Honda has IndyCar upper hand for 2018

The last two IndyCar seasons have been tough for Honda. Now the Japanese brand has the upper hand for 2017 and importantly, the upper hand for 2018 as well.

Better engine and better aero from Honda

Honda made significant progress during the past off season. Chevrolet  had them beaten in terms of engine performance, driveability and aero performance since 2014. Fast forward to 2017 and Honda have gained performance whilst maintaining their almost trademark fuel efficiency. The freeze on aero development this season forced Honda to focus on engine performance to overcome bodywork “inefficiencies”. Two wins from two races also suggested they have sorted some of the pitch sensitivity issues with their aero kit that plagued most teams.

James Hinchcliffe IndyCar Long Beach Honda
James Hinchcliffe took Honda’s 2nd win of the 2017 IndyCar season at Long Beach.

Honda are no longer just fast at Indy

Honda remains the package to have at Indianapolis. After two wins on street courses – exactly the type of track they struggled at in 2015 and 2016 – they might have the complete package. Make no mistake, every Honda team should be in contention for wins at pretty much all tracks the Verizon IndyCar series visits this year. Which represents a significant shift in the balance of power between IndyCar’s two car brands.

Team Penske along with Ed Carpenter Racing (and AJ Foyt if they can get their act together) will keep Chevy honour up this season. But Penske and ECR  will find themselves in unfamiliar territory; playing catch up.

Honda teams powering up for Indianapolis

In an interview with David Malsher, Will Power’s engineer Dave Faustino recently confirmed the suspicion that Honda have made significant engine progress over the winter. Speaking after recent tests at Indianapolis, Faustino commented:

“We felt like we were at a bit of a deficit last year, and it seems like Honda has improved since then. So we’re a bit worried, and hoping Chevy can respond. We’ve got to hope that the step they make is big enough.”

Simon Pagenaud Team Penske IndyCar
According to Dave Faustino, defending champion Simon Pagenaud & his Penske teammates have plenty of reasons to worry about Honda Image: (c) Team Penske

Honda the engine to beat in IndyCar 2018?

The real clincher is of course that this season is the swan song for IndyCar’s much-maligned aero kits. After 3 consecutive seasons of Chevy dominance – albeit not at Indianapolis – we return to a standard aero kit for all teams in 2018. Suddenly Honda’s engine performance gains take on a new significance.

IndyCar 2018 car concept aero kit
Image: (c) IndyCar

IndyCar from 2018 onwards will be an engine formula as far as Chevrolet and Honda are concerned. Undoubtedly both will ‘support’ their teams in maximising the performance of the new, standard aero kit. But engine performance will be the battleground for IndyCar’s two official engine manufacturers going forward. And Honda have put themselves in pole position for 2018

Back in October of last year, many were scratching their heads at the decision by Chip Ganassi Racing to switch to Honda for 2017. Suddenly it looks like the smartest IndyCar off season move in quite some time.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Stephen W. says:

    I’m fascinated by this post, admittedly I’ve lost touch a little bit with Indy racing over the past year or so, however the link to Alonso’s decision to race is now becoming more clear in my view.

    I read that McLaren have entered the Honda powered car with the Andretti team and that presumably is not just for Alonso to have a crack at the Triple Crown, but for them to see how good Honda’s Indy motor is. That will then translate into big improvements in the F1 motor rather like the Cosworth DFV and DFY motors sharing the same foundation a few decades ago.

    This is a smart move as it gives Alonso first hand experience of the differences which he can then translate for the engineers. I hope Alonso has a great race at Indy – it will make the latter part of the F1 season much more exciting if he can help Honda take a great Indy motor and apply that knowledge to the F1 version.


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