IRL down to its lone engine?
AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week The Indy Racing League might be making its final appearance at California Speedway on Sunday. The Fontana track, site of the IRL season finale the past two years, was not included on the 2006 schedule. If and when the IRL does come back to California Speedway, there’s a good possibility Honda might be the only engine manufacturer in the series. It’s a scenario Robert Clarke, president of Honda Performance Development, is reluctantly anticipating. Chevrolet is leaving the series at the conclusion of the 2005 season. Toyota will be leaving after the 2006 season. Both engine manufacturers have highly competitive NASCAR engine programs. Part of their reasons for leaving the IRL is to concentrate on NASCAR. That would leave Honda as the lone engine provider for perhaps as many as 25 drivers in the IRL. It could be as many as 33 drivers for the Indianapolis 500, the highest-profile race in the series. “For all we know right now, we will be the sole supplier,” said Clarke, who oversees the operations of the research and development facility in Santa Clarita for all of the Honda-powered teams. “Moving forward, we feel it’s very important because the series from our point of view is actually showing some improvement in popularity with Danica Patrick. It’s definitely getting more exposure than it has during the three years we’ve been involved with the series. For them to leave right when it’s doing particularly well, it’s very unfortunate because it kind of puts a negative spin on many things.” Clarke would rather see Toyota or Chevrolet stay. Not so much to share the success the IRL has recently discovered with Patrick, the only woman in the series who drives for the Honda-powered Rahal Letterman Racing team. Clarke said Honda would like to have at least one other engine manufacturer with which to compete. “We’re not looking to leave or we’re not looking for any excuse or reason to leave,” Clarke said. “Many of the objectives we have for being involved in racing are centered around competition. The fact that we may not have competition is something that’s concerning to us and something we will have to ultimately come to grips with as we want to proceed.” Although unlikely, lack of competition could also drive Honda away from the IRL, Clarke said. One of those directions is to NASCAR, following Toyota, which made its debut this year in the Craftsman Truck Series and will join the ranks of the Nextel Cup Series in 2008. “We look at anything and everything all the time,” Clarke said. “It’s kind of an ongoing process to keep an eye on all the racing series and what they’re doing.” Clarke did not say Honda is looking specifically to move into NASCAR, but he did say branching out into another racing series is a possibility. “From the beginning of HPD, we’ve always been focused on one singular program,” Clarke said. “First that was CART. Now it’s the IRL. But going forward, with the resources that we have, we’re looking at diversifying into more than just one series.” Before that day comes, though, Clarke would like to see another engine manufacturer join the IRL. Apparently in an uncharacteristic move, the IRL has openly solicited engine manufacturers to join. Even though the IRL has only been around since 1996, it has never had to ask engine suppliers to join the league. “In the past, it just happened,” Clarke said. “They have not solicited or recruited manufacturers. They just come. I know that was in our case. But I also know that recently the IRL has sent out solicitation letters to manufacturers trying to get their interest in coming to the series to participate.” And the invitation was not well received. “They either didn’t get a response or the response was no,” Clarke said. The future is very uncertain for Honda and the IRL. At a time when the IRL is generating a new-found audience, it’s losing two of its strongest supporters: Toyota and Chevrolet. Plus, it’s putting a tremendous burden of one of its strongest assets: Honda. Clarke said given time, Honda will have the resources and the capability to provide the IRL with as many engines as it needs. It looks like Honda has decided to remain committed to the IRL even under the most adverse of circumstances. “We’re in it already,” Clarke said. “All I can say, it’s being strongly considered that we do stay and that we do our best to help the series, to help it grow and make it better so ultimately more manufacturers are lured to it.” Tim Haddock covers motor sports for the Daily News. He can be reached at (818) 713-3715 or email@example.com INDY RACING LEAGUE Toyota Indy 400 Site: Fontana. Schedule: Saturday, qualifying, 3 p.m.; Sunday, race (ESPN, 12:30 p.m.). Track: California Speedway (D-shaped oval, 2 miles, 14 degrees banking in turns). Race distance: 400 miles, 200 laps. On the Net: www.indyracingleague.com NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES UAW-GM Quality 500 Site: Concord, N.C. Schedule: Today, qualifying (Speed Channel, 47 p.m.); Saturday, race (NBC, 4 p.m.). Track: Lowe’s Motor Speedway (quad-oval, 1.5 miles, 24 degrees banking in turns). Race distance: 500 miles, 334 laps. Next race: Subway 500, Oct. 23, Martinsville, Va. On the Net: www.nascar.com NASCAR BUSCH SERIES Dollar General 300 Site: Concord, N.C. Schedule: Friday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 11:30 a.m.), race (TNT, 5 p.m.). Track: Lowe’s Motor Speedway (quad-oval, 1.5 miles, 24 degrees banking in turns). Race distance: 300 miles, 200 laps. Next race: Sam’s Town 250, Oct. 22, Memphis, Tenn. FORMULA ONE Chinese Grand Prix Site: Shanghai. Schedule: Friday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 10 p.m.); Saturday, race (Speed Channel, 10:30 p.m.). Track: Shanghai International Circuit (road course, 3.387 miles, 16 turns). Race distance: 189.672 miles, 56 laps. On the Net: www.formula1.com 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!