Qualification weekend was not a strong point for Honda teams in the Indy 500. Both of the cars that got “bumped” out of the field were Hondas (Pippa Mann and James Hinchcliffe). And only two of the top 9 cars that ran for pole Sunday were Hondas. In short, Honda got smoked.
How did that happen when Honda has had the edge at Indy for the last two seasons? There are a couple of theories floating around: 1. Chevy found some top end power since last year. 2. The strength of the Honda package last year at Indy was the Honda Aerokit, not the engine. This year, both Honda and Chevy are using a new, universal aerokit. 3. The new universal Aerokit is more similar to last year’s Chevy Aerokit than the Honda Aerokit. This theory is bolstered by the fact that the two top Honda teams (Coyne and Ganassi) have recent engineering experience with the Chevy Aerokit.
What about the race?
No matter what happened in qualifying, the question of the race remains. Examining Honda v. Chevy for the race breaks down like this.
TOP END POWER: Chevy has an advantage. Whether they can use it in the race is another story. For instance, many of the Chevy drivers have been complaining about not being able to pass when the cars are in groups. I have not heard that so much from the Honda contingent.
FUEL MILEAGE: Honda has had an advantage for the last two seasons. And it seems to be assumed that they will also have one in the race Sunday. If Honda does have an advantage, you will see Chevys going into Fuel Save mode almost from the drop of the Green Flag. If this is the case, you will see a bunch of Hondas moving up in the order. In particular you should watch the Andrettis (Hunter-Reay, Rossi, Andretti, Veach, Munoz and Wilson). If they have generally moved up a few spots each, then you are seeing the effects of Fuel Mileage. HOWEVER , the number of cautions affects how important fuel mileage is. The fewer cautions, the more mileage matters. If all the Hondas can go 2-3 laps more than the Chevys on full power, it does not matter that the Chevys have more top end. Similarly, if there are a lot of restarts, or if there is a restart with less than 40 laps remaining, fuel mileage will not matter.
DRIVEABILITY: How is this a factor? In order to pass into turns 1 and 3 (which are the only places you can really pass at Indy), you have to start 1 or two turns before that. If the Hondas are smoother than the Chevys accelerating out of turns 2 and 4, that can make up for the superior top end of the Chevys.
Overall, I think the Honda v. Chevy thing is 60-40 Chevy. Mainly because I think this year in this race, Chevy has more good cars. If a Honda wins it, it’s going to be someone like Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Alex Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti or Carlos Munoz. The Rahal team and the SPM team is clearly lost. My Honda dark horse is Zachary Claman De Melo.
It will be interesting to see how it plays out. But if the Chevys have gotten their mileage act together, it will be a long day for Honda.