Honda engines have bested Chevrolets in three of the past five Indianapolis 500s.
That might not seem like much of a difference, but it’s humbling for Chevrolet, considering the “bowtie” manufacturer has won 57 of 84 Verizon IndyCar Series races overall and all five manufacturers' championships in that same span.
As drivers for Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing and AJ Foyt Racing participated in a Chevrolet manufacturer this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they acknowledged the challenge ahead for 2017. The test was postponed Saturday due to cold temperatures but completed Sunday.
How does Chevy best Honda in the most prestigious race on the planet? The manufacturer and teams are working on it.
“I think we’ll have a great race,” Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden said of the upcoming 101st running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” set for May 28. “We had a good race last year, we didn’t know who was going to win it necessarily. Honda is going to be tough. They’ve been a great opponent to Chevrolet and they’ve been tough the last few years.
“A lot of people have been saying it’s just been a dominant Chevy show, but I think it’s been a great battle. Every time you show up on Sunday for race day, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Honda has always been difficult to beat. I feel confident in Chevrolet. We have a great package here. All of my wins have been with Chevy and Chevy has been great to me and Team Penske.”
Last May, rookie Alexander Rossi had the timely fuel mileage strategy in an Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda to win the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz was second in another Honda. Newgarden finished a career-best third when he was in an Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.
Munoz has since changed teams and engines. The two-time Indy 500 runner-up now drives an AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet.
“Last year was pretty even,” Munoz said of the engine battle at the Indy 500. “Honda did a really good job with their engines. In 2015, Chevy dominated here (with Juan Pablo Montoya winning and Chevy taking nine of the top 11 spots). On road and street courses, Chevy has dominated the last three years.
“This year, Honda seems to be better on street courses. Honda has been spending a lot of money with Ganassi and Andretti, working really hard to try to beat Chevy. I think Chevy has been working really hard as well for the Indianapolis 500, especially this year. They’ve been working really hard to try to find more horsepower that we need for the engine.”
Munoz concurs with Newgarden that the difference between engines in Indy 500 cars is minimal.
“It’s nice to have two engine manufacturers so close to each other,” Munoz said. “It’s unbelievable how close they are.”
An undeniable Chevrolet trend from a year ago saw Team Penske win 10 of 16 races. Series champion Simon Pagenaud enjoyed five of those victories.
When asked about Honda winning three of the past five Indy 500s, Pagenaud nodded and politely said, “That’s interesting.” Mentioning that is more motivation.
“It’s very level,” Pagenaud said. “Honda has caught up. It’s going to be an interesting month of May. We’ll know after qualifying how strong we are and how strong they are. Most important for us is to focus on making the car as good as possible for the race.”
As the series’ only owner/driver, Carpenter has celebrated two of his three career wins with Chevrolet in the past five years. Newgarden won three races in the past two years with Carpenter’s team before moving to Team Penske this season.
Carpenter grew up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which means winning the Indy 500 is the No. 1 goal each year. And he’s not shy about reminding that nothing else comes close. The two-time Indy 500 pole sitter’s best finish in this race in 13 starts was fifth in 2008.
“Five-hundred-mile-races, there’s a lot that goes into them,” Carpenter said. “It’s not about being the fastest car necessarily when it comes to winning a 500-mile race. Honda has got good teams. Andretti has always been strong here, so they’re a formidable opponent.
“We’ve just got to do a better job to make sure there’s a bowtie winning the race this year.”
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