Honda Performance Development president Art St. Cyr has admitted that Chevrolet has improved its engine sufficiently to ensure that the Japanese manufacturer no longer has the edge at the Indianapolis 500.
Only two Honda-powered entries made it into last weekend's ‘Fast Nine’ qualifying stage with Sebastien Bourdais (Dale Coyne Racing) and Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) its only representatives.
James Hinchcliffe's shock bumping exit, alongside one-off entry Pippa Mann, meant that the two cars that did not qualify for the race were both Honda-powered.
In the manufacturer aerokit era, Honda struggled in comparison to Chevrolet but retained a superspeedway edge at the Indy 500 that helped Andretti Autosport win in 2016 and '17. But Art St Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development, says its advantage has now gone.
“Obviously qualifying didn't quite go the way that we were expecting,” he said. “The advantage that we've enjoyed over the last couple years is not there right now. Got to give credit to the other side [Chevrolet] on that one.
“We're still confident of our race pace. On Monday, we showed pretty well we were able to drive up on people, we were able to pass. We think that we're going to be okay on this. The teams that we have, like Andretti Autosport, that has won three of the last four Indy 500s, can never be counted out.”
St. Cyr said that fixing the qualifying deficit or re-establishing a raceday advantage will be a priority.
“I think the other side has had a disadvantage in the last couple years. They've come back strong with this one. Overall we were down. We need to get to the bottom of that from our side technically. How did that happen? How do we come back from that one?’
We're already thinking about next year, how we're going to avoid that situation next year. That still involves understanding the chassis as well as the engine, how do make sure those two are matched up to go as fast as possible.”
AJ Foyt Racing’s Tony Kanaan says he expects Chevrolet to retain its edge on raceday, but that the qualifying boost exaggerated the gap between the two manufacturers.
“I think Chevy had a bigger advantage with the 140kPa [1.4-bar] boost [as used in qualifying],” he said. “Our engine, for some reason, it works better than the Hondas up there. At 130, I don’t see that big of an advantage. I expect to have an edge. I want to believe we have one.”
The Chevrolet-powered Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing teams have been the benchmark at Indianapolis, with Josef Newgarden stating: “We got good fuel mileage and we've had incredible durability.
"We're not really worried about the reliability of the engine. A lot of our performance is down to Team Chevy and what they've brought to the Speedway, so that's great.”