The NTT IndyCar Series plans to re-evaluate the rule that penalizes drivers when unapproved engines changes are performed.
The recent Portland Grand Prix event became a lightning rod for the use of Rule 188.8.131.52, which led to three drivers being assessed a six-position penalty on the starting grid for using more than the four approved engines included in an annual engine lease.
To date, the No. 2 Team Penske Chevy and No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy, the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda, and No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda have been hit with grid penalties, with Palou’s CGR entries receiving two as his fifth and sixth motors were deployed.
IndyCar president Jay Frye says he’s seen the negative reaction to the rule’s enforcement and will consider whether changes should be made for 2022.
“We don’t like showing up on a race weekend and having a penalty as an announcement to start off the event,” he told RACER. “That, to us, is not really a great thing, so we’ll look at this after the season and see if maybe we should do something different.”
IndyCar’s policy on unapproved engine changes has varied since the current 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 formula debuted in 2012. The current policy is a return to the series’ original handling of unapproved changes where drivers were forced to start six spots back from wherever they qualified. In time, and with the acknowledgement that modern racing engines rarely fail due to driver error, the policy was changed to penalize Chevy and Honda by taking away points in the prized manufacturers’ championship.
With drivers no longer losing grid positions, manufacturers took the liberty of making unapproved engines late in the season — with the drivers’ championship on the line — to assist their title-contending teams. Despite the willful damage being incurred to their manufacturers’ championship aspirations, a costly workaround was found that led IndyCar to act by re-implementing grid penalties.
“There were things going on — bad behavior between teams and manufacturers at the end of the season, where they were taking the penalties on purpose to keep their drivers fresh with new engines, and that wasn’t what we were going after with the rule,” Frye added.
It’s unclear whether a return to penalizing the manufacturers is under consideration, with a new twist included to prevent the former workaround. One thing that is clear can be found with a change Frye expects to make as soon as the season is over.
“There’s a situation where an unapproved engine change almost becomes a three-pronged penalty,” he said. “Let’s say you have an issue on a race weekend, and then you have a grid penalty based off wherever you qualify the next weekend. And then the next weekend after that, your pit selection ends up being penalized because it’s based off of where you actually start the race for the previous week.
“So if you qualify on pole, but have that penalty to serve and you’re starting seventh, the next race, your pit space is seventh, not first. That’s the way it is right now, but that was never the intended consequence. That’s something we want to clean up.”