JUNE 27, 2005
Engine politics in the United States
Toyota is expected to conform shortly that it is leaving the Indy Racing League at the end of 2006. Chevrolet departs at the end of the current season and Honda has said that it is not interested in staying on by itself so it too is expected to depart from the championship. This will obviously be a blow to IRL but for the moment all attempts to engineer a reunion between IRL and the Champ Car World Series have failed. The failure of F1 at Indianapolis and the rise of Danica Patrick as a household name have added to the pressure on the two parties to agree some kind of a deal but while we hear that IRL's Tony George is willing to accept a secondary role in the running of a series, he is not willing to not have any voice at all - and the bosses of Champ Car, who seem to be in a weaker position, are unwilling to even give George that much power. Champ Car has its own engine supply from Cosworth (which Champ Car bosses Gerry Forsythe and Kevin Kalkhoven now own) but this does not mean that IRL cannot get find engines from elsewhere and it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Mario Illien and his longtime partner Roger Penske, a major player in IRL, are just in the process of moving elements of Ilmor Engineering to new premises in Brixworth in England and within weeks this will be fully independent of the Mercedes-Benz F1 project. This will be perfectly positioned to build engines for IRL in 2006, perhaps badged by another manufacturer, such as Hyundai. As Ilmor already builds the Honda IRL engines it might be a complete switch to the Korean firm's badging but it could also be a situation in which Honda takes its engine programme in-house once again at Honda Performance Development in Santa Clarita, California, and goes up against Ilmor's Hyundai-branded engines. It is worth noting that HPD recently moved into a brand new facility in Santa Clarita, which is complete with all the equipment needed to design and build engines.
"For the first 10 years we were a service organization that built and re-built engines and gave trackside support," says Robert Clarke, general manager of HPD. "I never imagined we would become a real R&D racing engine company that could design it, built it, manufacture it and develop it. Now we're on our own, and it's both exciting and terrifying. It's a fantastic opportunity for our people because we've never had that capability. We'll be doing more than we're currently doing with the IRL."
It is worth noting that Toyota Racing Development USA, which is headquartered in Costa Mesa, California, is opening an office in Charlotte, North Carolina, from where the firm will oversee its attack into NASCAR.
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