Drivers no longer can 'lean' on tool to tweak fuel

Honda's switch to 100 percent ethanol has changed the engines.

Published May 26, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS - Sam Hornish Jr. won the Indianapolis 500 last year in part because of a tiny knob in his cockpit.

That likely can't happen anymore.

Honda's decision to take away a driver's ability to "lean out" the fuel mixture to increase mileage could have a major impact on strategy and ultimately the outcome of Sunday's race.

Until this event, drivers have been able to go from "full rich" (meaning they use more fuel) to "full lean, " allowing them to run flat-out, pedal down and let computers do the work. Now, they'll have to lay off the pedal to conserve. Miscalculations could force teams into unwanted pit stops or fuel gambles.

Roger Griffiths, Honda technical group leader, said the move was made to ensure engine durability after the IRL switched to 100 percent ethanol.

Hornish left his pit stall with part of a hose attached on Lap 150 last May and was assessed a pass-through penalty. He pitted to recover the five seconds of fuel lost, took his penalty to fall a lap down with 37 left, then dialed his engine down lean and slumped deep into the field. Hornish rejoined the lead lap when the leaders had to pit one more time and pounced in the final laps when strategist and team owner Roger Penske instructed him to go wide open. Hornish passed Marco Andretti in the final 100 yards.

"If you're out front, it'll work to your advantage because you know the guys behind you don't have a totally different strategy, " said Tim Cindric, strategist for Hornish's teammate, Helio Castroneves. "If you're in a situation where we were last year with Sam's car, then it's much more difficult, because you can't find another way to make up your lost time."

SPARK PLUGS: Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon, winless in four Indy starts, finished with the fastest lap of the month (227.167 mph). Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan, winless in five (but with three top-five finishes), led the final Carb Day session at 225.467. ... Castroneves, defending Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner, is considering a move from Miami to Pinellas County or Charlotte, N.C. - where a lot of NASCAR drivers live. Penske Racing's teams are based in one shop in Mooresville, should he want to pursue a NASCAR career. ... Castroneves bought seven $1, 000 watches for his crew after it won the pit stop challenge Friday. Luckily, there was a watch company rep near pit road. No word whether Penske's Ryan Newman did the same when his team won the NASCAR pit crew competition last week.