Honda pressuring IndyCar to allow for aero kit changes
Outgoing IndyCar President of Competition and Race Operations Derrick Walker revealed to FOXSports.com that Honda Performance Development has applied for possible changes to the aero kits its teams use in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Walker met with officials at Chevrolet in Detroit last week and Honda in Santa Clarita, Calif., on Monday as the company considers IndyCar Rule 9.3.
That rule states: "In the event that an aero kit is not competitive to such extent that it would be detrimental to the Verizon IndyCar Series, INDYCAR may permit in its sole discretion Approved Suppliers to implement modifications to their respective Aero Kits."
According to Walker, the process regarding Rule 9.3 can be quite complicated.
"I think a lot of people don’t necessarily appreciate and acknowledge we have two stellar companies in Chevrolet and Honda," Walker told FOXSports.com. "They are in a battle to beat each other every day of the week. From our competition in IndyCar to have two engine manufacturers that care that much about engines and aero kits has to be good. It is good.
"The last couple meetings I’ve had over the last several days with Chevrolet and Honda have been tough, have been honest and have been forthright. I hear from both parties they want IndyCar to succeed and they want to be part of it. They are racers so they want decisions made that make it possible for them to win and I think IndyCar has a tremendous responsibility to make sure we do the best we can with the rules and make sure the competition is as far and equal as we can make it. I was very happy with the meetings. They were tough, no BS. That is the best relationship IndyCar could want. It was a good trip; well worth doing. And I’m glad we did."
Ironically, Walker turned in his resignation two weeks ago and will leave his position on Aug. 31 – one day after the season’s final race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.
When the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season began, Honda teams were at a competitive deficit compared to the Chevrolet teams with the introduction of aero kits. The additional bodywork was designed to make each brand unique and provide improved competition on the race track.
But the first half of the season was a huge disappointment for Honda teams. It wasn’t until the June 27 MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., that a Honda driver defeated Chevrolet opponents in a heads-up race (one that was not shortened or affected by rain), as Graham Rahal scored his second career victory.
Ironically, Honda drivers and teams have won the last two Verizon IndyCar Series contests including Ryan Hunter-Reay’s win in the July 18 Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway and Rahal’s win in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Aug. 2.
But HPD officials believe additional changes need to be made to their aero kits in order to be competitively even with Chevrolet.
"The battleground for the engine manufacturers is the aero kits," Walker said. "There is a huge area of development that engines can’t provide. They continue to modify their engines through the homologation process and continue to make improvements, but those improvements are smaller in degree. As for the aero kits, we are going where no aero kits have gone before in many cases so there is a tremendous advantage and a lot at stake.
"When you look at engine supply, the details were done six months ago. The debate on aero kits, there is a famous rule and that’s 9.3 (not 9.3.8) – an area of the aero kit rules that allows the series to look at aero kit performance and allow modification of some part of their aero kit. The big battle behind the scenes is what is IndyCar going to do with Rule 9.3? Is Honda going to get a 9.3 concession to allow them to modify part of their aero box to allow them to catch up – not jump ahead – or are they not?"
According to Walker, Honda has applied to IndyCar for "consideration" of a change under Rule 9.3.
"They have presented data and Chevrolet has presented their position on whether it is applicable or not," Walker said. "IndyCar is deliberating on that and we will advise both manufacturers very, very soon. In the meantime, Honda has been trying to understand what it is about their aero kit that needs to be improved. Once they have figured that out they will come to IndyCar and say here is an area of the car they would like 9.3 to apply to because it corrects problems they may have."
The request for a Rule 9.3 application does not indicate any changes will be allowed for Honda, however. But it would be the first time a manufacturer has requested this rule be applied since aero kits were introduced this season.
"There is no guarantee if you get 9.3 you will get something and move down the road. It means you will get consideration in a wind tunnel situation against the competition," Walker explained. "IndyCar has all the data with both aero kits and it’s very complicated and not an exact science. You can get conflicting information on regular basis. It is a challenging one for IndyCar to view, but there is no other way to do it. We will do it the best of our ability with some help and deliberate on it whether it’s an improvement – a change for Honda or not. That is what is coming up in the next couple of months at breakneck speed because there is a lot of work to be done if there is going to be any likely change.
"The manufacturers each have three areas of the car they can update any way. So next year’s aero kits will be even better next year because they have a year on the aero kit and three volume boxes they can change for next year. What Honda requesting under a 9.3 is an additional area of the car they feel is necessary to catch up otherwise they don’t feel they can. That is something IndyCar has to weigh in and make a decision and get into 2016. I think it will be every bit as exciting as what we had in 2015."
To complicate the situation, Honda is in the final year of its contract with IndyCar and has been in negotiations with the series for an extension. It’s contract with IndyCar that expires on Sept. 13, but according to Walker and Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles, the two sides are "very close" to a renewal.
"I’m not a good poker player so I’m not going to guess at what each party is going to do," Walker said. "I see both manufacturers really like and want IndyCar to succeed. It’s not a make or break for any party but the integrity of IndyCar how it goes about the decision. If it goes about it in a very detailed and accurate way there is less likelihood of somebody saying they will pack up their toys and go home. If it’s anything less than that these companies don’t want to go through any unrest or uneven competition."
Walker believes that Honda is showing this much interest in fixing its problem is a sign that the company wants to continue in the Verizon IndyCar Series. But any change could also signal a backlash from Chevrolet.
"They are pretty competitive companies," Walker said. "They don’t mess around. They aren’t going to do all this if they are going to be regulated out of a chance to succeed. Chevrolet to their credit has done an excellent job this year and has dominated Honda. There is a competition going on here and Honda wants to respond and that is why the final decision of the way IndyCar goes about this is so crucial to the overall satisfaction of the series.
"They will respect the process if it is solid and consistent whether it goes for or against them.
"I would say IndyCar understands the responsibility of this to make sure we have the facts before a knee-jerk decision is made that disenfranchises one of the engine manufacturers."
Be sure to catch Bruce Martin’s Honda IndyCar Report on RACEDAY on FOX Sports Radio every Sunday from 6-8 a.m. ET.