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More bad news in racing

Roger Diez
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist

I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad tidings, but it seems like they just keep coming. After enumerating many of NASCAR’s challenges in the coming season last week, I have some discouraging news concerning Formula 1.

Honda has announced plans to put its Formula 1 team up for sale. The decision was made due in part to the worldwide downturn in demand for automobiles. Thus ends Honda’s third foray into the F1 circus. The company has had their own team since 2006, when Honda took over the BAR operation (after supplying engines from 2000) and became a factory team. Previously, Honda had fielded its own F1 team in the 1960s, and participated as an engine supplier in the 1980s and 1990s, including partnerships with Williams and McLaren.

The good news, according to Nick Fry, CEO of Honda Racing, is that three serious potential buyers have already made inquiries into acquiring the team. Although Honda only managed to finish ninth (out of 10 teams) in the 2008 constructor’s championship, the team has an impressive personnel roster with outstanding engineering assets, according to Fry. One of the biggest assets of the team is Ross Brawn, who joined the team just over a year ago after engineering five championships for Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. The 2009 Honda is a Brawn design. Also listed on the asset side of the ledger sheet is driver Jensen Button, who reportedly has a contract with the team for 2009. Rubens Barrichello has not been confirmed for next season.

Honda’s withdrawal from the World Championship series may only be the tip of the iceberg. Honda’s pullout bolsters the view of the sanctioning body, the FIA, that costs must be reduced to keep the sport viable. However, a number of manufacturers are unhappy with the idea of a proposed spec engine for the series as a cost reduction measure. The spec engine proposal is one of three cost-cutting options being floated to the teams if the Formula One constructors can’t come up with alternative solutions to curbing the astronomical costs of F1 racing.

If indeed the FIA does go ahead with the spec engine scheme, it appears that Cosworth Engineering has the pole position to become the supplier. The new engine would be a V10 mated to an XR gearbox provided by Xtrac and Ricardo Transmissions to provide a complete low-cost power train. Another option is to have the teams build their own engines based on Cosworth specifications, while a third option is to retain the current V8 units frozen to 2008 specs.

Of course, this uncertainty regarding engine specifications could turn out to be good news for the Indy Racing Series, which has opened up the doors to alternative engine suppliers. Honda has been the sole provider of engines to Indy Car, and this became a problem when the series merged with rival Champ Car suddenly at the beginning of the 2008 season. Engines were in short supply for the Indy 500, limiting the number of teams that could attempt to qualify for the classic race. Audi, Alfa Romeo, and Porsche are already looking at Indy Car, and they might very well be joined by BMW, Mercedes, and Ferrari if those manufacturers find themselves shut out of F1 by the spec engine rule.

Finally, you may have seen Dave Frank’s story in Friday’s Appeal, or my mention in last week’s column, but one more reminder won’t hurt. Today is the day for the first Mackena Bell Racing coat and toy drive. Mackena and her sister Kellcy will be at the Carson Mall in front of Little Caesar’s Pizza from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. today. Their goal is to fill Mackena’s late model race car and trailer with coats for local children and adults who might otherwise not be able to stay warm this winter. She is also collecting new, unwrapped toys that will go to the local Toys for Tots drive.

This will be your chance to meet one of Carson City’s up and coming racing stars, as well as an opportunity to help those who are less fortunate. Mackena will be available for autographs and photos, so stop by, meet her, and ask her about her racing career and future plans.