Knowing that Lotus didn't have the same amount of dollars to spend as its rivals didn't put off the owners of Lotus' so-called anchor teams, HVM Racing, Bryan Herta Autosport and Lotus DRR (formerly Dreyer & Reinbold Racing). These three shared the duty of testing the first Lotus-powered Dallaras, and each was impressed that, straight out of the box, Simona de Silvestro (ABOVE) was able to put 900 miles on the engine over the course of four days of testing. Keith Wiggins, HVM team owner, says that was vindication of his faith in Lotus-Judd.
“We started talking to Lotus last summer and I was very much attracted to the option,” says Wiggins (left, with technical director Tom Brown, BELOW). “Because it's a smaller car company, some people treat it with skepticism, but I was in no doubt that it would be a good unit and, as an anchor team, we'd be at the top of the heap with Lotus. I didn't want us to be in a situation where we were just supplied engines, second or third in line behind big teams. We're trying to improve ourselves so therefore we wanted a true partnership.
“Lotus' budget wasn't a worry because, like with teams, when you go through a period of financial constraint, you learn things can be done more cost-effectively. Yeah, fewer resources can show in the technical support you get from a manufacturer and it's critical for a smaller company to get things right the first time rather than waste money going down cul-de-sacs, but that comes back to our confidence in Judd: a smaller budget means a bigger challenge, but sometimes with challenge comes opportunity.”
Bryan Herta, whose team has just two IndyCar starts under its belt, is similarly positive. “Our focus is on building our team and being the best Lotus team we can be. If Lotus makes the best engine, then that means we'll have a great season, but if it's not as good as the other two, then we'll adjust our expectations. But that's not waving the white flag. Does having fewer resources doom Lotus to failure? No. It's actually motivating everyone to prove quite the opposite. I should point out that there were teams that spent four or five times as much as us our team at last year's Indy 500, and…”
Fair point! But it's also fair to turn it around. While Honda has a four-car Chip Ganassi Racing operation in its corner and Chevrolet is partnered with Team Penske and a resurgent Andretti Autosport, Lotus is anchored by teams with eight Indy car race wins between them. Isn't Lotus at a disadvantage not of its own making?
“The teams we have are at our level at the moment,” says Berro. “We realize how good Ganassi and Penske are, and we knew big teams would automatically go with the big two manufacturers. But some teams waited a little to work with us. Currently, we have a three-teams-in-one-team setup, and HVM, Bryan Herta Autosport and Lotus DRR work together very well in this development stage. This 100 percent team spirit is 100 percent our spirit, too. Together we'll aim to be at the same level as the best teams in IndyCar.”
For Lotus it's a relief that bodykits were delayed until 2013, but Berro admits that before deciding that Lotus would supply IndyCar engines in 2012, it was the chance to show off the company's aero expertise that held the most appeal for its return to IndyCar. Naturally, he's eager to start that program as soon as possible.
“Soon, we will be discussing with IndyCar the rules so we can design a good aero kit,” he says, “but IndyCar must be careful to keep down the cost, so we don't have to sell kits to the teams for a high price. We don't have rules for the kits yet but it will involve the front wing, rear wing, engine cover and sidepods. We need to have a car with a Dallara bodykit to put in the wind tunnel and learn it better. When we understand that and have rules, we can start to produce the aero kit. I tell you, if IndyCar told us the rules tomorrow, then tomorrow Lotus would start work on it!”
But first of all, there's the scramble to fulfill engine obligations in time for the first race of 2012. At time of writing, HVM, Lotus DRR and BHA have just one entry apiece, although the first two are striving to add second cars. Jay Penske's Dragon Racing – two cars, for Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge – will also be Lotus powered. At press time, there was much speculation regarding which manufacturer would power entries from Michael Shank Racing, Conquest Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartmann Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing – but it's unlikely to be Lotus-Judd.
Lotus' late decision to enter the series had a knock-on effect, and Engine Developments was thus the last to get its engine in a car and on track. The Borg-Warner turbos are spec (like Chevy, but unlike Honda, Lotus has gone the twin-turbo route), as is the McLaren ECU so there are a couple areas of potential complication out of the way. But still, it's a heck of a push for Engine Developments to not only have its engine finalized by the Feb. 25 cut-off point for homologation, but also then have sufficient engines to supply five to seven cars in time for testing before the first round of the season in late March.
Says Judd: “It takes time to design and make the parts, but it's also difficult to decide to make parts for say, 40 engines, before you've had a chance to do development work, because if there's something that needs altering, you then end up making the parts twice over.
“Ultimately, we're going to supply three units per car. We won't have three per car at the start of the season, but as soon as possible we'll have each entry on a routine of one engine in the car, one spare and one being rebuilt back in the UK.”
And so the pressure is on for Judd to uphold Lotus honor. Special though the marque's IndyCar heritage is, it needs another chapter; slaying – or at least, hurting – the Goliaths of Chevy and Honda would provide that. For the sake of the Lotus brand, some faithful, hard-trying team owners and the IZOD IndyCar Series itself, it's vital that Judd's crew confound the constraints of circumstance, budget and time and produce a winning engine.
• For the full version of this feature article, plus much more, you'll need the March 2012 issue of RACER magazine, which is NOT available on newsstands. CLICK HERE to subscribe.