Indy Split: A Devalued Sport

Media Name: 1989-818-20a.jpg

Indy Split
 is a fascinating, authoritative and overdue account of the big money battle that nearly destroyed the sport of Indy car racing. The book traces the roots of Indy car racing’s dysfunction, which began in 1945 when Tony Hulman rescued the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from potential redevelopment. In this post, read about Chevrolet and Toyota in the racing scene.

The IRL’s biggest issue as 2005 came to a close was the departure of Chevrolet and Toyota. Although Honda got off to a slow start in ’03, the Honda engine (and the company’s aero and chassis development led by Nick Wirth for Andretti Green Racing) was demonstrably superior in ’04 and ’05. Like it had done in CART in 1994, General Motors simply withdrew from the IRL when the competition got more serious and expensive; Toyota’s exit from open-wheel racing after a ten-year run was driven in part by its desire to strengthen its ties to NASCAR. Toyota entered the NASCAR Truck Series in 2004 and joined the higher-level Xfinity and Cup Series in ’07 as American stock car racing’s first foreign manufacturer.
Toyota tested an early prototype engine at Indianapolis as early as 1994, but it entered the CART series in ’96 and didn’t race in the Indy 500 until 2003. By then, the sport’s landscape was very different. Toyota may never have made the move into stock cars had Indy car racing not been in such a state of disarray during its decade of participation.
“In 2003, we won the Indy 500 and we won the race in Japan. We won eleven out of sixteen races that year, and that fall, we still had to sell our management to stay in the sport,”said David Wilson, who succeeded Lee White as president of Toyota Racing Development. “As much as we loved it from an engineering standpoint, we also started realizing that there were a lot of empty seats. Open-wheel racing in the United States was not exactly catching fire, so that started our relationship with NASCAR.”
In the three years where engine competition was at its peak in the IRL from 2003-05, Honda scored twenty-eight race wins, twenty-one poles, and two championships; Toyota’s record was seventeen wins, twenty-two poles, and one title (in ’03, for Dixon and Ganassi); while Chevrolet managed just four wins and five poles, and those came only after GM bought into the Cosworth IRL engine project.