When the IndyCar Series’ Honda Performance Development hired former Ferrari F1 head of engine development, David Salters, in late 2015 to boost development of the IndyCar Honda engine programme, the move was a side note to Honda’s decreased involvement with aero partner Wirth Research.
Now however, Graham Rahal of RLL Racing says that it is because of Salters hiring and aggressive development of the powertrain that the Honda-powered teams in 2017 are out-pacing their Chevrolet rivals. With manufacturer-specific aero development frozen and to be replaced by universal kits in 2018; Rahal says the engine has more than compensated and it is thanks in part to Salters.
“David Salters, who joined HPD from the Ferrari Formula 1 team the winter before last, is one of the key [reasons for the change in development] there,” explained Rahal about the performance gap between Honda and Chevrolet, this season.
“Everyone at HPD has been responsible for the improvements, but I think he’s had a huge effect.
“From day one, he had the mentality of pushing the limits and they’re doing that and the engine is better, very strong.”
The performance gains this year would not be possible had Honda not changed its ‘conservative mentality’ on hiring outside help says Rahal.
“What we’re seeing is a mentality change at Honda compared to this time last year,” Rahal told Autosport.
“There was a very conservative mentality on the tuning side, the engine mapping, but now they’re pushing the boundaries.”
It is no secret that Honda do not like to seek “outsider” help; they prefer to promote from within and use resources that they know and trust. The Honda F1 division is a testament to that; however by abandoning that trend and hiring from outside, the Honda IndyCar division is succeeding where they once failed.
Perhaps, the Honda F1 division would be wise to do the same.