home jobs contact us
Our Clients:
Browse by Sport
Find us on ASAP sports on Facebook ASAP sports on Twitter
ASAP Sports RSS Subscribe to RSS
Click to go to
ASAP Sports e-Brochure View our


August 29, 2014

Steve Eriksen

THE MODERATOR:  Good morning.  Thank you all for joining us for our final media briefing for the 2014 IndyCar Series season.  Our guest this morning is vice president and chief operating officer of HPD, Steve Eriksen. 
We'll start by summarizing maybe some of the highlights for Honda during the 2014 IndyCar season.  Obviously the big one jumps to mind immediately, but you can take it from there. 
STEVE ERIKSEN:  Several highlights for us.  Certainly the Houston sweep was a great one.  The Iowa surprise was great for us.  That was really pleasant. 
I think you really see the competitiveness of the series when you look at how small a difference can make a difference between winning and losing.  It's really clear that all the elements have to be aligned and working perfectly to get a win here because everything is so close. 
The Indy 500 is another example of how close things came.  The reality is, that's our number one company goal, is to win that race.  Every program and activity is centered around that laser-focused goal year after year.  So that was definitely a big high point for us this year. 
We're working hard to finish this racing season off on a great note.  This particular track last year proved challenging for everybody, Chevrolet and Honda alike.  I think there were something like eight cars running the end of the race last year.  We've put quite a bit of effort to make sure this is a very successful race for us. 
THE MODERATOR:  Obviously a lot of work yet to be done.  As you prioritize our task list for 2015 at HPD, give me a sense of what you'll be working on most. 
STEVE ERIKSEN:  Sure.  If you look at the homologation table for next year, which parts of the engine are able to be developed, relatively compared to this year are a small number of areas you can work on.  If you look at the list, you'll see there is connecting rods, pistons, valves, valve springs, coatings.  It's a fairly small list.  But there's still power to be had there and potentially reliability improvements, as well. 
If you look over this season, we put a big effort in for the season to make some improvements in our readiness and reliability.  What we've seen is if you look at the four engines that have been used through the season, you look at how we've progressed, each progressive engine has gotten more and more reliable and more and more mileage out of it to the point where we've had in this most recent round, when people went on their third engines, we had people that were getting 2600, 2700 miles out of engines, which is a big step up from last year where 2000 was our target.  Reliability has been a big focus for both Chevy and us through the off-season and through the season.  We've tried to put in improvements in each and every step of the way in engines. 
We actually have one of our teams that could have finished the season out on three engines.  That's a testament to the reliability to be able to actually extend use that long that you could actually do the whole season on three.  
THE MODERATOR:  Lots of anticipated movement between drivers and teams.  What can you tell us about Honda's situation team-wise for 2015. 
STEVE ERIKSEN:  We're working actively to get our team lineup signed for next year.  The aero kit deadline of teams ordering the aero kit for November 1st has had some effect on compressing the timeframe.  The other thing that does that is our racing season being so compressed, ending Labor Day.  That pushes you to get all these things taken care of as quickly as possible. 
We expect things to get wrapped up quite quickly here. 
THE MODERATOR:  Speaking of aero kits, I know you have a timeline set up for when we're going to first put them on the racetrack, IndyCar has allowed a window of testing.  What we talked about before we came out here that I was not aware of is how extensively we're using the driver in the loop simulator for the development of aero kits.  Why don't you tell our audience about how that's being used. 
STEVE ERIKSEN:  If you look at the schedule for aero kits, we have a window, as I mentioned previously, from October 6th to January 18th.  That window is for what you'd call prototype testing of the aero kit.  You have to homologate the aero kit on January 18th.  At that date you turn in all your designs to IndyCar.  It's handed over to IndyCar on January 18th.  You don't have to have the kits supplied in their entirety on January 18th, but you have to have your design done. 
The window that we're talking about from October 6th to January 18th, I would call it your prototype testing.  In that period you only have six days of track testing.  It's six days of track testing for what is essentially a brand-new car, not mechanically, but from an aero and bodywork standpoint. 
If you think about the amount of work that went in to get the DW12 up to speed when it came around before the 2012 season, you think about those six days, you can see how limited the testing really is.  Just six days. 
So when you are faced with that kind of limitation, that's where driver in the loop simulators really contribute to the picture because you can be running in the virtual world as many days as you want and as many configurations as you want.  You can change things that would take hours to change on a car with just a selection of your mouse. 
That tool is really a key part of getting the designs right so that your six days of testing are really about validation of what you had in the virtual world. 
It's a critical aspect.  It's one of those things that if you didn't have one you wouldn't realize how much you needed it.  Once you have it, you can't believe you ever survived without it. 
THE MODERATOR:  Before we start taking questions from our guests, you told me an interesting story related to the fact that only eight cars finished here last year, how you employed a solution measure for this year that will hopefully help through partnership with our motorcross program.  Talk a little bit about that. 
STEVE ERIKSEN:  You probably wouldn't imagine there's a connection between motorcross racing and IndyCar racing, but there is.  It's an unusual one actually.  The motorcross team some time ago came to us with an engineering challenge which they asked us how to figure out how to solve for them.  The challenge they had is certain of the tracks they race at, the dirt that's on the track is of a consistency that it would pack the radiators.  It would pack them so much, they couldn't keep control of temperatures properly. 
They tried screens and other things to try to prevent the radiators from getting clogged, but those weren't working.  Is there anything that HPD can do to help? 
We put our bright engineers to work on that, and they did a series of iterations.  It was actually quite an extensive testing program we did where we actually had to simulate high-speed dirt coming into the radiator interface, then measure which of our solutions was most effective at allowing airflow to get to the radiator while preventing the dirt from clogging it. 
The solution we came up with was so innovative that we've applied for a patent for it.  That patent-pending design, when we looked at the challenge from Fontana last year, we had two big reasons that we had so many problems, both Chevy and us, because we had the same issues to deal with. 
One was we had radiators getting completely packed up.  Second is we had our engineer air cleaner getting completely packed up.  So you choke off the air to the engine, you choke off the cooling to the radiators, you got a pretty deadly combination. 
We have taken countermeasures for both of those issues for this race.  Honestly, it's been a year-long development leading up to this race, specifically focused on the challenges we saw here a year ago.  So that same motorcross technology that we developed is on the cars here at Fontana. 
You talk about cross-pollenization between activities, there's kind of a unique example. 
THE MODERATOR:  With that we'll open it up to questions for Steve. 

Q.  The aero kits you develop, how deep is the cooperation with Dallara? 
STEVE ERIKSEN:  By IndyCar requirement, we, as is Chevy, are required to use Dallara as one of our suppliers for portions of our aero kit.  By its very nature, we have to have close cooperation because they're going to be one of our suppliers, just as they will be for Chevy, of a portion of the aero kit. 
In that respect, the portion that they're going to manufacture, per our design, you have to have very close cooperation.  We have to understand their manufacturing approach, manufacturing capabilities.  They have to understand our design intent, the things that we're going to want to put into the kit to make it the way we want to see it. 
So we've had quite a bit of close collaboration with them to make sure they're ready so when we fix the design and hand it over to them, they're going to be able to produce it properly and to our specs. 

Q.  Does that mean Dallara is building the actual body part?
STEVE ERIKSEN:  It means a portion of the bodywork for Honda and Chevy has to be built by Dallara.  It's the same portion for both of us. 

Q.  Aero kits, you only have six days to test them.  Will you have a different style kit based on the type of track you're going to race at?
STEVE ERIKSEN:  Yes, definitely.  When the team buys an aero kit, they get all the pieces in the aero kit they need to run in any of IndyCar's different types of circuits.  Yes, you're going to see the configurations change because we have such a wide variety of circuits. 

Q.  When you have those six days, I don't know that you can test at a street course because it's a temporary circuit, but you test at the other circuits.  Is IndyCar providing those test days?  Will it be Honda and Chevy at the same time doing the same aero kit tests?
STEVE ERIKSEN:  Absolutely not (laughter).  No.  By testing regulations, there are only certain tracks we can test at.  If you go into the regulations, it's got a list of which tracks are approved to test at. 
From the very beginning, we start with that small set of tracks to choose from, then it's up to us to book and rent those track test days. 

Q.  The aero kits that Dallara has to work with people on, are we talking just the engine cover or the entire aero kit? 
STEVE ERIKSEN:  There are just select components that IndyCar require us to have Dallara make.  So when you look at the regulations, what you see is there's a series of red boxes, okay?  You have a set of boxes for road and street course, short oval, then you have a set of boxes for the super speedways. 
Select boxes from each of those two are the ones that Dallara has to make.  The rest of the boxes are up to us to select the vendor we want to have make that part. 

Q.  Which part does Dallara have to work on?
STEVE ERIKSEN:  It's some of the wings, if I remember correctly. 

Q.  But not all? 
STEVE ERIKSEN:  I think it's not all, but honestly I'd have to go back and look again.  I think it's the wing assemblies in some of the configurations they said that particular part Dallara has to make, and the other parts you're on your own with whatever vendor you want. 

Q.  You talked earlier about the year being a success based on the win in Indy.  The manufacturer's championship went to Chevrolet again this year.  Is there a specific area you're working on to be more competitive in the manufacturer's championship next year?
STEVE ERIKSEN:  Absolutely.  Next year is going to be a very different beast than this year.  The biggest influence in competitiveness next year will be aero kits.  We've been working on that for years.  That's one aspect. 
From an engine standpoint, the key things we're going to be looking at are continued reliability enhancements and performance improvements that are available within the very small set of components that we're allowed to work on. 
I think you can look at a lot of the tracks, it swaps back and forth between Chevy and Honda, Chevy and Honda.  Then when you have that sort of parity of performance, then it's down to all the rest of the elements. 
As I mentioned earlier, all those elements have to be aligned.  When it's so competitive, all those elements have to be aligned and working properly.  You can look back at the races and say, If that hadn't happened, if that hadn't happened.  But that's typical should have, would have, could have stuff. 
Our focus is just to continue to address the things that are under our control and to try to work with our teams to be as competitive together as we can, not to just leave them alone to do their own thing, we do our own thing. 
At the end of every year we have a reflection meeting where we listen to the team input.  They look back at the year, the things that went right, the things that we can improve on.  That forms part of the our plan for the following year.  We have that coming here now that we're just about to complete the season. 

Q.  Would having more multi-car teams help?
STEVE ERIKSEN:  There's no doubt there's benefits from being a multi-car team over single-car teams.  If you look at our situation this year, we have seven different entities we deal with.  Chevrolet has four, something like that. 
In reality it's harder to spread resources across a number of single-car teams.  It's always better if you have at least a two-car team.  It's hard to divide people into pieces. 
There's some economies of scale that happens as teams expand into multiple-car teams.  There's no question that's a benefit.  To the extent we can encourage people to join together, that's going to be a benefit. 

Q.  The merger between Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman racing, what can Honda do to make a pitch to supply that end, since Ed is with Chevrolet and Sarah is with Honda?
STEVE ERIKSEN:  That's an interesting deal.  You've got two teams there, each of which have had a very successful and good relationship with their engine suppliers.  You talk to Ed, he's very complimentary about Chevy.  If you talk to Sarah, she'd say the same about Honda. 
Our approach in that kind of case is really to try to educate Ed about what makes us unique, what makes us different perhaps in our approach than Chevy.  It's not that one's right or one's wrong.  It's does our flavor of how we approach things offer any appeal to Ed, who is used to only one direction in a competitive era.  Ed knows us from the time we supplied the whole field.  In the competition field, it's very different. 
Our approach is really to say, This is what makes us unique, this is why we think it's an advantage.  We hope you'll think it's an advantage as well and come join us. 

Q.  Is HPD doing its own aero kit design?  If so, who is handling the actual manufacturing of the pieces and parts? 
STEVE ERIKSEN:  We have a technical partnership with a company called Wirth Research.  That partnership actually started in 2002.  In the previous era of competition, Nick Wirth and his group were part of our program, part of our team in making that previous era successful. 
When you saw how we did in 2003, 2004, 2005, until all the competition left, the Wirth research folks were part of that success story. 
In the intervening years when we had no competition in IndyCar, we looked for a place to compete, we competed in Le Mans prototype sports cars.  That working relationship carried on through that era. 
I think you saw some pretty innovative designs come out of that partnership.  It's not a matter of handing it off, throwing it over the wall, say, You guys do it, let us know when you're done.  It's very much a relationship where step by step we're jointly setting the goals, the targets, the approach we're going to take.  We're very interwoven.  Having worked together since late 2002, it's a pretty well-worn path.  We know how to do that. 
From a design standpoint, Wirth Research is the lead, but we're participating.  From a manufacturing standpoint, we're taking the lead.  Again, it's a very tightly interwoven activity because you can't do design in isolation, you have to consider the manufacturing side, and vice versa.  It's an extension of what's been a very, very successful joint activity. 

Q.  Where will those parts be manufactured?
STEVE ERIKSEN:  Some at Dallara and the rest will be manufactured in the United States. 

Q.  Is there a contingency in place if six days of aero kit testing reveal fundamental changes that need to be made? 
STEVE ERIKSEN:  Yes, I think the approach there is test early and test often.  The earlier you can test and find out whether you've got any issues in correlation, then find out why and address them, the better off you'll be.  So that's our approach, test early and test often. 
When you can't do track testing, you have to look at other testing you can do.  Full scale wind tunnel testing is a path you can take to make sure the virtual world is matching reality.  There's straight line testing.  There's a variety of things you can do to make sure that you're confident that this virtual world is giving you the right answers. 

Q.  Do the kits need to be tested exclusively on IndyCars or can they be tested on other types of cars to make sure certain pieces are functioning?
STEVE ERIKSEN:  I think for the parts you're targeting for an IndyCar, you'd have to do them on an IndyCar to be relevant, to be honest. 
In testing the process, you bet, you can do that on any kind of car.  That was a point I was trying to make with the sports car efforts.  We have made probably five different sports cars over the years with Wirth Research.  That's not a dynamic exercise, it's a complete car exercise.  We know what capability we have and how well that correlates.  So we're building on years of being a car manufacturer, in essence. 
So the challenge here is more limited than it is doing a complete car.  We only have to worry about the bodywork and aero side of it, the mechanical structure of those aero parts. 

Q.  The engines are pretty much equal.  The biggest change next year will be the aero kits.  Dallara is one level of influence.  You're saying your next level of influence will come from each of the engine manufacturers and their input on aero kits, and that's where teams would go in order to get some advice, understanding.  Is there also a third level where the teams can go out and do any modifications on their own?  Will the teams have any input into the development of aero kits? 
STEVE ERIKSEN:  Well, certainly there's a great deal of team involvement.  When we go to the track to test these components, or we go to the wind tunnel, the team is necessary to do that job.  In many cases multiple teams.  Those parts we can't do by ourselves.  We have to have the teams involved.  They want to be involved, because they have a big stake in the game, right?
What creativity aspect could the team add?  I think that's where you're going.  Because of the openness of the rules, you're going to see a very complex bunch of parts.  That means there's a lot of learning to be done about those parts.  We're going to do the verifications we can to say, Is this the right configuration to go out and win a championship at these wide variety of tracks?  The team become the experts about the aero kit and how to use the parts through their non-stop experience with the parts. 
They can't make a new part, per se, other than a wicker or something, because the parts get homologated and fixed.  It's how you choose to use those parts that brings the team's expertise into the picture. 

Q.  (No microphone.)
STEVE ERIKSEN:  It is to a point.  This mention about a date of November 1st for ordering kits is relevant because there's so much secrecy about the aero kit in reality, you only are going to share that information with someone that you know is secured for the following year. 
So to the degree that we have secured teams for next year, yes, that's going on, there's the back and forth.  That's why we have this sense of urgency to sign the other teams on, is because we want to bring them into the fold, too.  The more folks you can get feedback from, the more robust. 

Q.  (No microphone.)
STEVE ERIKSEN:  Yes, absolutely.  Keep in mind that Dallara in this case, its role is focused on being a vendor.  They're not a design, aero design, part of this process at all.  We're going to hand them a design after consultation to make sure it's manufacturable, and then their job is to make it. 

Q.  So let's say you do a road course aero kit, go out and start competing at the beginning of the season, you decide there's something you want to do to improve it because you're not happy with it.  What are the options that you would have to make changes? 
STEVE ERIKSEN:  Even in the current regulations you're allowed to make gurney modifications.  You can make funky-shaped, things of different shapes, within the rules.  That would be one option you would have to effect change. 
Another option is selecting which of your bundle of parts that have been homologated that you use.  The combination of parts and how you use them is going to play a role in that. 
Third is, as I mentioned last time, there's a concept of having three boxes to be able to make a design update.  I believe the current thinking is that that won't have a hard-coated timeframe, such that if somebody came out of the box way behind, they could maybe jump right into that next stage. 
I believe that's the current thinking.  Originally it was tied to, You can just do that for 16.  The current thinking is you can do that when you wanted to. 
THE MODERATOR:  With that we'll wrap it up for the day.  Steve, thanks for making the time to answer some questions for us today.  Thank you all for taking the time to join us throughout the season for these informal media briefings. 

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

About ASAP SportsFastScripts ArchiveRecent InterviewsCaptioningUpcoming EventsContact Us
FastScripts | Events Covered | Our Clients | Other Services | ASAP in the News | Site Map | Job Opportunities | Links
ASAP Sports, Inc. | T: 1.212 385 0297