Chevy Already In High Gear
January 1, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
In Indy Racing League offseason testing on the track and off, the new Chevy V8 engine has proved to be fast and reliable. That must have Infiniti supporters shaking in their boots, as they were already behind the eight ball.
Since the end of the season in October, Sam Hornish Jr. and Buddy Lazier have tested with the engine, which replaced the Oldsmobile Aurora for 2002.
Hornish was the first to have the honors at Phoenix International Raceway in early December. He and his title-winning Panther Racing team were impressed with the engine, which was coming off two successful 500-mile dynamometer durability tests.
“I'm really happy with how everything went,” said Hornish, who opened 2001 with a win at PIR in March. “We put nearly 500 miles on the new engine, and from the driver's seat, it was great. I couldn't ask for anything more.
“The Oldsmobile engine was good, but this Chevrolet is going to be better. It looks like it already has 25 or 30 more horsepower than we had last year.”
If the engine is indeed better than the Olds, Infiniti drivers Cheever and Buhl may be on the outside looking in next season. Their engines combined to win just one race and no poles, although the duo put together strong runs before a variety of problems derailed them.
Lazier, the 2000 champ, turned in the biggest eye-opening test, however, when he topped 225 mph at California Speedway on Dec. 21 after already turning in 510 miles of testing. Like Hornish, Lazier was impressed after the trouble-free test.
“In my entire racing career, I’ve never seen a brand-new motor run so well right out of the box,” Lazier said. “The Chevy engine exceeded all of my expectations.
“The motor feels lighter and that helps the car handle better, but it’s the power that is really impressive. Horsepower is a driver’s best friend, so this Chevy engine and I are going to get along just fine.”
General Motors officials are happy, too, and they say they can improve upon the engine before the season opens March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Now that we have validated the engine’s reliability on the dyno and on the track, we will continue to work on developing more horsepower and speed,” said Joe Negri, GM Racing IRL/Road Racing Group manager. “We are simultaneously producing parts so that other teams can begin testing programs with the Chevrolet engine.”
“The new Chevrolet engine has now demonstrated excellent reliability based on our dynamometer and track tests,” said Dick Amacher, GM Racing engineer. “GM Racing will continue to improve the engine's power and durability. There is never a point at which you've got the final answer.”
The Chevy V8 is smaller, lighter and has a lower center of gravity than its Oldsmobile predecessor, making Chevy-powered cars more driver-friendly. Considering the Aurora dominated the IRL for the past five years, there’s no reason to believe GM will suffer a letdown in 2002.
In fact, Panther co-owner John Barnes expects to see continual improvement in the engine throughout the season.
“This engine is just in its infancy, and I think we will see an event better product by the time we get to Indianapolis,” he said.
Hornish likes the sound of that.
“I'm excited about Chevrolet's first year with the Indy Racing League,” Hornish said. “I'd love to be the guy who brings Chevrolet back to victory lane at the Indy 500.”