(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 11-20-10)
Izod IndyCar Series teams will have a choice between three engine manufacturers in 2012 when the Lotus brand expands its involvement in American open-wheel competition.
Lotus, which is owned by the Proton Group of Malaysia, made the announcement Thursday at the Los Angeles International Auto Show. It is expected to partner with Cosworth Racing to create a turbocharged V-6 engine built to the IndyCar Series' new 2012 technical regulations.
Lotus joins Honda and Chevrolet as IndyCar's official engine suppliers for 2012 and beyond.
"Last March we learned really quick that the fans wanted the spec series to go away -- that was the number-one thing," IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard remarked. "Lotus is a renowned name in racing, with long associations with some of the greatest names in motorsports.
"I think the most exciting part for me is that Lotus has never run their own engine at [the] Indy 500."
Team Lotus was an official entrant in the Indianapolis 500 from 1963 to 1968, when its Formula 1-inspired cars pushed technical boundaries in the famous race. Jim Clark's victory in a Ford-powered Lotus in the 1965 Indy 500 was the first for a car using a rear-mounted engine. Clark also finished second at Indianapolis in 1964 and '66.
The last Lotus-built car to race at Indianapolis featured an aircraft-style turbine engine. Lotus unsuccessfully attempted to break into the CART-sanctioned Indy car series in the mid-1980s, and last year the iconic green and yellow Lotus colors appeared on Takuma Sato's IndyCar Series entry fielded by KV Racing Technology.
"This year we teamed up with KV Racing for IndyCar ,and we will significantly expand our participation in 2011," Lotus Group CEO Dany Bahar said. "In 2012, IndyCar competitors will have the opportunity to choose an Indy car with a Lotus engine and a Lotus body kit, immediately becoming part of the legacy that is Lotus."
Group Lotus has revealed ambitious plans to expand its production car lineup from three to five models, prototypes of which were on display at the Los Angeles show. Lotus hopes to expand its annual production from 2,400 cars to 8,000 by 2015.
Bahar, 38, is a former senior vice president of Ferrari, and he is the man Proton has installed to lead its $1.25 billion makeover of Lotus. While its future lineup won't go head-to-head with cars built by the legendary Italian firm, the image Behar is trying to build for Lotus -- including motorsports participation -- is clearly modeled on Ferrari.
"It's been quite a busy time, and hopefully we have more busy times ahead of us," Bahar said. "Our heritage is all about motor racing. Our road cars have significant connections with our motorsports programs.
"We take racing seriously, and we don't want to just put a sticker on a car. We want to fight with the big guys. We made the decision that this is where we want to be. We believe in the IndyCar Series and think it ties in with our strategy in the USA."
KVRT will serve as Lotus' lead team in the 2012 IndyCar Series. KVRT and Cosworth are co-owned by Kevin Kalkhoven.
Lotus revealed its intention to participate as a future IndyCar engine manufacturer right at the Nov. 16 deadline.
"We are excited about the future of Indy car racing with the addition of Chevrolet and Lotus, as well as the continued involvement of our longtime engine supplier Honda," Bernard said. "The Izod IndyCar Series has the fastest, most versatile cars and drivers in the world, and now we have engine competition to provide even more excitement to our fans."
In addition to having a choice of three competing engines for 2012, IndyCar teams could have as many as five alternative aerodynamic kits to select from. The deadline for announcing intention to build bodywork (which must be made available to all teams for $70,000) has not been established, but Chevrolet and Lotus already have committed.
IndyCar's Tony Cotman has been tasked with writing the 2012 rulebook.
"Obviously, regulating two engine manufacturers is more difficult than one and three is more difficult than two, but it doesn't keep multiplying," Cotman said. "Three is a healthy number to deal with in the first year. We have a good structure and plan in place, and we can handle it.
"Three manufacturers is probably more than anyone expected. I thought we would have two, and we added a third very late in the game."
Although Lotus will not deliver IndyCar the kind of marketing clout associated with mainstream brands like Honda and Chervrolet, the legendary sports car manufacturer brings its own cache.
"This is exciting news," said Erik Berkman, president of Honda Performance Development. "Lotus Cars has a long and distinguished record in motorsports and will add to the worldwide appeal of Indy car racing. Randy Bernard and the entire IndyCar Series staff returned multiple-manufacturer competition to Indy car racing following a lengthy absence, and we appreciate the efforts and dedication that helped make this possible.
"Along with last week's announcement that Chevrolet will join the series in 2012, the addition of Lotus is yet another indication of IndyCar's growing popularity."
Lost for the moment in the giddy euphoria of having manufacturer competition for the first time in many years is that IndyCar still has to get through one final season of competition with the same basic Dallara-Honda that has been in use since 2003.
"This is a good jump-start and a good, positive message that IndyCar is getting back on track," Cotman observed. "But in [Bernard]'s vision, multiple manufacturers are just part of a much bigger equation. He's still looking for more sponsors and a better impact on TV. It would be nice if it all came together at the same time."