To keep tight control over the use of engines, manufacturers assign staff engineers to each Indy team. In essence, the visiting engineer is part of the engine package. When the engine arrives, the engineer comes with it.
"We're not even allowed to run the engines in our race shop without one of the Chevy engineers being present," Johnson said.
Similarly, GM assigns an engineer to Ilmor Engineering in England, which develops its Chevy racing engine. And Ilmor sends an engineering team to GM's facility in Plymouth, Mich., where the engines are built.
Chevy's 2.2-liter Indy engine employs twin turbochargers, enabling it to produce as much as 700 HP.
(Source: General Motors)
The extraordinary attention to detail on all sides is a result of decades of costly lessons, engineers say. Without tight controls, team members and manufacturers alike worry that costs will quickly veer out of control. Most recall the development efforts of the 1990s, when some engine manufacturers in pursuit of victory let costs roll up over a $1 billion over a period of several years.
"It's not like back in the days when there were few rules for engine development," Johnson said. "Back then, the costs were spiraling and everyone was wondering how we were going to bring it back under control."
Today, it's a different story. This year's Indy engines use four-valve, overhead cam, direct injection designs that are readily available in production cars. Component materials are also standard: steel crankshafts and rods, aluminum blocks and heads. For race team members, the bottom line is that victories come, not from technology per se, but from attention to detail.
"Back in the day, we were running 40 inches of boost and making over 1,000HP with V-8 engines," Johnson said. "But those days are gone. Now, we're using a V-6 and getting 700HP out of the engine. That's still a pretty good amount of power."
If you've always dreamed of hanging with the pit crew at Indy, your opportunity has arrived. Littelfuse Inc., a KV Racing sponsor, is sponsoring the Speed2Design contest. Winners will attend the races, visit the pits, and talk engineer-to-engineer with crew members.
The Speed2Design promotion is connected to four Indy Racing League series races in Indianapolis (May 27); Fort Worth, Texas (June 9); Sonoma, Calif. (August 26); and Fontana, Calif. (September 15). Littelfuse will randomly select four participants to attend each Speed2Design event. (The deadline to enter to win a trip to Indianapolis has passed, but the other spots are still up for grabs.)
Learn more about the Indy 500 and Littelfuse's Speed2Design site.]