Thursday, December 8, 2011

End Of The Road For Newman/Haas



(by Marshall Pruett speedtv.com 12-1-11)

Newman/Haas Racing, one of the most successful teams in open-wheel racing, is closing the its doors.

The Lincolnshire, Il.-based CART, Champ Car and IZOD IndyCar Series team, formed by Carl Haas and the late Paul Newman, joined CART in 1983, went on to take eight championships and won more than 100 wins and poles with drivers like Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Sebastien Bourdais and many others.

NHR, which led Oriol Servia to a fourth-place finish in the 2011 championship and delivered Rookie of the Year honors for James Hinchcliffe, informed its 33 employees on Thursday they would be released effective immediately--with severance pay through December 31st, at which point the team will then close its doors for good.

“The economic climate no longer enables Newman/Haas Racing to participate in open wheel racing at this time,” said Haas, in a statement released by the team. Prior to the team's press release, multiple sources within the team

News shot through the Indy car community quickly on Thursday as many struggled to grasp the loss of one of open-wheel's most tenured teams.

"This is really sad news for me," said Sebastien Bourdais, who won four consecutive Champ Car titles with the team.

"I'm really sad for Carl and Bernie [Haas], and all of the team members. They are like family to me and I can [only] hope the engineers and mechanics find new work immediately. If you look at all the success we had together, and what they did last season with Oriol and James, you know they are some of the best anywhere."

"I don't know if I can say it was expected," Indy car legend Mario Andretti told SPEED.com, "but they tried to hang on as long as they could and it's a shame."

Andretti, who served as NHR's original driver back in 1983, says the loss of the storied team closes another chapter in open-wheel history.

"The only way you can characterize it is this is the end of a wonderful era that included so many wins and wonderful times with Newman/Haas. I will miss the team tremendously."

Hinchcliffe, who has been on the shopping lists of a number of teams and has extremely close ties with Honda, would be a natural fit for the known openings at Honda-powered teams like Rahal Letterman Lanigan and A.J. Foyt Racing.

Servia, who has been silent thus far in the off-season, has commanded interest from a variety of teams, including Andretti Autosport, RLL, Foyt and others.

As the two do not carry significant personal backing, securing an open seat elsewhere would likely require millions in sponsorship dollars.

Although the news of NHR's closure comes as a surprise, it wasn't entirely unexpected.

Cracks in the team's foundation--specifically with its financial footing in the wake of Paul Newman's death late in 2008--led to rumors regarding a possible closure before it eventually answered the bell for 2009.

With existing sponsorship from McDondald's carrying over from 2008 for Rahal's entry, the team signed Robert Doornbos as his teammate, but once the Dutchman's funding ran short, Servia and Alex Lloyd were brought in to fill the void in a car that at times raced without major sponsorship.

Lacking sponsorship for 2010, NHR was thrown a lifeline in the form of Honda driver Hideki Mutoh. Rahal, after finding his own funding to continue, returned to NHR for six races towards the end of the year.

Heading into 2011, it's understood that Bernie Haas made a sizable investment to keep the team on the grid, hoping the strength of a solid two-car effort with Hinchcliffe and Servia would help to attract the sponsors to move NHR's finances from red to black.

Facing the added costs of new cars and equipment for 2012, the team was recently confident a new sponsor it had on the line would secure its immediate future, but once those negotiations fell through, Haas chose to hold out a bit longer in the hopes that another sponsor could be found.

After spending the month of November hunting for money, and with no new leads or potential funding on the horizon, Haas made the hard choice to close the doors.

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