The dispersal of most of the Newman/Haas Racing team not only left the IZOD IndyCar Series community reeling, but also – so soon after the shutdown of Kenny Bernstein Racing in NHRA – came as a sharp reminder that even the legendary teams of motorsports are still feeling the aftershocks of the economic crisis. Our hearts go out to all those who lost jobs.
For CART/ChampCar/IndyCar veteran Oriol Servia, it's a tough blow, too, for he and James Hinchcliffe were the ideal pairing for this team in 2011 and the results proved it. This story from July now makes poignant reading.
Servia and Newman/Haas enjoyed three stints together – 2005 when he subbed for the injured Bruno Junqueira (and finished second in the Champ Car point standings), 2009 when he replaced Robert Doornbos with five races to go, and 2011 where he did the whole season, got a handful of podiums and finished fourth in the championship. RACER editor David Malsher caught up with Oriol to get his thoughts on the recent past, and his own prospects for 2012.
RACER: Did you know this was coming?
Oriol Servia: It wasn't a total surprise, in the sense that, I'd been at the shop for the previous three days and I knew the situation was not easy. Basically, we thought we had a sponsor until about 10 days ago. It was a big sponsor, and it was definitely what we needed. It gave everybody hope, including the team owners, because this last season cost them money. When all of a sudden the sponsorship didn't arrive, it was too big a hill to climb too quickly. We hadn't signed an engine contract yet or a tire contract, and had to hire some people. There was a big up-front expense, so unless you knew the sponsor was there, basically it was either we have cars or we don't.
I honestly thought they were going to invest in the future, I know they wanted to continue, win the 500 and go for the championship. I really thought they'd put it together. But I got the call to say that it was too much. So that was a bit of a shock.
Q: Do you find it particularly ironic considering how well you and James Hinchcliffe did in 2011 with you finishing fourth in the championship and Hinch winning Rookie of the Year?
OS: I do, because we were basically the team starting to get Penske and Ganassi nervous, and it was encouraging what we could accomplish because we know the financial means that they have compared to us. We didn't spend one day in the wind tunnel or on the shaker rig and limited testing. So it definitely gave us hope for next year. I wasn't saying we'd have beaten them next year, but with the new car offering a level playing field, and with the right budget, we'd have given them a run for their money. It is strange and interesting how life goes. But we had a great year and at least Newman/Haas is leaving the championship on a high note.
Q: Would there not have been an option to run just one car like they did for most of 2010?
OS: I don't think they considered it. This is Newman/Haas: they either do it right, or they don't do it at all. I know Hinch was close to a couple of big sponsors from Canada, and it was looking very good, but they kept delaying their answers. And in the end it just got to a point where the team felt they had to make the call. Sad.
Q: Knowing this was a possibility, have you spoken to other teams?
OS: I have been speaking to teams all along and telling them exactly what my situation was. Newman/Haas had an option on me that they had exercised just a few weeks ago, but it was a funny option where we agreed on the terms but there was a way out if the team decided not to do the 2012 championship. So I explained that to other teams, so yes, I've been talking to other teams.
Q: Do you'll think you'll be in extra demand given your experience and technical knowledge, in a season where everyone's working on a new car?
OS: Well, it's never nice to not have a job, but right after the year I had, I hope people will want me, yes. There were some races the team did in 2010 [with Hideki Mutoh] like Iowa and Indy, where they had to park it in the race because they couldn't get the setup right and this year they were two races where we contended for the win. So, yeah, I hope I do make a difference after all these years.
Having a new car should help my value to people. I don't always know how to get the changes the car needs, but for sure I know what the car needs to work at its best. And it's the guys who are quickest at figuring that out who are going to start up front. I'm excited by the new car.