Motorsport: Engine stoush fires up at Indy

By Eric Thompson

Wade Cunningham will start from 26th on the grid at the Indianapolis 500.  Photo / Supplied
Wade Cunningham will start from 26th on the grid at the Indianapolis 500. Photo / Supplied

This year's 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 next Monday morning (NZ time) will be the most wide open in decades.

Not only do all the teams have a new car and new engines to deal with, but there have been many off-track dramas to deal with as well.

Chief among them is a stoush between Dragon Racing and their former engine suppler, Lotus, that was resolved only just in time for Sebastian Bourdais and Katherine Legge to put a Chevrolet under the hood. It was similar for other Lotus-powered teams, including Bryan Herta Racing and Dreyer and Reinbold who have both walked away from Lotus.

On top of this, Chevrolet and Honda are at full capacity when it comes to supplying the new turbo-charged engines. Hang on though, it gets worse. Honda recently got permission to tweak its single turbo to stay in touch with the Chevy power plants.

Honda believes the new compressor cover on its turbo-charger will reduce the power disadvantage it has compared with the twin turbo-chargers from Lotus and Chevy.

After four wins and four poles in four races for Chevrolet some would think the Japanese manufacturer might have a point.

Chevy, as you can imagine, went ballistic and appealed against the decision in Indianapolis.They are awaiting a ruling. J.R. Hildebrand will want to make amends for his schoolboy error at the great race last year when he came up behind Charlie Kimball going into the final turn, went to high, and cannoned into the wall. That opened the door for Dan Wheldon to sneak past to win while Kimball's wrecked car slid across the line in second.

Tow New Zealanders are racing at the Indy 500 this year - former champion Scott Dixon and three-time Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 winner Wade Cunningham.

Although Cunningham may know the track well, having won three times in the past, qualifying for the main game is something else. He came ever so close to making the top 24 automatic qualifiers, just missing out to Sebastian Saavedra and having to head to Bump Day, which sorts out the last nine spots.

He got it together with room to spare and will start the race 26th on the grid.

"It was nice to go out and get in the field for my first 500. I'm happy to be here. The new car is not a radically different race car and the concept is no different than an Indy Lights car.

"It's the operational things (adjustments) that are different in the Indy car. Obviously the format is a lot different and the pressure is a lot higher." Dixon, In the run-up to qualifying, was among the fastest drivers all week, even toping the speed charts last Thursday.

But it all was to no avail when it mattered and Dixon qualified at 15th, his worse career position for an Indianapolis 500 start.

"It was disappointing to come here on Pole Day and not have a shot at the pole," said Dixon.

"It was just a frustrating day. When we tried to go back out [to afternoon practice] the track was a bit greasy once it started heating up. We have to improve what we've got.

"I have never started that far back here.

It makes the day a little longer and a little harder work. The new race cars require different things.

"We had a car that was pretty much stagnant for six or eight years, depending on which car you were with at the time.

"We are plenty confident that the race car is decent. That will be enough to get us through."

- NZ Herald

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