OCTOBER 18, 1999
Penske and Ilmor
AMERICAN racing magnate Roger Penske has announced that his CART team will run with Honda engines next season after two seasons without a victory with Mercedes-Benz. Penske drivers Greg Moore and Gil de Ferran will race Honda-powered Reynard chassis next year, ending the relationship with Mercedes-Benz which has been going on since 1993. Penske's British factory at Poole will supply composite parts for customers while no doubt preparing to return with a new CART chassis in 2001.
The Penske-Mercedes collaboration has not been a success and it could have some interesting implications in Formula 1 as Penske is a 25% shareholder in Ilmor Engineering, which designs and builds all Mercedes-Benz F1 and CART engines.
Penske Racing has not won a race since midway through 1997 when Paul Tracy triumphed at St. Louis. Since then the only Mercedes-engined cars to win CART events have been Gerry Forsythe's Players team and Bruce McCaw's PacWest Racing. The CART series has been completely dominated by Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Green both of which use the Reynard-Honda package. The deal with Honda is no great surprise as Roger Penske is one of the biggest Honda dealers in the United States (in addition to his General Motors and Toyota dealerships). What is surprising is that his entire relationship with Mercedes-Benz seems to be on the point of being unstitched - and that is likely to mean that Penske will relinquish his stake in Ilmor Engineering. Penske helped to establish the Brixworth engine company back in 1983 and it was he who convinced General Motors to fund an Ilmor Chevrolet engine. When GM decided to quit CART racing it was Penske who organized that the GM stake should be sold to Mercedes. The rumor in the paddock in Malaysia is that Penske is now selling his Ilmor 25% to Mercedes-Benz - which will give the German firm a 50% shareholding in the operation.
It is by no means certain that Mercedes-Benz will continue in CART and it may be significant that last week Mercedes-Benz's parent company DaimlerChrysler AG announced plans to enter the NASCAR Winston Cup series in 2001 with the Dodge brand. The name has been out of NASCAR since 1985 but Dodge remains one of the most successful companies in Winston Cup history. Dodge will use the Intrepid model and a new team is being established by Ray Evernham, who has been engineering Jeff Gordon for Hendrick Motorsport in recent years.
It is worth noting that Mercedes-Benz sources say that the company has no plans to enter its own team in CART and that the recent moves made in America by Hans-Werner Aufrecht, the former owner of AMG, are in no way official. When he sold AMG, Aufrecht established a racing team called HWA but this is independent of Mercedes-Benz.
If DaimlerChrysler has decided to quit CART there are going to be a lot of extra staff at Ilmor Engineering and it may be that the extra capacity can be used to produce a second supply of Mercedes-Benz V10 engines for Formula 1. And they would almost certainly go to Prost Grand Prix.
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