BUICK STOCK BLOCK POWERS INDY LIGHTS
by Larry Roberts
September 25, 1998
So you're going to trade in that old Buick V6 sedan that you bought new in 1989. It's getting old and you're ready to get into something newer and maybe even faster.
Before you send that road-veteran off to its last roundup, be aware that the cast-iron 3.8 liter six-banger that's propelling your old LeSabre on its final mile has a proud heritage. It's the same unit that's under the engine cowl of every Lola T97/20 single-seat race car that contests the Indy Light Series, the "farm-camp" for future CART Champ Car pilots. And it has occupied that prestigious position since before you drove your Buick off the showroom floor.
But lest you chop the top off your sedan and expect to go racing with the Indy Lights folks, I should explain that the Indy Lights cars are "spec" racers, each one purpose-built to specifications and aside from the paint and sponsor-generated graphics, they are as alike as peas in a pod. They all run on identical 15-inch Dayton Daytona radial tires (10-inches wide in front and 14-inches wide in the rear) and although the Daytona skins are all the same size, they come in various compounds because the cars run rain or shine.
And while the 90-degree V6 block and two-valves-per-cylinder iron heads are identical to the ones in your Buick, the have been worked over by George Montgomery in his Dayton, Ohio shop. The blocks are bored out to displace 4.1 liters, the power is pumped up to 425 horses and the ready-to-run units are sealed by Montgomery and his crew. This precludes the possibility of any of the 20 some-odd participants getting a horsepower edge by "tweaking" the unsupercharged engines for a few more ponies. The sanctioning body wants the Indy Lights series to showcase the driving skills of the young drivers and not become a Battle of the Bucks. The Montgomery engines are warranted by the sanctioning body for 1000 racing miles or three competition weekends, whichever comes first and are leased, not sold.
The reason that the 3.8 liter Buick V6 (it's actually used in several other G.M. products) is used is a matter of tradition. It was the engine of choice when the series was started in '86 and Buick was a major sponsor. Buick stepped out of motorsports some years ago, but the use of the engine continued since it has proven to be almost bullet-proof in its Montgomery-modified form.
There are a couple of other "specifications" to the Indy Light spec racer. All cars must operate on Bosch spark plugs and they all have to be painted with PPG paint since PPG is one of the two major sponsors of these races.
While the Indy Light race cars are small-time compared to their Big Brothers, the CART Champ Cars, be aware that the "little fellows" weigh only 1430 pounds and have a top speed of 190 MPH. They are only a bit over three feet tall and at that speed, the ground must look very close.
The current crop of drivers are young and relatively unknown to the general racing public, but they've all worked their way up through the ranks of professional kart racing, Formula Ford 2000, the Barber Dodge series, etc., and usually started in their early teens. They come from all over the world for a shot at the big time and the ranks include sons and grandsons of current and former racing greats.
And many former "students" have, indeed, hit the heights. Indy Lights graduates include CART drivers Paul Tracy, Andre Riberio, PJ Jones (son of Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones), Adrian Fernandez, Greg Moore and Bryan Herta who, incidentally, recently won his first Champ Car race at California's Laguna Seca Raceway.
So before sending your worn-out LeSabre to the bone yard, take off your hat out of respect. Clones of its engine are still providing some very fast transportation.