Drivers face the unexpected as Indy practice opens

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Honda could be getting a bigger boost than expected at this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Less than 24 hours after IndyCar officials announced each car would have additional horsepower for next week’s qualifying, the series’ longtime engine-manufacturer learned Friday that it also could keep a new compressor cover on its single turbocharged engine — a move that should help Honda drivers find more speed in Indy’s long, flat straightaways.

On Friday, a retired Indiana Supreme Court judge upheld a ruling series officials made last month, which allowed Honda to use the cover at Sao Paulo. Chevrolet appealed even though it’s won all four races this season, all by Roger Penske’s team.

Those relying on Honda engines say they hope the changes will put some parity back in the series.

Honda has not really filled us in on what it does, but hopefully it helps us equalize our speed at some point in time down the straightaway,” said Mike Hull, managing director for Target Chip Ganassi. “I just think it’s important for IndyCar racing to go IndyCar racing.”

Coming into the May 27 race, the two biggest questions were how the new cars would handle at the season’s first oval race and how fast would they go.

Nobody seems to know.

When asked Friday what fans should expect for a pole-winning speed, KV Racing Technology owner Jimmy Vasser projected it to be in the 222 mph to 223 mph range. Justin Wilson, a two-time IndyCar winner who drives for Dale Coyne Racing, projected speeds topping 225 mph thanks mostly to the new rule in place for next Friday’s practice and both qualifying days.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take to win the pole,” said former IndyCar driver Michael Andretti, now the owner of Andretti Autosport. “The only thing I see is that there may be bigger tows because I think this car pokes a bigger hole in the air.”

Saturday’s fastest speeds are expected to be in the 220 mph range, and the series’ change means cars will get a horsepower boost of 40 to 50 that could translate into speeds 4 mph to 5 mph faster.

The Honda ruling could have even bigger implications.

Fifteen drivers are trying to make the 33-car field with Honda-powered engines, and points leader Will Power, who has won the last three races, believes the cover gives Honda an edge.

“There’s no question it made them more competitive at Brazil, where they went from being pretty close to us to having a slight advantage,” Power said. “It’s a much bigger advantage on an oval than a road course because you run wide-open for longer, so the horsepower really makes a difference.”

Honda had been the sole engine provider for the IndyCar Series since 2006 but has yet to win a race this season with its single turbocharged engine. Chevy and Lotus, the other two manufacturers all season, use twin turbochargers.

Series officials ruled that Honda needed the part to be more competitive.

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