Is Honda Worried Or Sandbagging?
Spring Training for the Verizon IndyCar Series is now officially in the books. Rational people will say that it’s way too early to draw any conclusions on anything that went on at Barber Motorsports Park over the last two days; but we fans are not always that rational. We peer over speed charts for any indication on who may have an edge next weekend when things get serious at St. Petersburg.
I’ve seen the word “sandbagging” used a lot over the past couple of days. That term is used a lot in racing to indicate that a driver, team or manufacturer is holding back to not show all of their cards – giving the perception that they are not as strong, so that when the race starts – opponents are underestimating their true strength. I looked up how that term got started in this context and never really came up with anything. But I’ve heard the term regularly ever since I started following this sport in the sixties.
If you look at the speed charts from Barber, it would be easy to conclude that the Chevy teams were faster than the Hondas. On Monday, Chevy occupied four of the top five positions in the morning session. The afternoon session saw all of the top five spots occupied by cars powered by the bow-tie, and seven of the top-ten. The fastest Honda on Monday afternoon was Ryan Hunter-Reay in the sixth spot.
It was pretty much the same yesterday. I saw several comments on social media predicting doom and gloom for Honda – saying they were in trouble, they missed the mark, etc. Others said that Honda was playing it cagy and sandbagging. They reasoned that Honda’s time to shine would come when points were at stake – not bragging rights. It really wasn’t that bad, since almost all cars were practically within a second of each other yesterday.
We may not know the answer to the sandbagging question even after the opening race at St. Petersburg. It is a completely different type track than the permanent road course at Barber. If Honda dominates the fourth race of the season at Barber, then we’ll know they were holding back these last two days.
But by then, we’ll probably have a good indication as to which aero kit is more effective after a race at St. Petersburg, NOLA and Long Beach. By the time the series returns to Barber in late April, we’ll have a pretty good idea which manufacturer has hit the mark and which one is scratching their heads. In a perfect world, leaving Barber and heading into the month of May – the manufacturers will be tied at two wins apiece, with plenty of diversity across the podium at each race.
But that’s in a perfect world. The fear on everyone’s mind is that the parity and close racing that the series has enjoyed for the past three years will be wiped away with the introduction of the aero kit. Some say that the worst thing that could happen would be for one aero kit to be completely dominant over the other. Personally, that doesn’t bother me. That’s what comes with innovation. You learn from your mistakes and you strive to improve. At some point in the season, tweaks will be allowed. If one team is lagging, it’s up to them to do their homework and fix it.
Looking at the times from the past two days, some would say that Chevy hit the nail on the head. Well, that may be true but it doesn’t necessarily mean because of the aero kits. Chevy actually hit the nail on the head a few years ago when it struck up relationships with Team Penske, Ed Carpenter and KV Racing. It scored another direct hit at the end of the 2013 season, when it added Chip Ganassi Racing to the fold in exchange for Andretti Autosport. It’s not a stretch to say that the Chevy teams were already stronger than the Honda teams, horsepower and aero kits notwithstanding.
The best Honda team is Andretti Autosport. After that, it’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Then you’ve got a hodge-podge of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and AJ Foyt Enterprises. Out of those last three teams, came one victory last season. Every single Chevy team won a race last season.
I don’t pretend to know if the Chevy aero kit is superior to Honda’s, or if the Chevy engine has more power. Nor do I have any idea if there is any gamesmanship going on involving sandbagging. But you do wonder if the Honda teams, especially Andretti Autosport, were not just a little uneasy as the transporters pulled out and headed back to their respective shops and individual testing at various locations before reconvening next weekend for real at St. Petersburg.
One thing I do know is that I was wrong about one thing – the looks of the cars. When the Honda aero kit was unveiled last week, I said that it looked sleeker and faster than the Chevy. I don’t necessarily like the taste of crow, but when I’m wrong – I’ll admit it. Now that we’ve seen both cars in full livery and on track; I have to say that the Chevy is the better looking of the two. (Photo used with permission from Marshall Pruett).
While credit should be given to Honda for more creative thinking and coming up with a more radical looking concept – the Chevy is more pleasing to the eye. The Honda just looks way too bulky from the cockpit back. The oversized airbox and dorsal fin just don’t do it for me. Plus, I’m finding myself not crazy about the multi-layered front wing. I don’t like Chevy’s winglets added in seemingly random spots, but it has a better on-track look than the Honda.
So now, the teams have headed back to go over all of the data they accumulated. In all honesty, that was the real reason for Spring Training – not the bragging rights. For most of yesterday morning, Helio Castroneves was hanging around the twentieth spot in speed, even though he had completed more laps than all but three other drivers. Were we to assume that Helio is no longer fast? No, the team chose to gather data in a lot of areas other than how fast he could go. That’s the way it was with most teams. We fans were more interested in speed the past couple of days. The smart teams and drivers were more interested in data on these new cars.
Sandbagging? I have no idea. Is Honda worried? Maybe. Maybe not. The teams probably have a little bit better idea in what they are dealing with heading into the season, but we fans do not. But these things I do know – the Chevy looks better and it was great knowing that all the teams were on track. I’m also stoked to know that we are about to head into our very last weekend of this very long offseason. St. Petersburg can’t get here soon enough.