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Honda and British American Racing

THINGS have gone very quiet in recent months regarding the engine supply of British American Racing in 1999, but we hear that a deal has already been struck although no-one involved in the new team will say anything to identify the engine. It is perhaps significant, however, that last week Honda Motor Company President Nobuhiko Kawamoto said that the Japanese firm - which dominated F1 in the late 1980s - will decide this year whether it is going to return to Grand Prix racing in an official capacity in 1999. Kawamoto added that progress through competition is a principle enshrined in Honda company policy, the implication being very clearly that Honda will return.

This is no big surprise, as Honda has significantly upped its involvement in the Mugen V10 program this year with Honda research & development engineers heavily involved in the design of the new Mugen Honda V10, which the Jordan team will be running this year. In all probability, Honda is using Mugen to get this new engine competitive and reliable so that the company can enter F1 in 1999 with an engine which is capable of winning races straight away.

Jordan is naturally keen to be Honda's chosen team but we believe that British American Racing will get the deal and it may be that Honda is more deeply involved in BAR. The team's managing-director Craig Pollock, it should be remembered, has long-enjoyed very strong Honda connections, having worked in Europe for the Interhoba Group, owned by a friend of the late Soichiro Honda, which looked after many of Honda's interests in Europe.

There are, of course, strong Reynard-Honda-BAT connections in CART racing, notably with Team Kool Green (Kool being a BAT brand) which will be running Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy this year. It is somewhat convenient that Franchitti is managed by Pollock and such a connection ties in with suggestions last summer that the BAT package would be a much bigger deal that just a Formula 1 team, with the partners linked in various different racing series. Honda would, therefore, be the obvious choice as the BAT-Reynard engine supplier. Kawamoto, incidentally, was also quoted as saying that Honda could easily cope with both Grand Prix racing and Indycars.

The marketing impact of such a deal would only be maximized if the cars in all the series were run in similar color schemes. It makes little sense, however, for BAT to run all the cars around the world in the same branding, which means that the only really logical option is to have similar cars in both Europe and America, but with team mates in each series running different branding. This is quite possible if there is enough money available but would mean that each team would have to have two spare cars.

Whatever the case BAR is planning to have a test car up and running in the summer. This is likely to feature a Tyrrell monocoque attached to whichever engine is chosen. The first BAR chassis will not be ready to run until October 1998, although the design process will begin as soon as the new team has collected together its chosen engineers. Many of these people are still employed with other F1 teams at the moment. The BAR windtunnel at Brackley is already well-advanced but early aerodynamic testing for the project will be carried out at Reynard's new half-scale rolling road windtunnel facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, which has only recently opened.

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