HONDA - Qualifying Press Conference Transcript

An interview with:


    President, Honda Performance Development


MODERATOR [T.E. McHale]:  Thanks for being here today. Our guest is the president of Honda Performance Development, now in his second formal month on the job, Ted Klaus.  Ted, thanks for making time to join us for this.

TED KLAUS:  Good morning, everyone.


MODERATOR:  As you are a newbie, and you say that, not an insult or derogatory remark, give us some general impressions of your first month of May as HPD president.

TED KLAUS:  Yeah, it's neat because I'm trying to act as the president, but in reality it's kind of awe‑inspiring.  I'm observing all the work that has been put in by all the associates at HPD in the off‑season, our partner teams and all of their amazing associates.  I'm seeing that all come to fruition here.

Again, to see all the dedication, the passion, some of that passion spills over into very interesting conversations which are all meant to really support each other and have our teams go to the front and to earn whatever position they've earned through all their hard work.

Again, awe‑inspiring.  I'm still fitting into my role here as HPD president.  Neat to see all the partnerships bearing fruit.

I have no idea what's going to happen today.  Maybe we couldn't say that in years past.  I'm really looking forward to today.


MODERATOR:  I'll follow up on that a little bit.  I do think, this is a personal observation, I've spoken to a number of people who seem to share with me, that this particular 500 is pretty much up for grabs right now.  You're not seeing a clear‑cut favorite.  There are strong teams and drivers across the lineup, across the Honda lineup and the Chevy lineup. This engine is in its eighth year as the powerplant for IndyCar.  Both sides have pretty much refined it in every way they can.  I think you're seeing that on the racetrack right now.  That's a large part of why things are so competitive.

TED KLAUS:  Yeah, it is true.  We're in year eight of this particular engine homologation rule.  That makes the sport very exciting.  It allows us to refine our current formula.  It's working well.

But it's also interesting to see, even in year eight, the creativity from HPD and from our partner teams, really squeeze out some extra power.  That happens not only on the engine but that happens on the chassis as well as the aerodynamics.  There's kind of an equivalent power on the chassis side.

I'm really proud of the work that was put in in the off‑season, and I'm proud of what we were showing yesterday.  Again, you just don't know.  You don't know till you go and do it.  You got to earn it.

After today, the great thing about Indy that I'm learning, it's just nothing like anything else.  My first race was St. Pete.  The following week I went to Sebring.  Completely different animals.  Indy is its own creation.  As the month wears on, I'm learning what it feels like to be here.

This qualifying event, an event within an event, yeah, you want to be at the front of the field and avoid the carnage at the start of the race, but you also need to focus on next week's racetrack.  I think most of the good teams have qualifying in the right perspective.  It's awesome for the sport, amazing, competitive balance this year, not just Honda and Chevy, but all the teams, all the drivers.

It's great to see some old, familiar Day‑Glo colors coming back.  If they can do anything on the cameras to make them glow a little bit more, because to my eyeballs they're not glowing enough on camera.


MODERATOR:  A little more specifically, talk about the Honda lineup of drivers for the 500.

TED KLAUS:  Yeah, wow, we have 18 drivers, again, supported by 18 dedicated Honda tech crews.  Shout out to Allen [Miller, HPD Race Team Principal] for doing all that.  Four former Indy 500 winners.  Amazing teams.  Just can't say enough about the courage, you can just see these folks searching to fill that dream they have set for themselves probably when they were a lot younger than they are now.

If you talk to the drivers, I think you can sense where they're at, like, in their journey to fulfill that dream.  It probably takes a lot, not just courage, but I'll call it a strong constitution maybe for some of the drivers that maybe aren't going to be here for many more years, how you stay calm and cool, and how you maximize fulfilling those dreams.  It's really neat.

I got to say Conor Daly, regardless of what he does, he has a good car, a great team.  People talk about golf luck, motorsports luck.  But Conor, there could be some good fortunes coming his way.  I wish him well.


MODERATOR:  With that we'll open it up for questions for Ted.

TED KLAUS:  I understand there's a tradition (laughter).


MODERATOR:  Wolfgang, two questions.  Go with the first.

TED KLAUS:  Good morning, Wolfgang.


Q.  Congratulations on your German name.

TED KLAUS:  It's a little bit backwards.  Usually Klaus is a first name in Germany.  But, yes, thank you.


THE MODERATOR:  What's your second question (laughter)?


Q.  What about the boost increase for Fast Friday and qualifying today?  Is it possible from a technical standpoint, from an HPD standpoint, to run an entire race at that level?

TED KLAUS:  I actually don't know the specific answer to that.  I suspect at Indy, since the engines are running constantly at a very high rpm, that would be difficult.  Again, as we talked about earlier, year eight, that wasn't how it was originally created to be.  In road courses we run even higher, but you're not constantly in that maximum power band.

I think, again, our job is to provide the power that puts on the show.  It's IndyCar's job to figure out how to make that show the most interesting show possible.

There is amazing interest because qualifying is unique.  You have to deal with this.  If we're going to spend this much time here, why not have those challenges, these technical challenges, these team challenges.

While it might be possible, I don't know that it would improve the show.


Q.  If the [ambient] temperature climbs high, very hot and humid, would it be difficult?

TED KLAUS:  I think there's two aspects of this.  We work very hard back in Santa Clarita, where our home base it, we have a number of engine dynos there.  Those folks support preparing the engine to run according to the predicted weather conditions.

So just like the race team is preparing for these various weather conditions and making their strategy, we're preparing as well.  So we'll make sure that all the engines are properly prepared.

The second aspect is just heat management, cooling.  Certainly those are things that we do, again, in the off‑season and throughout the season.  So those are the two aspects that are challenging.

Yeah, it's challenging when it's hot for everybody, for the humans and for the racecar.  But we'll prepare for it, as I know Chevy will, their teams.  I don't predict it will really cause an issue.


Q.  (No microphone.)

TED KLAUS:  Eight years ago, of course, I was back at Honda R&D [working on passenger car development].  Prior to that, at HPD, nine years ago, they were developing their first bespoke IndyCar engines.  Prior to nine years ago, our IndyCar engines were done in conjunction with global Honda.

You're right, there was a certain range of performance, and it really wasn't even supposed to be running today, it was supposed to have already been put out to pasture, so to speak.

What you have, essentially if I were to bring you behind the scenes, we work together with our partner teams, have quarterly meetings.  We have amazing teams, learn different things from different teams.

We really inspire each other to work on how do we get more power out of the engine.  As I mentioned before, how do we get that power down through the tires, through the suspension, minimum degradation tires.

You look to work on the weakest things.  You work on the weakest thing that you think is going to have the biggest effect on a given stint during the race.

Yeah, I use that word 'in awe.'  I'm in awe of how you can take a group of creative people, even though there's big things to go after, they fully invest and pride themselves even on these little things.

There's a lot of excitement in making even small gains.  Maybe it's not as exciting as making big gains, which we hope to do in the near future, but we're fully satisfied with achieving these small gains and earning the victory and championship.


Q.  (No microphone.)

TED KLAUS:  I think every team, we give them possible information, so every team is working on how they deal with the engine under transient conditions.  Certainly, that applies whether you're qualifying or in the race as you're coming into the pits, or should there be a yellow flag.

I mean, it really is part of the competitive power of the team.  They figure out the strategy based on the information we give them from our dynos back in Santa Clarita.


Q.  Because the engines are so reliable now with Honda and Chevrolet, part of Indy's lore was you make the engine last the whole 500.  Do you think that aspect of the race has kind of changed forever?  The reliability is just so good.

TED KLAUS:  I think on one hand the reliability has improved tremendously.  On the other hand I think we've just been discussing, we're really pushing this engine almost beyond where it was originally designed.  So, there's a number of highly stressed components in the engine.  I'll just leave it at that.

While our performance on the track has been great, and while I don't wish either manufacturer any reliability issues, don't underestimate the challenge that's actually going on.

I think 'courage' is the right word to use for the drivers.  I don't know what the right word is to use for these engineers on these teams.  They're really pushing to get more power.  Sometimes they don't know if it's going to work or not.  So they're almost putting their reputation on the line.  When it doesn't work, we all get to see the drama unfold.

It's still there.  It's kind of on a nice edge.  But, yeah, we've been able to predict better, and we have less of these famous failures, if you will.


Q.  With the new engine formula getting ready to come out, got people really excited?

TED KLAUS:  Yeah, we're very, very excited to be focusing on the new engine.  This will be our second bespoke engine.  Kind of amazing to think.  They only happen once every while.

As we talked about in St. Pete, we think a new forward‑looking, stable engine formula, which can grow into the future, is attractive to us.  We're going to support our partner, IndyCar, to take this and attract another manufacturer.  That's our real hope for the future.

Open‑wheel racing is really catching fire.  I hope it just keeps going because it's a great formula, great personalities, amazing competitive balance.

Again, I'm still in this kind of fan mode, right, second month on the job.  As a fan, what I've seen this year, I haven't seen better racing than this in any other form of racing.  It's amazing.


Q.  Speaking of the 2021 engine, how far along in the development are you?  When is the first chance to see it on track?

TED KLAUS:  Yeah, it's still a little bit unclear.  I don't want to answer in an inappropriate way.  The guys are working hard.

Think of it as a lot of simulation going on to prove out what can be.  I think we need to have another meeting with IndyCar here in the future, and Chevy as well, we'll share what are the exact milestones, when can we all get together and look forward to when it's going to be on the track.

Stay tuned would be my answer to that.


Q.  We're talking about a third OEM.  You need to push things in 2022 for a third OEM, is that something you guys are going to discuss?

TED KLAUS:  Yeah, what we've always said, we said this to IndyCar, I don't know if we've said it publicly or not, but Honda loves competition.  It's why we race.  It's why Mr. Honda said, If you want to know who you are as a person, as a team, as a company, you go and take on those challenges.

For us, we will go with IndyCar and we will reach out to these other manufacturers that are interested.  We'll help them understand our experience, which is now going on its 26th year.  We'll actually offer to help them make the proper plans.

One of the keys is it's not just having a third manufacturer.  You got to understand the cost and the support required to come in and win.  We want someone not just to be here but to be competitive and to be fighting for those wins, as well.  That's our approach.


Q.  Chevrolet had four of the top five fastest speeds yesterday.  Do they have an edge?  Do you think it's even?

TED KLAUS:  Our power train chief engineer [David Salters] said it best: ‘You just don't know’.

I think everyone was going as fast as they can yesterday.  There were variable approaches, the time of the day they were running.  So today's weather will play an aspect, for sure.  Where you're at in the draw will.  Then whether you're willing to risk going back out with the wind.

I think the no‑tow speeds were very, very competitive.  I don't know what's going on behind the scenes for our teams, let alone Chevy.  I went to bed last night thinking, I have no idea what's going to happen today.  As a fan, I'm really excited to see what happens today.


Q.  (No microphone.)

TED KLAUS:  It's interesting, Honda has four main things to do.  Of course, we're here today with our pinnacle program at the pinnacle event, the Indy 500.  We do the Acura pinnacle, Daytona Prototype.  We do a whole slew of grassroots racing.  It starts with NSX, GTB, IMSA.  Works its way all the way down.  There's so many amazing things we do now.  Civic touring car, TCA, TCR, the F‑3, the F‑4, the quarter midgets, go‑karts.  If we were to get all of our drivers here in the room, you'd just be amazed at the age spread.

The fourth thing we do is we do all the crazy stuff American Honda wants us to do, which is race a Ridgeline at Baja.  In the future there's going to be a new Baja truck coming out.


Q.  (No microphone.)

TED KLAUS:  Yeah, there's some forms of motorsport we're not in.  If you can understand we probably have the biggest motorsports footprint of any manufacturer.  For me, I'm excited about just kind of the youth movement.

I have two key words for myself as a leader.  It's 'relevance' which is not just about the technology.  It's about how the sport of motorsports fills up the soul and the spirit of the young folks so they can form their own dream for their future.

The second is reinventing yourself to be P1 constantly.  Staying on top is a loser's game.  You don't just stay there.  You reinvent yourself constantly.

Again, I'm in awe.  You see drivers and teams kind of reinvent themselves from race to race.  If it was a good race, we need to rebuild to win again.  If it was a bad race, they wipe it away, learn from it, reinvent themselves to go to the front of the race next race.  Good stuff for me.


Q.  The threat of rain tomorrow amp up the anxiety for a lot of these teams out there?

TED KLAUS:  There's no question, you're going to see it today.  I'm an old school, listening to the Indy 500 on the radio with my dad.  No one's going to want to be in those last three position coming out of today.

It's going to be interesting.  Again, respect.  All the teams will have their strategies.  As I understand it, if Sunday doesn't happen, the weather doesn't cooperate, we will get those last three qualifying positions filled on Monday.

But it's definitely going to be a stomach‑churner.  If one of our teams is in that position, going to Monday, we get to see all of the investment, all the kind of blood, sweat and tears that got them here.  Your heart will go out to them.  We'll do what we can to meet with them and see how we can support them.

Hopefully it would be an amazing accomplishment to have 18 different teams and drivers in the show based on today based on a provisional basis.  That would be an amazing accomplishment.


Q.  (No microphone.)

TED KLAUS:  No, no.  We met with the teams very recently.  They knew that we're kind of locked down.  Yesterday and today are kind of a ship in the bottle.

Now the teams, this is what we talked about in the off‑season, they've got plan after plan after plan, contingency upon contingency.  The good teams, you don't always know that they've showed their full hand.  Certainly they've gone out and done qualifying yesterday to see where they're at.  They're still taking data and still learning.

Some of them overnight could have taken a very calculated risk, made a small tweak that they know is not going to be causing any issue really, and they can risk going faster.

You saw a lot less cars on the track this morning.  They had something they needed to do to be on the track this morning.  But even the ones that weren't on the track, I know it's unusual, but I would not be surprised if a lot of teams made small refinements overnight.  Those wouldn't have come from the Honda power, in terms of the crankshaft power.


Q.  On the question of relevance, as the relationship of the automobile changes with the youth of America, how do you think motorsports is positioned to attract younger fans?

TED KLAUS:  I think there's so many opportunities for relevance.  I grew up seeing us go to the moon.  Technology to me, allowing us to explore things we've never done or seen, motorsports can just fundamentally inspire that in terms of stem education and other things.

Also if you pay attention, it's not just about the cars on the track.  If you pay attention to how we're developing drivers, how we develop teams, leadership, then just think about this race.  It's like a small city, right?  So why couldn't in the future we treat Long Beach or Mid‑Ohio or the Indy 500, treat them as a mini, smart race city.  What could we do with that?  How could we have motorsports take a much wider net and think of itself as relevant?

We can't unilaterally do that.  Step by step we'll keep these partnerships going.  All these amazing sponsors on the cars, they have dreams about the future of North America.  I'm all like, Let's get it on, set a challenge that a motorsport will be so relevant, go and have fun, but literally creating technologies that will matter in the future both on the track and in the paddock here.

I think the sky's the limit.  We're going to have to reengage our brains and not just limiting ourselves to focusing on the cars on the track.


MODERATOR:  We will wrap up on that inspiring message.

TED KLAUS:  Thanks, T.E.


MODERATOR:  Thank you very much for joining us.

TED KLAUS:  Let's all be little kids again and watch a bunch of people go round.  This is going to be awesome.  Have a great day.


MODERATOR:  Couldn't have said it better myself.  Thanks for being here.

Tom Beeler

Tom has been a contributor to RIS since 1992, and has covered IndyCar, Formula 1, NASCAR, Grand-Am, ALMS and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In addition to his RIS work, Tom has been a contributor for General Motors, Nissan, Toyota and the ACO.

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Volume 2019, Issue 5, Posted 2:56 PM, 05.19.2019