Airing of Grievances… The False Hope Edition

The rumor mill was churning  today about the possible addition of Scuderia Coloni to the 2013 indycar grid. Admittedly, the talk comes on the heels of the team’s abrupt departure from Formula 1 feeder series GP2 so it may just the team posturing for the FIA. However, if this comes to fruition the long lived motorsports squad could possibly make the transition with none other than Luca Fillipi, the team’s 2012 GP2 driver.

Reading his name linked with indycar sparked a dormant hope that I had not thought about since the 500: What happened to the extra cars that were supposed to materialize after Indianapolis? This very driver, Luca Fillipi, was purportedly signed, sealed and delivered to be Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s second driver from Indy on. We all know when Indy actually rolled around; Luca was bumped from the seat in favor of Michel Jourdain who had backing from Office Depot Mexico. Fair enough, Luca’s money didn’t show up on time, but the majestic second seat at RLLR looked good to go from Indy on.

But when Detroit rolled into Texas, we were left with a 25 car grid; no new drivers added and one seat at Dragon Racing was lost with their last minute transition from Lotus to Chevy. Honda seemed hot on the idea of adding at least one seat post-Indy and Fillipi was closely linked to the balance of the season in that second RLLR seat. Milwaukee, Iowa, Toronto and still 25 cars. What happened to Luca and his RLLR ride?

I don’t want this to devolve into a debate about car counts and grid size. 25 machines is a quite healthy paddock; the open wheel gold standard that is Formula 1 has only 24 cars. Considering the paltry grids that both sides of the split were accustomed to pre 2008 and the growing pains of getting both a new chassis and engine package ready for the 2012 campaign, 26 teams answering the bell might as well have been a miracle. I am more than happy with the number of cars on the grid; this is more a vocalization about the continued false hope that seems to permeate the indycar universe right now.

INDYCAR and the manufacturers were sure enough of added hardware that there was an Indy and beyond engine usage clause in the rules. New teams added from the 500 on would be allowed four engines instead of the five that full season participants receive.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport were bailed out from the sinking ship that was Lotus by Chevy and Honda respectively. Is this were those engines went? Chevy even stepped up for Roger Penske and saved Jay Penske’s Dragon Racing from certain doom following their own fallout with Lotus. And Bobby Rahal signed his already procured second Honda over to Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing before the season to save yet another team from demise.

And yet even in the bag of snakes that is the indycar paddock, all of this good will towards men doesn’t leave me with that warm and squishy feeling that I should have. I can hear the manufacturers answer to this quandary already: the aforementioned engine and teams swaps are where all of our extra power plants went. I find that hard to swallow; there were more than quiet rumors in May that there were 36 car/drive/engine combinations ready to go for bump day to fill the 33 spots.

You do the math, even with two Lotus engines this still leaves three extra lumps that have become vaporware as the circus moved to Detroit. The preseason excuse that manufacturing is behind will not fly now. Of course, the answer is probably money and politics. A quick google search for Michael Shank and Indycar will paint a clear picture of the games the manufacturers are playing. Honda and Chevy have had plenty of time to come up with the extra camshafts and connecting rods necessary to get a few more drivers onto the grid.

All of this makes me a bit worried for the 2013 season. I still get the feeling that there is money available for the manufacturers to take, they are just unwilling to sign another deal. Does it really matter if those extra engines get doled out in the late stages of 2012 instead of the offseason? I can’t imagine that the engine architecture will change in such a dramatic fashion over the offseason that the current blocks will become obsolete. False hopes.

I think it’s clear that the manufacturers have been given a little bit too much power. To give them the ability to decide the fate of stalwart American open wheel teams seems out of whack. And now a European team is whispering about joining the series? An awesome revelation if it does come to pass, but if Shank can’t procure an engine what makes us think that Scuderia Coloni, or any other team for that matter, will be able to?

The situation is not dire by any means. The grid is fine; it just has a fishy smell though. Honestly, I am shocked that Lotus has not been able to sign a second team for the balance of the season. But it should not be on the shoulders of Lotus to take the extra teams. It’s proven that they are a black hole and should be trusted the least out of the three manufacturers. They cannot be tasked with saving the rear of the grid because the bottom could fall out at any moment.

I hope these rumors prove true and Luca can find his way onto the grid for 2013 along with a few other drivers. Chevy and Honda owe INDYCAR nothing, but seeing them play nice for 2013 would be a huge vote of confidence for the whole shemozzle. Blocking teams from entering the grid for the second season of the new package would be a blow for all of the progress the new equipment has been able to achieve. If the manufacturer’s only goal in the series is to win Indy, then loading as many rounds into the chamber at the start of 2013 could only be a good thing.

Or they would just blame Lotus.

Eric Hall

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2 Responses to Airing of Grievances… The False Hope Edition

  1. JPIndyCar says:

    I have a tendency to think a lot of partial half assed “lets get rolling based on nothing but optimism and a prayer” plans to finish this season have migrated to a “let’s pool our resources and do this thing the right way with a full off season the figure out how to put the car together” strategy.

    Of course the hope is that the engines will be there. The underlying problem is that each engine lease is a loss leader for those companies where the lease revenue does not cover the expenses of production and maintenence. And as long as ratings are low for the series the ROI on the loss positioned as a marketing spend is a hard proposition for the suppliers to sell. Firestone became weary of such an arrangement and nearly left the series until the owners voted to pay more to fix the revenue side.

    The fix is either a system where the lease price goes up across the board (or a system that limits the allocation of the 10 $750k loss leader engines per mfr like I mentioned at my site a few months ago) or the partnering of another engine supplier willing to invest in the series in a way that matches Honda and Chevy’s investment in order to limit the burden on them. because at this point it is clear that while Lotus might want to race, they do not want to carry an equal burden of investement.

  2. Leigh O'Gorman says:

    Hi Eric,
    I contacted Coloni this morning. The story has not developed much, but there is a little bit more meat to it.

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