Both Honda and Chip Ganassi Racing are off to a dominant start of the 2020 Indycar season, winning the first four races. Scott Dixon won Race #1 at Road America Saturday to sweep the first 3 2020 races, before finishing 12th in Race #2 Sunday. He now has a commanding lead in the Driver’s Championship and Honda has a commanding lead in the manufacturer’s race.
Sunday, second-year Ganassi Driver Felix Rosenqvist muscled his way past Pato O’Ward on the second-to-last lap to win his first Indycar race. O’Ward had dominated the race, leaving Rosenqvist to close down an 8-second lead over the last two stints before the pass. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a look:
Some notes follow including a couple things I noticed at the Road America event:
Despite his 12th place finish Sunday, Dixon has a 54-point lead over Andretti-Honda driver Colton Hera in second. That is more than a full race worth of points.
Herta has been the unheralded story this season. He is the only driver to finish in the top 10 of all four races. If he wins a couple (and he can win any race), he can leap into contention.
Simon Pagenaud is the highest-ranking Chevy driver 9 points behind Herta. The fact that he is third at this point is a testament to his consistency. There are a lot of drivers between 87 and 110 points, so there is a lot of opportunity for anyone who gets hot.
Alexander Rossi’s third-place finish in race 2 at Road America brought his total to 66, which at least places him in shouting distance of contention.
With two dominant performances at Road America (a track that does not normally favor Honda to that extent), Honda has a 92-point lead over Chevy.
Manufacturer points are awarded based on the top two cars for each event. So, for the Texas race, Honda earned 5 points for winning the race, 53 points for Dixon winning and 33 points for Andretti’s Zach Veach finishing fourth. A total of 91. Chevy got 40 for Pagenaud finishing second and 37 for Newgarden in third. A total of 77. That 14-point spread is fairly typical for manufacturer points in Indycar.
Compare that to the Road America races and you can see how Honda picked up the big points lead. While Chevy finished second in both races (Will Power Saturday and O’Ward Sunday) their next cars were well down the list. Honda finished First and Third both days for 91 points in each race. Chevy’s second car Saturday was O’Ward (eighth) and the second car Sunday was Josef Newgarden (ninth) for 65 points and 66. The points gain by Honda was 26 and 25 points, much more than the normal 12-to-15 gap. So that 92 point lead is effectively a 5-6 race lead. The only race with greater than normal points is the Indy 500 (see below).
Why is has Honda been dominant?
Part of Honda’s Dominance at Road America is clearly bad choices on the part of Team Penske.
Another part has clearly been the revamp of the engineering staff at Chip Ganassi racing that we blogged about last week. Ganassi has been mighty prepared for these quick races with little practice. Much better than anyone else.
But I believe there are a couple of things about the Honda package that are working particularly well about now.
Fuel mileage It’s been an article of faith that Honda gets better fuel mileage than Chevy. Which gives the Honda cars more flexibility as to when the stop, which opens more options for race strategy.
In Saturday’s race, Scott Dixon stopped a lap earlier than his rivals to take advantage of clean air once he rejoined the race. In Sunday’s race, Rosenqvist stopped one lap later than O’Ward on every stop. And at the end of the race, his tires were one-lap fresher and he did not have to save fuel. Both things cost O’Ward, who had to hit a fuel number, even on the last lap. And his tires were shot.
Driveability I made a point of hunting down evidence of a driveability advantage at Road America and actually found something. During the qualifying sessions, I sat on the inside of Canada Corner, where the cars come down a long stretch, slam on the brakes and then jump on the accelerator.
of the Honda’s what I heard was smooth increase in revs: one long
gaining pitch as the engine revved. For all of the Chevy’s I heard some version of Wow-wow-wow. It was consistent and very distinct. As if the drivers could not control the power. This was somewhat less pronounced on the Penske cars, but it was still there.
Not only would this make a Honda easier to drive, but it would affect the rear tires. Which could explain why the times of the Chevy runners (particularly O’Ward) seemed to drop off at the end of stints. This probably can be driven around for one lap, and could explain why Chevy has won all four poles but been mostly nowhere in three of the races.
What about the Indy 500?
It’s a big race and it is not too early to look forward to August 23. What do we think we have learned?
The good news: The race that is most similar to Indy would be Texas. And the Ganassi cars of Dixon and Rosenqvist just kicked the snot out of everyone else. The same race last year was won by Josef Newgarden, though that was something of a fluke.
The bad news: If you look at the other test of pure power we have seen so far, the Chevy’s were just a little bit faster than the Hondas on the long straights of the Indy GP.
Does the overall dominance of Ganassi win out? Probably. The Texas race was just nuts. As was the Indy GP.
Next on the Calendar
Iowa double header, which should be both hotter and more strenuous for the teams. July 17 and 18 at 8:30 Eastern Time on NBCSN . That is followed by the Honda Company Picnic that is Mid-Ohio August 9. Then the Indy 500.
Will the Honda dominance continue? Last year Newgarden and Power dominated the Iowa race. So If Ganassi really has something, we will know next week. By the way, Dixon and Rosenqvist finished 1-2 at Mid-Ohio.