Can Honda Flip The Switch?
Now that the starting field has been set for the 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500, it’s kind of interesting to scan through the field to see the distribution of power through the field. The Top-Ten cars on the grid are all powered by Chevrolet. You have to go all the way back to Alex Tagliani’s Barracuda Racing machine to find the first Honda-powered entry in the eleventh starting spot. Then there are a couple of more Chevy’s before you see Justin Wilson’s Boy Scout entry in the fourteenth spot. After that, it’s Row Six before you find more Hondas. That’s where you find the normally favored cars of Target Chip Ganassi and the points leading ABC Supply car of Takuma Sato. From that point on to the rear of the field, it’s mostly Hondas with a smattering of Chevys.
To quote Sherriff Taggart – What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here? I’m not a gear-head by any stretch, but it was my understanding that the reason Honda opted to go with the single turbocharger because it was more suited for the long straightaways found at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Chevy engine was expected to be superior on road courses with slow corners, but the Honda was predicted to excel on tracks similar to IMS.
It was a similar situation at this point in last year’s 500. Josef Newgarden was the lone Honda representative in the Fast Nine Shootout in 2012. However, it was a different story on Carb Day and Race Day. Honda won the race and took second place, as well. In the end, Honda took five of the Top-Ten spots while Chevy took the other five. The two Lotus-powered cars were parked by Lap Ten.
This year, Honda was completely shut-out of the Fast Nine. Taglianai’s four-lap average of 227.386 mph is almost a mile and a half per hour slower than Ed Carpenter’s pole-winning speed of 228.762. Since we returned home, I’ve watched some of the DVR replay of the weekend’s proceedings. I saw an interview with Graham Rahal that took place before any qualifying runs. He was already citing last year when “Honda flipped the switch” for Carb Day and the race.
Is that really what the Honda teams are counting on? That sounds more like sheer desperation than logic. Look – I’m a Honda fan. I drive a Honda and I feel a debt of gratitude to the Japanese automaker for sticking with the series after Chevrolet and Toyota bailed on the series following the 2005 season. Had they not agreed to become the sole engine supplier to the series, I’m not sure what Plan B was. But it’s painfully clear that Honda has been passed by.
Keep in mind, this is not the same Honda engine that systematically drove Chevy and Toyota out of the series by completely dominating them in 2004 and 2005. That engine and all subsequent Honda engines through 2011, were built by Ilmor Engineering. When the new engine specs for 2012 were announced along with the announcement that Chevrolet would return to the IZOD IndyCar Series, Honda Performance Development (HPD) took over design, development and manufacturing of the new Honda turbocharged engine. The new Chevy engine would be developed and built by – you guessed it, Ilmor Engineering.
Quite honestly, I’m surprised that Honda has allowed this to happen. Last year, Chevy won the first four races heading into the Indianapolis 500. After they won the 500, Honda won the next two races at Belle Isle and Texas. The score at that point was Chevrolet’s four wins compared to Honda’s three – with Honda suddenly having momentum. It didn’t last. Honda would win only one more race for the rest of the season.
Things weren’t much better this season, although Honda did win at Long Beach and came in second at São Paulo. But the wheels have come off at The Speedway, so far. Honda got its proverbial head handed to them this past weekend. Honda should be embarrassed and their teams should be furious. If their collective teams are counting on some imaginary switch to come on this Friday and Sunday, I think they are going to be sorely disappointed.
My opinion is worth about as much as it costs you to read this site – nothing. But for whatever it is worth – I think that Sunday is going to be a continued embarrassment for Honda. Based on what I saw this past weekend, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that the winning car in this year’s race will have a gold bow-tie on the cowling. The cars from Ed Carpenter Racing, Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, KV Racing Technology and even Panther and Dreyer & Reinbold have a decided advantage strictly due to the power-plant in the rear of the car.
On Trackside last night, they were doing their best to spin it to where Honda still has a strong chance to win the race. I don’t buy it. Chip Ganassi fired a shot across the bow to Honda during the Long Beach weekend. When Takuma Sato won in a Honda, the furor over the power issues seemed to die down. I would imagine things are heated between Honda and its teams this week.
So…can Honda flip the switch again this weekend? I’d be surprised.