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Indy Racing League

Monday, July 28
Updated: August 2, 7:10 PM ET
Cooperation with Cosworth the key
By Robin Miller
Special to

Robin Miller It was one of the more surreal sights in recent open-wheel racing history.

Bruce Wood, director of Cosworth's CART Champ Car program, stood behind Sam Hornish Jr.'s pits following Sunday's Indy Racing League thriller at MIS wearing a Chevrolet shirt and an ear-to-ear smile.

A flock of General Motors executives lined up to shake Wood's hand and congratulate him on the dazzling debut of Chevy's new Gen 4 engine, which is really a Cosworth in everything but name.

Toyota Racing Development president Jim Aust came over, stuck out his hand and told Wood: "Nice job. You proved your point."

Thanks to some last lap heroics from Alex Barron in Mo Nunn's G-Force/Toyota, Aust was then able to walk into victory lane and celebrate.

But Aust knew Toyota's eighth win in 10 IRL races had been in jeopardy until that last gasp under the checkered flag. Sam Hornish Jr. came within a few feet of giving the Chevy/Cosworth a win in its initial start after leading 126 of 200 laps.

"We weren't surprised," said Aust, whose company is dominating IRL competition in its first season. "I think we all knew Cosworth would have a competitive engine because they're a great engine company with a great history."

The fact GM had to go to arch-rival Ford (which owns Cosworth) for help is a major story in itself but it did show some sensibility for a manufacturer whose 2003 IRL engine was hopelessly out-classed by Toyota and Honda.

"We accomplished our objective and this was far better than our wildest expectations," admitted Joe Negri, GM Racing program manager. "It was so important to be here and do well with our executives here.

"The Cosworth people did an outstanding job. To debut an engine with less than 1,000 miles of testing on the toughest track for an engine and have it run so well was just so impressive."

Wood, whose turbocharged Ford-Cosworth powers all the teams in CART this year, would only say he was "over the moon" about the performance of his IRL motor.

The only negative, from the Chevy/Cosworth perspective, was the question of fuel milage. Hornish had to pit 3-4 laps earlier than everyone else as, naturally, mileage was the great unknown.

And when it looked like Hornish was going to have to pit two more times with some 50 laps to go while his competitors only needed one more stop, a mysterious "debris yellow" came out to eliviate that potential problem after an IRL official reportedly asked over the radio how everybody was doing on fuel.

"That was a bunch of (crap), and we also caught Sam speeding once on pit lane and called it in but the IRL didn't do anything," said one IRL owner afterwards. "He (Hornish) also jumped the start.

"I guess this whole thing is about getting Hornish some wins."

To be honest, allowing Chevrolet to go out and secure a brand new engine at mid-season is about keeping GM in the ball game, the Chevy teams in business and Hornish in the series he's starred in the past three years.

It's probably not bad business logic but it certainly sets a dangerous precedent. Toyota and Honda left CART because they got fed up with changing rules and inconsistency in policing them.

"By design, the IRL rules give manufacturers some latitude if they find themselves in a bad situation," said Robert Clarke, general manager of Honda Performance Development. "I argued with Brian (Barnhart, IRL vice president of operations) if a brand new engine was in the spirit of the rules.

"I'm wondering, if we're the third-rated engine now, I guess I'll be knocking on Brian's door pretty quick."

Chip Ganassi, whose driver Scott Dixon leads the IRL standings, said he wished Toyota would be allowed the opportunity to re-load one time.

When it was announced Chevy would be getting a Cosworth makeover, officials from Toyota and Honda were quick to welcome the competition and both said it was important to keep GM competitive.

But that was before Sunday's show. If Hornish, who opened up a six-second lead at one time at Michigan, kicks some ass in these final six races I'm guessing we'll be hearing a lot more from Toyota and Honda.

And Barnhart may need earplugs.

Road courses coming
Despite denials from some IMS and IRL officials during the past year, it was confirmed over the weekend that Tony George's all-oval series would indeed be going to road courses in the future.

In the latest and final departure from the original IRL Scripture, road races will join engine leases, Toyota, Honda, road racers and foreign drivers as early as next year.

Obviously, it all depends on CART's heartbeat. If the Champ Car series can't answer the bell in 2004, the IRL would lick its chops to be at Long Beach, Cleveland, Toronto and Mexico City, among others.

Following CART's directive last week that it needed an infusion of money to make it through 2004, several of CART's road racing partners contacted the IRL.

"I think there's a lot of instability on the other side right now," said Michael Andretti, CART's all-time winner who now fields a three-car IRL team, to RPM2Night on Sunday afternoon. "Tony (George) wants the IRL to thrive and we've got to get on road courses.

"I'm proud of the moves he's making."

Added Eddie Cheever: "We're picking up where our adversaries are falling off so long as they are in good areas. I hope it's Long Beach."

Converting the current IRL cars for road racing could cost in the neighborhood of $150,000, which further goes against the IRL creed of affordability.

"My feeling is we've got a great series on ovals and we don't want to go overboard because that adds costs," said Roger Penske, a co-founder of CART who now competes exclusively in the IRL. "There are some road course markets we'd like to be in.

"And for us, it wouldn't be bad. Road course racing is one of our best businesses."

Of course, not all the IRL loyalists are enthused.

"I'm against it to be honest with you," said A.J. Foyt to RPM's Marlo Klain. "The IRL was formed to run ovals, it's an all-oval series. I know they want to go to so many more tracks and it's juat gonna cost the guys more money.

"We probably wouldn't file an entry on road course races. If we get run off, we'd probably go to NASCAR."

Asked about diverting from the IRL's original path, Brian Barnhart replied: "They better go back and read the first (IRL) press release. The series is going to be defined by what we do and what we do best.

"And that is race predominantly on ovals and be predominantly American."

Robin Miller covers open wheel racing for and RPM2Night.

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