Honda frantically trying to catch Chevy before Indy 500
LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Honda Racing stuck with its longtime tradition of gathering its IndyCar drivers the day after the Grand Prix of Long Beach for visits to three of its California offices.
They had little to celebrate Monday, though, not after Honda was smoked by rival manufacturer Chevrolet for the third time this season. Chevrolet claimed its third win in three IndyCar races this season with yet another dominating performance on Sunday.
After grabbing the first six spots in qualifying, Chevy drivers went on to sweep the podium. Only two Honda drivers finished inside the top 11, and through three races this year, the Chevy camp has led 422 laps to 18 for Honda.
With the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 rapidly closing in, Honda teams are downright scared they don't have a chance to win the biggest race of them all.
''I just want a fair shot,'' said Graham Rahal, who carried the Honda banner last season with two of the manufacturer's six victories and was the only Honda driver legitimately in the title race. ''There's too much money, there's too much sponsorship, there's too much on the line for us to show up and know the best that we're going to finish at the Indy 500 is 15th. That's not fair to our sponsors, it's not fair to us as teams.''
Chevrolet has steamrolled the competition since it returned to the series in 2012. The manufacturer has won three of the four championships since 2012, and two of four Indy 500s.
What is not clear is who is to blame for the unbalanced competition.
It's probably true that Honda incorrectly assessed Chevrolet's commitment to winning.
Honda got some satisfaction by winning the Indy 500 in 2012, and again in 2014, and it began to look like Indy is the only race that really matters to the manufacturer. If Honda executives can kiss the bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, then none of the other races really matter.
But the disparity has gotten wider since the introduction of the aerodynamic bodykits that debuted last year. Chevy was once again more competitive out of the gates. Things got political last May when three Chevrolet drivers went airborne during Indy 500 practice sessions, and there were rumblings that a flaw in Chevy's design was causing the cars to lift.
In a frantic effort to keep the cars on the track, IndyCar tinkered with some of the rules on pole day. Honda was a reluctant participant because the manufacturer thought the issue was a Chevy problem and its teams shouldn't be punished.
Chevy then swept the top four spots in the 500.
''It was obvious there were two different classes out there,'' said team owner Michael Andretti, who won the 2012 championship with Chevrolet and the 2014 Indy 500 with Honda.
During the offseason, IndyCar permitted Honda to make some changes to its aerokit in an effort to catch up to Chevrolet, but the updates haven't made a difference so far.
Then came word from IndyCar that it was instituting a rule change for the Indy 500 by requiring the use of domed skidplates on the cars in an effort to prevent them from going airborne. The average race fan will notice nothing different, but the Honda drivers complained the change made their cars difficult to handle in traffic during testing.
''It's just another hit to Honda,'' Andretti said. ''Chevy is already generating a lot more underbody downforce. The problem is, Chevy is not looking at the show, they are only looking at themselves. And I'm worried about the show. I want us to put on the best show ever. By doing some of these moves, IndyCar is hurting the chances and it's like, `Why?' and IndyCar says, `For safety.'
''Well, if you make the car harder to drive and guys are crashing because of that, I don't know if that sounds safer. OK, so the cars won't flip over when they get sideways, but Honda didn't have that problem, anyway. This whole thing was a Chevy problem and Honda has to adapt to it, and that's not fair.''
Chevy drivers have not complained about the domed skids, and noted that Honda drivers were faster than they were in the first Indy 500 test. Marco Andretti accused Chevy of sandbagging to make it look like they are behind Honda, and Rahal said any Chevy driver who claims they are happy with the domed skids has been ''programmed to message.''
''These guys that are saying that it's fine, like, they're not telling you the facts,'' Rahal said. ''If everybody wants to play games, then we can all play games.''
IndyCar is not to blame for this, and neither is Chevrolet. Honda has failed to keep up. With just over a month to go before the Indy 500, it is up to Honda to pull something out of its bag of tricks if it wants a shot at winning the historic race.