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Honda has every car in Indianapolis 500

May 23, 2006
By Bruce Martin
SportsTicker Contributing Editor

INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) - Robert Clarke, the president of Honda Performance Development, can't help but consider the irony of Honda's circuitous route to supplying every car in the starting field for the 90th Indianapolis 500.

Clarke remembers that difficult initial experience in 1994, when Honda was new to IndyCar racing and arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Team Rahal.

It was obvious from the start that the new engine company wasn't up to speed and Bobby Rahal was in danger of missing the race for the second year in a row. Rahal made the difficult decision to abandon the engine at Indy in the second week of qualifications and made the field in another brand.

But Honda would return the following year, started on the outside of the front row with Scott Goodyear and nearly won the race.

Honda returned to the Indianapolis 500 in 2003, but it was Toyota-powered Gil de Ferran that drove into victory lane that day, giving team owner Roger Penske a record 13th Indy 500 win.

Buddy Rice gave Honda its first Indy 500 winner in 2004 in an ironic twist Rahal was his team owner. Dan Wheldon gave Honda its second Indy win last year as it had become the dominant engine in the sport.

"We've gone the whole spectrum," Clarke said. "We were the first Japanese make there, we failed to qualify, were laughed out and now we own the entire starting field. We've gone full circle."

Honda is now the sole supplier to the Indy Racing League and as many fans of the 500 arrive early enough to see the sun rise over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"It is big," Clarke said. "As far as Honda goes, clearly we understand and appreciate what that event means. It was a key part of our decision to be here and to support the entire field. It's pretty cool to have a Honda engine in all 33 cars. The satisfaction of meeting that challenge remains."

The Indianapolis 500 has always cast a magical name to racing enthusiasts in Japan. It's the epic, bigger-than-life event that lures many a visitor from the Far East to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway every year.

In the 1990s, Honda decided to build an oval race track Twin Ring Motegi. Just outside the gates to that facility is the Honda Museum, which proudly exhibits several cars that have raced in the Indianapolis 500.

Clarke's interest in the Indy 500 grew at an early age. He was the son of a Navy fighter pilot and when he grew up in Coronado, California his father took him to an SCCA race when he was 8 years old.

"I was hooked from that weekend," Clarke said.

He would attended graduate school at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana and the industrial design student got a chance to attend his first Indy 500 in 1974.

"My wife and I went on pole day and then we came back for the race," Clarke said. "I was in awe. The speed of the cars was something I had never experienced before. That's what I recall the most was the speed."

His first job in racing was with Honda in 1980 and he ultimately became the president of Honda Performance Development.

Honda is now a partner in the IRL. It's betting that the series will grow and wants to remain a key player.

"A great deal of time and energy has been pointed at our new engine program, and we feel this type of program is perfect for us at this point in our history," said IRL president and chief operating officer Brian Barnhart. "Just a few short years ago we welcomed an expanded roster of manufacturers to the series, and that helped us achieve some goals that we had set at that time.

"In this era of value, a single-engine program will allow better cost containment and put us in a position to attract expanded teams or new teams to our series."

There are a mix of rewards and challenges that come with being the only engine in the series.

"The benefits are we win every race," Clarke said.

There are plenty of challenges, though, mostly ensuring a supply of engines for the entire field. In a little over four months since announcing it would make all the engines, HPD has had to make sure there are enough parts available to rebuild the engines as well as increase the staff for trackside support.

"It was a major project within the very limited time that we had," Clarke said. "But I feel we have crested the hill and we're on the downhill slope of that now. Getting ready was the big job."

Defending Indy 500 winner and defending IRL champion Wheldon admitted Honda was a major factor in his championship run, but the whole series should prosper now that all teams have equal engines

His former teammate at AGR, Dario Franchitti, said the challenge remains the same to beat the other guy.

"I think first of all Honda should be applauded for what they've done in stepping up and supplying the whole series," Franchitti said. "I've enjoyed a long relationship with them. This is my ninth season with Honda. You have to do your talking on the track.

"There's going to be no favorites from Honda. They've made that very clear."

4,479 Posts
Eh big deal, the only reason Honda is the only engine supplier left in IRL is because no other manufacturer wanted to waste money on the series.

Premium Member
33,658 Posts
spray004 said:
Eh big deal, the only reason Honda is the only engine supplier left in IRL is because no other manufacturer wanted to waste money on the series.
Werd. :stupid

It's like restating the obvious, just in a new manner. :eek:

Ahahaha! :lol2


462 Posts
i want it to go back to the old days of the CART during the 95-2001 era when Honda, Toyota, and Ford/Cosworth were at each other throats fighting for a championship :dbz

....while mercedes watched thier poopy engines fail race after race. :lol2
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