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Ex-Ferrari F1 engine head changed Honda's IndyCar mentality

Dropping a previous "conservative" mentality after hiring a former Ferrari Formula 1 engine development chief has helped Honda take a big step forward in IndyCar in 2017, reckons Graham Rahal

Honda only took two IndyCar victories in 2016, both on ovals, as Chevrolet dominated, but its cars have won the opening two rounds of '17 on the St Petersburg and Long Beach street tracks.

At both venues Honda took nine of the 12 positions in the final two segments of qualifying.

Rahal and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan team have been Honda's top IndyCar scorer for the past two seasons.

He has noted a change of approach since Honda Performance Development signed David Salters after the 2015 season, from his previous role as head of engine development at Ferrari, which is now having an effect.

"What we're seeing is a mentality change at Honda compared to this time last year," Rahal told Autosport.

"There was a very conservative mentality on the tuning side, the engine mapping, but now they're pushing the boundaries.

"That's probably why you've seen some failures, but at some point you've got to try and eke out every little bit.

"David Salters, who joined HPD from the Ferrari Formula 1 team the winter before last, is one of the key drivers there.

"Everyone at HPD has been responsible for the improvements, but I think he's had a huge effect.

"From day one, he had the mentality of pushing the limits and they're doing that and the engine is better, very strong."

With aero kits frozen for 2017, Honda is still at a disadvantage to Chevrolet on that front but Rahal believes the engine gains compensate.

"The road/street course aero kit is deficient - our new Honda partners at Ganassi could confirm that - and obviously we couldn't change that for this year with the aero freeze," he said.

"But at this point the engine is overcoming that to some extent with low- to mid-range punch.

"Then you can feel the drag kick in."

Having experienced both packages after Ganassi's winter switch to Honda, Max Chilton backed Rahal's assessment.

"It's definitely the stronger engine to have and better on fuel economy too," he said.

"You could definitely argue [the package] doesn't have the same downforce level as the Chevrolet but you can't argue with the results."

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