Toyota to quit the IRL year early UPDATE #5 We are hearing that Toyota will announce their withdrawal from the IRL effective immediately by Thursday of this week. 11/19/05 The Indy Racing League will become a one-engine series one year earlier than it anticipated because Toyota is not going to answer the bell in 2006.
As predicted on SPEED NEWS three months ago, SPEEDTV has learned that Toyota will officially announce its withdrawal from Indy cars in the next few days and Honda will power the entire IRL field in '06.
"I don't have anything I can confirm for you, that's pretty much where it's at," said Jim Aust, president and CEO of Toyota Racing Development, late Saturday afternoon. "I guess you should probably keep in touch with Brian Barnhart."11/19/05 This rumor moves even closer to 'fact' today. This Racing-Live article says (excerpts), Honda is poised to become the sole engine supplier to the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series a year earlier than anticipated. Though not desired by Honda, who covets having a competitor to beat, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Toyota will execute their announced withdrawal prior to the 2006 season instead of at the conclusion.
Reached Saturday afternoon at Homestead, Fla., Ganassi was asked about Toyota's early withdrawal. "We'll see what happens. Call me Monday," replied Ganassi, thought to be the only IRL owner receiving money from Toyota. "All I will say that we had some good years with Toyota." More at SPEEDTV.com
Sources close to the situation within the IndyCar community have stated that Toyota will leave early due to a lack of competitive teams and the high cost of attempting to catch up to Honda. Heavily contributing to this decision is Toyota's plan to enter the NASCAR Busch and Nextel Cup Series in 2007.
Overcoming entrenched competition from Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge in NASCAR will require tremendous resources from Toyota and the Toyota Racing Development group. The shifting of those resources from the IRL program to the NASCAR program, a long running rumor, now seems inevitable.
The biggest blow to Toyota's hopes for 2006 in the IRL came a few weeks ago when Penske Racing announced they would switch to Honda engines. Penske was Toyota's brightest star, but the Toyota horsepower deficiency became too much to continually overcome resulting in the biggest name in US open wheel racing moving in to the Honda camp.
Information from those close to the deal indicates Toyota has not officially withdrawn. However, faced with no prospects for winning in 2005 unless they spend an obscene amount of money the manufacturer is instead negotiating their exit. Items subject to those negotiations include the manufacturers marketing obligations for 2006 such at their title sponsorship of the season opening Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
If Toyota does indeed leave as expected, Honda will then be faced with supplying the eighteen to twenty odd full-time cars as well as the thirty-three car field for the Indianapolis 500. Performing that task will likely be accomplished by freezing development aimed at horsepower increases, with the new focus being reliability and longevity.
There have been indications that the IRL could mandate the Honda engines last multiple race weekends in 2006, as a way to reduce rebuild costs to both teams and the manufacturer.
Teams which receive considerable Honda financial support could find themselves collecting smaller and smaller checks as the manufacturer would have a monopoly on the victory stand. Conversely, teams that pay the full retail price for engines are expecting the 2006 lease price to drop to between $1.25million and $1.4million for the fourteen races on the 2006 schedule.
Resolution of the IRL's 2006 engine situation is expected within the next 10 days.
[Editor's Note: In order to get the kind of longevity Cosworth gets for the turbo Champ Car engine, Honda will likely have to reduce the RPM on its normally aspirated IRL engine to the 8,500 RPM range making the car sound worse than it already does and, therefore, producing much less HP. The other option is to increase the displacement back up from 3.0 to 3.5 L to keep HP at the same levels at the lower RPM. Bottom line - Toyota's early exit is another major blow for the IRL and further validates the IRL 5-year business plan, that Honda touted when they signed up to, as a complete and utter failure. The benefactor is Honda's HPD, which can now become a profit center a year earlier.]
11/18/05 We are upgrading this rumor to 'strong' and it will probably go to 'fact' before long. The Indy Star reports that officials from the IRL and Honda met this week in a move to have the engine manufacturer prepared to supply the entire field next season, if necessary. Toyota is losing teams; Chevrolet has withdrawn. Two key factors here are the fact that Toyota may leave the IRL a year ahead of schedule, a headline news story in itself, and do any current Honda contracts preclude them giving 100% equal engines to the entire grid, or will some Hondas be better than others, i.e. 'factory' teams, and will all teams pay the same amount, or will some get engines for free?
10/18/04 While this SPEED TV article does not answer the question as to whether Toyota will leave the IRL after 2006, it does tell us that Toyota is committed to winning consistently in the IRL again. [Excerpts] According to Toyota Racing Development president Jim Aust, his group is going to come out swinging in 2005. "It's been a pretty humbling season and we are re-focusing for next year and we'll make a greater effort to close the gap," said Aust, who watched Helio Castroneves end Honda's 14-race winning streak here Sunday. "We learned in CART that in order to succeed you've got to have strength in teams and in numbers. Honda has eight cars that are in the hunt every weekend and, all things being equal, we have seven cars that don't measure up."
So Aust & Company are going to spend the money to upgrade. They want to add a third car to Target/Ganassi, get Morris Nunn an injection of talent and possibly add another team to the mix. "We had to make a decision to step back or stay competitive and we've made a decision to stay competitive," said Aust, who admitted that decision could include spending money on driver's salaries, propping up teams or supplying free engines. Honda is a fierce competitor and they're not going to step back and neither are we. We've got to continue to develop our engine and shore up the possibilities of winning each week. We've got some possible teams and drivers we're looking at."
Aust claims Toyota doesn't pull the strings on drivers. "The team should pick the drivers and we go with their recommendation," he said. But, unlike the past two years where Japan's Tora Takagi was a must to be in a Toyota because of his heritage and the race at Motegi, Japan, that won't be a consideration in 2005 and 2006. "We want the best guys available, regardless of their nationality," said Les Unger, national motorsports manager for Toyota Motor Sales.
"It reminds me of CART," said Aust, whose company led the defection with Penske from Champ Car after capturing the 2001 championship. "The IRL is making similar requirements to be competitive so we had to step back and consider our position. "You have to decide whether you want to be competitive or just be here. We got into this series to win so we're going to move forward, make changes and be competitive again. And hopefully our engine will measure up."10/16/04 AutoRacing1.com has heard rumors over the last 12 months that once Toyota enters Nextel Cup in 2007 they will be leaving the IRL when their existing contract ends in 2006. They might stay on to lease engines to teams, but their support of teams would be cut way back, assuming they stay. Until now we chose not to publish the rumor. However, the word is beginning to spread and the Dallas Morning News writes - Toyota's lack of success in the IRL this year, and its growing success in the truck series, has fueled increased speculation that Toyota will enter Nextel Cup soon. Toyota's contract with the IRL runs through the 2006 season. The investment it would take to run in Cup, at least $100 million, could force Toyota to make an either/or decision on Cup and the IRL by 2007. Aust is thrilled with the showing the Toyota Tundra teams have made over the last two months. A big boost came from the recent entry of the Germain/Arnold Racing and veteran driver Todd Bodine. The team has three top-fives in four starts, including a victory for Bodine two weeks ago at California Speedway. Travis Kvapil, the defending NCTS champion, has two wins for Toyota in the last eight races. "It's been great first year," Aust said. "We have a lot to be excited about. It has been a wonderful way for us to showcase the Americanization of Toyota." That theme was Toyota's top priority in entering the truck series. Toyota is opening a massive assembly plant in San Antonio in 2006 that will produce 150,000 Tundra trucks a year and employ thousands of workers. Toyota began selling cars in the United States in 1957. Fifty years later, that "Americanization" process could mean a spot in America's most popular racing series. And that might be bad news for the IRL. With Toyota participating in NASCAR Trucks, Busch (perhaps) and Nextel Cup in 2007, and with the IRL's TV ratings continuing to plummet, it would not surprise us one bit if Toyota consolidated their effort in NASCAR after 2006. Can Honda be far behind?