American Hondaâs current top-line motorsport programs are engine supply in the IndyCar Series, and a dual program â via its luxury and performance brand Acura â in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Series.
During the IMSA finale at Road Atlantaâs Petit Le Mans, Motorsport.com asked Art St. Cyr â who wasÂ Honda Performance Development president until April, and is now VP and business head of Auto Operations for American Honda â for his corporate view of NASCAR racing.
âWe always keep an eye on it,â said St. Cyr. âWe look at it peripherally, right now. But it is something that interests us. Given the opportunity, weâd jump at the chance to do that as soon as it makes sense for us.â
St. Cyr added that the scale of NASCARâs challenge and reach is both an attraction and a deterrent in terms of the effort required. That would likely mean switching its attentions solely to NASCAR at the expense of its other motorsport activities.
âFrom an engineering exercise, Iâd love to do it,â he said. âBut itâs a question of cost versus benefit, and â honestly â bandwidth. Because NASCAR is a huge undertaking, with 38 races and a lot of cars and engines to build each year, so it becomes a capacity issue.
âWe can do IndyCar and IMSA and those types of things, or we can do NASCAR. And thatâs not just cost-wise, thatâs overall capability. We do all of our development, all of our engine builds, out of our HPD office at Santa Clarita. It has physical walls, and thereâs only so much throughput that can happen inside them.
âTo do NASCAR, say you need four cars. I donât know but Iâd imagine itâs maybe 20 engines per car so youâre looking at minimum of 80 engines [per season]. Thatâs a lot of engines you gotta crank through.â
New NASCAR chassis rules in 2021 will be followed by an updated powertrain in either 2022 or â23, both moves aimed at slashing costs and attracting new manufacturers to join Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota. Some form of engine hybridization is also expected to be a part of the new powertrains, to make them more road-relevant to manufacturers.
St. Cyr said he was encouraged by NASCARâs Gen-7 plan to reduce costs, coupled with the bold leadership shown by its chairman and CEO Jim France that heâs also experienced first hand in IMSA. But he maintained that budget spend of Hondaâs racing programs would always play a key role in terms of its return on investment.
âItâs a reality of racing these days, to figure out how to do it cost effectively,â he said. âItâs not the unlimited budgets weâve had before. You have to make sense of what youâre doing. For us, we race to develop our manpower, our human capital, to bring that into our road cars â thatâs what we do; Honda has always done audacious things when it comes to racing!Â
âThereâs a famous quote from Mr Honda that says: âIf we donât race, then there is no Honda.â Thatâs pretty self-explanatory. But we do need to realize where we need to race and what makes the most sense for us.â
Hondaâs team links in both IMSA (Team Penske) and IndyCar (Chip Ganassi Racing) both have race-winning NASCAR operations. One buffer to Honda entering NASCARâs ranks, however, is its lack of a large pickup truck in its automotive range, as NASCAR has traditionally expected manufacturers to supply cars to teams in all of its top three tiers â Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.
St Cyr added: âTraditionally, the reason to be in NASCAR is to show your trucks â and we donât really have a full-size truck to compete with the manufacturers that are in there right now.âÂ
UPDATE: Here’s how 2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button responded to our story on Wednesday evening…
Motorsport.comâs fantasy Honda NASCAR Cup future concept
Photo by: Camille De Bastiani