AVONDALE, AZ – Everyone pretty much assumed that the Chevrolet powered cars would dominate the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. With an aerokit freeze, the dominating manufacturer from the season prior should have a distinct advantage for obvious reasons. But, the opening day of the first “official” test session of the season at the Phoenix International Raceway on Friday was encouraging for the Honda drivers.
When you look at the overall speed charts of the combined two sessions from Friday, you’d see the top two speeds were Chevy power. Behind them though were nine Honda’s over the next 11 spots. Yes, there were nine Hondas in the top 13 on the speed charts with a majority of those laps turned in the cooler temps in the night session at the 1.022-mile track.
That encouraged their drivers as they said they weren’t’ going for overall speed on Friday. But, to be able to be quick out of the gates, it meant a lot for the manufacturer that only had two wins and three poles out of 16 races in 2016.
“It’s always encouraging (to see your name at the top),” Andretti said after turning the night session’s quickest speed of 189.122 mph. “It’s still early but it’s a good start. What I like about it is, you obviously want to be P1, but today we really focused on the car, the car, the car. We just focused on doing our jobs and maximizing whatever we can. And we ended up all right. I have a hunch that the opposition is turned down, but you might as well be there if you can be.”
Another generational driver agrees, as Graham Rahal turned the fourth overall lap of the day.
“I think we’re pleased with the performance today,” said Rahal, Honda’s highest placer in points last season in fifth. “Obviously, we have to take into account that it’s a test, but we worked through a lot of stuff. I don’t think we were necessarily looking for speed to be honest with you, so I was a little bit surprised when we went out right away and did that lap time. We actually backed it up again completely on our own at the end of the session.”
Four-time series champion Scott Dixon who’s driving a Honda after Chip Ganassi Racing switched from Chevy to Honda in the offseason sees they still have a ton of work to do and doesn’t think it’s still the ideal package for them to contend. He would know too as he won the race at Phoenix a year ago.
“For us, big changes in the offseason,” last year’s Phoenix winner said. “It’s the second time in the Honda powered car, first time on a short oval, which as we know is maybe not the best package to have. But, all in all, it ran fairly smoothly. As for right now, the engine feels really good and lap times I thought for what we were doing were actually fairly decent.”
Dixon, turned a top lap of 187.944 in his all white No. 9 Honda, good enough for eighth overall.
Now, the drivers hope Day 2 is just as good as Day 1 and that it can translate well to a much more consistent 2017 season of running up front. Last year, Chevy drivers led all 250 laps in the return to Phoenix and had eight cars finish in the top nine.