2020 was clearly Honda’s best season since engine competition cam back to the series in 2012. Scott Dixon won the driver’s championship and Honda sealed the manufacturer’s title October 25 at St. Petersburg, and Takuma Sato won the Indy 500. 2020 was the first time Honda won the manufacturer’s Triple Crown of the Indy 500, driver’s championship, and manufacturer’s championship since 2005.
It was the third straight manufacturer’s title for Honda, which lost the first six of this era of competition to Chevy-Ilmor.
Since the end of the season, the lineups for next year have also become more apparent. We’ll discuss this in the context of a few unofficial “awards” below:
Persistence award: To Indycar and new owner Penske Media, for managing to get 14 races in. There were lots of changes and modifications along the way, including too many races on the Indy Road Course (3), too many at Iowa (2) and Gateway (2). I was betting on no more than 10 races.
In the end, no one made much money, but the series did not lose any teams and it looks like there will be an increase in cars for 2021.
Blinding start award: Scott Dixon (Ganassi-Honda) and Honda won their championships over the first half of the season.
Dixon won the first three race of the season, and four of the first eight. Combine that with a second-place in the double-points Indy 500 and he built an insurmountable lead. Honda won six of the first eight races (including the Indy 500) and built an even wider margin.
Ganassi adjusted better than any other team to the combination of nearly no testing, reduction in practice time, and the addition of the Aeroscreen on the cars. The Ganassi cars rolled off the transporter fast and stayed that way while everyone else looked puzzled.
Comeback award: Josef Newgarden (Penske-Chevy) and Chevy did as much as they could toward the end of the season, but the leads of Honda and Dixon were practically insurmountable. Chevy won five of the last six races (Newgarden won three).
Overall, neither contest should have been that close due to a number of unforced errors on the part of the Honda drivers, especially at St. Petersburg.
Most disappointing team: Andretti Autosport. All the things that worked in favor of Ganassi worked against Andretti. My thinking is that Andretti went the wrong direction in research and development in the off season, both in its road course set-up and its oval setup. Mistakes like that take track time to fix, and there just wasn’t much track time available. By the end of the season, the team was scoring podiums and won one race (Colton Herta led a Honda podium sweep at Mid-Ohio) and the team should have dominated St. Pete.
By far the biggest disappointment for Andretti was wasting a Honda year at Indy. To refresh your memory, Honda had eight of the nine qualifying positions, and eight of the top 10 finishers in the race.
While Marco Andretti was on the pole and there were plenty of Andretti cars in the top nine qualifiers, their top car in the race was seventh. That was behind representatives of the other three Honda teams (Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Ganassi, and Dale Coyne). The Andretti cars were nowhere in the race which is awful for a team that has built its reputation on its Indy 500 prowess.
Looking Ahead to 2021
From the manufacturer’s standpoint, not much will change for 2021: Same car, same engines with very few changes for 2021 and 2022 the closest thing to a development freeze until a new Hybrid powertrain is scheduled for 2023.
This seems to be allowing the manufacturers to service a couple more cars each for 2021. The state of play between the manufacturers seems to be relatively close, with an edge to Honda. Honda has an accepted Fuel Mileage advantage and the engine is a lot smoother accelerating out of the lower end of the rev band. It is rumored that the Honda’s torque curve is wider. Finally, Honda seems to be better able to deal with heat soak than Chevy. During qualifying for the Indy 500, I heard that the Chevy teams had to take their cars back to the garage and give them them a dry ice bath between runs, while the Hondas were able to sit in pit lane in full sun and run anytime they wanted.
Chevy was thought to have more horsepower at top end, but Honda’s performance at the Indy 500 is making people question that assumption.
With the engines being relatively close, the strength of the teams will likely be the deciding factor. This season saw the emergence of Arrow-McLaren SP as a player for Chevy. While Andretti’s underperformance hurt Honda. At the end of the season, there was some unexpected driver shuffling that probably make the Chevy teams slightly stronger. But if Andretti performs as expected, Honda should again have the best driver lineup.
- Marcus Ericcson
- Scott Dixon
- Alex Palou (Replacing Felix Rosenqvist, Formerly Coyne)
- Jimmie Johnson (Road/Street) and Tony Kanaan on Ovals
- Marco Andretti
- Alexander Rossi
- Colton Herta
- Ryan Hunter-Reay
- TBD (very likely James Hinchcliffe replacing Zach Veach)
- Jack Harvey (full season)
- Helio Castroneves (Six Races, maybe a couple more)
- Takuma Sato
- Graham Rahal
Dale Coyne Racing
- TBD (replacing Alex Palou)
- TBD , rumored to be Pietro Fittipaldi (with Vasser-Sullivan)
- Josef Newgarden
- Will Power
- Simon Pagenaud
- Scott McLaughlin*
- Pato O’Ward
- Felix Rosenqvist (formerly Ganassi)
Ed Carpenter Racing
- Conor Daily (Road/Street courses plus Indy 500)/Ed Carpenter Ovals.
- Renus VeeKay
- Sebastian Bourdais
- Dalton Kellett
- Max Chilton (Road/Street),
- Conor Daly Ovals except Indy 500
The 2021 schedule has been announced, but it is probably not worth considering until February. My expectation is that there will be no Indycar races run this season without fans. The reason is the series and its promoters make most of their money from ticket sales and on-site promotional fees. If there are no fans, no money comes in. After last season, neither the series nor the promoters who ran races without fans in 2020 can do it in 2021. So, if a race promoter thinks its existing date would be subject to COVID restrictions, they will either cancel the race or change it. Already one date has been changed as the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach was moved from April to September and is now the season finale.
In the early season, I expect St. Pete to happen, because Florida is pretty lax about COVID restrictions. The race at Barber could be a tougher call, largely because Honda (which sponsors the race) would not want to take any chances. Given the schedule of the track, that race might not be able to be rescheduled, and might result in another double-header at Road America in June.
In similar danger would be the Indy 500. Penske Corp can’t afford to run another one of those without fans. And they would likely move it rather than run it with attendance restrictions.