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Honda’s 5 IndyCar teams return in 2018; capacity to add more in doubt

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SONOMA, Calif. – Both Andretti Autosport and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have announced recent extensions with Honda in multi-year agreements in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The other three Honda teams – Chip Ganassi Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Dale Coyne Racing – will also be with the manufacturer into 2018 as well, confirming all five teams stay as is next season.

Honda Performance Development President Art St. Cyr told NBC Sports that while all these teams are confirmed for 2018, their contracts are staggered so that not all teams come up for renewal at the same time.

“Our team lineup is set for next year, so we are keeping the same five teams that we have this year with the latest announcement with Andretti Autosport at Watkins Glen announced that we re-signed them,” St. Cyr told reporters at a media availability Friday at Sonoma.

“So we still have the same five teams with Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“Driver lineup might be a little bit different, but having those teams set right now gives us a chance to really put our plan in place early on to make sure that the off‑season testing will go well, especially with this new universal aero kit, make sure that the information that we can provide for the teams gives them a good foundation for them to launch off next year. Hopefully next year will be even more successful.”

However, what is an interesting thing to note is how many cars those five teams can field.

Combined this year, it was 13 full-time cars – and Andretti, Coyne, RLL and SPM combined to add five extra cars for the Indianapolis 500 for 18 Honda cars. The extra entries were Fernando Alonso and Jack Harvey (Andretti, with other team support from McLaren and Michael Shank Racing), Pippa Mann (Coyne), Oriol Servia (RLL) and Jay Howard (SPM, with Team One Cure).

St. Cyr said the 13-car number is actually two more than its preferable capacity of 11 cars. In 2018, Andretti will field four cars, with the other four teams set to field at least two, and if at least one of them becomes possible to add a third car, that would make 13 again.

“It’s not a simple answer, quite frankly,” St. Cyr explained. “Our capacity, the way that we’re staffed is really for 11 cars. That’s our capacity at HPD.

“Now, obviously we can extend that given the circumstances that we have. We would prefer not to. Quite frankly this year 13 cars really stretched our capability. We wouldn’t be looking to add to that number short‑term. Obviously it’s a physical limitation of our engine build shop just to try to get enough engines through that shop. I mean, as it is right now, we still building Indy engines I think in February, so it becomes a little bit problematic in terms of building enough supply to do that stuff.

“To answer your question about whether we have the capacity or the willingness, we always want to ‑‑ we want this series to grow, so we want more teams, but that’s quite frankly one of the reasons we encourage looking for other manufacturers is to kind of help with that car count, and 13 is really kind of our practical limit that we have right now, so we’re not really looking to expand above that number.”

Andretti Autosport, which has all four of its cars done for the all-American quartet of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach, is now less inclined to add a fifth car full-time in 2018. Andretti told selected reporters Friday at Sonoma that unless something was to get done in the next couple weeks, that option is highly unlikely.

Still, Andretti expects to have at least five, and potentially six cars in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 – as he did this year with the extra cars run in tandem with McLaren and Michael Shank Racing.

Juncos Racing and Harding Racing both made their Indianapolis 500 debuts this year with Chevrolet, and provided either or both increases their programs beyond their limited entries this year, they’d do so with Chevrolet.

Jim Campbell, vice president, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, Chevrolet, told NBC Sports at Watkins Glen that Chevrolet has the ability to extend its capacity to double digit cars in 2018, if necessary. This year, Chevrolet has only had eight full-time cars, four from Team Penske and two apiece from Ed Carpenter Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

Carlin, which has not announced a step-up to IndyCar but has been heavily rumored to do so over the last few months, would then be a potential Chevrolet candidate as well given the potential capacity issues at Honda.

NHRA: Dodge/Mopar to unveil new Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car today in Denver

Photos/video courtesy Dodge/Mopar
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If you’re a fan of NHRA Funny Car racing and Dodge/Mopar, you may notice something different at this weekend’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver, Colorado.

Two-time (2011 and 2014) NHRA Funny Car champ Matt Hagan – who has won the last two NHRA national events in the last four weeks – will be piloting a newly-designed 2019 Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, a 10,000-horsepower Funny Car that makes its debut today at Dodge/Mopar’s premier NHRA national event.

The new Charger SRT Hellcat succeeds the former Mopar Dodge Charger R/T, which had been in use since 2015.

“We improved on the body design,” Hagan said of the new Charger Hellcat. “It was already a great design, a great body. But now, we’re going to have a little more downforce, a little more traction on these racetracks and it will be a huge performance advantage.”

The new Hellcat includes a number of innovations, including a new front splitter to increase downforce. Just like its predecessor, the R/T, the Hellcat will go head-to-head with Chevrolet’s Camaro in the NHRA Funny Car ranks.

“We will be able to press harder with more downforce on the nose, which translates into huge amounts of downforce on the run,” Hagan said.

According to a media release, the new Hellcat features major design changes in three key areas: the front end, bodysides and burst panel placement:

* “At the front, the shape of the nose has been tweaked and a new splitter (photo), built of carbon fiber and Kevlar like the rest of the Funny Car body, has been added. The splitter substantially mimics the look and shape of the production vehicle’s splitter while generating greater downforce to help plant the Funny Car to the track.

* “Bodyside scallops have been redesigned to more closely identify with the production Hellcat while also enhancing on-track function and performance. The deeper character lines provide greater visual ties to the street version of the Hellcat, while also helping to mitigate the “body burn” common on all Funny Cars due to the close positioning of the exhaust headers.

* “The location of the burst panel on the hood has also been reworked. The panel is now centered over the top of the engine to more efficiently release energy and pressure in the event of engine issues, a common occurrence in race cars that are pushed to the razor’s edge of performance.”

Since the R/T was first introduced into the Don Schumacher Racing corps, it has gone on to 50 wins, 42 runner-up finishes and 40 No. 1 qualifiers in NHRA national events and one NHRA Funny Car World Championship (Ron Capps, 2016).

The new Charger SRT Hellcat, which can exceed 330-plus mph and covers 1,000 feet in under four seconds, is the drag strip version of the supercharged, 707-horsepower production Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, the quickest, fastest and most powerful sedan in the world.

While Hagan will drive the first Hellcat, his other three Dodge-powered DSR teammates – Capps, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. – will soon take delivery of their own versions of the car over the remaining 11 races of the 2018 season.

One day after winning two weeks ago at Norwalk, Ohio, Hagan and crew chief Dickie Venables put the new Hellcat through its paces with several test runs. The results were so strong that it was decided to debut the car at Denver and run all qualifying and elimination rounds with it.

“We made four good, solid runs in testing at Norwalk,” said Hagan. “We put the body through a lot of different things and were really, really pleased with it.

“I really think it’s going to translate over to performance on the race track, and hopefully more win lights in the future.”

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