I hate when people are self-referential. Hate it. But I am going to do that now, so if you hate the practice as much as I do, I apologize in advance.
In my preview for how the Indy 500 might play out ( https://motorsports.vtec.net/blog/200/can-honda-turn-chevy-tide-indy-500/ ) I opined that Honda’s fuel mileage advantage could negate Chevy’s obvious top end power advantage:
[I]“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.”[/I]
That didn’t happen in the Indy 500 (because no one could pass). But it did happen in Texas Saturday night. Although the Three Penske-Chevys were clearly the class of the field (qualifying 1-2-3 by a big margin), Honda dominated the race from about lap 73 onward and the race finished with Simon Pagenaud in second place, floating in a sea of Hondas.
If you want to see how you turn fuel mileage into speed, go to the NBC Sports site or the Indycar YouTube channel and watch laps 73 to 95. At lap 73, the three Penskes (Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud) were leading Robert Wickens in his SPM Honda. It was at this point that the race changed. The Penskes had all just seen the Hondas run several laps further on a fuel stint than the Chevys could, and at nearly full power. If you did the math, it was obvious that unless something changed, the Hondas would be able to make the race distance on three pit stops, while the Penskes were going to have to make four.
So around Lap 73, all the Penske cars went into fuel-save mode. How much difference did that make? I chose to compare the laps of Pagenaud to Wickens from 73 to 95. I chose Pagenaud because he was having less trouble with his right front tire blistering than his teammates. And Pagenaud was in front at the time. Wickens was about 8 seconds back in fourth place. Pagenaud had pitted on lap 63. Wickens on Lap 67. So the difference in tire wear difference should not have mattered much.
From Lap 73 until Wickens took the lead on lap 95, Pagenaud averaged 211.9 mph. Wickens average 215.17. Enough for Wickens to make up .38 seconds per lap, or 8.7 seconds for the period we are looking at. This includes passing both Newgarden and Power as well as Pagenaud.
It wasn’t just those two. All the major Hondas were moving up the standings, while the Chevys, in fuel-save mode, moved down. By the time Pagenaud and Power pitted at lap 119, they had also been passed by Scott Dixon and Alex Rossi. By the time the Pit stops were though and everyone had stopped a second time, (the Honda’s went another eight laps), Pagenaud was six. So he went from first to sixth on fuel mileage in the middle of the race. The Hondas as a group were able to go at least six miles further on a tank of fuel. In fact, Pagenaud drove a heckuva race to finish second (aided by a very slow pit stop by Rossi, who finished third). Charlie Kimball was the only other Chevy in the top 10, finishing 10th.
As you might expect, Scott Dixon, the king of fuel mileage, won the race and took the lead in the championship over Rossi in second and Power in third.
Though he had the fastest car, Wickens did not win the race. He collided with Ed Carpenter about half way through taking both of them out.
THE REST OF THE SEASON:
After the Detroit races, I wrote that the Texas race would be key in determining how good a chance Honda has of winning its first manufacturer title since Chevy joined in 2012. And the Texas Race would determine the shape of the driver’s title chase. Well, because of Honda’s mileage-fueled domination of Texas, the manufacturer race is now Honda’s to lose. With Hondas finishing first and third and Chevy finishing second and 10th (the top two cars count for manufacturer points), Honda added 29 points to its advantage and now leads by 132 points (757-625).
On the driver’s side, there are two Honda drivers at the top: Dixon and Rossi. Dixon’s Ganassi team is rounding into form with Dixon finishing second (GP of Indy), third (Indy 500), first (Detroit 1), fourth (Detroit 2), and first (Texas). Rossi’s Andretti team has been on its game most of the year. And Rossi has been a driver to be reckoned with at every event.
The first Chevy driver, Power, is 36 points behind Dixon, which is effectively a one-race margin. Rossi is 13 points ahead of Power.
Going forward, it’s important to remember that a fuel mileage advantage only trumps power on tracks where you can pass, and in races without a lot of yellows. The next race at Road America (June 24, I’ll be there) should be interesting. With its four-mile laps fuel mileage is always a challenge. But judging by Texas, the Hondas should be able to go at least a lap farther on fuel, if not two, which is HUGE at Road America. But the “National Park of Speed” is also a power-sucking monster, with several good spots to pass. Road America is also wide open, so there are not usually a lot of cautions.
Dixon used Honda’s mileage advantage to win it last year, when Penske had a clear speed advantage. Rossi should also be strong this year. First, he’s been strong everywhere. Second, Rossi is testing at Road America this week, while Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais are off at Le Mans with the Ford-Ganassi GT team.
It will be a good watch. I have heard some simulations have the cars hitting 200-plus MPH going down the hill into Turn 5. Which is where I will be watching the race.