An interview with Honda’s ART ST. CYR

Art St. Cyr
Art St. Cyr discusses root cause of Honda engine issues

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for taking the time to join us for this next in our series of media availabilities during the 2017 season. Our guest today, again, is Art St. Cyr, president of HPD. Thanks for being with us today.

ART ST. CYR: Thanks.

T.E. McHALE: We've had about a month now to reflect on what's been a series of pretty successful results for the Honda Racing program. Let's just start by getting your general impressions of our IndyCar successes at the 500 and at Detroit the following weekend.

ART ST. CYR: Yeah, so, I guess I'd be a little bit remiss to not mention, I know the last time we did this was before the Indy 500, so the Indy 500 was pretty successful for us. Takuma Sato has turned out to be a very popular winner, especially with the folks in Japan. Actually, I think, T.E., you just came back from a media tour with them in Japan this last week.

One of our main goals at HPD every year is to win the Indy 500. Having the result we did was really good for us. Following that up with victories at both races in Detroit was just kind of the icing on the cake of that brutal stretch during our schedule.

Obviously the morale is pretty high. We're pretty happy, and we're looking forward to continuing on with the season.

T.E. McHALE: We had a few reliability issues over the course of the past month. I know that HPD has identified the problem and is working to implement solutions which are unfortunately not available to us immediately overnight. Talk about what that process looked like and what the next steps are from here.

ART ST. CYR: As most of you know, we had a couple of engine failures over the last month or so. We have done a lot of analysis. It's actually pretty deep in our engine. The part that failed is one we've been using for quite a while. Ultimately it came down to a parts processing issue for that. We have been able to identify the part that is failing.

We have some fixes in place for the rest of this year. As it stands right now, we are getting those parts into HPD at this point. We'll be starting to build new engines with those parts in it. Unfortunately, with the durability plans that we have, 2500 miles, it's going to take a while to cycle those engines into our pool. We hope to have those engines in our spares pool optimistically at Iowa, but more realistically in Toronto.

There is no plan right now to do a wholesale change of our engines. Right now it looks like it happens in about one out of every eight engines that we have right now. If it does fail, it usually fails early. So when that problem arises, it shows up pretty quick.

Our expectations are that once we get the engines in the spares pool, we will continue the engines that are in the car throughout the remainder of their lives, then those will be replaced with new engines, like I said, hopefully, knock on wood, some of them at Iowa, but more realistically probably in Toronto is when that will really start to show up.

T.E. McHALE: The other thing we should probably talk about, not to be overlooked in the doubleheader win at Detroit, was the first win for the Acura NSX GT3 in the IMSA race on Belle Isle, maybe not every bit as popular as Takuma Sato's victory, but a big victory for HPD and American Honda.

ART ST. CYR: As you know, the NSX GT3 started racing this year in the IMSA Series. The fifth race in the IMSA series, we got our first win in a very competitive GT3 Series. That was in Detroit. We try to win them all, but winning in Detroit was really good for our program.

Again, it takes some momentum into Watkins Glen that we have, and also here at Road America with our World Challenge racing. It's been really good.

The program is still a work in progress. We are still improving the car, trying to make it better. As we mentioned before, our intention of that is to get that ready for sales, but right now we're not at that point yet. Part of this development process is with that as a longâ€'term goal for this program.

T.E. McHALE: As Art mentioned, for those of you who may not know, we're running concurrent NSX GT3 programs in both the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship and the Pirelli World Challenge. The World Challenge side of that operation is in action here at Road America this weekend.

We'll open the floor to questions for Art.

Q. When you build your engines, do you do simulations to find out where the engine is going to break?

ART ST. CYR: The answer to that is yes, we do simulations. We also do lots of dyno tests. The problem we had with the IndyCar engine is that it was an intermittent processing issue that wouldn't show up in a simulation. It resulted from a stress riser in our engine that was obviously not designed in. That's the IndyCar engine.

The NSX engine is a little different. That engine is built as a massâ€'production engine as required by the GT3 rules. The NSX race engines get built in a mass production factory, where the production car NSX engines also are built. Those engines have been run through the production car simulations and durability cycles, as well. There's a little bit extra safety margin in those [NSX] engines.

Q. Do you have special quality control processes for outside suppliers?

ART ST. CYR: The answer to that is yes. Unfortunately, the issue that we're finding in our IndyCar engine was not part of our checks. I can emphatically say they now are part of the checks.

Just to be clear, the part that we're talking about, we've been using it in this engine for three years without any problems until just recently. There's not much more to say about that. We have added that particular check into the process. It's not saying we won't have more failures, but we won't have that failure any more.

Q. Is there any cross work done with the Japan side working on the F1 program, any collaboration between the two programs?

ART ST. CYR: Yes, we do have some collaboration. The engines are similar, both V6s, but different. The F1 engine a 1.6 liter, we're a 2.2 liter. They have a hybrid system. We don't have a hybrid system. The way the engine burns fuel, we have similar technologies in that regard.

More recently, we've been having some more collaboration with our Japan counterparts to try to help understand the whole process. I don't know if they necessarily need our help, per se, but we are working together to try to improve both programs, yes.

Q. Do any of the HPD people actively work on the Formula One program?

ART ST. CYR: No. All of the global programs, the ones that are multiâ€'national efforts, are all done out of our Japan office. That includes the World Touring Car Championship, the Formula 1, those types of things, as well as the Japan domestic series [Super Formula and Super GT]. HPD is responsible solely for the North American racing series. Generally we're the North American racing arm, and they [Japan] do the global stuff.

The responsibility doesn't really overlap in that respect. However, like I said, there are similar technologies we're using especially on the ICE [internal combustion engine] part of the equation.

No, there's nobody working specifically on that, but we do have people that are involved in collaborations with Japan.

Q. Were the IndyCar engine failures a result of the increased power the engine is making this year?

ART ST. CYR: The simple answer is when you make more horsepower, you do expose parts to more stresses. That's the fundamental thing about it. In this particular case, what it did is it reduced our safety factor on that particular part. It still should have been fine, but the problem is that part of the processing introduced a stress riser which put us over the edge.

Like I said, it is not on every engine, but it is on a handful of engines. Yes, the increasing power is an attributing factor to that, because obviously there is more stress on it in general. The way the part is designed, it should have been able to resist that stress.

Q. Given the success you had at the Indy 500, will you make the trade power for reliability every year?

ART ST. CYR: I can't speak for every situation.

In general, our main goal is to win the Indy 500. We knew that even if we ran the engines at full power, the majority of our engines were going to make it. In that case, we were willing to make that tradeoff. If it was going to fail every engine, then maybe not.

Every circumstance is different. But in this case, we were willing to make that call. You're at risk every year. Typically both manufacturers will end up having about two mechanical failures. That's about what we had this year anyway.

But we'll make those judgments on a caseâ€'byâ€'case basis.

Q. With the race here at Road American extended by five laps this year, many drivers are predicting a ‘fuel economy’ run. Can you comment on that?

ART ST. CYR: Personally, I haven't given it that much thought. Frankly, this is what the race length is this weekend, and we've designed our program accordingly. I can't say that we would have done it any differently if it was five laps shorter in this case.

Q. They wanted it 10 laps longer.

ART ST. CYR: I wasn't involved in those discussions. When it's all said and done, we'll make our strategy based on whatever the race is. I wasn't consulted on that. I don't really have a deepâ€'set opinion on that. Sorry, I don't.

Q. (No microphone.)

ART ST. CYR: I'm not sure if I'd necessarily agree with that opinion. We have developed our race engines and our calibrations to accommodate what we're racing here right now. I think it really depends on how many yellows you have and that type of stuff, on how it actually plays out.

I don't know that I'd make the determination that it's going to be a fuel economy race right now.

Q. Even though HPD's main focus is for North American racing, is there research being done in Japan for the HPD series?

ART ST. CYR: The simple answer to that is no. All exclusive research for North American racing series are done at HPD. It gets a little blurry because there is some research that is good for more than one [series]. Fundamental research is fundamental research. We do collaborate on our research. It's not saying we wouldn't use some of the research they're doing for some of our programs.

But specific research themes for North America are only done at HPD.

Q. Is this year's Honda engine more powerful than last year's?

ART ST. CYR: The simple answer is yes. The answer of how much is, I'm not going to tell you.

We strive to improve our engine every year. We evaluate the series. We evaluate where we are, where we want to be, and set our targets accordingly.

The way that the engine homologation rules are written is there are years they allow a lot more development than other years. Some years they allow, especially on the top end of the engine, if they allow those parts for open development, you'll gain more power than if they don't allow that.

There are some things, pistons, basically pistons. So there's a limited amount of things we could do this year. We have taken a lot of research to figure out how we can make other improvements in other areas that are not guided by the homologation.

But it's safe to say that our engines this year are more powerful than they were last year, but I'm not going to tell you how much.

Q. What is your approach to the new aero kit and how are you going to disseminate information to your teams?

ART ST. CYR: As with most things, right, there's the plan and there's the reality. The reality is I'm not really sure because it's a brandâ€'new kit. We know there's going to be some bumps in the road. The typical process involves first characterizing the new aero kit through CFD, understanding what its strengths, what its weaknesses are.

We will take it into the wind tunnel and we will map the car. My understanding of the new aero kit is that it's pretty simple. The only things you can change are ride height, front and rear wing angle, and some homologated wickers that are allowed. We will map all of those, then we'll take those wind tunnel maps, put it on a car, or several cars, and we'll run them on different circuits and make sure what we see on the wind tunnel is actually what happens in the track. That's the fundamental process.

The other part of it is how do we set up the chassis or the suspension to work with those better. That's going to be a lot of integration with us and the teams really focusing on how to extract all the performance we can out of those cars.

There's lots of other things, like cooling, those types of things, that are not thought of quite as much. But with wear, the positioning of the electronic units versus where the turbochargers are, the inlets are, is going to create quite a challenge. There's going to be some compromises made because of that as well.

T.E. McHALE: With that we'll wrap it up. Thank you.

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