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May 17, 2014

Mark Crawford

THE MODERATOR:  Good morning, everybody.  Thanks for joining us for the latest in our series of media briefings for the 2014 IndyCar season.  As in St.Petersburg, our guest this morning is Mark Crawford, who is the large project leader for the Honda IndyCar program.  Mark, thanks for being with us again today.  Kind of a busy day for you guys, so we appreciate you making the time for this.
Basically want to talk about the challenges in supplying 18 cars for the Indianapolis 500 and the first couple of questions have to do with how do you go about finding track‑side support for 18 cars when you're only supplying 12 in the regular IndyCar Series, and what challenges are there in terms of lead time for ordering parts and preparing engines for an 18‑car program at Indianapolis?
MARK CRAWFORD:  Yeah, 18 cars has been really our biggest challenge, or at least one of the really big challenges that we've faced getting to Indy here.
There's a lot of background work.  Obviously Indy is absolutely our biggest event of the season.  It's the one that we're really here to win.  So of course there's a lot of background work going on as far as preparation of the engine, trying to get the power curve up as high as possible, working on the durability of the engine, fuel economy, all those aspects, but then on top of that, you throw on 18 cars, which is just a whole logistical task in itself that on the surface seems pretty insurmountable, but we get it done.  Obviously we've got 18 cars out here running today.
The background to that is that we've got to use the lion's share of the engines that are in our pool to get this done because not only is it engines for practice and qualifying but also for race, so for 18 cars, if we're preparing a minimum of two engines per car, we're looking at 36 engines, so that's quite a bit to bring here and support, just haul around and store, it's pretty big.
So the guys back at the build shop, they've been putting in 10‑, 12‑hour days on a regular basis just as a standard schedule for the last month and a half, two months.  They've been coming in on Saturdays and Sundays.  A lot of guys put in well beyond 12 hours a day just putting these things together.  Back before that we had to make our plans and order the parts and get manufacturing squared away on all this stuff.  So just getting all these engines built and across the dynos and out to the circuit here was a big challenge.
But then there's also looking after 18 engines in the field at one time.  It's great because it's a big pool of data that comes across, and of course we can understand very easily what the characteristic of the engine is, just what it is that we have to capitalize on, what the challenges are, but it's a big challenge to stay on top of that.  When we do see a problem, something that concerns us, the first concern that we have is is this something that's endemic to the entire pool of engines, and then of course we have got 18 instead of 12 engines to look across, so it's 50 percent more work right there.
So yeah, 18 engines is a huge challenge.  We've got guys here to support these engines.  We've got our regular race team support.  We have guys that typically are assigned to our sports car effort.  They've come across to Indy while there's a break on the sports car side, and they're supporting the Indy effort this weekend.
As well we've got development engineers out here.  We've got engineers from the test department.  Anyone that understands looking at data, running engines and has some bit of experience on keeping these things going and at the peak of their health and performance, they're out here.  That's the challenges that we've displaced people, we've thinned out the crew at the shop to bring them all here, make sure everything is looked after in addition to the incredible amount of work that we have going on back at the home base in Santa Clarita.
It's certainly a challenge because we spread ourselves thin, and it's when the workload is the highest.
THE MODERATOR:  Want to get you to talk a little bit more about the interaction between the crew in Indy and the crew in Santa Clarita.  What does that look like?  How does that process play out?
MARK CRAWFORD:  That interaction is really a constant back and forth flow of information, so between race events, that crew that comes out here, they come back and they get to tell everyone at the shop firsthand just what it is that they're seeing.  We get to sit down together, go through data.
But at a long event like this Indy here, it started with the Grand Prix, these guys have been out here for quite a while, a minimum of three weeks, that they don't get to come back to the shop, so of course they're working here late, and that information passes across really in real‑time.
Just because they're working late here until say 9:00 at night doesn't mean that the information doesn't go back until 9:00.  Everyone is on their phones, everyone is communicating with email, we're sending data files back and forth.  So really session by session by session that information is going back and forth so that when problems are raised here on the track, someone at the shop is reviewing the problem, trying to adjust plans and trying to make decisions as best as we can.
Now, the engineers that we have back at the shop, not only are they looking at data and trying to help along with making decisions, but we've also got the test cells fired up and running, so we've got engines on the test cells.  Not only are they trying to get ready for Detroit, which is the next race, every one of them we're trying to go to prepared and with the mindset of winning, but the guys at the shop, they're trying to recreate these issues on the dynos to find quick resolution, and quite often we can find answers in 30 minutes, maybe an hour and get back to the guys here before practice is over so that they can be vetted and put across any other cars in real‑time.
Day‑to‑day I would say that conditions like we're in right now, these extreme swings in weather, today it's extremely cold, so last night guys were on the dyno with today's weather forecast checking qualifying conditions to make sure that we had the‑‑ had everything on the engines understood completely characterized and ready to go because today this is pretty cool.  It's good for the engines.  It's great for making power, and we want to capitalize on that.  We're ready to go, and I'm sure they're all at work right now just ready to switch them on and find out the next thing if something comes up.

Q.  There's still a few people looking for engines or looking for rides right now.  If someone came to you with a big enough check, do you have the ability a 19th or a 20th engine because I understand you could roll a car out tomorrow morning and then try to put it on the back row?
MARK CRAWFORD:  It's always a possibility (laughing).  You know, we spread ourselves pretty thin getting to 18, and it is possible to run 19, but you know, it's just going to spread everyone out that much thinner.
I think it's something that we would really have to review.  You mentioned if someone came with a big enough check would we do it; you know, it's not really the check size that I think determines that, it's whether or not we've actually got the guy who's experienced.  So if we put a 19th car out on track, we're going to take it seriously.  We want that engine to run strong.  We want it to be someone that can put it in the mix for qualifying and racing and represent Honda.
It's not something that we're going to do on a whim or just for a payday.  I think we're going to do it because we're here to represent Honda.
I think in order to do that, we're going to have to know that the support staff is here, that we've got a good engine and that we can fully support that and not just put a 19th car out there just because we want someone somewhere on the grid wherever they might land.

Q.  You mentioned you have 18 engines.  Does it mean you've supplied as a team sponsor 18 engineers?  Could you have replicated simulations on the dyno for Indianapolis Motor Speedway before coming to Indianapolis?  And if an engine should break, does it need to be rebuilt back in Santa Clarita or can it be built here at the racetrack?
MARK CRAWFORD:  I think I can cover all three parts.  18 engines, 18 cars, means full coverage, full support for 18 cars.  So we have 18 engineers on staff.  There's one for each car.  There's no one that's sharing an engineer.  No one is being shorted eyes on their car.  So all the cars have equal support.
I'll jump to number three.  If we have an engine problem, can it be repaired here at the track, it depends on the scope of the problem.  We do maintain these engines, so it's not like the old days where if the slightest thing went wrong, we just changed out the engine completely.  We do service the engines.  There's a lot of value in doing that, and we've got the procedures in place to support engines that way.
If an engine outright fails, we'll replace it, so it's not just 18 engines here, it's 18 engines plus spares.
Where we feel that it might be risky to make a repair, we won't make that repair, we'll just change the engine, because at these speeds and at this place, we don't want to put anyone at risk.  We're always thinking first about not just the competitiveness but also the safety of the competitors.  It would probably just be replaced.
To the dyno, we'll keep an eye out in all the practice sessions and the qualifying sessions of how things are going.  Simulation runs are something that we do quite often.  We have several different techniques to simulate how the engine is running at the track on the dyno, and if we see issues, we'll go out straight away trying to recreate that issue so we can address it.  The issue isn't really resolved until we can turn it on and off either at the track or on the test cell.
So that's what we use the test cells for.  If we see issues, any issue, we'll take it to the dyno as well as on the track.  The bigger issues we'll probably attack on the dyno first.  Not just engine problems or the way that they're being used on the track, but also these big swings in weather that we're seeing, we'll recreate those conditions on the dyno to make sure that we're 100 percent ready to go.

Q.  You said test cells?
MARK CRAWFORD:  Yeah, test cell, like the dyno cell, so it's just the room that all the test equipment is in that isolates everything away from the engineers.  It's really the whole collection of parts and systems that come together for us to take data on the engine.

Q.  Regarding the couple of issues you've had on track this month, could you amplify what those looked like?
MARK CRAWFORD:  Yeah, unfortunately we did have a couple of issues.  I say unfortunate because those engines were very near their full mileage when those problems came up.  So those engines are already out of the cars, they're on their way back to Santa Clarita, and they'll be torn down.
It's always very easy to look at the engine and see the effect, but we'll take them back to the shop and try to resolve just exactly what the cause is and make sure that it's something that's not affecting all the engines, maybe something that we already have an update or countermeasure in place for.
Those engines that we saw problems on, it was near the end of the engines' life and we had qualifying coming up, so we did change those engines out.  Don't expect to see any problems with those cars today.  We have taken our countermeasures on just the engine application front.

Q.  Does the 2,500‑mile threshold have a more significant impact versus 2,000 miles last year?
MARK CRAWFORD:  At this point it absolutely does.  You know, it's mostly from a logistical standpoint because we've run these engines out to 2,500 miles and beyond on the dyno, but that's under dyno conditions, so this is the first time that we've come near 2,500 miles on the track.  You're always going to get some surprises because these guys out here in the cars, they run the engines a bit differently than we do on the dyno.  This is real world out here.  So this is where we're getting real answers.
That's one of the things that we'll have to consider.  It's not just the hardware issues that might have been in the engines, but it's also how they were operated, and we'll adjust our test sequences on the dyno to better represent that.  It's really part of the engineering exercise that we have to go through.

Q.  Having different engineers embedded with different teams, do they work together to create individual mapping for the engines?
MARK CRAWFORD:  The only team really that the engineers work for as far as we're concerned is Honda.  It's the Honda team.  Of course I don't want to cut out our race teams because they're there to support the race teams.
But they're all Honda engineers.  They all sit in the same room over there together at the office, and at any other event they're all sitting on the trailer together shoulder to shoulder, so their information and their comments and observations are being communicated pretty quickly.
We regroup very frequently throughout the day with some meetings just to touch base, make sure that we're all working from a common core of understanding of how the engines are running, but then when it comes down to an Andretti team or a Schmidt team or a Rahal team or any of our teams, we look at it a bit more granular than that.  Really it comes down to the driver, and we do have the tools within each engineer and their application about how to personalize the engine for each driver, and that's one of the real advantages that we feel that we have is that we pay attention to what each driver wants and we prepare those tools so that they're really close at hand.  When a driver might tell one of our engineers that, hey, I don't like the way that this engine is responding out of this turn when I'm in this gear, we can look at that and tell him right away during that session, ahh, we have a solution for you, why don't you try this.  So that's really the personalization.  That's the level where it comes down to.  But really every day the group of Honda engineers ground themselves in a common base so they don't get too far away from what's been prepared, and likewise if we do see something that could prevent a problem or provide us an advantage, we put it across all the cars, so they're learning together.

Q.  With the improvement in speed in the Honda engines of late, what improvements were made from the first generation engine to the engines that are currently in the cars?
MARK CRAWFORD:  I guess there's a couple first‑generation engines.  So the first engine that we had out in the field in 2014, there are a few performance upgrades in that engine.  The basic power curve off of the dyno is indeed better.  It's up on power from what went in the cars at St.Pete.
As far as going back all the way to 2012, it's not just the power curve that's gotten better but also the delivery of that power that's gotten quite a bit better and our understanding of how to use the power that we have in the car.  So we're thinking across the entire spectrum of how to get power down to the tire and the car, and I think it's all improved quite a bit across the board.

Q.  What are some of the challenges of setting an engine up to run with the higher boost levels that we're using in qualifying versus what's actually going to be run on race day?
MARK CRAWFORD:  Just to clarify for the boost levels, the 500 race and all of the practice to date has been run at 130 kPa.  We're qualifying today at 140.  Road course racing like we saw last weekend at 150 with Push‑to‑Pass at 160, so we've actually got four boost levels.  So 140 where we are today certainly isn't uncharted territory, it's actually quite a bit lower than what we ran on the road course here with.
But as far as going from practice to qualifying today, it's an enormous bump‑up in power, that 10 kilopascals of boost pressure really wakes the engines up, and you can see that in the speeds.
On the engine front, I don't know, to us it actually probably seems a bit easy because we turn up the boost, we run it, we prepare it.  On the durability side it's still not as much as what we bring to the road course events, so really 130 to 150 I think for us on the engines, it's just something that we prepare.  It is quite a bit more work because it's another boost setting and it's a whole set of maps and it's a lot of work that we've got to go through, but not anything particularly challenging and out of the ordinary for us.
I think that the teams probably feel the hurt a bit more because they have to look at how that increased power affects their aero, how it affects their car setup, how it affects their gearing, how it affects how the drivers are going to drive the‑‑ how hard they're going to enter the turn and how that car is going to come off the turn.  So I think really most of the burden comes from the chassis and gearbox setup, not so much from the engine.  Like I said, for us it seems pretty straightforward.

Q.  Edsel Ford earlier this week talked about the Ford brand returning to IndyCar competition, and basically Edsel's comment was that there was no interest in doing that at this point.
MARK CRAWFORD:  I think it's his prerogative to have his opinion on IndyCar racing.  It's certainly good to get it out there.  You know, we would welcome any competitor back into the series, and certainly Ford has been a good competitor in the past.  They're certainly welcome to come back here and hopefully they can come out to a few races and see what good racing this is and what good exposure it's provided to the competitors that we have right now.
Hopefully IndyCar keeps working on Ford and can change his opinion, but Ford is welcome out here, as is anyone else.  We'd love to have a third competitor.  We started the conversation talking about 18 cars and what a huge undertaking it is to support 18 cars here.  A third competitor would really, really make it a lot easier on us, not only because it's fewer engineers and fewer engines, but we'll be able to turn our attention from covering the quantity of cars to actually the quality of the cars.  Now, the quality is in the cars right now, but imagine it would be if we weren't spread so thin.  I think we'd be able to dig quite a bit deeper because there's a limit to the number of guys we've got and the number of hours in the day.
So certainly we really, really, really want to see a third competitor at least into the series.  To Ford specifically, they're welcome to come out here and take a look.  I trust that they have and that's the reason they have the opinion that they do.  But look a bit deeper, because I think that the IndyCar Series is a great value.  It's great exposure.  It's the only place where you can come to run the Indy 500, the biggest race in the world.  They're welcome out here.  Hopefully they reconsider, and if not Ford, someone else.

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