INDYCAR’s president of competition and operations has a message for any manufacturers interested in joining Chevrolet and Honda as an engine source: Come on in, the water’s fine.
In fact, Jay Frye said, the opportunity that presents itself in the next few years arguably has never been better.
The five-year plan that Frye initiated, which began in 2016 and technically runs through 2020, is making the point of entry to the Verizon IndyCar Series simpler and less expensive than it would have been the past couple of years. The aero kits for Honda and Chevrolet are “frozen” this season – meaning the designs will be the same as they were in 2016 – and at a press conference last week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Frye spoke about how the series will share a universal new body style in 2018 and beyond.
It means original equipment manufacturers – or OEMs, which is industry shorthand for auto companies – won’t have to absorb the extra cost of developing and producing an aero kit after this season. Additionally, the perception would be that a new OEM starting this season would be well behind Chevrolet and Honda, because those two already have substantial experience with the aero kits. Having one new body and aero package for all cars beginning next season not only would save a new OEM money, but would allow it to enter INDYCAR in a more competitive environment.
Why does Frye want at least one more manufacturer? Multiple reasons, one of the most important being that the current two engine manufacturers do, too. Each brings its own advertising and publicity initiative, and so would a new OEM, which helps raise the profile of every aspect of the sport.
Another reason: “There’s always a risk of someone leaving,” he said. Nobody wants a series with only one engine supplier.
So what’s ideal? Three? Four? “With four,” Frye said, “there would certainly be a ‘wow’ factor. But three would certainly be manageable – three manufacturers, eight cars apiece, that would be great.”
Make no mistake – INDYCAR is on firm ground with Chevrolet and Honda. But interest from others is out there, Frye said.
“We share a great deal of our plans with the OEMs,” Frye said. “We tell them, ‘If we do this, would this make you interested in coming over? And if not, why not?’
“There is enthusiasm to help us, which is great. At the end of the day, does that mean they’re going to sign up? No. But have we eliminated some hurdles for them to come in? Now we’ve just got to go to work,” Frye said. “We’re going to take it out to them in the next couple months and see what's possible.”
And when might the Verizon IndyCar Series see a new OEM? Frye said 2018 “would be a stretch, 2019 would certainly be possible.
“But again, if somebody wanted to come in, then we would do everything we could to accelerate it as quickly as we could. Again, we have two great partners now with Chevrolet and Honda. They understand it’s important to the series and the league to have a third or fourth partner, and they’re very actively participating in it with us.”