Chevrolet may be outnumbered at NTT IndyCar Series races in 2019, but the engine supplier is putting up quite a battle of late as it takes on Honda for INDYCAR manufacturer superiority.
In the recent run of five races in a five-week span, bowtie drivers won four times and added the coveted Indianapolis 500 pole position to keep pace with its rival. Heading to this weekend’s REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR at Road America, Honda leads Chevy by 59 points in the manufacturer standings.
Chevrolet supplies nine full-time entries this season – three at Team Penske and two each for AJ Foyt Racing, Carlin and Ed Carpenter Racing – compared to 13 fulltime cars for Honda. But the recent torrid stretch for Chevy, with Penske drivers Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden each collecting a pair of victories, has kept the competition close.
Rob Buckner took over as Chevrolet Racing's program manager in the NTT IndyCar Series at the beginning of the 2018 season. While pleased with the mounting success, Buckner knows there’s still work to do if Chevrolet hopes to reclaim the manufacturer’s championship it lost to Honda last year – the first time since Chevy re-entered INDYCAR competition in 2012 that it didn’t take home the crown.
“Everyone at Chevrolet was very proud of winning our 11th Indianapolis 500, and we had a spectacular month of May,” said Buckner, at far right in the photo above from the day after the Indy 500, along with (from left): Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports for Chevrolet; Roger Penske, Team Penske team owner; Pagenaud, winner of the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge; and Mark Kent, Chevrolet director of motorsports competition.
“However,” Buckner added, “there are some areas we need to continue to work on, with only two drivers winning so far in 2019.”
Chevrolet’s victories this season have spanned the array of circuits that the NTT IndyCar Series competes on and embraces, with two temporary street-course triumphs (Newgarden in St. Petersburg and the first Detroit race), one on a permanent road course (Pagenaud on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course) and two on superspeedways (Pagenaud in the Indy 500 and Newgarden at Texas). Buckner said that versatility must continue in the final eight races that include four road courses, one street course, two short ovals and one superspeedway.
“Every discipline is just as important in the second half when you consider we will be going to another superspeedway at Pocono, a street circuit in Toronto and then a new road course at Laguna Seca that is a double-points event and will decide the championship,” he said. “We will be carefully reviewing data from the first nine events and polishing the details for the final eight.”
Buckner has helped guide Chevrolet’s NTT IndyCar Series efforts into a winning direction, but the 31-year-old is quick to push the credit elsewhere.
“I personally don’t see a lot of my own input having impacts like that because it takes hundreds of people to do it,” he told the INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA. “The program is so much bigger than myself, I don’t want to take any of the credit.
“Everyone has been really focused on engine performance, making sure we get the most out of them when we can. All of our guys here have done a phenomenal job. Our durability and fuel economy have been good.
“We have some positive momentum right now, but we still have some issues and things to do.”
Buckner beamed when recalling Pagenaud’s effort in holding off Honda driver Alexander Rossi to win the Indy 500 on May 26. It gave Chevy its third triumph at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since the competition resumed in 2012.
“It’s really incredible, it’s our 11th one (in history) and our first back-to-back Indy 500 win since we came back to the series in 2012,” Buckner told INDYCAR Mobile. “It’s really a credit to Simon. The last couple of laps were all him. He (was) phenomenal all month. We’re just proud to be a part of it.
“The race at the end, it reminded me a lot of the Ryan Hunter-Reay (and) Helio Castroneves battle in 2014. Simon did a nice job of timing it right to be out front at the end.”
To win the Indianapolis 500 is clearly a major goal for both engine suppliers who are valued partners with INDYCAR
“We take a lot of pride in it, (along with) our technical partners with Ilmor, Pratt and Miller and Chevrolet Performance,” Buckner said. “We put all we can into this one race, and everyone worked nonstop all month and have done a phenomenal job. I’m really appreciative of all the guys here that put in 110 percent every day.”
Now the focus is fully on the final eight races and Chevrolet’s bid to recapture the manufacturer’s and driver’s championships. With engine development limited by INDYCAR regulations, Buckner knows that the manufacturer, its teams and drivers must all be hitting on all cylinders to succeed.
“What we are seeing this year is that every aspect of the race weekend needs to be near perfect to get a win,” he said. “We play a big role in that with engine performance and options for our drivers, and then the race strategy, pit stops and driving all have to be near flawless to be in contention. We will be working on engine drivability and simulation for each race really carefully.”
That commences with this week’s REV Group Grand Prix. Action begins with three practices on Friday, each streaming live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold. Practice start times are 12:05 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. ET.
A final practice begins at noon ET Saturday (livestream on NBC Sports Gold). NTT P1 Award qualifying begins at 4 p.m. ET Saturday and streams live on NBC Sports Gold with a delayed telecast at 5 p.m. on NBCSN.
The 55-lap race on the 4.014-mile permanent road course airs live at noon ET Sunday on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
NBC Sports Gold is offering its streaming and archival services for the remainder of the 2019 season at a discounted price of $24.99 that runs through Jan. 31, 2020. That’s more than half off the original price of $54.99.