Five of the eight rookies in Sunday's Indianapolis 500 field will be using Honda power, as the manufacturer leads the way in providing opportunities for the next generation of racing stars to achieve their dreams of competing at the fabled Brickyard.
On Sunday, Bryan Clauson, Wade Cunningham, James Jakes, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud will all make their first Indy starts in the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500, the largest contingent of rookies for any manufacturer in this year's race.
Three of the Honda-powered rookies and one driver making his second "500" start are products of the INDYCAR ladder system, while an additional rookie and four veteran Honda drivers in this year's race are previous graduates of either the Formula Atlantic or Indy Lights development series.
"Honda has long believed in providing platforms for developing future stars of the sport," said Marc Sours, General Manager, Honda Performance Development (HPD). "It's rewarding to see that so many talented rookies in this year's field are driving for Honda teams. Our goal is to see additional drivers, now just starting out in Formula F and other Honda-supported classes, achieve their Indy dreams in future years."
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing is fielding a pair of rookies and INDYCAR ladder graduates: 2011 Indy Lights Champion Josef Newgarden and USAC National Champion Bryan Clauson. Wade Cunningham, a former Indy Lights champion and three-time Indy Lights winner at Indianapolis, will make his "500" debut on Sunday with A.J. Foyt Racing.
Indy rookie Simon Pagenaud and veteran Graham Rahal are both graduates of Formula Atlantic, where both won races and finished 1-2 in the 2006 championship, Pagenaud winning the title after a year-long battle with Rahal. Now, they are rivals for racing's greatest prize, with Rahal driving for Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing and Pagenaud leading the Schmidt Hamilton Racing effort.
Bryan Herta Autosport's Alex Tagliani is another graduate of the Atlantic series, where he starred from 1996-99. Charlie Kimball was an Indy Lights front-runner in 2009-2010 before moving up to IndyCars with Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing; and Townsend Bell won the Indy Lights championship in 2001.
In 2009, Honda Performance Development (HPD), the racing arm for American Honda, announced the formation of its grass roots motorsports initiative, and today the company supplies engines and technical support to racers competing in a wide variety of entry-level and intermediate racing categories, including Quarter Midget, Karting, Formula F and Formula Atlantic.
Examples of all four Honda-powered ladder categories - a Quarter Midget using the Honda GX160 engine; a Honda CR125-powered kart; a Formula F using the Honda L15A; and HPD's newest ladder series offering, a Honda K20-powered Formula Atlantic - are all on display this weekend at the IndyCar Fan Village, located adjacent to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
Honda has been a fixture in North American open-wheel racing since 1994, and has played an active role in the growth of the IZOD IndyCar Series - as both a Manufacturers' Championship competitor and single engine supplier - since joining the series in 2003.
The company scored its first Indianapolis 500 victory in 2004 with Buddy Rice; Manufacturers' Championships in 2004 and '05; and became engine supplier to the entire IZOD IndyCar Series in 2006. Honda supplied racing engines to the full, 33-car Indianapolis 500 field every year from 2006-2011, and for a record-six consecutive years, the '500' ran without a single engine failure. The 2010 Indianapolis 500, won by Dario Franchitti, marked Honda's 100th race win as a manufacturer and engine supplier in IZOD IndyCar Series competition.
Founded in 1993, HPD is the technical operations center for high-performance Honda racing cars and engines and operates at race circuits around the world from its headquarters in Santa Clarita, California.
In addition to its efforts in Indy car racing, HPD spearheaded championship-winning efforts in the 2009-2010 American Le Mans Series, 2010 Le Mans Series and the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans. HPD offers a line of race engines for track applications from prototype sports cars to karting; and showcases 'fun products' for professional, amateur and entry-level efforts.
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