Sunday, March 9, 2008

Honda Gears Up for IRL Challenge

I have to wonder if there was another agenda for Tony George's recent trip to Japan which ostensibly was to discuss changing the Motegi race date. I have no reason to believe that the race date wasn't a big item but could it be that TG was also making sure that Honda could produce enough engines for Indy and the larger IRL entry list through the rest of the season.

I don't have any inside information on that score, but there has been talk at Indy in recent years of Honda limiting their engine leases. Last year for instance, you could sign up for the whole month of May or get a shortened lease for the second week of practice and the rest of the month.

Honda has a huge investment in the IRL and the last thing they would want to see is having a shortage of engines hampering the series success. Having worked some with Japanese auto companies in years' past, I think Honda would want to be sure their image is not tarnished by a lack of engines, or worse, a spate of engine failures. Since Toyota left the IRL, it seems generally accepted that Honda has provided a detuned engine which in its 2007 form was virtually bullet proof. I can't remember a single engine failure last season. The current rev limiter package also helps make sure the bottom doesn't drop out of their engines and since teams can't do anything with the engine's internals, it's all up to Honda.

Long gone are the days when an Indycar engine would detonate in a plume of foul smelling smoke and oil down a racetrack. Now, Honda has a greater responsibility than ever before and I am certain Honda's QA/QC people are going to be pulling plenty of overtime between now and May to ensure their incredible reliability record remains intact. Anyone that has worked in manufacturing knows that ramping up production can lead to problems with the finished product, yet somehow I believe that Honda will exempt itself from that through its traditional attention to detail and zealous work ethic.

Time will tell if Honda can deliver the same goods as the past couple of seasons, but I am certain they will. And with Acura in the ALMS now, they have an alternate test bed for parts and a fertile training ground for their engineering staff to deal with whatever gremlins do surface. Somewhere in Japan, there are engineers monitoring telemetry every race: of that I am equally certain.

But my opinion isn't important. Tony George must think Honda can handle it, and his opinion is the only one that matters. After all, he knows who his important partners are in the IRL, and Honda is right at the top of the list. Can it be long before the series is known as the "Honda Indy Racing League"?

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