Honda Performance Development President Art St. Cyr took a few minutes to sit down with us at the recent media event for the Acura NSX GT3 race car.
Automobile Magazine: What is your career history at HPD?
Art St. Cyr: Well, I’ve only been president at HPD! I moved from HRA (Honda R&D) in Ohio about five years ago. I was a chief engineer on the Pilot when I got pulled over to American Honda to run product planning and be president of HPD. Then a bit over two years ago, my job focused completely on HPD.
AM: Talk to me about the importance of racing for Honda.
ASC: It’s a bit cliché but our founder, Soichiro Honda, always said that he formed a car company for the purpose of going racing. Honda was always viewed as the underdog. It was the first Japanese company to venture into international motorsports with the Isle of Mann TT race. People looked at Mr. Honda as some kind of interloper! It’s shown that racing is important to not just the personality of the cars themselves but the associates at Honda too. There are so many quotes that are attributed to Mr. Honda: “If Honda doesn’t race then there is no Honda and racing improves the breed.” So racing is very important to the psyche of who we are, but we also use it to develop people, techniques, and parts. The first direct-injection engine in North America was actually in our IndyCar. With the NSX GT3 program, it’s very closely integrated into the marketing of Acura in general and the rebirth of Acura as a performance brand. It’s a proof point of Acura being a performance brand — going racing and racing against the cars we’re selling against in the showrooms. And winning against them.
AM: You’re involved with both sports cars (GT and Prototypes) and Indy Cars. What’s the difference, both from a technical aspect and its importance to Honda.
ASC: We tend to align the IndyCar program with Honda and Acura Motorsports (NSX GT3) with Acura. The IndyCar program is competing at the highest level — the pinnacle program. We do it in IndyCar because it’s not managed racing. It’s about technology — showing our technical prowess. It’s also about being a part of America — the Indy 500. The NSX is our pinnacle product at Acura Motorsports — running it in both Pirelli World Challenge (WC) and the IMSA WeatherTech championship (IMSA). Again, that’s to show that Acura is a performance brand. The stuff we do on the track resonates into our production cars.
AM: You ran HPD engines in the prototype class of IMSA in 2016. What are your thoughts on the new P2-based top-spec category for 2017?
ASC: It’s interesting. It’s the first year. It seems pretty successful but there seems to be one dominant team (Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac). We’re going to let that play out a little bit more before deciding what we’re going to do there.
AM: There has been some controversy regarding a “factory team” running the NSX GT3 entrees in IMSA.
ASC: There’s not really a story. We talked to IMSA and, even before we took this program on, we talked to Audi and Porsche. We’re new and asked the other teams how we should do this. They said that for year one you should come in with a factory program and makes sure you shake everything out. So, that’s always the way that we had thought to do it. It’s not just us. Lexus is out there and Mercedes is out there. There are customer programs out there and we truly are a factory program.
AM: What is Japan’s involved with the NSX GT3 program?
ASC: It was completely handed-off to us. Some of the early planning was actually done by us and then it was handed to Japan. The vehicle they gave back to us wasn’t quite as developed as we were hoping. So we changed the aero, front suspension, rear suspension geometry, interior switch layout, fuel system, etc. They did a great job making the base platform but we had to focus on getting it onto the track. There is no involvement from them right now. It’s 100% HPD along with support from other entities.
AM: Obviously, the NSX road car is a hybrid and the NSX GT3 car is a more traditional race car. What about Formula E or other forms of electric racing for Honda/Acura?
ASC: It’s something we always look at and ask what the future is. We have to look at it from a Honda and Acura Motorsports perspective. Does it make sense to join? What is the strategic purpose? Obviously, the world is going towards electrification. I’m not sure if it makes 100% sense today. Look at Formula E — they’re still switching cars! The one thing that drives people way is range anxiety and here they are propagating that. But I think there is a future for electric. We originally tried to do a hybrid with the NSX but there was no sanctioning body on the planet that was going to let us do that! We tried for 2 years — we lobbied everyone. Some of the sanctioning bodies were up for it but the GT3 category is a customer-based series and there was a concern about the increased costs and adding things on to what they (teams) already had. The NSX is a natural hybrid. Most cars are not.
AM: What are you most proud of at HPD?
ASC: HPD was formed in 1993 with the sole purpose of rebuilding engines for CART. We’ve grown to development engines, chassis, complete programs, etc. We do IndyCar aero kits, engines, etc. We took the NSX GT3 to homologation. We have grown so much. We are now trying to make sure that HPD is more aligned with what American Honda is doing as far as where we spend the money in racing from either a research side, marketing side, promotion side, etc.