Honda has retained its speedway advantage, says lead race engineer
Helio Castroneves’ race engineer, Jonathan Diuguid, says that although Friday's test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was inconclusive due to windy weather, he believes Honda will again be superior to Chevrolet on superspeedways in 2017.
Team Penske-Chevrolet was able to join the Honda test at IMS yesterday, in which Graham Rahal turned the fastest HPD-powered time at 227.182mph with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon next on 226.126mph. Penske’s times were not released, but Diuguid says that what he’s seen leads him to believe Honda is still slightly ahead of Chevy on the Verizon IndyCar Series’ fastest tracks.
He told Motorsport.com: “The afternoon was quite difficult. Probably the hour-and-a-half before lunch was most representative, and most of the Honda runners didn’t run in the afternoon due to the gusty conditions. To be honest Helio didn’t want to run either. It was just so inconsistent – one time into Turn 3 would be fine and then next time in the car would be really loose just due to the crosswinds. But we put some downforce on the car and rolled on through the test plan.
“I’d say Honda’s advantage that we saw last year is still there – we’re still playing a little bit of catch-up. But we’ll keep working hard. It’s difficult to tell because this is just testing, but honestly it doesn’t seem much has changed between this year and last year, for superspeedways.”
Diuguid suggested that Ganassi’s switch from Chevrolet and Honda has been one of the major factors in HPD retaining its superspeedway edge.
“Ganassi is obviously a strong team and they know the right questions to ask,” he commented, “and having been part of the development program with Chevrolet, I’m sure they were able to ask Honda some questions they hadn’t heard before. That would have helped development because Ganassi’s processes and the stuff they’re looking for may be different from the stuff that other Honda teams have already been looking for.”
Despite Honda retaining its edge, Diuguid says that Team Penske has taken a big step forward since last year’s Indy 500, in which Simon Pagenaud appeared to have the fastest Chevrolet-powered car in traffic but was struck by an engine problem. Castroneves, a three-time winner and four-time polesitter at Indy put Penske was a front-runner in last year's race but had to pit with a broken rear wheel pod after being clipped by the Ed Carpenter Racing entry of JR Hildebrand.
“Last year we had a top-five car for sure until we had the contact with JR,” says Diuguid. “We didn’t get a chance to race closely with the lead Andretti cars when everyone turned their engine power up at the end, but we led some laps and were able to drive our way to the front. Helio was happy with his car and I thought we were definitely raceable.
“I’d say our car is a step forward from 2016 to 2017, definitely. Both Penske and Chevrolet took a good hard look at last year's Indy and did some good post-season analysis to understand what the deficits were, and plans are in place to take corrective action.
“We’re putting a lot of emphasis on our speedway program, to be honest, and we were able to make progress [in this test] even with the difficult conditions.”
Diuguid said that Penske’s past experiences at Indianapolis with less than the best engine – Gil de Ferran and Castroneves scored a 1-2 at Indy in 2003 using a Toyota – would serve the team well.
“We’ll try and get an understanding early in the month of May and decide what we need to do,” he said. “In the past, Penske has used another manufacturer that had a power deficit and we just have to make the cars raceable with less downforce to help offset that deficit. That’s what we’re going to be working on.”
He also implied that unusual or difficult track conditions would also play out in the team’s favor because of the quality of the Penske driver lineup, which will add two-time Indy winner Juan Pablo Montoya in a fifth car to its 2017 fulltimers Pagenaud, Will Power, Castroneves and Josef Newgarden.
“Any time conditions are difficult, experienced drivers are going to handle it better just because of their comfort level with the car and with Indy,” said Diuguid. “Between Helio, Simon, Josef, Will and Juan, we’ve got a very talented and experienced lineup so I think difficult conditions definitely favor us from a driver standpoint.
“But whatever the circumstances, I want us to be in a position to earn Roger [Penske] his 17th Indy win. We want to be strong in all conditions.”
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