The announcement that Ryan Hunter-Reay would be leaving the Andretti Autosport IndyCar team late last year was no surprise to anyone as rumors have been swirling around the year. Romain Grosjean replaced him.
However, one thing that surprised and raised eyebrows for some in the paddock was what happened to Hunter-Reay’s right-hand man, Ray Gosselin.
Hunter-Reay’s longtime engineers in the Honda-powered Andretti squad have been with the team since before the current 2.2-liter engine was introduced in 2012.
He has previously been linked with being chased by McLaren with engineer Fernando Alonso in the Indianapolis 500, which might give you an idea of how much respect Gosselin has. In the end, he stuck with Hunter-Reay and Andretti.
However, those eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that Gosselin, instead of remaining in Andretti’s operations for 2022, would be joining Ilmor as its vice president of engineering. Especially since it has been rumored that Michael Andretti wants Gosselin to move to Formula 1 if the purchase of the Sauber entry is successful. Whether that’s true or not, we may never know.
Ilmor, where Gosselin now resides, is one of the three pillars – along with Chevrolet Performance and Pratt Miller – responsible for Chevrolet’s IndyCar engine program.
While you might think of 2022 as a dead year in terms of engines right now as we will have a new hybrid-boosted unit in 2023, both Honda and Chevrolet are eager to mark this era as the best, especially the Chevy which is coming off the back of four straight factory defeats. towards this year.
With today’s engines leaving little room for big profits, it’s likely that even if Gosselin carried some of Honda’s secrets to his main rival, none of that would work in terms of engine construction.
However, what Honda has done very well in recent years is more to look at how to package the engine with the chassis, and how other parts of the car such as the aerodynamics can work in tandem with the engine to create a ‘part count’. approach rather than just trying to come up with the most reliable and powerful engine.
“I think what Ray brought to our group was a chassis integration mindset,” explains Chevrolet IndyCar program manager Rob Buckner.
“Our engine development program – as you’d expect – a lot of people and I belong with most of the engine development and engine program experience.
“Ray was previously an Ilmor employee who came back about two decades ago, so he’s really gone back to where he started motorsports.
“He brings a fresh mindset and a lot of knowledge about how cars work from his last years.
“So he’s very respected in the paddock and he’s a great addition to our team. And that will help us to see the overall performance of the car better and not focus too much on engine output performance.”
It is important to consider the context here. One of the main reasons Honda was so successful in this approach was that all of its departments within Honda Performance Development (HPD) were in one place. That’s all from building power units to simulators.
Chevrolet has its own branch of motorsports with Ilmor and Pratt Miller.
In the era of aerokits, this wealth of resources and know-how helped Chevrolet steal the show – Honda even needed concessions to stay competitive – and even now you could argue that this approach worked because Chevrolet usually had the most reliable engines of the 2.2 liter era. .
It won every manufacturer’s title between the introduction of this era in 2012 to 2017, the last year of manufacturing aero kits.
But where it might fall in comparison to the Honda – especially when there is so little room to develop the basic parts of the engine – is that it doesn’t have a distinct area of the house and may therefore not be as efficient as the Honda.
Gosselin comes with years of Honda experience and he will certainly be able to help steer Chevrolet towards a leaner approach where Honda has found the benefits of the whole car together with the engine.
“I think what we’ve found is that no group can go out and optimize completely on their own,” Buckner added.
“So you can go, thinking you have a very advanced engine, but then if it doesn’t fit into the car and chassis applications well, then you still have a weakness.
“So it’s really just an overall system optimization. And that, I think, applies to every race series and we have gone down that path.
“Adding Ray to our group is a great opportunity to strengthen our technical knowledge. And, as I mentioned, he was previously an Ilmor trackside employee so he knows how machine programming works.
“He has a lot of great experience, is very respected in the paddock. So for us, this is the right time to bring him into the team.”
Of course, Gosselin will be essential to the 2023 engine program and beyond, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be able to help push Chevrolet for this season as well.
His pride is at stake given his current losing streak – without an Indy 500 win or IndyCar title since 2019 adding to a factory title loss – and there is no way his staff will be allowed to give up this season.
“This is just as important as the year before,” Buckner added.
“You can never ignore any season on track and we really wanted to ship the 2.2 liter with a winning streak.
“So we are doing everything we can to claw our way back into the competition for the manufacturers’ championship, the drivers’ championship, the Indy 500, those big events are still very important for us.
“There is a minimal gap in the homologation table for 2.2 liters but the work can never really stop because if you do you quickly find yourself way behind, so every year we think we have really optimized everything, group stay focused on details and then we managed to keep improving.
“So I think we’ve proved to ourselves, we can’t stop now just knowing how hard we’ve been pushing over the last 10 years.
“And we know internally how much engine performance we’ve found since 2012 to now and the improvements are getting smaller, but you still have to keep pushing in every area, or you’ll soon be in deficit.
“So the war between engine suppliers is mostly behind closed doors, but I think the war is as fierce as ever.”
This is an unusual scenario for engine manufacturers now that they are developing the 2023 engine – which has dynos for both brands – along with looking for upgrades this time.
But it looks like there won’t be any spare parts from the old machine to the new machine. The new engine is being developed almost completely separately from the old one.
An announcement is expected soon as we’ll see the first 2023 engines in real cars on the track, with some time around March scheduled for now though that depends on optimal parts flow, which isn’t always the case. .
Buckner gave The Race a brief update on the 2.4-liter engine ahead of its confirmation date of on-track testing.
“Very happy to have the 2.4 liter program on our side,” he said.
“Our engine development group, I think this is when they are doing their best job, when they are not currently tied to the homologation table, very open development.
“We made big strides there.
“It’s great for us to test out all the new engine architectures. I’m not aware of any leftover parts from our 2.2 liter, so it’s a really clean design.
“We were all so excited to see him get off the track and start collecting some miles. A lot of running on the dyno and now it’s time to get him in the car and go to the racetrack.”
There’s definitely one positive area there for Chevrolet as it won its first six manufacturer titles in the 2.2 liter era. There is precedent that it knows how to get started with a new powertrain.
Before that happens or not, the IndyCar season kicks off in St Petersburg next week, where we’ll begin to see if what Chevrolet has learned and optimized with this new parts count approach has paid off.
After all, it finished second and third in last year’s championship with Josef Newgarden of Tim Penske and Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP.
Both teams are also facing big years, and need Chevrolet’s help. The Arrow McLaren SP has more resources now that McLaren has taken a large shareholding, but desperately needs to make its car easier to drive for its pilots.
Penske needs to do better in the Indianapolis 500 where the double points on offer mean his poor form of the last two years only needs to be straightened out to give Newgarden a realistic chance for the title.
For this reason too, Chevrolet has had to keep pushing and be close enough not to call 2022 a dead year.