Will Power’s race engineer Dave Faustino admits that he’s “a bit worried” that Honda has increased its edge over Chevrolet in the power battle at IndyCar’s superspeedways this year.
Although Faustino said he felt Team Penske-Chevrolet’s recent testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway had been helpful to team progress, he was left hoping that Chevrolet can make a sizeable step forward to match Honda for next month’s 101st Indy 500.
Penske shared Honda Performance Development’s test day at Indianapolis last month and then joined the Chevrolet teams at IMS several days later. Faustino said that the weather at HPD’s test had been far from ideal for straight comparisons between the two marques, but still felt the Honda-powered cars had been worryingly strong.
“Yeah, the windy conditions made it hard to judge,” he told Motorsport.com, “but I’d say when we ran the test with the Honda cars, we felt they were very fast and when we ran with the Chevrolets, it felt like we were all close to each other. It’s not like one Chevy team had found something that we as a team had been lacking.”
Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda recently suggested that Chevrolet had been sandbagging at IMS and the GM brand is well known in IndyCar for keeping its engines slightly detuned until the crucial sessions. But Faustino said that didn’t explain the deficit he and his fellow Penske engineers had observed at IMS in March.
“We’re not running the engines too hard,” he admitted, “but… we’re definitely hoping for more, come May. We felt like we were at a bit of a deficit last year, and it seems like Honda has improved since then.
“So we’re a bit worried, and hoping Chevy can respond. We’ve got to hope that the step they make is big enough.”
Faustino said he had no qualms over the Ilmor-built unit’s reliability but said that there needed to be a focus on outright power.
“We all know the engine’s going to be reliable,” he said. “Chevrolet and Ilmor really work on the basis that you don’t score much if you’re not around at the end of a race.
“But getting pure power has to be the next priority. I’m not saying anything they don’t already know. They’ve been working hard at it already.”
Maximizing potential of all five Penske cars
Although Will Power has been fastest Penske driver in qualifying at the Indy 500 for the past three years, and Juan Pablo Montoya led Power in a Penske 1-2 in the 2015 race, it’s been the team’s relative newcomer, Simon Pagenaud, who has appeared to have the fastest Penske entry at IMS come raceday for the past two years.
Last year, Power’s raceday pace was hampered by his car repeatedly bottoming out, after being made to restart from the rear of the pack at quarter-distance.
“Yeah, that bottoming was a knock on effect of having a pit penalty that dropped us to the back of the field and meant we had to crank on some wing to deal with the traffic,” said Faustino.
“Funny thing is, apart from that, Will’s setup has not really been that different to Simon’s, so now we’re all really working on consistency across the four cars – or five, with Montoya coming back – maximizing the whole team’s performance capabilities.
“Indy is one of those tracks where you try and build all your cars exactly the same, but you’ll always have differences that need to be addressed for each car and driver. What each driver needs to be fast in race traffic can vary no matter how well we prepare our cars.”