An interview with:
ART ST. CYR
T.E. McHALE: Our guest, as per usual, is the president of Honda Performance Development, Art St. Cyr.
Art, thanks for making time for us this morning.
ART ST. CYR: Good morning, everybody.
T.E. McHALE: I want to talk about the scope of HPD’s racing programs, which are on display here this weekend in Long Beach. We have the IndyCar headliner tomorrow, then this afternoon we also have a headline event in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship event, in which Acura has entered two Daytona Prototype entries for Team Penske. I think most of you know we won our first pole yesterday with that particular program with Juan Montoya.
Just give us a sense of what’s involved from an HPD standpoint in running those two high profile events here this weekend?
ART ST. CYR: How much time you got (laughter)?
As T.E. said, we have both of our pinnacle programs running this weekend. We have obviously the headliner, the IndyCar race. But also the pinnacle of our Acura Motorsports program, which is our Acura DPI program, with Team Penske, is also running this weekend. It’s actually a pretty exciting weekend for us.
We have some strong teams on both sides of this. It has been kind of a strain, I guess to say, from the HPD resource standpoint. I think we have a total of about 60 HPD associates here this weekend supporting the various things that we have, including we have several executives from both Acura and American Honda, as well, in addition to the technical side. It’s pretty high profile for our corporate office, which is right up the street. It’s a pretty big weekend for us, and we’re really excited.
Looks like we’re pretty competitive on both sides. At T.E. mentioned, we got our first pole in our third race with the Acura. I think Juan Montoya had a very, very good drive yesterday. We’re excited to see how we do today.
T.E. McHALE: Of course the IndyCar season is off to a pretty encouraging start. A victory in St. Petersburg in the season opener, then a strong five of the top six, albeit without a victory, last weekend in Phoenix. The takeaway from the Phoenix event certainly has been that we’re competitive on short ovals after several years of having struggled on that particular form of racetrack.
Talk a little bit about your impressions of the early part of the IndyCar season.
ART ST. CYR: Yeah, the start of the IndyCar season has been really good for us, especially looking at Phoenix. It’s no secret that Honda has struggled on the short ovals the last few years. It was very gratifying to be in the mix. The competition knew we were there, which was a little bit different than we’ve had in the past.
I think the best thing I can say about the Phoenix race is we were really, really disappointed not to win that race. We had the pace to win that race. There were some strategy calls at the end. Got to give the competition credit. But overall we feel that obviously at St. Pete, we got one through six in St. Pete, two through six at Phoenix. I prefer going back to the winning race here.
It’s a very tough track here. But our teams are strong. We got strong drivers. The engine’s strong. Everything is looking promising that we should be pretty competitive here today in qualifying and tomorrow as well.
T.E. McHALE: A pretty strong performance here yesterday in the opening day of practice, so prospects for the weekend here are, as we just said, pretty good.
Talk a little bit more about Long Beach specifically and what we’re looking for specifically from our IndyCar teams.
ART ST. CYR: As I said before, Long Beach is a special race for us because our corporate office is here. HPD is just up the road. There’s a lot of attention on us. Similar to St. Petersburg, though, our engine package, our driver package, our teams, I think it was yesterday every one of our teams was represented in the top 10.
Overall it looks like we’re looking strong. Obviously the other side is not going to be letting down for us. We got to keep moving forward, keep progressing, keep going faster.
Scott was looking good yesterday. Obviously Alexander and Ryan looked good. Takuma looked good until his unfortunate mishap at the very end of practice. We expect him and Graham to both be in the mix.
From top to bottom our teams are looking strong. We’re ready to go. We love this place. We’re hoping to put on a good show for everybody.
T.E. McHALE: While Long Beach is certainly our primary focus here this weekend, next month is the greatest spectacle in racing. At this point I guess I’d ask you for an update on what our status is for our Indy 500 program for 2018.
ART ST. CYR: Is that next month (laughter)?
We made all our driver announcements that we know of. How is that? We’ll had 19 cars total, which is the most that we’ve done since we’ve returned to competition. Obviously when we were doing all the cars, sole supplier, we did more than that. But 19 cars is a pretty big number for us.
It’s worked out for us because we learned about it early enough, so we’ve been able to start preparations for that. But that’s one of the advantages of HPD having such a wide portfolio of racing. We’re pulling support from all our other series to help run that race. 19 engines is quite a hefty, hefty chunk.
We expect, much like the season has been so far, to be competitive all 19 of those cars. It’s nice to have Oriol Servia running. He did the development for the universal aero kit about a year ago this time. It’s actually good getting to see him in the car racing.
We’re excited about our prospects. Our teams are ready. Our teams are focused. That is always one of our No. 1 goals at HPD, is to do well at the Indy 500. There’s no reason we’re not going to be competitive like we try to be every year.
T.E. McHALE: We’ll open it up to questions from our media guests.
Q. Even though you’re cutting it off at 19, has there been inquiry of making it 20?
ART ST. CYR: Honestly, our kind of max capacity is 18, so we have. We actually had lots of discussions with other groups, other teams over the last several months. But we have had to limit it to these cars.
One of the reasons we can do it is because they’re all affiliated with our existing teams so it helps us from an overall support standpoint. There has been more interest, but right now this is all we can do.
Q. Is there another potential team out there that could end up going to the other side?
ART ST. CYR: Yeah, I can’t talk about what the plans of other teams are. We have been involved in serious conversations. The 19 that we have we know are solid. They’re ready to go, very competitive. We have high hopes for all 19 of those to, A, make it to the show, and B, put in a really good showing at the Indy 500.
Q. In discussing the Indy 500, the engines are supposed to hit 2500 miles before they’re rebuilt. There are four races prior to Indy. When do the actual Indy 500 engines come into play?
ART ST. CYR: The engine rotation for the Indy 500 is unique, as you know. In general, we will put a fresh engine in for the Indy 500 no matter what.
You’ll have to talk to Alan Miller about the mechanics of what day it’s going in. But most of our full season drivers will put a fresh engine in for the Indy 500.
With that being said, there isn’t actually a 2500 mile limit any more. The limitation is you get four engines. Obviously with the season being about 10,000 miles, you can do the math on that. But we’ll run this first engine to 25 ish hundred miles. We’ll swap it out for the second engine. Then depending on what the team wants to do, we have the option to switch out to the third engine for the race, but then you have to go back and use that second engine.
That’s the same as it’s been done with every other year. But the switching to engine two will happen when it’s mileaged out. There will be some, I would imagine, that will change after Barber, but some may not change until after the Indy road course. There is the Indy open test that puts miles on, as well. Somewhere in that range you’ll see most of our drivers changing engines.
Q. Art, is that any added pressure for you to perform well having Mr. Hachigo present? Does (indiscernible) have any funding of your program?
ART ST. CYR: There’s a couple questions in there. As most of you probably know, Mr. Hachigo, who is Honda’s global CEO, is scheduled to be here tomorrow for race day.
As far as adding any extra pressure on us, I don’t know if I necessarily have any extra pressure because we put pressure on ourselves because we want to win every weekend.
Like I said before, we’re confident right now. We think our teams and drivers, if you look at our driver lineup, we have Indy 500 winners, champions, so overall I think we’re very strong as far as that’s concerned.
So funding, HPD, and one of the reasons HPD exists is to support North American racing. HPD was founded as a subsidiary of American Honda. So our funding comes directly from American Honda with the distinct funding to support North American racing to support North American sales.
If you go up high enough, everybody’s money comes from Honda motor, but our funding comes specifically from American Honda and not directly from Japan.
Q. In regards to the Acura program, did you expect the program to be so competitive right from the onset? Did you have some expectations pre season? Is this meeting your timeline for reaching first pole, challenging for wins, et cetera?
ART ST. CYR: With the Acura DPI program, with the drivers that we have, with the team that we have, we expected to come out of the gate being very competitive. We’ve been sports car racing a lot. Team Penske has been sports car racing a lot.
We did a lot of testing. We did thousands and thousands and thousands of miles of testing getting ready for the season. We thought we’d be competitive, at least in the mix, starting right off.
We have shown early season speed. Obviously there’s been some bugaboos, some gremlins we’ve attracted that happens in sports car racing. But we expect to win every race we’re in.
It’s gratifying, I guess is probably the best adjective to use, that we were able to get a pole at this race, our third race. Our big goal, as I said, is to be competitive in all of them. Sometimes a little luck is involved in getting poles, getting wins. We haven’t been quite as fortunate as we thought we would be. But we’re pretty satisfied with where we are right now.
Q. Does this race have any extra importance? Daytona, Sebring would be towards the top. Would Long Beach be close as far as it being the home race?
ART ST. CYR: As far as visibility, it’s absolutely an important race for us. We want to put up a good showing to all of our Acura associates we have around here.
From an HPD perspective, it’s yet another place. We said with IndyCar, we want to win them all. We really approach every race, What can we do to win this particular race?
But, yes, there’s definitely a lot more exposure for this one, as well. It’s nice to do well in this one.
Q. Art, for each additional Indy 500 entry, can you explain how many more people have to be used, how many man hours that takes, where those people come from?
ART ST. CYR: The question is a little bit wide open.
The obvious answer is, no matter what, at the absolute minimum, we have to have a race engineer for the engine. We have an engineer for every engine. That’s the absolute minimum.
Now, with that there’s some support staff that comes with it. We bring mechanics. We bring electrical people. Depending on where that extra person is or where that extra car is, there may be support there already.
I don’t have a specific answer. But it’s at least one person, then it’s partial of other people. Whether we can absorb it with what we have now where we have to add people… It’s really case by case.
Hopefully things go smoothly and you won’t need many more than that.
Q. Has there been any effect on engine performance with the new universal aero kit? If so, how has it affected performance?
ART ST. CYR: I think the biggest thing you can say with the universal aero kit is it has really improved the show. If you look at how much passing has been done at St. Petersburg, then at Phoenix. Actual Sebastien passed a bunch of cars, too. It really has improved the racing.
If you look at it from our side, it’s not just that. We always work on our engine. We think we came with a pretty competitive engine this year, a fast, reliable engine. As I mentioned several times now, we have a pretty healthy stable of drivers.
There’s teams that have stepped up, done a lot of work, like the Schmidt Peterson group, how they’ve totally changed what they’re doing. That adds to our competitiveness, as well.
Overall we’re pretty happy with what Honda is doing, with how the show has been. The early season results have shown that, as well.
Q. Do you have the ability to hire staff or do you bring them in from out of town?
ART ST. CYR: You can’t hire people in May, right? You have to pretty much hire them in January and February.
But we have engine builders at HPD. That’s the beauty of HPD having everything done in house. We design, build, test, all of that is done in house at HPD. There are skilled people that can come and support that at a moment’s notice if needed.
That has a knock on effect of slowing down other things that we’re working on. To have that pool of skilled people right here in North American, to be able to call them in at a moment’s notice, is so invaluable with what we’re trying to do here.
Q. The new IndyCar engine for 2021, what is the date to have the decision locked down so you can design, build and test that engine to be ready for 2021?
ART ST. CYR: As far as the new engine, we don’t have a date, per se. It’s just a question of what is our development schedule for that. We have been working with IndyCar. We’ve been working with the other partners in this to try to lock down the specification of that one.
The earlier you can do it, the better it is, the smoother your development can go. But as far as when those rules will be issued, that’s actually not my news to make. I would direct you to IndyCar to talk about that.
But from our engine development standpoint, obviously the sooner the better to have that done. But we’re prepared to do it whenever the rules finally get fixed.
T.E. McHALE: We’ll wrap it up with that response. Thank you all for joining us this morning. Enjoy the rest of your race weekend.