GM, Chevy back as engine supplier?

Updated: November 11, 2010, 6:49 PM ET
By John Oreovicz | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Izod IndyCar Series has scheduled a press conference Friday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where General Motors and its Chevrolet division are expected to announce their re-entry into the IndyCar Series as an engine supplier in 2012.

The Chevy-to-IndyCar story was originally reported by Autoextremist.com, a website specializing in car industry analysis.

During open-wheel racing's modern era, the Chevrolet brand officially participated in the CART-sanctioned IndyCar Series from 1986 to 1993. The engine was actually designed and built by Ilmor Engineering, a company established in 1984 owned by four equal partners -- Roger Penske and GM, as well as company founders Mario Illien and Paul Morgan, who had previously worked for racing engine specialist Cosworth.

The Ilmor/Chevrolet engine won 86 CART races between 1987 and 1993, powering the series champion from 1988-92. GM sold its quarter share of Ilmor to Mercedes-Benz in 1993; still based in Brixworth, England, the company now operates under the name Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines Ltd. and supplies motors to the Mercedes-Benz and McLaren Formula One teams.

In 2005, Penske and Illien purchased Ilmor's Special Projects Group along with the rights to the Ilmor name. Penske is believed to be the key figure in re-establishing GM's participation in Indy car racing.

GM was one of the original suppliers participating in the Indy Racing League when it introduced a lower-tech, production-based engine formula in 1997. The GM engine used Oldsmobile/Aurora badging from 1997 to 2000 before adopting the Chevrolet moniker from 2001-05.

When GM's original engine was outclassed by Toyota and Honda when they entered the series in 2003, GM purchased the rights to an IRL-spec engine designed by Cosworth and raced that engine from mid-2003 to the end of 2005.

Since 2006, Honda has been the sole engine supplier for the IndyCar Series, and confirmation that the Japanese company will have competition from 2012 onward is very positive news for the series.

Since he took over as IndyCar's CEO in March, one of Randy Bernard's main goals was to re-establish competition between engine and chassis manufacturers. There will now be at least two engine manufacturers competing beginning in 2012, and while Dallara will remain the lone chassis supplier, other companies will be permitted to create aerodynamic kits for the basic Dallara Safety Cell, as long as they are made available to all competitors for $70,000.

"We wanted to make sure that we tried to invite as many manufacturers to participate for either engines or aero kits as possible for 2012 in the new car," Bernard said. "I feel we were very well received and I think it speaks big volumes for the series and our momentum."

Engine lease costs will also be capped, with the price likely to be some 25 percent less than the current $935,000 fee for a season. Tony Cotman, who is spearheading the development of the 2012 IndyCar rules package, plans to work with competing engine manufacturers to develop a framework that prevents the rampant spending on engine development and team recruitment that contributed to the demise of the CART series.

Beyond funding the project, Chevrolet's actual role in the development of the 2012 IndyCar engine is expected to be minimal, limited to marketing and minor technical support. The engine is likely to be designed and built by Ilmor.

Ironically, Ilmor has been Honda's partner in the IndyCar Series for the last eight years. The original 2003 Honda IRL engine was designed and developed by Ilmor, and while Honda took over those duties for the engine that has been used since 2006, Ilmor and its facility in Plymouth, Mich., have been contracted to rebuild Honda engines.

John Oreovicz covers open wheel racing for ESPN.com.