Twenty years ago — within the span of six weeks – innovation and technology gains achieved in a similarly short period by Honda Performance Development came to the forefront of Indy car racing.
On July 9, 1995, Parker Johnstone earned the first pole position with a Honda-powered car at Michigan International Speedway. On Aug. 20, in the New England 200 at New Hampshire International Speedway, Andre Ribeiro delivered the company’s initial victory.
Following two years of development met oftentimes with competition disappointment, that milestone was more uplifting and important than many – including current HPD COO and vice president Steve Eriksen – thought that summer.
“When I started with HPD it was at the depths of our despair if you will as we just had not qualified for the (1994) Indy 500,” said Eriksen, who was a Honda associate before joining HPD. “We set about resolving our issues and trying to be successful and, in fact, the next year rolled around and we were heading out to Surfers Paradise and I’m not going because I’m with the test team and there was a test at Indy.
“I remember that test vividly because it was the first test that we ran over 230 mph around the track. We did it on a test day when there were no other competitors there and no public and we pulled the transponder out of the car because we didn’t want anyone knowing how fast we were going. We did our lap, videoed it and photographed it and came back to pit lane. That was sort of the defining moment that said we’ve done it, we made it.
“The Ribeiro win was bound to happen. We got the pole position in July at the Michigan 500 and I was on Parker Johnstone’s car when he got the first pole position. You could see the power was there.”
Honda attained its 200th victory in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono Raceway, which hosts this weekend’s ABC Supply 500. It’s the penultimate race of the series’ season.
Since its inception in ‘93, HPD – a wholly owned subsidiary of American Honda with headquarters in Santa Clarita, Calif. – has expanded its offerings and expertise. The aerodynamic bodywork platforms introduced to the Verizon IndyCar Series this season, tuned in conjunction with the 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engine, are an example.
“It’s a new era,” Eriksen said. “It’s interesting to look at the progress that we’ve made from what was a very narrow set of responsibilities in North American racing to such a broad range; the depth and breadth of what we do now is frankly incredible. It’s really gratifying to see that we’re able to spread the joy of racing that we feel at Honda to such a broad group.”
At heart, Honda is a racing company with a heritage of popular production cars, too. From personnel to processes in developing the superspeedway and road/street/short oval aero packages, the two are intertwined.
“What translates to the production world is not so much the components but the techniques,” Eriksen said. “The techniques that are used in a rapid environment are the things that translate into production. Computational Fluid Dynamics is not new to the production world, but we’re on an outer envelope of CFD work. We’re pushing what that’s capable of, and the number of processors required to achieve it and it’s those kinds of things that the technologies and techniques that can go into production car.
“We’ve had folks come from production world and went back to the productions world. Because folks have strong ties back to the factory – (HPD president) Art (St. Cyr, formerly chief engineer for automobile development at Honda R&D) designed some of the most loved Honda vehicles — he has all those connections to the factory and back to Honda. It makes interactions very easy for us.”