Mission imperative

. mrsercitnte

The 1994 IndyCar season, which kicked off at Surfers Paradise as this issue was being printed, is expected to be a barnburner. Intriguing stories abound: Nigel Mansell's defence of his PPG title; Al Unser Inr finally driving for one of the sport's genuine powerhouses; Mario Andretti's retirement; the improving maturity (we hope) of Paul Tracy and Robby Gordon; an influx of more new teams and truly talented drivers than we've seen in years and, on the political front, what will be the ramifications of Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George's announcement that he is to launch a rival Indy Car series, which will include the showpiece Indianapolis 500? For my money the two most fascinating stories on track will be those of Rahal/ Hogan and Chip Ganassi Racing. The former seeks to rebound from a disappointing 1993 campaign that reached its nadir when Bobby Rahal failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, while Ganassi has pulled out all the stops in an effort to haul his team into the rarefied air long enjoyed by Penske

and Newman/Haas. The fact that each is betting the ranch on as yet unproven equipment makes things all the more interesting.

At least Rahal/Hogan is walking the Indycar high-wire with a safety net. Although Bobby Rahal and Carl Hogan have taken something of a gamble by turning their backs on the proven engines available from Ilmor and Cosworth to go with Honda, throwingyour lot in with the folks from Waco hardly equates to drawing to an inside straight.

Honda has a certain amount of experience in racing on both two and four wheels and, recession or not, surely has the yen to make its Indy V8 a winner sooner or later? These are the people, after all, who blew the the likes of Renault, Porsche and Ferrari,not to mention Ilmor and Ford, out of the F I waters as recently as I 991. On the other hand, the Indy Car grass is not as green as it may appear from the perspective of Fl Porsche, Alfa Romeo and lohn ludd learned the hard way that building a winning IndyCar engine is not exactly child's play.

The rules are highly restrictive, the variety of demands placed on equipment are second to none and the competition is every bit as fierce, if less diverse, as in Fl.

Certainly the Honda people are saying all the right things about their foray into IndyCar racing. There is none of the arrogance that saw Porsche initially attempt to develop an untried chassis and a new engine simultaneously, none of the Byzantine politics on both sides of the water that spelled ruin for the Alfa Romeo. And unlike Judd, Honda is totally focused on IndyCars instead of trying to serve two (or more) different masters. "We understand this racing is very different from Formula One," says Michihiro Asaka, executive vice president of Honda Performance Development. "The activity is different, and the engines are different. So we must work in a different way. . . The purpose is to win races, of course. But we have a long term plan, to procede gradually to get to the the point that we win races, but we have no concrete target for this year

. . . More than that, we want to learn."

What's more, Honda is making every effort to be a good corporate citizen of IndyCar racing. Thus the hordes of engineers and technicans that used to descend on the Fl paddocks in Honda's heyday will be nowhere to be seen in IndyCar racing. Honda is adamant that after the start-up phase of the programme, the vast majority of the work will be done by Americans at the new HPD shop in Santa Clarita California, just north of Los Angeles.

"Many people . . . will be surprised at how few Japanese are on the team," says Mr Asaka. "But the idea of this project is to have Americans doing the project inside the United States. We will hire a lot of engineers at HPD to reach total capacity. For now the work is being done between Japan and the United States, but we are working to the point where it will be 100 per cent in the United States. The purpose is for the project to be conducted by Americans to show the Honda way: Challenge and Teamwork." Honda clearly has its work cut out. After an uninspiring test at Phoenix in early February when Rahal and team-mate Mike Groff were a full second off the pace there was already speculation the team may

again face an uphill battle at Indianapolis. And after last year's debacle with the Rahal/ Hogan chassis, another prematurely shortened May would be likely to cause irreparable harm to the relationship between Rahal/Hogan and its principle sponsor Miller Genuine Draft beer. Except for one thing: the fact that Miller and RHR have already inked a deal that takes them through the 1997 season. While Honda may struggle at times in 1994, rest assured that they will get there sooner or later, and surely long before the 1997 season rolls around.

Chip Ganassi Racing does not have 'til 1997 to win a race. They have to win and win more than once in 1994. The good news is the evidence suggests that goal is within reach.

Although Chip won big in his first season as an owner, when Emerson Fittipaldi triumphed in the 1989 Indy 500 and PPG title for Patrick Racing, in which Ganassi had acquired controlling interest, since striking out under his own banner success has eluded him. There have been bright spots to be sure, such as when Eddie Cheever earned both Indy 500 and CART Rookie of the Year honours and when Arie Luyendyk took pole at Indianapolis last May. But for a well, if not necessarily lavishly, financed team, no wins in four years isn't much to shout about.

Tired of nipping at the heels of Penske and Newman/Haas, nine months ago Ganassi made the bold move of joining forces with Reynard in its bid to crack the IndyCar customer chassis market. Chip and Adrian Reynard augmented their marriage by hiring Bruce Ashmore away from Lola to oversee customer service, then Chip lured promising young engineer Julian Robertson from Dick Simon's team for the 1994 season. Not content with that, Ganassi dug still deeper into his pockets and of sponsors Target and Scotch Video to rescue Michael Andretti from his Formula One hell. Andretti, Ashmore and Robertson may be the marque players, but the fact is Ganassi has built a strong team over the past couple of years. Tom Anderson has been with Ganassi since the Patrick days, first as chief mechanic and more recently as team manager, while Mike Hull, a seasoned veteran of many an IndyCar campaign, serves as crew chief. Together, Anderson and Hull have assembled a top notch crew, and the careless mistakes that haunted the team in the Cheever-era were all but eliminated last year, while the team's pit stop work was peerless. Last year the team's Achilles heel lay in the inability of Luyendyk and engineer Morris Nunn to recapture the chemistry that took them to a pair of wins with the underfinanced Vince Granatelli team in 1991, a

predicament that led to a loss of faith in both Arie and Morris.

That should not be problem in 1994 Although his stock may not be terribly high in Fl, Michael Andretti's IndyCar record speaks for itself: 20 wins, 21 poles and a PPG title in the four-year stretch from 1989 through 1992. Suffice to say, barring obvious mistakes, Andretti will not suffer from a lack of confidence by his teammates.

Reynard has an enviable track record of immediate and consistent success from FF1600 and 2000 to F3 and F3000. But for all their successes, Reynard is new to the "big bore" formula and has never before designed and manufactured a chassis that must cope with the variety of challenges posed bylndyCar racing, from 230 mph laps at Indianapolis and Michigan, to rough and tumble street circuits, permanent road circuits and the mile ovals. But Malcolm Oastler's Reynard 941 has been quite competitive in testing, especially in the hands of Andretti, but also with young Jacques Villeneuve (driving for the new Forsythe Green team) and Adrian Fernandez (with the scaled-down Galles team).

Nevertheless, the pressure is on on all fronts this year. For Ganassi and the team there are no more excuses; Reynard must win or forever be consigned to small bore formula purgatory; and Andretti needs to win to redeem himself in the eyes of the motor racing fraternity, if not his own self. Michael admitted as much in a remarkably candid moment a few days before Surfers Paradise when he talked of his appreciation for Robertson's talents.

"Julian is a very sharp guy and, since he's kind of in the spotlight this year, he not only wants to win, he has to win," explained Andretti. "In that respect he's no different than most of the people in the programme. Most everybody on the team has been here for three or four years and they all realise this is their best opportunity to win races. Chip and Bruce have put their reputations on the line and they have to win; Reynard has to win and I have to win as well. So we're all in the same situation, which is good: we're all ready to put in the effort it takes to win."

The dynamics of the two situations are fascinating. It appears Rahal/Hogan and Honda will struggle to be competitive at the outset of the season. But that's OK. They don't necessarily have to win in 1994, but can and almost inevitably will do so many times in the long run. At Ganassi, the situation is more volatile. Chip, Michael and Reynard must win in 1994. The good news is they appear quite capable of doing just that. D P

Both Peugeot and the paying public have high expectations of the 306, which succeeds the competent 309. Top of the range is the S16, available only as a three-door. It has a twin, however, in the form of the visually identical, but less potent, XSi. Only a £2,000 price hike and smarter wheels give the game away (notwithstanding the fact that the XSi is also available with a supplementary brace of doors).

On paper, both these new lions should be up amongst the pacesetters in their respective territories, but the antelopes have to be caught before they're eaten. The S16, with its 2.0, 16-valve, dohc engine has the dynamically brilliant but bland (for a Citroen) ZX by and Vauxhall's rapid 2.0 Astra GSi to contend with, not to mention Fiat's Tipo or Renault's 19.

At least the 306 twins get off to a good start where it matters – in the showroom. They complete what must be one of the most seductively handsome range of saloons currently available. Equipment levels are satisfactory: smart alloy wheels, power steering, electric windows/mirrors, central locking, immobilising security system, leather trim and a welcome column stalk-mounted stereo volume control.

It goes without saying that Peugeot considers the chassis and suspension high on its list of priorities. MacPherson struts and wisbones (front) and transverse tubes with trailing arms and torsion bars (rear) are employed. Roll bars have also been enlarged. The SI 6's 155 bhp engine, also used in the 405 Mi 1 6, will propel it to a maximum speed of 133mph. It's fast, but simply not as fleet as some of its direct adversaries. It pounces from 0-60 mph in a claimed 9.0s, which again fails to set any new standards. So what has the SI6 got to offer, to make it a viable class alternative?

Immediately noticeable with the 306 is a level of build quality that is evidently superior to that of its forebears, while the choice of interior materials, particularly plastic, has been better deployed. The driving position in a sporting Peugeot will always be right, and the comfortable yet supportive seats will come as no surprise. Whether you're a basketball player or a prop forward, it's possible to be comfortable and to have all primary controls within easy reach. Instruments are clear, if uninspiring, but minor buttons for other functions are downright irritating — with illumination so dim as to render it almost impossible to tell when they're switched on (particularly with the heated rear screen and the rear fog lamps). They are also set into a console, adjacent to the stereo system, which looks like it has its origins in Captain Scarlet.

It is getting more difficult to tell many modern cars apart when driving sedately. Their individuality becomes apparent only when they are unleashed in the few remaining places where that its still possible in the British Isles. However, the SI 6's engine purrs distinctly and gently. It responds instantly, and is devoid of the erratic slow-running behaviour of previous I6v units. Once let loose it pulls well . . . until you compare it with the XSi's eight-valver, which actually feels stronger until it encroaches one's aural rev limiter.

The 16-valve unit is red-lined at 7000 rpm, but with both engines you'll feel reluctant to exact such demands. Though they aren't as rough as some in the outer reaches of the rev range, they just lack the sweetness of Honda's V-Tec, for instance. It is perhaps a surprise that the engine is probably the SI 6's most disappointing facet (this is less the case with the XSi). Bear in mind, though, that Peugeot has for years

enjoyed a reputation as a manufacturer of small cars that remain unsurpassed in terms of poise and balance on the road. Both models ride well despite their rigid chassis and sporting suspension, but both are also maybe a tad disappointing when it comes to the aforementioned art of poise, having relatively poor turn-in compared to, for example, the pin sharp Citroen ZX 1óv. Once they've pulled through their inherent mild understeer, they corner with commendable neutrality. Their composure can then only be unsettled by acts of extreme brutality.

Even then, and allowing for the irregularities of UK road surfaces, you only have to reapply power to restore normal service. Of all the S1 6's handling capabilities, it is the immensly high level of grip that would raise the eyebrows of even a dormant Roger Moore. That is less the case in the narrower tyred XSi, but the trade-off is that the latter feels slightly more agile.

Put simply the 306 twins simply inspire extraordinary levels of confidence without sacrificing vital safety parameters. The brakes are mercifully communicative and powerful, a pleasure to use when you're driving quickly.

Combine such handling prowess with a slick gearbox (that lacks the apparent fragility of lesser models), power steering with feeling (though it's not as good a system as some), a great ride and reasonable refinement (at modest cruising speeds), and you should have the makings of a potent force.

Peugeot has dropped this pair into ferociously competitive market sectors. They're potent, but at £13,395 and £15,490 respectively, one can only wait and see whether they are quite potent enough. R R B