Honda hoping to end difficult season on a high note

With Graham Rahal in the title fight and Andretti starting to turn a corner, Honda Performance Development president Art St. Cyr discusses the work that has gone into their 2015 season.

With the Verizon IndyCar Series encamped at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it was a good time for Honda Performance Development (HPD) president Art St. Cyr to discuss Honda’s plans for the balance of the season, its possible - let’s hope that’s probable - return for the 2016 campaign and the issues that have plagued the company that’s been involved in American open wheel racing for the past 22 years as it tries for another championship in 2015.

Our intent and our wish is to resolve those issues before the end of the season so we can move forward with an extension

Honda Performance Development president Art St. Cyr

This weekend’s 14th race in the Indy car season is the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, after all. And St. Cyr is proud of the efforts put up thus far in the year by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s (RLLR) Graham Rahal, who stands second in the points race, 42 behind leader Juan Pablo Montoya as practice gets underway. At the same time, he’s also pleased with the two races won by Andretti Autosport (Carlos Munoz at Detroit 1; Ryan Hunter-Reay in Iowa). Marco Andretti was completed every single lap run this year, showing great consistency and power.

Of course, Rahal won in Fontana and has scored podiums, seemingly most race weekend. Rahal’s run from 17th to fifth at the 99th Indianapolis 500 was a high point for the engine and aero kit manufacturer, in particular after the trials of Indy qualifying. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe scored a victory for the Honda marque before his Indianapolis cash and subsequent injury - he had his final surgery earlier in the week, aiming to a 2016 return to action.

2015 struggles with aero kit

Those are some of the high points; there have been difficulties with the intricate aero kit designed for HPD by Wirth Research and HPD continues to discuss its future in the series beyond this year. The latter point is something St. Cyr isn’t ready to discuss in detail, but he did speak of “a lot of discussion about some of the technical issues” with INDYCAR “and the technical vision moving forward. I’m happy to say that we have resolved and we have written in writing resolution on a lot of those technical issues,” but one or two issues remain to be resolved, he said.

The engineers on each of the teams have figured out where the strengths and weaknesses are, how they want to run the cars.

Art St. Cyr on 2015 struggles

The devil’s in the details, “But our intent and our wish is to resolve those issues before the end of the season so we can move forward with an extension.”

Cyr 'enjoyed' working with Derrick Walker

About the pending departure of Derrick Walker, set for the day after the final contest of the season at Sonoma Raceway, St. Cyr noted the good working relationship he and the company have had with the Scotsman. “He has spent an extraordinary amount of energy and passion dealing with the issues that have surrounded INDYCAR over the last couple of years. I’ve really enjoyed working with him and I think it’s going to be a loss not having him around,” he said. “Pretty straight shooter. Hopefully the work that he has put in place will continue. On a personal note, I’m going to be sad to see him go and hopefully he sticks around the paddock in the years to come.”

Honda’s negotiations to remain in the series have not been with Walker alone. “It’s with INDYCAR and Honda,” he said. “The other people involved in that process know the details and we expect it to move forward seamlessly. Derrick is still going to be around through the end of August, so I fully expect everything to be continuing on as it was before.”

Because there were changes to the rules shortly before the start of the season, Honda didn’t complete its aero kits until just before the first race of the year at St Petersburg, a race they once sponsored. They held the kits back in order to reclaim as much performance as possible but with the late delivery, “We really put them (the teams) behind the eight-ball trying to figure out how best to utilize the kit, how best to utilize the downforce, how best to operate their race cars, especially in the early races of the season.

Improving with time

“Now, as the season has gone on, they’ve learned more. The engineers on each of the teams have figured out where the strengths and weaknesses are, how they want to run the cars. We’ve had success doing that, especially as of late. So I think, from my perspective that explains why we had such a struggle at the beginning of the season: the teams were trying to figure out basically a brand-new car without any testing,” St. Cyr explained.

There are some development areas allowed for the upcoming season and neither Honda nor Chevrolet are frozen with the same aero kit they’ve been using this year. They’re not permitted to do any 2016 testing until the middle of September, yet Honda “have been doing the design process moving forward on that. We will be testing that shortly” and have already done their CFD (computational fluid dynamics) analysis. “We’ve done some scale model testing, we’ve done full scale testing of both our 2015 kit and our 2016 kit,” St. Cyr said.

Honda hoping to end the year strong

Through this race on Mid-Ohio’s bucolic road course, the penultimate (and final oval) contest in Pocono and the finale at Sonoma’s rolling road course, Honda and HPD intend to give as much support as they can to Graham Rahal and his team, despite not supporting a second car that would give RLLR added data. “We don’t typically do that (fund a second car) at Honda. We will support them however we can to try to get them at the front of the race.”

Beyond that the question remains: will Honda return in 2016 and, if it does will HPD add further engine leases to its current roster of teams? St. Cyr acknowledged Honda’s and HPD’s 22-year support of the sport of American open-wheel racing. “We want it to grow; we want it to thrive. We also want to make sure that there’s not teams that have the capability of being strong and running here and not have an engine. We are absolutely ready to run at least as many engines as we are running this year - but again,” he emphasized, “that is predicated on us signing an extension with INDYCAR.”

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