HVM Racing was announced as one of three Lotus works teams for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season, and is less than a week away from receiving its first engine. Just this week, the team has signed engineer Gerald Tyler (LEFT) to work with new team technical director Tom Brown, and continues to work on finding the funding for a second car alongside Simona de Silvestro. Once testing resumes, the team plans a substantial amount of running this month. RACER spoke to team principal Keith Wiggins for an update.
RACER: You've added a new engineer and are close to receiving your first Lotus engine. How is the month of January shaping up?
Keith Wiggins: We've been talking about general stuff on the Lotus progress; the first car has arrived and is being worked on. We were talking about how we move forward. If you go back, HVM had built up a pretty decent team in the Champ Car days. Due to budgets and restraints we've been just competing in IndyCar. It's a bit difficult in these times, but you have to try to make progress and with Lotus is a good place to move things forward.
In Champ Car, on the engineering side, we used to have Tom Brown as a chief engineer, plus Will Phillips and Mike Cannon working under Tom. We had a triangle structure that was pretty successful. Technically, I was pretty happy with it.
We're trying to get back to that sort of scenario. We got Tom Brown back as chief engineer/technical director just before Christmas. We had another opportunity with Gerald – a well-respected engineer as well – so it's a chance for them to have a go at the new package. We hired him and he started this week. We're starting to build a pretty strong package.
Right now, we're trying hard to get the second car and second driver going and bolster the engineering even more. That's part of improving the engineering structure.
Q: Lotus is also basing its operations out of your shop. Where's the engine at in development? How were the dyno tests? What's your anticipated first time on track?
KW: I was talking to John Judd a few hours ago; everything was going well. They've started way behind, but haven't had any issues. The installation was done at Dallara just before Christmas. The first engine should arrive here at our shop either Friday or Saturday. That won't be the final version, but the first in-car race version.
At the moment, we have the first test penciled in from [Jan.] 12-14. That will be at either Sebring or West Palm Beach. Then we should be back to Sebring the 16th and 17th. After that, we're off to Homestead for a few days around the 22nd, and back to Sebring near the end of the month. We have four multi-day tests scheduled, providing all goes according to plan.
Q: At the moment, you're the only Lotus team with a confirmed driver. With shared testing between HVM, Dreyer & Reinbold and Herta's teams as the plan, how will that unfold?
KW: We anticipate being able to work as a group to maximize the resources, and share the driving duties. Simona will do the shakedown and the second test as well. Then after that, we should have one of the other Lotus drivers signed up and put them in.
Certainly at Homestead, providing one of the other experienced oval drivers is available, we'd put them in on the ovals. It wouldn't be the best opportunity to put Simona for that. But then we would be able to balance. We're building up our first car as we speak and see as it comes. We'll share resources on the car.
Q: Where do you see Simona's confidence level at both the ovals and going into 2012 after last season?
KW: I have no doubt that her confidence is fully back up. There's no doubt. On road and street courses, she's back as good if not better, and hungrier than ever. She's been through an interesting phase in her life, reflecting about the ovals, but she's gotten past that. She knows what she'll be doing and I think she's probably happy there's a few less ovals.
She's working even harder now to get herself ready. On the road and street courses, she has a lot of talent, and I think capable of race wins.
I think she'll be fine on the ovals. Kentucky was fine; we had a couple issues there, but she ran competitively in qualifying. She'll be better. What she lacks is the mileage and experience, and sometimes when you throw someone in the deep end and it goes wrong, it takes a little longer to get right.
But she has the commitment to do it. Other drivers in the Lotus group should help her learn.
Q: Your ideal situation would be pairing her with a veteran. Where are you at in trying to procure the funding for a second car?
KW: That's always the challenge; budgets are fairly tight anyway and one car isn't cost-effective. The second car would help the overall program, but not if it drains the overall budget. It still costs money to run them, with all the equipment, and it will end up more than last year. It's not like there are drivers with full budgets just walking around.
We're working on finding fresh sponsors who can help build the second car and build the personality. We have a great partner in Nuclear Clean Air and Energy – they're not only behind her talents, but there are benefits that come with her. But it all takes time, and the easier way to say it is it's pretty tough right now.
Q: Having been through the new car process several times before, say compared to 2007 with the Panoz DP01 or the last-minute changeover to IndyCar in '08, how does this one compare?
KW: Again, a lot of it comes down to the budget, but if you're well set up as a team with budget, a new car is just another racecar. It's about the people getting it sorted. We were a front-running team in Champ Car; when the DP01 came out, it was to replace the old car and the knowledge was there. It was very similar, and a very good, simple, effective car.
Coming into IndyCar was tough, because we came in at ground zero commercially. We were the last team to get cars, and when we did we got two of the oldest ones in the paddock just a week before the race. Plus, we had a driver who was a rookie to the series and we had lost some of our oval experts. We had been strong in Champ Car and moved toward people with more road course expertise. The deck was stacked against us. We didn't know the ovals, the series, the engine or support there, we had a rookie driver and no money. And we had old equipment.
Now, this gives us an opportunity – we have more IndyCar experience, knowing the ins and outs. We have some solid backing. We have a better technical structure again. Personally, I think the new car is a big disappointment, but at the end of the day it's the same car for everybody.
The challenge is that the big teams have what they have, but we didn't have the biggest budget with the DP01, used it wisely and like to think we could do it again. I think this time can be somewhat similar – hopefully we're in the middle of the front portion compared to the back, and can push farther to the front.