By now, sharp-eyed readers of AutoRacing1.com have noticed
that the rumor (reported here) of an impending merger between the Champ Car
World Series' (CCWS) Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing team, and NASCAR's Robert Yates
Racing team did indeed come to pass.
AutoRacing1.com has a large number of CCWS fans among its
subscribers. They are dedicated -- perhaps rabid – fans, and no doubt they
are wondering why the strongest team in CCWS is flirting with “The Dark
Side” of stock car racing. Some might even wonder if this is the first step
in losing Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, or whether it means that CCWS is in serious
trouble. The press conference was held in the midst of the 400+ member
NASCAR press corps gathered here, all of the questions were NASCAR-centric
and leaves those questions unanswered. So, let me give some insight into
this merger in a way that will help both CCWS and NASCAR fans alike.
Recently, Robert Yates Racing has struggled to be
competitive. Surprisingly for a team renown for their engine expertise,
their main weakness is the fact that they are one of the last of the
“eyeball engineering” teams. Far from being the engineering powerhouse of a
top Indy-style team, they depended on experience, seat-of-the-pants feel,
hunches, and the stopwatch. Other top NASCAR teams have now adopted virtual
testing (simulator) computer programs, in-car telemetry during testing,
suspension testing machines-- in short, everything that CCWS, IRL and F1
teams have taken for granted over the past decade or so. Ford became
frustrated in their relationship with Yates because Ford couldn't share
engineering expertise – some developed during Ford's F1 effort -- with RYR.
It's not that Yates was resistant to Ford's help, it's just that no one on
staff understood the engineer speak from Ford.
That's where the merger – a brainchild that was midwifed by Ford – comes in.
“If 'Yates/Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing' seems to be a bit much to remember,”
joked veteran auto reporter Denise McCluggage, “We can always call it the
'Ford Fusion.'” The object is that the CCWS engineering mindset will cause a
change in the RJR corporate culture. The CCWS engineers are supposed to help
RYR's aero and handling packages as good as their motor packages. As Paul
Newman joked (we think), “A Champ car will stick to the ceiling at 150 miles
an hour. We hope to do that with a stock car.”
Details of the relationship are obviously still being hammered out. Robert
Yates didn't like the word “merger” because he doesn't see anyone losing
their jobs. There didn't seem to be any cash that changed hands in the deal.
Dan Davis, Director of Ford Racing Technology, grumbled after the press
conference that, “I don't know why they just can't say it – they both own
fifty percent.” Neither shop will move, there will be no infusion of cash in
any direction, and neither the CCWS or NASCAR efforts will expand to have
Will it work? Well, Carl Haas used to be involved with Michael Kranefuss and
Travis Carter (Haas-Carter Motorsports), and both of those teams are gone.
Reporters pointed out the failures of Toyota, Chip Ganassi and team Red
Bull. Indeed, my AutoRacing1.com article on open-wheel racers who move to
NASCAR last summer documented their failures, as many aspects of NASCAR
racing are incompatible with skills learned in open-wheel racing. “We'll
take it in small steps,” Mike Lanigan commented, “That's how we were
successful in Champ Car, and we're dedicated to doing it.”
CCWS fans no doubt noticed that the new team's Busch car is driven by former
Toyota Atlantic driver Kyle Krisiloff. Krisiloff is the son of former USAC
Champ Car driver Steve Krisiloff, the nephew of Tony George (yes, THAT TG)
and the grandson of Mary Hulman George. In fact, the pre-merger Krisiloff
Busch effort was put together as a partnership between Haas, Lanigan, Travis
Carter and Mary Hulman George last winter. The partnership bought out the
assets of ppc Racing, and was initially sponsored by the Hulman & Co's
Clabber Girl before picking up backing from Eli Lilly and Walgreens.
In the coming days, I'm sure that many CCWS fans will ponder about the irony
of George family money funding the last major CART holdout. No doubt many
now expect Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing to make an appearance at the Indy 500 next May, which
would include a run by Graham Rahal. Many will wonder about a Hulman heir
running in a NASCAR race, and a few more will ponder a possible loss of
confidence in the George family in the IRL.
After the press conference, I raised questions about the CCWS efforts.
Everyone was adamant the CCWS effort would not be adversely affected -- “I
think on the sponsorship side it's going to enhance both of our entities, in
all frankness” said Mike Lanigan. There was no hint that N/H/L was looking
to exit CCWS, or even hedging their bets on CCWS' future. “It's just
broadening our horizons” said Newman. Bottom line – discussion forum posts
of “There goes another one to the dark side” are premature, and probably
unwarranted, at least for right now. All parties involved tell me that there
is absolutely NO conspiracy. “Kyle just wants to drive a stock car” a
Y/N/H/L official told me. Everyone assures me that Carl Haas and Paul Newman
still have their heart in CCWS – indeed, they quickly left Indy en route to
the CCWS race at San Jose. All of the assurances in the world won't stop
CART/CCWS diehards from fearing the worst, but for right now, everyone is
telling us to expect the best.
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