Loss of DRR, Herta leaves just two teams on British manufacturer's roster
For Lotus, it has been a trying start to its tenure as an IZOD IndyCar Series engine manufacturer. Multiple factors, including a lack of proper testing and a litany of reliability problems, have made their teams face overwhelming odds in the first three rounds of the campaign.
Everyone knew that the manufacturer would be the underdog against Chevrolet and Honda, but outside of Sebastien Bourdais' stellar run at Barber Motorsports Park, these opening events have been a stark reminder of how big the gap truly is between Lotus and its bigger rivals.
Now two of Lotus' entries have decided to take their chances on landing a new deal with either Chevrolet or Honda instead of staying. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport officially left the Lotus camp on Tuesday, with DRR running its final race with a Lotus powerplant this Sunday at Sao Paulo with driver Oriol Servia.
According to Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star, DRR is likely to hook up with the Bowtie Brigade. But for the time being, they're keeping focused on the task at hand this weekend.
“Our focus is on the Brazil race and we are still a part of the Lotus team," said team co-owner Dennis Reinbold in a team statement. "We are excited to go down there. We wish Lotus all of the best going forward. We are in the midst of finalizing our future plans and we are talking to the series to conclude that process. We will be making a public statement in the very near future."
BHA, which fields an entry for driver Alex Tagliani, had already chosen to miss Sunday's event before its official decision to part ways with Lotus. They are being tipped by Cavin to join up with Honda.
With these losses, Lotus now has just three engines on the grid for Simona de Silvestro of HVM Racing and Dragon Racing's tandem of Bourdais and Katherine Legge. A fourth Lotus-powered entry is expected for next month's Indianapolis 500.
But in a statement to the press, Lotus appears to be taking the "addition by subtraction" line of thinking as it works to not only become more competitive but re-affirm their commitment to the series as a whole.
"Lotus in IndyCar is like David versus Goliath," said Lotus director of motorsport Claudio Berro. "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 realized."
However, only time can tell if going with a smaller roster will eventually yield a quicker pace for Lotus. At the risk of stating the obvious, the Lotus five -- er, the Lotus trio -- just need more testing and development on their engine to really pick it up on the track.
In that regard, the statement from Lotus went on to say that their engine partner, the John Judd-led Engine Developments Limited, will be provided "additional resources and financial support to expedite the development program." We'll see if that helps in the long run.
But for now, one wonders what is going through the minds of the HVM and Dragon teams as they prepare to race in Brazil. Sao Paulo's nearly mile-long backstretch would appear to be a horrible mismatch for the underpowered Lotus engine.
Looking further down the road to the Indianapolis 500 raises more questions as well. They'll certainly have opportunities to practice but will the Lotus trio be able to find enough speed to at least put up a fight in qualifying or on race day?
Nobody wants to see Lotus be nothing more than a bunch of rolling chicanes at the biggest race in the world -- not their drivers, not their teams, and especially not the series itself. As rough as it is right now, there's still the potential for it to be much worse.
For the series' sake, let's hope a smaller Lotus group is a better one.