HPD Looks Forward to Return to Road Courses

8/23/2004 7:31:29 PM

When the Indy Racing League goes road racing for the first time in 2005 it will make at least one manufacturer very happy.

"We've been pushing for road races since the day we first met with the IRL in 2002," said Robert Clarke, vice president and general manager of Honda Performance Development. "I told them we were definitely interested in road racing and asked if it was on their plate and they said yes.

"I think it's great because I love the mix of ovals and road courses."

Honda's domination in CART from 1996-2001 (four Manufacturers' Championships, six straight drivers' titles) was a rewarding experience, but Clarke doesn't feel like it's going to give the company any advantage over Toyota or General Motors.

"Because of the nature of the IRL rules there's not a whole lot we can do because the engine fundamentals are fixed," he said. "But we'll be looking for driveability. That's what we excelled at in our CART program."

Asked what areas HPD will concentrate on, Clarke replied, "The induction area. Trumpet lengths, and we'll play around with throttle cams. From the top of the heads up - whatever you can play with. And we might change cam profiles, depending on the circuit.

"The other thing is engine mapping and electronics. Obviously, traction control will be very important."

Clarke understands the challenges of making the 3-liter, normally-aspirated engines pull their weight, so to speak, on road courses.

"We lost a lot of torque in changing from the 3.5liter to the 3-liter [engine]. It's not a very responsive engine to begin with and it's a very heavy car, so I'm sure that's a concern of the IRL.

"After we have our first test at Homestead, we'll look and see where we are."

The simple suggestion would be to raise the RPMs, or so it seems.

"That's what a lot of people probably think, but to increase the RPM sounds easy except that it has a knockoff effect on all the moving engine components. You know that when everything is re-designed for 2007, the engine needs to be properly sized because it's way too large for what it is. We designed the parts heavy to make minimum weight [requirements]."

Clarke is confident that the IRL and road racing will be a good match.

"The only concern is when you start comparing them to some other series, but I think the cars will be fine and they'll put on a good show. That's what counts."