chevy racing–indycar–barber motorsports park–mark stielow and rob buckner

THE MODERATOR:First of all, some introductions of two people who you probably have heard of but may not have met yet, we’re going to make that right today. The first is Mark Stielow, the Director of Motorsport Competition Engineering for the INDYCAR Series, IMSA, and NHRA for Chevrolet and Cadillac. We also have Rob Buckner, the Engineering Chevrolet Program Manager for the INDYCAR Series, as well.  Mark, let’s start with you. Please talk to us about what your overall expectations and goals are for the Chevrolet INDYCAR program ahead of the opening weekend at Barber. MARK STIELOW:“I joined the team back in September and am getting up to speed. We kind of got INDYCAR racing going after the COVID-19 hibernation we did; so, I got to the last couple of races in the season and then went into the off-season. There was a lot of work done by our engine partners and our teams to get us ready for this season. And I think we’re going to have some strong teams and I think things are going to look pretty good for us this year.” Rob, it’s been a long time since we’ve been in action, but you were in Indianapolis recently for the open test. Talk with us about some of the highlights of that session and what you think we can look forward to in the opening couple of rounds. ROB BUCKNER:“Thank you everyone for taking the time to talk with us today. I know a lot of familiar faces, and miss seeing you on pit lane. We’ve been so limited. We used to do these types of things in person and now everything is a video call. Thank you for everything you have done to try to cover motorsports during COVID-19 and people not being at the track. Going into this year, it’s always great for us when we can run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Track time testing there is very limited. We had a great two days there. We’ve already run over 8500 miles on our 2021 race engines and 4900 of those came from Indianapolis. So, we really ran a lot of miles over those two days in preparation. I think we learned a lot. We’re always working with our teams. Our engine program is always looking for any opportunity to improve and we’re excited to get going.” Q&A’s:A RECENT GENERAL COMMENT BY PENSKE DRIVERS WAS THAT THERE SEEMS TO BE A LITTLE BIT MORE TORQUE OUT OF THE HONDA ENGINE OVER THE CHEVY ENGINE. WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THAT EVEN THOUGH WE ALL KNOW THE ENGINE PERFORMANCES ARE EXTREMELY TIGHT AND EXTREMELY CLOSE? ROB BUCKNER:“Yeah, it’s interesting. The 2.2 liters have been in competition for 10 years. And I think over that time, both us and our competitors have recognized and addressed some weaknesses that we’ve had, individually. Or, sometimes we’ve got a slight advantage somewhere and they always catch up. The general thought is we’ve always had a very strong top end and they’ve always had a very strong mid-range. I think we’ve kind of converged to a very similar torque delivery but all we can control is our own power profile going into this weekend, and I think we’ve got a very robust package for Barber. To Will’s comments, the surface has a lot of grip. A lot of times at road courses we’re struggling to put power down and Barber is kind of unique in that I think this weekend, the car and the tire is going to be able to take all that the engine can give it. And that’s what we’ve been preparing to do. I think we’ll be in a pretty good place come this weekend.” YOU COVER ALL THE OTHER MAJOR RACING CIRCUITS HERE IN AMERICA, WHETHER IT BE IMSA OR NHRA OR NASCAR OR WHATEVER; WHAT DO YOU SEE AS YOURBIGGEST CHALLENGES OVERALL? MARK STIELOW:“The biggest challenges that we’re working on right now is you know, folks spend a lot of time on Sports Car racing. So, the GTLM class is going to converge into GT Daytona Pro. So, we’ve been working a lot on a conversion package for that. And there has been a lot of investigation, a lot of work has been done, on our end studying the LMDh proposal. LMDh is very interesting to us and there’s going to be a lot of manufacturers in that space, so we’ve been heavily looking at that. So, there’s a lot of activity going on in that space. My counterpart, Eric Warren, has got all the NASCAR stuff and with all the work going into NG7 car, and with that getting ready to launch next year, there’s a lot of activity in that space also. So, there’s going to be some exciting stuff going on in motorsports in the next few years.” ON THE CHEVROLET DETROIT GRAND PRIX WEEKEND, IT’S BEEN A BIG INCONVENIENCE WITH THE RE-SCHEDULING OF EVENTS THIS PAST YEAR. RECENTLY WE’VE LEARNED DETROIT WILL BE THE TRADITIONAL IMSA/INDYCAR DOUBLEHEADER AND A HOMETOWN DEBUT ON THE CORVETTE C8.R. WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF THAT WEEKEND TO SHOWCASE GM RACING’S TECHNOLOGY WITH CADILLAC, CORVETTE, AND CHEVROLET? MARK STIELOW:“It’s always good to play on a home field. We’ll be racing in the shadow of the Ren Cen. In my previous jobs at GM, I’ve actually driven some of the parade cars down there. So, it’s nice to run that event and for us to do well. Unfortunately, our competitors won’t be showing up to race against the Corvettes, so we’ll be running exhibition only. There are some prior commitments that Porsche has that they can’t get out of, so we’ll be running the Corvette exhibition. And the Cadillacs will be there strong and INDYCAR also. It’s always a fun event. I’m hoping that COVID-19 turns around and we can have it be a well-attended event, but that’s still kind of up in the air right now.” ONE OF THE BIG QUESTIONS WE’VE GOTTEN SINCE LAST YEAR’S INDY 500 IS WILL WE HAVE CHEVY BACK, HOPEFULLY ON EQUAL TERMS; MAKING IT A TRUE QUESTION MARK AS TO HOW THE 2021 EVEN WILL PLAY OUT. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WERE ABLE TO TAKE FROM THE OPEN TEST HERE THAT MIGHT LEAD BOWTIE FANS TO HOPE AND BELIEVE THAT THERE COULD BE A REALLY HARD AND COMPETITIVE RUN HERE IN MAY THAT MIGHT LEAD INTO A REVERSAL OF FORTUNE FROM LAST YEAR’S EVENT? ROB BUCKNER:“I think so. I always joke with our group that hope is a very bad plan. So, we’ve had to really dig deep and try to look at where we missed it last year. Collectively, our groups have never worked better together when you look across the Chevrolet performance team with Ilmor and Pratt & Miller and everyone at Chevy, and then our race teams. I can’t thank them enough for all that they’ve contributed in the off-season. And we didn’t play a blame game. We just left there frustrated with our overall performance and have done everything we could since late August there to address it for this year. I think that the cars have changed enough that it’s kind of a re-set from 2020 when you look at the new aero parts that INDYCAR is introducing there. It seemed like at the test that guys could follow closer is maybe a little easier to pass with the barge boards and some of the different floor configurations that INDYCAR has come up with. But that was a pretty favorable day. It was cool and cloudy. I’m sure if we have a 95-degree sunny race day it’s still going to be really difficult. So, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on how we are going to qualify better, how are we going to get the most out of our engine package; like I said, we’ve visited every area of performance and tried to polish on everything. Our group is very detail-oriented, so I think we’re going to have a strong package.” THE END OF 2022 IS THE END OF THE CURRENT INDYCAR ENGINE REGULATIONS. YOU ARE PROBABLY WORKING RIGHT NOW ON THE NEW ENGINE CONFIGURATION. BUT FOR THIS CURRENT ENGINE, IS THERE STILL DEVELOPMENT GOING ON? ROB BUCKNER:“Yeah, we’re very fortunate to have a lot of depth and talent and motivated people. So, there’s still things we can work on in the 2.2 liter. There are some areas that are always open. And we’re running 2.4 liters now. We have our first engines on the dyno. We’re very happy with where that program is at and we’re multi-tasking. It’s very busy times for the engine program. We still have to go to the track. We’ve got to race the 2.2 liter approximately 32 to 34 more times. We’re not looking to give up anything there. And then we’ve got to have a prom debut in 2023 as well. So, the engine-side of things is flat out at the moment.” JOSEF NEWGARDEN WAS TALKING LAST MONTH ABOUT HOW THE COVID RESTRICTIONS HAVE REQUIRED THEM TO WORK SMARTER AND MORE EFFICIENT AND THAT THEY STRUGGLED WITH THAT LAST YEAR AND WEREN’T ABLE TO USE OPTIMIZATION ACROSS ALL THE CARS. FROM A CHEVROLET PERSPECTIVE, HOW ARE YOU APPROACHING THESE CHALLENGES? ROB BUCKNER:“COVID-19 has affected motorsports and everyone in the paddock kind of the same. We don’t look at it as an excuse that we have less track time because it’s the same for all the competitors. There has been a trend in the last five years that track time is reduced and you have to roll off the trailer very, very strong. If you’re completely lost Friday morning or Saturday morning, it doesn’t make that much difference. But overall, we’re all recognizing come P1, you really need to be in the window, you need to be close; and then just polish on it. Ideally, you don’t make many changes. So, the pre-event preparation, I think, circuit by circuit, how we use our DIL simulator working with teams and drivers before we ever get to the race track; all those things were already trending in this direction, and then with the COVID-19 reductions in track time, it’s really just amplified it. I don’t think anyone would have ever thought two years ago that NASCAR would only have really four practice sessions in an entire year. So, even within NASCAR, that’s the extreme; and then specific to INDYCAR, we have a reduction but not an elimination of practice. So, we still have an opportunity to learn and improve; especially at street courses where you cannot test. But Jay Frye and his group have done a great job of putting together a pretty logical plan of street courses. They’re mostly three-day events. Road courses are two days. If you really struggle at a road course you can test there in the off-season. So, I think we’re really pleased with how INDYCAR has handled this and the direction that it’s going. For us, it just amplifies the work you do before getting to the race track really matters and needs to be correct.” WHAT’S THE BREAKDOWN BETWEEN ILMOR ENGINEERING AND GM IN TERMS OF WHAT DO THEY DO AND WHAT DO YOU DO ON THE ENGINE? AND WHEN IT COMES TO THE HYBRID THAT’S COMING IN, WHO IS GOING TO DO THE HYBRID PIECE? WHO IS GOING TO INTEGRATE IT? ROB BUCKNER:“Our technical group tries really hard to not operate in silos or individual company-type thinking. So, we all work for the Chevrolet program. We’re all pulling in the same direction all the time. So, we really blur those lines. A lot of times the collaboration amongst the group has been spectacular. And even breaking down, just beyond the engine program, of bringing in the race teams to these conversations and where we want things to progress over time. So, I would like to think, internally, that Ilmor and GM are all just one engine program working together to try to have the best package we can. There are certainly strengths Ilmor has that we don’t have and vide-versa. We have some analysis and tools that as General Motors and Chevrolet is very useful. And Ilmor is a very competent, excellent engine supplier in motorsports. So, I think we try to put all that together and that makes us have an overall really good engine package.” HOW POSSIBLE IS IT TO TEST THE 2.4 LITER ENGINE WITHOUT THE HYBRID SYSTEM HOOKED UP? ARE YOU ABLE TO PUT A FIGURE ON HOW MUCH THE INCREASED DISPLACEMENT OF THE ENGINE AND HOW MUCH WOULD COME FROM THE HYBRID? MARK STIELOW:“On the hybrid-side we could emulate that. Before we get the hybrid unit, we can run some simulations on our dyno to simulate that. On the power-side of the equation, I’ll let Rob answer that. I haven’t really been in all the details of that yet.” ROB BUCKNER:“I think somewhat lost in the 2.4 liter transition is the fact that we’re going up in base boost as well. So, the easy thing is to think we’re going up roughly 10 percent in displacement. We’re going to go up 10 percent in power; but also, we’re going to start operating at 1.6 bars, the standard for street courses instead of 1.5 bar. And you put all that together with the hybrid unit, I think fans will be pleased with the power projections and where the engine programs are headed overall. To answer your question, we can’t run a 2.4 liter with a hybrid. Once you delete an alternator it is gone for good. So, I think all of us, INDYCAR, Honda, Chevrolet are all in for the hybrid unit to run the 2.4 liter is going to be required, not optional.” THE 900 HP TARGET AT INDYCAR, WHEN DO YOU THINK WE’LL SEE THE ENGINES HITTING THAT MAGIC MARK? ROB BUCKNER:“I’m not sure. I think a lot of that depends on the finalized specs of the hybrid unit, which is really INDYCAR’s area of development during this. On the engine-side, we’re just going to focus on getting all we can out of the 2.4 liter at all the various race levels of boost.” IN THE PAST YOU HAVE USED THE INDYCAR ENGINE PROGRAM TO HELP DEVELOP THINGS LIKE DIRECT INJECTION TECHNOLOGY AND TO RUN ENGINEERS THROUGH. WITH THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE IN POWERING CARS, IS THAT STILL THE MAIN PURPOSE FOR BEING PART OF A SERIES LIKE INDYCAR? MARK STEILOW:“Yeah, my counterpart, Russ O’Blenes, has the propulsion-side of motorsports, and there are a lot of young engineers in that space that learned about racing and there’s also joint development work being done both at Ilmor like Rob talked about Ilmor and GM up at Pontiac for motorsports powertrain development. So, there is still a lot of technology transferred between the two. It’s still a viable training ground for us to learn more things and for us to develop people, processes, and tools to become better. General Motors and Chevrolet are still going to keep on making internal combustion engines for a while; so, we’re going to keep on pushing it as far as we can.” I WON’T ASK ALL THE NAMES OF THE TEAMS AND ENTRIES YOU’LL BE ENGAGED WITH FOR THE INDY 500, BUT CAN YOU TELL US THE ANTICIPATED FINAL NUMBER OF CHEVY-POWERED ENTRIES? AND IF YOU ARE UN-SIGNING TEAMS OR IF THERE ARE STILL POSSIBILITIES FOR MORE TO BE HAD FOR THE MONTH OF MAY? ROB BUCKNER:“That’s a very good question given the time of year. I think that’s the most cars last week we’ve ever run at Indy during an open test which, for our group…. It’s a difficult expansion when you go from running 10 to 11 full-time cars and then I think last week we had15 and then that’s kind of an incremental step. We expect we may add another one. We’re not completely sure. But it’s getting close to crunch time, so we’re close to finalizing. For us it’s really do we have the parts and the people to do it. And if race teams put something together, we try to be good partners with our teams; and we’ll figure out a way to make it happen.” REGARDING 2023 HYBRIDIZATION AND INDYCAR, GENERAL MOTORS HAS NOT CONFIRMED ANYTHING IN REGARD TO IMSA AND LMDH, BUT BY CHANCE BOTH CLASSES WILL INDEED BE GOING HYBRID AT THE SAME TIME. AT LEAST WHILE PLANNING TO BE IN INDYCAR, CONSIDERING BEING IN IMSA, IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN DO AS A MANUFACTURER KNOWING THAT NASCAR IS ALSO LOOKING AT HYBRIDIZATION? WHAT DO YOU DO AND HOW DO YOU TREAT ALL THESE POSSIBILITIES FOR THE PLACES WHERE YOU ARE RACING, COULD BE RACING, SWITCHING TO THIS NEW TECHNOLOGY WITH POSSIBLY EACH ONE A BIT DIFFERENT THAN THE OTHER? DO YOU WORK WITH THESE SANCTIONING BODIES AND SAY HEY, DON’T ASK US TO BUY THREE DIFFERENT ONES OF THE SAME UNIT? HOW DO YOU TREAT WHAT COULD BE THREE VERY DIFFERENT THINGS?MARK STIELOW:“Right now, all the conversations I’ve been in and everything we’ve seen, there is very little sharing between the sanctioning bodies. So yeah, in a utopian world, it would be awesome if those guys all worked together, and we could come up with a common solution. But for a lot of reasons, everybody wants their own special mousetrap. So, what I’ve seen so far is everybody is heading down a slightly different path. But that stuff seems to be changing all the time. These meeting are constantly evolving.” THERE HAS BEEN SOME TALK OR RUMORS ABOUT WHAT F-1 DOES. THEY CAPTURE MGU-H TO TAKE THE HEAT OFF THE ENGINE AND CONVERTING THAT TO ENERGY IN THE BATTERY. IS THAT ANY TALK OF DOING THAT FOR INDYCAR OR IS THAT STRICTLY A KINETIC ENERGY SYSTEM? ROB BUCKNER:“Yeah, it’s been an interesting conversation with INDYCAR because we would be the first series to run a Hybrid on an oval. So, a lot of this is very conceptual. To your point, INDY qualifying engine duty cycle is ideally 100 percent if you never lift. So, how do you get any kinetic energy from that? Other times during the race, the engine duty cycle is not 100 percent when you’re in traffic. So that does open up the possibility of the car wasting some energy there. In the end it’s an energy balance equation that INDYCAR is going to need us or going to need to tell us how that want this. It also adds a layer of complexity and cost that I’m not sure is the right fit for INDYCARS. So, I think we’re leaning more toward it’s going to be a kinetic recovery system primarily.” THE PUSH TO PASS WE HAVE TODAY, IS THAT COMPLETELY GOING AWAY WITH THE HYBRID? OR WILL THERE STILL BE A TURBO BOOST PUSH TO PASS IN COMBINATION WITH THE HYBRID SYSTEM?ROB BUCKNER:“The nice thing is with our boosted engines is if any point during the development and first test of the hybrid unit we need more or less power, the engine programs function on electric wastegates. So, it’s relatively easy to change the boost limitations if INDYCAR desires that. I think that. If they need us to help push with a little bit more boost, I’m sure we would easily be able to do that.” YOU MENTIONED EARLIER THAT YOU’VE DEVOTED A LOT OF TIME LATELY TO IMSA AND THE LMDH AND GTD-PRO. CAN YOU GIVE US AN IDEA ON WHEN GM MIGHT REACH A DECISION OR MAKE AN ANNOUNCEMENT ON FUTURE PARTICIPATION THERE? MARK STIELOW:“I would say it would be in the next 45 days.” CONCERNING THE NEW ENGINE WITH THE HYBRID 2.4 LITER, CAN YOU SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THE MEASUREMENTS? ROB BUCKNER:“INDYCAR and us are working around the assumption that it will be around the same size engine, physically. We’re going up in bore size but 2.4 is not a huge architecture change. Our engine is going to be all-new. I don’t know of any carryover components that we’re taking from the 2.2 liter. So, from that perspective, it’s a clean sheet design; but fitting in the same envelope, if you will.” ON THE ISSUE OF COST, IF YOU HAD TO GUESS, WHAT INCREASE WOULD THERE BE TO THE TEAMS WHEN THE HYBRID SYSTEM IS IMPLEMENTED, PER SEASON? ROB BUCKNER:“That’s pretty open-ended and not really defined at the moment as the early hardware and INDYCAR is still working through what that system is going to look like. It’s really not going to be a part of our relationship with the teams, so I’m not really familiar. I know that Jay Frye and Darren Samsum are leading that program for INDYCAR and they’re very cost-conscious; and they’ve been involving the teams in these discussions. So, we think overall, the paddock will be able to make that work. But I can’t say I know any exact figures or details as of today.”