Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
HPD President Addresses Challenges of Being IRL's Single Engine Supplier
In its 13 years of open-wheel racing in America, Honda Performance Development has always been driven by competition. But HPD did such a good job during the past two years in the Indy Racing League that it now has the series to itself and can now even further demonstrate its power and durability.
Honda is now the sole supplier of engines to the IndyCar Series and will power every car in the 14-race schedule - including the 90th Indianapolis 500. And while that may not be as satisfying as whipping Toyota or General Motors, it definitely brings new challenges to HPD President Robert Clarke and his staff.
"It's quite different because we've always been driven with developing and demonstrating that our engine was superior," said Clarke, whose teams captured 26 of the last 33 races, back-toback IRL championships and the past two Indy 500s.
"Now, we've got different objectives. We want to make sure all our engines perform at an equal level and that they have exceptional reliability. We'd like to get through the season without an in-race engine failure.
"That's our target."
The fact Honda was willing and able to come to the IRL's rescue is a story in itself and a tribute to HPD's depth. General Motors' exit at the end of '05 was expected, but when Toyota suddenly announced it would also be leaving, IRL officials needed a savior.
"Time was the biggest issue for us because we expected to be the sole supplier by 2007, but Toyota's departure caught us off guard," said Clarke. "Three months after that announcement, we had to supply 15 cars at the Open Test in Phoenix and then 18 at the Homestead test.
"That was the biggest headache, ramping it all up in such a short amount of time."
Naturally, building and maintaining the pool of 100 engines requires a big effort from the HPD employees at Santa Clarita as well as their partners at Ilmor Engineering in Detroit.
"We couldn't have done this by ourselves and both of us will be building engines all season," continued Clarke. "And the only way we can support all of the cars is to extend the life of the engine, or this wouldn't be possible.
"There just weren't enough engines in the system."
Clarke's plan this year is for teams to get two races out of every engine - including Indianapolis.
"Last year at Indianapolis we had a practice engine, a qualifying engine, another engine for the second week of practice and then a race engine. This year, we'll have an engine for practice and qualifying and another one for Carburetion Day and the race.
"If you can extend the engine life it's a direct cost benefit to manufacturer and teams. Cost per mile is the key."
Unlike years past when Honda had key teams, everyone will be treated equally and there won't be any "trick" engines.
"We don't identify the engines to the teams anymore. We just build them and ship them to Ilmor," said Clarke. "Ilmor builds theirs and they all go into a pool where they will be assigned by the IRL.
"This is done to assure parity when you don't have competition, you don't have excuses, so we just have to make our engines equal and reliable."