Honda on the upswing
Just a month ago, Honda looked like the poor stepchild in IZOD IndyCar Series racing. Sure, it had won a few races on road courses, but failed to repeat at the Indianapolis 500 and was getting drenched by insults from team owner Chip Ganassi.
The tide changed at Pocono, where Scott Dixon took the checkered flags for Honda and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, a feat he would repeat twice in Toronto. Then Charlie Kimball earned his maiden Indy car victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last weekend in the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone Indy car.
All along Honda has felt the pain of its decision to go with a single, larger BorgWarner turbocharger, rather than the twin turbos adopted by Chevrolet (and Lotus, when they made their lame entry in 2012). Although Dario Franchitti won his third Indy 500 last year using the Honda single-turbo setup, the brand that carried INDYCAR through the latter half of the last decade and into this one never had the strength to nab the championship, ceding to Chevrolet and to Ryan Hunter-Reay with Andretti Autosport.
It looked plenty dismal at the beginning of this year and, less than a month ago the series decided to take its own steps to bring Honda and Chevrolet closer together in on-track competition. Declining to give Honda any leverage with its single turbocharger setup, INDYCAR decided to mandate a twin-turbo system for all cars beginning next year.
Derrick Walker, president of competition and operations explained, “In an effort for parity throughout the turbocharger range, mandating only a twin turbo system simplifies our efforts to ensure even closer competition. Both manufacturers displayed a willingness to use a common turbo spec for 2014, so it made sense to mandate a twin turbocharger that maintains the performance we’ve come to expect, while keeping the technology relevant to the automotive industry.”
On the other hand, “Our preference would have been to stay with the single [turbo] arrangement,” said Roger Griffiths, Honda Performance Development (HPD) technical director, “but only if IndyCar was prepared to ensure that there was parity between the two solutions.” As they were unable to guarantee this, Honda had no choice but to go with the twin turbo setup.
This will be a costly change for HPD to implement the Dallara twin-turbo bell housing. As they re-homologate heads, cams, valves, fuel system and induction for the 2014 season, there will be major work for HPD to do around the plenum area, in particular, as well as the exhaust system and new calibrations to suit the twin turbo setup, Griffiths said.
While the Honda troops had been long in the face for much of the early season, it’s apparent that some work has been in process on the current system back in Santa Clarita, Calif., where HPD has its headquarters. Parity appeared by Mid-Ohio, although Chevy seems to have an upper hand in qualifying for most races. The competition between these two engine makers is tied at 105 points each, with four races remaining.
It will be interesting to see what happens with both engine makers at next week’s manufacturer test on the Sonoma Raceway road course that hosts the next round of the IZOD indyCar Series. While testing is just testing, it can also be a precursor for what transpires in races.
Words and Photos by Anne Proffit