Andretti Autosport ace Ryan Hunter-Reay is confident that HPD can redress the balance following a Chevrolet-dominated 2015 IndyCar season.
The 2012 Series champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner finished sixth in the championship standings last season, but told Motorsport.com he is confident he can challenge for the title once more next year.
“With IndyCar permitting a change on road, street and short ovals, I think we’re going to make considerable progress,” he said. “Obviously, all the while, Chevrolet is making changes through the off-season too, but I think it will be a different picture in 2016 than we saw in 2015.”
This winter, IndyCar activated Rule 9.3, allowing Honda to make alterations to its aero kit in five technical boxes for its road, street and short-oval packages, enabling the California-based arm of the Japanese marque to theoretically catch up with Chevrolet. There were originally planned to be just three areas of revision for both brands for 2016.
Although IndyCar ruled that Honda’s speedway package could not be modified beyond the ‘standard’ three boxes for 2016, Hunter-Reay is confident that there, too, HPD can make gains.
He said: “Honda have been working extremely hard to improve that package too. It’s obviously impossible to say with 100 percent clarity right now, but I’m confident we can challenge for the 100th Indy 500 in May.”
While the apparent drag problem inhibited many of the Honda-powered teams in 2015, one prominent Chevrolet driver, Sebastien Bourdais, has observed that HPD’s Wirth Research-designed aero kit did have a notable benefit. The KVSH Racing driver commented that the Honda cars had been harder to follow through fast corners on road courses. Hunter-Reay agreed with his rival.
“I think the findings from IndyCar’s wind tunnel test after the Sonoma race proved the Honda aero kit had more drag, and so yeah, I’m sure it created a lot of dirty air because of that. I’m not surprised to hear that Chevrolet drivers found us tough to follow. I followed a fair few Hondas myself at times this year…”
A season of two halves
Explaining his and Andretti Autosport’s slow start to the 2015 season, Hunter-Reay commented: “Our setups that have historically been very strong just didn’t apply with the new aero kit. We were starting from scratch and over the course of a race weekend, you don’t have time to experiment too much. So it was tough to catch up.
He also added that the diversity of driving styles between himself, Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz and part-timers Simona de Silvestro and the late Justin Wilson had also inhibited progress.
“Every driver in the team has a different driving style,” observed Hunter-Reay, “and so each of us were looking for different things we thought we wanted to improve the car. We all had different theories as to how we could fix the situation in the first half of the season.”
Hunter-Reay scored two wins and a runner-up finish over the last four races, and is confident that he and race engineer Ray Gosselin had figured out the complexities of the aero kit by year’s end.
“Yeah, definitely as we went through the season we got a better picture of what we needed to do. We arrived at the party late, but at the end of the season we certainly had a major role within that party.
“The way this sport is, you go five or six races without a strong result and people start asking what’s wrong with you. But we’re still there – we struggled and then we figured it out. Simple as that.
“Actually, I think that was a great achievement, to be resilient and fight back the way we did. We just need to fill in the front half of the season to make those same kind of results throughout the year, and I’m confident we can do that in 2016.”