Now we know why Sebastien Bourdais signed to drive a full season in the IZIOD IndyCar Series instead of racing for Peugeot in the European Le Mans series this season, as had been rumoured.
In a shock announcement, Peugeot revealed a few hours ago that it is leaving sports car racing, effective immediately.
In a statement, the French manufacturer said:
"This decision has been taken in the context of a difficult economic environment in Europe. Peugeot has chosen to concentrate resources on its sales performance in 2012."
A victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2009 was Peugeot's greatest success, while it won the inaugural Intercontinental Le Mans Cup title in 2011.
The decision to cancel the program comes amid declining car sales for the Peugeot group. And it’s a big blow to the new World Endurance Championship for sports cars in which Peugeot was going up against its chief rival, Audi.
Toyota is starting a Le Mans Prototype program but won’t run a full season. Porsche won’t go prototype racing before 2014.
Everybody – and I mean everybody (including me at one time or another) – has made mention of Paul Tracy’s Honda connection when speculating about which team or teams he might be able to drive for in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series.
Without a full-time ride since the Champ Car-IRL war ended in 2008, Tracy has enjoyed sponsorship from Honda Canada so he could compete every year since in the IndyCar races in Toronto and Edmonton. He’s also made some one-off appearances for Honda in other areas, such as participating in Rick Hansen’s recent 25th anniversary celebration of his Man In Motion world tour. It was during an interview we did at that time that Tracy told me he would not race part-time in the IndyCar Series any more. It would be full-time employment or nothing, he said.
Around the same time, he did an interview with another reporter in which he said he had $2 million in sponsorship and couldn’t understand why none of the IndyCar teams he’d contacted (or his manager/agent had contacted) seemed interested in doing a deal.
There was – and remains – an assumption that some (maybe all) of the $2 million he’s been talking about is because of a sponsorship agreement he has with Honda Canada. More than one reporter has made mention of this connection.
Except that at last week’s Detroit auto show, a senior executive for Honda Canada told me they don’t have a deal with Tracy. “We’ve done some great things with Paul in the past, and could even work on some things with him in future, but so far as supporting his racing in 2012 goes, no. There’s nothing in place,” he said.
The executive did add that anything is possible. “Who knows what tomorrow might bring?” he said. But then he said this:
“But I would doubt it. There’s no ‘up side’ for us any more.”
Two more seats were filled in recent days in the IndyCar series and in Formula One.
Bruno Senna, nephew of Ayrton, signed to partner Pastor Maldonado at Williams and went to great lengths when talking to reporters to deny that the reason he was hired is because he could take millions of dollars of sponsorship to the team (which recently lost its backing from AT&T).
Senna told a news teleconference that Williams put him through rigorous physical and track tests before offering him a contract. "The only way they would give me the chance was if they were comfortable with my performance,” Senna said. “We did several tests and with that I am confident I can deliver."
Well, yes, it is a known fact that no F1 (or IndyCar team, for that matter) is going to put someone in a car who can’t race it, regardless of how much money he/she brings. In short, the driver has to be able to do the job.
But if you have – say – three or four drivers in mind and they’re all in or around the same level so far as ability is concerned but one has a lot more moolah to offer up than the others, the money is going to be the tie-breaker, which would appear to be the case here. I mean, Vitaly Petrov is not exactly chopped liver.
Okay, now that the negative stuff is out of the way, it will be very nice to see a Senna back in a Williams. And Bruno has immense potential. His uncle once said that if people thought he was good, wait until they saw his nephew. So the talent is probably there. Cross fingers that Williams can provide a car that’s sufficiently competitive in order for Bruno to show the world his stuff.
Meantime, Senna’s signing means Rubens Barrichello is out at Williams - and probably out of F1 after a career that goes all the way back to 1993.
Is he finished with auto racing? Don’t bet on it. Jean Alesi is going to Indianapolis in May – and maybe he needs a teammate . . .
Over at IndyCar, James Hinchcliffe’s teammate at Newman-Haas last year, Oriol Servia, has signed to drive for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. The seats are filling up fast and IndyCar looks to be remarkably prosperous for a series that draws flies on TV and in many grandstands.
Windsor driver Ron Beauchamp Jr. will return to the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series in 2012 with support from long-time sponsors Mopar Parts, Exide Batteries and Mobil 1.
“We’re so proud to be teamed with the absolute best group of companies you could associate with,” said Beauchamp. “Our relationship goes far beyond the race track and their support has been incredible over the years.”
Beauchamp also has a new crew chief, long-time ASA competitor Deon Deneau. In addition to directing drivers to several championships, Deneau is a former ASA Crew Chief of the Year.