Friday, January 23, 2009

Honda Still In A Panic Over Money

Of all the factories in motorcycle racing, the one you would least expect to start floundering around in a panic is Honda. It's a huge company with a solid history on the road and the track. You could say they're the 800lb gorilla of bike racing. However, the credit crunch has convincingly kicked the crotch of the collossal company, and their panicky cost-cutting continues.

It was surprising enough when the factory Honda squad was yanked from the Yanks' AMA championship. The new bombshell is that no factory Honda team will race in the Suzuka 8 hour race. To skive off the most prestigious race in Japan is an incredible thing to do. I can only assume that it's a publicity stunt to show the Japanese people how serious they are about saving money. The actual financial saving will be fairly minimal. Suzuka 8 hour bikes are road-derived Superbikes in a relatively low state of tune, and although it's a very long race that requires proper testing and development, it's still just one race. What's a few million dollars when your company is hundreds of millions in the hole? In an honour-based culture like that of Japan, it wouldn't be the done thing to show up at a big race splashing the cash around on a track that the company owns. Not when that company is in the midst of a major financial crisis. That few million dollars will seem like a lot to the watching Honda employees, who don't know if they'll be made redundant by the end of the year.

The other surprising act of penny pinching is in the British Superbike championship. Incredibly, the semi-factory HM Plant Honda team have announced that they will run without spare bikes this year. This is almost certainly down to Honda reducing their level of support, and HM Plant simply not having the cash to buy another pair of full-on Superbikes (BSB will essentially run to WSBK rules in 2009). Now, neither of the team's duo of Aussie riders is known as a crasher, in fact Glen Richards is a sort of anti-Xaus in that respect. But still, it beggars belief that these guys could, through no fault of their own, get knocked off their bikes in a first corner melee, and if the race is red-flagged they would have nothing but paddock scooters to ride in the restarted race. Richards is one of the big title favourites in this season's BSB, but a severely trashed bike in the first race of the day could see him unable to start race 2 as well, losing a possible 50 points.

The bike racing division of Honda has been shaken down for its lunch money by the board of directors, who are still having crushing chest pain thanks to the catastrophic performance of the car division. It remains to be seen how Honda will perform on the track with their new financial constraints.

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