A Decade Later, Honda Makes A Triumphant Return

6/17/2004 12:34:46 AM

Ten years after a humiliating debut at the Indianapolis 500, Honda returned to tattoo the competition in one of the most dominating performances in the 88-year history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Led by winner Buddy Rice, Hondapowered drivers swept the top seven spots and led 168 of 180 laps after annihilating Toyota and Chevrolet in qualifying by securing eight of the first nine slots on the 33-car grid.

"Ten years ago, we left here with our heads hanging low because we couldn't even qualify, but I think today kinda makes up for that," beamed Robert Clarke, Vice President and General Manager of Honda Performance Development.

"I thought qualifying might have been kind of a fluke and that maybe our competitors were holding something back. But I guess I was wrong."

In the first test for the new 3-liter engines, Honda had no failures, made excellent mileage and maintained its horsepower advantage.

"I attribute that to two world-class engineering companies (Honda and Ilmor) attacking the program together," continued Clarke, whose company was awarded the 38th Louis Schwitzer Award for engineering excellence prior to the race.

"It was truly a challenge to develop the 3-liter [engine] while still running the 3.5-liter during the first three races of 2004 ... it was like starting a new season. I believe it's our best performance to date. Winning Motegi [Japan, in April] and now Indianapolis is just so gratifying and I am so proud of our teams and our people."

Ironically, Rahal Letterman Racing co-owner Bobby Rahal brought Honda into Indy-car racing in 1994, then split and wound up putting them in Victory Lane.

"No one has to point out the irony of where we were 10 years ago and where we are today, particularly with our relationship to Honda," said Rahal, who along partner Carl Hogan dropped Honda after struggling in '94. "Under very difficult circumstances, I made the decision to leave and then had to sit there and watch everybody else enjoy the spoils [Honda won four CART Manufacturers' Championships and powered six consecutive CART driving champions from 1996-2001].

"And now, to bring Honda its first pole and first victory at Indianapolis makes me so proud and I'm so thankful to them for bringing me back in the fold and allowing us this opportunity because, frankly, I never thought that would happen.

"Honda should take great satisfaction from this entire month because they cleaned house. They work hard, they're brilliant and they deserve it."