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Honda axes AMA program
The economic downturn has claimed its first major victim with the announcement that American Honda has withdrawn from road racing.

The primary factor for the withdraw was the “current global economic situation and its impact on Honda,” American Honda said in a Friday evening press release. “Although Team Honda will not be in attendance, Honda will continue to be represented in AMA Roadracing through our ongoing support of both the Erion Honda Racing and Corona Honda Racing teams.”

The only rider contracted to American Honda is Neil Hodgson, who wasn’t immediately reachable at his home on the Isle of Man because of the time difference.Hodgson was looking forward to the season after an encouraging Daytona Dunlop tire test where he was the fastest of the three factory Superbike riders. Hodgson, who lost his crew chief Dave McGrath to Buell at the end of the season, was working with Honda’s R&D team at Daytona. Members of the R&D team, who are contract workers and not salaried employees, are not expected to lose their jobs.

American Honda race boss Jon Row had said at the tire test that Honda’s plans for 2009 were “not decided yet. That’s basically it.” Row said there was no deadline for a decision, but some sense of urgency “because there are races scheduled.” But he said the contract with Erion Honda was “not dependent on our contract,” which raised the possibility that Erion could race even if American Honda didn’t. Erion recently signed Canadian Chris Peris to team with Jake Zemke, the 2008 Formula Xtreme champion. Zemke and Erion have agreed to many contract terms, but they haven’t formalized the deal. Corona Honda will campaign Jake Holden in the American Superbike class.

No mention was made of the ongoing conflict between dissident factories and the Daytona Motorsports Group-run AMA Pro Racing. American Honda had sided with American Suzuki and Kawasaki in the dispute over the future of road racing. The three were working with the Motorcycle Industry Council in forming a rival five-race series. But their involvement in the Daytona tire test signaled an about-face. Complicating the situation was that American Honda was committed to sponsor the Daytona 200 and Daytona Supercross.

America Honda’s factory involvement in Supercross and motocross won’t be affected, the release said. “Entering the second year of our partnership with Red Bull Energy Drink, the Honda Red Bull Racing team will return for the 2009 Supercross and National Motocross season with a full roster of factory riders.”

The entire motorcycle industry has been hit hard in recent months, as has the automobile sector. American Honda has suffered more than 40% declines in year to year motorcycle sales in recent months. And Honda Motor Company recently took the extraordinary step of pulling out of Formula One, a move that saved hundreds of millions of dollars. A team generated Q&A that was released with Honda’s withdrawal announcement on Dec. 5 said that “annual turnover for fiscal 2007 was approximately 150 million British Pounds and a similar amount was spent on expenses, however that amount included expenses incurred by HRD as well as fees associated with the technical support extended to Super Aguri F1 Team.” The British Pound was worth close to two dollars for most of 2007. Honda did not divulge how much it spent on all the races it participates in.

In an interview following the announcement, Honda Motor Company CEO Takeo Fukui said they would continue with MotoGP and IRL and “think about other activities.”

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