IRL tries to lure Ford, others, but striking out

UPDATE This ties into our inside information that Ford had discussions with the IRL. What has to be alarming to the IRL is that ALL manufacturers said they are not interested in their series.

This LA Daily News article says, If and when the IRL does come back to California Speedway, there's a good possibility Honda might be the only engine manufacturer in the series. It's a scenario Robert Clarke, president of Honda Performance Development, is reluctantly anticipating.

Chevrolet is leaving the series at the conclusion of the 2005 season. Toyota will be leaving after the 2006 season. Both engine manufacturers have highly competitive NASCAR engine programs. Part of their reasons for leaving the IRL is to concentrate on NASCAR.

That would leave Honda as the lone engine provider for perhaps as many as 25 drivers in the IRL. It could be as many as 33 drivers for the Indianapolis 500, the highest-profile race in the series.

"For all we know right now, we will be the sole supplier," said Clarke, who oversees the operations of the research and development facility in Santa Clarita for all of the Honda-powered teams. "Moving forward, we feel it's very important because the series from our point of view is actually showing some improvement in popularity with Danica Patrick. It's definitely getting more exposure than it has during the three years we've been involved with the series. For them to leave right when it's doing particularly well, it's very unfortunate because it kind of puts a negative spin on many things."

"We're not looking to leave or we're not looking for any excuse or reason to leave," Clarke said. "Many of the objectives we have for being involved in racing are centered around competition. The fact that we may not have competition is something that's concerning to us and something we will have to ultimately come to grips with as we want to proceed."

Although unlikely, lack of competition could also drive Honda away from the IRL, Clarke said. One of those directions is to NASCAR, following Toyota, which made its debut this year in the Craftsman Truck Series and will join the ranks of the Nextel Cup Series in 2008.

"We look at anything and everything all the time," Clarke said. "It's kind of an ongoing process to keep an eye on all the racing series and what they're doing."

Clarke did not say Honda is looking specifically to move into NASCAR, but he did say branching out into another racing series is a possibility.

"From the beginning of HPD, we've always been focused on one singular program," Clarke said. "First that was CART. Now it's the IRL. But going forward, with the resources that we have, we're looking at diversifying into more than just one series."

Apparently in an uncharacteristic move, the IRL has openly solicited engine manufacturers to join. Even though the IRL has only been around since 1996, it has never had to ask engine suppliers to join the league.

"In the past, it just happened," Clarke said. "They have not solicited or recruited manufacturers. They just come. I know that was in our case. But I also know that recently the IRL has sent out solicitation letters to manufacturers trying to get their interest in coming to the series to participate."

And the invitation was not well received.

"They either didn't get a response or the response was no," Clarke said.

The future is very uncertain for Honda and the IRL. At a time when the IRL is generating a new-found audience, it's losing two of its strongest supporters: Toyota and Chevrolet. Plus, it's putting a tremendous burden of one of its strongest assets: Honda.

"We're in it already," Clarke said. "All I can say, it's being strongly considered that we do stay and that we do our best to help the series, to help it grow and make it better so ultimately more manufacturers are lured to it."

10/12/05 Our sources tell us that Ford Motorsport boss Dan Davis recently flew to Indianapolis to meet with IRL officials. If true, one can speculate that the IRL, desperate to get an American company to enter the series so Honda can beat up on them, is trying to lure Ford away from Champ Car. We suspect they won't get far as Ford simply does not have the money to spend to go head-to-head with Honda. We hear that Chevy was paying $20 to $25 million a year to be in the IRL, and we don't see Ford coughing up that kind of money at this time.

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