Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
"Month Of May" Engine Deals Help IRL Fill Indianapolis 500 Grid
The Indy Racing League frowned on engine leases when it started in 1996 but, a decade later, it was thanks to Honda's bargain-basement lease prices that the traditional 33 cars made it to the starting grid for the 90th Indianapolis 500.
Because of today's tough economics, owners and sponsors have become scarce in open-wheel racing and, for the first time in its existence, the size of the average IndyCar field is under 20 cars in 2006.
It had been a struggle to fill the field at Indy the past two years and required some last-minute deals just to get to 33 cars. Yet, because of Honda's helping hand, a full field was guaranteed midway through the month.
In May of 2005, it cost $500,000 to lease the formidable Honda for three weeks. This year, the price was reduced to $250,000. Better still, a team waiting until the second week of practice/qualifying only had to spend $115,000 to have the same motor as the Ganassi, Penske or Andretti Green teams.
"Honda made it so reasonable you couldn't afford not to run a second car," said 1998 Indy winner Eddie Cheever, who ran veteran Max Papis as his teammate. "It was a great gesture by Honda and they deserve a large pat on the back.
"They helped preserve one of Indy's great traditions." In the case
of teams like PDM, Luyendyk Racing or Curb
Motorsports, it was a godsend. "Plain and simple, we would not have been able to run this year without Honda's deal," said Arie Luyendyk Jr., whose two-time Indy-winning father put a team together for the IPS graduate.
"I mean, my dad couldn't have afforded a half-million dollar lease, but $100,000 was manageable.
" Paul Diatlovich, an original IRL team owner whose participation had been limited the past few years because of the escalating costs to field a car, echoed Luyendyk.
"No generous deal from Honda, no PDM," said Diatlovich, whose rookie driver Thiago Medeiros wrote off the team"s primary car in a practice accident but came back to make his first Indy start.
"I wasn't a big fan of engine leases when the IRL started but, obviously, times have changed and I know a lot of us little teams couldn't have competed this May without Honda's help."
Jeff Bucknum, whose father drove Honda's initial Formula One car, returned for his second Indy 500 as part of Ron Hemelgarn's team, thanks to the affordability of the Honda.
"I couldn't have put a deal together to run Indy without Honda's great lease price," he said. "There aren't many racing series where you can go out and get the same engine as the biggest teams.
"It was a sweetheart deal."
Honda Performance Development President Robert Clarke says HPD understands today's economics and is working with the IRL to make things more appealing for 2007.
"Our engine lease went from $1.8 million in 2005 to $1.3 this season and it's going to be down to $990,000 next year," said Clarke. "As for our Indy prices, we got very favorable responses and we'll continue it next year.
"It allowed teams that otherwise didn't have the budget a chance to compete and we were happy to help."