Rob Edwards, AA’s director of race operations and engineering, reports on a positive test with Honda’s new aero kit and engine at Sebring with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz.
Between your three drivers and Graham Rahal’s RLLR car, how was the 2016 equipment divided up between you all?
Everyone was running the same stuff, as far as I’m aware.
Could the drivers feel the difference between the 2015 and 2016 tech spec?
Yes, the car felt more predictable, according to all three drivers. It’s not like it was night and day different, but more consistent. That gives you as a team and as a driver more opportunity to extract performance from other areas. Last year we were doing stuff we didn’t necessarily want to do just to overcome the nasty handling characteristics of the aero kit. So we were all happy.
We couldn’t base our experience off lap times, because no one’s tested there for a while so the track was pretty dirty, but I would say we were all where we expected given the track conditions.
When you can’t make a direct comparison with the 2015 kit and you don’t have directly comparable track conditions, are you able to appreciate the figures on screen, or is your positivity purely down to driver feedback?
It’s both, actually. There were back to back comparisons done earlier in the development process, using test kits in September/October/November last year. Driver feedback today was that the cars were more stable under braking, and that they were doing one thing through the corners rather than three! There’s also data to back that up.
Were the drivers all running the same setups, or did they branch out in different directions? Would you have been able to get through more checks if you’d had four cars as Andretti usually has?
Starting out, we deliberately ran all three cars through a similar program for part of the day, because we wanted to verify correlation between them. Once we did that, we could let them go off in different directions and cover more ground. With a fourth car, sure, we could have had more data when we ran the same setup and when we diversified in separate programs. But we’re obviously not at four cars yet and it’s getting late in the day to do things properly in that regard, and as you know, I prefer to do things properly.
In your opinion, do you think the extra ‘boxes’ Honda-HPD was allowed to work within under Rule 9.3 is what’s made the difference and will have you caught back up with Chevrolet? Or do you think Honda was already heading in the direction whereby it could have recovered its lost ground purely using the three upgrade areas that HPD and Chevy were going to be granted for 2016 anyway?
No, I don’t think the three boxes would have been enough. And actually, what we were dealing with today was only the road/street course setups. Given that we feel there was a significant deficit on the superspeedways last year, I think we needed more than the three boxes to address those issues, and unfortunately IndyCar has not allowed Honda to upgrade its superspeedway kit under Rule 9.3.
According to my list, you won’t have Honda and Chevrolet cars all together on a road or street course before the start of the season. The only time you’ll run together pre-season is at Phoenix at the end of February. Does that make you nervous to see how Chevrolet has improved?
Actually, we haven’t put our paperwork for a group test at Sebring on March 2. We will be at that. But actually, we may have the opposite problem we had today – so many cars that there’ll be so much rubber down at the end of the day that it won’t be representative.
But to answer your question, I think on road and street courses we’re happy that the 2016 kit has addressed the issues that made the 2015 kit evil on road and street courses. Where we’re concerned is with the car in superspeedway trim, because IndyCar ruled we had to stick with the aero surfaces we used last year. Quite frankly, we don’t feel the way IndyCar arrived at that decision highlighted the areas of deficiency.
So you definitely feel it was aero rather than engine that hurt you at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year?
Yes, our feeling was that our deficiency was mostly in terms of drag. Because of the instability in the car in a yaw situation, that necessitated the Honda cars running more downforce than the Chevrolets, so therefore created more drag. It might have looked like torque off the corner that held us back, but the cars were bogging down because of extra drag and how much steering input the drivers had to put in.
And there’s no way to remedy that before the Month of May…
Right, and that’s why we’re all concerned. It was Honda’s original plan to take the re-tooled sidepods and probably create other modifications similar to Chevy’s, but that went out the window when IndyCar ruled that the bodyshape for Indy had to stay the same as 2015. We’ll see, but yeah, a lot of concern.
On the positive side, do you think there’ll be tracks where you feel the performance of Andretti Autosport – or Honda as a whole – will be transformed by the 2016 upgrades, compared with last year?
It’s no surprise that you’ll see a big difference at the early races compared with last year. Long Beach and St. Pete, certainly, but on the natural road courses – even later in the year, like Mid-Ohio – you’ll notice an improvement as an observer and so will we as a team.
Mid-Ohio last year, Graham Rahal won and we finished second with Justin, but in reality that was more because of how strategies played out in the race. There wasn’t a single Honda in the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying, but because we didn’t qualify so well, there were more Hondas on the alternate strategy and as it turned out, that was the one that worked best for how the caution periods fell. It wasn’t because the performance of the car was there.
So I’m hopeful there will be major improvements on the road courses this season because they were so dire last season!
Finally, the feedback you got from Road America testing last fall – were there areas you noticed you were aero-deficient there that you think will be remedied in 2016?
Hmm… We hadn’t been there with this car before and even Champ Car hadn’t been there since 2007, so there was no data to work from. Also, there were various tire compounds being run and at different times of the day, so we couldn’t read much into the lap times at all. Not a clean read.