Honda Identify the Cause of their Unreliability, but the Fix may not be Immediate

With Honda identifying the cause of their IndyCar engine issues, Hayley Stanway looks at the supplier and how the fix may not be a quick one.

Fernando Alonso of Spain, driver of the #29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, in action during the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Honda have fallen victim to notably more unreliability than others this year. Of the ten rounds raced so far, the marque has suffered eight retirements due, specifically, to mechanical failure.

Honda Identify the Cause of their Unreliability, but the Fix may not be Immediate

Until now, there has been only speculation as to whether the reliability concerns stemmed from a common issue, or if there are a number of different reasons for the failures. There have also been electrical failures for the Honda runners, although it has, as yet, been unclear if this was related to the engine woes.

It has been a very tight balancing act this year for those powered by Honda. Their engines have more grunt, as is evident from their superior straight line speed, but to achieve top speed, there is more strain on the engines, pushing the boundaries of reliability and with an engine that you know is fragile, that can have a psychological impact of a driver’s race. In an interview with Autoweek, Ryan Hunter-Reay expressed concerns over the reliability of the car and admitted that it is something he finds himself worrying about.

Arguably, the event that really underlined these concerns was the flagship race, the Indy 500. All was looking well ahead of the race with six spots in the fast nine occupied by Honda cars. This carried into the race with it looking very likely that a Honda runner would take the win.

Honda did win that race with Takuma Sato in the Andretti Autosport, but it is difficult to overlook the rate at which they dropped out of the race in the latter stages, with one third of their total fleet forced to park their car.

This issue was compounded, rightly or wrongly, by the fact that the eyes of the world were on Indianapolis – more so than usual. Double Formula 1 world champion, Fernando Alonso, was competing in an attempt to gain the second jewel in the triple crown with McLaren Honda Andretti. Practice and qualifying, as well as the first half of the race showed that he was in with a very real chance of taking the win. However, in the closing stages of the race, his engine gave up – not a sensation he is unfamiliar with, given the reliability of the Honda power unit in his McLaren MCL32.

Not to single out the flying visitor, Charlie Kimball and Ryan Hunter-Reay retired from the race in similar fashion, and in relatively quick succession. Despite Sato’s amazing achievement, this performance on the global stage has only served to reinforce the ridicule of the engine manufacturer, with serious questions now being asked ahead of the second half of the IndyCar season.

With increased pressure on the Japanese outfit to answer the reliability questions and implement the necessary fixes, fast, the president of Honda Performance Department, Art St. Cyr, revealed on Saturday that they believe they have identified the problem.

He stopped short of publicising the specific issues with the engines but is confident that they have devised a fix for the problem, with replacements being fitted to all cars. But not immediately.

In an interview for the Official IndyCar website, he said “There is no plan right now to do a wholesale change of our engines. Right now, it looks like [the failure] happens in about one out of every eight engines. If it does fail, it usually fails early, so when that problem arises, it shows up pretty quick.

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

With that being the case, although the issues have tended to show up early on in the lifespan of the engines and with it being seemingly undetectable in simulation, there is a chance we have not seen the end of the unreliability. The aim is to have the fresh supply of engines available to all Honda runners in Toronto.

St. Cyr admitted that they have taken a risk in utilising all of their horsepower, particularly at The Brickyard, but it is a trade-off that they were willing to take and it did, after all, win them the race.
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