- Eight of the top 10 in the drivers’ championship are Honda drivers. Rossi is the leader by 22 points with three podiums in three races.
- If you look at podiums for the first three races, seven of the nine are Hondas.
- If you carry that out to the top five in of the first three races, 13 of the 15 places are Hondas.
- Honda is leading the manufacturer’s race by 70 points: 263-193.
- The manufacturer’s race is still Penske vs. the Honda world. Only Penske cars have scored manufacturer points for Chevy (the two highest finishing cars score manufacturer points). All the Honda teams have scored points. Which shows a lot of breadth and depth among the Honda runners.
So, what did we learn?
Honda has Chevy covered on Street Courses
Honda has two advantages that show up on street courses:
2) Fuel Mileage
Driveability is best seen using a couple of section times from the race. The best place to pass someone is at the end of the front straight. In order to do that, you have to put the power down cleanly after exiting the hairpin leading onto the straight. In section parlance, you can look at the times from I7 to I8, which is from the exit of the hairpin to about pit in. Honda cars had the top SEVEN times for that section. Which means they are consistently winning the hole shot.
Similarly you could look at the results of the start-finish speed trap. Honda had seven of the top 10 cars there.
The best example of fuel mileage is Rossi. The race was 85 laps. To make it in two stops, you would divide it into two 28-lap segments and a 29. Rossi stopped at 25. Which means he was confident he could do two 30-lap stints if he had to. He ended up doing 31 and 29. The only Chevy that ran a similar two-stop strategy was Will Power, who is known for his ability to stretch fuel runs. He stopped on 30 (remember the race started with a few laps under a yellow flag), which meant he was not very confident of making more than 28 on his next two stints. In fact he did 29 (with some more yellow) and 26.
For Honda, Veach and Andretti also did two stops.
Penske vs. the Honda World
This race was the second in a row showing how Penske and Chevy are in trouble this year, both from the standpoint of the manufacturer’s championship and the Driver’s championship. Again, the most interesting thing to look at is mishaps.
Remember, Chevy has three main bullets in its gun: Penske drivers Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. At Long Beach, Pagenaud was knocked out in the first corner. Newgarden got relegated to the middle of the field because of bad luck with Yellow flags. Power remained competitive, and benefited from a couple Yellow flags combined with some Brain Dead pit stop maneuvers by Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon. Ryan Hunter-Reay had more bad luck than is really fair. Wickens’ transmission controller broke, I am not sure what happened to Hinchcliffe, and Sato had a bad weekend.
So Chevy “lost” two of its best three cars. And Honda lost several of its best. This left Rossi and Power racing for the win. With Four Hondas behind Power: Ed Jones (Ganassi), Zach Veach (Andretti), Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti. The second Chevy was Newgarden in seventh.
The result was that Honda extended its lead.
The Alexander Rossi Show
Rossi dominated the weekend in a way that gets people’s attention. Will Power anointed him as the driver to beat (which must have annoyed teammate Newgarden). But is that what Alex is after? Don’t be surprised if somewhere along the way, Rossi is invited to test the F1 Toro Rosso Honda. Between his performance in Indycar and Brendan Hartley’s struggles in F1 ….
Sea-Bass can still wheel it
If you have not seen it, go to this link and watch the embedded videos, and don’t forget to read the story:
Clearly the move of the year so far in all Motorsport. And Bourdais is fun when he’s not holding back.
NEXT UP: The first Road Course
We’ll get a big read on the rest of the season this weekend when Indycar goes to Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. This should be the best chance for Chevy to counter-punch; qualifying is always key and that has always been a Chevy strength. Honda’s drivability advantage could be negated here and, if anyplace is set up for a Chevy podium sweep, this is it. Barber should be an interesting indicator and a bellwether for the six road courses on the schedule.
But what of the Mileage advantage? That could be the ace in the hole, and it could be a bigger advantage than we think it is. This is based on the fact that the Chevy teams are openly fretting about it. Both Will Power and Josef Newgarden openly talked about it Sunday. And Larry Foyt talked about it being a concern. He did not know if either of his cars could even entertain a two-stop strategy at Long Beach.
So how does this play out at Barber? Let’s assume for a minute that Newgarden is on the pole. For Race strategy, the Honda pit window should be wider. So let’s say that Newgarden leads the race and Rossi is second. How do you get around Newgarden?
One way is to pit at the opening of Honda’s wider two-stop window and do an F1-style over-under. At Long Beach, Rossi pitted FIVE LAPS before Power. At Long Beach, this was defensive against the possibility of a caution. But at Barber, it might be offensive.
So say Rossi pits three laps before Newgarden and then runs qualifying-type laps on new tires while Newgarden is struggling to last an extra three laps on worn out Red tires AND saving fuel. The Honda Driver’s advantage would be new tires and the fact that he doesn’t have to save fuel, while Newgarden does. So when Newgarden pits, Rossi is ahead and drives off into the magnolias.
And this could play out with any of the leading Hondas: Rossi, Dixon, Bourdais, Sato, Rahal. So it gets into to Penske vs. the World issue as well.
That’s the kind of thing that played out throughout the field in Long Beach and St. Pete.
And if one of the Hondas is on the pole at Barber (how long has it been since a Honda was on pole at a Road Course?), then Chevy has very little chance to do anything about it. You can see that in how Wickens in St. Pete and Rossi at Long Beach were able to drive away. If a leading Honda would never have to go into fuel save mode, while a second-place Chevy would almost immediately. That’s how you get seven-second gaps between cars with similar one-lap pace.
So far this year we have seen that Honda is dominant on street courses and there is no foreseeable reason to think that Honda won’t dominate the next three street races (Detroit 1, Detroit 2 and Toronto). The short ovals appear to be about even, where they were a big advantage for Chevy last season. There are two of those left: Iowa and Gateway. That leaves super speedways where we don’t know who will have an advantage. There are three three super speedways: Indy, Texas, and Pocono.
So far so good for Honda to possibly win its first manufacturer title since competition started in 2012.