No matter how his competitors fare during the NTT IndyCar Series’ season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Josef Newgarden only needs to finish fourth or better to clinch his second title. For Chevrolet, however, the path to returning the top of the engine manufacturer championship isn’t as clear.
Much of the uncertainty is attributable to the complicated system used for awarding manufacturer points. Lacking the straightforwardness of driver points which are more well known, the points awarded to Chevrolet and Honda have eligibility requirements based on the season-long engine count of each entry.
To determine which entries score points for a given manufacturer at each round, ineligible entries — those that have undergone four engine changes before each met the 10,000-mile minimum — are removed from the race’s final results. The remaining entries are ranked with the best-finishing eligible entry designated as first, the second best ranked as second and so on to determine the manufacturer results.
If disregarding some cars and factoring in others isn’t complex enough, only the top two eligible finishers for each manufacturer are counted for each round — but are awarded points based on their position amongst all eligible cars across both Chevrolet and Honda (e.g. a car that finished seventh in a race could be the third-best manufacturer championship-eligible entry and thus collect 35 points for its engine company).
The number of points available to each eligible entry is outlined in Rule 12.6.5 of IndyCar’s official rule book. The points breakdown mirrors the points awarded to drivers and entrants, led by 50 points for a first-place finish. However, because ineligible cars are excluded from the ranking, a 50-point “win” for a manufacturer doesn’t necessarily go to the winner of a race.
The results of the 2019 Grand Prix of Portland demonstrate this situation perfectly. The top five finishers — Will Power, Felix Rosenqvist, Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta and Newgarden — were all ineligible to earn points for their respective manufacturer having exceeded four change outs without reaching the minimum mileage for each. Thus, sixth-place finisher Spencer Pigot, whose engine count is below the maximum, was designated as the top Chevrolet and earned 50 points for the American manufacturer.
Simon Pagenaud finished seventh and also remains eligible so he earned 40 points for Chevrolet as the second car eligible for manufacturer points to cross the start/finish line after 105 laps of Portland International Raceway.
The points breakdown becomes more difficult to follow the further down Portland’s results one examines. Matheus Leist finished eighth and was the third-best car still under the engine changeout maximum but doesn’t contribute to Chevrolet’s total since only the top two for each manufacturer earn points.
Sebastien Bourdais finished one spot behind Leist in ninth but his Dale Coyne Racing Honda is ineligible, keeping him from being Honda’s top earner. Eligible Chevrolet-backed drivers filled positions 10 through 12, burying the top eligible Honda further in the field and keeping points from the Japanese company at this late stage of the season.
Six positions removed from the second-best Chevrolet, the highest-finishing eligible Honda at Portland was the No. 98 Andretti Autosport machine driven by Marco Andretti. His result of 13th doesn’t necessarily impress but his manufacturer rank of seventh earned Honda 26 points. Furthermore, while he finished three laps down due to a battery issue, Scott Dixon’s No. 9 Honda was the next highest-ranked representative of the manufacturer, earning 24 points for his ranking of eighth.
Thanks to Pigot and Pagenaud, Chevrolet added 90 points to its season-long total while Honda gained only 50 from Andretti and Dixon. Through 16 races, Honda holds a 34-point advantage over its American rival and has been on top of the manufacturer points since the season’s second round at Circuit of The Americas where Colton Herta’s victory helped erase a 19-point deficit following Newgarden’s triumph at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Honda’s advantage has gone up and down throughout the season, dipping as low as 19 points after the first race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader and as high as 89 following the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Points losses stemming from the races at World Wide Technology Raceway and Portland have brought the two manufacturers closer than they’ve been at any point since June.
Barring any engine count increase in the weeks between Portland and Laguna Seca, nine of the full-season entries will be ineligible to earn points: three from the Chevrolet contingent and six bearing Honda badges. Of those, six are in the top 10 in driver points, including Newgarden and Rossi. With Pagenaud and Dixon driving the highest-ranked eligible cars, it’s likely those two drivers plus two others outside the typical group of race winners will be contributing to manufacturer points at the season’s final round.
Honda’s 34-point advantage isn’t insurmountable, either. There have been swings of 34 points or more in four of the last 16 races — a statistic that probably gives Chevrolet hope that it can win its seventh manufacturer title since engine competition returned in 2012.
Depending on which eligible drivers finish where, Honda certainly has the chance to go back to back, whether or not Newgarden secures the driver’s championship in his Chevrolet-powered car because, when it comes to earning manufacturer points, winning isn’t everything.