So, who’s going to win the Indy 500? And does Honda have a chance? And what should you look for?
Let’s start with the weather. All month the Chevys have been better on the oval when the weather gets warmer. The Hondas have been much more competitive early in the day. So if it’s hot and sunny, things don’t look good for Honda, generally. I say this despite what Allen Miller from HPD says in various stories. He claims heat will be good for Honda. I have not seen it, and I have watched way too much practice the last two weeks.
Then we can talk about possible strengths of the Honda package:
Fuel Mileage: Many of these 500-mile races end up being fuel mileage runs. Honda has had a mileage advantage much of the season. If that shows up during the 500, it could be very significant. So watch how long the leaders of the race stay out on the first stint, especially if it is Green for a long time (which is what I would expect). If the Honda’s can stay out 33-35 laps to Chevy’s 30-32, that is significant. If any of the Honda’s can stay out 34 laps at green race speed, they can make the race in six pit stops. That could save them a pit stop somewhere, which at Indy is good for about a lap under green and a lot of track position under yellow. I expect that someone will try that. Maybe Ryan Briscoe, who is driving for James Hinchcliffe and is starting in the back row with one of Honda’s better cars.
Tire wear: On road courses, the rear tires of the Chevys have burned up pretty fast, especially when it’s hot. If you are watching timing and scoring online (which I recommend), keep an eye on how much the Chevy lap speeds drop off when their stints get into the 20s. Then look at the Hondas. You would think they would go faster as the fuel burns off. But the opposite is true. The cars go fastest when the tires are new. They will slow down as they age. If the Hondas are faster than the Chevys at the end of fuel runs, this could predict who will be better at the end of the race.
Passing: One of the big unknowns is how the cars with the new aerokits will race each other on an oval. One place to look at this is how quickly the leaders can get around slower traffic, especially slower cars of the other manufacturer. When Scott Dixon gets behind a slower Honda, how long does it take him to get by? How many places can he pass a car? You assume they can cut people off on the inside going into a corner. But can they pass anywhere else? Can they go inside on a straight and still make the corner. Can they run two wide, or three wide? Does the driver seem to lose control because the car in front has reduced the down force on his front wings? This is a critical area because the Hondas and the Chevys used very different concepts on their front wings. The Chevys were clearly trying to reduce drag. The Hondas not so much. How will it work out? Who knows?
General handling: The Chevy drivers have complained more than the Honda drivers about their cars being twitchy. From what I have read, it sounds like the Honda’s sweet spot might be a bit wider. It’s a long race. If the weather changes (temperature, cloud cover, etc.) that can swing things away from some cars, no matter the make.
How to watch the race: I recommend watching live, but the ABC commentators are not “helpful” if you want to know what’s going on. You can try Indycar Radio, but I can only listen to that for about 10 minutes at a time. The website is Indycar Radio Link . To fill that gap, I highly recommend following live timing and scoring on racecontrol.indycar.com . Pick maybe four cars to track. I recommend Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and two Hondas of your choice. Keep an eye on them during the race using live timing. Track the Last Lap Speed ( LLS ) to see how they are doing and get an idea of how they are dealing with changing conditions. And look at the gap between them and the car in front. When they get within a second, do they get stuck, or can they quickly get past?
How will the race play out? If the Hondas are going to play the fuel mileage card, what you want to see is Justin Wilson (the front-most Honda, starting sixth) keeping in touch is the five top Chevys and perhaps trying to pass them. This would force the Chevys to run hard and use more fuel, or drop back to save fuel. If the Chevys let him by, then they are also playing a fuel game. If you are looking for a Honda advantage, it would show up about lap 30 (assuming there are no yellow flags before then). If Honda has a big advantage, you would see five or more Hondas in the top 10 and you would see the leading Chevys pit multiple laps before the top Hondas do. On the other hand, if at lap 30 there are no Hondas in the top 10 and all the cars of both makes pit on the same lap, it’s gonna be a long afternoon.
Who’s going to win? Something tells me it’s Scott Dixon’s year. He has been so solid since practice started, and he does not look like he’s trying that hard.
Of the Honda drivers, Graham Rahal has been on a roll of late, but I have to wonder about the team. He had a great car in qualifying, only to have his run ruined by a transmission gear selector (these cars shift most laps, by the way). The best Honda team for the last few years has been Andretti. They know what they are doing at Indy (they finished with four of the top six cars last year). And the best Andretti driver has been Justin Wilson. Also, he has a record of finishing the race. And you can’t rule out Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz, who has had a strange affinity for the track since he first set foot on it.
Two in a row for Ryan Hunter-Reay? I don’t think he’s feelin’ it right now.
The Honda wild card is Takuma Sato. He’s out to win this race, and he will take chances.
My pick is Dixon, with Rahal finishing second for the third straight race, nipping at Dixon’s heels as Dixon nearly runs out of fuel.
For HPD , this is a huge race. They spent millions developing the aerokit and engine for this race and this race alone, sacrificing road course performance in the process. I can’t help thinking that heads might role if this ends badly for Honda.