Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lotus Blooms as 2012 IndyCar Engine Supplier

Photo Credit: Chris Jones

For the second time in two weeks, the esteemed press and observers of the IZOD IndyCar Series were enlightened to yet another encouraging sign for the future of the open wheel organization. Surprising many with an announcement, Lotus Cars has officially become the 3rd engine supplier slated to be powering the upcoming 2012 IndyCar Series vehicles.

Revealed Friday at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show in the presence of IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard, Lotus Cars CEO Dany Bahar and IndyCar racing legend Parnelli Jones, the announcement involved not only the admittance to supplying engines but also confirming a previously-stated intent to offer a body kit to the Dallara chassis in 2012.

Since the formulation of the new car rules, it was more than likely Lotus was clamouring for a greater role in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Throughout this year, Lotus had a technical cooperation with the KV Racing team. In part of that agreement, the green and yellow colours of Lotus had been worn through the 2010 campaign by KV Racing's #5 car of Takuma Sato. Of course most notably, Lotus Racing has also reactivated as a Formula 1 competitor as one of three new teams joining the grand prix grid this past season. 

Through the 1960s, Team Lotus founder Colin Chapman launched an all-out charge to take the world's greatest oval racing event. Making a first stand at the 1963 Indy 500, the rear-engined Lotus race cars piloted by Formula 1 legends Jim Clark and Graham Hill would both have their pictures mounted on the Borg-Warner Trophy. Clark brought Lotus to the first ever victory at the Brickyard for a rear-engined open wheel car in 1965 with Graham Hill repeating for Chapman's team in 1966.

While Lotus' victory at the Indy 500 quickly led to complete adoption of rear-engine configuration on Indy cars, a two-year stint of 1967 and 1968 saw technology which would never again visit the Brickyard. Running a gasoline-powered turbine Indy car, Parnelli Jones almost won the 1967 race if it had not been for a late race mechanical failure. In 1969, Mario Andretti charged to the Indy 500 in a four-wheel drive Lotus but the car was lost in a crash prior to the 500-mile race. Andretti won the 1969 Indy 500 in a modified Brawner-Hawk chassis.

A part of such a rich racing past, Dany Bahar provided details on why Lotus has decided for a return to North American open wheel racing. "We believe in the series. We believe the series is developing very, very well. I think it fits perfectly very well our activities and strategies in the U.S., which is our biggest market."

With KV Racing being a likely client of the Lotus engines and aero kits, it is too early to identify which teams will opt for the components of the British-based organization but it will certainly not be an exclusive deal. Rules set out by the IndyCar ICONIC committee behind the 2012 race machine was to require any aero kits to be available to other teams.

While supplying chassis parts is not new for Lotus, it remains interesting to ponder how Lotus will develop an engine in just one year. As a sports car builder, many of Lotus' powerplants for production cars were harvested and modified from other company designs (The Lotus Elise and the upcoming 2013 Esprit borrow engines from Toyota Motor Company). Lotus does have experience as well as resources in building their own production powerplants (the Lotus 900 and the twin-turbo used on the Esprit V-8 are two examples).

Looking forward to about 15 months time, Lotus' Bahar states "We want to compete. We would like to design our own cars and hopefully maybe other teams can profit from our design capabilities. That's why we start already from today investing money and also capacities in developing the right aero kit and engine for 2012".

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