After investing millions over three years Lotus pulls the plug on its Indycar involvement. Photo credit: Matt Schafer

The good and bad of Lotus’s Indy exit

Lotus officially announced it will not be returning to the IZOD Indycar series in 2013, and it’s likely that several team owners breathed a sigh of relief, while others worried about increases costs.

If you’re Michael Shank, Eric Bachelart, Jay Penske or Gary Peterson — team owners looking for an engine — you’re probably fairly happy about the news, if you’re Michael Andretti, Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi maybe not so much.

When Lotus and Chevy joined Honda as engine suppliers this year the rules stipulated that each engine manufacture had to supply 40 percent of the field, leaving 20 percent for growth at Indy I suppose. When Lotus was still technically in the field, and there were approximately 24 full time teams it mean Chevy and Honda only had to provide like ten engines apiece.

Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, KV Racing all found homes at either Chevy or Honda first. Honda had established relationships with Takuma Sato and Bobby Rahal and paired the two of them together, another Honda driver Simon Pagenaud was part of the deal at Schmidt Hamilton Racing. Panther Racing had a long history as a Chevy team and secured their backing. AJ Foyt signed a early deal with Honda, and Dale Coyne hired some of former Newman Hass crew, rehired Justin Wilson and got a two-engine lease deal. Just that quickly Chevy had ten full time teams, Honda nine, and Lotus signed HVM for their lead team. That left a number of teams scrambling to get offers.

With all the big teams at Chevy or Honda no one apparently wanted a Lotus power plant. Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher held out to get deals with Chevy and Honda, Bryan Herta, Dryer and Reinbold, and Dragon Racing signed on with Lotus. Michael Shank was caught in a chicken or egg situation. He reportedly couldn’t get an engine deal without a sponsor or driver, but couldn’t get a sponsor or driver to commit without an engine deal. So the chassis that he bought stayed idle the whole season, Eric Bachelart’s chassis saw action only at Indy as a satellite operation for Andretti Autosports.

With Lotus gone Chevy and Honda will each have to supply fourteen engines, I think, if we’re treated to another 24-car field. By my count Honda currently has nine confirmed entries, and that could swell to thirteen with their existing teams. Chevy currently has eleven cars contracts for 2013 with built in space for two more. With Chevy and Honda both at thirteen there is some room for new car owners.

This is good for guys like Shank, Peterson and Batchelart, who might be able to get a engines and then land and a driver and sponsor. It looks like Jay Penske is going to be able to get two Chevy engines for his team instead of forcing Katherine Legge and Sebastien Bourdais to share a ride. Where this is good for those guys its might be bad for Chevy, Honda and the teams that have contracts in place.

As part of their entrance into the series Chevy, Honda and Lotus agreed to provide engines and technical support to the teams under cost. They budgeted accordingly and so as they are obligated to pick up new teams it means new costs for Chevy and Honda. Will they be allowed to pass these costs on to the teams, or absorb them as the cost of doing business? If you already had a contract in place you’re probably worrying about how much costs could go up next year.

But the upside is we should see a stronger show next year. Honda and Chevy both have multiple year contracts in place as the title sponsors of a few street races so that speaks to their long-term commitment to the sport. Hopefully a long-term solution can be worked out, or a third manufacture can be found.

Tags: 2013 IndyCar Lotus Michael Shank Racing

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