Chevrolet working to address, correct component failures

Photo: IndyCar

Chevrolet and its engine technical partner Ilmor Engineering, Inc. are working overtime to correct several recent component failures, which have taken drivers either out of contention or out of Verizon IndyCar Series races entirely in the last couple months.

There have not been a ton of outright DNFs – did not finishes – overall in the full field this year, which speaks to the overall high level of reliability.

There were only 2 each at St. Petersburg (mechanical) and Phoenix (accidents), 0 at both Long Beach and Barber, then in succession starting with the month of May at Indianapolis: 2, 8 (Indianapolis 500, a season-high), 4, 4, 2 and 3 through Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300.

However, notable component failures have struck Simon Pagenaud’s No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet car twice (Indianapolis 500, Road America), Scott Dixon’s then-yellow No. 9 Clorox Chevrolet (Road America) and Juan Pablo Montoya’s No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet (Iowa).

Of those four instances, only Dixon and Montoya failed to finish the race, while in both cases, Pagenaud pressed on to the finish in 19th and 13th place, respectively – securing potentially pivotal points in the championship race later this year.

To clarify the overall situation, we caught up with Paul Ray, President of Ilmor Engineering, Inc., for a wide-ranging conversation at Iowa Speedway not just about these instances but also how much Ilmor – one of North America’s most successful and diverse companies having also partnered with Honda and Mercedes in the past – continues to progress on the engine development front.

“So there’s a rumor going around that there are all sorts of engine failures. Which that’s not accurate,” Ray said.

“We had component failures. The problem is… these things are super-sophisticated beasts. When something goes wrong, sometimes there is a negative effect.

“Because of one of the component failures, we found an exhaust failure on Dixon’s car, which then set fire to the floor of the car, which set fire to parts of the engine.

“We had no choice but to swap the engine out because of the damage. It didn’t fail. That engine will be straight back in a car at some point. I wanted to make sure the record was set straight.”

Having a bad batch of parts issued from a vendor is what has contributed to the issues.

“This year we’ve had our challenges with components, as you do when you’re trying to push the limits as hard as you can,” Ray explained. “Sometimes you get caught out by quality of components that are batch-related. We’ve definitely had our struggles with that. Every year, we have a part or two where you don’t have the opportunity to try. No way of qualifying these pieces when they arrive in batches.”

Related to Pagenaud, specifically, Ray said it was the “same problem, with a different outcome.”

“It’s all related to the same issue – ignition system. Ultimately an ignition part caused an exhaust system failure which resulted in a car fire. We burned the wiring in the engine. The engine will be repaired,” Ray said.

It’s become harder to push now, Ray explained, because unlike in the past where there were three engines per weekend – a practice, qualifying and race engine – now each engine is a stressed member of the chassis and must run 2,500 miles before mileaging out.

Whereas in the past, a qualifying engine could last “at least the hour of qualifying,” as Ray said to a bit of laughter, now, that goal to make it to 2,500 means efficiency is more important than ever.

“We’re a big supporter of 2,500 miles,” Ray said. “We weren’t originally because every racer wants to have the ability to change everything all the time.

“But the reality is, you just can’t afford to do that. The money you’d spend would be ridiculous. CART days, it was three engines per weekend! Practice, qualifying and race engine… and it was! I was in charge of the budgets then too… a lot different back then than now.”

Ray explained the the mutual development path undertaken by Ilmor (engine side to the 2.2-liter V6 twin-turbocharged engine) and Pratt & Miller (aerodynamic side, for the Chevrolet aero kit).

“We don’t stop developing the engine because we have a good aero package,” he said. “Then Pratt & Miller don’t stop developing the aero because we have power.

“You need that extra quarter of a percent, one-eighth of a percent. There’s no 5 percent jump now. You’re looking for literally an eighth or quarter of a percent.

“The only way to get more performance now, fuel economy, horsepower or whatever, is efficiency. These engines are unbelievably, ridiculously efficient for the amount of weight, horsepower, size, fuel.”

As the development continues for the rest of the year, Chevrolet will be looking to ensure a reduction if not outright elimination of component failures to ensure it can win its fifth consecutive Manufacturer’s Championship.

Heading into Toronto this weekend, Chevrolet holds a 99-point lead over Honda, 1022-923.

At two races this year, Detroit race two (-160) and Road America (-120), Chevrolet has taken over 100 penalty points assessed, which makes Chevrolet’s otherwise dominant season on the scoreboard not look as great in teams of points in this Manufacturer’s Championship.

Chevrolet has won all but one of the 10 completed races so far. As Jim Campbell, U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, told NBC Sports after Road America, the ongoing work to fix the situation while also maintaining performance remains the goal for the rest of the season.

“We had an issue there (with Dixon) and a couple other issues,” Campbell said after Road America.

“That’s racing. We have to dig in and fix it. We need to work to support our teams to win races the rest of the way.”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)