Video: Q&A with Art St. Cyr
ART ST. CYR, President, Honda Peformance Development
T.E. McHALE: Thanks for joining us for our first media availability for the 2017 season, and welcome to our yard. Pleased to have you all here with us at the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Our guest this morning is HPD president Art St. Cyr. We wanted to take this opportunity, as we have our three highest profile racing series on the racetrack in the same place this weekend, to emphasize the scope of Honda's motorsports activities.
Of course, you all know we have the IndyCar Series, but we also have two sports car series on track in which we have NSX GT3 entries in both series with RealTime Racing and the Pirelli World Challenge, and with Mike Shank Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship.
I wanted to have Art comment on what all of the scope of those activities mean to HPD because the three we have here this weekend are really just a part of a much larger representation of activities that we feel is unmatched by any other OEM in the world.
Talk about that in context of what's happening here, Art, and then maybe in the bigger picture as it involves other HPD‑related activities in other racing series.
ART ST. CYR: Good morning, everyone. Actually, I want to say welcome to Long Beach. This is one of what we consider our home tracks. It's kind of a double‑edged sword being right down the street from corporate because we have a lot of people that actually want to come down here. Welcome to Long Beach.
As T.E. said, our kind of pinnacle programs are expanding. Obviously with IndyCar, and this year we're excited with Chip Ganassi Racing coming back to Honda, as well as having Sebastien Bourdais join the Dale Coyne stable. Obviously his win in St. Petersburg in the first race was really good.
But our expansion of our Acura Motorsports is something I would really like to talk about as well.
We have two GT3 programs running here. With Mike Shank running in IMSA and RealTime Racing running in the Pirelli World Challenge, it's really exciting. It's really energized our group not only here in Torrance, but our people in Ohio.
So actually between the Mike Shank team and the RealTime Racing team, there's two people that are here on their own time from the factory that are supporting those teams, as well as a couple people from our research and development arm in Ohio, supporting those teams.
It's truly a North American effort working on those cars. Like I said, it's really energized us, especially at corporate, because we've been working for quite a while now with Johnny (indiscernible), who is the head of Acura in Torrance, to really make the GT3 program the proof point of the performance side of Acura Precision Crafted Performance.
So it's really something that speaks to what the brand is supposed to be, something that we've wanted to do for a long time.
To have all three of our pinnacle series running here this weekend is just fantastic.
ART ST. CYR: Well, where do even start on that one? There are so many things that changed. The most obviously one, as I mentioned before, with the addition of Chip Ganassi Racing coming. We have Sebastien Bourdais joining Dale Coyne, which was a very good off‑season for us in terms of getting more experience, getting a lot of proven championship‑ and race‑winning drivers in the Honda stable.
But there was a lot of work that went on with our teams, with our group at HPD. We worked on the engine. We worked on understanding our aero kit a little better. Just have everyone remember that with the 9.3, we resigned our aero kit last year before St. Pete, so it was brand‑new for all of our teams since last year.
Now that our teams have had a year to understand what that aero kit is, things are really coming into place. The engine is strong. The teams understand the aero kit a little bit more. Very experienced teams, very experienced drivers. It's all coming together. We're really excited about this season moving forward.
Obviously the competition is still tough, right? You saw in the practice times yesterday that the field is just really, really tight, which is one of the beautiful things about IndyCar and why we like it so much. One second can cover the top 18 drivers. Strategy plays an important part. The actual race craft is just fun.
T.E. McHALE: Fortunately one of the victories Honda posted last year was at the Indianapolis 500. With the month of May just around the corner, give us a little update on the prospects for the 2017 500.
ART ST. CYR: Well, one of the HPD's biggest goals for the season is always to win the Indy 500. That is the pinnacle. If there's one race you want to win, it's the Indy 500.
Having an opportunity to run the Indy 500 is really one of the reasons why HPD even came into existence, is the chance to run that race.
Obviously last year the Honda cars were very strong. We haven't stopped focusing on that. We're not resting on our laurels. We've been working really hard at trying to improve on what we had last year.
I'm very excited about our prospects. But just like any race, we'll see what happens in May.
T.E. McHALE: To go a little more globally in terms of Honda's motorsports footprint, maybe more in the U.S. some may be aware we announced our driver lineup for the 2017 Global Rallycross here on Thursday night. Art had recently the opportunity, which I happen to know that he loved because he couldn't stop talking about it, to drive our desert Ridgeline racing truck, which will be competing in the Baja 500 and the Baja 1000 this year. It's actually on display at the arena at the Honda product display.
Talk about those maybe a little bit lesser‑known programs, but how they fit into the overall picture of the landscape of HPD.
ART ST. CYR: Well, let me back up a little bit.
So HPD, we really have four main tasks. Obviously IndyCar is one of our primary tasks. Also Acura Motorsports. Acura Motorsports is another one of our main functions that we do, supporting the NSX GT3s.
We also have two other things. The other one is supporting grassroots motorsports. I'm not sure if people understand just the breadth of grassroots racing that we're involved in. Anything from quarter midgets to tin tops to SECA activities. Our grassroots racers won over 125 races last year, over 325 podiums. It was a good year for our grassroots racers as well.
Our fourth category is what I like to call whatever American Honda wants us to do. We're a subsidiary of American Honda. There's sometimes that American Honda asks us to do things to help support what they're trying to do. Two of those was the Global Rallycross. We do that with Civic SIs. As many of you know, we are launching the Civic SI now. Today, right? That's going on sale. We'll use the Global Rallycross to really talk about Civic. It goes after that young male demographic that is so important for us to sell the Civic to.
Another one is the Baja Ridgeline. We actually started that a couple years ago. One of the requirements is I get to drive this car. I actually had a chance to drive it a couple weeks ago, and I'm still smiling about it because it's just ridiculous driving that thing. You go over these whoops that are three feet high. The co‑driver with me was one of our drivers, kept telling me to go faster and faster where the urge is to slow down. As you skip over the top of these things, as I said, I'm still smiling about it. I have a cool video if anybody wants to see it. Show it to anybody that wants to listen and some of you that don't (laughter).
Sorry, it honestly makes me giggle every time I do it. Sage Marie was actually one of the drivers of the first ‑‑ the race‑winning Baja 1000 team we did a couple Novembers ago. He knows how fun it is to drive that thing. It beats the snot out of you. But it's all good.
T.E. McHALE: On that 'beat the snot out of you' note, we will open the floor.
ART ST. CYR: Wait, is this thing on (laughter)?
T.E. McHALE: Any questions for Art.
Q. How do you allocate resources at HPD to focus on the development of the '18 vehicle, which IndyCar has announced, as well as keeping them current for the 2017 season?
ART ST. CYR: Actually, it's not that difficult because it's really what we've been doing all along. The engine formula has been defined, so the homologation schedule is defined for next year. The engine plan was already set.
Now, with the aero kit, IndyCar is actually leading that development, and we're supporting it. But it's really no different when we were doing the aero kit ourselves. So trying to work with IndyCar, figuring out what are the trouble points that we have, make sure we're designing that into our overall design of what we're doing. Things like air inlets for our engines are different. Making sure that the aerodynamic forces are correct for what we want to do, especially in races like Indy Motor Speedway that are very unique.
There's a plan that's in place. We're still struggling hard to keep that schedule, right? But there's a plan in place that we'll start getting cars and parts on it late this summer. That's all part of the plan.
Like I said, from our perspective, it's just kind of a different flavor of the aero kits to make sure we understand what's going on on that.
Q. What are some of the advantages of having so many platforms? Is there anything you transfer across each platform?
ART ST. CYR: I want to answer that question a little bit differently than a direct answer for that.
The reason why we do so many race series, we have really two main focuses. One, when we do these pinnacle programs, it's really for brand identification and also fans to watch.
But part of what Honda's about is we want to make fun‑to‑drive vehicles. When you make fun‑to‑drive vehicles, it's important to reach customers where you can touch them one‑on‑one. Running the grassroots program is important for us to reach those customers, even as young as eight years old that are running quarter midgets.
Especially with vehicles like the NSX, even through the development, we knew we were going to race the car. We were working with R&D all along on that, making sure that things that are required for the racetrack are things that are developed in the car.
The other grassroots programs that we have, every one of those motors for those programs is based off of a mass production engine. So whether it's the four‑cylinder engine from the FIT, the six cylinder engine that's in the Odyssey, the GX engines that our power equipment, that's where we work alongside R&D to make sure what we build we can race.
I won't say it's transferred, but it's really working together with our R&D to make sure what's going in the passenger cars and what's going in the racecars is appropriate for what we want to do from an overall conceptual standpoint.
We want driving to be fun. Clean, safe fun is our mantra in Honda. Precision crafted performance, with a capital P, it's important for us to have that in every aspect of what we do for Acura and Honda.
Q. On the IndyCar side you have returning drivers. How beneficial has it been from getting feedback from Sebastien Bourdais, and adding on the Ganassi side Scott Dixon? How much has that helped Honda's overall efforts?
ART ST. CYR: When you can get feedback from a driver like Scott Dixon, no one is going to turn that away.
It's always good to get feedback, for lack of a better word. But one of the things that we at Honda Performance Development pride ourselves on is we really customize the performance envelope of the cars to the driver's specific needs. We have a very customer centric, for lack of a better term, way of tuning the engine for each of those individual drivers.
Now, obviously the driving style of a Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, they've driven a lot more cars, have a lot more miles, so they're very definitive, let's say, on what they want. Honestly, as we do that stuff, having more input really does raise all the ships, right?
You can find where you're weak, find areas that we hadn't thought about, where we should attack in terms of areas of development and stuff. That stuff is very important to us.
I don't have a specific answer to say, He gave us this.
Q. What about working with a guy like Craig Hansen?
ART ST. CYR: We've been working with Craig, right? Craig is one of the main people we worked with in developing the aero kit that's on the cars right now. It's not really a different thing.
Craig does bring some experience back. He won four championships with Sebastien, right? He does have a lot of experience. They know what they want. He comes at it from a little bit different viewpoint now. But it's good.
That's our philosophy. If any of our teams want something specific, we're going to try to do anything we can to make the cars go fast on track. As you can see, it was a pretty good result in St. Pete.
Q. A driver like Will Power, who drives the other brand.
ART ST. CYR: Who? Sorry.
Q. Says that you have an advantage. Do you feel like you have an advantage? How does that make you feel that he is trying to put you out front now? Starting to feel a little more comfortable?
ART ST. CYR: First of all, it's racing. I would never rest on our laurels and say we have an advantage. They got some pretty good drivers, pretty good teams over there. They have shown consistently that he can win races.
I mean, that's great if they're worried about it. But honestly, it's not going to stop us from working harder, trying to go faster, working with our teams to try to squeeze every inch of performance we can get out of these cars.
Q. Last year for a while you knew you had a disadvantage. Clearly better coming to a race weekend now.
ART ST. CYR: It's always better to be the top of the time sheets than the bottom of the time sheets, that is for sure. No, we don't really have the feeling that we've accomplished any goals.
Last year, with a brand‑new aero kit, fighting against the other side that's been working with their aero kit for four years, there was a lot of catch‑up, trying to figure that stuff out.
This is the first time we've had a second year on an aero kit in the last three years. I feel like we finally have a good, solid foundation underneath us.
Whether that turns into an advantage or not, at least we're working on race craft and not working on trying to figure out the fundamentals in the car. I think our teams are able to extract that 1% of performance that makes them faster.
Q. IndyCar is talking about a new car for the 2020s. Has there been any discussion about what the new formula may look like, which way that may go?
ART ST. CYR: We have started those conversations. Yes, we've had discussions both with IndyCar and also with the other side there to try to figure out what makes sense for the future cars. There's nothing written down in the rules right now. We're still investigating what's going on.
Now is the time to really start thinking about that formula. Like I said, nothing is set in stone at this point.
Q. Formula One went very high‑tech, hybrid. They kind of ruined the sound. Now they're all talking about bringing that sound back. Is sound part of the conversation with IndyCar, how the cars would sound, be attractive to the audience?
ART ST. CYR: The new kind of viewpoint, even with the new car, right, is to make things more fan friendly. With that being said, I think it's more important for us to make sure that the cars go fast than to worry about details of things like sound or something like that.
As things move forward, I know people, a lot of the drivers, Graham Rahal talks about trying to get more sound, but it's also important for IndyCar, and also for us at Honda Performance Development, to make sure what we are developing is relevant for the real world, right?
So big V8s are probably not in the future for anybody. Downsized turbos are kind of the reality of the production car world. We will be doing that.
Now, whether we want to have higher performance, more sound, all that stuff will come out. Right now, we haven't gotten far enough in the overall formula to say what the sound is actually going to be.
To say we're not thinking about it would be disingenuous. We have more fundamental things to worry about at this early stage.
Q. Some people are saying the cars will be 100% electric. Does that mean that IndyCars should be all electric?
ART ST. CYR: Well, maybe in the future that's the way to go. I know that our global president, Mr. Hachigo, has made the statement that two‑thirds of our production cars globally will be electric by 2030. That's probably two or three engine formulas away at this point.
Right now, I'm not thinking of electric cars in the immediate future.
Q. How important in the new engine formula is encouraging new manufacturers to come in?
ART ST. CYR: Even when we were making that engine formula back in 2011, when Honda was doing the sole supply, it was always important to make a platform that's flexible enough that that would encourage other OEMs and other car companies to come in and run the IndyCar Series. We've always said we encourage more competition. We'll bring them in. They can look at HPD. We'll show them how to do it.
All of that is part of the plan, so we're not going to go super exotic, to answer your question, that would discourage anybody. We want to make it so people will come in.
T.E. McHALE: Thank you all for being here. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.
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