IndyCar Insider: Gap between Honda, Chevrolet still wide – Indianapolis Star
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Graham Rahal drove a terrific race Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway, and he finished fifth.
Ryan Hunter-Reay drove what he described as “one of my best races ever” in the same race, and he finished 10th.
Neither of which is particularly good news for Honda, the manufacturer they work with, as the next oval track on the schedule approaches.
Maybe you’ve heard the Indianapolis 500 is coming. At this point, the 500 is Chevrolet’s race to lose.
Certainly, PIR and IMS have different characteristics, and the bodywork kits will change back to configurations used in last year’s 500. But at this rate Honda will get smoked in qualifying because its raw speed simply isn’t at Chevrolet’s level, and IndyCar didn’t approve extra changes to Honda’s superspeedway package.
Rahal entered Saturday night’s race expecting Honda to be at a big disadvantage on the oval tracks. Was he right? No.
“(The gap is) bigger,” Rahal said. “At the end there, in all honesty I was 100 percent flat (on the accelerator) for 40 laps and I got driven around like I was standing still.”
Hunter-Reay was resigned to making some of the boldest moves of his career, and those actions had his wife, Beccy, restless on Twitter.
Hunter-Reay might have finished second had a pair of cautions not come just as he pitted under green, but he knew it took a Herculean effort just to stay in the game.
“Some of the moves that I took you’re not going to get away with a lot,” he said. “I took some major risks and had fun doing it, but (the discrepancy) is as big as we thought it was.
“It’s just pace. I didn’t have a whole lot (for Chevrolet drivers) unless we got into traffic. I certainly had something for them on starts and restarts, but once we settled into pace it was very difficult.”
The manufacturers will test privately Tuesday at IMS, then open things up Wednesday to all of the full-season drivers – plus oval-only driver Ed Carpenter but not the rookies. Much is expected to be learned, or maybe confirmed is a more fitting word.
IndyCar president Jay Frye vowed that all the data from the sessions will be examined to see where the discrepancies are, and he said it will be clear if Chevrolet drivers are holding back in an effort to hold their advantage.
If changes need to ensure a competitive 100th 500, which has nearly sold out with two months to spare.
“All I ask for is a chance,” Rahal said.
“We just want to have a shot at it,” Hunter-Reay said.
As for the rest of the season, it resumes April 17 with the street race in Long Beach, Calif. Then it’s on to April 24 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham before the two-race trip to Indianapolis.
Juan Pablo Montoya (St. Petersburg) and Scott Dixon (Phoenix) have the first two wins of the season, but it’s Simon Pagenaud with the points lead (by four over Dixon, by nine over Montoya). And with a third-place finish Saturday night, Will Power has inched closer into contention after sitting out the opener with an inner ear infection. He is 47 points out of the lead with 14 races to go.
Hunter-Reay stands as the top-ranking Honda driver in fourth place, 27 points behind Pagenaud. Like all those associated with Honda, he has work to do.