The best thing about the IndyCar series? Close competition.
The worst? Oftentimes, it's too noisy to tell the person sitting next to you how exciting it is to watch Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan battle wheel-to-wheel.
Since its inception in 1996, the Indy Racing League has been known for great racing and loud engines. Real loud. So loud, the noise is almost painful.
But Roger Griffiths of Honda Performance Development intends to have the normally-aspirated V-8s that power the entire IndyCar lineup singing a different tune in 2009.
"We're going to put a silencer on the engines next year and give them a much sweeter sound," said Griffiths, the race team technical leader for HPD.
"I have been pushing for it, and IRL management finally said 'Go for it,' so that's what we're doing."
A native of the London suburbs, Griffiths spent five years working with Formula One engines and chassis for Sauber and Minardi, and even designed a Le Mans entry before coming to America in the 1990s, when CART ruled with turbocharged engines.
The IRL engines have always made a piercing noise, and when Honda joined the League in 2003, its power plant was just as ear-splitting as all the others, thanks to the rulebook. Griffiths said he never considered lobbying for a change until the Acura program started in the American Le Mans Series in 2007.
"I never thought about it until we went into the ALMS, and they have a noise restriction," said Griffiths. "Our Acura engine was so loud that we got busted by the Series, and suddenly, we had to put some real effort into fixing this situation.
"So, we came up with our own silencer system."
HPD has now taken that system and applied it to the IndyCar engine.
"We ran the silencer for the first time back in February at Phoenix, and it worked so well, I immediately called [former HPD President] Robert Clarke, who was in Japan. It was 3 a.m. [there] and I woke him up. I held my cell phone out by the track and asked him if he could hear it, and he said he couldn't.
"I hadn't been around Indy Cars since they ran turbos, and this now sounded like they did in the mid-90s, you know. It had that pretty whine."
The next test came at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last May.
"We ran it on Hideki's [Mutoh] car during his rookie test at Indy last May, and it was 12 decibels quieter. You could actually carry on a conversation in pit lane with your headsets on.
"It was so refreshing."
In addition to sounding like an Indy Car should, the 2009 Honda V-8 will have an all-new exhaust system that will bolt on the car, but as far as adding more 150 horsepower on road courses, as had been discussed, Griffiths doesn't think that's feasible.
"It's extremely difficult to make those kinds of power changes to a normally-aspirated engine," he explained.
"Our hope is that the power will be about the same, because using the silencer will likely cause a hit in performance.
"But, I think we can make it quieter and keep the performance."
Talk lately has been centered on Audi, Porsche and Alfa-Romeo possibly joining Honda in the IndyCar Series in 2011. HPD would very much welcome the competition but, until then, it's status quo for good reason.
"We're not going to have any competition for two more years, so there aren't going to be any significant [development] changes [to the engine]," said Griffiths. "I think we'd all like more power, but we're almost on the edge of being too fast at [Indianapolis Motor Speedway], so we'll just concentrate on performance and reliability."
So, even if the engines aren't any faster in '09, at least they'll be much more pleasant to the ear.