NEWMAN/HAAS RACING WON'T PARTICIPATE IN IZOD INDYCAR SERIES IN 2012
WILL OTHERS FOLLOW?
Mario Andretti and Paul Newman are seen in Toronto during the glory days of the Molson Indy (note size of the crowd). Newman/Haas Racing was the only team to compete in every Toronto race, going back to 1986. That streak will, sadly, come to an end in 2012.
Despite the shock announcement Thurday by his employer, Newman/Haas Racing of Chicago, that it wouldn't participate in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series, Canadian Indy car racer James Hinchcliffe of Oakville remains optimistic he will be on the grid when the season opens next March.
"I'll have to regroup but there are still some seats available on good teams," said the young Canadian, who won the series Rookie of the Year title in 2011.
Hinchcliffe and his teammate, Spanish veteran Oriol Servia, were left high and dry Thursday when their employer issued a terse, two-paragraph statement in mid-afternoon.
"Newman/Haas Racing announced today that it will not enter cars in the 2012 IndyCar Series," the statement said.
"The economic climate no longer enables Newman/Haas Racing to participate in open wheel racing at this time,” said Carl Haas, owner and co-founder of Newman/Haas Racing."
Hinchcliffe edged young American J.R. Hildebrand for the top rookie award. Hildebrand is under contract with Panther Racing for the 2012 season.
It's a huge disappointment for Hinchcliffe, who showed the IndyCar world in 2011 that he was ready to join the big time after a half-dozen years in the minors. He only found out the bad news himself on Thursday afternoon.
"About 10 minutes before you did," the racer told me in an interview. "It's a sad day for the sport."
Hinchcliffe said he's thankful that the announcement came on Dec. 1 instead of Jan. 1 because there is still time to find a quality ride for next season.
"A lot of people (in the series) had approached us in the off-season," he said. "But because we were under contract to Newman/Haas, obviously we couldn't go too far in the discussions.
"But this has changed things and so I'll make a few phone calls. In fact, the phone has been ringing off the hook for the last 20 minutes."
Hinchcliffe said he feels badly for the 40 or so full-time employees of the team who now find themselves out of their jobs. "They're a great group and worked so hard and I'm so sorry for them."
Asked specifically about the openings at Michael Andretti's team, Hinchcliffe was bemused, saying only that they were among several of the quality seats still available and he would just have to regroup.
The news also means, of course, that the team won't be participating in the 2012 Honda Indy Toronto, scheduled for next July, thus breaking a record of participation in the Toronto race that goes back to the first Molson Indy in 1986.
The IndyCar Series is introducing a new car for 2012, designed and developed by Italy's Dallara Automobili. Although costs have been kept to a minimum, a two-car team would have to spend in the neighbourhood of $2 million just to stay in business and it's a known fact that a number of IndyCar teams are not in a position to spend that kind of money.
So the question has to be asked: is the Newman/Haas announcement the first crack in the dike? Will other Indy car teams be forced to follow suit because of poor economic conditions?
In addition, engine competition has been re-introduced for 2012, with Chevrolet and Lotus joining Honda in providing power plants for teams in the series. Engine leases have also been kept as low as possible but they run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and will also be a problem for some entrants.Newman/Haas Racing was formed by the late actor/race car driver Paul Newman and racing entrepreneur Carl Haas in 1983 and has been one of the most successful open wheel racing teams in the sport's history.
The team participated in 29 consecutive seasons of competition from 1983-2011 and earned a total of eight championships, 107 race wins and 109 pole positions with drivers such as Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Paul Tracy, Christian Fittipaldi, Cristiano da Matta, Sebastien Bourdais, Bruno Junqueira, Servia, Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson, Hinchcliffe and others.
The team finished fourth in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series with Servia and earned the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award with Hinchcliffe.