American Honda’s racing division at Honda Performance Development expected to have a few of its teams inside the Fast Nine during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. Having eight of the nine spots, however, was never part of HPD’s qualifying forecast, as its Team Chevy rivals were unable to mount a serious challenge for the first three rows on the grid.
“Well, we are honestly a little surprised at exactly how things are separating out — pleasantly surprised,” HPD president Ted Klaus told RACER. “And really pleasantly surprised that you’ve got Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing — all of our teams — represented (in the Fast Nine).”
One noteworthy change for Indy 500 qualifying in 2020 has been the deletion of medium turbocharger boost being fed to the 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engines produced by HPD and by Ilmor Engineering on behalf of Team Chevy. New this year, the NTT IndyCar Series implemented high boost — the same used on road courses and short ovals — which is a first at the Speedway. Chevy was particularly strong in the medium-boost era, and it’s possible HPD has made a leap with the high-boost configuration.
“Our group always do great job, so I don’t want to take anything away from them,” Klaus said. “The high-boost formula has never been run in qualifying and I think IndyCar gets kudos. (They) asked both Honda and Chevy how they might introduce the Aeroscreen at Indy and also increase the qualifying speeds. And so we got rid of that medium boost, which really was only an Indy 500 effort.
“We’ve taken something that Honda and Chevy already had been working on every year and gone to a different boost level for qualifying, which has given different results,” Klaus continued. “We made the car safer with the Aeroscreen and now we’ve made them faster, which is a win-win.”
The unified strength demonstrated across HPD’s four teams (including the Andretti-affiliated Meyer Shank Racing) throughout practice and qualifying is another area that has impressed Klaus.
“The teams have been very gracious to us so far this year, saying they’re proud to be powered by Honda; and I just throw it right back at them, that we’re proud to power them,” he said. “Probably the biggest emphasis for both sides since last year was the teams stay focused on what only the teams can do. HPD and Honda will stay focused on those things that only Honda can do.
“I think the collaboration and cooperation between the two entities pushing each other (has) been the biggest difference. The result is we’ve been a little bit faster. I think it would be unfair to the teams and how much work they’ve put in to say, ‘It’s just because we found a little power.’ It’s a whole bunch of little things, all stacked on top of each other. It definitely is satisfying to watch it come to fruition here in qualifying.”
As we say every year, stellar performances in qualifying will mean very little when it comes time to go racing for 500 miles. Similarly, Klaus will celebrate Honda’s big muscle flex in qualifying, but won’t let the satisfaction linger.
“We all know that the race is going to be a battle. You’ll see tire degradation and pit strategy and fuel-saving strategy all play out just like it’s played out in years past,” he said. “That’s why the race will be fascinating and fun to watch. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I don’t do anything to piss off the racing gods so that we can have one of our teams bring it home into Victory Circle.”