Another possible partner – and what seemed at times this fall, likely – for IndyCar in the nearly decade-long search for a third engine maker appears to be off the table.
In December, Roger Penske told a crowd of racing fans attending the Performance Racing Industry show at the Indianapolis Convention Center that his series had “two (new engine manufacturers) we’re talking to, and one is in its final stages. . For months leading up to that early December morning, mounting speculation and rampant rumors in the paddock suggested that Toyota had picked up the mantle as IndyCar’s latest and greatest hope alongside longtime partners Honda and Chevy, which at the end of 2020 signed a long-term agreement with IndyCar ahead of the rollout of a new engine formula in 2023.
Penske’s willingness to bluntly state that the series could be nearing the finish line was perhaps the closest sign that a third OEM would join the series since Lotus’ disastrous year-long campaign in 2012.
But after IndyCar talks in recent years have failed with Ferrari, Porsche and others, Toyota Racing Development chairman David Wilson said on Thursday that his Japanese automaker does not see a jump in U.S. racing at open wheels as part of its plans “in the next two years”. .”
“As a fan, as an engineer and as an enthusiast, I would love to (for Toyota) come back to the (Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500 as an IndyCar supplier), but right now we don’t. don’t plan to,” Wilson told IndyStar. “We’re absolutely thrilled with the opportunities and the priorities we have with this new car in NASCAR and the all-new GR Supra Funny Car (in NHRA). We have our hands full.
“I don’t see anything changing in the next two years.”
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In December, Penske called the search for a third OEM “one of the pillars that I haven’t put in place yet. Its very important for us. This inter-brand competition (with only Honda and Chevy) is okay to some extent, but you need those other manufacturers to promote it.
Wilson’s statement on Thursday comes nearly a year to the day since German site Speedweek spoke to Ferrari Formula 1 team principal Mattia Binotto, whose racing brand was in alliance with IndyCar for a year or more to join as an OEM. Throughout 2020, the two had been in very public courtship seemingly “over and over and over again,” which last February finally came to a head.
“After our negotiations, we came to the conclusion that we will not join IndyCar (in the short term),” Binotto told Speedweek. “In the medium and long term, however, this option is possible. But at the moment we want to focus on Formula 1.”
Since then, Hyundai and Toyota had been touted by paddock sources as potential OEM suitors, with momentum around Toyota building last fall – so much so that, as recently as this week, a Potential team principal hoped to enter the series at a full-time capacity told IndyStar: “We’re kinda hanging our hopes on (Toyota). I don’t think much will change at Honda or Chevy.
IndyCar season 2022
IndyCar enters the 2022 season this month in St. Pete with 26 full-time cars, 15 backed by Honda and 11 from Chevy, with Honda at what it considers its “upper limit” on full-times. Arrow McLaren SP has already committed to adding a third full-time Chevy entry to its lineup by 2023, with Paretta Autosport, Marotti Autosport and Cusick Motorsports – as well as former full-time partner Vasser Sullivan Racing – considering a full-time existence in the sport within a year.
However, it would seem unlikely, in this current composition and without any probable reduction of the current teams, that all will find a place, unless they join forces or with another entry already established.
“I think for the number of cars to grow, along with a bunch of other reasons, a third engine manufacturer is really important,” Rob Edwards, COO of Andretti Autosport, told IndyStar last August. “If you’re going to do this with two (OEMs), I think at some point they’re going to say, ‘We need something different. I think that’s less the case in 2022 with the current engine, but I’d be super surprised in 2023 with the new engine that they’re ready to continue at the current level.
“The new engine is going to be a lot more expensive, and at some point Honda and Chevy are going to say, ‘It doesn’t make sense to keep losing more and more money with more and more input. “
At the moment, 32 entries are virtually stuck in the May Indy 500 field. On interest alone, fans might see that balloon at nearly 40, but with just two engine makers, Honda and Chevy have set their caps on May schedules only around 18 apiece. Coupled with an extreme shortage of crew and engineers, the series is unlikely to even reach that level three months from now.
At this point, if IndyCar were to sign a third OEM, sources in the paddock have suggested a 2023 start would be nearly impossible, given that Honda and Chevy are gearing up to start testing their versions of the new V6 hybrid from 2 .4-liter twin-turbo. engines in about a month. A 2024 entry, leaving a newcomer already a year later in competition and possibly more in development, would be the first we might see a new manufacturer in the paddock.
While perhaps not a deal breaker, for a series that relies on producing the tightest races in the world, such a delay would leave a third OEM with plenty of ground to catch up without recent knowledge to work on. .
Lotus, in its brief comeback in 2012 after decades away, saw its two drivers qualify for the Indy 500 that year under black flag after nine (Jean Alesi) and 10 (Simona De Silvestro) laps, respectively. , having spent much of the advance. up to the biggest racing spectacle at 10 mph or slower than most of the peloton.
Outside of Lotus, Toyota is the most recent engine maker to enter the series, leaving after 2005, which coincided with Chevy’s brief hiatus. Ford also participated in the later stages of Champ Car, but the automaker has not recently expressed any public interest in returning to American open-wheel racing.
Unless Penske, Penske Entertainment Corp. Chairman and CEO Mark Miles and Series Chairman Jay Frye have a surprise trick up their sleeves, IndyCar could very well find itself a board to drawing.
“One of my responsibilities in my role is to keep tabs on what’s going on in North American racing and to make sure Toyota is engaged in motorsport in a strategic way that ultimately delivers. has the best opportunity to connect with the fans and the culture and sell cars and trucks,” Wilson said Thursday. “We’ve raced in IndyCar in the past. It’s part of our heritage, and we’re very proud to have won the Indy 500 in 2003 with Roger Penske and Gil de Ferran – and absolutely, we spoke to Roger.
“Jay, every Christmas he sends me a digital greeting card with a picture of Toyota IndyCar, and he’s like, ‘Come in, the water is good.'”