Honda-powered teams from the IndyCar Series took over Sebring at the conclusion of the two-day TUDOR United SportsCar Championship test on the airport course, allowing Andretti Autosport to get its first taste of the manufacturer’s product on the short circuit preferred by open-wheel teams.
Dale Coyne Racing, Schmidt Peterson Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing also took part in the test where Honda put miles on its new-for-2014 twin-turbo powerplant while some teams used its 2013-spec single-turbo unit.
Per the engine regulations that have been in place since the series moved to turbocharging in 2012, manufacturers are allowed to revise turbo plenums, heads (within the existing casting), fuel systems, exhausts, and miscellaneous other detail items. Twin turbocharging was also mandated in a memo releases earlier in the year, and new, slightly larger spec turbos from BorgWarner have also been implemented as part of the 2014 updates.
2012 IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2013 third-place championship finisher Simon Pagenaud (RIGHT, Marshall Pruett photo) and Graham Rahal were among the series regulars who took part in the Honda test, and were the only drivers to use the twin-turbo spec.
?We worked on the last engine for two years; it gave power like a naturally aspirated engine and got a lot of power from it,? Pagenaud told RACER. ?It was really good, but suffered on the ovals a little bit. The twin turbos should help that, and the numbers says we should have more power and I can feel it already. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I’m very optimistic.
?We are way advanced to where we were with the single turbo at this point in its development. We’re also conscious Chevy will be strong with their new engine, so we know we have to push even harder with what we’re doing. It was a good day. The driveability gains were really big, and they were good already. HPD is really stepping up its game.?
Hunter-Reay used Chevy’s twin-turbo engine over the past two seasons, and was given Honda’s singe- and twin-turbo mills to sample on Monday. After the test concluded, RHR shared some interesting views on the similarities and differences between the respective IndyCar products.
?I was impressed ” the only ideas I had of what to expect was from Honda drivers over the years, and I really had few preconceived notions,? he said. ?On the single, I was really impressed with the driveability, the boost ramp-up, low-end power, and it was good to get an idea on the 2013 engine, which was really strong. And the 2014 engine is still early days, but has a lot of pace and we worked through a lot of engine mapping, boost mapping, throttle mapping and we all came away feeling really happy after Day 1.?
Comparing the twin turbo offerings from both marques, as RHR describes, required a shorter period of adjustment, but there were noticeable characteristics found with each brand.
?The Chevy twin-turbo to the Honda twin-turbo was very different; different harmonics, different pitch,? he explained. ?Once you got through that, it felt familiar. At first, I thought because the single was a single, it was going to be a lot different to work with but it wasn’t. What surprised me the most was then going to the switch to the twin, and it wasn’t that much different than the single. You’d expect it to be a lot different, but it wasn’t. That was very revealing about what the Honda guys had to work with the last two seasons.?
Graham Rahal (IndyCar photo)
Rahal echoed RHR’s take on the unexpectedly small difference in driveability between Honda’s old and new turbo engines, and was particularly impressed by how much progress was made in just one day of tuning by HPD.
?With the single, a lot of the tuning we’d do was hard to feel, but with the twin, you can feel every little thing. The track grip was horrible because of all the sports car rubber from the testing, but it was still great to have the engine power overcoming the rear tires. That’s the kind of power everyone’s been asking for. The fans have wanted it and it’s only going to get better.?
Beyond logging miles and data on the new 2.2-liter V6s, a number of new Honda drivers took to the track. Carlos Munoz turned his first laps as a full-time member of the Andretti squad, Arie Luyendyk Jr. sampled one of Dale Coyne’s Dallara DW12s and, with a possible eye to joining the series, the SPM team welcomed the Russian SMP Racing outfit to the series in the No. 55 car drove this year (BELOW, Marshall Pruett photo).
SMP, which fields entries in the Blancpain Endurance Series, sponsors drivers in World Series by Renault 3.5, and is active in other prototype, touring car and karting series, came loaded with 2010 Renault 3.5 title winner Mikhail Aleshin. The 26-year-old Russian, who learned the car and the circuit on Monday, was within a few tenths of Pagenaud in the sister SPM entry, impressing Honda Performance Development technical director Roger Griffiths from the outset.
?For his first time, he did a very good job and was within a few tenths of Simon all day; they have very similar driving styles and are both very smooth,? he said. ?I don’t know how much time he’s had in a turbo car, but he adapted quite well. The lap times for everybody were very consistent, and that was good for him. I was impressed with Mikhail. We’d like to see him in a car for another test and who knows where things could go from there, but he has a lot of potential.?
Luyendyk Jr. told RACER he was pleased with his first test with DCR, and hopes it’s the first of many.
?This is the first time I’ve driven an Indy car on a road course, and the first time in an open-wheel car on a road course since 2008,? he said. ?After the first run, I felt really at home. I was surprised at the grip level and the carbon brakes, but after I got that down, it was about working on small things.
?I have a lot more confidence leaving than I did going in. I know I can be competitive with the other guys. Although we weren’t the quickest car, we weren’t very far off. After such a long period out of the car, it’s good to see.?
Next up for the second-generation driver is pursuing the budget to join the IndyCar Series.
?First and foremost, I needed to do this test to show potential partners I have the pace; that I’m not just a marketable driver, but also a competitive driver,? he continued. ?I did a ton of laps ” 138 laps ” and it gives me a lot of leverage to show we can do this. Currently, we look really good for running in May at the 500 and the road course race, and now we’re off to find the partners to do the full season. John Dick, my engineer, was very complimentary of how the day went and I can’t wait to get back and do more.?