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1980's CART Engine Programs

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  • 1980's CART Engine Programs

    A few months ago I was watching a race from 1986 or 87, maybe Long Beach or Milwaukee, during which there was an interview with Michael Andretti. In the interview Michael mentioned that Kraco had started its own engine program. Now I assume he meant Kraco was now building their own Cosworth's, but it got me wondering about engines in that era. Specifically I would like to know if anyone can tell me how much difference there was between the DFX's each team was racing before the Ilmor/Chevy came on the scene? I know ostensibly they were the same, but how much were teams able to modify and improve their DFX's? For instance, how different were the Cosworth's Penske was running in 1985 to the Cosworth's being run by a team like Leader Card?

    (I apologize if this post appears twice. I initially accidentally posted it in the indy lights section and tried to delete it from there.)

  • #2
    Originally posted by HatsOffToEmNow View Post
    A few months ago I was watching a race from 1986 or 87, maybe Long Beach or Milwaukee, during which there was an interview with Michael Andretti. In the interview Michael mentioned that Kraco had started its own engine program. Now I assume he meant Kraco was now building their own Cosworth's, but it got me wondering about engines in that era. Specifically I would like to know if anyone can tell me how much difference there was between the DFX's each team was racing before the Ilmor/Chevy came on the scene? I know ostensibly they were the same, but how much were teams able to modify and improve their DFX's? For instance, how different were the Cosworth's Penske was running in 1985 to the Cosworth's being run by a team like Leader Card?

    (I apologize if this post appears twice. I initially accidentally posted it in the indy lights section and tried to delete it from there.) [sic]
    As much as they wanted or could afford consistent with the rules in force at the time. Didn't matter who the developer ended up being. Competition improved the breed. Racing was considered a competition then and not an exhibition of high performance driving packaged as a television show, according to the likes of Dan Gurney, Rick Mears and others. Cosworth's views about outsiders developing the company's engines had changed.

    DFXs were like apples: There were so may varieties it wasn't easy to keep count. Team-built DFXs, Cosworth-built DFXs, independent engine builder-built DFXs, track- or circuit-specific DFXs and so on. Each variety was a DFX yet each was different. Differences included, but were not limited to, such things as wrist pins, cranks, cams, caps, valves and valve seats, liners, bearings, rings, pumps, flywheels, clearances, passages, doweling, materials, blocks, ancillaries, seals, pulleys, etc. For instance, a McLaren crank once differed from a VPJ crank; a McLaren liner once differed from a Cosworth liner. Generally speaking, North American developers of the DFX espoused a philosophy about parts and pieces that held if big is good, bigger is better. Cosworth in Northampton took a different view. It held that its DFX solution should be elegant.

    Once the threat of a DFX ban was overcome (USAC sought multiple times to ban the engine and George Bignotti also attempted to get the DFX effectively outlawed), the door was well and truly open to development. As when some of the same teams and people tried to rush to Switzerland to pay through the nose for the opportunity to acquire examples of the finite-supply of Morand-built Chevies for F5000, cost and fashion were limiting factors. A engine builder's secrets were considered to be privileged. If a team suspected an engine builder produced a better DFX than the example it was running, it could try switching. Franz Weis picked up business that way when it was perceived he had the hot hand with a DFX. Some multi-car teams tried to hedge their bets. Penske Racing and VPJ, for instance, once ran their own versions of the DFX alongside Cosworth-built DFXs in their cars. (DFXs used by Penske Racing and McLaren were virtually indistinguishable at one point. The two teams signed an agreement to jointly develop a DFX, thus rectifying the mistake Roger Penske made when he gave up on the idea of turbocharging the DFV for Indy car use and sold the hard parts to VPJ. VPJ used those parts to change the face of Indy car racing. Cosworth jumped into the DFX business when it recognized that it had become a business, according to Keith Duckworth. Personally, Duckworth opposed turbocharging for engineering reasons.)

    Kraco's engine shop ended up having a fraught time with its overstretched DFXs, especially with plugs, valves and bearings.
    Last edited by editor; 09-22-2022, 06:10 AM.

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    • #3
      Excellent and well stated information, mr. editor. Thank you. BTW, long time engine builders like Herb Porter and Jud Phillips were also in the mix when it came to building engines for certain teams. And smaller teams like Leader Card did their own in house engines on relatively small budgets that included repurposing already used parts no longer needed by larger teams.

      Also, I've always felt that the role of Larry Slutter is often overlooked when people talk about the development of the DFX in Championship racing. His work at Vel's-Parnelli and later at Cosworth made him the go to guy for many of the teams that didn't have in house engine programs of their own.

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      • #4
        You often hear that the modern Engine Lease system was a product of Pat Patrick taking an Ilmor-Chevy engine to Italy for the Alfa engineers to look over, how much truth is there to that? The reason I ask is that on the old TV broadcasts from the late 80's you hear non-Ilmor drivers and team owners complaining about not being able to get an Ilmor, much like you hear modern teams frustrated by their inability to expand because they can't get an extra engine lease.

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        • #5
          During the '86 Michigan 500 Gary B. lunched an engine early on. Uncle Bobby said, "That's a brand new VDS engine for this race" (or words to that affect).

          I miss the days when the sport was about competition.
          The Ayn Rand of Indycar

          No one had to badge the Offy.

          Crapping all over threads since 2000.

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          • #6
            Wasn't Howard Gilbert still building engines in the Foyt camp during this time?

            And were Travers and Coon out of the picture at Penske? They had been building the Offys for Penske.

            Sonny Meyer was still doing engines for Patrick, I believe.

            I agree with Dave, I miss the competition.
            "For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's future, and we are all mortal".

            John Kennedy at American University 1963

            "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power"

            A. Lincoln

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            • #7
              Thank you Editor, that is exactly the answering I was hoping to get! I'm desperately miss those days. I still think '87 was the most compelling race in my lifetime, and I don't believer there was a single pass for the lead on the track all day. Genuine, not manufactured, drama.

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              • #8
                Engine shops did not "develop" Cosworth engines, they serviced them. Like Nicholson, Peck & Longford etc. in Europe. There's not much you can develop on a DFX except for perhaps the turbo ancillaries. Don't underestimate the effect service has on engine performance, so it's no wonder the teams wanted to exercise control. Many F1 teams did, too, in the DFV era (Hesketh, ATS etc.).

                Larry Slutter basically "invented" the DFX for VPJ. Early in the going, the engines were called VPJ, not Cosworth. At some point, Cosworth sanctioned the VPJ engine development, and Slutter became head of Cosworth America.

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                • #9
                  Actually, I think Mario was still on the track when Roberto passed him, but you know what I mean.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Belanger99 View Post

                    Sonny Meyer was still doing engines for Patrick, I believe.
                    Sonny's engine and the Wildcat's aero kept Gordy in front of Rick at the end of the straights in '82.
                    The Ayn Rand of Indycar

                    No one had to badge the Offy.

                    Crapping all over threads since 2000.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by senorsoupe View Post
                      You often hear that the modern Engine Lease system was a product of Pat Patrick taking an Ilmor-Chevy engine to Italy for the Alfa engineers to look over, how much truth is there to that? The reason I ask is that on the old TV broadcasts from the late 80's you hear non-Ilmor drivers and team owners complaining about not being able to get an Ilmor, much like you hear modern teams frustrated by their inability to expand because they can't get an extra engine lease.
                      A lot of truth, according to Ilmor. Ilmor officials said the shipping of a Chevy Indy V8 to Alfa by Pat Patrick was the spur that drove the engine maker to move away from selling engines to teams. Though Patrick said he owned his engines, Ilmor said it owned the IP. Ilmor said it became watchful when Patrick, who had announced his retirement from the sport, declined to sell his engines back to the manufacturer. Ilmor officials said they reasoned the only way to protect the company was to adopt leasing and to require that engine servicing be performed by authorized rebuilders.

                      Ilmor said it didn't have any unaccounted for engines for latecomers, adding that it didn't even have an engine it could use for its own purposes back at the factory. With no extra engines, no extra personnel to tend to additional engines were there any and no capability to suddenly produce more engines, Ilmor's position was that it could not fill late requests. That train had left the station.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by indyrjc View Post
                        Excellent and well stated information, mr. editor. Thank you. ...
                        You're welcome. Happy to be of assistance.


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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by HatsOffToEmNow View Post
                          Thank you Editor, that is exactly the answering I was hoping to get! I'm desperately miss those days. I still think '87 was the most compelling race in my lifetime, and I don't believer there was a single pass for the lead on the track all day. Genuine, not manufactured, drama.
                          You're welcome. Happy to help.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Belanger99 View Post
                            Wasn't Howard Gilbert still building engines in the Foyt camp during this time?.
                            From an older thread about Howard:
                            Originally posted by KnockOff View Post
                            I think Howard retired in the early 90's. The leased Indy engine package eliminated the need for his Indy engine building services, and he built the NASCAR engines and Ziggy's sprinter engines.

                            And he retired not long after Foyt's big auction, before they built the new shop. Can't remember exactly when that was.
                            Fan of a small Club Series bankrolled by rich men

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by HatsOffToEmNow View Post
                              Actually, I think Mario was still on the track when Roberto passed him, but you know what I mean.
                              Mario had made it around to pit lane. He was limping and turning into his pit stall at the moment when Guerrero blew by down the frontstretch to take the lead.

                              The other times Mario gave up the lead came when he pitted. Furthermore, during that timeframe, even as the polesitter, Mario on more than one occasion selected the pit stall (#24 or #25) )up near the north end that had a firetruck opening. So he could (briefly) give away the lead during a yellow flag pit stop simply by pitting short of the S/F line...but picking it back up when they're back out on the track behind the pace car.

                              Then Al pass Roberto while he was stalled in the pits. So I think it is accurate to say not a single pass happened "on the track" that day.

                              Doctorindy.com

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