ST. PETERSBURG — The Honda aero kits, which are changed for 2016, didn't break through in Saturday's qualifying for today's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. But drivers are confident that in race trim they can be competitive.
"I'd say they seem pretty competitive," said Graham Rahal, who qualified seventh on Saturday. "I'm proud of Honda for the work we've put in."
Chevrolets took the top five spots in qualifying, with Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport the top Honda in sixth.
The Hondas have redesigned end plates on both the front and rear wings, but perhaps the most noticeable aspect is the air vents in the sides of the rear wings.
"More downforce, less drag, they've closed the gap on Chevrolet, so it's a good thing," said Dale Coyne, who owns a two-car Honda team.
Once again the race will see tire strategy play out, with teams trying to get their timing right on when to use red-sidewalled Firestone tires, which are faster but wear more quickly, versus the black-sidewalled tires. Teams must use both.
"The reds have a lot more grip they are very nice and easy to drive on," pole-sitter Will Power said after Saturday's qualifying.
If it rains, the rule about teams having to use red and black tires is scrapped and teams would use grooved rain tires.
Winds of up to 20 mph are forecast during the race, which isn't as big of a factor as it is at a fast oval like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but can still make a difference.
"The change you have is more in gearing, and in the brake zone," Josef Newgarden said. "The brake zone changes a lot. If you have a big tail wind going into Turn 1 you're not going to be able to brake as deep as if you have a big head wind going into 1."
As of Saturday afternoon the forecast called for a 40 percent chance of rain in the early afternoon. That's not ideal but it's a big change from a few days earlier, when an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms was forecast.
All of which perhaps lends credence to Newgarden's approach to weather.
"It's so unpredictable, I don't even look at it," he said. "That's my new philosophy on race weekend. I'll show up and see what we got."