Honda may not have visited victory lane in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline, but there was still plenty for the engine manufacturer to celebrate.
For the first time since Verizon IndyCar Series engine competition resumed in 2012, Honda has claimed the manufacturer championship over Chevrolet. With two races remaining on the 2018 schedule, Honda enjoys an insurmountable 319-point lead.
The prestigious award was locked up early on the strength of Honda drivers winning nine of the first 15 races.
“It's been a really good season,” said Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development. “It's been a really good partnership with our teams, drivers and Honda working together to really address some of the issues that we had last year from a durability standpoint.”
Only full-season entries earn manufacturer points, with the highest two finishers for each manufacturer at each race earning points based on the driver point system (50 for first place, 40 for second and so on; with double points awarded for the Indianapolis 500 and Sonoma). Bonuses are added for a race win (five points) as well as pole positions and being the fastest Indy 500 opening-day qualifier.
Durability is a key to the manufacturer point system, however. Each full-season entry is allotted four engines for the season to complete a total of 10,000 miles that includes testing, practice, qualifying and the races. If a car uses a fifth engine or more without completing the 10,000-mile threshold first, it becomes ineligible to earn manufacturer points.
Only one of Honda’s 12 full-season entries has gone past its four-engine limit to date. On top of that, Honda drivers Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi are leading the drivers’ standings.
“We're actually pretty proud of the fact that all of our cars actually, except for the ones who were crashed, basically we do the season on four engines,” St. Cyr said. “So that's a pretty good thing, but the fact that Scott and Alexander are in the fight for the championship shows that we’re winning races.
“That's really what it's all about, is coming in here with a chance to win every single race.”
Honda has been through the cycle of changes in the Verizon IndyCar Series. After joining the series in 2003, Honda won the manufacturer championship in 2004 and ’05 when competing with Chevrolet and Toyota. From 2006-’11, Honda was the sole engine supplier before Chevy re-entered in 2012.
This year’s title is particularly rewarding for St. Cyr since it comes in the first year of competition with the car’s universal aero kit after three years of competitive aero kits developed by the two engine manufacturers.
“It just shows the strength of our engine and the strength of what we've done with all of our associates at HPD,” St. Cyr said. “We've always come to this series looking at it as a way that we want to be challenging for race wins every single week.
“Last year we had struggles, especially on short ovals. That's very gratifying to see that we're competitive this year in the sport on the short ovals. But, winning nine races already with two races to go is a pretty good testament to the strength of our engine.”
Although winning the manufacturer championship is a massive feat, St. Cyr added “it’s just one of our goals.” Although Honda owns 12 victories in the Indianapolis 500 – all since 2004 – not winning this year left a bit of a sour taste.
“We also want to win the drivers’ championship,” St. Cyr said. “We want to win the Indy 500. This year will not go down as a complete success because we did not win the Indy 500.”
The focus now is on getting that drives’ title with Dixon, Rossi or Ryan Hunter-Reay, who is still mathematically eligible heading to this week’s Grand Prix of Portland. The last Honda driver to win the championship was Dixon in 2013.
“Our goal is to win the race,” St. Cyr said. “We want to have all of our teams to have the capability of winning. Alexander and Scott have shown this year that with what they have right there, they've been able to win more than the other teams, but we don't necessarily focus on one versus the other.
“Now, obviously, when it comes to taking chances, we'll be a little more careful moving forward, but we're not going to play favorites of our drivers. Whether it's a Dale Coyne driver, Chip Ganassi driver, Andretti Autosport driver, Schmidt Peterson driver or Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver, it honestly doesn't matter at the end of the day.
“I want all the Honda drivers to be fighting for the win at the front of the race. That's what I want. If Alexander and Scott come out in front, they've been showing the ability to do that all year. Our job is just to make sure we give them the right tools to be able to fight for that victory in the championship.”