Toyota ending 12-year run in open-wheel

Updated: June 30, 2005, 11:42 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

TORRANCE, Calif. -- Toyota, which has seen its engines overwhelmed on the IRL circuit this year, will withdraw from open-wheel racing after the 2006 season.

The announcement was made Monday by the Japanese automaker, which will pull out of competition in both the IRL and Champ Car after next season. It entered the IRL in 2003 and Champ Car -- which was called CART at the time and included what is now the IRL -- in 1996.

"This was simply a decision to move in another direction after having our major U.S. motorsports emphasis on open-wheel racing since 1994," Toyota senior vice president of U.S. motor sales J. Davis Illingworth said.

"Just as our participation in IMSA sports car racing ran its course after 12 years, so has our U.S. open-wheel racing program after 12 years in the IRL and CART," Illingworth added.

During qualifying for last month's Indianapolis 500, team owners A.J. Foyt and Ron Hemelgarn both blasted Toyota Research and Development.

"It's like going to a gang fight with handcuffs on," Hemelgarn said at the time.

In addition to engine production, Toyota also sponsors both the IRL season opener and season finale. The manufacturer said its withdrawal would not affect the IRL's engine development program for this season or next season.

Toyota moved into NASCAR last year with a fleet in the Craftsman Truck series. There has been considerable speculation that the company will move up to the Busch series in 2006 or 2007 and eventually move into Nextel Cup, challenging Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge, which currently race in NASCAR's top stock car series.

"We are continuing to explore our options in NASCAR," said Jim Aust, Toyota vice president of motorsports. "However, at the present time our continued focus is on the Craftsman Truck Series."

General Motors announced last year that it will withdraw its Chevrolet engines from the IRL at the end of this season. With Toyota leaving after next year, that would leave Honda as the only engine manufacturer in the IRL.

In 2003, Toyota made an immediate impact on the IRL. Scott Dixon won the manufacturer's first race in Miami, Gil de Ferran won the Indianapolis 500 and Dixon won the series title.

However, Toyota had just one podium in the last seven races of 2004, a win by Helio Castroneves in the season finale. It has won two races this year -- the XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 with Sam Hornish Jr. in March and Saturday's SunTrust Indy Challenge 250 with Castroneves.

Both Hornish and Castroneves drive for Penske Racing, which has been the only team to field competitive Toyota-powered cars this season.

In the IRL manufacturer's standings, Toyota is second to Honda, which also joined the IRL as a competing engine in 2003 and has spent more money in research and development than either Toyota or Chevrolet.

Toyota made its debut on the CART circuit in 1996 and had considerable success. The engine claimed its first pole with Scott Pruett in 1999 and first win a year later with Juan Pablo Montoya at Milwaukee.

In 2002, Toyota-powered cars won 10 of 19 races and claimed the manufacturer's crown. Driver Cristiano da Matta won seven races and the series championship.

However, Kenny Brack's win in the 2002 series finale was the last by a Toyota on the CART circuit. The engine company also sponsors the Toyota Atlantic series, a minor-league circuit for Champ Car.

Information from SportsTicker and The Associated Press was used in this report.