INSIGHT: Honda races to the future

INSIGHT: Honda races to the future

Engineers like to deal in data, so let’s start with a couple of numbers: Honda won its 10th NTT IndyCar Series manufacturers’ championship last year, which was also its fourth in a row. That in itself validates the work that has been performed at Honda Performance Development to maximize the power, efficiency and reliability of the 2.2-liter, twin-turbo, V6 IndyCar engines that have powered its partner teams since 2012. And the knowledge and experience gained from every lap run in the heat of competition is accelerating the learning curve on Honda’s street cars, too.

But racing is always about looking forward and taking on the next challenge, and HPD vice president Kelvin Fu is even more excited about the impact that the ongoing IndyCar Series program could have on the next generation of Honda street cars.

“From HPD’s standpoint, what’s really changing in the impact that racing is having on production road cars isn’t as much on the engine side, but on some other parts of the chassis,” he says, pointing to the newly-opened HALO (Honda Auto Labs Ohio) wind tunnel, which was designed with input from both racing and road car engineers. The tunnel can switch between a five-belt rolling road system for production car development and a single wide-belt system for testing racecars (below) or high-performance sports cars, and can generate wind speeds of more than 190mph.

“As the industry evolves with EVs, aerodynamics and wind resistance have become more important, as well as noise mitigation,” says Fu. “So where we’re seeing the biggest area of collaboration between racing and production is really in the tunnel. Vast arrays of microphones are used to pinpoint where noise is being created in a road car. But from a racing point of view, noise is turbulence. So maybe we can use that to identify areas (to focus on) with the racecar?

“In some ways that’s going be the future for production cars. You’re going to have to have lower wind resistance, lower drag, low noise. And from a racecar perspective, it’s all about lowering your drag coefficient, which is also important for EVs for range extension.”

The new hybrid powertrains that are on IndyCar’s horizon will offer opportunities for information exchange, too.

“As the hybrid comes into IndyCar, and as LMDh and GTP come online in sports car racing, too, there’s going be this whole understanding of range optimization versus performance versus vehicle simulations,” Fu explains. “And that’s going to be a big part of how the powertrain is integrated with the whole vehicle. There hasn’t been a ton of cross-fertilization there yet, but we’re pushing the edge from a racing perspective, and that will feed back into Honda’s production cars.”

As those 10 IndyCar Series manufacturers’ championships suggest, the relentless push for progress from the HPD side never lets up. In Chip Ganassi Racing driver Alex Palou’s case, it was a key ingredient to his winning the 2021 drivers’ title.

“The championship is a marathon,” says Palou (main), who starts second for Sunday’s 106th Indianapolis 500, alongside pole-sitter and CGR teammate Scott Dixon. “It’s 17 races and it’s about getting the maximum points in each race. To do that, first you need a racecar that’s reliable, and we’ve had that with Honda. We’ve had lots of power, too – in last year’s Indianapolis 500, we showed that the Honda-powered cars were super strong and super fast, and hopefully we can do the same again this year. In everything that it does, we know Honda is pushing as hard as we are.”

What do Honda’s relentless efforts to shave fractions of a second from Alex Palou’s Indianapolis Motor Speedway lap times have in common with you enjoying a quieter ride and a driving range on par with current SUVs in your fully-electric 2024 Honda Prologue? Turns out the answer is, a lot more than you might think.

Winning numbers

It’s hard to pick winners in a championship as competitive as the NTT IndyCar Series, but when you consider that Honda has won 55 percent of the races it’s contested, the badge on the car’s nose might be a decent indicator.

Those 262 victories from 477 starts are unmatched, as are Honda’s 18 drivers’ and 10 manufacturers’ titles. Granted, some of those came between 2006 and 2011, when it was the series’ sole supplier, but if you narrow the focus to the seasons when Honda has had a rival – including every year since 2012 – you’re still looking at 162 race wins, 151 poles, 12 drivers’ titles and eight Indianapolis 500 victories.

Drilling into the Honda-only era of 2006-’11 turns up some statistical gems, too. For example, 98 different drivers completed 1,118,376 miles of practice, qualifying and racing – almost the equivalent of five one-way trips to the moon. And that was achieved with just six race day engine failures.

During that same period, Honda powered the entire field of 33 cars in the Indy 500 without a single engine failure. Those six races (below, 2011) are the only ones in Indy history with zero engine-related retirements.

Walter Kuhn/Motorsport Images

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