As late as yesterday morning, Honda Performance Development was weighing its continuation as a supplier to the Indy Racing League's premier IndyCar Series. According to HPD president Robert Clarke, the firm decided it was in the company's best interest to continue.
There are several reasons for this: Honda, as is widely known, uses its open wheel competition to train its employees (or, as the company calls them, "associates").
"Honda has a long, rich and very successful history in motorsports, particularly in open wheel racing," Clarke reminded. "We also have significant business in the United States and domestic factories" that back up that interest.
"We have a great desire to race, particularly in a premier series. It's the foundation of what we do," he said. "We have decided to extend our commitment to the Indy Racing League for engine supplies through the 2009 season," from the current contract with the League that was set to expire at the close of the 2006 campaign.
"We are pleased to announce that Honda will continue its role as an engine supplier; in the three years we've been part of the IRL, we've had a great deal of success against strong competition from other manufacturers."
Honda has made it "very clear our preference is to have competition and that was very important to our decision to stay. It was our conclusion," he continued, "that our desire to be involved in this particular open wheel series was a priority for Honda.
"We welcome competition but understand we may be the only ones involved," once Chevrolet leaves after tomorrow's Toyota Indy 400 and Toyota itself departs after the 2006 campaign.
"We are prepared to supply the entire IndyCar Series field [with leased engines at the same fixed cost to all teams] and feel it is crucial that everyone is supplied equal equipment," Clarke avowed.
"Our relationship with Ilmor (who assisted Honda and HPD in their initial entry into the League) has been mutually beneficial. It ends at the close of the 2006 season but we are in discussion to continue our agreement with Ilmor," he noted.
Did Honda have other options? "No," Clarke responded emphatically. "We are clearly focused on open wheel racing."
There were a lot of discussions involved in this decision and the pros and cons were equally weighed, Clarke confirmed. "The potential lack of competition was paramount in our minds as was our ability to supply the full field." At the end of the day, the desire to improve from within, for the benefit of the company won the battle and the war.
Indy Racing League president and chief operating officer Brian Barnhart presented Clarke with the 2005 manufacturers' trophy earlier than intended - Clarke will receive the trophy a second time Monday night during the League's victory celebration.
"We all know there are short term benefits to having no engine competition in 2007, from a stability standpoint," Barnhart admitted. "We think Robert realized that, as well and has been open minded about it. We are contacting all engine manufacturers to solicit their participation, in part because it is Honda's preference to have competition."
In its three years of IndyCar Series competition, Honda has compiled two Manufacturers' championships (2004-5), two Drivers' titles (2004 with Tony Kanaan and this year with his Andretti Green Racing teammate Dan Wheldon; two Indianapolis 500 wins (Buddy Rice in 2004 and Wheldon in 2005) and three Rookie of the Year awards (Wheldon in 2003, Kosuke Matsuura in 2004 and Danica Patrick in 2005).
HPD moved to its current Santa Clarita location, which encompasses 123,000 square feet and has 123 associates on staff in February of 2005. It has the capacity to construct and maintain engines for all IndyCar Series competitors from that location.