By Roger Diez
I hope you all are ready for Christmas, with appropriate gifts selected and wrapped for the gearheads in your life.
If you haven't finished your shopping, you might want to consider a gift certificate for Gone Racing - The Next Level Driving School at the Reno-Fernley Raceway road course. There are courses for every level of driver, from newly licensed teens to experienced racers who want to hone their skills. Classes start at $195 for a one-day session, and will be held on Fridays and Saturdays beginnineg Jan. 16. For more information call Reno-Fernley Raceway at (775) 575-7217 or send an email to email@example.com.
Speaking of gifts, the Indy Racing League has presented its teams and engine manufacturers with a present that is sure to be received with mixed emotions. In response to last season's spate of serious accidents that culminated in Tony Renna's fatal test crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October, the IRL has announced changes that are designed to cut speeds for 2004.
Effective in May for the Indy 500, engine capacity will be reduced from 3.5 liters to 3 liters, with revised crankshaft specifications. Teams will be able to use the older-spec engines for the first three races of the season, with an airbox modification to cut positive airflow to the engine. Aerodynamic changes and a possible reduction in tire width are also being considered in an effort to achieve a speed drop of at least 10 miles per hour. For 2004, cars will be equipped with update kits that include road-course style radiators and sidepods. This will increase drag on the cars, contributing to overall speed reduction. Last year's Indy pole speed was 231.725 miles per hour, a scant 2 miles an hour slower than the 1996 four-lap average when the cars were turbocharged.
The changes will not require new engine designs by Toyota, Honda and Chevrolet, the three engine manufacturers for the series. Instead, existing designs will be modified to meet the new displacement limit. The engines will still be rev-limited to 10,300 RPM but the engine size change is expected to yield a power output drop of up to 100 horsepower.
In an effort to reduce costs, the IRL has curtailed private testing for 2004, with the exception of rookie tests which will be at the discretion of IRL officials. In addition, there are new rules on engine use during race weekends for 2004.
Following the lead of NASCAR and Formula 1, teams will be allowed only one engine for practice, qualifying and the race on two-day race weekends. On weekends that are three days long, teams may change engines prior to qualifying, but must use a single engine for qualifying, final practice and the race. If a team has to change an engine after qualifying, it will start the race at the rear of the grid.
Michael Andretti appears to be on his way to becoming the Jack Roush of the Indy Racing League. Andretti Green Racing was one of the more prolific teams in 2003 with three cars, and will field an unprecedented four entries for the 2004 season. Bryan Herta, who was impressive last season in a substitute role in place of the injured Dario Franchitti, will have a full-time ride in 2004, joining Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, and Dan Wheldon. All four drivers will pilot Dallara chassis with Honda power.
On the other side of the open-wheel racing fence, it was announced last week that negotiations have been completed between Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and Open Wheel Racing Series (OWRS), allowing the latter to purchase specific assets, including contracts with promoters, sponsors, and teams, through the planned Chapter 11 bankruptcy process of CART, Inc. The agreement ensures the continuation of the Champ Car World Series and Toyota Atlantic series for 2004, pending the approval of a bankruptcy court.
CART sustained losses of almost $78 million in 2003, and had previously stated that the series would cease operations unless a takeover was completed. Richard P. Eidswick has been named CEO for the transition through the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Former series top man Chris Pook will have no management role with OWRS.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.