Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to thank all of you for taking time to join us this afternoon, particularly those of you who, like me, have a vested interest in the outcome of a certain college football game that's being played even as we speak. We're going to dispense with any lengthy preliminaries except to say that I can speak for myself and Dan Laden (ph) and Robert, and for Kurt (ph) to a lesser degree, when I say that there's one question we've heard more than any other over past few months, phrased in different ways, but essentially it all boils down to this: What's Honda gonna do? The truth is that until yesterday morning, none of us knew the answer to that question. But thankfully now, we do, and to share the answer with you, it's my pleasure to introduce the president of Honda Performance Development, Mr. Robert Clarke. Robert?
ROBERT CLARKE: Good afternoon. (Applause). Thank you. As I think all of you know, Honda has a long, rich, very successful history in motorsports, particularly in open-wheel racing. Racing is engrained in our culture and it's the foundation of our associate and technology development. Also, I think you know that Honda does a significant business in the U.S., offering a diverse variety of products in automobiles, motorcycles, power equipment, many of which are produced in domestic factories here in the U.S. Because of its need, our need and our desire to race and because we're here in the American market, we want to race in the premiere series, particularly in open-wheel racing in this country; it's more like a need, it's the foundation of what we do and how we live. Honda originally elected to compete in the IRL because we recognize the series as the pinnacle of open-wheel racing in this country. We also recognize that the Indianapolis 500 for its tradition and its place in American motorsports. It is based on this thinking that Honda just yesterday, as T.E. explained, decided to extend our commitment to the IRL beyond 2006. We are committed to supply teams and drivers of the IRL with the Honda Indy V-8 racing engine through 2009. We are also committed to working with the league as a partner to build value into the series, which in turn will attract, we believe, more competitors and sponsors. Honda views its commitment as significant, and we believe that it will form a foundation upon which the IRL community can build on. Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Robert. Now to offer a few remarks on behalf of the Indy Racing League, I'd like to call on president and chief operating officer, Brian Barnhart.
BRIAN BARNHART: Thank you. Obviously we couldn't be happier with Honda's announcement today. They have been a true partner with the IndyCar Series since joining the league in 2003, and I look forward to teaming up with Robert and Honda in continuing the league's growth both on and off the racetrack. This is obviously a major commitment on Honda's part, and we appreciate their position that the IndyCar Series provides both technological challenges for the engineers and a platform to showcase the fine Honda products. At this point, I'd like to congratulate Robert and Honda for their decision and look forward to working very closely with them in the coming years. We have a lot of good things to look forward to, as I mentioned both on and off the track, and I'd like to maybe have an informal presentation, about 48 hours early. I'd like to present Robert with the Manufacturer's Championship Trophy from the 2005 IndyCar Series, and he'll get a formal presentation Monday night at our awards banquet. (Applause).
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Brian. Just a few pertinent statistics before we begin taking questions for Robert Clarke. Honda power drivers have won 25 of the past 32 IndyCar races dating to the 2004 season opener. Honda has also captured the past two IndyCar Manufacturer's Championships, past two drivers championships, and Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon; the past two Indianapolis 500s, Buddy Rice and Dan Wheldon; and the past three Indy Rookie Car of the Year Awards with Dan Wheldon, Kosuke Matsuura and Danica Patrick. With that, I'll open it up to a few questions for Robert, which keep in mind is until the end of the first half.
Q. I think that at some point Tom Elliot had said that you would not want to be the only manufacturer in the series, but it looked like beyond 2006 that may be the case. Was that pertinent in any way in this decision?
ROBERT CLARKE: Yeah, I think Honda has made it very clear that our preference is to have competition. As we have expressed in many ways, even through our own advertising, that we use racing to develop our people primarily and our technology segment. Having competition is a way of challenging our engineers to develop a superior product that can win against our competition; thereby, they learn through that process, and we develop a better product, which is better for our customers and so that is a circulating process. But, yes, it entered into our decisions, very much so. But we came to the conclusion, as I expressed, and when I spoke earlier about our desire to be involved in this series as we get involved in the pinnacle and pre near open-wheel racing series and see that as maybe a priority over the need to have competition. We welcome competition. And then again, we understand that we may be the only manufacturer involved in the near-term; we are okay with that.
Q. How prepared are you to supply every car in the field, and also, will there be any tweaking with the rules to allow some other OEMs to work on your engines?
ROBERT CLARKE: Well, we are looking at 2007, so we've looked at our capacity and our ability to meet the supply requirements of Indy, which is the worst possible scenario. And yes, we've looked at that and we are prepared to support the entire field, if that's the case.
ROBERT CLARKE: That is probably a question better for Brian than myself.
Q. Obviously this is a vote of confidence in the Indy Racing League. What other options did you consider, before making this decision?
ROBERT CLARKE: None. As you know, in our past we were involved in CART before the IRL and we've had a singular focus throughout, and clearly we have a focus on open-wheel racing. In this decision process, there was no other consideration whether -- the only decision was whether to stay or to leave.
Q. You said this decision was made as of yesterday morning, what was it that prompted you to make a decision?
ROBERT CLARKE: Well, the decision or process of making the decision was a long one. There's a lot of discussion looking at the pros and cons of continuing the series or leaving. The barrier that was probably the most significant was the potential lack of competition. Other factors involved, of course, are the ability to supply the entire field. That's a question that requires a lot of study as far as manpower and facilities, diode time, those kind of things, which we went through, as well.
Q. You said that up to now you had not looked at other series, you've tripled your production size, if not the capability, with space; have you left the door open for any other series based in the U.S. in the future?
ROBERT CLARKE: Yes, we have. I mean, it's in HPD's business plan that we will look into the potential of diversifying into other racing series. This does not preclude or close the door for those, but no decision has been made in that regard. This was the priority and is our No. 1 focus.
Q. Look at the financial and maybe some of the teams in the IRL right now, are you going to be able to guarantee equal equipment for everyone if you do become the sole engine manufacturer in the IRL?
ROBERT CLARKE: Yes. That's part of the discussion that we've had with the IRL as we've become a sole supplier. It's crucial that everyone be supplied with equal equipment and that's very much our policy today. Obviously we are not supplying the entire field, but within the ten cars that we are supplying, that equipment is a very equal level and something that we pride ourselves on being able to do.
Q. Are you going to continue to work with Paul Ray and Elmore?
ROBERT CLARKE: The relationship with Elmore has been a very good one. Both sides I think have very much enjoyed the relationship. I'd say it's been mutually beneficial to both sides. Currently that agreement ends at the end of the 2006 season, but I can tell you that we are in discussions about extending that agreement through the extension of the agreement with the IRL. No decision, I mean, we haven't got there yet, but we are in those discussions?
Q. Robert, you talk about support, could you address that from the financial side? What are your plans or thoughts in that direction?
ROBERT CLARKE: I'm not sure I understand your question.
Q. Well, are these free engines or are you expecting payment?
ROBERT CLARKE: No. They would be leased engines. They would be a fixed price that all teams would pay the same price.
Q. Does that apply to the entire field?
ROBERT CLARKE: That's correct.
THE MODERATOR: We want to thank you all for making time for us this afternoon, congratulations to all involved on this announcement. Thanks again.
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