(by Dave Lewandowski indycar.com 9-22-09)
Indy Racing League president of competition and operations Brian Barnhart is not unlike the man who sees two cars in a showroom - one perfectly practical for the foreseeable future while the eyes wander to that "Wow" machine with the matching price tag.
Parallel paths. One decision.
During the Indy Japan 300 race weekend at Twin Ring Motegi, Barnhart said he expects specifications for a new engine and chassis package to be announced in the fourth quarter.
"My anticipation continues to be for the package to roll out in the 2012 season," he said. "We have four manufacturers that have expressed interest in participation in the series beginning in 2012, which in this (economic) environment we feel very good about. So we're continuing dialogue with them and hope to have final word from them in the next couple of months."
Prospective engine manufacturers from around the globe, who initially met at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in June 2008, are in agreement on a specification, while the league continues to explore parallel paths in terms of chassis design.
"We have two significantly different chassis packages in terms of appearance and how different and radical they are from our current car," Barnhart said. "The one is so radically different it will entail significantly more in terms of R&D, cost and time. It's kind of out there.
"We need to be careful about jumping ahead of ourselves too much, but at the same time doing something that is consistent with what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League have been about - evolution.
"It's a really delicate balance between form following function and the evolution of what (open-wheel racing in North America) has had for the last 30 years."
Honda, which began participation in the IndyCar Series in 2003, has been the sole supplier of the 3.5-liter, normally aspirated, fuel-injected Indy V-8 engine since 2006. A year later, the IndyCar Series became the first and only motorsports property to use 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol. The Dallara chassis - developed for ovals -- has been in use since 2003, with alterations in 2005 as the IndyCar Series added streets and road courses to its schedule. By their longevity, reliability never has been an issue with either product.
Economics will be a factor in which path the league and its manufacturing partners follow, while from a competition standpoint safety is the highest priority.
"The economy affects everybody in every way, and especially doing this type of R&D isn't cheap," Barnhart said. "It's not much different than many other business decisions; money drives a huge portion of it.
"If you make a radical change from the evolution of what this car has been for 30 years, you're going to have to do a lot of work to make sure they respond (to at least the current cars) in similar situations."
The league continues to explore, test and implement safety features, such as side intrusion panels that surpass FIA thickness standards. Currently, crash tests and computer modeling of seat designs and harness packages are being conducted with the likelihood of a new generation being included in the 2012 chassis launch.
"You have to not only be comfortable knowing how to race that car, equally important is you have to know how to crash that car," Barnhart said.