Among the more noteworthy news items to come out of 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Feb. 2 was the announcement that Honda and INDYCAR had agreed to a multiyear extension of the agreement to retain the engine supplier.
The deal guarantees Honda’s participation as an engine supplier and promotional partner through 2017 with options through 2020. Honda has competed in Indy car racing since 1994 and joined the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2003.
To some, the announcement was a foregone conclusion. To Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won the 2014 Indianapolis 500 with Honda power, it was music to his ears.
"I have a phenomenal relationship with Honda,” Hunter-Reay said. “They've done so much for me and my career, but for the sport itself, they've really been the backbone.
“Through all the years when I first came into the (Verizon IndyCar Series) in 2007 through '11 and then when competition (with Chevrolet) came in, Honda stayed true and continued to fight and win races. I'm just thrilled I have an Indy 500 win with them and now I want to go get a championship with them."
Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development (at right in photo above), said that while final approval of the contract extension took time, both Honda and INDYCAR see eye-to-eye on the direction of the series.
“Honestly, I think that just about everything we fundamentally agree on,” St. Cyr said. “Where we want to go, how we want to get there, what we want this series to be. I think it’s a very common understanding of that.”
That includes the addition of a third engine manufacturer if the opportunity presents itself, according to Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (at left in photo above).
“It’s a long, drawn-out process for a third manufacturer to come in and be competitive in this series,” Miles said. “I would say the first thing is that Honda and Chevy completely share with us a view that a third manufacturer would be good. Another competitor, another storyline, another investor to help promote the sport would simply be good.
“We’ve had situations where Honda has said, ‘You may want to talk to these guys.’ It’s been quite collaborative. I think it’s more like a question of when than whether (a third manufacturer will enter the series).”
Other anecdotal highlights from Media Day included:
* Conor Daly finally earned a full-season ride with Dale Coyne Racing for the 2016 season, the culmination of a long journey for the son of former Formula One and Indy car driver Derek Daly.
With sponsorship from Jonathan Byrd’s, the longtime Indy car sponsor and restaurant and catering company, Conor already has his ideal menu set: “Fried chicken and meatloaf for everyone for the season,” Daly joked.
The Dalys are the latest in a line of fathers and sons who have raced in the Indianapolis 500. Conor said his dad is “really excited” about the full-season ride.
“Every time I see him, he's pretty pumped, seems to be smiling a lot more, which I guess is good,” Conor said. “Finally made him proud.”
* Chalk it up to the youthful enthusiasm of a 20-year-old, but Sage Karam is convinced he can win the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in his drive with Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing.
“I'm really excited obviously to be a part of the biggest race in the world on May 29th,” Karam said. “It's probably going to be the greatest day of our generation, anybody's generation, really. Looking forward for that.
“Growing up, I've always kind of had two goals. It was to race the Indianapolis 500 my senior year of high school and I did it, and it was to win the 100th Indianapolis 500. I believe I'm going to do it. I’ve also got one last chance here to be the youngest winner in history. I look at it as third time's a charm. I'm looking forward to it.”
* There’s slipping on a racetrack due to oil or fluids. But there’s also slipping on a racetrack because, well, it’s made of ice.
That’s what Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud recently experienced when he was invited to Andorra, the tiny principality sandwiched between Spain and France, for an annual winter event called the Trophy Andros.
“They've asked me to come and this time I was available,” said the native of Montmorillon. France. “It was great. I've never driven on ice. They had stud tires, skinny tires, an electric car as well. A lot of new things. But it was very interesting, quite enjoyable because I don't race in Europe anymore. It was a good opportunity to race with some old friends and new friends. It was pretty cool.”
* Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay each recently visited Boston, site of the inaugural Grand Prix of Boston powered by LogMeIn on Labor Day weekend. Both drivers came away impressed.
“Boston, the perfect market to be in,” Hunter-Reay said. “The track is amazing. I can't figure out how somebody puts on a street race because there's so much logistically that has to go into it. When you see the site undeveloped – roads, city streets, you see where the tunnel is going to be – it's amazing that you can even pull something like that off.
“Huge potential. The site and where I saw it, how it's going to be, the plans for it, massive potential. I hope it's one of our cornerstone events.”
The track layout includes cars racing through a tunnel, similar to the Grand Prix of Monaco in Formula One.
“I hope the fans can go in the tunnel and hear the cars go by,” Pagenaud said. “That would be really cool.
“The tunnel part is really nice. Left-handed (turn), going to be really fast. You go and brake for the long straight. It goes around the harbor. It's a really dynamic area in Boston, with a lot of restaurants around. I think it's going to be a great area for the race around the convention center.”