The IndyCar Revenant
It’s movie time for the Verizon IndyCar Series once again. This time, the movie connection is The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Academy Award winning vehicle. Of course the plot of the entire movie doesn’t reflect the current state of IndyCar, but one scene certainly does. The scene in question is THE scene in the movie. DiCaprio’s character, Hugh Glass, is mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his compatriots. Violent, bloody stuff it is. Which leads us to the current state of IndyCar.
The DiCaprio character of Hugh Glass is Honda Performance Development and the grizzly, of course, is Chevy. Currently, Chevy is having its way with Honda, both with engine power and aero kit performance. And it’s bloody. In the movie, the DiCaprio character vows revenge. We can only hope that Honda Performance Development has the sand that the movie character displays.
And that’s the question, isn’t it? After years as the only engine supplier, using dependable, de-tuned motors, Honda welcomed Chevy to help with the heavy lifting and to provide much needed competition in a stagnating series. So far, so good. The competition was scintillating, particularly at Indy. Then the decision to implement aero kits for each manufacturer was made. Hello, Mr. Grizzly Bear.
Each manufacturer teamed with a different engineering firm for aero kits: Chevy with Pratt & Miller Engineering and Honda with Wirth Research. Chevy ended up with an aero kit that teams understood and developed while Honda ended up with a work of modern art that offered too many solutions to the problems of aerodynamics. After the perceived favoritism afforded Chevy last last year in Indy with airborne cars and changed qualifying rules, Honda has found itself falling further and further behind. And that leads us to this moment in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Other than by using pit strategy, Honda has not been able to move to the front of pack this year at either St. Pete or Phoenix. As expected, the Honda teams are complaining, particularly about the coming use at Indy of domed skids, devices designed to increase downforce in a spin to prevent flying cars. After testing, the Honda teams have vociferously protested the domed skids as both unsafe for high speed racing and a detriment to competition, particularly at Indy. Chevy, on the other hand, is just fine with it. How about that irony?
At Indy last year, INDYCAR used safety as the absolute reason for revamping the qualification rules after cars became airborne. Even though Honda aero kits had not suffered the same fate, it was hard for Honda to argue with safety, right? Now, Honda is using safety as the same argument this year to remove or modify the domed skids. Will the series succumb to the same argument this year? Sorry, Honda. The grizzly bear is holding all the cards.
Did Honda Performance Development hitch their wagon to a falling star in Wirth Research for its aero kit? In hindsight, the answer is probably yes. Truthfully, that is simply the way it goes. Racing, as in all competition, has winners and losers. The problem with this in the Verizon IndyCar Series is that there are only two engine and aero kit providers, and it is imperative that both remain in the series. The series is always walking a very thin line to keep everyone happy. Would fans like to see racing where everyone is in competition? Sure, they would. Do aero kits really help differentiate the cars for the fans? No, they don’t.
For Honda, this is all about Indy. They need to be competitive in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said, “University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.” For manufacturers in the Verizon IndyCar Series, this is an absolute truth. The politics are vicious because the only thing worth winning is the Indy 500. These small stakes are huge for owners, drivers, and employees in the series, too. Sponsorship depends on success. Expect politicking from Honda and its affiliated teams to continue until the month of May to remove or modify the domed skids. It would be the safest thing to do on many levels.