Lotus Cuts Back And Miscellaneous Historic Indy 500 Ramblings As We Approach May

Big Bend, WI (April 24, 2012) – It hasn’t been easy for Lotus in the IZOD IndyCar Series thus far. By coming in late after Chevrolet announced it would join Honda, the engine manufacturer has been behind the proverbial eight-ball. This week Lotus and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (DDR) agreed to part ways as the manufacturer has refocused its support. The end result is that Lotus has cut its engine support from five teams down to two. The other team affected is Bryan Herta Autosport, who won the Indianapolis 500 last year with the late Dan Wheldon and Honda power. BHA had announced last week on their Facebook page that it was skipping this weekend’s race in Brazil. BHA had dropped out of the top-22 in points (whose travel is covered by INDYCAR and the Brazilian promoters). DDR (with driver Oriol Servia) will have a Lotus engine for the race this weekend in Sao Paulo. Lotus will continue to support two teams, Dragon Racing (Bourdais & Legge) and HVM Racing (de Silvestro) from Indianapolis and moving forward.

Many have been up in arms, incredulous over Lotus and their struggles. However one has to only go back to 1994 when Honda missed the Indianapolis 500 because of their lack of horsepower. Hard to believe that a manufacturer that dominated CART and later the Indy Racing League struggled early on but they did. I’m not saying that Lotus will dominate, but they have their work cut out for them. Now instead of trying to fill engine orders, they can concentrate on development. However, next month at the Brickyard is really where we’ll see just how far they are behind.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s website added some more historical photos to its already splendid site. One that caught my eye is the 1972 Lola driven by Graham McRae. The Lola was successfully qualified the year before by fan favorite Art Pollard who unfortunately broke his leg in a practice crash. Wally Dallenbach replaced Pollard for the race and drove the #20 STP-sponsored Granatelli Lola T270 in the “500.” The following year it was practiced by New Zealand driver during the month of May. McRae who was a successful Formula-5000 driver not only in the Tasman Series but also in the States was unable to get up to speed. On the second weekend of qualifying, he later qualified a new Eagle-Offy which had served as a back-up for the Pat Patrick / Andy Granatelli team.

I’ll never forget a peculiar incident back in 1987 during CART weekend at Road America. As I was walking in the paddock area “down the hill” from the main paddock, a pickup truck with an open U-Haul trailer pulled up. Out stepped McRae and an older gentleman, who after much analyzing (from a distance) I reckoned to be George Walther. The duo brought a plain red year old March 86C-Cosworth which McRae qualified, however dropping out to finish 21st. Nonetheless, they came to race.

Another photo I found interesting is David Hobbs driving the aforementioned, George Walther’s McLaren, a back-up car for his son, David “Salt” Walther. Hobbs told me over dinner one night that he accepted to drive for Mr. Walther whom he spoke fondly of, early in the spring from his home then in Upper Boddington, England. However when he got to Dayton, Ohio, he could see that it was not a first class operation. Hobbs struggled with the aging McLaren in practice but successfully qualified on bump day and became a member of the “Last Row Club.” On the pace lap Hobbs felt water on him from a leaking water hose as he circled the 2-1/2 mile oval. It was not a good race for Hobbs, who made numerous pit stops, but retired from the race. I had to break him the news that “Salt” was driving that very same McLaren that Hobbs drove to fifth place in 1974. The waitress was quickly summoned for another round.

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