To say that the Lotus adventure into IndyCar this season has been a disaster would be appropriate. Lotus was the last engine supplier to announce their involvement in the series. Lotus was the last manufacturer to announce the teams they would supply engines for. Lotus was the last to take the track for pre-season testing. Lotus was last on the practice sheets. Lotus was the last to get engines to its teams even waiting until the day before the St. Petersburg race to get Sebastien Bourdais an engine for his car that had never seen the track. The lone bright has been a 9th place finish at Barber Motorsports Park by Bourdais that was attributed to tire management, not outright speed. Now, 3 of the 4 original Lotus teams have split and gone looking for greener pastures.
Poor Lotus was behind the 8-ball from the start, but midway through the offseason the parent company was sold and assets were frozen essentially crippling all activities of the company for weeks. This certainly contributed to poor performance of the Lotus engine so far this year and the lack of engine supply. Ironically, now that Bryan Herta Autosport (Team Barracuda-BHA), Dryer & Reinbold Racing, and Dragon Racing have left Lotus, there would seem to be an oversupply of the engines, but no one is willing to take them. Simona de Silvestro and HVM Racing are the only full-time team left fielding a Lotus, although Fan Force United will run former F1 racer Jean Alesi in the Indianapolis 500 in a Lotus powered car.
It should be noted that before 2012, many fans hated the “spec racing” of the series. All entrants had the same engine and same chassis with the differences only being the drivers, crews, and teams. Fans wanted multiple engine partners, differentiated cars, and some innovation. No fan is wrong in wanting whatever it is that they want. But, when the IndyCar series is viewed as a whole, is differentiation necessary to grow the sport? This writer will argue…no.
When I became a fan of the series, it was the era of spec racing. I do not have vivid memories of the early 90’s turbo beasts or days when the Indianapolis 500 was a place of innovation. What I knew, and what I enjoyed were the Honda V-8’s and the Dallara “crap wagons” as they were so lovingly called by many. When I close my eyes and think of an IndyCar, I picture the car that so many detested. I’ve actually never understood why so many disliked the previous generation Dallara so much. Regardless, it is understandable for the series to want multiple partners, like Honda and Chevy, to market the sport and sponsor events. And honestly, the racing this season with the new engines and new cars has been excellent and a much needed improvement on road and street courses.
If a casual fan, fan of another series, or a prospective team owner looks toward IndyCar at this time and reads the stories about Lotus, drivers with money that can’t get an engine, teams wanting to enter the series but can’t get an engine, and the possibility of having under 33 cars at the Indy 500, it all looks like an amateur circus show. There has been poor planning by all. The rules originally set forth for the engines that dictate mileage between races, the costs of the engine leases, and the percentages that were stated for each manufacturer to supply were quite ridiculous with good intentions behind each rule. The series painted itself into a corner with only a mouse hole to escape from. If this were a baking recipe IndyCar’s cake has exploded and splattered batter all over the kitchen. Grab a chair and watch them try to clean up this mess.
Just think, maybe Lotus, being the small car manufacturer it is, would’ve been better off with just 2 teams from the start with no obligation for more. They could’ve focused on quality, not quantity. And, since there have proven to be more teams wanting engines than originally anticipated, the cost of the engines could’ve been more, thus the demand would’ve subsided to a degree. However, if the manufacturers were closer to breaking even on each engine lease, they would most likely be more willing to increase their supply to teams with the money. The rules IndyCar set out didn’t allow for any of that.
At the end of the day, I believe IndyCar is still far too small and too much of a niche sport to deal with the issues differentiation of engines creates. IndyCar hasn’t been unpopular because it didn’t have different engine suppliers. IndyCar has been unpopular because over the course of many years it did not develop its drivers into stars, develop its races into exciting events, or promote the product correctly. Despite Lotus’ disastrous foray back into IndyCar, Lotus shouldn’t be blamed completely for all the issues it has created. The series itself created its own problems.