Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
HPD Powers a Company-Record 14 Cars at Indianapolis 500
In the old days, when anybody with a toolbox and a little knowledge could build a race engine, there used to be catastrophic failures during the Indianapolis 500. It was nothing to have at least a third of the field KO'd by burned pistons, cracked crankshafts or rods being launched through the sides of blocks during the 200-lap grind.
But engine leases have been one of main reasons that reliability and the Indy Racing League now go hand-inhand. And this year's 89th Indy 500 was a perfect example.
Honda powered 14 of the 33 starters and only one of them, Roger Yasukawa, suffered any sort of engine problem. Fast qualifier Kenny Brack had other mechanical issues, while Bruno Junquiera, Sebastien Bourdais, Kosuke Matsuura and Jeff Bucknum were eliminated in separate accidents.
Dan Wheldon led Honda's sweep of the top four spots as Honda Performance Development again came through on motorsports' largest stage.
Obviously, HPD’s goal for any IndyCar event is 100 percent engine reliability, but, given the workload created by adding four cars to its standard IndyCar lineup, the results were certainly noteworthy.
"It was a new high for HPD," HPD president Robert Clarke said of the 14 Honda-powered entries. "We had nine in CART in 2001 and we had nine here at Indianapolis last year.
"We couldn't justify hiring extra people, so everyone just worked longer and harder and I think the results speak for themselves."
"We were pretty happy about [the outcome]," said Roger Griffiths, Race Team Technical Leader for HPD, referring to Honda's reliability. "Our people have worked hard to develop speed and consistency and it's a credit to them."
Griffiths, who came to Honda in 2003 after years of experience in Formula One, LeMans and touring cars, was asked how HPD went about preparing motors for three-plus hours of flat-out running.
"Well, we don't do anything different for a race at Texas, Milwaukee or Indianapolis," he replied. "It's all attention to detail. We test all our engines regularly at 500 miles and all of the major components are run at least 500 miles.
"These days everything is effectively machined, rather than hand-finished, and we're pretty confident in our design integrity. We make sure everything is race-worthy, and we never make any last-minute panic bits to try and squeeze some extra horsepower.
"And there's no new engine calibration for the race -- everything has been proven through testing during the month of May."
"Indianapolis is always our peak demand and we have to come up with so many engines in such a short period of time," Clarke noted. "It's kind of like July and August, when we have three or four races strung together.
"We had to build around 60 engines this month to take care of everyone."
The only semi-question mark going into Race Day involved Dario Franchitti.
"We saw some things on Dario's engine during Carb Day that we weren't happy with, and even though we were about 99 percent sure it would be OK, we still had one percent of doubt, so we decided to change it," said Griffiths.
"We'd have been kicking ourselves if something would have happened and it also made the driver happy. I'm never confident going into a 200-miler or 500-miler if the engine hasn't been run on the track, and I like at least two hot laps."
For the record, Franchitti led 15 laps and finished sixth in his brand new engine while Wheldon, who ran about 15 hot laps on Carb Day with his new “shooter”, led 30 laps and drove into Victory Lane just ahead of Vitor Meira, Bryan Herta and Danica Patrick.
"Our teams and our people did a good job," said Clarke. "We won Motegi and Indy for the second straight year and I think everyone was pleased.
"But first place is all that counts with Honda. We hate to lose."