An interview with Honda’s Art St. Cyr

Art St. Cyr
Art St. Cyr

T.E. McHALE: Thanks for joining us for the next in a series of media briefings we'll host at the motor coach over the course of the season. I wanted to get everybody together at the start of the month of May activities to talk a little bit about both of our upcoming races here at the Speedway.

Our guest, as you all know by now, is HPD president Art St. Cyr. Thanks for being here today, Art.

ART ST. CYR: Thanks for having me. Good morning, everybody.

T.E. McHALE: So just in very general terms, let's start with an overview of the month of May so far, which is literally two days of activity. Your thoughts about the race this afternoon.

ART ST. CYR: Well, it should be a good race. The weather's nice, right? So one of the interesting things about this place is the grip level really goes down as the weather heats up quite a bit here. I think it's going to be a pretty big challenge for the teams trying to keep up with what the track is doing.

Obviously yesterday, first practice was pretty cool. Second practice was warmer. Today is a little bit warmer still. The race is going to be yet again warmer.

At least listening to the warmup today, it seems like a lot of the teams are struggling with especially rear grip. So I think it's going to be interesting. But I think it should be a good race.

This track is great. There's lots of opportunities for passing. There's been a few fireworks here the last couple years. I think we expect a pretty exciting race.

T.E. McHALE: I think it's indisputable that Honda powered cars are much more competitive on the road and street courses this year than they were last year. Came out of the gate with two victories. Talk a little bit about the reason for the improvement, in your mind, on road and street course configurations.

ART ST. CYR: Well, clearly we started off this year better than we did last year. Victories in St. Pete and one of our home races in Long Beach, a really good start to the season for us.

But there's really no real single answer as to why the cars are more competitive this year. But obviously our engine is better. One of the big things is that the teams' understanding of the aero kits is much better.

I think I've mentioned it here before that obviously with the redo of our aero kit last year, the first couple races were brand new for our teams again on the road and street courses. As the season matured, the teams understood more about how the aero kit worked.

So this year they hit the ground running a little bit more. Their setups were better. Obviously we added at least one high quality team in the Chip Ganassi team. We got another series champion in Sebastien Bourdais to our stable. A lot of those things have led to an improvement in our performance so far.

T.E. McHALE: After this afternoon's event, all eyes turn to the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. I don't think it's any exaggeration to say that the dominant story of the month leading into race day will be the performance of our compatriot from the F1 side, Fernando Alonso. Your impressions about what his addition to the field means for the race and for Honda.

ART ST. CYR: Fernando Alonso is racing here (smiling)?

T.E. McHALE: Absolutely.

ART ST. CYR: Nobody ever told me.

T.E. McHALE: He'll be here on Monday. I'll be happy to introduce you.

ART ST. CYR: No, no, one of the big questions after last year's 100th running of the Indy 500 is, What are we going to do for an encore to keep the interest high?

I think the series, McLaren, Andretti, Honda, have done a pretty good job in getting someone of the caliber of Fernando Alonso to come here to the Indy 500. He's in a very steep learning curve with these cars, with this track. So I think it's just going to be a really great story watching the progress of him.

One thing that I will mention, he did land in a pretty good space. Not to say anything about Jack Harvey, but in the four full season teammates he has, he has two race winners and two drivers that had a chance of winning on the last lap of the race. He's got a lot of experience. I think he'll adapt pretty well.

We were pretty impressed with I guess we'll call his rookie orientation that he did on the 3rd. He did everything that was expected of him. I think it surprised him, some of the things, like how narrow the track is. It's a lot narrower when you're on the track than when you're watching it.

I think he still has quite a bit to learn as he races with the 32 other cars on the track, figures out how to do restarts and pit stops in a very busy pit lane. I think it's going to be a very entertaining next couple weeks as he figures that stuff out.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]But in his demeanor, and just talking to him, when I was talking to him at Barber, seeing how he goes about things, very meticulous, very methodical. I think he'll adapt really well, and I think he'll really be competitive when race day comes.

The day after it finally got announced, I called Mark Miles. I congratulated him for pretty much single handedly tripling the viewership here of the Indy 500 this year. I think it's going to be a very interesting international spectacle this time around, so I'm really looking forward to it.

T.E. McHALE: You mentioned Jack Harvey in passing. Just to make a point regarding Jack, it's the result of a technical partnership between Andretti Autosport and Michael Shank Racing. I think most of you Michael Shank runs a sports car for us in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship. I think all of us at Honda, it's been a goal of Mike's to be entered at the 500. So talk a little bit, if you would, about the importance of that.

ART ST. CYR: Well, many of you may or may not know actually that Mike Shank has been running Honda cars for quite a while. My first year as president of HPD in 2012, actually right before the race, Mike called me up and actually asked for an engine. Unfortunately, we didn't have one at the time. But I have talked to him over the years. He said that this is one of his big dreams, a bucket list item, was to run the Indy 500.

Back in 2012, he actually bought a car with the hopes of running it. Like I said, unfortunately we weren't able to help him out then.

This year the stars aligned. We've actually been working really well with Mike. Mike is a great guy. If you guys haven't had a chance to meet Mike Shank, he's one of the nicest guys in racing.

I think it's really exciting that he is finally getting his chance to run the Indy 500 with Jack Harvey. I think he landed in a really good situation. He has this technical partnership with Andretti Autosport that clearly does well around the Speedway here.

I think it's going to be very interesting. I know that he's very happy. We're very happy. He's done a great job for us in the Acura program so far. We're looking forward to him doing an equally good job running Jack Harvey here at the 500 in a couple weeks.

T.E. McHALE: We'll open it up to questions.

Q. You have 18 cars to supply. How do you guarantee each and every car, each and every engine is going to be as good as the other?

ART ST. CYR: Well, so Honda is supplying 18 cars, which is a little bit of a stretch for us. It is a challenge to make sure that we give equal love to all of our children, I guess you could say.

But we build the engines to a spec. I'm not sure if you're aware the way the cars are assigned to each team is they're put into a pool and IndyCar actually assigns them. There is no benefit in trying to make one car faster than another car.

With that being said, we have very tight control processes at HPD. After we build every engine, we dyno check, before we ship them, every engine. They all have to be within a pretty small window of power just to make sure that we're not giving advantage to one over another. Of course, there's going to be some range, but the range is actually really small.

Q. What's the percentage?

ART ST. CYR: It's small (laughter).

I'm not going to go into that, but it is a pretty small amount. To say they're exactly to the 10th of a horsepower is not correct. But they're, within any driver's field, equivalent.

Q. The challenge of having enough aero kit parts?

ART ST. CYR: Well, the Phoenix race two weeks ago, which I'd like to forget, was a challenge. We crashed a lot of cars there.

In this case, the parts were the same as last year, so we weren't looking to supply all new kits to everybody. We have a pretty good idea of what we need in terms of spares and stuff. We've had that lined up really for the last couple months. So we should not have a problem with any of our spare parts.

Q. (Question regarding Alonso speaking about the biggest challenge the first time on an oval, also bringing engineers over from Japan and Europe.)

ART ST. CYR: What was the first question?

Q. What feedback did you get from Fernando after his test here.

ART ST. CYR: I was not here at the test. The only information I got was I read the transcript of his press conference. Some of the interesting comments I'll reiterate, so I have to paraphrase, attribute these to Fernando on that.

As I alluded to before, he was very surprised at how narrow the track was. I remember one of the guys told me he said that he's going to have to go back and look at the videos, because he saw all the videos. He studied pretty hard before he came here for this. He can't imagine you can be three wide on this track. He said, I'm pretty sure I saw three wide. That was one of them.

The other one that took him a while to get used to, going into turn one flat. Even though he knew the car could do it, I thought it was funny that he said, Yeah, I meant to go into turn one flat, and my brain said to go into turn one flat, but my foot has a brain of its own, and he couldn't actually do it into turn one, which I thought was kind of funny.

Overall he adjusted well. He's trying to figure out how to use the tools that we have in our car, which is different than what they have in Formula One. He still has a lot to learn.

He's very interested in procedures, how to enter pit lane, how to exit pit lane, how to do restarts, where the controls are on the steering wheel, what the controls are, the weight jackers, the front and rear bar adjustments are things that are different for him here than in Formula One.

But he's very professional, very methodical in how he approaches this. I have no doubt that he's going to be able to be very successful at this.

As far as the second question about engineers coming over from McLaren and Honda, I am not aware of those. As far as the engine side is concerned, which is all that I really can control, is we are supporting that 100% with our HPD engineers. So there are no engineers coming from HRD Japan. (Indiscernible) who are running the Formula One race, because they have a race in Monaco.

Q. (No microphone.)

ART ST. CYR: They're pretty busy right now with that.

But, no, as far as the engine side, there's nobody coming over. I don't exactly know what the arrangement is with the Andretti and McLaren folks, whether they're having engineers come support. I actually would be surprised if they did. Running a superspeedway is very unique, especially the 500 is very unique. I'm not sure how much support they need or require for that.

From the engine side, I can say it's fully supported by HPD staff.

Q. You mentioned Michael Shank. Is there any special assistance (indiscernible)?

ART ST. CYR: As I mentioned, part of his deal here was he has a technical partnership with Andretti Autosports, so they have an agreement to share data. I imagine he'll be going out with the Andretti folks as well. For all intents and purposes, he is a sixth car with Andretti in terms of getting data. They have a lot of experience there, people that can help him adapt, really get up to speed quickly.

I actually expect it to be a pretty smooth action for him. Obviously the pit stop stuff, he's done that in endurance races, so he knows how to train people to do that. His engineer has some experience here at the Indianapolis 500. I think all of that will aid him getting up to speed pretty quickly.

T.E. McHALE: Thank you all for joining us.

ART ST. CYR: Thanks, guys.

Leave a Reply