Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Rules Will Require Use Of Two Engines During 2004 Season
The new HI4R 3.5-liter engine debuts in late February at Homestead, Fla. and makes its swan song in mid-April at Motegi, Japan, because it will be replaced by a new motor in May. In the interest of safety and slowing down the cars, Indy Racing League officials are dropping the engines to three liters' displacement beginning in May.
"Yes, we're going to be plenty busy," acknowledges Clarke. "We're going to have to pursue both projects at the same time.
"It's interesting because our final race with the 3.5-liter engine will be Motegi and, from Honda's viewpoint, that's just as important as Indianapolis."
Honda's inaugural IRL campaign in '03 with the HI3R saw Tony Kanaan contest for the championship right up to the final race.
"We started off strong, winning the pole at Homestead and then Tony taking the second race at Phoenix. I think it surprised the competition how we hit the track," continued Clarke, who's been with HPD every step of the way since Honda went open-wheel racing in 1993.
"We lost some momentum in the middle of the season when we had some reliability issues and our competition gained on us. But we overcame those issues and by Texas we were showing our strength again.
"We finished the season feeling pretty good about the whole thing."
Kanaan led the point standings for much of the season with his consistency (eight finishes in the top five to go with his victory at Phoenix) before being crashed in the finale and winding up fourth.
The Andretti Green racing armada of Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon, Bryan Herta and Kanaan will lead the Honda assault in '04 along with Team Rahal's Buddy Rice (filling in for the recovering Kenny Brack), Super Aguri Fernandez rookie Kosuke Matsuura, and Access Motorsports owner/driver Greg Ray.
As for changes in the 3.5-liter engine for those first three '04 races, Clarke replies: "It can't be drastically different. The block and heads are carryover items and mainly the induction area is the most open for further development -- injection, throttle and airboxes. "We've also been working the electronics hot and heavy, because it's an area we were weak on in 2003. We've done some good work and there is more to come."