T.E. McHALE: Thanks for joining us for our pre Indianapolis 500 media briefing. Our guest this morning is HPD president, Art St. Cyr.
Art, thanks for making time to spend with us this morning.
ART ST. CYR: Thanks for having me.
T.E. McHALE: Pretty good days in Hondaland so far during the month of May. Basically just want to get your evaluation of the month to date, kind of explain to us what has happened in terms of preparation for the superspeedways.
ART ST. CYR: Well, as I told many of you, the Indy 500 is a major focus for Honda. Actually, it's a major focus for most people in IndyCar. We really worked hard for 12 months on this particular race.
We used two of our three allocated boxes from an aerodynamic standpoint on this race. We have a pretty major upgrade of our engine specification for this race.
As you've seen, it's fairly competitive at this point. Really our whole goal is to get all of our teams with a package that is capable of winning this race.
T.E. McHALE: Certainly we've seen a nice mix of teams over the course of the month taking their turns at the top of the speed charts. Andretti Autosport came out of the gate really, really strong, has continued that momentum throughout the month. The Schmidt team won the pole, placed three cars in the top 10. Various times Graham had a strong run. Even Dale Coyne Racing has been heard from in being on top of the speed charts. That bears out the point you just made.
ART ST. CYR: It's really all you can hope for, right, as a manufacturer, is to have all of your teams have a really good package for this race. Once Monaco is done, the eyes of the world will be on this race on Sunday.
It's pretty great. The Andretti guys, the whole Andretti team, all five of their cars, have been fast. They unloaded fast. They typically do really well here. We expect good things out of them.
The Schmidt Peterson Racing group, all three of them have just had stellar months. You want to give some shouts out to Dale Coyne and those guys who have shown pretty good speed, with people that don't have a lot of experience running around this track.
A.J. Foyt and Takuma Sato showed something at the end of qualifying. They qualified third in the last group, right? Graham, we expect him to have a real good race, as well. All of our teams have legitimate contenders to win this race, so we're actually really thrilled about that.
T.E. McHALE: Just for some informational purposes, how much support is HPD providing? Talk to the specifics of HPD's support at the 500 in terms of personnel, on staff, those kinds of things.
ART ST. CYR: Boy, I don't know where to start. As I said, we do put a lot of focus on this particular race. Of course we want to win every race. But if you're looking at the one specific race you want to win during the IndyCar season, it's this race right here.
So we have our typical staff that we have supporting the engines. We have one engineer per engine, and then we have a supervising engineer over the teams, and then we have one I guess lead engineer that is supervising all of the teams, as well.
In addition to that, we've had our vehicle dynamics people here. We've had our aerodynamics people here. We've had our chassis group, both manager and senior manager, here helping, working with the teams, helping them dial in their setups to run the car the way they want to run.
As you know, adding the dome skid this year and raising the ride height of the car has thrown a little bit of the setups into turmoil. I think a lot of the credit goes to the teams and also the HPD staff to really work to get this thing dialed in to really be fast going around this track.
T.E. McHALE: Trackside support aside, talk a little bit about, if you would, about what's going on back in Santa Clarita while we're all here during the month of May.
ART ST. CYR: We were joking at a dinner the other night. Well, maybe that's a different story now that I think about it (laughter).
This race is so important that we focus on this race. We have a daily, and have had a daily meetings with HPD, and that includes Saturday and Sunday. So seven days a week we've been having daily meetings with HPD back in Santa Clarita to talk about engine, to talk about aero, to talk about any issues we may have, what we can do to dial things up.
We do some testing on the track. We take that information, send it back to HPD. They run stuff on the dyno to try to just dial it in, dial it in, polish it a little bit more, a little bit more, a little bit more, to make sure when the race comes on Sunday that it is the optimum setup we're capable of giving the teams.
T.E. McHALE: Let's set the 500 aside for just a moment, look another week ahead to Detroit, where there's a doubleheader race on Belle Isle next weekend, back on a temporary street circuit. Certainly building a lot of momentum here this month, based on the performance of the engines, give us a little bit of an outlook as we go back to street races next week on Belle Isle.
ART ST. CYR: As most people know, concerning the aerodynamic kit, we basically had a whole new aerodynamic kit this year for the road courses. It's taken us a little bit of time to dial in that kit for our teams, to understand that new kit, going against a team that's had over a year. The other side has had a whole year to dial in their kit. It's taken us a little while to get our traction.
But I think the people and the teams are starting to understand how that kit works, how it works on street and road courses. Combine that with the upgrade in the engine we have here, my belief is we're going to be much more competitive moving forward than we have been in the beginning part of the season.
We're looking forward to continuing on after the Indy 500 as well. But right now, as I mentioned before, our focus as a company and as a group of Honda teams, we're focused on this event on Sunday.
T.E. McHALE: With that we'll open it to questions for Art.
Q: (No microphone.)
ART ST. CYR: So the question, as I understand it, is it more the fact that we're focusing on the Indy 500 that we're better, or the fact that we actually made hardware changes that we attribute most of our improvement to.
The answer is, yes (laughter).
I mean, obviously by focusing on it, we spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel focusing specifically on this event, on superspeedways. This is our first superspeedway. Over the last month or two, we've probably spent a disproportionate amount of time at the wind tunnel trying to dial in our aerodynamic setup, our chassis setup on this.
But as I mentioned, we do have two boxes that we used specifically for this race, two of our three allocated boxes, under the aerodynamic rules, our 9.2 boxes are used for this race. We do have an upgrade in our engine spec, as well.
I would say 58% (laughter).
No, honestly it's everything. You don't win a race by just improving one thing. You have to improve everything. The teams are doing a great job. The setups that the teams put on the cars are looking really strong. Our aerodynamic package is looking really strong. Our engine is looking really strong. Our drivers are performing great.
So all of those things are contributing to it. It's a little bit of each of those things is the way I would say it.
Q: Is the year going according to plan?
ART ST. CYR: We weren't expecting the outcome of the first few races that we got this year. We thought we were going to be okay. But obviously when we first came out at St. Pete, especially Phoenix, we had to focus on those, as well.
I wouldn't say the beginning part of the season went according to plan. But we kind of know what we have right now and where we're going with this one. We're working and the other side is working as well to try to improve as much as you can.
Q: (No microphone.)
ART ST. CYR: So the question was, you know, what are we allowed to change as we move forward, and how are we managing the engine spec for this race and moving forward until we mileage it out.
From an engine spec standpoint, this year, to simplify it, the way that the IndyCar rules are, each year you're allowed to change certain parts of the engines. So some years there's bigger changes, some years there's smaller changes allowed.
This year, this offâ€'season, we were allowed to make a few bigger changes than normal. Our expectations were that the power jump would be bigger this year. There are always areas that are allowed to be upgraded, like pistons and valves. Anytime you introduce a new spec of an engine, you're allowed to change those.
This is really our second engine of the year. It's actually our third, because you're allowed to do a change for the race. Basically it's the second spec of the engine.
In that, we're allowed to make those changes. Like I said, this was a pretty big year to make changes. We were allowed to introduce some of those things a little bit later than we did at the first part of the season.
I know I'm being very kind of general on that one, but our improvement at this point was actually a decent step up.
To finish the second part of your question, the way the rules are, the engine has to go 2500 miles. Whatever the 2500 miles we don't use here, we're going to continue on until it mileages out. No changes.
Q: Have you sacrificed any fuel mileage for the added horsepower?
ART ST. CYR: I'm not sure what you mean by 'sacrificed' per se.
I mean, all Hondas get better gas mileage, whether it's a passenger car… Sorry, maybe I shouldn't have said all of them. That's a little bit of a misnomer.
One of the strong points at Honda is making sure we have good fuel economy. There is no reason to expect any different with this specification. We believe we're going to be okay when it comes to fuel mileage.
Q: There have been a couple of engine issues in practice the last two weeks. Do you have a handle on those? Was it the same failure on both cars? If so, do you know what the problem was? Has it been fixed?
ART ST. CYR: We actually had three engine failures.
T.E. McHALE: Don't tell that fact.
ART ST. CYR: They know we had three (laughter). That's not a secret.
But those engines were shipped back to HPD. We did some analysis and made some changes because of that. So we think we have a handle on what's going on and we don't expect any problems moving forward.
Again, the other side has had failures as well, right? One of the things about this event is you're always running your engine on the edge of explosion at any given time, trying to get the maximum power out of the thing. There's always some unknown when you get into a 500â€'mile race.
Q: The Honda always gets better fuel mileage part, and the explosion. How far up to the edge are you going to go for the 500?
ART ST. CYR: It's a hard question to answer at this point. It really depends on how the race goes as to what we're going to do with our engines.
Our expectation is that we'll run this 500â€'mile race, including all the practices we have leading up to it, mileage it out in Detroit. What's after Detroit, Texas? We'll mileage it out accordingly.
We don't expect to short live this engine because of the 500. How is that?
Q: From an engineering standpoint, how much do you feel you are learning that you can convert to the passenger side?
ART ST. CYR: It's a little bit different when you're talking about peak performance here because we don't really run passenger car engines at the redline limit that much.
More in terms of the overall technology and developing the technology for robustness and that type of stuff, that's the thing that you learn in racing, versus how to operate the engine in these conditions. It's a pretty unique environment here that's very different from passenger cars.
Q: After all you've been through the last couple years, all the hits Honda has taken, how redemptive would it be to win on Sunday?
ART ST. CYR: I'm hesitating on that because I'm afraid of what the quote is going to be on this one.
The question is after the struggles that Honda has had over the last season or so, how redemptive would it be to win?
Part of Honda's existence is to win at races. It's always our goal and always our challenge, whether we're behind or whether we're ahead, to really work forward to try to win these races.
Obviously this is a big race for us, so we would be very happy. I'm not sure if I'd call it redemption because I don't think we need necessarily redemption on that because it's what we do. We're a racing organization. If we're behind, we just work that much harder to catch up and then get ahead. It's our expectation to be at this point.
Now, to win the hundredth 500, whether it's this one or last year or next year, we're going to be just as happy winning all of those things. It's more about winning the race than anything else.
Q: IndyCar has been trying for years to get other manufacturers in the series. Mark Miles mentioned yesterday he's going to be talking to a third one. They've been unsuccessful so far in getting anybody new to come in. Can you give us any idea as to what the financial commitment is over five years or three years? Is it that big of a commitment that they can't get another manufacturer?
ART ST. CYR: Well, I can't go into specifics about what that is. I know how much we spend. I don't know how much the other side would spend or a third manufacturer would spend.
One thing I will say, in part of our negotiations, in extending our contract, part of when we were making the rules package for the engine that exists right now, we were the sole supplier at the time we were making that rules package, is that we developed the rules package to incorporate enough flexibility to allow for another manufacturer to come in at what we consider a reasonable price.
Now, obviously it's difficult to come in if you're a third manufacturer at a time when both the competition and Honda has been developing its engine for five years. To get another manufacturer in, we want to kind of have a break where we can have a different specification, so we can start kind of on level ground, as well.
That's part of not just Honda's intention, but also what IndyCar is working on. As I said in our contract negotiations, try to allow for that break to allow a third manufacturer to come in and have a reasonable chance of being successful.
Q: (No microphone.)
ART ST. CYR: Where is Kurt? He's standing right there. Kurt Antonius is here. We have a whole dealer group coming in. Kurt told me we have 80 dealers. Specifically from a Honda dealer standpoint, we have a bunch of them from across the country. We don't specifically have a group of some of our grassroots stuff, our SECA, but there are a lot of Honda Racing Line members here. We do say hi to them as we see them and try to give them the support, to tie in what we do here.
T.E. McHALE: With that, we'll wrap it up. Art, thanks for making the time to be with us today. Thank you all for joining us. Enjoy the 100th running.