Lotus lags behind IndyCar competitors

Alex Tagliani of Canada, drives his No. 98 Team Barracuda- BHA Lotus during practice for last...

Alex Tagliani of Canada, drives his No. 98 Team Barracuda- BHA Lotus during practice for last weekend's IZOD IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg. (GETTY IMAGES)

Dean McNulty, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:23 PM ET

In the wake of IZOD IndyCar Series team owner Roger Penske telling selected media members at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg that Lotus was in danger of dropping out of the North American open wheel racing loop, the British-based firm emphatically denied any such plans on Tuesday.

Lotus and Chevrolet were the two new manufacturers that joined with Honda in IndyCar this season to much fanfare.

But when it appeared the British-based car builder was slow out of the gate — it was only the night before practice at the season opener in St. Petersburg that all of the Lotus team had engines — Penske said if the situation didn’t improve in time for the Indianapolis 500 next month then Honda and Chevrolet would have to step up to supply the Lotus teams with power plants.

While Lotus agrees that it is lagging in providing teams with the intended number of engines it expects to catch up to its rivals well before the May Indianapolis classic.

Group Lotus director of motorsport Claudio Berro told autosport.com he is confident his firm will be on equal footing with Chevrolet and Honda by the end of next month.

“We have enough engines,” Berro said. “We had eight engines in St. Petersburg, and we will have another two at Barber to take the total to 10. The plan is to have 25 engines for the season.”

Concern over Lotus began when four-time open wheel champion Sebastien Bourdais was without a motor for his Dragon Racing Dallara DW12 less than 10 hours before cars were to hit the track for first practices in St. Petersburg.

There was also much consternation that Lotus teams — including the No. 98 BHA Barracuda machine of Canada’s Alex Tagliani — were able to do only very limited testing while the Chevrolet and Honda teams were at Texas, Sebring, Sonoma and Barber Motorsports Park putting in multiple test sessions.

And that lack of testing showed on Sunday with Tagliani being the top Lotus team with a 15th place finish.

“We started months after the others,” Berro said. “Then, imagine if we produced 25 engines in November or December, and then needed to modify them, you end up putting 25 engines into the rubbish bin. That’s why we tried to increase the number of engines after testing. If we’d rushed 10 engines out and then had to keep using spares, it’s not a serious effort. I’d prefer to have five engines that keep running.”

Not everybody is worried about Lotus.

IndyCar boss Randy Bernard, in an impromptu session with the media at St. Petersburg defended Lotus, saying that unforeseen circumstances — the company was undergoing a transition in ownership — was a big part of the problem.

“Lotus has been very up front with us about the fact they are eight weeks behind,” Bernard said. “They are fully committed.

“Let’s give them every opportunity to try to win. It’s important for us to see them competitive, as we want the sponsors that are tied to Lotus to be successful as well.”

FINISH LINES

NASCAR Sprint Cup bosses have decided to spice up the annual all-star race — scheduled for May 19, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The race will now consist of four-20 lap segments ending with a 10-lap sprint and a $1 million U.S. payout to the race winner. The winners of the first four segments will move to the front of the field and line up one through four prior to the field coming to pit road for the final mandatory pit stop ... Suggestions that the Honda Indy Toronto promoters might consider Canadian Motorsports Park (formerly Mosport) as a new circuit have been shot down by IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. Bernard said in St. Petersburg that the series remains committed to the downtown Exhibition Place temporary street course as the race venue ... Fifteen-year-old Nicholas Latifi, of Toronto, will take a big leap forward in his motor racing program as he steps into the ultra competitive European racing arena this season competing in the F3 Italia Series for BMW Racing. Latifi is a member of the Sofina Foods Drivers’ Development Program.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca

 


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