Lotus Legion May Not Be At Full Strength At Indy500 (UPDATE At End)
There is trouble in the teams that make up the DW12′s outfitted with the Lotus/Judd engine and this real issue may show itself before the crown jewel race of the 2012 season.
Marshall Pruett of SPEED.com published an exclusive report highlighting the pressures of a sport that combines technology, competition, and advertising promotion as a history-making business enterprise.
Basically two of the four teams are so unhappy with the fact that Lotus, while not missing its commitment to field engines for races this season, has been really behind on the fulfillment of its commitment to meet the competitive demands of the series. Lotus Dragon Racing (LDR) did not have an engine to mount into one of their two cars (four-time ChampCar World Series Champion, Sebastien Bourdais) before the St. Petersburg race until the very evening before (Thursday) the first practice on Friday. Despite seeing some promising performance in the first two of three races from the four-time ChampCar World Series Champion, the overall performance and the timing of the delivery of engines does not allow any time for testing and this has effected all of the teams that are in the Lotus Legion – Bryan Herta Autosport (BHA), Lotus Dragon Racing (LDR), HVM Racing, and Lotus Dreyer Reinbold Racing (DRR).
This becomes a little like one of those what came first situations … the chicken or the egg. Worse, is this situation even solvable?
No timely delivery equals no testing / no testing equals no performance results and feedback / no performance eventually leads to no advertisers to sponsor the car.
The main focus is beginning to place pressure on the decisions that need to be made by the series and the business viability of having a Lotus/Judd engine in a car when teams can not be assured of having engines to test and be competitive. Breach of contract filings from the teams in the Lotus Legion are being delivered to the manufacturer – where this goes, no one knows.
The IZOD IndyCar Series key person who will have to make a decision, and soon, on what to do next and avert a true mutiny within the Lotus Legion and a potential disaster is Will Phillips, IndyCar’s VP of Technology.
This excerpted and edited from SPEED.com -
INDYCAR: Tough Decisions Pending By The Series, Lotus, Its Teams
Lotus confirms in a SPEED.com exclusive that two of its teams have asked to switch manufacturers, but is it what the series needs and will it be allowed?
Marshall Pruett | Posted April 18, 2012
IndyCar fans have been treated to arguably the three best opening races in series history, but at the back of the grid, a much more serious—and far less pleasant—concern has finally reached its boiling point.
With three rounds completed, the bulk of the Lotus-powered teams have been mostly invisible in the final results, experiencing one gut-wrenching problem after another.
The conflict between Lotus and its teams reached a fever pitch when the marque informed its entrants that engines would not be made available for the April 4th test at Indianapolis, leaving Bryan Herta Autosport, Dragon Racing, HVM Racing and Lotus DRR in a very awkward position.
With the prospect of showing up to Indy next month with zero miles of testing on the Lotus engine around the 2.5-mile oval (not to mention teams starting IndyCar’s most important event with no laps of testing at the Brickyard on their Dallara DW12s), some of its teams have now filed breach of contract paperwork with the manufacturer.
A dispute between the manufacturer and those teams regarding the exact wording and obligations in their supply contracts has ensued, but the message being sent is clear: showing up late and unprepared for IndyCar’s Super Bowl is a surefire way to perform poorly, to possibly miss making the show and, when all is said and done, to kiss their sponsors goodbye.
Asked what the best-case scenario would be to come out of the breach of contract notices, one owner said receiving permission from the series to switch to a different engine manufacturer was the ultimate goal.
Will Phillips, INDYCAR’s VP of Technology, holds the authority to allow said changes, but declined to comment when asked if he would permit any of the Lotus teams to change manufacturers during the season.
In a follow-up e-mail on Wednesday, Miodrag Kotur, Lotus’ Director of Motorsports Operations, confirmed that “We have also [have two teams], who would like to switch to another engine supplier, but it is still in discussion with us.”
To give some additional context to that scenario, the two Lotus teams would rather spend an additional $1 million to get a Chevy or Honda engine–which will have an increased engine pool size after Indy–and forfeit the money they’ve already paid to Lotus than to stay with their current supplier.
In a half-hour interview just before Sunday’s Long Beach Grand Prix, Kotur fired back at a variety of comments, accusations and questions regarding his employers.
“Since the beginning of the year, there’s a lot of rumors that Lotus is not doing well, that Lotus will not be around, that Lotus will not be at Indy, that Lotus is not able to make the engines…as far as I know we are here…we did not miss any races,” he said. “Obviously, we are a little bit behind from our competitors; we are working very hard with Judd to reach the same level [as] Honda and GM. It is not easy. Those guys are in the business since years at Indy, especially Honda. We are new, and start six months later. I don’t know why and from where these rumors are coming that we are in breach of contract. I would like to know where is the breach of the contract.”
After informing Kotur that the breach of contract issue was no longer a secret, and that missing the Indy test seemed to be the catalyst—the point of no return for some of his teams–he offered a more credible response.
“The teams obviously they complain about this test we haven’t done, but there is some reason–to be able to secure future races, we prefer to keep the engines and to work on them and to continue to develop the engines than to go to this test,” he admitted. “Obviously, it would have been better [to be] there, but this is a decision we have made. And if you go through the contracts, there is nothing saying we have to participate in all the tests. If we had been told to be present at this test by INDYCAR because it was mandatory, we would have been present, but it was not.
“I am in motorsports [for many] years; obviously the more you are testing, the better it is. I don’t want to say we are confident going into Indy without testing on the oval, especially Indianapolis. Maybe if we went there [to the IMS test], maybe we would today have some struggles with the engine. It will be one month for us to have enough engines to be very comfortable, it will be a little bit problematic, but we aren’t in any way in breach of contract.”
Kotur also offered a blunt assessment of the teams Lotus is partnered with, and although it appears he forgot that Bryan Herta Autosport won its first race of 2011 (the Indy 500 with Dan Wheldon) and was running fourth (with Alex Tagliani at Las Vegas) when the second race was cancelled, the Yugoslavian’s sentiment was no less impactful.
“Herta, Dreyer, HVM…they cannot also expect to be at the front of the grid,” he said. “Even last year, they were not at the front of the grid. You find the same people at front, Penske and Ganassi. So we not only have to work on the engine, we have to work on the car. And also to work with [Lotus’ teams] on the car. We ask them, ‘Where can we help you?’ I don’t want to say that in one month things will change completely, but slowly, we have improved. By the end of the year, the gap will be completely closed.”
Being on the receiving end of complaints from his teams and criticism from the media was an obvious source of frustration for Kotur and his colleagues.
With a limited number of engines to offer its teams (eight total powerplants for five cars through Long Beach), engines have been sent back to EDL’s base in England between races for inspection, making it hard for teams to conduct private tests on their own.
Provided it comes to fruition, Kotur expects Lotus’ engine pool to nearly double next month.
“We will for sure have more engines for Indy,” he said. “We will need them. It’s a long race, and we will have [practice] before the race. We will have fresh engines for the race. Our plan is to have more or less five additional engines for the race.”
“I think it will be resolved in a few weeks, but we are committed to motorsport,” Kotur said of the nearly completed sale of Lotus. “We in fact want to invest more in the engine program and that is under discussion in the factory. You have to invest if you want to reach a certain level in motorsport. You have to spend it properly. If you see in Formula One, Toyota was spending the most and they didn’t reach the target. Obviously you need money, but you also need time. You need time, you need people and you need money.”
To Lotus’ credit, it appears to be interested in appeasing the two disgruntled teams, but it may be a case of too little, too late.
With the financial health of the two teams serving as the greatest concern, reducing Lotus’ engine supply burden could actually help the manufacturer to solve its problems and to become more competitive at a faster rate.
Stretched painfully thin at the moment, Lotus comes out ahead with a reduced car count, and if Chevy or Honda is capable of adding an extra lease apiece, the two teams can reassure their sponsors that sticking with them—and the series—is a worthwhile venture.
On the other hand, Lotus, (at least judging by some of Kotur’s statements and his general demeanor in our interview), seems interested in ramping up its efforts, so maybe it would be better for all involved to stick together.
Lotus may have bit off more than it can chew in delivering on a plan for competitive success. As little as this Lotus’ Director of Motorsports Operations, Miodrag Kotur thinks of the driving capabilities of Sebastien Bourdais and Oriol Servia … the best solution may be a quick decesion by Will Phillips, INDYCAR’s VP of Technology to have Dragon Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing jump to the other engine manufacturers and let the dust settle before the teams meet to engage the process of being in the field of 33 cars to start the “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”.
As it stands, (Lotus) Team Barracuda-BHA and Alex Tagliani have decided to skip competing in Round 4/Brazil citing its recent results, and the desire to prepare to defend its win at the Indy 500.
Lotus Raises IndyCar Commitment
Lotus Press Release – 24 April 2012
When Lotus entered the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series, the regulatory requirement to supply multiple teams and the late timing of Lotus’ entry placed a significant restriction on the development programme. It was clear from the start that the 2012 season was going to be a huge challenge as Lotus debuted its IndyCar engine, but it was a challenge that Lotus was determined to meet.
Lotus was further hindered by unanticipated difficulties caused by the widely reported change of ownership and the subsequent restrictions on resources. To have achieved a top ten position under these circumstances is pretty impressive.
That said, Lotus has acknowledged that whilst the engine has demonstrated a lot of promise, minimal testing has resulted in reliability issues.
Having now had the experience and feedback from the first three races of the season, Lotus undertook a strategic review of its position to decide what course of action would be in the best interests of IndyCar and the teams it supports.
Following this review, Lotus is pleased to announce in cooperation with IndyCar that, whilst it remains fully committed to IndyCar in the long term, Lotus has taken the decision to reduce the number of cars it runs from five to three for the remainder of the season. As a consequence of this decision, Lotus has made offers to Bryan Herta Autosport LLC and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing LLC to end the agreements with them. Bryan Herta Autosport LLC will not participate in any further races as a Lotus team and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing LLC will race one more time in Brazil next weekend.
Going forward, Lotus is excited to be working closely with Lotus HVM Racing, the original partner team and Lotus Dragon Racing, who delivered Lotus’ best result so far this season. Lotus wishes Bryan Herta Autosport LLC and Dreyer & Reinbold LLC the very best of luck for the future.
Lotus also intends to continue to assist its engine supplier Engine Developments Limited (EDL) by providing additional resources and financial support to expedite the development program. The details of the arrangement are currently being finalised and the additional support should result in an increased engine performance for the rest of the season.
Claudio Berro, Director of Motorsport Group Lotus, said: “Lotus in IndyCar is like David versus Goliath. We are and always will be a niche British sports car company built for the few not the many. That said I’m delighted with our solution and I can assure everybody that the actions were taken after careful consideration and will assist in ensuring the brand’s high racing ambitions and the high expectations of the IndyCar community are realised.”
Randy Bernard, CEO IndyCar, commented: “IndyCar is committed to ensuring that our teams and manufacturers have a platform to remain competitive. We support Lotus’ decision and will assist Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport in securing engine support for the remainder of the season.”
Truthfully … how in the HE-double toothpicks can Lotus say, as they did in the title of their presser, “Lotus Raises IndyCar Commitment” when they greatly reduce the talent (DRR’s Oriol Servia & BHA’s Alex Tagliani) and car count. This action suggests that they are backing away and limiting the chances of sharing testing information with the one very-proven driver they have left – four-time ChampCar World Series Champion (turbo-charged powered engines) Sebastien Bourdais (apologies to Katherine Legge and Simona De Silvestro).
… notes from The EDJE
** Article first published as Lotus Legion May Not Be at Full Strength at Indy500 on Technorati **