Does Honda have a power problem, or a driver problem?
NOTE: This will be a VERY unpopular editorial, as IndyCar fans are some of the most loyal in the racing world. This is CLEARLY one mans opinion, and is not to be taken as the strict beliefs of open-wheels.com and its additional contributors.
Over the last couple of weeks there has been a lot of discussion about Honda leaving the series, or being unhappy with the results this season in the Verizon IndyCar series.
Let’s look at this from multiple angles.
Marketing wins wars. Honda couldn’t do a better job of activating for it’s brand, nor for the series it supports. Fred Savage, the current voice of Honda, can be seen racing around an oval, in the wet, with Mario Andretti in the Indycar two-seater for the love of Pete. Honda win’s in that activation department. I don’t believe I have seen ONE Chevrolet commercial promoting the drivers or the teams they support. Yet, they are dominating this season.
Which engine is more powerful? In the specification listed on the IndyCar website, you can clearly see that each engine has a level that they have to meet for competition standards.
Type: 2.2-liter (134.25 cubic inches) V-6, turbocharged (single or twin), Max. bore diameter 95 millimeters
Weight: Minimum weight is 248 pounds.
RPM: 12,000 maximum (INDYCAR-supplied rev limiter)
Power: Estimated 550-700 horsepower depending on variable turbo boost used at track.
Fuel: E85 fuel (blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline)
Injector: Direct injection
So, from a power standpoint, it’s pretty much a “level playing field”.
Blah blah blah, aero kits this, and aero kits that. Remember guys, these are professional engineers designing these things! No one team has a major benefit to designing these kits. They are tested and tested, and run week in and week out. THIS IS NOT THE PROBLEM!!!
What IS the problem?
Here is where I believe the problem lies.
- Penske Racing
- Will Power
- Juan Pablo Montoya
- Simon Pagenaud
- Helio Castroneves
- Chip Ganassi Racing
- Scott Dixon
- Tony Kanaan
- Charlie Kimball
- Sage Karam/Sebasatian Saavedra
- CFH Racing
- Josef Newgarden (ironically the ONLY CFH driver to appear on Chevy’s page)
- Luca Fillipi
- Ed Carpenter
Team Honda HPD:
- Andretti Autosport
- Ryan Hunter-Reay
- Marco Andretti
- Carlos Munoz
- Justin Wilson/Simona De Silvestro
- Schmidt Peterson
- James Hinchcliffe
- James Jakes
- Ryan Briscoe/Conor Daly
- AJ Foyt Racing
- Takuma Sato
- Jack Hawksworth
- Bryan Herta Autosport
- Gabby Chaves
- Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
- Graham Rahal
- Oriol Servia
- Dale Coyne Racing
- Francesco Dracone
- Pippa Mann
- Carlos Huertas
- Revolving list of drivers…..
Now why is this the problem?
Of the drivers listed, for Honda, only Hunter-Reay, Rahal, Andretti, and Hinchcliffe can really compete from a “pure talent” standpoint. But here is where it gets interesting. Penske and Ganassi, dominate perennially in the series. IN SPITE OF THE ENGINE THEY RUN!
So, the problem to ME, isn’t the engines or the aero kits. It is the drivers and teams (engineering staff) that are aligned with each engine.
To showcase my point.
In 2000, 2001, and 2006 Team Penske won the IndyCar championship. In a Honda powered car. In 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013 Chip Ganassi Racing won in a Honda powered car.
YES, there was a point where, as a spec series, Honda was the ONLY engine manufacturer. But I digress…
An easy viewpoint and clearly visible proof of this is tangible in the drivers who have actually been competitive this season in a Honda. Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti are clearly the strongest Honda drivers of the pack, with James Hinchcliffe a strong and clear third of that group. Each of these guys has had success this season. But they also had success in prior seasons, with other manufacturers. BECAUSE THEY ARE BETTER DRIVERS.
So, here is my solution. If Honda is unhappy about it’s success, or lack there of, this season, how about they work on a development program to build a better DRIVER? Why is Mazda the series sponsor for the Road to Indy ladder system….they aren’t even associated with the parent series! I am of the opinion that both Honda and Chevy should be more heavily involved in driver development in support of the series they compete in!
It happens in Europe….BMW, Mclaren, DTM, etc…. each has a lower level series, in which each manufacturer competes and develops drivers…..
Sage Karam is the first of this breed of driver in the series. His deal with Ganassi is strictly that, a development deal. So when we watch he and Saavedra compete in the #8 car, it’s because they are being developed as a driver OPTION. This needs to happen earlier…..we need to start seeing manufacturers aligned with, and supporting drivers throughout the ladder system.
It is my belief, that the reason we see such a discrepancy in competition this season, is clearly because of the alignment of drivers and teams. Put a driver like Hinch in a top tier ride with Penske or Ganassi, and he would immediately climb those power charts.
Manufacturers need to develop their drivers and teams from the ground up, support the series, and align themselves properly so that the future of the series and the relationship of that manufacturer with IndyCar stays strong for years to come.