In a move to cut costs and take the IndyCar series into a new playing field, the Indy Racing League announced that it will have only one powerplant next season. Starting with the 2006 season, Honda will be the sole engine supplier for the IndyCar series. "Every participant in the IndyCar Series beginning next year will be powered by Honda Racing Indy V8 engines," said IRL's COO Brian Barnhart. "The biggest benefit to this decision is, first and foremost, cost savings to the teams. Taking our engine program to a single supplier format we believe will take the IndyCar Series to an entirely new level of competition beginning in 2006."
Honda Performance Development, a subsidiary of American Honda Motor Company, announced at the 2005 season finale in Fontana, California, their commitment to the IndyCar program by extending their involvement into the 2009 season. At that time it was Toyota's intention to leave at the end of the 2006 season. HPD President Robert Clarke said, "We welcome competition but understand we may be the only ones involved."
Those words came true with today's announcement -- one year earlier than expected.
Barnhart focused on two main ingredients for the immediate changeover, including the fact that many teams had already switched to Honda for the 2006 season. With Chevrolet's departure at the conclusion of the 2005 season and Toyota's anticipated departure, the move to Honda power was not unexpected.
Barnhart cited cost as the second factor for moving to one engine, indicating savings of approximately $500,000 for 2006 engine leases (from around $1.3 to $1.8 million). Savings in 2007 with Clarke indicating expected lease costs close to one million.
"As Honda has consistently said, we embrace racing, particularly open-wheel racing. We want and need to race in America," admitted Clarke. "With this single supply situation, Honda is faced with a totally new set of challenges. Engine and parts supply, frankly, had to be our most immediate concern and our point of confirmation.
"Also assuring engine build quality, equal engine performance and, of course, maintaining Honda's reputation for outstanding customer support, were all key program features that we had to confirm, and we have done so," added Clarke.
Ilmor Engineering's partnership with HPD has been extended, with two firms, Ilmor Engineering, Inc. in the United States and Ilmor Engineering, Ltd. in the United Kingdom "continuing to partner with us," said Clarke. Ilmor assisted Honda and HPD in their initial foray into the IRL in 2003.
Next year's schedule is tightly packed but both Barnhart and Clarke are confident that the workload can be handled. It will be "a new challenge in Honda racing history."
"Honda will utilize the highly successful Honda Indy V-8 engine that we've used over the last three years and has brought to us back-to-back manufacturer, driver and Rookie-of-the-Year championships," commented Clarke. "We will have some very slight modifications to that engine which will allow us to use the engine for two events between rebuilds."
Barnhardt added that there will be a fair level playing field: (the) "engines will be shipped and held as a pool of engines. The IRL will basically, from a list of engines that are in the pool, select engines and randomly provide them to the teams. There's no chance of any impartial treatment."
One rumour, regarding chassis manufacturers, was put to rest as both IndyCar series chassis manufacturers will continue into the future. "They are both important and great chassis suppliers to our series," explained Barnhart. "We very much need them and want them to remain competitive and in the series.
"They both (Panoz and Dallara) have won poles, they've both won races," he continued. "We're very comfortable and happy moving forward in the same situation that we currently have for our chassis."
Barnhart and his staff have been busy since the 2005 season ended October 18th. Knowing that Toyota would depart at the end of next year, the IndyCar arm of the IRL started negotiations with Honda.
"We appreciate the enthusiasm shown and work done by Honda to ensure it has the ability to supply the entire IndyCar Series field," Barnhart said. "Robert Clarke and everyone at HPD have been true partners during this process."
Toyota released a statement about their early departure indicating their "decision was expedited one year early to allow the IRL to move to a common engine for the upcoming season."
Over their three years (49 races) of competition in the IndyCar series, Toyota won one manufacturers' championship with Scott Dixon taking the drivers' title in 2003. Toyota powered cars to 17 race victories and 22 poles.
"We truly appreciate Toyota's participation and service in the IndyCar Series," expressed Barnhart. "They have been great partners to the series both on and off the race track."
The Indianapolis 500 will be the biggest challenge for HPD in 2006. The field for the Indy 500, known as the "greatest spectacle in racing," has a limit of 33 cars on the grid. Current teams will, no doubt, will be entering additional cars and the 500 attracts several one-off teams; all enter the Indy 500 in anticipation of tasting the milk in victory lane.
Honda tasted the milk in 2004 and '05, but Toyota's resume does include one win at the famous Brickyard in 2003 -- their best year in IndyCar competition.
"We appreciate the time we've spent in the IndyCar Series," said Jim Aust, vice-president of Toyota Motorsports. "In winning the 2003 Indianapolis 500, Toyota earned its greatest motorsports accomplishment and we'll forever cherish that victory. Our gratitude goes out to Tony George and the Indy Racing League for providing us the opportunity to compete in, and win, the greatest spectacle in racing."