Honda claims 200th IndyCar victory at Pocono

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Honda Performance Development celebrated its 20th anniversary in April. A little less than three months later, it’s time for HPD to throw another party after claiming its 200th win in North American open-wheel racing with Scott Dixon’s triumph at the Pocono IndyCar 400.

“It does mean a lot,” said Dixon, who has raced with Honda powerplants since the 2006 season. “It’s special. I haven’t been a Honda [driver] all my career but the time I’ve had with them has been fantastic. We’ve gone through ups and downs and won a lot of things together, and my biggest races have been won with Honda.

“Obviously, I love working with them and they’re a great group of people, and to be at that milestone with them is fantastic for me. So you know, let’s move on to 300, I guess.”

Honda first made its way into IndyCar in 1994, with Andre Ribeiro taking its first win one year later at New Hampshire International Speedway (now New Hampshire Motor Speedway). That day, Ribeiro won by over 14 seconds for Honda victory No. 1, whereas Dixon defeated Charlie Kimball today by less than half a second in Honda victory No. 200.

“It’s just such an incredible day for Honda and everyone at Honda Performance Development,” said HPD technical director Roger Griffiths in a statement. “I’m so pleased for every one of our associates who have been involved in our 200 race wins, for the Target Chip Ganassi organization on scoring their 100th and Scott [Dixon’s] 30th wins – just a great day all-around.”

Chevrolet appeared to have the edge on power after sweeping the top six spots on the grid in yesterday’s qualifying, but superior fuel mileage from updated engines enabled the Honda squads to neutralize the Bowtie’s advantage.

The first stops of the afternoon were very telling as the Chevy-powered pole sitter, Marco Andretti, pitted from the lead on Lap 30 – two laps before Dixon ducked in for his own service. Later on, the third round of stops saw Andretti go in on Lap 95 – a full five laps before Dixon and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates, Kimball and Dario Franchitti, went in together at Lap 100.

Andretti would eventually fade to 10th at the finish while trying to make fuel on his final run (he would barely reach the finish and run dry on his cool-down lap), while Dixon, Kimball and Franchitti went on to lock out the Pocono podium.

“The fuel mileage of the Honda engine was exceptional,” said Franchitti. “We are still a little shy on the horsepower but in race conditions there, it was really the thing to have.”

The three-time Indianapolis 500 champion also noted that the updated Honda motors are expected to make his team more competitive versus the Chevy camp in the road/street races ahead.

“The engine we have in the car now should suit the tracks we are going to, whether it be Toronto, Mid‑Ohio, Sonoma, Baltimore, all those places coming up,” he said. “Probably, [Pocono] wasn’t going to be its strongest track, so we are pretty excited moving forward.”

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.