Honda is keen to limit its full-time engine leases to 15 or so next year. Dale Coyne Racing would love to expand and field another Honda-powered entry with HMD Motorsports. And Chip Ganassi Racing would like to continue with Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Honda.
Somewhere between their three respective ambitions, an answer might be found as to how DCR, CGR, and Honda Performance Development — makers of the 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engines — all get what they want.
“In terms of what Jimmie does, I’ve said on the record that we’ve been supportive of his efforts,” Honda and Acura Motorsports Manager Chuck Schifsky told RACER. “I think we can see, now after some time, that he is at home on the ovals, he does really well on the ovals, and that’s great. So we’re very much in support of Chip’s efforts to work with Jimmie to bring that car to the track. I think it’s worked out well for all of us, for IndyCar, for Ganassi, for Honda, for the sport. I think Jimmie’s brought a lot of new fans in.
“We’re at a time where we need to make sure that we keep bringing forward new drivers, young drivers and building personalities and showing personality as a sport to the fans. So from that standpoint, if the request comes from Chip to continue with Jimmie, we will support that in 2023.”
The upcoming answer on what Johnson’s future might hold at CGR — a full season, only the ovals, etc. — was thought to have a direct influence on whether DCR w HMD would gain access to another engine lease. According to Schifsky, if CGR returns next season having downsized from four to three full-time cars, that lease wouldn’t necessarily go to another team.
“The best way to look at that is it does not automatically become an engine that has to go somewhere,” he said. “It’s less about ‘we only have 15 engines, or 14 engines, or 16 engines,’ or whatever the number is. It’s less about that for us, and more about what are the potentials of each of those cars to win races and win championships? You’ve probably heard [HPD president] David Salters say his job at HPD, his job for American Honda, is to win races and keep Honda’s name at the front of everything that that is IndyCar racing.
“So sometimes, you do that with a pretty small number of teams or drivers. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had a lot of drivers that have been really competitive. So it’s not, for us, a matter of, ‘OK, Chip says I don’t need that fourth engine’ and we automatically whirl around and need to put a car together and have to have that that engine running. That is not the situation.”
Whether it’s 14, 15, or 16, Schifsky says the decision to provide another engine lease is based on the quality and potential of the program.
“So conversely, if someone comes forward with the right driver and the right opportunity that we think can again win races and win championships win the Indy 500 for Honda, and it all makes sense, then we will participate,” he added.
The particular hope for DCR w HMD is to field a new entry for presumptive Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist, who heads into Monterey this weekend with a giant lead in the standings driving for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Continuing the relationship with the Swede to advance to IndyCar within the same teams makes a lot of sense, but without the award of an IndyCar engine lease being attached to each new Indy Lights champion, Honda and Chevy are not obligated to step in and ensure a driver like Lundqvist is on next year’s grid.
“I think Linus is somebody that, for a while now, he’s shown promise,” Schifsky said. “But up until [sealing the championship] comes to pass? We have no official answer as to whether we would support that or not. I think that’s a David Salters-only question. I don’t think we’re in a position to answer that quite yet. It might be something that’s going to need to get answered. You know, the two may not be related.
“So let’s say Jimmie does renew and [DCR w HMD] want to put Linus in a car and need an engine. That becomes the discussion and the question that gets answered. But if Jimmie goes away, it’s not like we magically have that engine burning a hole in our pocket that we we’re desperate to find a spot for.”