Bobby Rahal

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A re-start and a finish…

Huge news for Indycar racing this month with the announcement that General Motors is coming back as an engine supplier. This is a tremendous lift for the IZOD IndyCar Series, as well as for motor racing in general in the United States.

The announcement (above, by GM vice-chairman Tom Stephens) of a Chevrolet engine deal for 2012, in partnership with Ilmor Engineering, is the best possible news for Indycar. It means that for the first time in a long time Honda will have the competition they’ve wanted.

Ilmor will be returning to a relationship with Chevrolet that goes back to the 1980s, when Paul Morgan and Mario Hien joined forces with Roger Penske to start Ilmor with naming rights to the General Motors engines. For them to come back and compete against Honda is a very big boost for this championship. To have Chevy jump back into the fray is a little bit déjà vu, you know, along with plans to go away from some of the high-banked ovals and move to more one-mile ovals, and more road-racing courses. It’s just like old times.

Here’s another manufacturer that sees the value of lndycar, and the competition is something that Honda has always wanted. What interests Honda is technical competition, and now they’ve got it. The presumption is that the Honda Performance Development Group will now look after the lndycar engines rather than Ilmor for obvious reasons. On top of this, Lotus will also enter the fray (see p28) and there’s even talk that Chrysler, or Fiat, will come in for 2012 when we go to the twin-turbo V6 engine. This can only raise the profile of lndycar even further.

Not only that, it tells you something about the economy. This is a big decision GM is partially owned by the American taxpayer and this is upwards of a $50 million investment. But in the end General Motors has to sell cars and this can only help them do that. Remember GM is still in NASCAR, and in the World and British Touring Car Championships with Chevy. The old saying of ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ that’s a valid concept.

Engine leasing in lndycar has always been on one-year terms, so the teams will be free to choose their engines for the start of 2012. A manufacturer also has to be able to satisfy the demands of the entire grid, to prevent one team from having a dominant engine, like Honda had in Formula 1 for a time. So Chevrolet has to be able to supply every team and that’s democratic. lndycar is on its way back, for sure, and we may see the great days again.

Honda will meet the challenge they always have and there will be teams who choose to stay with the tried and tested engine. Honda will relish the challenge and you won’t see a mass exodus to Chevrolet. Whatever the dyno figures may be like, and however good the simulations, the track is where it matters and there will be teams who remain true to Honda.

On another positive note, things are looking good for my son Graham for lndycar next year. He now has the support of a great sponsor TBC Retail, one of our biggest tyre distributors with 900 stores right across North America. It’s a two-year deal and it means that he now has the calling card he needs to get a ride with a top team.

Ganassi would be the team of choice, of course, but we’ll see what happens. This is not just good for Graham, it’s good for lndycar as a whole, because it needs a successful American to promote the series which in recent times has been dominated by Europeans and South Americans. So stay tuned I’m hopeful something can be firmed up before too long.

Sadly, this is my last column for Motor Sport magazine. It’s been fun, I’ve enjoyed it, and I would just like to sign off by wishing all my friends in England a happy Christmas holiday and a great new year in 2011.