Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Honda Powers Entire Indianapolis 500 Field Without Single Engine Failure
There hadn't been a single engine manufacturer covering the entire field at Indianapolis since 1960, when the Offenhauser ruled.
But Honda went one better in May. Not only did it power all 33 starters in the 90th Indianapolis 500, none of them suffered any engine problems or failures.
"That was our objective, but I wasn't overly optimistic because that's such a huge challenge," said Robert Clarke, president of Honda Performance Development. "We had performed well in previous races so we went into Indy with a high degree of confidence but it's still very demanding.
"I mean, 33 cars and 500 miles and completely different weather conditions. Our people and Ilmor did a great job. We pulled it off."
After scoring back-to-back Indy wins with Buddy Rice and Dan Wheldon, along with two consecutive Indy Racing League titles (Tony Kanaan and Wheldon), Honda was poised to score a "threepeat" over its archrival before Toyota shockingly pulled the plug on 2006.
With General Motors already down the road, the IRL had to rely on Honda to save the day and supply engines to everyone. Longtime partner Ilmor Engineering jumped in and agreed to help build them, and there were some new parameters as well.
The IRL mandated that teams had to run two races with the same engine to save money and, more importantly, give Honda and Ilmor some breathing and re-building room. That didn't seem too bad, since there are only 19 full-timers in the IRL this season. But Indy would be a much larger task.
"We wanted a maximum of 1,200 miles on the practice and qualifying engines at Indianapolis. Then we gave the teams a new one to use for Carb Day, Race Day and [the following race at] Watkins Glen," explained Clarke.
"Of course, it rained so much during the month that we weren't able to accumulate the mileage and data we wanted, so I lost a little optimism about Race Day. Then, after it being cool all month, we have one of the hottest race days in history.
"And usually, that just makes things worse for engines." But HPD and Ilmor delivered amazing performance and reliability.
Not only was Sam Hornish's last-lap pass of Marco Andretti one of the most exciting victories in IMS history, not one lap was lost to a caution period for a blown engine.
Hornish Jr. and Team Penske had labored for two years without a Honda and the two-time IRL champion praised his power.
"I knew in our first test last winter what I'd been missing because it was clearly superior to what we'd been driving," said Hornish, whose late charge from fourth to first had the 200,000-plus fans standing and screaming.
"I was running full-rich [fuel mixture] those last few laps and that Honda was s-o-o-o strong." Not to mention potent. The engine Sam used at Indy and Watkins Glen later powered him to the pole position at Texas.