Q&A with car owners of D&R IndyCar team
And today our guests are Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Team principals Robbie Buhl and Dennis Reinbold. Dreyer & Reinbold, which is an Indianapolis‑based team, is one of the long‑time standout teams of the series. They have been in Indy Car since 1999. And they have been one of our standout teams, as I mentioned.
Robbie, exciting news last Thursday with the announcement that Dreyer & Reinbold has become a Lotus factory partner team and will use Lotus engines in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series as the new package is coming on board next year, both chassis and engine.
Talk about the time line of how that deal came about with Lotus and what it means for your team and the future.
ROBBIE BUHL: We are excited to finally have all that done and announced with Dreyer & Reinbold being a factory partner with them. We are excited to kind of be part of the evolution of this program, and Lotus's involvement in IndyCar as we get into this next era of these cars. So we are excited to be part of that and building it.
You know, like most teams, we talked to all of the manufacturers that are going to be participating in 2012, and you know, as we kept meeting more and more with Lotus, it was really kind of an interesting match up with their plans and how they are going to go about things.
And everything that they are going to do as they are rolling out a new line of Lotus cars, all of that's going to be based around all of the marketing and promotion for their sports cars is going to be done through IndyCar Racing. They have a lot invested of getting that message across and performing with the IndyCar Series and making sure their teams are getting things done and the motor is getting things done.
As we learn more about that, we thought that was really a great scenario. There's an incredible history and panache to the Lotus brand. There's some great commercial opportunities that go along with that. That's an important part of what our business is, for not just this year but three and five years down the road, and there really is I think a good amount of potential growth there.
Both Dennis and I feel that's a good opportunity to grow going forward and technical lie, they are an engineering company, and tapping into some of their resources, they do stuff for different manufacturers globally that they can move forward.
Now there is challenges, too. Lotus says we are not the giant that Chevrolet is and Honda is, but they just have to make sure they are attacking it in a proper format. They maybe don't have the depth, but if you just do it smartly, and their alignment with John Judd; he's built motors for over 40 years, I think is a good starting point.
Where all of the motors are going to stack up on performance, we'll find out at the first race. I think we can all speculate on that right now, and that's all it is, is speculation.
Until all of the cars are out on track, we don't know. Like I say, we are excited to be part of that brand and move forward with them as a factory partner team and evolve the product.
Q. Dennis, Dreyer & Reinbold continues to grow every year, and the Lotus announcement indicated the team is running two full‑time cars and an additional entry for the Indianapolis 500 in 2012 which is great. There have been other changes in the team besides the alliance with Lotus. Let us know about those changes and how they strengthen the team.
DENNIS REINBOLD: First of all, Robbie and I, at the end of last year, we reflect on our performance throughout the year. We had a growth year in 2010. We did a lot of things with our shop. We expanded it substantially in the off‑season last year, and so we were kind of all preparing for this 2012 season and the new format, the new car, the three engine manufacturers; and with the knowledge that for us, it's going to be really important to focus on our engineering side of the equation so that we can really figure these new cars out and really get it right.
That's something that ‑‑ we didn't have a very good year in 2011. We were very disappointed with our results. And to change things, we made some personnel changes and for us, it's time now, what we are doing, is rebuilding with the real focus on the engineering side of our business.
We have acquired some equipment that will help us do some testing in house, as well as doing some testing in conjunction with Lotus. We have a meeting with them later on this afternoon to discuss that further and try to outline a time line to when that's all going to happen.
But we are excited about really rebuilding ourselves and just getting ready for the new cars and really putting the effort in to figure these new cars out at a higher level than where we were with the last version of car.
Q. Are you going to start out with the Dallara chassis? When is Lotus going to bring their chassis out?
DENNIS REINBOLD: Lotus is taking delivery of the new Dallara right now, in Italy, and they are fitting it. And here really soon, within the next two weeks, it should be in Indianapolis for us to prep and get ready to put on track.
ROBBIE BUHL: And the idea would be to hopefully be on track in mid‑December, but if they can't get everything lined up with regards to ECU and feel very good about that, then it would be pushed back to the beginning of January as no one is allowed to test beginning December 15.
Q. What do you gentlemen like in Lotus? Why did you make this move with them particularly?
ROBBIE BUHL: Well, I think one of the things, as I said at the opening, you know, their focus of how they are going to rebrand their sports car and how they promote that and market that is going to be through the IndyCar program.
So they are going to be pretty vested in doing everything they can to make sure their teams are successful and healthy. I mean, that's a good thing from a commercial side of it.
But they are an engineering company. And to tap into the resources of what they already have in place and kind of on the payroll there, we are hoping that that really provides us some additional engineering support as we continue, as Dennis said, as we kind of are rebranding ourselves Team Lotus, DRR and really kind of going under a different initiative here of really strengthening our engineering department and kind of building out from the technical and engineering side of our company, and then complementing it with just a good operations department and commercial department.
Q. You talk about engineering changes. Obviously that means Larry Curry, it was announced he won't be returning next year. So when you say looking to bolster the engineering side, does that mean having additional IndyCar engineers or Lotus engineers or both? And do you know when there will be an announcement?
DENNIS REINBOLD: We have one guy starting next week, and he's going to be basically a systems‑type of engineer. So he will be overseeing the entire technical package and componentry just to make sure everything we touch is assembled as well as we can get it.
And so we are going to do quite a bit of testing coming up. So it's going to be a pretty test‑intensive off‑season, so we are really looking forward to getting on track, as well as getting our guys to touch and measure and look all over the new chassis to figure out what makes it tick so we can go a little quicker.
And we will be adding some other people. I know earlier on it was said that we are going to be two full‑time cars and one more at Indy, that's still up in the air. We have not signed a driver yet. That's something that Robbie and I are working on right now, and we are hoping to take care of that the next few weeks.
And we don't know if we are going to be one or two cars. We would like to be two cars, and we are set up for that. So that's our goal.
Q. The package that we just finished with the series had been around for nine seasons, 2003 to 2011, how much of this new package gives both the your team and the series to re‑set and possibly level the playing field? Is there a sense of that among teams that haven't been at the top of the time sheets for the last few years; that this really does give you an opportunity to close that gap?
ROBBIE BUHL: Dennis, I'll let you start off on that.
DENNIS REINBOLD: OK. I would say, yes, absolutely. We are excited and we are very focused on the new car.
It's an opportunity for us. I mean, we had a tough season in 2011, as I mentioned earlier, we gained some ground in 2010 and kind of fell on our face in 2011 and we can't let that happen again.
There's a sense of urgency, but also a real feeling that there is huge opportunity for us. So if we can get everything sorted and figured out on this new car, which I think we can; I think we can win some races next year.
ROBBIE BUHL: And you know, you've got ‑‑ the car that we had run, as you said, since 2003, you know, everybody had figured out lots of different bits and pieces of that.
But I think, you know, the guys that obviously are going to set the standards and really have some depth in terms of their organizations and engineering is both Penske and Ganassis, and that probably isn't going to change.
But we all are starting at the same point right now, and even if you look at last year, the racing product of what we have had the last couple years, you know, if you look at it on a stopwatch, it's been incredibly close, amazingly so, when you look at some of the Super Speedways, only four‑tenths covering the field; or Toronto being a street course was a second.
We have had a pretty good racing formula that I think has provided some pretty good parity and opportunity within our sport, and being, you know, a single‑make manufacturer with Honda has kept that pretty equal.
So it really is ‑‑ it's an exciting time with having this new chassis, but then also having multiple manufacturers back. It's really going to keep everybody on their toes and working around the clock to make sure we are doing everything we can to learn and figure out what we need to know on this car to be at the front.
Q. Since Chevy and Honda have both been testing already, did you have any concerns that Lotus was going to be behind in this process?
ROBBIE BUHL: Well, I think, you know, obviously with those guys physically being out on track, you know, that's definitely an advantage at this point. Hopefully the product, the chassis is still evolving and we are still learning about what we have to do on that, and as a series.
And they still need to come out with the ECU box that everybody has to run. Nobody has run that. So there's still some components on the cars that are still evolving. And, you know, as much as you can do back in the shop and being prepared for our car, when it's ready to go with the Lotus and put on practice, we have got to do everything we can to hedge against not being on track right now.
And so it's definitely a challenge, but it's not an insurmountable task with where we are in the evolution of the car, and the motor.
Q. And addressing the driver situation, you said you would like to be two cars. When do you have to have a decision on when ‑‑ if you are going to be two, you can have two full‑time teams?
DENNIS REINBOLD: Well, I don't know if there's a hard and fast time line, but obviously to do testing and start working with drivers and engineers, we want that to happen as quick a time frame as we can.
Probably within the next few weeks we'll have a pretty good understanding
of what we are going to look like for 2012.
Q. Dennis, you've acknowledged that you didn't have the greatest year in 2011, so there's a bit of a performance gap that needs to be closed, but you're also working with an engine manufacturer that's new to the series. So once you get on track you and start testing, what is the priority? Speed or reliability?
DENNIS REINBOLD: Both, obviously, are important. The reliability is something that we'll work closely in testing with Lotus. Hopefully that's not an issue, and we can focus more on speed. That's a little more fun to work on.
But yeah, you try to make sure that all of the ‑‑ like Robbie said before, until you get the cars out on the track and until we lineup at St. Pete, there's a lot of unknowns that are going to come into the 2012 season, not just for us, but for the entire field. You do the best you can in testing and you trust that Lotus, as well as Honda and Chevy are going to make a good product, as well as Dallara, and it's going to be raceable. So you go out and do whatever you can.
We'll probably ‑‑ the reliability is going to fall upon Lotus more so than us, and then the speed out of the car is going to fall on us more than Lotus. Although Lotus will help us with the chassis development as well.
Q. One more question for you. You guys have both been in the series for more than a decade as tea, owners and principles. There's definitely an excitement for the new engine and chassis package in 2012. Can you recall a time in your tenure as owners in the series, which stretches back to 1999 and 2000, where there has been, A, this much change, and B, this much excitement about an equipment package? We have had equipment packages before during your time but doesn't seem to be as extensive as maybe the new package for 2012. Do you have any comments on that?
DENNIS REINBOLD: Yeah, I think it's most exciting time that I remember. We have three engine manufacturers coming in, and a brand new chassis, and that's all happening at one time.
And then we're a year away from a body kit package that each of the manufacturers, it looks like, will design for the car. So we are going to have plenty of challenges facing us.
This past year was great in a lot of ways. We had incredible crowds at most of our races. And so there's a lot to build on for 2012. We have got some pretty good momentum. I know our TV ratings are up significantly over where they have been.
We work hard to just kind of keep our head down and control what is within our control and working with our sponsors, there's a level of excitement that they have as we go forward to a brand new opportunity in 2012.
ROBBIE BUHL: And another variable that's going to be kind of new to us
is ‑‑ and not new to everybody, but we are going back to turbo‑charged motor. They are a smaller displacement. We are going to the V‑6. So that's a big thing just historically looking back.
But this whole idea of maybe controlling the horsepower of the cars as we transition from short ovals to big ovals to street and road courses I think really is going to be an interesting twist to how we manage our product and how it looks on track. It's going to be exciting.
MODERATOR: With that, we will thank Robbie and Dennis. Appreciate both of you guys coming on the call today and talking about 2012 and your exciting plans, and we wish you the best of luck.
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