Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
New HPD Headquarters Officially Christened with Open House
Bryan Herta's senses are arrested immediately as the glass doors at Honda Performance Development open, revealing front and center in the spacious lobby, a race car. Not just any car, but the No. 7 XM Satellite Radio Honda-powered Dallara that rocketed the Valencia, Calif., resident to victory at Michigan International Speedway.
"Wow! It looks like it could race today," the Andretti Green Racing driver says upon initial inspection.
Sorry, Bryan, but there would be a large aerodynamic problem to overcome for the high-speed ovals of the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, or even the relatively slow-moving traffic on the nearby I-5. It seems someone cut away much of the left side of the chassis to showcase the Honda HI5R Indy V-8.
"Well, it still might be able to win," laughed Herta, who led 159 laps from the pole position and won the Firestone Indy 400 by 0.0374 of a second over teammate Dan Wheldon on July 31.
On a sun-splashed mid-October day, Herta joined the other nine Honda IndyCar Series drivers in touring HPD's new, 123,000-squarefoot technical operations center in Santa Clarita, Calif. - from the colorful lobby with its sampling of automobile racing championship engines on display to the tidy storage area where power plants rest in silver trunks, awaiting deployment.
The day began with an exclusive tour for members of the motorsports and automobile trade media, and later, more than 120 HPD associates led tours of the facility that they've called 'home' since February for families and friends. Each group saw the innerworkings of the high-tech center that spearheads American Honda's participation in the IndyCar Series.
The two-story structure - a widget's throw from Santa Clarita Studios - houses comprehensive engine Research & Development operations, including design, development engineering, prototype and production parts manufacturing, engine preparation, rebuilding, material analysis, quality control inspection, dynamometer/test cells, machining, parts distribution and administrative offices.
For Jeff Lage, vice president of B&B Manufacturing, the tour and subsequent question-and-answer session with HPD president Robert Clarke was both educational and business beneficial. His Valencia-based company of 200 skilled employees supplies cylinder heads to HPD.
"The Indy Racing League is growing in popularity, and we're proud to be a part of a winning program," said Lage, whose company specializes in complex machining, contract manufacturing and assembly line work for the aerospace, semi-conductor and medical industries. "Our employees follow the series, especially the Honda drivers, with a passion."
Feng shui apparently was a consideration in the design of the facility, which fosters communication and creativity with its lack of walls, relaxed shared meeting areas and traffic flow. Essentially, the facility has it all, which is what Clarke envisioned before the two-mile transfer of massive machinery and delicate instruments from the previous shop. HPD recently agreed to supply engines for the IndyCar Series through 2009.
"[Company founder Soichiro Honda] believed in competition at the highest possible levels as a means of improving his company, its people and its products," Clarke told the audience in reviewing the company's founding principles. "Honda has always viewed racing as an ideal training ground for engineers and designers. The pressures of racing challenge them and force them to find new solutions to problems as they arise. It also demands that they be ready on time - for the new season, qualifying, the race.
"If you can't respond quickly, you'll be left behind. You have to be there with your best technology and your best product in order to make sure you're ahead of the competition. The competition is doing the same thing.
"Racing is a group effort, and winning is the only standard by which you are judged."
The day wrapped up with an autograph session for associates and their families and friends with the stars of the IndyCar Series under a tent in the visitors' parking lot. Wheldon initiated a round of applause for HPD associates - "the real stars" - for their dedication and focus in helping him become the first driver in the 10-year history of the IndyCar Series to win the Indianapolis 500 and series championship in the same year. He also won the race at Twin Ring Motegi, Honda's "home" track in Japan, for the second consecutive year.
"It was an amazing season," said Wheldon, who also noted that Honda won its second consecutive IndyCar manufacturers' title. "I have to thank you guys for that. I remember Homestead in 2002, when we put the motor out on the track. I had followed Dario for a long time and he said how special Honda was, and having driven that first test I knew you guys were going to be race-competitive. You even surprised me, because you were just dominant."
With three years under its fan belt in the IndyCar Series, that's only the beginning.