Honda’s Reliability May Be Their Undoing at the Indy 500

Honda has lost 22 engines so far this year, and this could cost them a win at the Indy 500.

byGabriel Loewenberg|
Racing photo

"Hi. My name in Honda and I have a problem."

Hi, Honda. We know.

While we are all painfully aware of Honda's struggles in Formula One over the last several seasons. Honda has a reliability problem over in IndyCar, too. And it could cost them a win at the Indy 500 this weekend.

Leading up to the Indy 500, Honda has had 15 engines fail in the series. Five went in Long Beach. Eight gave up at Phoenix. At the Indy Grand Prix, using the in-field road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Honda had two engines fail.

So far, through practices and qualifying, seven Honda engines have been relegated to the scrap heap. Fernando Alonso lost one right before qualifying, which probably gave him a PTSD flashback.

After qualifying, everyone gets a new engine for the race. Going into Carb Day's final hour of practice, the Honda-powered cars were asked to keep running under 40 laps. Honda has said they know what the problem is, but it's not something they can just fix. 

Worse, the failures seem to happen randomly. They aren't giving up the ghost at the end of their life cycle, or under any predictable circumstance. This point was proven today.

James Hinchcliffe was about 20 laps into practice, well under the 40-lap limit placed on the Honda runners. This was also the first 20 laps of the new engine installed after qualifying. The car started smoking, so Hinchcliffe brought it to a stop on the apron leading into the pits. As the car sat there, all of the oil and water from the engine began pouring out on to the ground.

That is a catastrophic failure. That is a hole in the engine. That is a problem for Honda.

When asked what happened, Hinchcliffe replied, "Sub-optimal rapid deceleration." At least he can laugh about it.

Hanging over Honda's head is the big question: Will these reliability issues happen during Sunday's race? 18 of the 33 cars are powered by Hondas, which is slightly more than half the field. The bulk of the Honda runners are in the front half of the grid, taking up 14 or the first 17 spots, including pole. The Honda-powered cars have the advantage as far as speed and track position...but if they don't make it to the end of the race, none of that matters.