CHEVROLET NTT INDYCAR SERIES-ROB BUCKNER, CHEVROLET RACING ENGINEERING PROGRAM MANAGER FOR INDYCAR MEDIA AVAILABILITY TRANSCRIPT

CHEVROLET RACING IN NTT INDYCAR SERIES
MID-SEASON CHEVROLET RACING CATCH-UP
ROB BUCKNER CONFERENCE CALL TRANSCRIPT
JUNE 27, 2021

ROB BUCKNER, CHEVROLET RACING ENGINEERING PROGRAM MANAGER FOR INDYCAR MET WITH MEDIA VIA CONFERENCE CALL TO DISCUSS CHEVROLET’S PERFORMANCE IN THE 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SEASON THROUGH NINE OF 16 RACES, AND OTHER FUTURE LOOKING TOPICS. FULL TRANSCRIPT:

ROB BUCKNER: “Good morning everyone. Thanks for joining us. Hope everyone’s had a great race season so far and happy to answer any questions on the Chevrolet IndyCar side.”

ROB, HOW HARD IS IT TO FOCUS ON ENGINES FOR 2022 AND ALSO WORKING WITH THE 2.4 PLANS FOR 2023? HAVE YOU HAD TO DOUBLE THE STAFFING SIZE? OR DO YOU JUST SAY, HEY, HERE’S 2022 AND IT’S GOING TO BE MILD IMPROVEMENTS ON 2021, AND FULL FOCUS ON 2.4L (FOR 2023)?

ROB BUCKNER: “Luckily there are a few things that help us there. It’s primarily the homologation table for 2022 is pretty minimal (in terms of changes), so there’s few things we can revisit. The fundamental engine architecture is very similar, and the rulebook is quite similar from purely internal combustion side of things.

“There’s things that as we continue to learn and develop on the 2.4L, from the (2.2L) we’re running now, that could be rolled out for the 2.2L next year in its final year of competition – and vice versa. So there’s more engines running, and the staff is kind of looking after these projects at the same time. Since we know the (2.2L) expiration date is quickly approaching.”

DO YOU THINK THE 2.4L HYBRID, SPEAKING TO VARIOUS INDYCAR MEMBERS, THAT IT’S SEEMING TO BE ON TRACK IN FIRST QUARTER NEXT YEAR, DO YOU THINK THAT’S A FEASIBLE TARGET FOR YOU GUYS?

ROB BUCKNER: “I think so. That’s what we’ve been working towards for our first track test. We’ll keep plugging away at that the second half of this year. The final deciding factor for when it goes on track is going to be integrating the new engine into the car, the cooling system that goes with that, and there’s a lot of parts and pieces that have to come together before we go on track. I think everyone on our side and our competition, there’s been a lot of collaboration to be ready to test for the first time.”

LOOKING AT THE PERFORMANCE OF TEAMS ACROSS THE BOARD THIS YEAR BEYOND TEAM PENSKE, ARROW MCLAREN SP AND ED CARPENTER RACING HAVE STEPPED UP. FOYT AND CARLIN HAVE HAD THEIR MOMENTS. HOW HAPPY YOU HAVE BEEN WITH OTHER TEAMS IN THE ARSENAL?

ROB BUCKNER: “That’s a good one, because that’s an area we have worked hard to address is the depth of the Chevy program. (Rinus) VeeKay in the 21 car and everyone at Ed Carpenter Racing have had their heads down and been digging the last couple years, so it’s been great to see them get some results with the 21 car. That was a really big win – seeing an Ed Carpenter Racing win at Indianapolis was really special for all of us being involved with him since 2012, Tim Broyles and that whole group. Really happy for them; their month of May performance wasn’t just great for them but it was great from the Chevrolet perspective.

“You mentioned Arrow McLaren SP, and that program has turned out to be pretty much everything we had hoped for when we laid that out a couple of years ago and where we could go. We’ve always been excited to have Pato (O’Ward) in a Chevy in IndyCar; he’s a remarkable talent, and we’re hoping we can keep him in the Chevy family for a long time.

“Carlin and Foyt, we try to be very supportive of them and helping them improve.

“Across our whole program, I wouldn’t say we’re satisfied; the results and struggles during May speaks very clearly that there’s a lot of work to be done. Trying to custom tailor our support package to each of our teams to make sure in some instances turn things around and in others keep them going in the right direction. A lot to be working on at the moment.”

HOW DO THE CONVERSATIONS GO WITH PENSKE? NEITHER ONE WANTS TO BE IN THE POSITION THE TEAM IS IN WITHOUT A WIN THIS YEAR, SO HOW DO CHEVY AND PENSKE DISCUSS THAT?

ROB BUCKNER: “The good news is over the last few events is we’ve shown up with quick race cars. Having been involved in motorsports for such a long time, if you keep showing up with fast race cars, eventually it’s going to be your day. So especially leaving Road America; I wish we weren’t coming up to an off weekend! I wish we were going to Mid-Ohio today to keep plugging away at it. We’re so close to getting a win with them; it just seems like the last few events haven’t unfolded in our favor.

“I don’t know how I could task the Chevrolet group with preparing for Detroit or Road America any differently. It’s just circumstance, and eventually we’re going to get there. Both camps are operating that way. Chevrolet, we’re going to help them the best we can and I know from talking to Tim Cindric and Ron Ruzewski, that side is putting in the most effort possible to make sure we can close out the year strong. So far it’s all been very positive dialogue with them. One, if we keep showing up with fast race cars and no one’s style is out of control, we’ll get some wins.”

THESE ENGINES HAVE BEEN AROUND SINCE 2012. HOW MUCH DEVELOPMENT POTENTIAL IS LEFT IN THESE ENGINES? IS THERE STILL SOMETHING MORE TO FIND IN THE LAST YEAR?

ROB BUCKNER: “For either side, Chevy and our competition, if you stopped now, you’d be left behind next season. For 10 seasons, both sides have been on the path of continuous improvement. You always think you’ve updated and found something to give you a clear advantage, and then you find it’s almost on par with the competition. Each one is driving the other one forward, relentlessly. So we really can’t stop. No doubt if we stopped now, and raced this engine 20-something more times, we’re going to be behind at the end. So there’s always improvements to be made.

“Four or five years ago we could have said, ‘That’s it. Oh, we’ve explored enough and that’s all we can get out of the 2.2L.’ If we would have done that then, we’d be massively behind right now. You have to keep the development process going; running engines on the dyno, revisiting old ideas, maybe hardware development calibration. We won’t consider the 2.2L development officially 100 percent done until it’s raced its final event.”

IF YOU WERE TO PUT A 2012 SPEC ENGINE AND RACE IT AGAINST A 2021 SPEC ONE THAT JUST COMPLETED ROAD AMERICA, HOW MUCH WOULD YOU SAY HAS CHANGED IN THE LAST DECADE?

ROB BUCKNER: “You’d be making a 2012 engine, probably in the neighborhood of 100 horsepower down to current race engines, while being massively inefficient in comparison with poor drivability. It’s not a very refined package. I think if you could take a 2021 race engine and race it against a field of 2012 cars, it could probably lap the field! It would be unbelievable, and that would be a remarkable performance difference. But that shows how both suppliers have really pushed each other in development and have to continuously be getting better.”

IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE FOR A DO-OVER IN TERMS, NOT IN TERMS OF RESULTS, BUT IN TERMS OF ENGINE CHARACTERISTICS. WE’VE GOTTEN USED TO THE CHEVY BEING STRONG AT THE TOP END AND THE COMPETITION HAVING SLIGHTLY BETTER TORQUE. IS THAT SOMETHING THAT COULD HAVE BEEN CHANGED, OR DID THAT ALMOST DEFINE THINGS, AND IS IT SOMETHING YOU CAN DO OVER WITH THE 2.4L?

ROB BUCKNER: “Our focus has always been on high-speed performance, and I don’t think we’ll drastically change that approach with the 2.4L. You spend the majority of wide-open throttle time in high-rev range in an IndyCar event. So some of our fundamental decisions will be similar. Some things in engine design you lock into earlier in the program, like the entire inlet system, engine block, cylinder heads. Some big decisions you make early on; you then carry those forward for years because you don’t get to re-homologate.

“The 2.4L does allow us to do a full clean sheet redesign. Early on, we’ve learned over the 2.2L to make some decisions that could have produced compromises. But engine design is pretty much all about compromises, and the rulebook framework and packaging limitations of the car. I have good faith in our group that we’ll address some of our weak points and the 2.4L will be a good package. I have no doubt our competition is too. The 2023 debut, you’ll see our best and our competition’s best baked in right from the beginning.”

DO YOU EVER REGRET LETTING THEM GO TO TWIN-TURBOS, AFTER THEY STARTED SINGLE TURBOS? OR WORRYING ABOUT CONCESSIONS ON AERO KITS?

ROB BUCKNER: “I always try to be very forward looking, so back in 2012 I was working on production small-block engines for C7 Corvette and some of our light trucks. Chris Berube was around then. I got into IndyCar in 2013 and remember some heartburn around “turbo-gate” – these things become heavily political. For the 2.4L program, we’ll both be twin-turbo, and the rules are slightly adjusted.”

YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORK WITH KEVIN MAGNUSSEN THIS WEEKEND. WHAT WAS HIS FEEDBACK ON THE INDYCAR ENGINE FRONT?

ROB BUCKNER: “I feel for Kevin because his seat fit was in the middle of last week and then Road America is a tough place to go into without a test. A 45-minute session, you might get 2-3 representative laps. He was drinking from a firehose all weekend. The team really enjoyed working with him.

“His engine feedback was interesting. He had a lot of similarities to others; he said our package can be a little difficult to drive, nothing too surprising. It’s very impressive he drove the car for 45 minutes and basically gave us the same summary of strengths and weaknesses like guys like Bourdais and Pagenaud, who have driven this package on-and-off since 2012. That speaks to the talent he is.

“It was huge for the Cadillac DPi program to get the win with Kevin, Renger and Ganassi in Detroit. We hope to see him around some more. He’s a great talent. Both Haas (F1) drivers have shown that once they get in equal equipment to their competition, they’re very talented.”

IT’S A PRETTY CLOSE MANUFACTURER’S CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE. AS YOU GET CLOSER TO THE END OF THE YEAR, SOMETIMES CARS CAN’T SCORE POINTS, HOW DO YOU MANAGE THAT AS THE YEAR GOES ON?

ROB BUCKNER: “The best thing we can do on our side is keep our entries to four engines or less for the year, because that keeps them points eligible. So there’s a big focus on making sure the 11 full-time entries are eligible to score points, particularly for the West Coast swing towards the end of the year. Because if some are on engine five, the situation could be close enough where that’s the deciding factor. The easiest way to ensure it is to go 1-2 and sit on the pole, and score the maximum 96 points. Focus on winning races and the manufacturer’s stuff will take care of itself!”

TO THAT END, WAS IT A RELIEF THAT TORONTO WASN’T REPLACED?

ROB BUCKNER: “All of us were disheartened by that news (of Toronto being canceled). Not so much that Toronto is not being replaced. It was very sad that the event was canceled. That’s one of my favorite events of the year.

“I understand the logic behind them not replacing it, and not doing a doubleheader. For us it was decided early enough that it gives us more flexibility; engine mileage will be down, so that helps from going to engine three to engine four, and makes engine five less likely to happen. No pushback from us on not doing a doubleheader at Mid-Ohio or Gateway. We honestly got tired of doubleheaders in 2020, so this was the right thing to do.”

SCOTT MCLAUGHLIN IS CHEVROLET’S ONLY FULL-TIME ROOKIE THIS YEAR WITH TEAM PENSKE. HOW HAVE YOU EVALUATED HOW YOU THOUGHT HE’D DO AGAINST HOW HE’S FULLY DONE?

ROB BUCKNER: “I can’t think of a harder year to be a rookie because of the depth of teams and drivers! It’s unbelievable when you look at the top 10, and how hard it is to practice, qualify or race in the top 10. There’s not a lot of testing. Scott’s transition is very similar to Jimmie’s, but coming from a grand touring, heavy car with small tires to an open-wheel car. Scott’s been his own biggest critic and a bit hard on himself.

“All of us on the competition side think once he figures this out, he’ll be one of the top talents in the series. We’re just supporting him all we can with simulation time. He’s got great teammates to lean on at Team Penske. Imagine being a rookie with those three experienced drivers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the podium or winning a race before the end of the year.”

DOES WINNING AT MID-OHIO CARRY MORE SIGNIFICANCE AS IT’S AN EVENT SPONSORED BY YOUR COMPETITION?

ROB BUCKNER: “Ha! There’s some of that with both sides, and they love to be successful in Detroit with our banners all over the place. We feel the same way when we go to Barber, or Toronto, or Mid-Ohio. We don’t circle the event, let’s go test here or spend a bunch more time in the simulator. But yes, it’s gratifying when you’re successful there!”

DO YOU ANTICIPATE ANY EXTRA CARS THE REST OF THE SEASON AT SELECTED RACES?

ROB BUCKNER: “There’s been a lot of interest, which is good. It’s remarkable the interest level around Nashville. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a pretty big car count there. Long Beach is always of big interest as well. It goes to the health of the series. Sponsors want to be at these events. For us, leaving the Indy 500, we have quite a few low-mileage engines due to our car count at Indy, so doing one-off entries later in the season is pretty easy for us from an engine perspective. We just need the people to be able to support that. We have a few teams talking to us about additional part-time entries, and hopefully they announce it soon on their end. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some really healthy car counts at some of these big events.”

WHEN GANASSI RAN WITH CHEVROLET FOR THREE SEASONS, 2014-2016, ONE OF THE DEFINING QUALITIES THAT DIXON DESCRIBED BETWEEN THE TWO WAS THAT CHEVROLET HAD FEWER OPTIONS TO TAILOR TO A SPECIFIC DRIVER’S OUTPUT. WHEREAS THE OTHER COMPETITOR COULD HAVE DIFFERENT MAPS. IS THAT SOMETHING THAT’S CHANGED OVER THE YEARS AND MAY CHANGE GOING INTO THE 2.4L ERA?

ROB BUCKNER: “It’s always interesting the 2 groups. Our group tries to be pretty controlled and don’t like running things on the track we haven’t run on the dynos; I don’t see that changing too drastically. I think it’s easy to overlook the challenge of running 11 cars nearly all the same and expecting them to be reliable. So that’s one of the reasons we don’t let our trackside engineers go too crazy on calibration changes. You’d end up with 11 cars on different calibrations and probably hurt some hardware. Clearly there are other ways to do it, but we always prioritize proven options to minimize our risks to hurt performance or reliability. We’ve changed a lot since 2016, yes, but overall we go to the track with proven concepts backed by data.”

About Chevrolet
Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is now one of the world’s largest car brands, available in 79 countries with more than 3.2 million cars and trucks sold in 2020. Chevrolet models include electric and fuel-efficient vehicles that feature engaging performance, design that makes the heart beat, passive and active safety features and easy-to-use technology, all at a value. More information on Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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