Honda identifies problem part in engine failures – IndyStar – Indianapolis Star

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Motor Sports insider Jim Ayello previews this weekend’s IndyCar race in Wisconsin.
Jim Ayello/IndyStar

PLYMOUTH, Wis. — Honda Performance Development believes it has unearthed the answer to the problem that has plagued its cars all season long: engine failure.

Since the start of May, at least a dozen of Honda’s engines have quit, including those in the cars of Fernando Alonso, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Charlie Kimball during the Indianapolis 500.

But Honda Performance Development President Art St. Cyr said Saturday at Road America that his team has identified the problem.

“We have done a lot of analysis,” St. Cyr said. “It’s actually pretty deep in our engine. The part that failed is one we’ve been using for quite a while. Ultimately it came down to a parts processing issue for that, but we have been able to identify the part that is failing.

“We have some fixes in place for the rest of this year. As it stands right now, we are getting those parts into HPD at this point.”

Before Honda drivers —  and their fans — get too excited, there are a couple of factors to keep in mind. First, there’s no guarantee those fixes will work.

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“Honda has done a hell of a job,” Graham Rahal said after qualifying sixth on Saturday. “I said yesterday in my press conference, they’re pushing to win. They did figure out what the problem is, but is there an immediate fix?  Who knows. They say there is, but it’s going to take a little bit of time to phase it in.”

St. Cyr ceded the same point. He said HPD has begun to build new engines with the appropriate changes made, but they won’t be implemented immediately. 

“Unfortunately, with the durability plans that we have, 2500 miles, it’s going to take a while to cycle those engines into our pool,” St. Cyr said. “We hope to have those engines in our spares pool optimistically at Iowa, but more realistically in Toronto.

“… Our expectations are that once we get the engines in the spares pool, we will continue the engines that are in the car throughout the remainder of their lives, then those will be replaced with new engines.”

St. Cyr added that the problem part flares up in about one of every eight engines, accounting for the random nature of the issue.

He also said that Honda’s increased horsepower this year was likely a factor in the failures.

“Yes, the increasing power is an attributing factor to (the failures), because obviously there is more stress on (the engine) in general. But the way the part is designed, it should have been able to resist that stress.”

Finally, St. Cyr reiterated what Honda drivers and team owners have been saying all season: The tradeoff of reliability for speed is not one they regret making. After winning just two races last season, Honda already has five victories this season, including the 500. The goal every year is to win the 500, St. Cyr said, and that’s what Honda did.

“We knew that even if we ran the engines at full power, the majority of our engines were going to make it,” St. Cyr said. “In that case, we were willing to make that tradeoff. If it was going to fail every engine, then maybe not. Every circumstance is different. But in this case, we were willing to make that call. You’re at risk every year. Typically both manufacturers will end up having about two mechanical failures. That’s about what we had this year anyway.”

Heading into this weekend’s race at Road America, Honda leads Chevrolet 737-698 in the Manufacturer’s Championship. Chevrolet has won five manufacturer’s championships in a row, dating back to 2012.

Follow IndyStar Motor Sports Insider Jim Ayello on Twitter and Instagram: @jimayello.

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