Honda to dump CART to concentrate on Formula 1?

HONDA is on the verge of shutting down its racing program in North America to allow the company to concentrate on Formula 1. The Japanese company has been embarrassed by the fact that rival BMW is already winning Grands Prix with Williams, while the Honda teams are not even close.

Honda top brass in Japan have looked at the situation and know that the company cannot support all the different racing programs. Honda is mounting a big push in motorcycle racing in addition to F1 and CART, and something has to give.

CART supports Honda's sales drive in the United States. The US market provides the bulk of the company's profits at the moment but CART's international penetration is negligible. Formula 1 has a much higher international profile (except in the United States) and Honda does not want to quit F1 particularly just as bitter rival Toyota is gearing up for a big push into the sport. And motorcycling is an area in which Honda needs racing to supports its sales battles with Yamaha.

The CART program has been very successful with five consecutive titles for Target Chip Ganassi Racing (1996-1999) and Penske Racing (2000). Such domination has created a strong reputation for Honda and that will endure for some years.

The big question is whether Honda's withdrawal would cause the CART series to collapse. Even before a dispute over turbocharger pop-off valves there were rumors that Honda would leave CART at the end of the year but the instant imposition of changes to the rules for the Detroit race recently has upset Honda and it has appealed against CART's right to change regulations without following the established procedures. American Honda personnel have suggested that if the matter is not resolved in Honda's favor the company will end its involvement in CART.

If Honda pulls the plug on CART the entry is going to slashed dramatically next year as rival engine suppliers Ford and Toyota say they do not have the capacity to supply more teams. Of the 26 cars racing in CART at the moment, 10 of them are Honda powered. There is also the question of money as Honda has been funding several teams as well.

CART's credibility has been slipping in recent months and Toyota has already taken the step of saying that it will supply engines to rival Indy Racing League next year. Thus if CART does not get enough entries to survive, Toyota could switch to IRL without too much drama. The CART teams would have to follow suit.

The Formula 1 teams will be watching developments in the US with interest.

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