Chevy to quit after 2005

General Motors has announced that it will quit the IRL IndyCar Series after the 2005 season. The world's second largest car manufacturer, which competes in the US single-seater category through its Chevrolet brand, has cited rising costs, tougher competition and lessening exposure for the decision

Chevy to quit after 2005

"This situation was one where the investment in the series did not meet our business objectives any more," said Doug Duchardt, director of GM Racing. "We had to make a tough decision on whether to continue."

Chevrolet has struggled in recent years to compete with Toyota and Honda, which have dominated the past two seasons in the IRL. In 2003, after a new generation of the Chevy engine proved disastrous, GM turned to Ford-owned Cosworth for a replacement. The controversial decision by the IRL to allow a mid-season change gave Chevy a brief reprieve, but the new three-litre Chevy-branded Cosworth introduced in 2004 never finished better than third in a race.

GM Racing's decision pointed out the difficulties of manufacturers in the series, where diminishing returns due to rapidly rising costs and limited exposure have become a serious issue.

"At the beginning of the IRL, there was a certain model we could use and we were successful at it," said Duchardt. "That worked for us. There's no secret that the costs have gone up and the TV ratings and attendance have been flat or down. You have to lay that out. It is what it is. We have to make a decision based on our business model."

Duchardt and other GM Racing executives visited IRL president Tony George in Indianapolis on Wednesday to inform him of the decision. GM officials also contacted the four teams that used the Chevy engine this year - Pennzoil Panther Racing, Red Bull Cheever Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold and Patrick Racing - and indicated that Panther would be the focus of the '05 farewell.

"Panther will be with us next year, and we're both committed to winning," Duchardt said. "We're committed to give them the piece that will help them win. After the other teams have this information, we'll sit down with them and help them decide where they want to go from here."

The decision is a significant setback for the IRL, which will be left with just Honda and Toyota as engine suppliers in 2006 unless a replacement for Chevy is found. According to the IRL regulations, a new generation of engines is slated for 2007. GM Racing - with the Oldsmobile Aurora engine in 1997 - was the original engine supplier to the Indy Racing League. The brand was changed to Chevrolet in 2002.

"While we are disappointed, we understand that General Motors has to deal with its own competitive issues, both on and off the track," said Ken Ungar, the IRL's senior vice president for business affairs.

Chevy finished third in manufacturer points in 2004, and its highest-finishing driver, Alex Barron, was 12th in the IRL's final standings. Meanwhile, Honda won 14 of the 16 races in '04, capped by Tony Kanaan's championship. Toyota, which won the title in 2003 with Scott Dixon, won the other two races in 2004.

Honda poured millions of dollars into its IRL program this season, winning the Indianapolis 500 with Buddy Rice and the season championship with Kanaan. Its four-car Andretti Green Racing team became the league's monster, winning eight races and placing all of its drivers - Kanaan, Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta - in the top nine in the final standings.

Ford recently disclosed plans to sell Cosworth, and Duchardt indicated that GM Racing didn't have plans to continue its open-wheel program in Champ Car World Series or elsewhere. The IRL decision is not expected to affect GM's other motorsports programs, including a recently announced Grand Am deal.

"There are no plans to go elsewhere with an engine in open-wheel racing," Duchardt said. "We participate in a lot of different types of racing, and the IRL has a lot of support in Toyota and Honda. From our standpoint, we find it's time that we have to go away from it."

In its earlier days in the IRL, competing mostly against Nissan's Infiniti-branded engine, the GM program was dominant, winning every championship from 1997 through 2002, including Sam Hornish Jr's successive titles in 2001 and 2002.

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