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Open-wheel merger leaves Ford out in cold

Honda is the IRL’s sole engine supplier for the IndyCar series.

IndyCar

Honda is the IRL’s sole engine supplier for the IndyCar series.

While much of the open-wheel racing world has been celebrating the merger of Champ Car and the Indy Racing League, one Ford racing official says the deal was potentially bad for motorsports.

"You had basically the death of one series and another series that absorbed a few teams,'' Ford director of racing technology Dan Davis said. "That's the end of it, so to me you took one and one and you ended up getting one."

Ford had a relationship with Cosworth, the sole engine manufacturer in the final years of the now-defunct Champ Car series. But Davis said his opinions were not influenced by that relationship..

Still, Davis said the unified series — as was the fervent wish of IRL president Brian Barnhart — could be a viable platform for other manufacturers to join Honda, which provides engines for the IRL. Ford supports teams in NASCAR and Grand Am in North America.

"We've always wanted open wheel to get back together," Davis said. "… I'm not sure we have a merger, but we have one open-wheel series. We'll just have to wait and see what can be done for a manufacturer. It's really expensive. We've lost such a huge amount of our fan base here. I don't know if its recoverable or not. …Ford is just in a wait-and-see mode."

Erik Berkman, president of Honda Performance Development, said he would like to see a return to a "multimake, multimanufacturer, competitive environment," but warned, "we recognize that competition … could create some level of instability or cost."

Les Unger, national motorsports manager for Toyota Motor Sales, said his company, which joined the series in 2003, dominated then struggled and left in 2006, hadn't had conversations about returning. The company's departure coincided with its jump to NASCAR, which it considered a better means of promoting passenger car sales. Ungar said the benefit of supporting open-wheel racing is to "get your technology story out" but added, "the jury is still out if even the unified open-wheel series can help sell passenger cars."

Mark Kent, director of GM Racing, said his company, which left IRL after the 2005 season, has "nothing immediately planned, but you never say never." But he said NASCAR is a better marketing tool for car sales.

"There is a little more benefit to racing cars that represent what you sell, and that was one of the factors that were taken into consideration when we got out of the IRL,'' he said. "With the resources we had available, we wanted to take advantage of the resources we had in a race series with more production relevance."

IRL does have advantages over NASCAR, he said.

"They can get into major markets where we want to get into, give us an opportunity to showcase our powertrain technology and also give us the opportunity to show our product at the track, which is one thing we do at the Indy 500," he said.

Open-wheel merger leaves Ford out in cold 05/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 9:38pm]
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