Video: Q&A with Art St Cyr at St Pete IndyCar Race

From the AutoRacing1.com YouTube page, Honda HPD boss Art St. Cyr talks about the changes Honda made in the off-season to catch up to the Chevy teams. He talks about the aero changes as well as the engine upgrades that Honda made. He also talks about what Honda was looking for from IndyCar before renewing their contract lately.

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being with us for this first of a series of media briefings we'll be hosting at Honda hospitality throughout the 2016 season. Speaking from both a personal and professional standpoint, I can tell you it's great to be back at a racetrack, and our guest today is Art St. Cyr, the president of HPD, Honda Performance Development. Art, thanks for making time to be with us today.

ART ST. CYR: Thanks for having me, and welcome, everybody.

T.E. McHALE: Let's just kind of start with an overview of Honda's teams and drivers in the 2016 season. Give us your initial impressions of how our lineup shapes up.

ART ST. CYR: We're actually pretty excited about our lineup this year. It's similar to what we had last year, but we have added a few very exciting younger drivers to our mix. We have three young American drivers in Conor Daly, Alexander Rossi and Spencer Pigot. We're very excited to see how they do now that they get in the big cars here. I guess calling them rookies is a little bit of a misnomer for a lot of them. We are very excited about that. Combine that with a lot of our veteran talent, the â€'â€' I don't know if you call Graham Rahal old, but Graham, Marco and Ryanâ€'Hunter Reay, James Hinchcliffe, we have a pretty good stable of drivers of experience and youth, and we're looking forward to seeing what they can do this year.

T.E. McHALE: Let's talk a little bit about one of the dominant stories of the offâ€'season being Rule 9.3 and the relief that was offered and provided to Honda under terms of that IndyCar rule with regard to changing or amending the aero kits for the 2016 season. For those who may not be familiar with how the process played out, could you kind of walk us through how that all came to be?

ART ST. CYR: 9.3? I'm not sure what you're talking about.

So in the offâ€'season, as has been wellâ€'publicized, part of the issues that we had last year was a recognized aerodynamic deficiency. We believe we had it in both the superspeedway and the road course trim. So the Rule 9.3 that was stated said that it allows you to catch up to where the competition was.

So based on some exhaustive testing in the wind tunnels with both our kit and the competitor's kit, we did go into the wind tunnel and they deemed that there was a measurable difference in performance between our kit and the competitor kit on road course, but in the superspeedway they deemed us not to have quite the disadvantage, although the results of the Indy 500 might say something different.

We did spend a lot of time in the offâ€'season developing parts. You can see them out here today. Both Honda and our competition are competing in anger now for the first time since last year, so it's really interesting to see how things are going to play out on that one.

Once we do the 9.3, then we still had Rule 9.2, which are the open area boxes to develop, so both Honda and the other side are working with those, as well. So the difference that you'll see is really mainly due to those [9.2 areas].

Part of the â€'â€' there was some discussion that said that we held out on our contract with IndyCar until we got what we wanted. Well, that was never really the case, and this just shows because we wanted relief for the superspeedway as well as road course, but the superspeedway part we still feel like we're behind the 8â€'ball on that one, and we're struggling to catch up on that one, as well.

T.E. McHALE: Kind of expanding on the point, in terms of the concept that the idea is to enhance the window of efficiency, for want of a better way to put it, when our teams were on it, they were pretty competitive with the competition on the road, street course and short ovals last year, but the window for our teams to find that sweet spot has been enhanced under terms of or by means of the relief we now have received under Rule 9.3. Expand on that point a little more, if you would.

ART ST. CYR: Well, it's not exactly the 9.3 Rule. Our philosophy when we redesigned the aero kit for 2016, both the 9.3 and the 9.2 parts, what we found last year is that one of the issues that we had aerodynamically was that our cars were a little bit hard to drive in that depending on what your setup was, you could go into the corner with an understeer, could be neutral in the midâ€'corner and oversteer coming out of the corner or some combination of the bunch depending on what that is, so it made it really hard for the teams to set up the car the way that they wanted to set it up.

So what we found is if you get the setup correct, the kit could be really fast. However, that forced the teams to adjust to the way the aero kit drove and not the other way around.

One of our main goals of the aero kit for 2016 was really to widen the operational window, so to make it â€'â€' if you see the kit, you'll see it's much simpler and it's much easier to drive, so really it wasn't necessarily about raising the peak performance but allowing the teams to use a wider combination of setups to actually utilize the car and utilize the kit to its full potential. So both in conjunction with the 9.3 parts and the 9.2 parts, the entire package now worked together to help our teams to be able to drive the car faster.

T.E. McHALE: We're two months from the month of May, just anticipating what Honda is prepared to do from a supply standpoint and what our expectations are in terms of how many cars we might be prepared to supply for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29th.

ART ST. CYR: We haven't completely finalized our lineup, but right now we are staffed up to supply at least 17 cars, which is what we did last year. I believe it was 17 last year. However, we are prepared to potentially expand that even further, depending on if there's a â€'â€' the 100th running of the Indy 500 is pretty important, so if there are some situations and the deals that work out are really good for us, we are prepared to potentially go more than that. But right now that's not decided yet, so that really depends on who comes out and says they want to run.

But we will be doing at least 17 cars.

Q: You mentioned that the Honda package was deemed to be deficient in the wind tunnel. Was it drag or downforce or both?

ART ST. CYR: Well, that in itself is something that IndyCar, in the whole thing of 9.3, it was up to their sole discretion to determine what the difference was on that, and they wouldn't give us a number of how deficient we were, whether it was drag or downforce. Quite frankly it's probably efficiency, the L/D [Lift over Drag] number that we go to, and what they said was, yes, there's a deficit. They didn't tell us how much, and they said, okay, you're allowed to do some development, but they wouldn't tell us how much development we could do, so we had to give them a list and say, okay, here are the parts we want to change, and they'd put a part on and say, okay, you're still okay. Next part, you're still okay. The next part, okay, you're done right there, and that's how the list of parts that were allowed under the 9.3 rule to be determined.

So there wasn't a specific number target saying you're allowed to have 300 more pounds of downforce or 100 pounds less of drag. There was not that number actually put out.

But when you measure it, though, I'm sure it's â€'â€' when I say I'm sure, only because we haven't had that discussion specifically about what are the criteria, but it's a lift over drag efficiency number that I would say was the basis of that.

Q: It sounds like it was more of a guessing game than any hard data that we were able to take advantage of that was supplied by the series.

ART ST. CYR: That is correct. We did have to make our own assumptions, but we have some pretty smart aerodynamic people at HPD, right, that can look at what the other side did and what we did, and really we had a pretty good guess of what the gap was and how to close up that gap.

Q: Talking about the aero packages, what changes have been made to the engine package in contrast to the aero package?

ART ST. CYR: I'm glad you asked that question, because this year, the engine homologation rules allow for certain changes at each year, and this year a lot of the combustion chamber areas, so the intake ports, the cam shaft, the cam timing, that stuff was open for homologation this year, so we actually did make some pretty significant jumps in engine power. Last year it seemed like we had pretty good â€'â€' especially in the lowâ€'speed corners, we were actually pretty fast, so we would say that we were fairly competitive with the competition on engine side last year, so we had a pretty good starting point, but this year we did make a pretty good jump in both torque and horsepower on our engine to hopefully be even more competitive this year.

I would honestly say that a lot of our â€'â€' a lot of the performance gain that you will see from straight speed will be more attributed to our engine than actually our aero kit. Like I said, our aero kit philosophy was more to make the window wider so that teams could actually drive the cars harder, but a lot of the speed difference that you'll see will be due to increases in the engine performance.

Q: Are they taking a look at last year's Chevy kit or are they using 2016?

ART ST. CYR: The way the rule was written, the way the 9.3 rule was written, was the 2015 kit. So if you looked at the Honda 2015 kit versus the competitor 2015 kit, that's the starting point. We're allowed to make changes to our 2015 kit to get equal to their performance level or perceived performance level.

Then that closed out the 9.3.

Then by the rules, the 9.2 rules, which allows for more open development, the boxes, right, so both us and the other side have the chance to work in three boxes on top of that. So the answer to your question is the 2015.

Q: Are we looking at welcoming a third manufacturer into the Verizon IndyCar Series?

ART ST. CYR: We are. We've said that from the start. We actually said that before even Chevy came into the series. We were always looking for competition, and that we would help new manufacturers come into the series. We did the same thing when Chevy wanted to come in, we showed them “this is what we're doing". Here's what the engine rule kit and the rule package looks like, and we would make alterations to that rule package to accommodate other manufacturers.

But yes, very much so, and that was part of the issue with this new contract is that we wanted to make sure that it was flexible enough that it did encourage other manufacturers to come into the series, as well.

Q: The negotiations to renew your contract with IndyCar were kind of prolonged. What was it that Honda was looking for from IndyCar? What assurances were you looking for from IndyCar before you reâ€'signed?

ART ST. CYR: So we said all along that it was not necessarily concessions that we were looking for. We were looking for a vision, a unified vision of where we're going, so we want to grow openâ€'wheel racing in North America. We want to have the capability of more competition, better engine competition, more engine manufacturers in, and we wanted to make sure that the barriers to expanding the appeal of IndyCar were addressed, which was really the main thing, right. One thing that's beautiful about IndyCar, and more so than almost any other series in the world, is how competitive it is. We wanted to make sure that there wasn't the situation where you have one car, one team, one manufacturer, one something dominating all the time. We wanted to give the structure that allows for growth of the series, and that's â€'â€' and as far as the length of time, really the meat of the deal was done way back with Derrick Walker. We just never really got the final touches on that one. And then when we had the changeâ€'over at that point, that changed a little bit of a delay. But it was more about the structure looking forward to IndyCar that we wanted to make sure that our vision was unified more so than looking for concessions per se.

Q: Was there any discussions on TV? The TV ratings are soâ€'so, to be polite about it. Were there any discussions from the standpoint that you want to see something done to improve those TV ratings?

T.E. McHALE: Do you want me to take that one? We're talking about two separate things here. We're talking about an engine supply agreement which HPD executes with IndyCar. Concurrent with that, there is a separate marketing agreement that would address the kinds of questions that you're asking, and I'm not the principal negotiator on the marketing side of that agreement, but Art probably isn't the best person to address how that looks.

ART ST. CYR: But with that being said, obviously growing the sport is important, so the competition side is important, also the visibility side, the access side, so all of those things that go into making openâ€'wheel racing more attractive than it has been in the past are the things that we were talking about on that.

So as far as specifics, though, T.E. is right that there were some specific discussions about how they want to do that, and [American Honda excutives] were part of the discussions, but they did not involve myself.

Q: Talk about Chip Ganassi's status with Chevrolet. He's in a contract year at the moment. Would Honda be interested in having him return to the fold?

ART ST. CYR: Well, right now for 2016 we're really happy with the teams that we have. We have a good core, we have a good veteran group in our series right now.

Now, future stuff, it depends on how things shake out, but I would never say that we would never talk to anybody on that, but right now we haven't engaged in any of those conversations at this point.

Q: A couple Honda teams have said that they're under the impression that the pieces for 2016 that they've seen so far are more geared toward recruiting reliability and that the torque changes and the handling changes are coming later. What's your take on that?

ART ST. CYR: So the answer to your question is yes and no. As you know, there are four engines allowed during the year. So principally, right, we had issues that we were changing out engines early last year that we wanted to fix those problems and that we definitely wanted to make sure that these engines lasted the requisite 2,500 miles. But with that being said, there are changes that we made to the first spec engine that's in the car right now that is an improvement over last year.

But there are some other hardware points that actually have some incremental changes moving forward, but a big chunk of it is already in the cars right now.

Q: Each team, team by team, has the same spec, whatever it may be?

ART ST. CYR: Correct.

Q: As the season goes on, you'll add parts and at the end of the year you'll have all your 2016 parts?

ART ST. CYR: The answer is that the first engine is the first spec, the second engine is the second spec, the third engine is the third â€'â€' there are some items that are open, that are open homologations so you can always change pistons, you can always change valves, you can always do those types of things. So any time you change the spec of the engine, you can change those parts so there's always some opportunity for some small improvements as you go from the first engine to the second engine to the third engine to the fourth engine. Right now all the teams, all the cars have the first spec engine in it. As they mileage it out, then they will move to the second spec engine, and then eventually all the teams will have the second spec engine at the same time. But IndyCar actually assigns those engines to the teams, so we have a pool of engines that all have exactly the same spec and say that each team gets one much those engines from â€'â€' each driver gets one of those engines from that pool.

Does that answer your question?

T.E. McHALE: We're going to wrap up for this afternoon. Thank you all for taking the time to be with us. Art, go have lunch, and the rest of you please join us.

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