IndyCar's Italian connection
To be honest, I don't know. On the surface, at least, an IndyCar race at Mugello makes almost zero sense. After all, Italy is a Formula One (F1) mad country, and there is no Italian driver or Italian manufacturer (unless you count the Dallara chassis) currently competing in IndyCar.
Further, the series has made clear that its first priority is to grow the sport in North America, and many of the series most prominent figures, such as Team Penske owner Roger Penske, have made clear their disdain for overseas races.
Yes, I have to admit, the Mugello rumor is something of a head-scratcher.
However, I do know INDYCAR has a major unresolved problem; a problem that is holding its teams hostage with regard to setting their 2013 plans; a problem that needs to be resolved soon; a problem Bernard and others in the series probably can't speak of, as there are lawsuits currently pending. And that problem is Lotus. Yes, the disaster that was Lotus, remains unresolved.
The celebrated racing marque, of course, began the IndyCar season supplying engines for 5 cars and 4 teams. It was assumed the engines, which were build by John Judd's Engine Developments Ltd., would be behind Honda and Chevrolet at the start of the year. However, the Lotus was nowhere close to competitive, and hampered by serious reliability issues. Further, the company endured an array of legal and financial problems, too complex to discuss here, which greatly drained resources, and hindered engine development.
By the Indianapolis 500 in May three of the four teams, Dragon Racing, Bryan Herta Autosport, and Dreyer and Reinbold Racing cut their ties with Lotus. Only HVM Racing stayed with the embattled marque throughout the 2012 season.
In addition to Lotus' abysmal on track performance, the manufacturer failed to fulfill its contractual obligations. Currently, a lawsuit between Lotus and INDYCAR is pending.
Of course, the reality of the situation is Lotus will not be back on the grid next year. However, neither Lotus nor the series is saying that. Why?
Simple. If Lotus were to simply bow out of IndyCar, they would be in violation of their contract with the series, which states they must supply 40% of the field. Further, were Lotus to leave, Chevrolet and Honda would be contractually obligated to supply 60% of the field. As things stand now, with Lotus still technically a supplier, the other two manufacturers, Honda and Chevrolet are only required to supply 40% of the field. Both are currently within that threshold.
So, as things stand now, neither Chevrolet nor Honda are under any obligation to supply more cars, as Lotus technically, remains an engine supplier. And Lotus remaining, is preventing the teams from finalizing their plans, as Honda and Chevrolet are not contractually obligated to supply more engines. And although Lotus remains a supplier, no teams wants to sign with them, as everyone knows they aren't returning.
Lotus, of course, knows this. They know teams such as HVM, Dragon and Michael Shank, do not have engine contracts yet for 2013. And so long as the Lotus issue remain unresolved, these teams will likely remain in limbo. Likely, Lotus is using the climate of uncertainty in an attempt to negotiate a more favorable exit.
Strangely, this is where Mugello comes in. Mugello, of course, is owned by Scuderia Ferrari, a subsidiary of Fiat. Of course, it is widely know that Fiat has engaged in negotiations with Bernard in the past about supplying engines for the series. Maybe, Bernard has found a way for it to happen sooner rather than later.
See, Fiat can simply take over the Lotus project by badging the engines Judd is building. This gets Fiat into the series, keeps Chevrolet and Honda happy, allows the teams to get on with their plans, and most of all gets INDYCAR out from under the Lotus mess.
Now, knowing the dilemma the series was in, Fiat probably leveraged their takeover of the Lotus mess, into a race in Italy. While it appears the race would run at Mugello for the first year, apparently Paolo Scudieri, the driving force behind the race, ultimately wants a street race in Naples. Scudieri is the CEO of the Adler Group, a producer of car parts. And who is one of Adler's biggest customers? Surprise, surprise. Fiat.
And who knows. Maybe, we'll see Fiat-Judds, Luca Fillipi with Scuderia Coloni, a race at Mugello in 2013, and the birth of a beautiful relationship between the Izod IndyCar Series and Italy,
Still, whatever ends up happening, I think we now know, there's a lot more to this Mugello rumor than meets the eye.
Brian Carroccio is a regular contributor to AutoRacing1.com. He developed an appreciation for motorsport at a very young age attending SCCA races with his father, a longtime SCCA crewman. Over time, Indy car racing became his first love, and he considers Al Unser, Sr., and Paul Tracy his favorite all-time drivers.
Personally, Brian is a diehard fan of the Washington Redskins, and considers Robert Griffin III something akin to a divine gift. He also roots for the Washington Nationals, Manchester United (kind of, a long story) and Cal football (a really long story).
Brian lives in Rockville, MD, with his wife Allison, daughter Stella and son Walter.
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