IndyCar: what if Honda’s Indy gamble doesn’t pay off?

At the outset of the 2015 season the extent to which Honda had focused on their super speedway aero specification gathered little coverage. Perhaps at IndyCar’s request/behest it seemed to be more rumor than fact. As the season’s opening five street/road course races have come and gone, the visibility and volume of Honda’s Indy ‘statement of intent’ has grown rapidly. Honda have firmly set their sights on winning the 99th running of the Indy 500 above all else and so far this season, it has compromised their teams massively.

Waiting for the month of May

Barring the rain-supported win for James Hinchcliffe and standout performances from Graham Rahal, Honda’s teams have been firmly mired in the midfield in 2015. Not to worry they say – May is their time to shine. The practice sessions completed so far – and the two hours of Fast Friday I’ve watched as I write this – will not have done much to reassure Honda or their teams.

Given Honda’s approach, I was certainly expecting their leading teams to be a cut above the Chevrolet crews throughout May. Qualification and race day are still to come and the teams powered by the Japanese manufacturer could be holding out on us – but the fact there has been so little between Honda and Chevrolet cars so far, must be a worry.

Chevrolet did not take the approach of building their aero kits for the 2.5 miles of Indy and then bolting on street and road specs afterwards. Their balanced approach will almost certainly bring them the drivers title. Only IndyCar’s bizarre and ridiculously confusing manufacturer points system could prevent them from taking that crown as well. Embarrassingly for Honda, Chevy’s approach does not appear to have compromised their performance at Indy.

Something up their sleeve? 

Of course outright speed is not all that defines who wins the 500. Handling and balance in traffic, tire management, fuel consumption and myriad other factors will decide who gets their face on the world’s greatest trophy. We have seen Honda teams squeezing a bit more fuel mileage than their counterparts so far this season. Similarly their tire wear rates have at times been better than those of the Chevrolet runners. Some of that could come in to play through the rest of this month or it might mean nothing.

I’ve meandered my way to it but here is the question: what happens if Honda does not win the 2015 Indy 500? Aside from being a huge embarrassment given their approach, it will make for a very long remaining season. Worse still, it could well compromise the performance of their teams in the series for a couple of seasons. And that is where the bigger worry lies.

Not just a Honda problem…

Honda’s difficulties are great for Chevy but for the series long-term, they are not. A manufacturer with aero-kits that are fully branded and affiliated with them that are fundamentally deficient to their rival not likely to be one to stick around for long. There was always going to be a risk for the series when introducing aero kits that one supplier would hit the sweet spot and leave the rest to be the first of the losers. Managing the coming months and seasons to keep existing manufacturers interested and to avoid completely deterring potential entrants, is arguably a bigger challenge than turning around Honda’s season.

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