A trying 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season featured one major highlight for Honda: the Indianapolis 500 triumph with Ryan Hunter-Reay.
But that was about it in a year that was arguably one of the toughest for the stalwart stakeholders of IndyCar.
In the Manufacturer’s Championship, Chevrolet defeated Honda 2293-1889, and that was with Chevrolet losing 100 points at the season finale at Auto Club Speedway for various penalties. In only six of 18 races did Honda outscore Chevrolet under the new Manufacturer’s Championship points.
It marks the third straight Manufacturer’s title for Chevrolet since General Motors rejoined the championship in 2012.
On the driver front, Honda has lost two of its marquee drivers. Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) and Josef Newgarden (CFH Racing) are now aligned with Chevrolet teams; Newgarden doesn’t switch teams, but the merged CFH squad takes the Chevrolets run by Ed Carpenter Racing rather than the Hondas utilized by Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Meanwhile Pagenaud, a longtime Honda driver, saddles up with Chevrolet at Team Penske.
It leaves Honda in a bit of a quandary on the driver front, as well as the team front.
As it stands now, Chevrolet has at least 12 cars – four apiece from Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, and two apiece from CFH and KV Racing (or whatever KV’s second team name will be known as).
Andretti Autosport leads Honda’s contingent with four cars of their own, with at least three of their drivers (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz) confirmed for 2015. Then there’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing with two cars apiece, and single cars from A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport.
The next likely domino to fall is James Hinchcliffe, who could well become the face of Honda assuming he stays with the manufacturer. Hinchcliffe is a potential replacement for Pagenaud at SPM if he doesn’t re-sign with Andretti.
Justin Wilson is also a flagship member of Honda’s lineup, and it would behoove the manufacturer to ensure Wilson has a quality ride with either Andretti or SPM as his Coyne tenure could well be at an end.
There remain the big last names – Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal both are Honda drivers for 2015 – that Honda can utilize if they become regular race winners and title contenders.
The goal now for Honda, ideally, would be to keep Hinch and Wilson on board besides RHR.
It’s just the items like this (Pagenaud and Newgarden in a cornfield, Pagenaud in an Acura commercial) that are being left behind.