Honda Racing–An interview with: ART ST. CYR

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for the latest in a series of Honda media briefings that we’ve conducted periodically throughout the 2015 season.
Our guest today is the president of Honda Performance Development, Art St. Cyr. Art, thanks for making the time for us today.
ART ST. CYR: Thanks for having me, everybody.
T.E. McHALE: I want to start by talking about how the season has turned a little bit more pleasantly for Honda of late with victories in two of the past three races, kind of get your thoughts on any ideas you have related to the reason for that success.
ART ST. CYR: Well, I must say that, you know, the last few races we’ve been pretty happy. Winning two of the last three races was really good for HPD and the Honda teams and Honda in general.
I mean, honestly, it’s been no real secret that we’ve had some struggles with our aero kit this year and trying to deal with some of the sensitivities and drivability with that aero kit.
The last few races IndyCar has put some rules in that has kind of limited the, let’s say, options. They’ve specified specific amounts of downforce at some of those races. Quite frankly, having less options allowed our teams to play in a little narrower box and they were able to be much more competitive in those races.
Like I said, we’ve been really happy with Honda, HPD. The team’s working really hard to figure that out. They’ve shown great competitiveness over the last few weeks.
T.E. McHALE: I wanted to dig a little deeper and give you an opportunity to share some thoughts about the teams themselves. It has been a difficult season for Honda and HPD in a lot of ways. But the fact remains that as we sit here right now, we have a driver who is second in the championship, we have three teams with race victories, we have the only driver in the series who has completed every lap of every race. It isn’t really a lost season by any means. Talk a little bit about the performance of our team so far this year.
ART ST. CYR: Actually we’ve been really proud of our teams this year. As I mentioned, again, it’s not a real secret, our aero kits have been a little bit hard to drive this year. Particularly the Rahal camp, they really upgraded their engineering staff this year and they have shown a really good affinity to match the good performance of the engine and the aero kits and their team performance, really put in a string of good performances.
But it’s not just the Rahal guys. The Andretti team, they have two race victories. Sam Schmidt, the Schmidt Peterson boys have a race victory. As T.E. said, Marco has completed every lap this season. So we’ve had some really good performances and our teams have done a really good job figuring things out. As the season has gone on, they have really taken to what they have available and really maximized that.
I think it’s a real testament to our teams and the strengths of their engineering abilities.
T.E. McHALE: I think it’s pretty common knowledge under this canopy that we are in negotiation with IndyCar for an extension to our current engine supply agreement which expires at the end of this season or in roughly another month. Give us an update on the status of those negotiations, if you would, please.
ART ST. CYR: I’m not going to give too many details about that one.
But, yes, it is true. Everybody knows we’ve been in active negotiations with IndyCar on a contract extension. Back when we started this, we had a lot of discussion about some of the technical issues and the technical vision moving forward. I’m happy to say that we have resolved and we have written in writing resolution on a lot of those technical issues. Some of them we have verbal agreement. There’s still one or two issues that we’re still trying to work through.
Like any company, we want to make sure that we have all of the I’s dotted and T’s crossed before we move forward. But our intent and our wish is to resolve those issues obviously before the end of this season so we can move forward with an extension.
T.E. McHALE: Finally, just your thoughts about the news that came out yesterday regarding the resignation of Derrick Walker as the president of competition at IndyCar. I know you and Derrick worked closely. He was probably your primary point of contact on the resolution of the technical terms you just mentioned.
ART ST. CYR: First of all, I just want to say that Derrick and I have a very good working relationship. I’m going to think he has spent an extraordinary amount of energy and passion dealing with the issues that have surrounded IndyCar over the last couple years.
I’ve really enjoyed working with him. I think it’s going to be a loss not having him around. I view Derrick as a friend. Pretty straight shooter, as things go.
Hopefully the work that he has put in place will continue, but I wish Derrick the best of luck. On a personal note, I’m going to be sad to see him go. Hopefully he sticks around the paddock in the years to come.
T.E. McHALE: We’ll open it up to questions from the floor.

Q. With Derrick’s departure, does that pose a setback for the negotiations for the extension of the engine supply agreement?
ART ST. CYR: Well, I guess my first answer to that is, I sure hope not on that one.
But the negotiations aren’t with Derrick. It’s not with Derrick and Honda. It’s with IndyCar and Honda. The other people involved in that process know the details. We expect it to move forward seamlessly.
Derrick is still going to be around through the end of August. So I fully expect everything to be continuing on as it was before.

Q. You said earlier you struggled in the beginning of the season. Can you give some more details as to the reason for that.
ART ST. CYR: About why we struggled at the beginning of the season. As I mentioned before, one of the issues that we had this year was that our car was just hard to drive. When we bolted the aero kit package on the old suspension settings, it just behaved differently.
We started the process pretty late in developing the aero kit. So part of our plan was to push that as far as possible. We talked to the teams and we explained the way it was going to be. They agreed that to push the design as late as possible, get as much performance out as possible.
The negative side of that is they got the kit right before St. Pete. With the lack of testing, the rules in IndyCar, we really put them behind the eight ball trying to figure out how best to utilize the kit, how best to utilize the downforce, how best to operate their racecars, especially in the early races of the season.
Now as the season has gone on, they’ve learned more. The engineers on each of the teams have figured out where the strengths and weaknesses are, how they want to run the cars.
Like I said, we’ve had success doing that, especially as of late. So I think from my perspective that explains why we had such a struggle at the beginning part of the season, is that the teams were trying to figure out basically a brand new car without any testing.

Q. The rules, clarify what’s allowed during the off season for improvement to the aero package for 2016.
ART ST. CYR: There is some development that’s allowed for 2016. Right now the scope of that one is still under a little bit of discussion. But to directly answer your question, no, we are not frozen with the same aero kit for next year as we are this year.

Q. Have you done already testing with new parts?
ART ST. CYR: Well, we’re not allowed to do any testing on anything for 2016 until the middle of September.
But the rules have always stated there’s going to be some limited development allowed. We have been doing the design process moving forward on that. We will be testing that shortly.

Q. You can’t test the car. Can you test (indiscernible)?
ART ST. CYR: Absolutely. We’ve done our CFD analysis, we’ve done some scale model testing, we’ve done full scale testing of both our 2015 kit and our 2016 kit.

Q. If this thing stays close and Graham is still in contention at the end of this race, would Honda consider funding a second car to help the team gather data for his stretch run?
ART ST. CYR: I’m not going to be able to answer that question directly.
We have talked to Bobby and the rest of the Rahal guys to find out what it is they need. Obviously we’re in a championship hunt, and we want to give them all the support that we possibly can to help them.
I mean, we have two street courses or two road courses, and one superspeedway. There is a pretty wide varying degree of help we can give.
But we have offered to help. I’m not sure we’re going to say we’re going to go as far as funding a second car, because we don’t typically do that at Honda. We will support them however we can to try to get them at the front of the race.

Q. What do you think is a reasonable testing schedule that you’d like to see IndyCar allow next year, even in season, for 2016?
ART ST. CYR: I’m going to get myself in a little bit of trouble if I answer that too straight up.
But, you know, honestly, the amount of testing from mine and Honda’s viewpoint should be commensurate with how much change is allowed.
Now, the rationale behind limiting testing is really to make sure that the lesser funded teams aren’t put at a disadvantage, which I very much support.
If you look around the paddock, there are some well funded teams, there are some teams that are really struggling. I think it’s important to fill out a grid here. We definitely want to have at least 22 cars running every week.
We have to look at the balance between what we want to do and what we can do to make sure we put on a good product for the fans, honestly.

Q. What would be a reasonable number of engine leases for 2016, in your estimation?
ART ST. CYR: Honestly, Honda and HPD has been a supporter of open wheel racing continuously for 22 years. We want it to grow. We want it to thrive. We also want to make sure that there’s not teams that have the capability of being strong and running here and not have an engine.
So really the answer to that question depends on how many teams actually want to run in the IndyCar Series. We are absolutely ready to run at least as many engines as we are running this year. Again, that is predicated on us signing an extension with IndyCar.
T.E. McHALE: With that, we’ll wrap it up. I want to thank you all for taking the time to join us.