The Balance Of Power

Among the two engine manufacturers in the Verizon IndyCar Series, there has been pretty much a balance of power – at least when it comes to the number of cars they power. Honda and Chevrolet powered eleven cars each in the 2016 season.

Chevy powered the four Team Penske cars, as well as the four Ganassi cars. They were in the two Ed Carpenter cars and the one KVSH entry. On the Honda side; there were the four Andretti cars, plus the two Hondas of AJ Foyt, Sam Schmidt, Dale Coyne and the single-car effort of Graham Rahal.

Now that we’ve learned that Chip Ganassi is leaving Chevrolet to go to Honda, that balance has been disrupted. You know that Honda will not power fifteen cars while Chevy only has seven. Something has to give.

Although it has not been made official, all signs point to AJ Foyt switching from Honda to Chevy. But that is only two cars back to the Chevy side. That shifts the balance to thirteen for Honda and nine for Chevy. Will another two-car Honda team switch over to the bow-tie brand or will that imbalance carry over into the 2017 season?

I’ve heard nary a whisper about what other Honda team might move to Chevy. We’ve heard three teams that say they are definitely staying with Honda – Schmidt, Rahal and Andretti. That leaves Dale Coyne and I’m not sure he is interested.

On one hand, this baffles me. Except for winning the Indianapolis 500 three out of the five years that Chevy has been back in the series (and that’s a major consideration); Chevy has won the overwhelming majority of the races for the past two seasons – the seasons with aero kits.

On the other hand, there is a big expense that goes along with swapping manufacturers. Not only are you running different engines, you are also using new aero kits – aero kits that the team has to pay for. It’s a dangerous thing to trust my memory at my ripe old age, but if I recall – each aero kit runs around $75,000 per car. That’s not cheap.

Dale Coyne is known for throwing nickels around like man-hole covers. In short, he is cheap. It could be that he has tentatively agreed to move to Chevy in 2018 – when all the cars will have a uniform body kit. The 2016 kits are frozen for 2017 and will then go away the following season. I’m sure the uniform bodywork for 2018 will cost a significant amount. Dale Coyne is probably not real keen on shelling out money for a new frozen Chevy kit in 2017 and then a new uniform kit the following year.

The general consensus is that Foyt is getting some financial help from Chevy to move. Does Coyne not merit the same consideration? Maybe Chevy made overtures to all the current Honda teams and promised financial help to the first team to take their offer. I have no idea if any racing deals go down this way, but how else do you explain Foyt switching to Chevy and Coyne staying with Honda?

Personally, as a lifelong fan of AJ Foyt – I’m happy to see Foyt go with an American manufacturer. I’ve never been one to champion American drivers over international drivers, but AJ Foyt is about as American as it gets. His team needs to be with a US manufacturer. His team hasn’t been powered by a US manufacturer since the 2002 season, when his cars were powered by Chevy. In 2003 his team moved to Toyota and then to Honda in 2006 when Honda became the sole engine provider to the series. When Chevy came back into the series in 2012, Foyt opted to stay with Honda.

Hopefully, this is the start of a new day at AJ Foyt Enterprises – but it seems that we say that every offseason. It’s going to take more than anew engine, a new aero kit and a new pair of drivers to turn things around for the legendary Texan’s team. They need a staff of quality engineers that work well together. While Foyt doesn’t have the resources of the big three of Penske, Ganassi or Andretti; they should be better than what their results have been for…well, decades. We’ll know next year whether or not the changes at Foyt have worked.

In the meantime, I’ll be curious to watch and see what other Honda team, if any, makes the jump to Chevy. Surely someone will. I mean, it’s not like a team is being asked to put a Lotus engine in their car. If not, 2017 looks to be a year when the balance of power is out of whack. Honda will have the numbers, but Chevy will still have Penske. Things could get interesting.

George Phillips

11 Responses to “The Balance Of Power”

  1. This year, to win on a road/street course or short oval, you’d have to have a Chevy. That is everywhere except 3 venues. And it’s been only at 2 of those that a Honda did win.
    So it’s obvious that teams do not want to switch manufacturers just one season before a new aero kit arrives, just to save costs.

    Honda wants to be competitive everywhere again so they lured Ganassi away from Chevy. It makes sense that this move is beneficial for Ganassi’s budget because they now have to make it without their almost career-spanning title sponsor Target.

    Foyt’s switch to Chevy seems to have mainly to do with the fact that the Foyt team wants to win again A.S.A.P.
    Also, switching engines might be the only way to “save face” whilst letting go the only driver to win for the team in a decade who may or may not have seemingly been underperforming lately.

    I don’t expect any other Honda team to switch manufacturers for next season. But with the Carlin / KV merger rumors, this might be a 2-car team, effectively adding one more Chevy entry.

    If that means just 3 Ganassi cars remains to be seen, but it is likely that this is all about who runs Chilton’s Gallagher car.

  2. I don’t understand how they can add so many teams on when, come May, an engine lease will be harder to find than Jimmy Hoffa! I would like to see some bumping and I think that can happen.

    I still have some concerns about the KV ride also, not sure that team is going to make it. I also wonder what happens to the Byrd KV entry with Bryan Clauson being gone, Byrd seemed to really be a Clauson team or bust, I am not sure that ride will continue in May either.

    • Sorry, that Clauson ride was with Coyne, wasn’t it? My mistake, but still, I am not sure what happens with the support he had for his efforts.

      • billytheskink Says:

        You were only off by a year, Clauson was with KV in 2015.

        I don’t know if the Byrd’s have a driver they intend to support in 2017, there are no short track drivers who would seem to be obvious candidates, but I don’t expect they would walk away from the sport completely. They were offering a ride in the 2017 500 to any USAC driver who won all seven midget races in their so-called “Indy Challenge” (and a Freedom 100 ride to anyone who won 5 of 7). It won’t be claimed this year, we’ll see if they offer it again next year.

  3. Honda helped Coyne to get Craig Hampson and Bourdais so they were never going to switch to Chevy for 2017.

  4. The rule is that $75k is the **most** that a manufacturer can charge for an aerokit, as far as I know, and not what they **must** charge. Perhaps Chevy and Dale discussed his budget for kit parts over past two years and agreed to supply DCR with Chevy kits/parts at a discount so he’s no worse off?

  5. Regarding Dale Coyne: Being “cheap” is a different thing than simply not spending money you don’t have. I would be surprised if there were any additional engine switching for 2017.

  6. I believe Foyt is the only team moving to Chevy. The biggest downside of this is that it likely hurts the chances of RLL running a second car, and SPM having a third. Sure, they can make it happen at Indy, but not the full season.

  7. Logic suggests to me that all the Chevy bodywork that Ganassi had would be available to any Chevy team, whether it be by direct sale from Ganassi, some by back by Chevy, or some other arrangement. If logic is correct, those parts are probably going to be avialable at a cost below new parts.
    But that is logic speaking so it may not be applicable to this situation.

  8. Racing Acid Says:

    Takuma Sato, a lifetime Honda driver, to be driving a Chevy-powered car if he stays with Foyt. That is a shock.

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