by Larry Mason, www.carsandcompetition.com
Copyright © 2015
Over the off season both Honda and Chevrolet have been developing their aero kits for their respective Verizon IndyCar Series teams. So far this season Chevy has had the dominant answer to the tricky equation by winning most of the races. However, in today’s MavTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway, Honda’s solution to the superspeedway setup has been impressive. Marco Andretti qualified third, but led most of the early laps. Graham Rahal qualified 19th but worked his way into the lead and finished there in a wild pass-filled extravaganza.
Chevy co-developed their aero kit with Pratt and Miller who is well known in motorsports just as Honda worked with Wirth Research in England to come up with their unique solutions. Both manufacturers’s kits are made here in the United States. Chris Berube, the program manager for Chevrolet racing explained the process for developing the kit as incremental with an emphasis on data correlation. The first part of the process is using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to develop a virtual part. Next they produce a scale model of the part to run in a scaled-down wind tunnel. If that proves the proof of concept, the next step is to produce a full-size part to run in a full-scale wind tunnel. Again with proof of concept, the final step is to actually run the part on the race car at the track. Hopefully all of the data is consistent based on the design, and then they keep tweaking from there.
Interestingly enough, with the freedom for both Chevy and Honda to design their own kit (within the parameters set by the series) the teams are also free to implement them as they choose (again within Verizon IndyCar Series rules). Steve Eriksen, the vice president of Honda Performance Development, talked about their design philosophy prior to today‘s race. Their goal was to give the teams what they were asking for to help them beat the competition. He was forthright and frank in his disappointment that they weren’t as competitive as they had hoped to be so far this season, however he was also disappointed that they really didn’t get to show their speed during qualifying at Indianapolis. This was due to the fact that three Chevy teams had airborne moments in practice so the sanctioning body mandated some changes.
The Honda teams certainly showed their speed today, as Ryan Hunter-Reay who hadn’t led a lap all season, worked his way to the front to lead laps. Takuma Sato for AJ Foyt Racing, Ryan Briscoe for Schmidt Peterson Racing, and Marco Andretti all took turns up front leading for multiple laps and showing that Honda certainly got the aero package right for this type of track. During the post-race press conference, Rahal mentioned that the Chevy cars produced a bigger wake than the Honda so they were much harder to follow.
This race had a record number of lead changes and the win could have gone to at least a dozen deserving drivers, depending upon which lap it ended on. In the end, Honda got a well-earned victory in their own backyard of North American headquarters on a day when their president showed up to watch the race. Similar to a heavyweight boxing match with two equally tough fighters — this round went to Honda. Who will win the next one? Better sit back and watch because this is going to be a great season of racing.