Jones, Rahal suspect Honda cars will struggle at Iowa
Both Graham Rahal and Ed Jones have warned that the HPD aerokit will limit Honda drivers’ prospects at Iowa Speedway next week, despite the firm’s major gains in power and torque this year.
Although Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon has cited Honda torque as one of the major factors in his victory at Road America last weekend, both Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal and Ed Jones of Dale Coyne Racing have said the drag from HPD’s short-oval/roadcourse/streetcourse kit will hurt them at Iowa Speedway’s 0.894-mile oval.
Said Jones: “I think short ovals are still going to be our weak spot because of the aerokit. The other manufacturer just has a stronger aero package and it’s going to be similar to what we saw in Phoenix.
“The Ed Carpenter [Chevrolet] cars were quicker than us in the test, and it was quite noticeable even from inside the car.”
However, Jones, who finished third in this year’s Indianapolis 500, said he was encouraged by the pace of his Coyne car, within the context of Honda’s deficit.
“Yeah, I do think as a team we can be quite strong. I liked how our car handled in traffic – I think we were one of the strongest in the test so that’s good.
“But at Iowa it’s so hard to pass because the straights are so short and you carry so much speed off the turns that we aren’t doing a lot of accelerating, which is where Honda seems pretty strong now. It’s going to be about qualifying as high up as we can and trying to stay there.”
Jones, who moved into the top 10 in the championship with a seventh place at Road America, said he was still targeting a Top 10 finish in next week’s Iowa Corn 300, and said the result could come down to a lot more than just outright performance.
“There’s more to a strong finish, like we saw in Phoenix,” he said. “You’ve got to avoid the shunts and, I think the tire strategy in the last stages could be crucial. Like, if there’s a late yellow, do you go for a fresh set of tires? There can be a big speed advantage doing that, if everyone near the front goes for track position instead, and stays out on worn tires.
“So I feel we should still be able to get a Top 10 there. I think actually we should be getting Top 10s everywhere. Dale’s team has taken such a big step this year.”
Rahal agreed that Honda cars face an uphill battle at Iowa.
“The other side [Chevrolet] are much stronger from an aerokit perspective,” he said. “It’s a real shame, because HPD are certainly doing a great job engine-wise; it’s really strong now.
“But the aero package is a major thorn in our side. We’re towing around a parachute. And on pace, at Phoenix and Iowa, they aren’t tracks where we can use whatever engine advantage we have; so on pure speed, we get destroyed and that’s all down to drag."
An engine issue cost Rahal track time during Tuesday’s Iowa test, before he’d had a chance to try trimming out the car, but he said tire degradation was going to be a factor and he was positive RLLR was on top of that.
“Unfortunately we had a [engine] problem right at the end of the test,” said Rahal, “so we didn’t get to do qualifying simulations, which was a shame because I’d like to have a really good understanding of where we’re at for speed. It’s an area where we’ve struggled, traditionally.
“But I think tire degradation will be an issue for everyone, and I can’t say I had a huge dropoff in lap time, so that’s encouraging. But I’m cautious because we didn’t spend a lot of time on the 2017 tire.”
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