In my last post, I pointed out that while the lap times favored the Chevy-powered Indycar teams, that Honda appeared to have two advantages:
- Fuel Mileage
- Grunt/drivability coming out of slow corners
Both of those showed up (accompanied by a large quantity of racing luck) in the results from NOLA Motorsports Park where James Hinchcliffe won the race and Honda drivers finished 1-3-4 (James Jakes 3rd, Simona deSilvestro 4th).
Honda leads the Manufacturer’s Point race 187-8. That’s about a 2-to-3 race lead.
All the competitors started the race with rain tires on. Hinchcliffe pitted to switch from rain tires to slicks at lap 13, and made the fuel last till lap 47, when the race was called due to a series-imposed time limit of 110 minutes.
The key strategic decision was Hincliffe staying out on Lap 33 when almost all of the leaders decided to pit under one of the numerous yellow flags. The Schmidt-Peterson team was gambling on rain cutting the race short. The rain never came, but many yellow flags did, shortening the race as well as rain would have.
By staying out at Lap 33, Hinchcliffe advanced from 9th to 1st inheriting the lead from Penske’s Juan Montoya. This is also the point at which deSilvestro, who pitted on Lap 30, went from P19 to P6.
A couple laps later deSilvestro moved up to fifth when Carlos Huertas pitted. She passed Tony Kanaan under green to end up fourth.
So that’s a Surprise win for Honda under gloomy conditions. Earlier in the weekend Honda teams were looking at the gloom that rears its head when you are outclassed on the track. And let me tell you, it’s hard to find any good news from Friday’s practice, the only dry session of the weekend.
Chevy took the top EIGHT spots in the Friday practice, and the fastest Honda (Hinchcliffe) was SIX TENTHS of a second off the fast Chevy time. That is a lifetime in Indycar racing. Worse, there was no cause for optimism in the section times. Chevy topped Honda in all the significant section times and all the trap speed areas. Not by a lot in some cases. But it was significant.
On a team-by-team basis, the same pattern prevailed: Andretti seems to be lost, despite the strategy call that propelled deSilvestro (who is not racing at Long Beach) into the top five. The Schmidt-Peterson tandem of Hinchcliffe and Jakes seems to be making progress, as is Gabby Chaves for BHA . Foyt seemed to take a step back.
Graham Rahal’s form is also improving. He started 10th, then ran as high as Fourth before getting shuffled back on pit stops and restarts and finishing 8th.
What to make of Long Beach? The two things that the Honda’s seem to be able to do are make mileage and out drag the Chevy’s out of slow corners. The best place to pass at Long Beach is the long Shoreline Drive section out of the tightest hairpin in the series. Last year, The Andretti cars and Honda generally were well positioned to win the race last year teams until RHR took himself, Hinchcliffe (then his teammate) and Josef Newgarden out to hand the race to Mike Conway. Also, Takuma Sato has won there for Foyt.
The issue this year will be qualifying. If the best Honda is eighth (like the NOLA practice), or even fifth (like St. Pete), then they’ll be back to playing alternate fuel strategies to try to gain track position. Sometimes, like at NOLA , that works. That’s the strategy that won for Conway at Long Beach last year.
Unless the Honda teams have found something significant in the new car’s setup, this is more likely to be a re-run of the St. Pete results, which was like a two-class sportscar race. With the Hondas decidedly out-classed.
I am expecting a long weekend for the Honda Indycar teams.
In the IMSA race on Saturday, it will be interesting to see how the Mike Shank Ligier-Honda does against the DP competition. With only 17 cars entered, traffic should not be a problem and the car is FAST .
Maybe HPD should talk to Onroak (the Ligier manufacturer) about taking a fresh look at the Indycar aerokit?