Honda made its commitment to the IRL as Chevrolet and Toyota are preparing to leave the open-wheel racing series. Chevrolet is gone after the 2005 season. Toyota will leave after 2006. As it stands, Honda will be the sole engine supplier to the IRL when the 2007 season starts. “Clearly we have a focus on open-wheel racing,” said Robert Clarke, president of Honda Performance Development. “In this decision process, there was no other consideration. The only discussion was whether to stay or leave.” Lack of competition and the ability to supply every driver in the series with an engine are two of the main concerns for Honda Performance Development, which is based in Santa Clarita, and the IRL. But both were confident Honda would be able to meet the demands of the IRL teams. “We welcome competition,” Clarke said. “Then again, we understand that we may be the only manufacturer involved. We’re OK with that.” Brian Barnhart, president and chief operating officer of the IRL, said the series is actively pursuing other manufacturers to join the series. “We’ve been contacting all of them,” Barnhart said. “As (Clarke) stated, it’s his preference to have competition. At the same time, it’s our preference to have competition as well. “At this point in time, we don’t have any other manufacturers who have taken up the challenge of taking on Honda and their participation in the Indy Car Series.” Honda will be supplying engines to Indy Racing League teams through 2009, it was announced Saturday at California Speedway. Whether any other engine manufacturers will join Honda in the IRL is yet to be determined. Clarke said competition is one of the main reasons Honda is involved in racing. But Clarke added that he sees some advantages to being the only engine supplier in the series. “Our desire is to be involved in a series as we view as the pinnacle and the premier open-wheel racing series,” Clarke said, “and see that as maybe a priority over the need to have competition.” Barnhart said teams and drivers will be using equipment that is equally competitive, and that would be another advantage to having one engine supplier in the IRL. “If there is no competition in 2007, there are some short term benefits to that as well,” Barnhart said. “And it certainly gives you the opportunity to equal supply, equal performance, to reduce some costs and reduce some barriers of entry into the series.” With the possibility of Honda being the only engine supplier in the series, Barnhart said the IRL’s relationship with Honda is going to change. “The key is we are going to have a very open-minded relationship with Honda over the next several years to take a different approach on how the series is grown,” Barnhart said. Honda joined the IRL in 2003 and its current agreement with the series expires at the end of the 2006 season. In three years of IRL competition, Honda and its drivers and teams have won the past two IRL championships (Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon), the past two Indianapolis 500s (Buddy Rice and Wheldlon) and 27 Indy Car Series races. Honda drivers have also won the past three rookies of the year (Wheldon, Kosuke Matsuura and Danica Patrick). — Tim Haddock The California Speedway may not be without an open-wheel race for very long. “It just didn’t work out in 2006, but I’m confident we will be back in this market in 2007,” said Barnhardt, IRL’s president and CEO. His sentiment was echoed by track president Gillian Zucker. “I don’t think there’s a relationship to re-cultivate,” she said. “We don’t dislike each other. They made a business decision.” Zucker lobbied for her track to host the first race following the Indy 500. But that June 4, 2006, date instead went to Watkins Glen, the venerable road course in New York. “We don’t have a race right now a week after Indianapolis,” Barnhardt said. “By adding a race a week after, you run the risk of Indy being a rainout. The race after Indianapolis has to have the flexibility to the end of the year.” The last time that happened was 1986 when the CART race in Milwaukee had to be moved later in the season. That wouldn’t be a problem for Watkins Glen since its lone NASCAR race is scheduled for August 13. — A.J. Perez 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!