INDIANAPOLIS -- Hulman Motorsports CEO Mark Miles participated in a teleconference Wednesday, updating the media on several areas of progress for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
From both a short-term and a big-picture perspective, the most important issue on IndyCar's plate is establishing on-track parity and off-track harmony with engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda. On Wednesday, Miles confirmed that Honda's petition to make modifications to its 2015-specification aero kit prior to adding 2016-eligible changes was approved by the IndyCar board.
Chevrolet cars led 80 percent of the racing laps in 2015 and won 10 of 16 races, with the championship falling to Chevrolet driver Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing. However, Honda will only be able to modify its road/street course and short oval aerodynamics. IndyCar determined through wind-tunnel testing that the Honda package is on par with Chevrolet's aero components in superspeedway trim.
Since 2015 ended, Honda has tested modified sidepods and front-wing components, and those parts are slated to be wind-tunnel tested by IndyCar this weekend in anticipation of homologation within the next few weeks.
Miles added that he expects Honda to sign a contract extension with the IndyCar Series beyond 2016 within a few weeks, and he provided status updates on IndyCar's inaugural Boston Grand Prix and other topics. Here are highlights from the conversation:
On allowing Honda to seek assistance from IndyCar via Rule 9.3, which allows the series to grant allowances if a lack of parity between manufacturers is deemed detrimental to the series:
Miles: "It's our view that both the substance provided by the [wind tunnel] data and the perceptions of the racing have clearly provided significant hurdles for our teams who are racing Honda. I'm going to make no apologies to anybody for following our rules and implementing them in a way that takes into account the concerns and the situation for all of our teams. We think we're doing that responsibly."
On IndyCar's current state of relations with its manufacturers:
Miles: "I want to thank Honda and Chevy, who each probably don't agree with everything we're doing, but so far have at least seemed to understand. I think our communication has been good. We are walking the line to follow our rule."
On the perception that Honda was threatening to pull out of the IndyCar Series after 2016 if it was not granted relief for its inferior aero kit:
Miles: "This week, we expect to receive a mark-up of the agreement that Honda will be ready to sign, and we'll be reviewing that and hoping we can get it done in the next several days. We never felt like there was a gun placed to our head by Honda. They never said to us, 'You've got to deliver this result in terms of an opportunity for us to change our aero kits and accept these changes or we're not staying in the game.' I think they're committed to IndyCar. It's probably worth noting for the skeptics that they still don't know, and we still haven't determined what changes they'll be able to make."
On recent reports that the Boston GP, set to run for the first time on Labor Day weekend 2016, is on shaky ground, fueled by reports in the Boston Herald that IndyCar has been given two weeks to complete contractual agreements with all the necessary local and state agencies:
Miles: "I think the mayor's office is making it clear to everybody that they want this race to happen. That's always been our understanding directly from the mayor and the administration. They think it will be great for the city, a demonstration for the city to pull off sporting events, even complicated ones. However, I think they're making it clear that they expect everybody to fall in and get these agreements done to eliminate any uncertainties about it happening. So we are in very regular contact with our promoter, their people in Boston and in regular contact with city officials. Our expectation is that everything will be worked out and the race will happen and delight IndyCar fans."
On whether IndyCar has considered adopting a playoff-style championship similar to NASCAR's Chase, as recently championed by Chip Ganassi:
Miles: "Frankly, I cocked my head when I read that from Chip. From our perspective, the Verizon IndyCar Series championship is a flat home run, if I can mix my sports metaphors, or a walk-off home run would probably be better. It has at least recently come down absolutely to the wire, and last year required a tiebreaker. At this point, we have not thought that was something that was broken and needed to be fixed, and haven't really thought there's a better opportunity. It has not been on our plate as a priority."
On IndyCar's efforts to hire a replacement for departed VP of competition Derrick Walker.
Miles: "We're close. I'd say in the next couple weeks; could conceivably be next week. I don't expect it to be later than the week after. I don't really want to play a guessing game because these are personnel matters you have to get right and respect people's needs in the process. I don't want to fuel the speculation. I think I've already said that the person won't be an unknown quantity or a stranger to the sport."
On IndyCar's test-day allowance for 2016:
Miles: "Basically, the number of team tests and wind-tunnel tests is about the same. We have added a safety test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 6. We're calling it that and scheduling it so to the extent that Honda and Chevy can supply 2016 superspeedway aero kits to the teams; they will be run on the track. Obviously it's not exactly race conditions, but we want to do that. We want to do it early enough that if there's anything to be learned about the 2016 superspeedway kits, there is time to make any adjustments so that we have the best possible 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 imaginable. This is, I think, an important addition."