GM and Toyota to withdraw from Indy Car Racing

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  1. Ben W

    Ben W
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    Sep 16, 2002
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    IRL exec downplays departure of Toyota
    Barnhart says others can provide engines without the backing of the big car companies.

    By Curt Cavin
    [email protected]

    The Indy Racing League is set to lose General Motors following this season and Toyota after 2006. Honda's future in the series is uncertain, too.

    But IRL president Brian Barnhart isn't worried about the league's power source. He said there are plenty of companies that can supply race engines, although not all have household names.

    Consideration is being given to removing the league's requirement that engines carry auto manufacturer backing, a stipulation in effect since Honda and Toyota joined the IRL for 2003.

    "We've got a lot of good options whether the engines are badged or not," Barnhart said after Toyota made its plans official Monday night.

    Honda, Toyota and GM, through its Chevrolet brand, don't actually build IRL engines. Honda and Toyota, both Japanese companies, have U.S.-based subsidiaries that lead their IRL projects. Chevy's engines are made by Cosworth.

    Honda Performance Development of Santa Clarita, Calif., shares engine production with Ilmor Engineering, while Toyota Racing Development of Costa Mesa, Calif., works with Penske Racing. Any of those entities could service the IRL, Barnhart said.

    Manufacturers provide the IRL and its teams with a significant amount of money, resources and exposure, but Barnhart said their participation comes at a high price.

    Since the 2002 season, the IRL has lost two-thirds of its teams and 20 percent of its cars as the manufacturer-assisted teams have taken over in a more expensive arena.

    Meanwhile, the gap between the teams with manufacturer backing and those without it has widened.

    The Honda-backed teams of Andretti Green Racing and Rahal Letterman Racing account for seven of the league's top cars, including the past two Indianapolis 500 winners and last year's series champion.

    Barnhart said the benefit of having national advertising and title sponsorships from the auto manufacturers has not increased race attendance and television ratings at the same rate.

    "My question is, are we better off than when we didn't have that as part of the equation?" he said. "The answer is, I'm not convinced that we are.

    "You want them doing those types of things, but they don't seem to have made a difference, at least not as much as we would have anticipated or hoped."

    Robert Clarke, vice president and general manager of HPD, said Tuesday that Honda's involvement in the IRL beyond 2006 likely will hinge on how many auto manufacturers participate.

    Honda doesn't want to be the only one, he said.

    "One of the reasons we race is to showcase ourselves against other manufacturers," he said. "It might be OK if some of the (competitors) were non-branded, but it definitely changes the environment we're racing in. It does away with one of our objectives."

    Barnhart said the engines that will be "new" for 2007 figure to have many of the same features used in the current engines, albeit with some cost-saving adjustments.

    "Everyone seems to forget that status quo, with slight modifications to lower costs, is a very good option," Barnhart said. "Our engines, chassis and gearboxes have run like clockwork, and the reliability of the engine is one of the most cost-saving things we've got."

    Clarke said he likes what he's heard from the IRL so far.

    IRL officials were scheduled to meet with GM today in an attempt to bring it back in 2006. Barnhart said the rules package won't be announced before next month, in part because the league is in the middle of a stretch that includes eight races in 10 weeks.

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