a very durable tire for us, all venues, but there's an optimized distance really the tire is perhaps most consistent. And they have a predetermined mileage that they would like the tire to run. Typically this would be somewhere between 65 and 75 miles.
Obviously with the ability to increase the amount of laps we could do between fuel stops, we could go outside this consistency range. So it was an opportunity to reduce the fuel tank so we brought the pit stops back into the same duration really in terms of mileage that we had in 2006. Otherwise we could well have reduced the number of pit stops by one at some events.
And obviously pit stops are very important strategy or race strategy to some of the teams. So it was important that we kept the same amount. So this was the reason it was actually reduced to fuel tank, so we had the same number of pit stops at each event.
Q. Finally for me, from your perspective, again, 1700 lapse at Daytona and 17 cars coming there, getting their chance to run the 100% fuel grade ethanol in the new package for the first time, how did everything go from your perspective?
LES MACTAGGART: I have to say it was boringly routine, which I think is a nice thing in some respects.
But as you rightly said we ran some 1700 laps. There was no issues with the cars at all. I think we had one minor transmission problem with one car. But it wasn't even worth mentioning. It was just what you would consider to be a normal, routine racing failure.
There was no issues with the cars origins at all. I think from a series perspective you couldn't ask for more from certainly my standpoint, that we have a product that's so reliable. Thanks to Honda, in lots of respects from that point of view, even in 2006, our engine reliability was unbelievable, really.
And it's continued through into this new generation of engines. So it gave the teams an opportunity to do as many miles as they wanted so that they could just check the fuel systems were okay. Familiarize themselves with the different characteristics of the engine, which I think all the drivers were all very favorable and generally gave us a nice ease into the 2007 season.
Q. Roger, normally when you increase displacement, you're going to have better torque in the engine. Are you concerned at all about the speeds we're going to do on the ovals with the increased torque? I understand it's going to be a great help on the road courses but is it going to affect the speed at all on the ovals?
ROGER GRIFFITHS: Interesting question. When we first ran the engine on the Dyno, we basically, we set out with the premise that the 2007 engine would produce no more peak power than the 2006 engine.
When we first ran the engine on the Dyno, we found out we had done too good a job and we overshot our target by about four or five percent. This obviously was to some -- we were quite pleased with the job we had done. Unfortunately, the Indy League wasn't so impressed with it, as you rightly mention. Indianapolis being the one racetrack that I get beaten up regular over about how fast we're going.
So we have made some hardware changes to bring the performance of the engine back to where we were on the 2006 engine. We were just having this conversation just prior to coming in here actually. And controlling the speeds of the car on the oval, it's a process that needs to be done jointly by Honda and by the IRL. I'm sure if we turned up last year's 2006 engine, gave it to Sam Hornish, he'd probably go two miles an hour faster just based on car development alone.
We need to work together on producing it. The comment we've had from the drivers is that the engine is, because it has more torque, it doesn't get bumped down in the corners when the car loads up, the combination of lateral and vertical accelerations that it sees.
And hence it pulls more cleanly out of the corners, which ultimately leads to a faster speed down the end of the straight.
So I think we could be a mile and a half an hour potentially faster at these tracks, but if this becomes an issue then we can work with the Indy Racing League and look at what we can do to control those speeds.
Q. I guess this is for Les or Roger, whoever wants to answer this. When you go from a 3.0 liter to 3.5 are we talking about changes in crankshaft, something like that or are we talking about completely new engine blocks and everything else?
LES MACTAGGART: I can probably answer that, because it's an easy engine question. So in this particular case actually it was a change of crank and rods, wasn't it Roger?
ROGER GRIFFITHS: Yes.
LES MACTAGGART: Honda took an opportunity to simplify some of the induction system on the engine at the same time. That wasn't a necessity to change the displacement, it was just desirable.
Q. So teams don't have to scrap their inventory of engines, in other words?
LES MACTAGGART: No, absolutely not.
ROGER GRIFFITHS: Just to clarify, the way Honda operates, it's a lease program with the team. So the onus is on Honda to control the inventory of the engines as opposed to the team.
So the change from 3 to 3.5 liters came at no cost to the teams themselves.
Q. I've got a question about this chassis thing. You've worked a lot with Delara and everyone right now is running the Delara chassis, but there's an awful lot of Panoz chassises lying around and a lot of teams that might just do Indy, might want to run those Panoz chassises because they can probably get them for less money. Is this going to create any kind of a problem for you, any issues?
ROGER GRIFFITHS: None whatsoever. Actually, we're anticipating a number of people will probably run the Panoz chassis. The car is perfectly legal to run throughout the 2007 season, frankly. Teams have chosen themselves to go other routes. But certainly we anticipate a number of Panoz chassises at Indianapolis and we've made provision for that by producing a drawing for a smaller capacity fuel tank, et cetera, to incorporate that into the Panoz chassis so it complies with the 2007 regulation. Won't present a problem in any way.
TIM HARMS: That looks like all the questions we have for you today. Thank you for taking time out to join us.
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