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Honda sticking with IRL even as Formula One commitment ends

Honda's decision to leave Formula One is a sign, company spokesman T.E. McHale said, "we may not be one of the Big Three, but we're still (feeling pressure)."

But the Japanese automaker expects to continue its support of the Indy Racing League and specific races it sponsors such as the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

"Honda's U.S.-based motor­sports activities are expected to continue in 2009," the manufacturer said in a statement.

IRL commercial division president Terry Angstadt said in a phone interview from Brazil that "there is no affect whatsoever" on his league at this time. Honda is the IRL's sole engine provider.

Honda has a contractual agreement with the city and Andretti Green Promotions to sponsor the Grand Prix through April's fifth installment, and made a verbal commitment through 2013. Grand Prix vice president/general manager Tim Ramsberger anticipates no changes in Honda's level of commitment.

"Everything is good," he said. "We're confident with the relationship."

The F1 pullout is a separate issue from the IRL partnership for two reasons: An F1 program is exponentially more expensive — $291-million yearly according to published reports — than an IRL equivalent. And Honda generates revenue from the IRL by leasing engines. IRL teams pay about $1.3-million per car to lease an engine for a season.

Even as the auto industry flails, Angstadt will meet with manufacturers including Volks­wagen, Porsche and Audi on Friday in Hamburg, Germany, to discuss the possibility of joining the series as competitors in 2012.

"It's encouraging to have that level of enthusiasm, but we'll see," he said. "We've not been face-to-face (with prospective new manufacturers) since the world changed. We'll learn a lot more (Friday)."

Economic concerns also have cost the league a coveted title sponsor for the foreseeable future. The IRL targeted the banking sector for the $10-million entitlement and "were certainly well down the road with one particular financial institution we felt really good about," Angstadt said, before a credit crunch sent corporations clambering to Congress for a $700-billion bailout.

ALL-INCLUSIVE: With Sprint Cup regulars claiming the championship (Clint Bowyer) and six of the top 10 spots in the final Nationwide series standings this season, debate smolders whether top-series drivers are gutting the second-tier circuit's reason to exist by grabbing checks and exposure that developing drivers could use. There's no debate with John Aman, Nationwide associate vice president of strategic sponsorship. He wants Sprint Cup drivers to continue moonlighting.

"We think this series creates a great blend of the driver that's demonstrating their readiness for the next level, and the Cup driver who loves to drive and wants to be out there," he said. "Frankly, the debate itself is good to have. As long as they keep saying Nationwide, we're happy about it."

SPARK PLUGS: St. Petersburg resident and 2005 IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon confirmed wife Susie Behm is due to give birth to their first child, a boy, on Feb. 27.

Honda sticking with IRL even as Formula One commitment ends 12/13/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 13, 2008 10:18pm]
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